Simple Pickled Onions

May 24, 2012 § 3 Comments

Pickled onions: sliced red onion, a cup or so of red wine vinegar, a few teaspoons of honey, smashed gloves of garlic, and two bay leaves (chili flakes, whole pepper corns, whole cloves, if you want them) that you let sit for several hours or a couple of weeks in your refrigerator.  I love them and they’re my current favorite thing to put in everything.  Eggs, salads, rice dishes, bean dishes, meat dishes, tacos, mixtures of salads and grains (like this yummy concoction I ate, sans sausage, for lunch and will probably eat for dinner), on toasts with cheese, eating them straight out of the jar, what have you.  I told you I loved them.

I know all the onion haters out there are crinkling their lips and noses, but seriously, these are not the onions you are thinking of when you say “I hate onions”.  They are briny, fruity, a little sweet.  Perfect for a dish that tastes just a little flat.  You know what I mean: like it could stand some tartness and color punctuating the mix.  Try these.

Keeping pickled onions on hand was one of the many great things I picked up from An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler (yes, I’ve talked about this book so much, you may come back next time to find that this blog’s new title is “I love Tamar Adler”. Just kidding).  What I really enjoy about her is the sanity that she brings to the table when talking about cooking (see this TED talk she did).  She tells you to use what you have, what’s readily available, what you can afford, and to use it all to the fullest.  Beans can become transcendent, bread is not something to avoid but something with a million possibilities, eggs are a wonder, and pickled onions a powerful force in the life of a meal.  I can’t recommend her book, her articles, or videos enough if you are at all intimidated in the kitchen or feel like you can’t afford to eat well (something I have definitely felt before).

Moving on to unrelated, but fun things:

::This lemon cream is another delicious egg user (we are calling it “lemon pudding” and “filling”, sandwiched between two butter cookies, but I feel a lemon tart coming on).

::Just remembered how much I like Cowboy Junkies (a blast from the past)

::about to start this book (thanks to Autumn and Michelle for recommending it)

::Still plugging away at the Daisy Chain Sampler and loving how it makes me slow down.

::Thinking of going here with the kids this weekend (I’ve never been!)

::AND I got a special, surprise delivery of liquid gold from my friend Kathy! Excitement!


Living Well

March 9, 2012 § 6 Comments

I know, I’m writing about beans, again. But last week I wrote about how whenever we are in a money crunch the two things that make frequent appearances in our diet are bread and beans.  There was talk about  my current bread of choice and promise of a nice way with beans. So, see, I promised.  And,  I love beans and want everyone to know how good they can be.  So, here we are, at beans, again.  I should say at the beginning that almost every idea I have about making beans is from Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal (a treasure trove of thoughts on food). Before I read her excellent chapter on beans, called “How to Live Well”, I had one bean recipe. One. It’s a good recipe, but when your finances dictate inexpensive food (and you don’t want to eat ramen or boxed mac n cheese), you need ideas for beans and lots of ’em.

There is a lot of debate on whether you need to pre-soak dried beans or not (see an interesting thread on the topic here).  After reading about it pretty extensively, and being utterly confused by so much contradicting information, I’ve decided to just do what works best for me and hope for the best.  So, I pre-soak.  There is a quick soak method (bring beans and water to a boil for a few minutes, then take off the heat, letting beans sit in hot water for an hour) that works in a pinch, but I prefer the low-key nature of just plopping them in a bowl of water the night before.   Don’t let the idea of “soaking beans” send you into a “this is too much hassle” state of mind.  There are really only three actions involved: pouring the beans into a bowl, adding enough water in the bowl to cover them by a few inches, and placing them in an out-of-the-way place in your kitchen. And you’re done with soaking.  You can start a set of beans soaking without even having a detailed plan for them.  You don’t have to cook them in 8 hours or even 12.  You can soak beans for 24 hours (some people say even more) before you cook them, so you’ve got tons of time to figure this out. (It’s actually supposed to be great for easing digestion and absorbing nutrients if you do give them an extra-long soak.)

After soaking, I put all the beans in a large pot and cover them by 2 inches of fresh water (a little more if I know I’m turning it into soup).  I bring them up to a boil, but only just to the start of the boil, and then decrease the heat to what produces a light simmer in the water.  While the beans are coming to a boil, I chop up an onion (onion skin can do, too), a few carrots, some celery,  and 6 or 7 cloves of garlic (because I love garlic).  I take the skin off a lemon with a vegetable peeler or paring knife (no pith), and I get out a bay leaf, a few sprigs of rosemary or thyme, and my salt. Once I’ve lowered the heat on the beans, I dump all of the vegetables, the lemon, herbs, and about 1 and 1/2 tablespoons of salt (some people say not to salt until the end, but I’ve had better tasting beans doing it this way).  I usually then remember that the best beans (and soups) I have ever made have been simmered with a cheese rind (the hard end of your block of parmesan, pecorino, etc.  don’t throw them away; keep them in your freezer for such an occasion as cooking beans), so I throw one of those in, too.  I add about 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil, cover, and walk away, letting the beans bathe in all that goodness for about 30-60 minutes (the older the bean, the longer they need to cook). You’ll know they are done when you can peel the skin off the bean by lightly blowing on it (this is a technique from food writer Clementine Paddleford found in AEM and I love it in theory and in practice).  They should be creamy through the middle, not crunchy in the slightest.  Remove the bay leaf, whole herb stems, the lemon peel, and the cheese rind if you can find it.

