Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Scratch That...Hummus.

There are a few things that I've been making from scratch for as long as I can remember...okay, two things: bread, and hummus. It's no coincidence that they go REALLY well together.

If your family is like our family than the tiny little $5 a pop hummus tubs that they sell in the grocery store are a joke to you. We could finish off one of those in about 10 minutes and look around for the next one. Plus, Five Bucks? For Hummus? Are you kidding me? It's bean paste for Goddess' sake. Then you can go on to the other reasons to make your own: the store stuff is slimey, and they fill it full of weird crap (sundried tomatoes? seriously?).

To make hummus you need:

A good blender or food processor. I specify good blender because this is a pretty thick paste and it stresses the motor on the lesser models. I have personally burned out the motor on two $30 blenders making hummus.

Chick peas, also known as Garbanzo Beans (which always makes me think of Gonzo from the Muppet Show). We favor "La Preferida" brand, which is frequently shelved in the "Mexican" section. It comes in big fat 29oz cans which makes a decent sized batch.

Tahini. This could possibly fall into the realm of "special ingredient requiring a separate trip to the grocery store" if you have a slightly less exotic pantry than I do. It's also the most expensive ingredient in the recipe, at about $6 a jar. If you happen to live in a neighborhood with a Middle Eastern grocery store, buy it there because it'll be cheaper, and come in a bigger jar. It doesn't spoil quickly as long as it's refrigerated, so even if you don't use it that often, you won't lose out on your investment. Tahini is a seed butter, so when you buy it it will have about half an inch of separated oil on top, like natural style peanut butter. When I first open a jar I pour the entire contents into the food processor or blender to remix it, and then pour it back in to the jar. If you refrigerate it after that the oil will emulsify in the fridge and it shouldn't separate back out (if it isn't so throughly mix it will tend to separate). You don't even have to clean the blender, you just make a batch of hummus right on top of the tahini dregs.


Lemon Juice.

Olive Oil.

I sometimes add a dash of toasted sesame oil to punch up the sesame flavor. If you stir fry you probably have this.

Notice I don't have measurements on any of this stuff. That's because I am too lazy to measure. This is very much "to taste" and you can easily adjust things as you go.

So...go get all that stuff. Then:

Drain the chick peas, and throughly rinse them under cool running water. I rinse all canned beans, and (although I haven't done a side by side comparison) I firmly believe that it cuts down on "wind" the next day. Let that sit in the sink and drain for a minute while you peel the garlic, one clove, two if you're brave, three if you don't have any friends and don't want any.

Add the garlic, about a tablespoon of olive oil, two or three tablespoons of tahini and two or three tablespoons of lemon juice to your blender and give it a good chopping. When there are no more big chunks of garlic add about half your chick peas. Adding them all at once clogs the blender. If the paste is too thick to blend, add water until it's thin enough to blend smoothly. This is a good time to do an initial taste test. I almost always add more tahini and more lemon juice at this point (and if you want a roasty toasty tasting hummus, a dash of toasted sesame oil is delicious...I think, although their are puritans in my household who do not agree). Then throw in the rest of the chick peas and (if you need to) more water to thin it out. If you are making hummus in a blender it will be a little thinner, in a food processor chunkier and thicker...personal preference as to which you like better. When you like the consistancy, then you can salt to taste and (if you must) add any junk you want, like chives or bacon bits or whatever the hell they put in those store tubs of hummus.

I don't add very much olive oil. I think a bit is great to improve the texture, but why add more oil than you have to? If you like really creamy hummus then you can, of course, add more oil.

I estimate this recipe to cost about $2.80 or so. $1.50 of that is the chick peas (so if you are a "boil your own from dry" kind of person the cost would be much less), and I'm (over) estimating a $1 worth of tahini, with about $.30 worth of pantry staples. If you use the big can of chick peas you'll end up with a tub of Hummus that is about two or three times bigger than the slimey stuff in the deli case, and the whole process takes about 15 minutes. This used to be my potluck staple, along with a store bought bag of pita chips, but I was at a pot luck last year where half the people brought hummus and the other half brought brownies...a good potluck in my opinion!


PS If any of you have hummus making tips or favorite add ins (blech!) please comment! Just don't suggest that I peel the garbanzo beans because that's just flat out not happening.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Scratch that...

When The Destroyer was born, I didn't step foot in my kitchen for about 4 months. He was an..ahem...intense newborn. He was a constant nurser who barely slept, and Manimal was working long days trying to get our house renovated so that we could move back in (see "the other blog" if you missed the story of our renovation). He hated his car seat and would scream from the second the door opened and he saw the offending object, until we arrived at our destination and he was reconnected with his boob. Grocery shopping was not high on my list of fun things to do, and the few times I did manage to get fresh food in the house it would inevitably spoil before anyone got around to cooking it. Breakfast and lunch were whatever snack foods I could prepare for myself with a baby in arms, and dinner was "out," where we would eat quickly in shifts so that we could take turns bouncing the baby. Usually I would prop him in place with a boppy pillow, and spread my napkin over his head so that I could eat over him (one handed of course) without staining his onsies with bar-b-que sauce.

