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Pork Chili & Cornbread
october 10, 2013

More tomatillos in the CSA box this week, so more pork chili. This time, a double batch. Here is a recipe from Simply Recipes that is basically the same as the one I use. It ran years ago in the SF Chronicle. Pork, tomatillos and beans are the main ingredients. We like to eat it with Deborah Madison's Buttermilk Skillet Cornbread, from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, p. 647.

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Buy the book

Pork Chili & Cornbread
october 3, 2013

Yes, this again. We still have tomatillos and it's just that good: my kids asked for more last time. Here is a recipe from Simply Recipes that is basically the same as the one I use from the SF Chronicle. Pork, tomatillos and beans are the main ingredients. Deborah Madison's Buttermilk Skillet Cornbread goes well alongside, from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, p. 647.

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Buy the bookEmergency Bean Soup
july 30, 2013

Our crockpot is going to get a lot of use this week. We're back from vacation, the fridge is empty and the produce box doesn't come until Thursday. Plus, I'm much too busy to deal with anything complicated or time consuming.

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Subscribe to the magazineGrilled Flank Steak
july 6, 2013

I've been wanting to practice my charcoal lighting skills, so tonight I'm grilling flank steak with a new marinade recipe from Saveur mag: a spicy, chinese inspired mixture reinterpreted from Mei Chin's 1980s childhood.

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WhiteBeanSoup

Rosemary White Bean Soup - april 30, 2010

I love rosemary because it is so ubiquitous. In San Francisco it grows, honestly, like a weed. It is a perennial, so you only need to plant it once and year after year it just keeps getting bigger and woodier, constantly producing fresh growth for cooking and reliably flowering with miniature blooms, some pink, some white, some a vibrant blue. It lives in my garden right between the lavender and the sage, and like the lavender, it needs no care at all - no water in our dry summers, no fertilizer in our sandy soil, no protection from our tenacious slugs.

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Chips

Beans, Beans the Musical Fruit... - april 25, 2010

I had another positive experience with the slow cooker today - Mexican Bean Soup from The Gourmet Vegetarian Slow Cooker. In the past year or two I would say there has been an absolute explosion in slow cooker cook books, and I am attempting to be a proud consumer of them. But, as my friend Shelley reminded me today, I haven't found that many great recipes. I love the idea of loading up the slow cooker in the morning, going out and about to attend to things during the day and returning home to the illusion that someone has cooked me a fabulous meal. But, really, most of those meals have not been so fabulous.

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PestoBeans

Such cute little beans, just like miniature ponies.

Today was one of those days just plagued by bad decisions. In the morning we headed out to see the train at the Conservatory of Flowers, only to find it closed on Mondays.  So we went to the zoo, where Little Puffer was closed as well.  We looked at the lemurs, giraffes, patas monkeys, penguins, and finally, the train tracks.  Our whirlwind tour ended with a delicious hotdog and lemonade "lunch", after which I delivered both children to preschool, ten minutes late.  At least it was only ten.  Lately they're running a half hour behind on most days.

After taking an afternoon stab at working, I was really looking forward to cooking a stew from Rancho Gordo's Heirloom Beans cookbook, using their Vaquero Beans I picked up at Rainbow last week along with lots of things in the produce box. But, sadly, that is when my worst mistakes of today occurred.  

For starters, I chopped the pancetta before adding it.  This recipe requires that the pancetta be left in one piece and removed after cooking, and there is good reason for it.  A big chunk of pancetta is nearly impossible to chop with a dull knife, even after being sauteed.  Plus, the texture is really bad, like little bits of tasty pencil eraser.  But that was not nearly the worst of it.  

My pesto making with the blender was a bit heavy handed, and it turned out as more of a puree than pesto.  Kind of a bright green slime - just like in the TV show You Can't Do That on Television from the 80's.  I thought I was doing a good thing by following the recipe, but actually, I only know how to use a blender to make yogurt and strawberry smoothies.  Apparently I just don't have the proper technique for anything else. I even have a past history of problems pureeing soup.

But that was really not such a big deal.  The whopper was thinking it was a good idea to give the kids a dozen easter eggs to peel while I finished up the stew.  Tuna and eggs seemed like a nice accompaniment. A little extra protein for my daughter who would surely turn down the beans.

