Monday, February 27, 2012

Bean Soup from Leftovers

We made bean and rice burritos yesterday.  And after eating beans from scratch, we end up with a bit of leftover beans in a lot of beany broth - which lends itself very well to being turned into soup on this cold and rainy day...

(amounts are approximate and will vary depending on how much leftovers you have)

a cup of cooked beans in a few cups of beany broth
1/2 cup or so of leftover cooked rice
1-2 tablespoons olive oil or Spring Hill butter
1/2 onion, chopped
1-2 carrots, quartered and thinly sliced
a celery rib, diced
a few cloves of garlic, minced
any other veggies lurking in your fridge? some roasted cauliflower? sugar snap peas? tomato? a handful of chopped greens?

In a pot, reheat the beans in their broth as you cook up the rest of the ingredients (if you have a parmesano cheese rind you've been saving, add that to the pot, too).

In a separate pan, saute the onion, garlic, carrots and celery (this is also a good time to add any dried herbs or spices you want) until just soft and add them to the beans along with the rice.  Saute any additional veggies until just soft and add them, too or add already cooked veggies straight into the pot.  Fresh greens or herbs go in last.  Gently simmer for a few minutes.  Season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Family Brunch & Chile Relleno Casserole

I'm starting a new family tradition - Sunday potluck brunch at my place.  It's easy for us all to get busy and time passes quickly.  But a Sunday brunch every few weeks seems to be a good opportunity to spend time together.  And potluck makes it easy and casual.  And I get to pick up almost all my ingredients Saturdays at the Mercato. Last weekend, I made my version of my mother's recipe:

Chile Relleno Casserole
4 pint baskets of chiles (anaheim, poblano, hungarian...) from JR Organics Farm
1 pound of Monterey jack from Spring Hill, grated
1 dozen eggs from Schaner Farm
½ cup Strauss milk from People's
3 tablespoons flour from People's

Roasted the chiles on a cookie sheet in the oven at 400º, turning once, until the chiles are soft and the skins are blackened.  Allow them to cool, peel off the papery skin and remove the stems and seeds.  Slice the chiles and spread them out in a buttered, 9"x13" baking dish.  Top with with the cheese.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk and flour and pour into the baking dish.  Bake at 375º for 20-30 minutes until fluffy and golden.

Serves 12.

Or for individual portions...
butter muffin tins (or use cupcake paper), add a tablespoon or 2 of the chopped chile and sprinkle some cheese in each cup, fill 3/4 full with the egg mixture and bake for about 20 minutes.

I served it with a roasted salsa verde (ingredients from Schaner, JR and Suzie's), sour cream and avocado.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Simple Marinara Sauce (and thoughts on canning tomatoes)

I don't buy fresh tomatoes out of season (if you want to learn more about the tomato industry, Tomatoland is a great book).  But I do still crave their tomato-y goodness, so I keep a few cans of organic tomatoes around, perfect for quick sauces and soup. Tomatoes are one of those foods that when cooked, can be even healthier for you: cooking tomatoes increases the amount of lycopene (a phytochemical associated with decreased cancer risk) that our bodies can use.

When I lived in Pennsylvania, I worked on a family farm, where tomatoes - especially sauce tomatoes - were a big crop for them.  People would buy sauce tomatoes (I recommend San Marzanos) by the bushel (or peck; did you know there are 4 pecks to a bushel?) for canning.  And at the end of tomato season, I helped the family can enough tomatoes to last them through the next season (lots - an all day event).  Before this experience I thought canning your own goods wasn't worth the trouble when they come so cheap in the grocery store.  But I have a wiser perspective now.  When you grow your own food, you gain a deep connection with that food and you are intimately involved in so much of what goes into producing it.  You want to treat each tomato with the respect it deserves and allow it to express it's tomato-ness (especially on the palate!). 

But I didn't put up tomatoes last summer so I'm stuck with Muir Glen for now.

Marinara
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 onion, cut in half again and sliced thin
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried basil
a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes (or more to taste)
4 garlic cloves, minced
3 1/2 cups (28 oz) canned crushed or ground tomatoes

In a large skillet, heat oil on medium heat and add the onion & spices.  Cook, stirring, until onions are soft.  Add garlic and cook a few minutes more.  Add tomato and cook, stirring, until it bubbles.  Reduce heat to low and cook to desired thickness.  Add sea salt to taste if needed (canned tomatoes usually contain enough salt that you may not need to add any more).

