Food Memories – The Professor’s Black Beans and Rice

Debra was one of the fabulous bloggers I met over the summer at the Potluck.  Her blog, SmithBites, was one of my summer finds.  Through our twittersations, I learned that not only is Deb the life of the party but she has a heart (and I’m guessing a house) big enough to love an entire clowder of cats.  Yes, I did have to turn to my good friend Google for that term.  Thank you very much, now we’ve all learned something today.

Her food memory originally appeared on her site, which just happens to have the tag line “Food That Connects Us”.  I had emailed her about participating in the Food Memories project and when she offered this story, the story of the first dish that her future husband ever made her, I couldn’t type out my thanks fast enough. It also came to my attention that Debra has special ninja powers protecting her posts.  The details of that discovery aren’t pertinent to anything other than I think having ninja powers is pretty cool.

The Professor’s Black Beans and Rice

There is a running joke in the family that The Professor and I never dated . . . and we didn’t . . . even though we spent quite a bit of time together, it was never, ever called ‘a date’. Once we decided we were getting married, the wedding took place within 10 days – yes, you read that correctly, 10 days and it was quite lovely.  But the first meal The Professor ever cooked for me (on a ‘non-date’ night of course) is still one of my all-time favorites and always takes me back to that house on 38th Street, the galley kitchen and the cute little dining room with hardwood floors.

Black Beans & Rice, packaged salad mix, non-fat bottled Italian dressing, a roll with ‘lite’ butter and non-fat ice cream for dessert; he was eating a low-fat, vegetarian diet and I was eating a full-on fat, lots-of-meat diet.  It gives us both a good laugh whenever we talk about it  but he cooked for me people, and he was wooing me even if he didn’t realize it.  I moved into that house after we were married and together we created a home.  There were a multitude of meals made in that kitchen – some triumphs and some major fails . . . uhm, like the dish created by The Professor which included barbecue sauce and dried chickpeas that hadn’t been soaked . . . but hey, I count myself lucky – his mother reports that, as a young boy, he used her blender to grind up worms, seeds and heaven-knows-what to feed a baby bird he had found.  And that’s exactly what I love about The Professor, he’s fearless when it comes to trying new things!

But there were also some terrific meals prepared in that kitchen as well; things like Crab Cakes with Red Pepper Remoulade, Hummingbird Cake, Strawberry Angel Food Cake, Pork Chops with Sour Cream Horseradish Sauce, coconut cream pies, strawberry jams and Spaghetti.  We had wonderful gatherings and parties in that house too:  Grandma’s 80th birthday party, Mother’s Day Brunches, a sister-in-law’s birthday that involved a ‘Jenny Gymnast’ doll (get Cheryl going and it’s laughter so hard that tears stream and you find yourself wishing you’d worn Depends), Easter suppers and a Thanksgiving meal for 15 where we were packed so tight in that dining room, that if anyone needed a potty break, everyone had to stand up to let you pass.  Happy sigh . . . such wonderful, wonderful memories and ones that I will always cherish.

I’m still a meat-eater but much, much less these days; The Professor now eats meat as well and I’ve recruited him over to the dark side of full-fat, real food (using less) rather than a bunch of artificial and chemically altered fats.  Our palettes are always eager to explore the culture and world around us.  Oysters, duck, bison and vegetables like ramp, patty-pan zucchini, kale or tomatillos and even some of the old standards like meatloaf or pot roast have been given a unique twist using a few new ingredients or techniques.  And 12 years later, he still cooks for me.

What food memories do you have about dating or ‘non-dating’ whether it’s one you cooked or ate at a restaurant?

The Professor’s Black Beans and Rice

BAH Note: I’ve never been a beans and rice gal but I really enjoyed this dish. I may have added a few items that weren’t authentic to what The Professor served Debra that night but when I told her about adding cubed turkey and sliced avocado, she was all in favor of my decision.

  • 1 small onion diced, about 1/2 cup
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 clove minced garlic
  • 1 15 oz can of black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 cup cooked rice
  • 1 teaspoon cumin (optional)
  • 1-2 tablespoons chopped green onion or cilantro (for garnish)

Heat the oil in a nonstick frying pan over medium heat and saute the onions and garlic until the onions are soft. Add the rice and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Cook for about 5 minutes, until the rice is heated, and add the beans and cumin (if using). Cook for another 3 to 5 minutes until everything is heated through, adjust seasoning, and serve garnished with green onions or cilantro.