I have to admit that the eggs were a bit worse for the wear from the start.  Two and four year olds have a habit of smashing them up during dying and hunting. Plus, they spent most of Easter day outdoors, being licked by the local raccoons, rats, possums and cats.  And then the fridge was too cold, where they developed a coating of ice under their shells. But after my kids got ahold of them they were truly a mess - bits of shell covered the floor, table, butcher block and both kids.  They hadn't had too much luck separating the insides from the shells, so most of that was smeared all over the floor and tabletops as well.

Then they brought in the brooms, and the real fighting broke out. I have trouble concentrating when two people are beating each other with broomsticks and dustpans in the same room with me, so of course I made a mistake and added all of my bright green pesto puree to the stew, instead of the one cup indicated by the recipe.  Luckily all I could do was laugh - it was just that horrible.  "Hot green soup" as my pink obsessed daughter would say, referring to the color and not the temperature.

I suspect this makes a really great dinner, if you can manage to follow the instructions properly.  We didn't eat ours, except for Jason, who will eat most anything. I actually found it pretty good as a spread for toast, but just couldn't bring myself to eat it as a soup, even though I have no problem eating green soups that are supposed to be green.  This one was just too accidentally green, too oily, and the beans too floaty.  

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Bean Stew with Herb Pesto (adapted from Heirloom Beans from Rancho Gordo):

2 thyme sprigs

2 flat leaf parsley sprigs

1 bay leaf

2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/2 medium carrot, cut into three pieces

1/2 celery stalk, cut into three pieces

1/2 medium yellow onion, quartered

1/4 medium fennel bulb

one 3 to 4 oz piece pancetta

1 pound yellow eye, vaquero, marrow or white runner beans, soaked and drained

4 cups chicken stock

salt and pepper

Put the thyme, parsley and bay leaf on a piece of cheesecloth, gather the corners and tie the bundle securely.  This is a good thing to do so that it is easy to pull them out of the soup when it is finished, because bay leaves are major choking hazards.  Not just for kids, but for grown-ups too.

In a soup pot over medium heat, warm the olive oil.  Add the carrot, celery, onion and fennel and saute until starting to color, about 10 minutes. Add the beans, cheesecloth bundle, chicken stock and water to cover by one inch. Bring to a simmer and cook, uncovered, until the beans are just tender - about 1 and 1/2 hours.  Add the pancetta and let them simmer over very low heat for another 1/2 hour or so. Season with salt and pepper - and don't forget to taste the broth, since it will take a while for the beans to soak it up.

For the Pesto:

4 cornichons

2 teaspoons capers

1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic

1 teaspoon dijon mustard

1 soft cooked egg (or hard boiled one)

1 oil-packed anchovy fillet

1 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 cups arugala leaves, roughly chopped

2 cups spinach leaves, roughly chopped

1/2 cup fresh tarragon leaves

salt and pepper

Put the cornichons, capers, mustard, garlic, egg and anchovy in a food processor (or blender, if you think you can handle the challenge). With the motor running, slowly add the oil until it is completely incorporated. Add the arugala, spinach, and tarragon.  Blend until it looks something like pesto and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Add about one cup of the pesto to the warmed stew (the recipe makes 2-3 cups), ladle into bowls and serve with bread.

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EasterLunch  

Mmmm....Lamb Rub!

We had a wonderful lunch today - and the best part?  I didn't cook it.  My husband Jason, who likes meat, cooked a leg of lamb and  a pot of beans.  He made fennel and blood orange vinaigrette. My friend Laure brought cream puffs.  All I had to do was go out into the garden and snip some lettuce and arugala. Luckily, I have a nice raincoat. 

The lamb was a two day project - Jason picked it up from Avedano's on his way home from work friday and somehow managed to cram it into the refrigerator.  Saturday he realized he'd incorrectly instructed the butcher and removed the thigh bone himself, much to the horror (or was it fascination?) of our children and their guest, Iris.  He made a paste of garlic and parsley and little fish and rubbed it all over the lamb, inside and out.  Then he tied it up with some string and crammed it into the fridge again.  Sunday he roasted it in the oven. After the work was done, he assured me that really it wasn't much work at all.

