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
January 19, 2012 § Leave a comment
Ok, I swear I’ll stop posting about beans. I feel like that’s all I talk about, but I had to share this soup with you b/c it’s just too good to not share, even at the risk of being “the bean lady”. I’ve had The Essential New York Times Cookbook on loan from the library for about a thousand weeks now (and I’m so sad I have to give it back, finally). This is a recipe I found there. Make it this weekend and eat it for days. Buy good, fresh salsa if you don’t feel up to making it.
Black Bean Soup with Salsa
Note**this recipe called for beans that haven’t been soaked overnight or quick-soaked. I did soak mine overnight which significantly reduced the time the soup was on the burner: from 2 1/2 hours to about 1 hour. You can use whatever method you like for the beans, even subbing rinsed, canned beans if need be. Also, instead of chicken or vegetable broth, I used bean broth left over from pinto beans I had cooked a few days before (ok, I AM the bean lady)…You can use the liquid you use to cook beans in place of broth.
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 1/2 cups finely chopped onions
- 1 1/2 cups finely chopped celery
- 1 1/2 cups finely diced carrots
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tablespoon finely minced garlic
- 1 1/4 teaspoons dried thyme
- 4 tablespoons ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh oregano leaves or 1 tablespoon dried oregano, crumbled
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 16 cups broth (vegetable, or chicken, or bean, see note)
- 1 pound black beans, soaked
- 6 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- Salt to taste
- 1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro
- sour cream
- 3 tomatoes, diced
- 1/2 white or yellow onion, finely diced
- 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
- juice of one lime
Heat olive oil and butter, in a large pot, over medium high heat.
Add the onions, celery, carrots, bay leaf, garlic, thyme, three tablespoons of the cumin, black pepper, oregano and a pinch of salt. Stir to blend and cover. Cook about five minutes over moderately low heat. Do not allow the mixture to burn.
Add the tomato paste and stir briefly. Add the broth and bring to a boil.
- Drain the beans and add them to the soup. Cook, uncovered, simmering until the beans are velvety and some of them have fallen apart.
- Stir in the lime juice, cayenne pepper, salt, and cilantro. Remove and discard the bay leaf.
- Serve the salsa and sour cream on the side, to be added at will.
September 15, 2011 § 2 Comments
Well, School is in full swing, now, and it’s been a rough couple of weeks. We’ve had a few bathroom accidents during school, a few forgotten homeworks, one completely missed project (in an email, the teacher sweetly asked why my child’s project wasn’t there. I had never even heard of this project! Not a great start…), and some major meltdowns here and there. Outside of school, my youngest got eight stitches in her forehead one Friday night, we’ve had two chickens die in the last week (pretty gruesome), and I’ve been laid out for days with the flu. Sometimes life just kicks your butt. But, I know it could be worse.
There have been great things, too, however and, in effort to dwell on the beautiful and good (something I’m working on), I’m going to list them:
~While I was sick with the stomach flu recently, my oldest totally came through, rousing everyone from bed, making lunches, and fixing breakfast for everyone, so that I could just roll out of bed (curled up in a cramping ball) and get in the car to drive them to school. I was touched by her kindness to me.
~My son’s teacher sent home an “award” for his performance in the math part of class that day. He really gets excited by solving number problems. We see some geeky coolness in his future, but this is not breaking news with him.
~My second daughter, June, loves to read out loud (loudly), and has recently taken to reading the non-readers stories. Bedtime, mealtime, in the car time…she’s reading to someone. She likes to be in charge and I’m hoping this is a good way for her to be. Plus, the younger ones are being read to more. I’m so appreciative of that.
~I couldn’t be enjoying all the time I’m getting with my youngest any more. We are having a blast working our way through a book, practicing the formation of letters, going to the YMCA (where grandmotherly types read her books, she makes clocks to learn how to tell time, etc. all while I’m getting some exercise), reading books while eating warm roasted peanuts, and baking something almost every day (these, this, and this amazing thing, for example). See what I mean? I’m just reveling in it because she goes off to kindergarten next year. Sniff.
Speaking of granola (one of the links above), we have been eating it on a pretty regular basis as I continue to try to reduce our sugar intake (I know, I’m one of those people. But read this article and tell me what you think) by making our own cereal. I have no hope, nor wish, to eliminate sweetness from our diets entirely, but I can do what I can, right?