We didn't take a lot of time to think of the ridiculousness of this situation, we didn't have a lot of spare moments for intuitive self-reflection. There came a day, though, when The Destroyer learned how to crawl and discovered that there was more to life than boobs and not sleeping, there was...destruction. Manimal was home before 8 o'clock for once, The Destroyer was happily destroying and we (miraculously) had something cookable in the refridgerator. I don't remember what culinary miracle I pulled together, probably some version of "eggs scrambled with whatever we had on hand," which is sort of the signature dish of our house. I do remember that we sat around rapturously eating it, and commenting about what a treat it was to eat in for once. When eating at home has become a big treat, something is seriously out of balance, so we started working on eating at home more often.

When we eat out, we don't hit the drive thru at MacDonald's. We eat a lot of Thai, Korean, Middle-eastern...generally what's considered to be the "healthier" of the available restaurant options. When I cook at home, I don't spend a lot of time worrying about fat content, or carbs, or really nutritional content in general. We eat a lot of vegetables because we like vegetables, and we eat them with full fat cheese, and in sauces that are laden with salt and oil. None the less, when we made the switch (back) to eating at home instead of eating out, we all lost weight without even thinking about it. Our "food" bill was suddenly about half of what it had been, and this was all without an conscious effort on our part, other than a desire to eat our own food in our own home.

When Ragnarbaby came a long some of our "take out" standards slipped back in, of course, as well as a few pantry "staples" that I'm not especially proud of (boxed macarroni and cheese...). I don't beat myself up about it, and I don't really fight with my kids about what they eat. I chop the vegetables up small enough that it's hard for them to spit them out, and I put enough butter on top that they eat it. We get pizza about once a week and sometimes dinner is canned soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. I'd never bought canned soup in my life before having a second child, but something's got to give. When I went back to work things gave a little bit more, and now our "diet" is a mix of simple homemade food, mixed with some things that come in boxes, cans, and bottles. I don't like to go grocery shopping more than twice a month if I can help it, and if it dirties more than two pans, I don't cook it. I do still make some of our staples (chicken stock, mayonnaise etc.) from scratch though, but they have to pass my "test," which is something like this:

Do I habitually keep all the basic ingredients in the house, or would I have to go and buy something new?

Does making this involve complicated steps, or a lot of time?

Can I make it "in bulk" to save time later on?

How long will it last in the refrigerator or freezer?

Is there a significant cost savings over buying this at the store?

If whatever it is fails that little test then it goes on the shopping list and I pay going rate for whatever it is.

The cost of everything in the grocery store is going up, thanks to gas prices and other economic factors, so there has been a fair amount of discussion in the "blogosphere" about making from scratch. Of course I can't sit idly by while other people offer advice, so I'm going to do a series of posts about things that I've found it to be worth making from scratch...you're on the edges of your seats I'm sure.

Ragnar...full of good intentions.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Mommy Brain...

Some think tankey folks came out with a study a couple of years ago showing that "mommy brain" is a myth, and that women with children are just as smart as they were before they had them. I didn't read it of course, but I remember clicking "like" on facebook when someone else (a mom friend, who also presumably didn't read it, because who has that kind of attention span really) posted it. I do "like" the idea that I'm just as smart as I was before I started this wild roller coaster ride that is motherhood (or as I like to think about it, preventing my children from killing themselves), but all personal evidence points to the contrary.

Today I arrived home to find two concerned pollsters standing in my front yard, cell phone in hand, waiting for the police to show up at my house because I had left my front door standing wide open when I packed up my children for a trip to the grocery store. "Do you live here?" one of them asked me as I pulled into the driveway. "Uh...yes." I answered, opening the doors of the minivan and releasing the hounds. "Well, uh, we called the police because your door was wide open, and we were afraid you might have been robbed." "Oh!" I waved away her concern nonchalantly, "I'm sure that was me, my children are very distracting." She raised her eyebrows at me, and motioned for her partner to call the boys in blue and tell them that there was no emergency, just a brain-fart by a mother of two. Then she asked if I might want to hear about the millage (for the police no less, those pillars of society that might even manage someday to save me from myself). While she politely gave her talking points about how even with the new millage my property taxes would probably go down, my eldest grabbed on to the knees of her jeans and rocked back and forth growling "I am a baby jaguar! I am a baby jaguar." If nothing else I think he demonstrated that it IS possible for a woman to be so distracted by her children that she might walk out of her house with the door wide open.

Lest you think this was some sort of aberration, let me assure you that this was simply the latest in a long line of mommy moments.

There was the time that I came out of the grocery store to find that I had left the side door of the mini-van standing open.

There was the time that I came out of the coffee shop to realize that I had not only left my keys in the ignition of my van, but had in fact left it running.

There was the time that I left my purse in the back pocket of the stroller parked in our front yard...overnight.

Not to mention the fact that I can't wrap my reading mind around any plot more complicated than "have you met my hunky boyfriend, he's a werewolf!"

I can only imagine the hijinks that will ensue when baby number 3 is born in September.

So, whoever you are, think-tank guys (or more likely defensive mothers), I appreciate the credit, but I beg to differ. I'm not saying that I won't recover those lost IQ points when my kids are...oh say...married, but for the moment, I am blaming my lack of smarts on mommy brain.

Ragnar...proud owner of one mommy brain

PS Manimal insists that I add that while I was proofreading this post I was holding Ragnarbaby in my arms while he simultaneously riffled my wallet and chewed on a ballpoint pen.