I fell in love with food around the same time I was falling in love with my husband.
I lived in Italy for six months and thought there was something wrong with me. While all the other students were buying leather boots and shopping for the perfect Italian apparel souvenir, all my money was spent on food. Instead of going home with the quintessential pair of Italian red shoes I returned with a 30 pound souvenir around the hips, thighs and waist.
At first I tried to be the shopper I am not. I went in the fancy stores but was lured away by the smell of Carbonara. I stopped denying myself where I felt real joy and in return I found my passion. I realized that food was more than sustenance but rather a way of life, something to be celebrated, shared and honored. I fell hard for the cheese, the wine and the passionate producers. I savored and indulged while feeling the unbearable ache of missing the man I love.
We were dating at the time I decided to study art history in Italy. I was bored and wanting to experience something by myself. Ironically while away I learned the importance and joy of community and realized that who I left behind was the one that I never wanted to leave again.
Luckily he felt the same and flew over to Italy to meet me. While there he slid a shiny rock on my finger on the edge of the Spanish Steps in Rome.
My two loves were together with me and I wanted nothing more for them to meet and fall in love too. And the three of us would lead a happy, full life.
But it hasn’t always worked out that way. I am still madly in love with my husband, falling more in love with him each day and ditto for food. He and food on the other hand are taking their relationship slow.
I do my best to encourage them to get along and my husband indulges me. He nibbles off a rabbit size bite of something I practically shove into his face. He tastes and says a generic, “It’s good.” After nearly 6 years of marriage he has gotten a bit more honest with his responses and offers some “helpful” critiques on how I can improve the dish.
He has come quite a long way. Once considered the pickiest eater of three brothers, my husband is turning out to be a bit of food snob – and I love it. When it comes to coffee and beer in our family he is the one who makes all the major decisions.
He attributes his picky tendencies to sensitive taste buds. While I once scoffed and chuckled at this sad attempt at an excuse, I am now beginning to think he may be on to something. I can even admit to being a bit envious of his discerning palette. He has the ability to pick out extremely subtle flavors that I have completely glanced over – probably because I am too busy shoveling the food in my face.
I look for any sign that he and food are starting to really develop their love and I run with it.
The other night while watching Top Chef Masters together I noticed some sounds of delight and agreement coming from my husband while the camera focused on the food cooked by the master of Mexican cookery, RickBayless. While I tend to “ohhh” and “ahhh” over classic French and Italian food my husband was delighting in the spice, color and flavors that Bayless so passionately uses in his cooking.
Then my husband said this, “I bet if I had a cookbook by Rick Bayless I would cook from it.”
Wait. What?! Rewind. Did he just say that he MIGHT cook something?!
The next day we had, Mexican Everyday by Rick Bayless.
He hasn’t cooked anything from it yet* but I did catch him sitting on the couch reading it. I told you, he and food are moving slowly. But in my mind this is a major step (and a major turn on).
I will continue to do whatever it takes to bring my two loves together and I am convinced that one day we will experience a meal together where we will both be brought to tears of joy.
In the meantime I can’t stop planning which recipe I will tackle next in this book. The recipes are simplistic in nature as they are intended to give you the rich, well-developed flavors of Mexico on a daily basis. You won’t find Bayless ‘ Top Chef winning Mole which boasts more than 20 ingredients in this book. But you will find ingenious recipes that offer fresh, bold flavors that are a cinch to throw together – like Swiss chard and caramelized onion tacos.
A new (to me) way to eat your greens. This recipe reminded me again that my fridge should never be void of Queso Fresco. The slightly salty fresh cheese was the ticket to the success of these tacos. It added a fresh and creamy taste to the richness of the sauteed vegetables.
While my husband still isn’t a chard-convert he did manage to eat his share and still have room to tell me how he would have made them differently had he been the one to cook them. To that I handed him a pan and said “start cooking.” One of these days he just may.
*Note: I was corrected by my husband who has made something from the book. While I was away one evening, teaching a class, he made an incredible Lime Ice. The texture was silky and the flavor was perfectly tart and sweet. I can’t believe I forgot. Hoping next time I will be around to witness such an occasion.
Swiss Chard and Caramelized Onion Tacos
from Mexican Everyday, by Rick Bayless
12 oz. bunch of Swiss chard, thick lower stems removed (10 oz. cleaned spinach can be used instead)
1 1/2 tbl. oil, lard or bacon drippings
1 large onion, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tsp. red pepper flakes (add more or less depending on how spicy you like it)
1/2 cup chicken or vegetable broth (water works too)
12 warm corn tortillas
1 cup (4 ounces) Queso Fresco or other fresh cheese such as feta or goat cheese
Smoky Chipotle Salsa for serving (recipe below)
Slice the chard into 1/2-inch ribbons. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion then cook until golden brown, about 4-5 minutes. To the onions add the red pepper flakes and garlic. Stir for about 20 seconds until you are hit with the aroma of the garlic then immediately add the broth or water, 1/2 teaspoon salt and the greens. Adjust the heat to medium-low then cover the skillet. Cook until the greens are almost tender. For Swiss chard this will be about 5 minutes. Spinach only takes about 2 minutes.
Uncover the pan, adjust the heat to medium-high then cook until the juices have reduced significantly and merely glaze the greens. Taste and add salt if you think it needs it.
Serve with the corn tortillas, crumbled fresh cheese and Chipotle salsa.
Makes 1 1/4 cups salsa
This salsa has a hot smoky flavor and a subtle sweetness from the roasted Tomatillos.
Just don’t make the same mistake I did. In the recipes it calls for “2 canned chipotle chilies”. In my haste I read that to mean “2 cans of chipotle chilies”. It is definitely not 2 cans. The resulting salsa was hotter than the sun. After a glass of milk, back to the store I went to buy enough ingredients to tame the salsa. Learn from me – use 2 chipotle chilies. Each can contains about 3-4 I think. If you like lots of heat feel free to use more chilies.
3 garlic cloves, peeled
4 medium tomatillos, husked, rinsed and cut in half
2 canned chipotle chilies
Place a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. If it is not a non-stick, Rick Bayless recommends placing a layer of aluminum foil on the bottom.
Place the garlic and tomatillos (cut side down) in the skillet.
After about 3-4 minutes the tomatillos should be well browned. Turn everything over and brown on the other side. After another 3-4 minutes the tomatillos should be completely soft.
Place the garlic and tomatillos into a blender or food processor, along with the chilies and 1/4 cup water. Blend to a coarse puree. Taste and adjust salt.
Pour into a dish and let cool before serving.
**In the picture of the garlic and tomatillos in the pan there is a tomato also in the pan. Please don’t get confused. This was one of my many attempts to tone down the spiciness due to a not uncommon kitchen mistake.