Posts Tagged ‘beans


lots of food, no posts

It’s not like we haven’t been eating lately, and cooking good things.

There was the week J-P was in Boston, and I breakfasted on beans almost every morning.
beans for breakfast

There was J-P coming back and telling me that my kaddo bourani is better than Helmand’s.

There was the day in early May when the Neufeld Farms fruit stand started its annual spring conversion from dried fruit to fresh with a load of apricots.
expanding farm stand

There were the crushed raspberries topped with a quick, Mark Bittman-style chocolate mousse.

There was Alex’s party and my first-ever angelfood cake, which we grilled, also on Mark Bittman’s excellent advice.

There was the day J-P asked me to think of something to do with the snap peas, and I pulled a homemade pie crust out of the freezer and some cheese left over from the party out of the fridge and made a quiche. There were extra peas, so I steamed those and made a sauce for them out of white wine, shallots, mushroom stock, and butter.

There was our picnic with Heidi, where she brought German potato salad and her first strawberry-rhubarb pie, and we brought sausages and a salad I’d created from green beans, shallots, and yellow tree oyster mushrooms.

I repeated that salad, bulked up with a little bacon, later in the week. We were low on all of the usual grains that might have made it a meal, so I cooked some bulgur with vegetable stock and a parmesan rind, which turned out delicious.

Even later that week, J-P got us to eat the leftover bulgur by serving it under slices of pork chop seasoned with chile powder and a plain omelette cut into strips. There were steamed snap peas drizzled with butter on the side, and the whole plate sprinkled with lime juice.

There was the Cookie Club gathering at which Heidi, Kiri, Sarah, Bridget, and I learned that French macarons are a pain to make. The pastry bag was difficult, we all got tired of whipping egg whites, and the fancy rose petal sugar was oddly flavorless, at least in a buttercream. We learned a new appreciation for bakeries and think we’ll try the 15-minute oatmeal lace cookies next time.

And there’s been out new garden plot in the Potrero del Sol community garden. I am trying beets, green beans (the pintos turned out to be duds), peppers, and zucchini right now. So far, California has been doing its best to make a fool of me. For instance, it’s rained a lot the last couple of weeks, but I looked on the bright side by thinking that at least I didn’t have to go to the garden every other day to water it. I didn’t count on the weeds. Now at least I know that the plot will feed me with lamb’s quarters, purslane, and nettle if I let it.
lamb's quarters

While I was weeding yesterday, a fellow gardener came up to introduce himself. He was a large, dark man in his fifties or maybe sixties, wearing a red and blue plaid shirt that reminded me of one my father would wear.

“Hello,” he said. And then, “How are jou?”

“I’m good. What’s your name?” I answered.


“Antonio,” I repeated, then offered, “I’m Esther.”

Antonio cocked his head to the left and narrowed his eyes, both slightly, and considered me for a moment. “Ester,” he said, Spanish-style. And with a period, not a question mark.

“Ester,” I conceded with a little nod.

The garden has white, English-speaking gardeners and brown, Spanish-speaking gardeners. So far, no one from either group has suffered more than a moment’s hesitation figuring out how to speak to me—and the answer is always in their own language.

Modesta hesitated much less than Antonio, who comes across as a pretty deliberate guy, anyhow. Modesta said hi in English and told me her name. I had barely finished repeating it back to her before she beamed and said, “Que bueno que sí habla español!”

Antonio and I talked a bit, about what I was growing, and whether it wouldn’t be better to weed with a hoe, rather than pulling them all by hand like I was. Little did he know he had walked up just as I was abandoning the superbly romantic notion of lunching on a salad of lamb’s quarters and purslane.

Even so, I said that a hoe would be better in the middle, where I wasn’t growing anything, but not along that side where I have—

Here I finally, really saw the weedy wreckage I was gesturing at, and sighed—had, where I had beans.

He went off to weed a common area, and I went off to get a hoe from the tool shed.

Later, we talked about his love of the outdoors, his recent retirement, and how he wants to move back home to Cuernavaca. I met his wife, Carmen, who was cleaning nopales with a machete, and saw their plot, where they have nopales, tomatillos, tomatoes, summer squash, corn, a little lettuce, a teeny red rose bush, and a well restrained avocado tree.
antonio and carmen's plot


a British-Bittman-Guatemalan-Boston brunch

Jael and Julie were in town from Brooklyn, celebrating Jael’s birthday, so yesterday we had them over for brunch. I had a vision: a baking dish full of kale and black beans, with eggs baked on top, served with salsa, California chevre, and corn tortillas. I realize that it doesn’t sound like much, but it turned out fabulous.

