Slow Ranch–Take it Easy (Beans!) November 12, 2009
We love beans. Inexpensive, nutritious and filling, legumes also take top honors for tastiness. Most every culture boasts a beloved bean dish or two. And many plant-centric cuisines offer multitudinous manifestations of leguminous medleys, from India’s diverse dals and China’s breadth of ingeniously transformed pulse products, to the frijoles (of Three Sisters agricultural and numismatic fame) of the original Americans.
While I certainly appreciate an elaborate cassoulet or feijoada, and have amused my family’s palates with various homemade incarnations of Indian treats such as dosas, idlis, badas and badis, I usually keep my bean cookery fairly simple, as in straightforward brews of Texas field peas (see “Hoppin’ Jean“), Indian dal purees (I particularly enjoy mung dal), or often just adding a can of cooked garbanzos, kidney beans, or white beans to sautés and stews. Here’s an easy seasonal bean dish to put your slow cooker to good use.
SLOW COOKER RANCHY BEANS makes a more than a half-gallon
- 2 ½ cups organic dried pinto beans, picked through for pebbles. I buy these in bulk at either Central Market or Whole Foods.
- 3 Tablespoon tasty fat. Bacon grease is perfect, of course, but any good animal fat will work, as will olive oil for a vegetarian version.
- 1 large or 2 small or 1 ½ medium (you get the idea) local and/or organic onions, chopped.
- 1 good-sized local bell pepper, whatever color’s at hand, chopped. I just bought some shiny organic red/green marbled beauties from Milagro Farm at the Austin Farmers Market. Or use an equivalent amount of other local sweet peppers.
- 1 spicy chile, such as a jalapeno or serrano, halved, seeds and ribs removed if kids will be partaking. Use more chiles and leave the innards in for the NC-17 crowd.
- 1 bay leaf—try growing your own. The plant will survive cozily in a pot if necessary. Ours has thrived organically outdoors for years.
- 2 or more cloves of garlic, minced. I prefer more but garlic tolerance is very personal. When I can’t find local (it’s mostly, if not all, gone for now), I purchase domestic organic.
- 2 teaspoons mustard powder
- 2 teapoons good quality chili powder. I mix my own. See recipe.
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- ¼ teaspoon ground ginger (dried)
- 1 28-ounce can organic crushed tomatoes, preferably fire-roasted. You can briefly whirl canned diced or whole tomatoes in your food processor for an interchangeable texture.
- 2 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 1 Tablespoon cane syrup, sorghum syrup or molasses
- 2 teaspoons salt. I like Real Salt. WF sells it in bulk.
Soak the beans overnight (at least 8 hours) in cold water. Drain and rinse them. If you can’t cook them right away, they’ll keep, covered, in the fridge for up to four days. Don’t oversoak them (24 hours or more), however. The skins will toughen and the insides will fall apart.
Heat your fat in a Dutch oven or other very large (6-quart is good), wide pot. Saute the onions and peppers with the bay leaf until softened. Add the drained beans and continue to saute until your ingredients pick up some brown spots. Stir in the garlic and let the fragrance bloom. Add your dried seasonings and stir a bit. Add the rest of the ingredients and turn the heat off while you get your slow cooker ready.
Plug in a large (6-quart) slow cooker and set it to HIGH heat. Carefully pour your bean mixture into the crock and add enough water to cover the beans by about one inch. Give it stir, put a lid on it and cook it all day. If you’re passing throught the kitchen at about half-time, go ahead and stir it again, quickly replacing the lid.
These beans can take up to 9 hours to cook through, as the acidity of the tomatoes slows softening. Later in the cooking, if the beans appear threateningly dry, add a little more water (hot water, please!).
When your beans are tender and cooked, correct the salt if needed. Serve with fresh-cracked black pepper and spicy chiles. Roll ’em up in a corn tortilla or swipe at ’em with a homemade roll.
Ga Ga for Ghee November 10, 2009
Ghee is Indian style fully clarified butter. Through cooking, the butter’s moisture is removed and the milk solids are browned, transforming it into a butterscotchy-smelling, shelf stable fat with a high smoke point (485º).
Making your own ghee is simple and much cheaper than buying premade, even if you use organic butter. I usually cook a whole pound of butter, which yields close to two cups of ghee. I save the browned particles to use in Indian dal recipes for added flavor. You can also add the solids to your rice or some of your breads.
GHEE yields varies
- organic butter—Organic Valley regular unsalted butter is perfect. Click for a promotional offer including $10 in coupons. The current Whole Foods Whole Deal newsletter contains a coupon for $1 OFF OV one-pound butter.