Then, after lunch, he took the kids out to see a movie.  It was great to have the house to myself, but a little lonely to wash all those dishes in silence.  I guess I could have turned on the radio. I did get a chance to do some reading on the sofa, though, which is really rare.  Usually I read in my bed, in the middle of the night when I can't sleep.  

Right now I'm reading Best Food Writing of 2009  for the Food Lit Book Club I moderate at 18 Reasons. 18 Reasons is a non-profit spin off of Bi Rite Market, over in the Mission, that hosts a variety of food related events - lots of tastings and how-tos.  And it's an art gallery, for food related art. Right now Sita Bhaumik has a show there, "To Curry Favor", that includes a huge wall print made of curry - its' fragrance fills the room.

We're starting the second quarterly session of our book club this month, and will be also be reading Farmer Jane by Temra Costa and It Must've Been Something I Ate by Jeffrey Steingarten. Meetings are on the last Saturday of each month, from 1:00-3:00. We've had special guest stars at two of our three meetings so far, Anne Zimmerman, whose biography of MFK Fisher is coming out soon, and also Novella Carpenter, the author of Farm City. If you're interested in joining, send an email to info@18reasons.org for details.

Happy Easter!

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Roast Leg of Lamb (adapted from Canal House Cooking Volume 3):

One 8-10 pound leg of lamb, tail, pelvic and thigh bones removed; shank and heel bone left attached. Have the butcher give you the removed bones, to flavor the beans.

4 cloves garlic, minced

4 anchovy fillets, minced

1 bunch parsley, leaves chopped

extra virgin olive oil

1 handful fresh rosemary, leaves chopped

salt and pepper

Make a paste with the garlic, anchovies, half the parsley and salt and pepper.  Open up the meat so it lays out flat and rub the paste into the inside of the meat. Wrap the loose flaps up meat over the inside areas with paste and tie kitchen string around the leg to hold it together.  Put the lamb in a large dish and rub about two Tablespoons of olive oil, the rosemary and lots of salt and pepper on the outside. Refrigerate the lamb overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350˚.  Put the lamb in a large roasting pan, meatier side up, and let the lamb come to room temperature before putting it in the oven. Roast the lamb until it is browned and crusty, and the meat inside is rosy with an internal temperature in the thickest part registering 120˚ for rare (about 45 minutes), 130˚ for medium-rare (about 1 hour). Transfer the lamb to a cutting board or serving platter and let it rest, covered loosely with foil, for 10 to 20 minutes before carving.

Carve the lamb and serve it with the remaining parsley.

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Easter Beans:

3 cups cannellini beans, soaked overnight

1 large yellow onion, quartered

1 large carrot, finely chopped

2 celery stalks, chopped

2 sprigs lemon verbena 

salt (tomato salt or rosemary salt, if you have some)

bones from a leg of lamb (have the butcher put them aside for you when you purchase the lamb)

The night before, cover the beans by an inch or so of water and let them soak.  The next day, put the beans, lamb bones, onion, carrot, celery and lemon verbena in a big pot and cover all parts by 1/4 inch of water. Bring to a boil and simmer gently over low heat until the beans are tender, one to two and a half hours.  Be sure not to add salt until after the beans are soft.  If you do add salt early on, the beans will never soften and cause indigestion.

When the beans are soft, add salt to taste - start with 1 Tablespoon and go from there - be sure to taste the broth instead of the beans, because it will take a while for the beans to absorb the salt.  After salting, continue to cook the beans over very low heat (or just let them sit with the stove turned off) for at least another half hour, but not so long that the beans cook too much and fall apart.  Before serving, remove the onion quarters and large chunks of celery.  Use a slotted spoon to serve, leaving the liquid in the serving bowl.

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Spring Greens with Orange Fennel Vinaigrette (adapted from Epicurious.com): 

makes 8 servings

1/4 cup fresh blood orange juice or fresh orange juice

2 tablespoons minced shallots

2 teaspoons grated orange peel

1 teaspoon honey

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh fennel bulb

2 tablespoons chopped fennel fronds

3 blood oranges or seedless oranges

12 cups torn assorted salad greens (such as arugula, watercress, mâche, and endive) 

2/3 cup walnuts, toasted

salt and pepper

Whisk the orange juice, shallots, orange peel and honey in a medium sized bowl to blend. Gradually whisk in the oil, then fennel and fennel fronds. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and chill. This dressing can be made up to a day in advance.  Re-whisk the dressing before using.