I kind of just wing the granola at this point, dumping the dry stuff into a big bowl (seeds, nuts, flax meal, dried fruit or not, salt, cinnamon or nutmeg) and mixing it with some wet ingredients (maple syrup, vegetable or grape seed or even olive oil, honey, vanilla extract). If it’s too dry I add more wet stuff. If it’s too wet, I add more dry. Then I bake it on a sheet pan at 375 degrees for ten minutes, stir it, see if it needs to toast more, and go from there. It’s pretty foolproof and you can customize it to your tastes. Oh, and your house will smell like it will in heaven.
Other Stuff to Love:
This version of Jane Eyer, lent to me by my friend, Angie. I’ve only watched it three times this week. (what?)
Daydreaming over this beautiful, little bed and in what kind of dream world it would fit (can you imagine how dirty that could get? still…).
March 24, 2011 § 9 Comments
For the last few years, finances have been pretty uncertain for our family. And when I say uncertain, I don’t mean asking questions like “Will we be still able to take our family vacation this year?” No. The uncertainty has been more like “Mommy? Are we going to make it to school this morning?” (because the red E is glaring at us and I have exactly $0 to spend on more gas) We’ve lost our house, moved in with my in-laws (with our four children! These are amazing people), and because we’re always paying off debt, we’re still month-to-month with money. Sometimes, day-to-day. There have been some ugly moments. I’ve had meltdowns. I’ve sworn and yelled and cried. I’ve thought, deservedly, “This isn’t supposed to be my life!”
The odd thing is, having less has been so good for me: I’ve learned I can do jobs I didn’t think I could stand, and lived without things I ridiculously thought necessary (vacations? Sadly, not necessary to life). I guess I could be just getting used to it or learning how to make the best of a “bad” situation. Or, maybe my entitlement is starting to crumble. I don’t really know. But, I do know I feel softer and in having less, I’m more attune to how good I actually have it.
This recipe, a staple in our house, has become a symbol to me of how rich you can be, even when you’re broke. Humble, everyday ingredients transformed into something that’s both beautiful (contrasting, bold colors) and full of intense flavors. It reminds me that there are so many gifts around me, most of them costing little or nothing to experience, and that I really don’t want to miss them by wasting time, wishing we had more money. I know it’s just beans, but it’s a reminder.
I found this recipe in Gourmet a few years ago, when we were all in better financial shape (the magazine and my family). I loved it then, but have since changed some of the ingredients because of cost (good sherry and avocado are typically out). But, even if you do use the pricier items on the list, this is still an extremely inexpensive way to feed a crowd, and satisfies in a way you don’t expect from beans and rice. It’s a great recipe.
Kemp’s Black Beans (Gourmet April 2007)
- 1 lb dried black beans (about 2 1/3 cups), picked over and rinsed (but not soaked)
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 8 cups water
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- **1/4 cup Sherry (cream or medium-dry)
- 1 to 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 to 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Goes well with:
- sweet potatoes, peeled, cubed (1″), and roasted (with a little olive oil and kosher salt on 450 for 20-30 minutes)
- grated cheese (any kind you like)
- Pepitas (toasted pumpkin seeds)
- Chopped red or white onion (or shallot)
- Chopped cilantro
- Avocado, cubed
- sour cream
- Lime wedges, for squeezing on top
- Hot sauce
March 20, 2011 § 4 Comments
Pizza night is a regular thing around my house. It’s not a once a week, fixed night–that would be waaay too scheduled for us. But, it’s my busy/lazy night of the week dinner, and there are a lot of nights that fall into those two categories. We eat a lot of pizza, ok? Probably twice a week. Is that wrong?
Maybe I’m deluding myself, but I actually feel like this is a pretty healthy option for us, even as often as we have it. I use my bread dough that is always in the fridge for the crust (or a Giada recipe that is quick and simple), so I know it isn’t full of sugar (something I can taste when we’ve had frozen or delivery pizza). I use whole milk mozzarella cheese, but not a ton of it. Then I try to add some vegetables on top to help us all get the roughage that we need. Add a salad? Even better. So, see? I feel pretty good about it on a health level.
On another level, the pleasure level, there’s nothing that competes with homemade pizza for dinner. There’s crispy, chewy crust, cheese (what’s not to love), warm vegetables, and a fresh-baked bread aroma. Another thing: the kids can help me grate cheese and “decorate” the pizzas with whatever we are putting on them before they go in the oven. It’s a good parent and child meal, but would be great for couples, friends over for dinner, whatever. People like to make and eat pizza.
