Wednesday, July 28, 2004

The basil’s in, so it’s time for my all-time favorite grilled sandwich. This time of year, I eat it until I can’t stand to eat it anymore.

Here’s what you need:

Pesto, a little on the thick side
Cream cheese
Multigrain bread

Heat up a skillet. Butter the bread on one side—on the other, on one slice spread some cream cheese, and on the other slice, some pesto. Put them together, and slowly toast the sandwich on the skillet.

In a pinch, this will work in the toaster oven. In a pinchier pinch, it’ll work in a regular toaster (well, you’re going to want to put the pesto and the cream cheese on there after you toast the bread, but you knew that already).

Trust me. You’ll love this. You can doctor it up in any number of ways, but I like it best at its simplest.

Monday, July 12, 2004

The Laws of Chili 

First Law of Chili: There's plenty.
No matter how much chili you intended to make, you will always end up with enough to serve your unexpected guests, regardless of how hungry they are when they get there, plus have leftovers for lunch for a couple days.

Second Law of Chili: Sure, throw it in!
Pretty much anything's good in chili. I mean, maybe not ice cream or bananas (although I'm not so sure bananas would be such a bad idea), but certainly any veggie or legume you can get your hands on. Anything in your fridge that's gonna go bad if you don't use it real soon should probably go in the chili. Come to think of it, this might be why the first law of chili exists. Hmmmm.

Third Law of Chili: It's good.
It just is. It's so phenomenally hard to ruin chili that the only people who've been known to do it are school cafeteria types, and even then all they can usually manage to do is water it down and under-spice it to the point where it's not really chili, but just a slightly thicker minestrone soup. And these are people who've made a science of taking the yummiest, easiest, most un-ruinable things and rendering them inedible. If these guys can't ruin chili, no one can.

Fourth Law of Chili: Pick a carb, any carb.
Chili's a pick-your-carb meal. It's good with rice. It's good with potatoes. It's good on pasta. It's good on or beside bread. Or you could just cook some barley or leftover rice straight in. Doesn't matter, the chili makes it work.

Those are the laws of chili. Put together they make a pretty powerful argument in its favour, in my opinion. I'm in favour of making chili.

There are purists out there who will disagree with me, will tell me that it's not chili if it doesn't contain meat, or contains carrots, or wasn't made with a _certain_kind_ of chili pepper. To them I say "pooh pooh". If it looks like chili, smells like chili, and tastes like chili, then it's chili. The rest is just details.

Friday, July 02, 2004

Liberty chicory for your July 4th barbecue. 

I can still recall one of the defining political moments of my youth, back when I was fresh with the dizzy rush of my first voter registration.

(Strangely, registering for the draft had not had quite the same giddy effect on me, though I had managed to secure a camouflage vest to wear for the occasion. In one of those pointless instances of purely notional political action, I scrawled some sort of defiant message across the face of the registration card. And then went home to collect my student loans, I suppose. Anyway.)

The Spring of 1988 was fresh with promise: the prospect of Paul Simon as our next President had at least three or four other people besides myself excited at the thought of installing a true prairie populist in the White House to replace the outgoing President Reagan.

Well, we all know where that dream went.

No doubt the Dukakis campaign was relieved when it was announced that I was going to throw my support to their camp, which I did by sticking up at least one poster in my room and sporting a button on my backpack. I had secured this paraphernalia by sneaking one rainy night into the McLean County (Illinois) Democratic headquarters while my parents sat in their idling car a couple of blocks away, hoping not to be seen. Progressive though they both are, at the time they were both active in local politics and, given the realities of Downstate politics since about 1856 or so, they could not afford to be seen loitering around with an unwashed bunch of Democrats.

The campaign of 1988 is remembered in part for such perfidious and cynical Bush attacks on Dukakis as the Willie Horton issue or charges that the good Governor was a waffler. Or, for those with idiosyncratic memories, the belgian endive attack.

The timing of this attack was fortunate in one respect: I had been casting about for a simple Halloween costume and George H.W. Bush had handed me one on the figurative platter. I arrayed myself in green, hung a crudely lettered sign about my neck and (fueled in equal parts by political conviction and cheap beer) would waylay unsuspecting acquaintances like some Ancient Mariner and relate to them in colorful language what exactly I thought about those clowns from Kennebunkport.

Which is why today I can be counted on to be the guy who brings the braised endive to the table when its time to grill. The marinade cuts the bitterness of the endive and the dish makes a nice addition to anything from a grilled burger to grilled fish.

That is if you can stand to sit around a table with me while I poke moodily at my plate and grumble about the lousy state of American politics.


4-6 belgian endives, sliced in half lengthwise
2-3 red and/or yellow bell peppers, cored and quartered lengthwise
Balsamic vinegar
Olive oil
Powdered or whole-seed coriander
2-3 limes
Fresh ground pepper, salt

In a bowl, combine enough balsamic vinegar and olive oil to slosh around on your endives. I use a ratio of about half and half, oil and vinegar, but adjust to taste.

Add some coriander (maybe a tablespoon?) to the oil and vinegar, grind some pepper in, and add maybe a teaspoon of salt. Squeeze in some lime juice. Combine.

Add your endives, roll them around in the mixture to coat. Let sit (turning periodically) for at least half an hour.

Place the endives cut side down on a medium to hot grill. Put the bell peppers, skin side down, on the grill. Flip the endive when the cut side gets nice and browned, then cook a little longer. Remove the peppers when the skins get sort of bubbly and darkened.

Array the endive and peppers on a festive serving dish. Spoon some of the marinade over the peppers and endives. If you are an East Coast boutique liberal, you will no doubt want to garnish it or something. Knock yourself out.

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