{printable recipe}

Food Memories – Russian Tea Cakes

I discovered Ali and her blog 3 Baking Sheet to the Wind earlier this year on one of my rabbit hole trips on the interwebs. At first, I could not quite believe there was another person out there who devoted massive amounts of mental storage capacity to pop culture phenomenons such as Teen Witch, Heathers, The Breakfast Club, Willy Wonka (the original), and Summer Rental. It’s like she’s the voice inside my head telling me to click over to these time sucks when I see them in my Tivo Channel Guide. Not only does Ali know and lurv these movies, she finds ways to tie them to a recipe in her ‘Sugared Cinema’ selection each and every Friday. The other days of the week, she’s rocking out fabulous decorated cakes, cookies, and throwing down some serious beer.  The tag line of her blog isn’t “I like baking and drinking craft beer…sometimes simultaneously” for nothing. So it wasn’t too long before I started pestering Ali for a Food Memory. She kindly obliged with the following memory for one of the easiest, tastiest cookies I’ve ever made.

Russian Tea Cakes

During the Christmas season, my mom and her best friend would pick a day to get together in our kitchen and spend the entire day baking.  They started the tradition when I was around 5 or 6 years old and carried out the tradition for a good 10 years or so.  My mom would get experimental and try out a new recipe every now and then but for the most part, they would stick to the old faithfuls:  red and green sprinkled sugar cookies, chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal cookies, fudge, date bars and Russian tea cookies.

As a kid, I had pretty typical tastes when it came to sweets.  The sugar cookies were my favorite (she could have thrown sprinkles on a stapler and I would’ve eaten it.)  I never could understand why she insisted on making those powdery Russian tea ball things, though.

As I got older, I found myself sneaking cookies from the Russian tea container.  They were so wonderfully buttery (even more so than the sugar cookies) and I was addicted to them, right down to the powdery residue it left on my fingers.  After a long hiatus, we decided to bring back the Baking Day tradition last Christmas.  There were a lot of new additions, some from me and some from my sister, but we knew the day wouldn’t be the same without my Mom making those Russian tea cookies.

Russian Tea Cookies

Adapted from

BAH Note:  Ali didn’t have her mom’s exact recipe but she poked around online until she found one that was close to what she remembered.  I tweeted to Ali that I was kicking myself for scaling the recipe down and only making a half batch.  I could not stop eating these morsels.  At 12 minutes, they are perfectly undercooked so that the center is still slightly moist while the outside is crisp.  The decision to omit the walnuts completely and  substitute almond for vanilla was mine and mine alone.  And I stick by it.  I can’t eat nuts, period. And I’m not usually big on almond flavor but in these cookies it was the perfect counter to the buttery, sugary goodness.  I can see why these would have become a favorite in Ali’s house growing up.

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 6 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar

Heat the oven to 350 degrees and line two sheet pans with parchment paper.

Combine the flour and 6 tablespoons of powdered sugar in a medium bowl and whisk until combined.

In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and almond extract until it is smooth.  Slowly add the flour mixture and mix until fully combined.

Roll the dough in to 1 inch balls and place them about 1 inch apart on the prepared sheets.  Bake for 12 minutes.  Allow the cookies to cool completely before rolling them in the 1/3 cup powdered sugar.

{printable recipe}

Food Memories – Pork with Carrots and Potatoes

Jennifer Walker, the force behind My Morning Chocolate, perfectly illustrates the point of this project. She has a great memory of a dish with only the vaguest notion of the workings of the dish. I’m like that. I know other people are like that too. My point is that we’re not alone in this.  We all have our own personal food stories. I’ll let Jennifer tell you about hers.

Remember when Will Ferrell in the movie Elf says that elves have four food groups: candy, candy canes, candy corns, and maple syrup?  As a child who willingly ate very few healthy foods, I would have fit right in with this sugar happy family from the North Pole.

I had my own four food groups then: Skittles, candy corns, jelly beans, and Cheerios.  (The plain kind only, please.  Hey, something had to sop up all of that sugar!)

I could have eaten anyone under the table in these foods.  A pound of Skittles?  I could put them away in an evening.  A box of Cheerios?  I ate straight from the box, handful after handful, while watching TV.