And despite the fancy presentation, this is not far off a typical breakfast in the Guatemalan campo, where the kale is replaced with unspecified wild greens usually referred to as monte: brush.

I am inordinately fond of kale, so I am told, because of my long exile in Boston. I am also told that I can make it taste like there’s bacon in it, even when there isn’t. The secrets to kale are thus: season liberally with salt, garlic, and red pepper flakes, and sauté, do not boil. That’s all. (Lemon zest and unsweetened coconut flakes also do not hurt as seasonings. If you’d rather show a Texan influence than a Boston, use collards instead. It’s basically the same plant.)

Black beans, as I’ve said before, take a little extra work, even if you start them in the pressure cooker. The ideal pot of black beans is half broken down and luxuriating in a pool of reduced bean juice. With salt.

The tortillas were a pound and a quarter of fresh-milled and fresh-cooked goodness from La Palma. The four of us were just three short of finishing off the stack.

Thanks go out to Ian Greer (living in London) for giving me idea of greens with eggs baked on top, and to Mark Bittman for coincidentally featuring baked eggs and giving me a temperature to bake them at: 375 F. My eggs baked unevenly and took twice as long as his suggested 12 minutes, but I figure I could even that out by baking in ramekins instead of a big baking dish. It’s just that my ramekins looked so small when it came time to stuff them with kale.

For dessert, Mitchell’s Ice Cream, to celebrate the fact that while it may have been 7 degrees in Brooklyn, it was 67 here.


my good friend protein

Chris Sturr, with whom I’ve shared many a fondue pot (so you know this is not too serious), recently suggested through J-P that I try the Zone Diet concept to make sure I get enough protein to prevent the cranky shakes. Basically, you think of foods as “blocks,” with 7 grams of protein equaling a block of protein, 9 grams (not counting dietary fiber) for a block of carbs, and 3 grams for a block of fats. You try to keep those blocks in a 1:1:1 ratio, and eat totals that bring you up to daily intakes recommended based on your lean body mass and activity level. Fair enough.

My biggest beef is not with the pseudoscience crufted around the basic idea (unavoidable in nutrition writing), but with the books’ inherent bias toward meat eating. To make it easy for you–so that you don’t have to “gram it out”–the books call certain amounts of meat or dairy “protein blocks,” with all greens and all beans except soy classed as “carb blocks.” What about spinach? It’s 1 protein to 0.4 carbs. Or broccoli and cauliflower, each about 1:1 (slightly in favor of carbs). Lentils and split peas, the same. And the rest of the beans aren’t so bad: 1:1.3 for black beans, 1:1.75 for chickpeas. Not that I’m going to go hippie, but Dr. Sears would have me eat three quarters of a pound of boneless, skinless chicken breast each day–and I’m not about to do that, either.

Speaking of skinless: I also routinely go way over my daily allotment of fat. But my cholesterol is fine, and my estimated body fat percentage is a couple of points below their “ideal woman.” It doesn’t seem to be hurting me.

Complaints aside, I will keep a food diary for a little while, to see what tweaks I can make, and whether coming closer to 1:1:1 has any noticeable effects. If I find anything interesting, I’ll let you know.


Happy freezer, full of beans

In the past week, I cooked up our stashes of dried cannellini, chickpeas, red beans, and black beans, then froze them, to make them super quick and impulsive to use.

happy freezer, full of beans

I discovered that I have to treat the black beans (and, eventually, the pinto beans) differently than the others. Red beans, chickpeas, and cannellini I can cook to softness in the pressure cooker, and it doesn’t matter to me how their liquid turns out. Black beans, though, I have to stop short of fully cooked, then transfer them to an open pot, in order to get the thick, sludgy, reduced liquid that signifies properly cooked black beans to me. With pinto beans, it’s going to be the same. How else would you later make them into proper charro beans, or borracho beans, or even refrieds? Thin bean water straight from the pressure cooker is not going to do.