Put the butter into a medium saucepan. I prefer a pot with a light-colored interior. My Chantal white-enameled pan (just a few bucks from the Gucci Goodwill on Lake Austin Blvd.) is perfect. Slowly melt and cook the butter, swirling the pan occasionally for that “hands-on” feeling, until the milk solids at the bottom of the pot have browned. The butter will gurgle and sputter to you in a chatty way as it renders, keeping you apprised of the water content. When the butter waxes taciturn, you’ll know it’s time to monitor the imminent browning.
Butterscotchly-browned and scented, your ghee is ready for decanting. I ladle the clear butterfat through a permanent coffee filter into a glass jar. Try not to disturb the particulates. After you’ve gleaned all the golden oil you can without stirring up the sediment (that is NOT a lovely word), seal your jar with an air-tight lid. Scrape the solids into a separate container and freeze them if you won’t be using them soon. You can store the brownings in the fridge for a week or two.
The finished, strained ghee solidifies at cool room temperature and will keep in your pantry for months. That’s more months in the cool season and fewer moons in hot weather. (Unless your lucky kitchen keeps its cool year-round—mine sure doesn’t!)
Ravishing Radishes November 9, 2009
It’s hard to believe another season has already passed. I’m cutting up grapefruits and tangerines every night (unlike last year, when the husband had to wield the kitchen knife as I nursed the newborn), roasting winter squash, steaming cauliflower and stuffing myself with salad. Last night we even ate mashed potatoes and gravy.
But I especially revel in the return of the crucifers. I’m finding greens, cauliflower, radishes, turnips and bok choy at our farmers markets. I love radishes and their relatives so much, I present to you a word portrait—you know, a poem.
They offer leaves, stems, buds and roots
so we forgive their lack of fruits
try the cooler season’s crunching
while on radishes you’re munching
rutabaga and kohlrabi
thrill your taste buds with umami
you won’t even miss your pesto
mustard, collard, kale and turnip
eat them all the flavor’s turned up
INDIAN STYLE RADISHES serves about 1½ of me, maybe more of y’all
- 1 large bunch or two small bunches of round red (or pink or white) radishes
- a couple of quarter sized slices of fresh ginger, slivered into shreds, or minced if desired. By the way, I almost never peel fresh ginger (dirty girl!) and neither did Barbara Tropp in the privacy of her home kitchen. Peel if you must!
- one or a half a green chile (like a jalapeño or serrano), halved and sliced. If you’re sharing with the children, cut out the seeds and ribs. Or you can use a sweet green pepper, but I particularly like japs in this recipe.
- ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1/8 teaspoon fennel seeds
- scant 1/8 teaspoon kalonji seeds, also known as nigella
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander seeds—I grind them up myself, a small jar’s worth at a time, for greater freshness than purchasing pre-ground. Use whatever works for you.
- scant ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
- pinch of turbinado sugar
- 2 Tablespoons ghee—see my simple instructions.
- salt to taste (about ¼ teaspoon)
- fresh-squeezed lemon juice to taste
Separate your radishes from their stems. Wash the orbs and leaves, scrubbing the radishes and thrice rinsing the leafy stems. Drain, but don’t dry, the leaves and stems. Cut the radishes into approximately ½ inch pieces and coarsely chop the stems and greens. If your spicy little balls are big and overgrown, the thick stems may cook up a little tough. You can either chop them finer or discard the thickest portions.
Combine the whole spices in a small dish near your stove top. Have your ginger and chiles close by. Combine the ground spices and sugar in another dish and keep that handy as well.
Heat up a large (12″) heavy skillet, I like the stainless steel All-Clad vessel I found at Goodwill on Lamar, (yes, South Lamar—not Lake Austin Blvd.!) for seven or eight bucks. Quality pan. Cooks on a budget don’t forget to check out the housewares sections of your local resale shops. Get your skillet hot on highest heat and add the ghee. Quickly toss in the whole spices, stir them around and let them toast up until they smell fragrant and browned. Add the ginger and chiles, stir and delight in the nose-tingling aroma. Toss the radishes in and stir-fry until they’re picking up browned patches. Turn the heat down a bit if you must to prevent smoking, but high heat delivers the best color.
Stir in the ground spices, then add the stems and leaves. Wilt the greens, add salt, cover the pan, turn the heat down to LOW and let the mess cook for 15 minutes. The dish should require no maintenance during this time, but I like using a glass lid so’s I can spy on the cookin’.
