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Red Wine Chili

Red Wine ChiliJacques Pepin got me thinking: how many recipes does one person commit to memory in their lifetime? The question doesn’t suggest a one-size-fits-all answer but maybe you’re already beginning to rattle off recipe names or tick fingers doing a lap on the mental treadmill of memory.

The only time we ever stirred a pot of slow-cooked chili in my childhood home aligned with ominous clouds darkening the sky above as rain lashed the ground outside. It became almost a Pavlovian response: when the rain came, so did my craving for chili. In Texas, one of the important details of the chili-eating experience involves the curlicue corn chip known as the Frito. I can’t recall really ever wanting those chips outside of providing a nuance of crunch to the duet of chili-spiced ground beef and beans with its volcanic rupture of melted cheddar cheese.

Taste memories form us into the eaters we are. We may not pledge allegiance to the flavors of our childhood once we become adults, but their imprint can catapult us quickly back to a place in our past, faster than we might be able to conjure them up without the olfactory and taste bud assistance.

It’s not that we eat chili often now at home at all. I can count only two occurrences we’ve pulled together a pot this year and perhaps not coincidentally they’ve coincided with the arrival of rain. But, there’s something about taking what is known and teasing it out—seeing how far the boundaries extend before it no longer looks or acts or tastes like its initial point of departure. Would it be accurate to suggest we are all adaptations of our former selves, much like the chili recipe of now can be credited back to the flavors that formed in our taste bank many years ago?

For Christmas Eve last year, part of our family congregated around a table in a dimly lit restaurant in the wine country. We would cloister around the massive paella pan the next day preparing and waiting to dig up the crusty bits of rice still clinging and etched into the bottom of the pan of what had become tradition. But, this evening, we huddled in elegant Dry Creek Kitchen, playing the part of happy family, unfettered by a fissure whose full impact is still deeply felt a year later. I ordered the tasting menu and marveled at the soft poached egg melting into the housemade ricotta paired with spiced warm brioche and red currant vinaigrette. This led to second course of spiral cut ham salting roasted butternut squash risotto with a peppery pop of arugula and sweet maple glacage. By the main course of Pop’s Prime Rib Wellington, we had all pretty much pled mercy and requested to-go boxes.

Red Wine Chili

Two days later, we fished out the leftover prime rib steaks, considering how we might present them anew for dinner. A decent bottle of red table wine sat on the counter and one thing led to another. The flavors formed into a Spanish and Sonoma-inspired red wine chili with chunks of steak. We sat around steaming bowls that night as the savory aroma wafted up from our spoons. Through the disparate odds and ends leftover from the grand celebrations, we had created something unexpected and good.

The holidays can be tricky to navigate as they come fraught with expectation as much as ensuing excitement. They can bring to the surface leftover hurts of a misplaced comment or issues that we thought we had resolved and healed. Looking at leftover meat doesn’t usually inspire the kind of admiration of the original plate with its thoughtful garnish and presentation. But leftovers can teach us a lot about ourselves. They give us a second chance to make what was originally someone else’s creation, our own. It’s not easy forgiving small grievances that can compound into one ball of recollection. But the thing with holidays is they too are an attempt at second chances—every year we get an opportunity to try again and learn better how to celebrate life with each other.

What we might not see at first glance is that holding onto leftover hurts allows them to keep us shackled to the past instead of moving gracefully into the future. Forgiveness might seem like an odd gift to give at the holidays, but no wrapping can contain its incredible value. It is in its way a fresh start, a chance to open the to-go box, survey the cold meat inside and say, how can I make this good again?

 

Red Wine Chili

Red Wine Chili

In a different chili recipe I made a while back, I had jotted a note to self to try using chipotle chili in a future iteration. Oh, yes. Look for the small can of chipotles in adobo sauce in the Latin American aisle of your supermarket. My obsession with figs runs deep and I wanted to play around with the idea of letting a hint of their natural sweetness play into a chili-laced paste that’s simmered tomatoes with a bit of red wine, and thyme. This is definitely a game-changer for me. I had never made my chili using a paste before, but as I was thinking about texture and wanting to both concentrate the flavors in the base, I decided to simmer and puree and now I’m not looking back. The figs also act as a thickener in the homemade chili paste. In some circles, cooking with wine might come across as a bad way for the bottle to go down. But, I find a judicious glug of decent dry red makes a well-served sacrifice in this chili. It adds body and depth, and should come from a vintage you would like to drink, since the rest of the bottle will be the cook’s (and company’s) libation. I used Healdsburg Reserve Merlot from Split Creek Farms. When it comes to garnishing chili, we are of two minds in our household. You might find as I did that the chili tastes best on its own or with a dollop of yogurt. Nathan added cheddar to his bowl and between spoonfuls, pronounced this the best chili he has ever eaten, so there might be something to that. However you serve it, make sure to break out the corn chips.

