I started building a bean teepee with the kids today. We stuck the ends of some eight foot sticks into the ground, then lashed them together at the top with string. The plan is to plant beans - scarlet runner and trionfo violetto - at the base of each stick so that they climb and make a tent for the kids to play in and beans for us to eat. This will be our third year teepee, though last year's was a bit of a dud.
Of course we didn't finish today, just like years past. But this year I've solved my problem of bean seeds rotten from too long in their pre-planting soak or dry and dead from too long out of it. After soaking them in water for a few hours, we put our seeds in a little plastic cup and covered them with a wet paper towel - pre-sprouting. Now we can take our seeds in and out of the house without planting as often as we want, as long as the paper towel stays damp. And when we finally get around to planting them in the ground, hopefully they'll be ready to go.
Dinner tonight was a really simple soup from - you guessed it - Canal House Cooking. This is a good one to make a few days ahead, because it reheats well. We only had a pound of beets, so I had to sub in an extra potato (neither of which were russet). It was fine, but I think more beets would be better. And I happen to know that waxy potatoes can make things gummy, so stick with a russet if you have one around. Red beets would probably be better too. Our soup was just a bit...pale. Salad was on the side, essentially the same Niçoise-esque item from last week. My kids turned their noses up at the soup, but they did eat the tuna, deviled egg and leftover pizza on their plates.
In other news, I found a wonderful book today while stopping by Crissy Field to check out the early evening light. Its called Back to Basics: Traditional Kitchen Wisdom and is a collection of old school how-tos (garden building, food storing, canning, winemaking, beekeeping) edited by Andrea Chesman, who I don't think I've encountered before. She writes books, and a blog, all about seasonal cooking and making things easy for Mom - right up my alley! Most of her books are about vegetables and grains (read vegetarian) and she has even got one containing 255 recipes for squash. I'm so excited!
However, my favorite part of the book so far - without having read it - are the beautiful watercolor illustrations. I guess they are paintings by Bernard Chau, who is credited as "illustrator" on the copyright page. I just can't find anything in the book that attributes the watercolors to anyone. Is this what happens when you do work for Reader's Digest? On his webpage, I see that Mr. Chau has more images of "crime" in his portfolio than "food". Huh. Well, I guess thats work for hire - the art editor probably just set him up a still life and said "paint this". I suppose I shouldn't be too broken up over it, I can't expect all artists to be Patricia Curtan, can I?
Beet Soup (adapted from Canal House Cooking volume 3):
4 beets (2 pounds)
4 Tablespoons butter
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 large russet potato, peeled and chopped
rind from 1/4 preserved lemon (scrape out the fruity part inside the rind)
4 cups chicken stock
salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 375°. Wrap each beet in aluminum foil and bake until tender (1-2 hours). Unwrap the beets, and when they are cool enough to handle, peel off their skins. Coarsely chop the beets and set aside.
While the beets are baking, melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until they are translucent and soft but not browned, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the potatoes, beets, preserved lemon and three cups of the stock. Cover and simmer until the vegetables are soft, about an hour. For a really smooth soup, let it cool and puree it in small batches in the blender. (Really, you must let it cool. Otherwise it will blow the lid of your blender and hot soup will blast into your face and all over your kitchen. Its happened to me, its happened to the Canal House authors). If you, like me, are a more impatient type who cannot be trusted to wait for the soup to cool, then just stick a hand blender in it for a while and call it good. If the soup is too thick, add the remaining stock in small amounts until you're happy with it. Serve hot or cold.
Voila! Salad Nicoise (or a salad with something for everyone - serves 4-6):
4 oz spring mix salad
1 7oz cans of tuna (chunk light if you like less mercury)
4 to six eggs
cherry tomatos (if they're in season)
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Tablespoons champagne vinegar
1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard
salt & pepper
For starters, hard-boil the eggs. If you don't already have a favorite way, try this one:
Put the eggs in a pot, cover them with water. Bring the water to a medium boil (thats not wimpy, but not hard enough to crack the eggs). Let them boil for a full minute. Turn off the heat, and let the eggs sit in the water until it is cool. I've been told that adding vinegar to egg water makes them easier to peel, but I haven't tested this. I have found that fresher eggs are harder to peel, so I like to stash some away in the back of the fridge to age for easier peeling. I think too, that aging an egg for a day or two after boiling it makes the peeling easier.
When the eggs are cool, peel them, slice in half and put on each plate. If you have kids who like deviled eggs but not plain old eggs, scoop the yolks out of the kids' eggs and, in a bowl, mix them with a bit of mayonnaise - usually one teaspoon per yolk. Peel and slice the avocados, add some to each plate. Add some olives, then some tuna. Be sure to leave room on the plates for the lettuce, in the middle of all the other items. Slice the cherry tomatoes and plate them too.
Wash and dry the salad, then let it rest in the fridge while you mix up the dressing. In a small jar, add the oil and vinegar, then a big pinch of salt and some pepper. Put on the lid, shake it up. Pour over the salad and toss it. If it seems too dry, sprinkle on some more olive oil. Its handy to keep some in a cruet just for situations like this. Grind some more pepper over it, add it to the plates, and serve. Be sure to put salt on the table for this one - I like to sprinkle it on the egg and avocado.