At the end of the cooking time the radishes should be tender and all the ingredients should be nicely browned. Remove the pan from the heat and squeeze some lemon juice all over. Stir to distribute, correct the seasoning if necessary and serve right away. Actually it’s even delicious cold, so serve it whenever you want.
Vanilla Variations November 6, 2009
I noticed that I keep referencing an old post to explain my homemade vanilla, but the information is kinda buried in that recipe. This is so simple. Just in case you hadn’t thought of it, though, here it is:
HOMEMADE VANILLA VARIETALS makes one small jar
- 1 fresh looking (shiny, moist appearing, pliable) good-quality vanilla bean. I usually buy Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon. Use a fragrant pod.
- good quality rum (silver, gold or dark—your preference—I like Flor de Caña Gold), or Maker’s Mark bourbon (or your favorite brand), or your usual brandy (we’ve got Christian Brothers)
Split your bean lengthwise, and halve it at the equator if your jar is short. Place the pod in the jar and fill ‘er up with liquor. Let it steep for a couple of weeks before using. It’ll keep forever. Top it off with more spirits when necessary. You can even add used (washed and dried!) vanilla beans for more flavor and thrift. AND you can mix drinks with your flavored booze!
Texas Wheat Bread and Market Report November 5, 2009
Speaking of holidays, just visiting our local farmers markets has me gettin’ into the spirit. Expect to find TWO sources of local asparagus (if all goes well) at Sunset Valley Farmers Market this Saturday: McKemie Homegrown and newcomers Montesino (organic!). Georgetown Pecan Company is back with new crop pecans. Orange Blossom Farms returns with the first of this season’s tangerines. Richardson Farms has been selling pastured turkeys (this weekend they plan to offer fresh again!) plus their own freshly ground whole wheat flour. See below for my bread machine recipe using their Texas-grown wheat!
If you’re headed for the Austin Farmers Market this weekend, be sure to check out Dai Due‘s new booth for the crème de la viande: charcuterie (including their famous lard!), carefully crafted from locally-sourced ingredients. Shop local and get cookin’ so’s you can get to eatin’!
You can’t beat a bread machine for convenient sustenance. On workdays, if I have nothing cooked up already, I can just throw some ingredients (good ones, of course) into the bread maker and know that my family won’t starve in my absence.
BREAD MACHINE WHOLE WHEAT LOAF makes 1 medium sized loaf
- 2 Tablespoons orange juice (HEB’s selling our sweet ‘n’ juicy Texas oranges right now) plus enough water to equal 1 2/3 cups total liquid. The OJ is optional, especially out-of-season, but it helps tame the bitterness some folks detect in wheat bran.
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 ½ teaspoons local honey. We Central Texans enjoy so many apiary options. I’m partial to Good Flow’s local wildflower nectar from Central Market’s bulk department.
- 2 Tablespoons organic butter. I like Organic Valley. Click for a coupon.
- ½ cup organic old-fashioned oatmeal or ½ cup plus 1 teaspoon organic quick oats (for an even lighter crumb).
- 300 grams (about 2 ¼ cups plus a scant Tablespoon) Richardson Farms whole wheat flour. If measuring by volume, stir up the flour to loosen it, then lightly spoon it into your measuring vessels.
- 130 grams (about 1 cup plus 1 Tablespoon plus 5/8 teaspoon) organic all-purpose flour—Whole Foods 365 is usually the best priced.
- 1 ½ teaspoons instant (bread machine or Rapid Rise) yeast—NOT active dry
Put all the ingredients into your bread machine in the order specified in your instruction manual. In my Zojirushi, that would be the order I have listed. I use the regular cycle (not whole wheat or quick) and get great results.
An interesting note about freshly ground flour: Used within 7 hours of milling (some sources say 8-24), the flour should work as expected in your doughs. However, after that initial post-grinding period, enzymes get to working and interfere with the flour’s behavior. I noticed that effect when I made my first batch of bread with Richardson Farms fresh ground flour the day after purchasing it. After storing for 10 days or so (some sources say one week, others claim two), those enzymes settle down and the flour will perform reliably. So I recommend putting that new bag of fresh ground flour in the freezer for a week before embarking on baking. My third batch, baked 15 days after purchasing my flour, baked up the lightest.