Serves 4 huge bowls to 6 small bowls

 

2 cups plus 1 cup diced tomatoes and juice (1 28-ounce can)

4 ounces dried California mission figs, stemmed (1/2 cup)

2 teaspoons adobo sauce plus 1 chipotle pepper

3 tablespoons plus 1 cup dry red table wine

Fresh thyme leaves from 1 sprig (1/2 teaspoon)

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons chili powder

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon olive oil

1 large white onion, peeled and medium chopped (2 cups)

1 pound ground beef

1 cooked ribeye steak, cool and cubed

2 (15-ounce) cans black beans, drained and rinsed

1 carrot, peeled and small grated (1/2 cup)

2 ¼ teaspoons kosher salt

Organic corn chips

Whole milk yogurt, optional

Sharp cheddar cheese, optional

 

Simmer 2 cups of tomatoes and juice with the figs, adobo sauce, chipotle pepper, 3 tablespoons of red wine, thyme leaves, and chili powder on low for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile drizzle and swirl the olive oil into a skillet set over medium-low heat and cook the onions for 15 minutes, until almost translucent, stirring sporadically. Add and brown the ground beef in the skillet with the onions. Turn off the heat under the pot of chili-laced figs and transfer the chili-laced figs to a blender. Remove the cap off the lid and place a towel over the hole. Blend until smooth. Pour the chili-fig puree into a large stockpot. Stir in the remaining cup of red wine, cup of diced tomato and juice, steak, beans, carrot, and salt to the pot. Add the ground beef and onions to the pot. Simmer on low for 10-15 minutes. Garnish with yogurt and cheddar if desired. Serve with corn chips.

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Lentil Turkey Chili

 

Leftovers Chili | The Food Poet

We eat leftovers. They wheedle their way into the handwritten weekly menu as proof that no matter how busy a week becomes we can find homemade food at the ready to ably feed ourselves. They provide the backbone to a quick lunch with substance. But, leftovers get a bit of a bad rap, don’t they? Just last week over tea with a friend, she recounted that she leaves the leftovers for her husband, something I have done and depending on the dish, will continue to do as I firmly fall into the camp of some foods don’t get better with time.

We rely on leftovers- they fill in the gaps of one of us at band practice and the other taking a class. But, sometimes I just can’t be bothered with having the same meal several times in rote repetition like a record with a scratch that plays the same bit of track that you enjoyed the first time until it becomes annoying. What’s remarkable is that over the span of one night’s digestion, compelling cuisine takes on a second class status as leftovers. I  have discovered, along with other home cooks, the way to make them the prep for tomorrow’s lunch.

Here’s the thing with leftovers and the aversion people bring to the brown bagged remnants, the quart sized-jar in the fridge or casserole dish with stair-stacked holes cut into the food. And, I want to be careful how I word this, the attitude to leftovers is indicative of first world problems. Where else is extra food considered something avoidable? When I worked at a restaurant, while putting myself through school, we wore metal pins on our uniforms, as a sign of our flair. I could have easily donned one that read “world’s worst up-seller” since the portion sizes served at the restaurant already were double what people could actually eat and more often than not, it pained me to scrape perfectly good food into the compost bin because a patron had met their fill.

Leftovers Chili | The Food Poet

Today, I want to talk about a way we can donate more than just a renewed sense of mindfulness toward our leftovers, instead focusing on an important cause. Nicole of The Giving Table invited people to donate their blog post today to the cause of “The Lunchbox Fund,” an initiative to feed South Africa. Encouraged to blog about lunch, and since my lunches consist of leftovers, here we are.

Did you know 65% of all South African children live in poverty. As evidenced through research by No Kid Hungry in the United States, we know that nourished children will do better in school by helping them stay alert and be able to retain what they are learning. I recently learned that nearly 20% of all children in South Africa are orphans, with approximately 1.9 Million of those children orphaned as a result of HIV and AIDS. These kids are left over from dire family circumstances. It makes me profoundly sad tinged with possibility.

Groups like The Lunchbox Fund identify schools or form partnerships with locally based NGOs or community organizations in order to evaluate and identify schools. They fund distributors to buy and deliver food, monitor the feeding scheme, implement a Project Manager, and deliver reports back to them for evaluation. In essence, they are helping radically address the food supply system for these children who might otherwise get looked over. Can I encourage you to consider that if you give $10, it will feed a child for a day. Giving overflows from a generous heart, so the amount isn’t as important as the practice and the response to the problem.  Consider giving to The Lunchbox Fund and forgoing lattes for a week- doing good might just be the ultimate morning jumpstart.