Instead of a specific recipe, I’m going to give you a list of some of the things we put on our pies regularly. Pizza is a great vehicle for whatever ingredients you have in the fridge/want to use up/have a hankering for/are dirt cheap this week, so here are some suggestions:
- thinly sliced potatoes
- kalamata olives
- thinly sliced carrots
- ricotta (spooned on in little splotches)
- arugula (tossed on the top after the pizza comes out of the oven)
- chopped garlic
- caramelized onions
- sun-dried tomatoes
- basil pesto (we make it when we have basil in the garden)
- pine nuts
- herbs (thyme, rosemary, basil, parsley, sage, cilantro, dill, oregano)
- cheeses (Mozzarella, Goat, Feta, Parmesan, Asiago, whatever)
- cooked meats (bacon, pancetta, sausages, leftover chicken, ham)
And on and on…
The process goes like this:
- Make the dough. If you already have the dough in your fridge from the Artisan Bread in 5 method, shape a ball and do something else for an hour. If you go with Giada’s recipe, mix it and come back in an hour or two (three works, too). ***Edit: her recipe calls for you to mix all the ingredients in a food processor, but I just mix it in a large bowl and stir it with a big spoon. At the end, I mix it by hand, knead it for a minute on the counter, oil the same bowl, and put it back in to rise.
- Pre-heat your oven to as hot as it will go. This is 550 degrees F for my oven.
- Sprinkle your baking sheet or baking stone (a great option, but a baking sheet will work, just fine) with cornmeal to avoid sticking.
- Flour a work surface and your hands and stretch out the dough, making a circle or oblong shape, depending on your pan shape. You will have to pull a little here and there to get it right, but don’t pull too hard. If you do make holes, just patch them the best you can. It can be fixed. Don’t panic.
- Put the dough on your baking sheet and put it in the oven for a short pre-bake: about 10 minutes, but keep an eye on your crust. You are going for a slight browning, but not a thorough cooking.
- Grate your cheese(s) and prepare your toppings.
- Remove the crust from the oven and top it with your cheeses and other “decorations” you desire, and put it back in the oven again.
- Bake for 5-8 minutes, again, keeping an eye on it. You want your cheese to blister a little, and your crust to become golden brown.
- Remove, cut with a sharp knife, kitchen shears, or a pizza cutter (if you have one), and serve immediately.
March 11, 2011 § 10 Comments
This Friday’s selection from the book Around My French Table is a dish with a name that’s a little misleading. It’s called beggar’s linguine, which could lead you to believe that it’s so cheap to put together even beggars can do it. Well, sadly for me, the name isn’t referring to the wallet size of those likely to eat it. The “beggar” in the title is just a reference to a traditional, French confection, called a Mendiant (beggar). A Mendiant was a chocolate disc containing different dried fruits and nuts, each representing a different monastic order. Now, however, when the term mendiant is used to describe food, it just means it was prepared with fruit and nuts: cakes, ice cream, or, in this case, linguine.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from a pasta dish that had dried fruit in it . It sounded like it would be sickening sweet. Dried figs? I was a little wary, and judging from what a lot of other FFWD cooks have said about their experiences, I wasn’t the only one. This situation, however, was exactly why I joined that little cooking project in the first place: to make the recipes I would usually skip over. To make myself experience new flavors, even if I didn’t think I’d like them.
Well, happily, I was wrong and I think I can call it a true success. How could I have doubted that I would love anything that contains brown butter (that’s just butter cooked until brown, in case you are wondering)? And, you know, it wasn’t too sweet. In fact, thanks to the nuttiness of the butter and the grainy tang of the cheese, it was a great balance of salty and sweet. I should have known it would be: Dorie Greenspan just puts out great recipes.
Two more good things about this dish: it’s done in about 30 minutes, making it ideal for a weeknight meal or a last minute dinner with friends, AND my kids liked it. I was showing the kids the figs that were in the dish and trying to tell them they are the same things that are inside fig newtons. That, apparently stuck in my son’s head because when he was telling me he liked it he said, “Especially, I like the pistachios, mom. And the fig newtons.” They kill me sometimes.