(In)Credible Crescent Rolls November 3, 2009
During this motherhood experiment (Oh wait, it’s not a trial run.), I’ve had to resign some of my pantry to convenience products—and I don’t mean just dried pasta. I’ve always enjoyed canned tomatoes (even the loca-terroirist Italians appreciate a good processed pomodoro), but I didn’t even cook with canned coconut milk before I had children. I still rarely purchase bread (except for tortillas), and I make my own yogurt, but we might starve around here if it weren’t for canned beans! I’m grateful that organic and natural convenience foods are readily available, as the occasional pre-made cookie , tortellini, and of course mayo, mustard and ketchup, help keep our family going. Oh yeah, peanut butter, tofu and sausages, sauerkraut and other pickles, preserves—I just can’t cook it all myself yet!
But no natural crescent rolls. You know what I’m talking about. I haven’t eaten Pillsbury’s canned Americanized croissants in many years but I sure won’t say I didn’t love them. And they’re so handy for quick treats and appetizers. If any of you natural foods conglomerates are listening, I’m tellin’ you there’s a market for this item!
Until the convenience food of a carb and butter lover’s dream becomes a reality, I’ll make do with my Easy Crescent Roll recipe. With just a little bit more effort than a batch of your regular homemade rolls, you can turn out a respectably flaky, buttery baked good that’ll please the whole party.
EASY CRESCENT ROLLS makes 16 rolls
- 85 grams (1/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons) milk. I use either Swede Farm Dairy or Wateroak Farm goat’s milk.
- 2 Tablespoons butter. I prefer Organic Valley. Click for a coupon.
- 1 local egg
- 3 Tablespoons water
- 1 Tablespoon yogurt. Click for instructions. I make my own with local goat milk. You can buy local goat yogurt, too!
- 1 ½ teaspoons local honey. I love Good Flow‘s local wildflower honey. I buy it at Central Market in the bulk department.
- 175 grams (about 1 ½ cups plus 1 Tablespoon) organic white whole wheat flour. I use King Arthur. Whole Foods sells the 5 pound bag for $6.99.
- 172 grams (about 1 ½ cups minus 1 ½ teaspoons) organic all-purpose flour. WF’s 365 brand 5 pound bag is usually the best deal.
- ¾ teaspoon salt. I like Real Salt. I buy this in bulk at WF.
- 1 teaspoon instant (“rapid rise” or “bread machine”) yeast. NOT active dry.
- 1 stick or block of butter (at least 4 ounces), frozen. I really like the results I get from using a higher fat butter for this step, such as Organic Valley European Style or Straus Family Creamery’s organic European style, but regular OV will work.
- 2 Tablespoons softened butter. OV’s Pasture butter lends excellent flavor here, but again, regular high quality butter will work. Or try Texas’ own Lucky Layla—maybe the tastiest butter I’ve ever tried!
Scald the milk in a small saucepan (bring it just below the boiling point. You’ll see small bubbles around the edge of the pan). Add the 2 Tablespoons butter, stir in the honey (Thanks, Suzanna!), and set aside. In a medium small bowl stir together the egg, water and yogurt. Combine both flours in the work bowl of your food processor. Put the yeast on one side of the flour and the salt on the other. Run the processor to mix the dry ingredients. Pour the milk into the egg mixture, and with the machine running, add it to the flour through the feed tube. Process the dough for 45 seconds. Turn the dough out into a large buttered bowl and gather it all together, forming it into a smooth ball with your hands. Seal the bowl shut with a lid, plastic wrap or even aluminum foil if the vessel is clear (so you can see through it) and let the dough rise for about 2 hours. It won’t quite double, but it will have risen noticeably and will feel somewhat puffy when poked with your finger. Place a box grater in the freezer after you get the dough covered, so it will be very cold after the first rise.
Turn the dough out onto a nonstick mat (such as a silpat or kneading mat—my preference) or a lightly floured counter. Press down the dough all over with your fingers to flatten it. Roll the dough out into an approximate rectangle about 15″ X 14″. Occasionally pick up the dough from one end with both hands and let it hang, shaking it gently like a beach towel, to let the gluten relax into shape. Retrieve your frozen butter block and box grater from the freezer and quickly grate about 1 ½ ounces (three Tablespoons) frozen butter all over the surface of the dough. Use a chilled metal icing spatula to lift up any butter flakes that have fallen onto the mat and place them back onto the dough. Take one long end of the dough and roll it up, jelly roll style, to enclose the butter. Now coil that roll into a tight spiral, sealing the seams together and pressing the end of the roll to attach it.
Now roll the dough out again, repeating the steps above (roll out, grate butter, roll up, coil up). If your kitchen is warm or you feel like it’s taking too long to get the dough into shape, go ahead and put the frozen butter and grater back in the freezer while you work. As you roll, the seams of the dough will pretty much rejoin, but pinch them together when you think it’s necessary.