When Kitchen Express and Cooks Illustrated collide

Turns out there was nothing wrong with the seal on my pressure cooker, but the pressure indicator inexplicably won’t stay up. This doesn’t affect the function (all of the beans still cooked quickly and nothing exploded), but it does make deciding when it’s safe to open the thing rather exciting.

I celebrated the lack of explosions and steam burns by using some of the white beans I cooked up to make white bean toasts, a fall recipe from Kitchen Express that works just as well in winter:

white bean toasts and cucumber soup

Mark Bittman’s recipe uses lemon juice and olive oil in place of the cream in the Joy of Cooking’s white bean paste. I left off the dried tomatoes that he suggests, since I only have smoke-dried ones, and I didn’t think that would coordinate too well with the rest of the flavors. I couldn’t be bothered to get out the food processor, so my potato-masher puree is more rustic than his, but my bread is more urbane. Why would I use a “peasant bread” when I love Noe Valley Bakery’s sour baguettes so?

But wait. What is that in the background? A totally unseasonal and unsuited to the weather chilled cucumber soup! Knowing my dedication to the joys of seasonal eating, you may well ask where that came from. I’ll tell you.

Yesterday I tested an unpublished Cooks Illustrated recipe for the first time. Even though I get their emails regularly, I’ve resisted until now because their editorial calendar keeps their test recipes so out of step with the seasons. I fell for this one because I figured the dressing on their cucumber salad would give me a good basis for trying to recreate this wonderful cabbage, cucumber, mint, jalapeño, and lime salad that Burma Superstar serves. I was right about the dressing, and I’m eager to try it with a cabbage I’ll pick up at the farmers’ market tomorrow. Meanwhile, the cucumber salad was just fine, though I was worried because the cucumbers I picked up at Whole Foods were big, seedy, and bitter.

The recipe served four, so I couldn’t finish it. Into the fridge with the leftovers! And tonight, out comes—cucumber salad in a lot of liquid:

That used to be a salad.

Immersion blender to the rescue!

Now it's a soup!

It was possibly better as a soup than as a salad. I can also see potential for it as a smoothie, or a granita, or a mixer. Come summer and small, sweet cucumbers, that is.


new year, new posts

For breakfast, jalapeño cornbread, courtesy Liza:


She gave me a container of it when we met up with Richard yesterday to wander around the Haight. It was inadvertently an all-Mexican, all-the-time day, culinarily speaking. Lunch was a gigantic breakfast burrito (not quite a breakfast taco, but at least it came in a flour tortilla) at The Little Chihuahua on Divisadero, where the rice and eggs both were moist, the carne asada was good, and the beans and carnitas both seemed to lack lard. The carnitas also packed what we could only guess was curry powder…?

Dinner was leftover-turkey quesadillas and mixed-salsas-on-lettuce salad at Steve and Liza’s, where I went to print out a manuscript on canonization to edit. Speaking of which, look what I got on Haight:

This morning, I am trying to follow Mark Bittman’s advice, from Kitchen Express, to cook dried beans when you have the time, then freeze them for later use. (I fell in love with this book while I wasn’t blogging; the quick-to-prepare recipes, arranged seasonally, are really just paragraph descriptions that assume you know how to cook and offer lots of substitution suggestions. The idea is that you should be able to peek in the book after work and throw something tasty together, and the tone is very homey and collegial.) There seems to be a problem with the seal on my pressure cooker, though, so the chickpeas may end up very tedious indeed…


serendipitous cooking methods

My grandmother likes her Mexican rice dry (she’s a fan of raspas, the scrapings from the bottom of the pan), while my grandfather likes his with a little juice. Her rules for rice-making are: brown the onions and garlic, then the rice, then add liquid and let it be. Don’t stir it, don’t give it the ojo. The more times I’ve tried this method, the more I’ve come to think that it is meant to give uneven results–just to make everyone happy. In Boston, I blamed the crispy edges and juicy middle (plus the stray hard grains) on our dented, slanted stove. Here in San Francisco, our electric cooktop is perfectly flat–and still no luck. Maybe next time I’ll stir it. Not much, I promise. It’s not risotto. But just enough to get rid of the undercooked bits. Nobody likes those.