And even though I don’t remember the last names of all of my high school friends, I can still see with absolute clarity the time my Mom came home from the Giant with a bulk food bag of candy corns.  I was playing on my neighbor Phillip’s driveway while waiting for my Mom to return from the store.  When I saw her pull up, I ran across the street with a pep in my step, picked up the candy corns, and quickly returned to the driveway to eat my first one.

I ate one candy corn at a time, taking a small bite off the top, letting the soft sugar melt in my mouth, then working my way down.  As I chewed, I thought about how this lovely candy tasted like maple syrup.  With all the happiness that candy brought me, you can imagine how hard it was to get me to eat healthy food.

My Mom tried, probably the hardest with eggs.  “I made them really special this time,” she would say, handing me a plate of eggs with a pool of Ketchup on the side.  But the healthy foods just never took for me.   Except for Mom’s pork with carrots and potatoes.  Then I would pile my plate, sit next to my brother on the barstools at the kitchen counter, and systemically chow down.

The carrots and potatoes had a good flavor because of the pork juices.  But they were still vegetables, and that made them less fun than pork.  So I ate them all first.

Then I would move on to the headliner, my favorite part, the pork.  It’s been about 20 years since I’ve had that pork, and yet I can still taste the tender meat melting in my mouth, and the salty sweetness of the onion topping.  I know I ate other real meals back then, but the pork is the only dish I remember.

I don’t eat much meat these days, but I know that I won’t be able to resist pork with carrots and potatoes if my Mom ever makes it again.  Sometimes the best flavors are the ones we remember from when we were young.

Pork with Carrots and Potato

BAH Note:  In true Food Memories fashion, the “recipe” is merely a whisper of an idea.  Jennifer said that her mom didn’t have exact amounts for any of the ingredients and referred her to the soup mix box for specifics.  Sadly, neither Google nor Lipton’s had this exact recipe posted so I had to make some educated guesses as I tried to recreate this dish.  I’m not sure how close I got to what Jennifer remembers.  But the combination of pork, carrots, potato, and onion soup mix is pretty forgiving, even though I made a hot mess of it all.  Seriously, I cannot show you what this looked like…you’d never again trust my cooking skillz.  The instructions on the cooking bags said to use 1 tablespoon of flour to prevent the bag from bursting.  I used 2 additional tablespoons to try and thicken the juices into gravy.  After 90 minutes in the oven, I removed the pork and vegetables to a tray and carefully emptied the juices into a saucepan.  I simmered the juices over a medium low flame for about 8 minutes until they had reduced and thickened.

  • Pork Tenderloin
  • Onion Soup Mix (I used both envelopes that came in the box)
  • Water (I used maybe 1/4 cup)
  • Orange Slices (I used a can of Mandarin orange slices in no sugar added syrup)
  • Carrots (I used one bag of baby cut carrots)
  • Potatoes (I used two sweet potatoes)

Cut the carrots and potatoes so they are a similar size.

Put the pork tenderloin in a cooking bag, then add onion soup mix, water, orange slices, and the cut-up  carrots and potatoes.

Bake at 350.

“The time depends on the size of the roast,” according to Jennifer’s Mom.  “It usually gives you the time on the package.”

Food Memories – D’s Buttermilk Pancakes

I have the Interwebz and this here blog to thank for bringing me together, in real life as well as in a virtual sense, with some fascinating, talented, incredible people.  And when they aren’t scared off by my requests for their Food Memories, I know they are good people.  Take Katie of You Are What You Eat…Or Reheat.  Known to many as an upstanding member of Corporate America.  Known to me as the Queen of White Trash Wednesday and who I want to be when I grow up.  She is witty and clever and is the keeper of a kick ass pancake recipe.  But because she’s good people, she’s letting me tell y’all about it here.

When I emailed her to be part of the Food Memories project, she gave me a little backstory about the recipe.  She said, I love the whole idea of relating food to memories.  It’s just so sweet, isn’t it?  As for a recipe, this one’s great and easy. And it’s something my mom made for my sister and me growing up. Every morning before our junior tennis tournaments.  And it was torturous.  For years I couldn’t eat pancakes because they reminded me of years and years of hot summer tennis.  But now, I love them. After all, my granddad, D, created this recipe.”  How can you not love a woman who keeps the memory of her granddad alive through his pancakes? Continue reading “Food Memories – D’s Buttermilk Pancakes”