After you’ve wound the rolled up dough into a coil again, roll it out into a 14″ circle. This time try to make it as even and circular as you can. Pinch any separatist seams into shape. Now spread an even layer of the softened butter all over the circle of dough. Using a pizza cutter (works best) or a sharp paring knife, cut the round into 16 wedges. Roll up each wedge—not too tightly—starting with the wide end, and tuck the narrow tip underneath the roll. Place each formed roll onto a parchment lined baking sheet (approx. 11 ½” X 17 ½”). Loosely cover the rolls with plastic wrap or clean plastic bags and let rise for about one hour. The rolls will spring back a little when lightly pressed with your fingertip.
About 20 minutes before the rolls are ready, preheat your oven to 375º. When the rolls have risen, place the baking sheet in the oven and bake them for about 17 minutes, until golden brown. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and place it on a cooling rack. Let the rolls cool for 5 minutes before removing from the baking sheet. Love those layers!
As I worked on this recipe, through numerous variations, my husband kept bugging me to make cinnamon rolls with the dough. After I finally got the rolls right (I had started with a quite different recipe—galette pérougienne), I made a quick and simple cinnamon sugar variation.
BONUS CINNAMON CRESCENTS variation makes 16 rolls
- 3 Tablespoons organic sugar. Central Market and Whole Foods carry this is bulk for $1.49 a pound.
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon. I like the full flavor of Vietnamese cassia. CM sells it in bulk and if you do Costco, they package it as well.
Complete the above steps through spreading the dough with the softened butter, but use only one Tablespoon of softened butter. Mix together the sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle evenly over the buttered dough. Use your fingertips to gently distribute the sugar mix over the surface. Cut the dough and form the rolls as above. Let rise and bake the same.
Autumn Scrambled Dinner November 2, 2009
For quick meals lately we’ve been relying on good old eggs. Actually they’re great eggs ’cause they’re local, laid by free-roaming hens. I believe entomophagy is the solution to humanity’s nutritional problems but usually I prefer to eat bugs vicariously through chicken eggs. Superior protein and Omega 3’s deliciously yoked in yolks.
With a stash of boiled organic spuds and baked Texas sweet potatoes in the fridge, this skillet supper almost cooks itself.
FALL SCRAMBLED DINNER serves 3 at our house
- local onions, chopped how you like. I’m still buying yellows and reds from at the farmers market. Hairston Creek Farm is selling green onions right now and they’d taste fine here.
- local sweet peppers, cut up as you please. I continue to enjoy the sweet little orange gems from Flint Rock Hill. The baby even eats them raw! Add a spicy chile or two for an NC-17 version. I’ve spied some bright habaneros at the markets lately. Their fruitiness would complement this hash.
- a Tablespoon or two of tasty fat. Bacon or poultry drippings, or Dai Due‘s decadent lard work perfectly. Be sure to look for the Dai Due booth this Saturday (Nov. 7) at the Austin Farmers Market. Olive oil is fine—try Texas Olive Ranch.
- 2 medium organic potatoes, boiled
- 1/2 a good-sized Texas sweet potato, cooked. I prefer to bake mine, three or four at a time. The toaster oven works great and I find that the cooked tubers keep very well in the fridge.
- ¼ to ½ teaspoon dried thyme or a teaspoon or so fresh.
- ½ teaspoon good quality curry powder. My Caribbean blend plays nicely with the other flavors in this dish.
- 4 or more local eggs, beaten to blend with some Herbamare (I buy this at Central Market) or your favorite seasoned salt (or just salt)
- local cheese. We love Full Quiver Farm‘s tangy white cheddar. Happily for Austin locavores, we enjoy numerous cheese choices—pepper jack, feta and chevre, just to name three more that play well with eggs.
Saute your onions and peppers (and dried thyme) in your fat of choice until translucent. Smash the potatoes into chunks with the heel of your hand. For homey hashes, I prefer this method over cutting with a knife. I like the rough edges and uneven hunks. Process as you please, however. Add the potatoes, curry powder (and fresh thyme) and a healthy dose of kosher salt (Diamond brand’s my top choice) to the skillet and fry, stirring occasionally, until the spuds are browning delectably. Add the sweet potato (I finely chop the skin and toss it in, too) and mash it around to distribute as the mixture cooks. Pepper it all up with some freshly cracked black, stir it in and push the mixture to one half of the pan. Pour your eggs into the bare side of the skillet and scramble them, using broad strokes to form large curds. When the eggs are almost done to your liking, amalgamate the mass, folding the spud mixture into the huevos.
Turn out onto a large serving plate and top with the cheese. Share!