You now have a pot of flavorful, hearty beans (and some vegetables) and all the delicious liquid in which they cooked.  What should you do now? Here are some places to start (almost all straight out of Adler’s book):

~If I want soup, I add diced potato and some chopped greens (my favorite is kale), and maybe a can of tomatoes, with the juice, to the pot and let it all simmer until the potato is cooked through.  After checking the seasoning,  I ladle it into bowl and serve with a small dollop of basil pesto if I have it, or olive oil and parmesan if I don’t.  Croutons made from yesterday’s bread are good here, too.

~If we are wanting meat and I have some sausage, I brown a few in a pan, ladle the cooked beans and vegetables into a baking dish, and nestle the sausages in so they are cozy.  Then I add a little of the bean broth and put the dish into a low oven (325 degrees F or so).  When the sausage is cooked through I serve them with some herbs and garlicky bread crumbs if available, or just serve it as is.

~Or, you can do my favorite meal that I could eat happily every day (I use pinto beans, but you could use any you like): Saute some chopped kale (or green of your choice) in olive oil. Season it with salt.  Take your cooked beans and veggies and a little of the broth and warm it all over medium heat.  Add the greens to the pan and stir.  Crack as many eggs as people to feed into the beans.  Season the eggs with salt and pepper, scatter some fresh thyme over everything, and cover.  Let cook until the eggs have turned opaque and then take off the heat. Squeeze some lemon juice over the pan.  Put an egg and beans into each bowl, add a some feta cheese or, even better, a bit of olive pesto. You might want to eat it everyday, too (and please invite me over).

Whenever I eat and serve beans in these ways I’m awed by how well we can do with very little money and a little care.  I’ll end with a quote from “How to Live Well” because she says what I mean so beautifully:

“We do know that people have always found ways to eat and live well, whether on boiling water or bread or beans, and that some of our best eating hasn’t been our more foreign or expensive or elaborate, but quite plain and quite familiar.  And knowing that is probably the best way to cook, and certainly the best way to live.”

Don’t you agree?

For the list makers:

1 lb of dried beans (white, pinto, black, cranberry, etc)

onion (or onion scraps if you need the onion elsewhere)

chopped carrot (how much depends on your taste and what you have)

chopped celery (same as the carrot on the amount)

6-7 garlic cloves (or however much you like)

1 bay leaf

1 sprig of rosemary or 2 sprigs of thyme

peel of 1/2 to 1 lemon

1 hard cheese rind

olive oil


Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Bread

March 4, 2012 § 2 Comments

If you’ve spent any time here at all you know money is pretty tight for us.  We never go hungry or anything, but there is very little cushion at times and for the past week or so, we’ve been scraping: no spending unless it’s gas in the car.   That means no new groceries (we eat what’s already in the house plus the eggs from our chickens), no drive through coffees, etc..  It’s not a self-imposed period of no spending.  There just isn’t any money until we get paid again, and so we tighten down and make do. This go around hasn’t been horrible (we’ve done it before),  but the boxed in feeling is never fun. Thankfully, these periods pass, and on the other side, I feel a little more confident in our ability to live on very little,  and far more grateful for the relative luxury in which we live most of the time.

As far as cooking goes, when the money runs low, I’ve noticed I make a lot of two things: bread and beans. Suitable, right? So, today, I’m going to talk about bread and next time we’ll go over the method I use for beans. I know, I know. You’re on the edge of your seat! But these are great standbys to have in your arsenal if ever you need to tighten your belt.

So, bread: I’ve written about the Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day method before, and I still think it’s a super convenient way to make excellent homemade bread.  It does, however, use a lot of yeast and, I’m wanting to cut back on that (mostly because I’m fascinated by the voodoo that is a naturally leavened bread and consider using less yeast as a step toward that and yes, I might be crazy).  So, I have a new (to me) favorite that is similar in convenience but uses less yeast: Jim Lahey’s (the owner of NYC’s Sullivan Street Bakery) no-knead method.  It’s been talked about here, there, and everywhere, and for good reason.  This bread will make you swoon.  It’s that good.  It’s hard to believe that the luxurious, comforting, crusty loaf of bread that results is made only of flour, water, salt and yeast.  Every time I make it, I feel like a magician. And like I’m stealing.  Surely something so inexpensive can’t be this good or this simple, I think.  But it is all of those things. And it’s perfectly suited to fill in the gaps of a lean week of meals.  It’s as my Sicilian great-grandfather is quoted as saying, “you take one bite of meat, five bites of bread”. Good advice for our scrappy weeks.

Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Bread

Note: this makes a pretty large loaf of  bread and unless you are feeding a large group, you will have leftovers. This is a great opportunity to make toasts (bake at 375 degrees F for 10 minutes or so and rubbed with a clove of garlic) that you can top with anything you like (cheese, fried egg, wilted greens, all of the above, etc, etc).  You can also make fresh breadcrumbs.  Or, you can tear them in pieces, toss with olive oil and a bit of salt, bake until crunchy, and have the best croutons you have ever tasted.

3 cups (430g) flour
1½ cups (345g or 12oz) water
¼ teaspoon (1g) yeast
1¼ teaspoon (8g) salt
olive oil (for coating)
extra flour, wheat bran, or cornmeal (for dusting)

special equipment: a 6-8 quart pot with lid (Pyrex glass, cast iron, or ceramic)

Combine all the dry ingredients in a medium-sized bowl.  Add the water and mix with a wooden spoon or spatula until the flour is incorporated (not more than a minute). The dough will be pretty shaggy and sticky.  Lightly oil another medium-sized bowl or large container with a lid and transfer the dough.  Cover with plastic wrap or top and let sit for 12-18 hours at room temperature (about 70 degrees F).

When the time is up (the dough will have bubbles on the surface), use a spatula to remove the dough from the container to a well floured surface.  With floured hands, gently fold the dough over on itself once or twice (in half is fine).  Let sit for 15-30 minutes more and then shape into a ball.  Move dough to one half of a floured towel (not terry cloth, but a smooth kitchen towel).  Sprinkle the top with flour and cover with the rest of the towel.  Let rise for 1-2 hours, or until doubled in size.

In the last part of the rise preheat the oven to 450-500 degrees F.  Place the container and lid in the oven to preheat, as well. Once the dough has doubled in size, take the hot pot out of oven, take off the lid and place the dough in the pot seam side up. Don’t worry what it looks like at this point. You can transfer the dough to the pot while still on the towel by picking up the towel like a tray with two hands. Cover the pot and bake for 30 minutes.  Uncover the pot and let bake for 15-30 more minutes.  Remove from the oven and pot and let cool completely on a rack.

Simple Lentil Soup

February 21, 2011 § Leave a comment

I mentioned in this post that I picked up a copy of Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian from the library the other day. I have to say, it’s a great book. It’s so informative (it IS over 800 pages long), has basic instructions for the best ways to cook every type of vegetable, and has loads of variations to his recipes. I’m going to hog this one from the library for a while, I can tell. I like his laid back approach.  If there is one thing I like in a recipe, it’s the ability to be flexible, to use what you have, to make do, if you will.  Bittman seems to think similarly.

This simple lentil soup is from his book.  My main issue with lentil soups are that they look so…brown.  But, good people, I will ask you to look beyond this humble soups boring appearance.  It’s got some things going for itself!  As unappetizing as it looks, it’s got some zing to it in the form of garlic, onions, lemon, and some good, tangy parmesan grated on top.  It also has the virtues of being a hearty meal, but feeling light on your stomach.  You’ll feel like you’ve been fueled for action. Bonus: this is about as cheap as it gets for a filling meal. A bag of lentils costs $1.39.

I was pretty much the only one who liked this meal.  Vince said he liked it but added “I was REALLY hungry when I sat down, so that helped”.  He says the sweetest things. The kids were counting bites (“how many bites do I have to take?”) from the beginning, but made it through. Again, bread was their port in the storm of dinner.

Lentil Soup adapted from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian

(I actually doubled the recipe below b/c I wanted to use all the lentils I had.  It worked well.  If you refrigerate leftovers, you may have to add some broth or water to the soup when you warm it up.  I also added the lemon, parsley, and cheese.  The original didn’t call for them, but I think they made big contributions to flavor.)

1 cup dried lentils, washed and picked over

1 bay leaf

Several sprigs of fresh thyme, or a few pinches of dried

1 carrot, cut into a 1/2-inch dice

1 celery stalk, cut into a 1/2-inch dice

6 cups vegetable stock or water (I used half and half)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 onion chopped

1 teaspoon minced garlic (I added more than this)

The juice of 1 lemon

Chopped parsley

Grated parmesan cheese

Put the lentil, the bay leaf, the thyme sprigs, carrot, celery, and the stock or water in a  medium saucepan.  Add salt and pepper and bring to a boil.  Turn the heat down when it boils and cook on low, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are tender, but not mushy. about 30 minutes.

While cooking the lentils, put the olive oil in a skillet and heat over medium high heat.  Add the onion and a little salt, and cook until the onion softens, about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more.  Take the skillet off the heat.

Back to the lentils.  Fish out the bay leaf and thyme sprigs from the lentils and stir the onion mixture in.  Add more liquid at this point if it’s needed. Stir in lemon juice and serve with grated cheese.

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