As restaurants begin to reopen, many of us will continue to choose takeout and dine at home, extending self-quarantining in spite of state guidelines allowing us to dine out again. If you plan to celebrate Cinco de Mayo this coming Tuesday by getting takeout from your favorite south-of-the-border eatery, you might consider making your own side dishes to go with those fajitas or tacos. Mexican rice is simple — just make some white rice and add salsa to give it a kick.
Refried beans, on the other hand, require a little more effort. But if you can't get enough of the savory, creamy side dish, I suggest making your own — they're so much better than the canned variety. And I can never get enough when I order takeout.
I've been making this recipe for years, having gotten it from a friend in New Mexico where refried beans are a staple for so many dinners. The original recipe calls for lard, but she recommended using bacon grease, not only because it's more readily available but it also adds a nice flavor to the beans.
One of the final steps in making the refried beans is to mash them with the back of a spoon. How much mashing you do depends on how you like your beans. Some people prefer them perfectly smooth, while others like them with some texture. If the latter is the case, mash half and leave the other half whole or partially mashed.
Authentic Refried Beans
1 pound pinto beans
1 dried guajillo or Ancho chili pepper, stem and seeds removed (optional)
1 large garlic clove, crushed
1/4 cup lard or bacon grease
Pick through beans for any rocks or debris. Cover beans with 2 inches of water in a stock pot. Add 1/4 of the onion (save remaining for other use), dried chili and crushed garlic.
Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, cover and cook until beans are tender, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
Remove and discard the onion, chili and garlic. You should have about 5 cups of cooked beans.
In a large skillet over high heat, melt the lard.
Drain beans, reserving about a cup of the bean water. Add the beans to the skillet. Fry for several minutes, stirring.
Mash with the back of a spoon or potato masher. Add enough bean broth and continue mashing until your desired consistency. I like mine a little chunky and never purée in a food process. If you do, then by all means do it.
Season with some salt and black pepper, if needed. Serve with sour cream and crumbled cheese of your choice on top, if desired.
New on the market
Fanny packs have certainly come a long way since they were introduced in the 1980s, and now, PackIt, maker of freezer bags and storage containers that keep things cold, has a new storage product. It's a pack you wear around your waist when you need to keep something cold when you're on the go, which many of us are now that we're spending more time outside on area tracks and trails, maintaining that all-important 6-foot distance.
The Freezable 3-in-1 Waist Pack is made to wear around your waist or across your chest or back. Stick it in the freezer to chill, then load it up with whatever food you need. It's your own personal, wearable cooler that will keep food chilled longer than other lunch pails. And it also includes a separate pocket to keep things dry, such as a credit card and your cellphone.
This is great for taking on a day hike — it's big enough to fit a sandwich and small bottle of water. The waist packs are $21.99 at packit.com.
Food gifts for mom
While so many of us ordinarily take our moms out to lunch on Mother's Day, dining out may be a little more difficult this year if restaurants remain at half-capacity seating. If you still want to treat mom to something special, a gift of food is always a good choice. Here are a few that I've found that would be particularly appreciated.
* Right down the road from Chattanooga in Jasper, Georgia, Cathy Cunningham runs a company, Mama Geraldine's, named for her beloved mother, where she makes artisan cheese straws from aged Wisconsin cheddar. If you order now, they should arrive in time for gifting. There are four flavors — pimento cheese, chipotle cheddar, aged cheddar and parmesan herb, the latter two also being gluten-free. They are delicious with a nice glass of wine, so treat mom to wine and cheese this Mother's Day. Order from Amazon or at mamageraldines.com.
* Clarkson Avenue Crumb Cakes have been a favorite in Brooklyn, New York, for years, and now they're available everywhere in 8- by 8-inch cakes or individually wrapped for freshness. Give mom some good coffee along with a coffee cake and give her the freedom to indulge. Orders can be placed at clarksonavecrumb.com. Note to readers: At this time, shipping is available but may change due to coronavirus shipping restrictions in New York.
* Treat mom to a cheesy breakfast in bed with a Breakfast by Burnett gift box. It's filled with pancake and muffin mix, along with maple syrup and cheeses from Wisconsin, a state that is home to one of only two Master Cheesemaking programs in the world. Order at shop.burnettdairy.com, where you'll find more cheese boxes as well.
Whatever you do, order early to ensure delivery on any gift of food you may be planning to give your mom this year. And a happy Mother's Day to all you moms out there!
Email Anne Braly at firstname.lastname@example.org.