It’s almost time for lunch and leftovers are on the menu. Join me for a bowl of Lentil Turkey Chili?

Leftovers Chili | The Food Poet

LENTIL TURKEY CHILI

This chili is perfect for serving on rainy or cold days (not that I’m complaining – we needed the rain that turned San Francisco into a wet wonderland this past weekend). This chili is a bit of a conglomeration of various leftovers. Taco Tuesdays makes extra ground meat than we can eat that night, so that gets added to the pot. The extra brown rice we make at the beginning of the week gets warmed and doled out into the bowls so the chili gets ladled over it. Leftover chicken or veggie stock gets used here too and unlike many recipes that only call for 1 tablespoon of tomato paste, this is a terrific recipe to use a whole jar of it or any tomato paste leftovers you might have lurking in the fridge. For garnishes, use what you have on hand. I give a few ideas of what’s in our fridge, but chili is open to creativity (ever try pulsing a chipotle from adobo sauce or adding some of the sauce to chili? Smoky goodness, right there.) These repurposed ingredients will feed you for lunch all week with enough to go in the freezer or to get repurposed another way.

YIELD: 6-8 servings

1 teaspoon grapeseed oil plus 1 tablespoon
1 red bell pepper
2 cups green lentils
1 onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup vegetable or chicken stock
tomato paste
1 cup water
32 ounce jar chopped tomatoes
1 cup cooked ground turkey
2 tablespoons chili powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon sea salt

Preheat the oven to 425 and line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

Rub a red bell pepper with oil and roast it in the oven for 20 minutes or until you see the skin char slightly. Cool the red bell pepper. Once cooled, remove the stem and seeds inside. Place the bell pepper in a container with high sides and a deep well. Blend with an immersion blender until pureed.

While the bell pepper is roasting, pick through the lentils, discarding any small rocks. In a large heavy pot, cover the lentils with about 3-4 inches of water and bring to a boil. Lower the temperature to simmer. Cover and cook them for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, place a heavy bottomed pan over medium heat for 1 minute. Drizzle in 1 tablespoon of grape seed oil and swirl the pan until the bottom is coated. Add the onions to the pan and brown them for about 4 minutes. Add in the garlic, 3 minutes in.

Drain the lentils from their cooking liquid. Transfer the lentils back to their pot along with the onion, garlic and vegetable stock. Place the pot over medium low heat. Whisk together 3 tablespoons of water with the tomato paste until smooth, adding the rest of the water until you’ve reached one cup. Pour it into the pot once you’ve got a thick red sauce. Open your jar of canned chopped tomatoes and break apart the tomatoes with your fingers over the pot, pouring in the jarred liquid too. Add the cooked ground meat to the pot, carefully breaking up any initial clumps with a large wooden spoon.  Stir in the chili powder, cayenne and salt. Cover the pot and let the chili simmer so the liquid reduces and it thickens up. Add the bell pepper puree to the chili.

Serve with brown rice. Garnish with a dollop of sour cream (or labneh or creme fraiche or Greek yogurt or…), grated leftover nubs of cheese (sharp cheddar works wonderfully) and minced scallions.

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Creamy Chickpea and Yogurt Casserole

Let’s talk about hummus. It’s a good place to start. When most people think about Mediterranean food, this dip perfectly scooped up by pita comes to mind. You could say it would be on the top five list for a Family Feud quiz. And who would disagree? The creaminess of chickpeas blending with garlic, just the right amount of lemon juice and tahini makes for that distinctive flavor profile.

Now, let’s move to Tissiyeh. This Creamy Chickpea and Yogurt Casserole might be the cousin to hummus. Like hummus, it includes chickpeas, garlic, lemon, tahini and salt. And yet, it goes so much farther. The toasted pine nuts and oil give the complexity characteristic of pignolas. The bright and creamy yogurt is a bit of a revelation and yet if you consider how much yogurt makes its way into Mediterranean cuisine, it’s not an altogether surprise. Oh, hummus lovers, you are in for a real treat.

Making the casserole perplexed me. While cooking through “An Edible Mosaic” cookbook, the photo and description enticed me enough to include it on a weeknight menu. But, how to serve it? Is it an appetizer? Is it a dinner entree? Is it just plain comfort food in the first order? At this point in our cook-the-book exploration, I trusted cookbook author Faith Gorsky enough to just go with it. Don’t get me started on how much we looked forward to her Fish Pilaf leftovers…

We modified the recipe ever so slightly to make it compliant with how we eat in our home. In place of  the flatbreads recommended in the Creamy Chickpea and Yogurt Casserole recipe, we heated up some gluten-free pizza crusts. I figured this substitution would still achieve the same textural goals of the original. This dish came together in such a short time and found it to be quite filling. Gorsky describes Tissiyeh as a traditional dish served in Damascus, Syria, where her family lives.