While the sauce is simmering, I boil up my pasta (I prefer angel hair or penne) in salted water and cook until just before tender.  Using tongs or a slotted spoon, I transfer the pasta (and the water that clings to it) into the sauce and allow it to finish cooking together.

Big Plus: this meal cooks up in about 15 minutes!

Variations
Add other chopped vegetables in with the garlic (such as summer squash)
Top with your favorite Italian cheese (such as pecorino or parmigiano reggiano)
This sauce also works well as a pizza sauce when reduced until very thick.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

How to Cook Beans from Scratch

Home-cooked beans made from scratch are sooo delicious!  They are vastly superior than canned for many reasons: texture, flavor, you get awesome bean broth, they are cheaper, you can add your own seasonings, and I find it very satisfying.

It is very easy to cook dried beans from scratch but they do require some advanced planning because they take awhile to soak and cook. (You can also cook fresh or sprouted beans super fast but I'll talk about those later...)

Other than thinking about the approximate amount of cooked beans I want to end up with...
(kitchen tip: 1/2 pound dried beans = 1 cup dried = 3 cups cooked)
...I don't really measure ingredients, but here's the method I use:
  1. Sort your dried beans: spread them out on a flat surface (like on a baking sheet) and make sure to remove any bad looking beans and anything that is not a bean (like little stones and grains).
  2. Rinse the beans with water.  This removes dirt or anything else their surface has come into contact with.
  3. Ideally: in a bowl, cover the beans with water by a couple inches (about 3 times as much water as beans), cover with a lid, and soak overnight in the fridge or for at least 4 hours. The soaking water contains the bulk of the raffinose (a bean sugar that we can't digest), so tossing this water after soaking helps eliminate gas. (If you forget to soak beans ahead of time, don't despair; you can still pull it off with a quick soak: boil beans in soaking water for a few minutes, the cover and let soak in the hot water for an hour.)
  4. Drain & rinse the beans, then cover them with fresh water plus about an inch in a pot.
  5. Boil the beans on a good hard boil for about 10 minutes and skim off any foamy scum that forms on top of the water (cuz who wants to eat bean scum? Also, it can boil over and make a terrible mess).
  6. Cover and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook time will depend on several things: pre-soaked beans cook faster, small beans cook faster than big ones, old beans that have been sitting in your cupboard for years may not ever get tender.  Generally, pre-soaked beans will take 45 minutes to an hour to simmer until soft and tender, with larger beans taking close to an hour and a half.  So start 'em early; beans keeping warm on the stove waiting for the rest of the meal to be ready is not a bad thing.  Also, you can cook beans in a crock pot.
  7. After you skim off the bean foam and reduce the heat, this is a good time to add any flavorings to the pot.  I always add 1/4-1/2 onion, 2 peeled whole garlic cloves and a couple sprigs of parsley, cilantro (for Mexican food), or epazote (for black beans).  If you don't have fresh herbs, you could use a teaspoon or more of dried herbs.  These additions enrich the flavor of the beans and the beany broth.
  8. While your beans are simmering, periodically check the water and add more as needed to keep the water level completely covering the beans.
  9. Periodically, scoop out a bean or 2 and taste to see how they are coming along. If they are getting close to done, this is the time to add salt to taste.  Do not add salt earlier in the cooking process or it will make your beans tough.  Some people like to cook their beans until they are super mushy but I prefer to cook them until they are a kinda soft creamy texture when I bite into them but they still hold their shape.
  10. Now they are ready to eat!  You can serve them in their broth, drain them (save the broth for soup!) or mash them (add in the broth as needed when mashing).
If you grow your own or find them at the farmers market, cook beans fresh out of their shell! You can find beautiful heirloom varieties and fresh favas (which take forever to shell but are amazing) and cannellinis. In a pot, cover fresh beans with water, bring to a boil, add your seasonings (except salt) and simmer on low heat until tender, adding salt in the last few minutes of cooking.  Fresh beans will cook up in 10-30 minutes.

Or, Suzie's Farm sells sprouted beans, which you can eat raw or simmer like I've described above.