Austin Clarke has even worse suspicions about the traditional Barbadian method of preparing rice and beans in one pot. In Pig Tails n Breadfruit, he writes:

The woman cooking this food probably had only one utensil to her name in which to cook her food. But cooking any kind of peas or beans in the same pot as you cook rice is a very tricky thing to do. Sometimes, the peas or the beans does be cooked, and when you hear the shout, the damn rice does be hard. At other times, the rice does be cooked soft, and oh Lord, the peas or the beans does be hard as bullets.

He advises preparing them separately, unless you are an expert.


food for bike camping

adjusting the flame
More pictures through the link.

Favorite new toy: Our Jet Boil camp stove. It looks like an oversized insulated coffee cup; that’s the cooking vessel. Packed inside are fuel, stove with igniter, plastic cup, and French press attachment. Efficient and terribly clever.

Lesson learned: Beans, especially in the form of instant bean soups, really foam. Turn off the heat before you add them to the water, lest you have to reach through a boiling cascade to turn it off after. J-P is very brave.

Comparative instant dinners: Casbah’s lemon & spinach couscous is merely all right. Definitely enhanced by the addition of real lemon juice, salt, and chorizo. The instant black bean soup from the Rainbow bulk bin, on the other hand, is delicious. Salt and chorizo still didn’t hurt.

Unexpected standout: Concentrated Concord grape juice. We spiked two bike bottles with it while preparing post-hike dinner the second night. They were the best possible thing right then.

Lifesaver: Foil packet of peanut butter with honey, consumed somewhere on the Wolf Ridge Trail, when chickpeas just weren’t delivering the goods fast enough anymore. (Wildlife bonus: a hummingbird settled onto a nearby branch while I had my hummingbird moment. Spirit animal much?)

Admission: Especially in the chilly damp, I did miss the eggs, bacon, and potatoes of my family’s car camping days. Just a little. Luckily, we have friends who will go car camping with us. In the short term, we had brunch at Boogaloos when we got back to SF.


we’re going camping

So I am preparing chickpeas and hard-cooked eggs. (It’s less tragic if the eggs crack once they’re cooked.) We’re also taking pre-packaged lemon-spinach couscous (if there ever were a time for flavored convenience foods, this seems to be it), instant black bean soup, Spanish chorizo, saltines, granola, dried fruit, nuts, food bars, chocolate-covered coconut, blueberries, foil packets of nut butters, grape juice concentrate, some apples, a lemon, some salt, and ground coffee. I insisted that corn tortillas and nopales would be great additions to our stash, but saltines won out over the tortillas for some reason, and J-P inexplicably naysaid the nopales. (They’re flat, lightweight…) We’re only out for two nights, and we’ll be near Sausalito, but we’re still being very careful to cater to my tendency toward metabolic collapse.

This will be the first time we’ve camped since Labor Day weekend 2003, when we went to a star party in the Berkshires, where a bunch of astronomers had gathered to view Mars at perigee. It’s Labor Day weekend, we thought. How cold can it get? The answer was 34 degrees Farenheit. We had a tent but no sleeping bags, just blankets. By nightfall we were wearing every scrap of clothing we’d taken with us, and the Boy Scouts made a lot of money selling us hot chocolate and coffee all night long. When we finally decided to try sleeping, we kept each other half awake with our attempts to burrow under the other for warmth. At daylight, we emerged from the tent to run up and down the hill we were on in the sunshine.

We swore never to do that again until we were properly prepared for it, and now is the time. A little over a week ago, we went to REI for sleeping bags, a bigger tent, headlamps, and a camp stove (Jet Boil, a technological marvel with a French press attachment). This weekend, we explored Rainbow Grocery’s selection of dehydrated and instant foods. This afternoon, we bike to Bicentennial Campground in the Golden Gate National Recreational Area.


kitchen myths busted

Thanks to Jeremy for this link. Some of these are pretty subjective (electric and gas stoves may each have benefits, but I still believe the benefits of gas win out), but some others make for interesting reading. Who even knew some people think heating metal seals cracks in it or that cold water boils faster than warm?

Jeremy says he thought at least one of these myths was for real. Me, too: mine was about baking soda’s ability to absorb smells. (None of my family’s cooks ever had any ideologies about cooking beans. They take as long as they take, and not salt nor acid nor anything else really makes a difference.) Anything on this list that you believed?

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