Peel the oranges and divide them into sections. Working over a bowl, cut the membranes off each section of orange. Combine the greens and walnuts in a large salad bowl.  Drain the orange segments and add them to the salad. Toss with enough dressing to coat the greens evenly, you may not use all of the dressing.  Season with salt and pepper and serve right away.

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BeanSoup 

Yikes.  More slow cooking.

In a fit of panic this morning I realized it would be another late night - this time out of the house from ten in the morning until nearly six in the evening, with one possible stopover between swimming lessons and my bi-weekly parent teaching job.  That would leave no time for the creamy brussels sprouts with chestnuts I had planned to sub a cabbage into and pair with chicken breasts.   

So I pulled out the crockpot again and searched for  beans in The Gourmet Slow Cooker.  And there, in their bean soup recipe on page eighty-two, were dandelion greens. I'd pretty much written off for compost the big bunch aging in my fridge, but here was the perfect thing.

I just don't know what to do with dandelion greens.  I've not been terribly impressed by any served at restaurants or friends' homes.  I never ate them as a child.  I don't recognize them as a particularly noteworthy heirloom variety of lawn weed - though the ones in my fridge were pretty, bright green with red stems.  Definitely not the dandelions growing in my yard.  But here it was - the opportunity to replace either spinach or arugala with them.  So naturally, I took it.

My recipe is pared down to the the bare minimum amount of prep - it took me less than ten minutes. Everyone loved it - both kids and parents ate an entire bowl. But there is a bit of a trick to using dried beans.  For starters, its important to know that beans will not soften if cooked with salt - so you have to leave out the salt until the beans have cooked enough to be soft.  That isn't just table salt, but also salt that occurs naturally in vegetables, or is added to the stock or tomatoes you add to them.  

Most recipes ask that you soak your beans overnight before cooking.  Alternately, you can boil them for a full minute and let them sit in the hot water for an hour for faster results, if you've forgotten the soak.  Or put them in a pressure cooker for about thirty minutes.  But because of the long cooking times used with a crockpot, you don't need to do any of those things.  Its like magic.

You do need to cook the beans in the crockpot with just water for a couple hours, though, before adding the rest of the ingredients.  In a real pinch, I would probably leave out the celery and just throw in the rest, if I had no chance of swinging through the kitchen after a couple hours.  But in this case I did.  We ate some dry peppercorn jack cheese and a loaf of ciabatta with an olive oil and red wine vinegar dipping sauce (just mix the two and add salt and pepper) along with our soup.  

If you look really closely at the photo, you'll notice that the carrots are purple, yellow, and orange.  The kids and I did a taste off, and found that the purple carrot had a tough white center and was quite tasteless.  The yellow one wasn't very good either, but the orange one was nice and sweet, as you would expect a carrot to be. It reminded us all of some seeds we'd just found - cosmic purple carrots.  We grew a few of these in our garden last year, and they are, as Nigel Slater says, "heartbreakingly beautiful".  They even tasted nice and sweet, like a carrot should. If you can, check out the photo of them in his book Tender, page 171, along with his Soup the Colour of Marigolds.  They really are lovely.

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Emergency Bean Soup with Dandelion Greens:

2 cups dried cannelloni (or other white) beans

1 yellow onion, finely chopped

1 clove garlic

3 carrots, finely chopped

3 celery stalks, finely chopped

3 thyme sprigs

1 rosemary sprig

1 Tablespoon tomato paste

1 bunch dandelion greens (or spinach or chard), washed and chopped

Salt & Pepper

Sort the beans and look for little stones - the easiest way is to dump some into your hand, hold it over the pot and shuffle through them, pushing them into the pot after inspecting them.  Add six cups water.  Set the crock pot to high, and let it cook the beans for two hours.  

When two hours have passed, add the onion, garlic, carrots, celery, rosemary and thyme.  Set the crockpot to low, for 4-6 hours. After four hours, test the soup to make sure the beans are soft, then add the tomato paste, salt (start with two teaspoons) and greens.  Then stir it up.  Let it cook for about fifteen minutes, then taste and salt accordingly.  This is another one where salt is key - too little and nobody will touch it, just enough and everybody will love it.  When feeding picky kids who don't like greens, just transfer the greens from their bowl to yours before serving.

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