You can se the full recipe over at Dorie Greenspan’s site here, or you can let me know you want the recipe by leaving me a note in the comments, and I’ll email it to you. Have a great weekend!
February 10, 2011 § 6 Comments
I made Swiss chard Lasagna for dinner last night. (But it didn’t look this sweaty and unappetizing. Ew. Any tips for night photography?) I know. I’m talking about chard again. I’ll admit, I’ve been a little obsessed with the stuff since I began this project (see here and here if you don’t believe me) but, honestly, I have to be attentive to things we get from the garden. It just feels ridiculous to let something we have started from seed, rot once it gets to my refrigerator because I can’t come up with a way to use it. So, there I was again…how to use chard in a meal that won’t make people cry around the table.
I found Bon Appetit’s recipe for Lasagna with chard and mushrooms (after a family member recommended one of their soups) and decided I could just omit the mushrooms and add more greens. I had a bag of spinach that could fill in for the extra greens and so, we (my helper and I) were on our way.
I think It came out really well (despite the icky looking photo at the top). It was rich and decadent, but didn’t feel like overindulgence (I wasn’t so full that I was uncomfortable after eating a decent sized piece). The Bechamel sauce (white sauce) in this dish has nutmeg and cloves that give it a sweetly spicy flavor that went well with the creamy ricotta and Fontina cheeses. Responses from around the table were all positive. I think my oldest daughter even said “I love it”. It’s shocking, but it happened. Point.
Swiss Chard and Spinach Lasagna (adapted from BA’s Swiss Chard Lasagna with Ricotta and Mushrooms by Melissa Clark*)
- 2 1/2 cups whole milk
- 1 Turkish bay leaf
- 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup all purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon (scant) ground nutmeg
- 1/2 pound Swiss chard, center rib and stem cut from each leaf
- 1/2 pound baby spinach
- 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 3/4 cups chopped onion (2 smallish)
- 4 large garlic cloves, chopped, divided
- 1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
- Coarse kosher salt
- Freshly ground pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 9 7×3-inch lasagna noodles
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 15-ounce container whole-milk ricotta cheese (preferably organic), divided
- 6 ounces Italian Fontina cheese, coarsely grated (about 11/2 cups packed), divided
- 8 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese, divided
Bring milk and bay leaf to simmer in medium saucepan; remove from heat. Melt butter in heavy large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add flour and whisk to blend. Cook 2 minutes, whisking almost constantly (do not let roux brown). Gradually whisk milk with bay leaf into roux. Add 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt, nutmeg, and cloves and bring to simmer. Cook until sauce thickens enough to coat spoon, whisking often, about 3 minutes. Remove bay leaf. Béchamel sauce can be made 1 day ahead. Press plastic wrap directly onto surface and chill. Remove plastic and rewarm sauce when ready to use, whisking till smooth.
swiss chard and spinach layers
Blanch chard and spinach in large pot of boiling salted water 1 minute. Drain, pressing out all water, then chop coarsely. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in heavy medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, half of garlic, and crushed red pepper. Sauté until onion is tender, 5 minutes. Mix in chard and spinach and season to taste with coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in heavy large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and remaining garlic. Sauté until mushrooms are brown and tender, 7 to 8 minutes. Mix in nutmeg and season with coarse salt and pepper.lasagna
Cook noodles in medium pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain; put cool water, just enough to keep the noodles from sticking, into the pot and add noodles back in.
Brush 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish with oil to coat. Spread 3 tablespoons béchamel sauce thinly over bottom of dish. Arrange 3 noodles in dish to cover bottom. Spread half of chard mixture over pasta. Drop half of ricotta over in dollops and spread in even layer. Sprinkle with half of Fontina, then 4 tablespoons Parmesan; spread 3/4 cup béchamel over. Repeat layering with 3 noodles, remaining chard and ricotta, more Fontina and Parmesan. make one more layer with noodles, bechamel, and topped with the remaining cheese. Can be made 2 hours ahead. Cover with foil. Let stand at room temperature 2 hours (or place in the refrigerator overnight).
Preheat oven to 400°F. Bake lasagna covered 30 minutes. Uncover and bake until heated through and top is golden brown, 20 to 30 minutes longer. Let stand 15 minutes beforeMelissa Clark is a collaborator on many cookbooks, food writer for the New York Times, and has her own book that I’m hoping will be my next library find.