So when you’re in the mood for a light dinner, an interesting appetizer or comfort food in a bowl, whip up your own batch of Creamy Chickpea and Yogurt Casserole and leave the hummus for tomorrow.

An Edible Mosaic- Creamy Chickpea and Yogurt Casserole

 

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CREAMY CHICKPEA AND YOGURT CASSEROLE 

by Faith Gorsky from “An Edible Mosaic”.
*Reprinted with permission and a minor adaptation

YIELD: 4-6 servings

2 gluten-free pizza crusts

2 16oz. cans chickpeas, reserve the liquid

2 cups water

2 teaspoons ground cumin, divided

3 1/2 cups plain yogurt

1/2 cup tahini

4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

4 cloves garlic, crushed

1 teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons olive oil or clarified butter

4 tablespoons pine nuts

1 tablespoon minced parsley leaves (optional, for garnish)

 

Preheat oven to 250. Put the flatbread directly onto the oven rack and bake until brittle but not burned, about 15 minutes, flipping once. Cool the bread completely, and then break into bite-sized pieces. Line the bottom of 1 large serving bowl (or 4 individual bowls) with the bread and set aside.

Pour the chickpeas (and their liquid), water, and 1 teaspoon of cumin into a medium saucepan; bring to a simmer over medium heat. Ladle a bit (about 1 – 1 1/2 cups) of the chickpea cooking liquid onto the dried bread to make it moist, but not soggy, pressing down with a spoon to help the bread absorb the liquid. If you add too much liquid, just drain off any excess. Remove 4 tablespoons of chickpeas to a small bowl and set aside, and spoon the remainder of the chickpeas onto the moistened bread.

Whisk together the yogurt, tahini, lemon juice, garlic, salt, 1/2 cup chickpea cooking liquid, and the remaining 1 teaspoon of cumin in a medium bowl. Pour the yogurt mixture into the chickpeas and sprinkle the remaining 4 tablespoons of chickpeas on top.

Heat the oil in a small skillet over medium heat; add the pine nuts and cook until golden brown, about 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly; set aside. Drizzle the pine nuts and their oil on top, and sprinkle on the parsley, if using. Serve immediately.

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Spanish Lentil Mushroom Stew

The meal after the Meal- I have been contemplating Black Friday in a new way this year. None of the scheming and planning for wee morning hour wake-up calls to shop. Oh, no. As home cooks across the country are putting into action this week’s game plan for Thanksgiving, I’ve set my eyes on Friday.

Thanksgiving should require its own lexicon. It starts on Sunday when the candies get made. Tuesday might as well be dedicated to pie day as pie crusts get filled with gooey pecans and syrup or with spiced pumpkin puree. Wednesday becomes the day for making any side dishes that can sit overnight to let the flavors meld. And we all know what Thursday means, or at least our belts know what it means.

This year I wanted to take a different approach to the day after Thanksgiving, usually a repeat of leftover favorites refashioned into day-after delivery or served up in the array most beloved by each participant. This year, while in Texas, I wanted to bring a bit of California to the table or at least, the way we usually eat chez nous. It saddens me to think that while my Dad was alive I didn’t really get a chance or make the effort to cook for him. I know that one Thanksgiving I had a chance to contribute a salad, done my way and he, the antagonist of “rabbit food” ate it and enjoyed it. And cooking is after all one of my love languages I can imagine many of us speak to the people we love.

So, in the spirit of bringing California to Texas, I’ve decided to make the meal vegetarian. It’s not some sort of political statement, as I can put down smoked brisket with the best of them, but it reminds me of the home and style of living and eating we have cultivated in California. This opportunity arrives for me to make a succulent feast of fresh foods bursting with seasonal flavor. After all of the tryptophan and Red Rooster imbibing of Thursday, Friday is a chance to turn a corner in a different direction.

_________________________________

B L A C K   F R I D A Y   M E N U

Appetizer
Sweet Potato Crostini with Celery Parsley Salad, Lemony Yogurt and Pomegranate Seeds

Salad
Massaged Kale Salad with Persimmons, Cranberries, Chevre & Toasted Almonds

Main
Spanish Lentil Mushroom Stew
Grilled Organic Polenta

Dessert
Yogurt Pudding with Spiced Pear Compote

___________________________________

I kept my tastebuds open and exploring the past few months, testing recipes and ideas of foods that would work for this Black Friday Feast  and be family-approved. This Spanish Lentil Mushroom Stew below by Michael Natkin completely bowled me over. The sherry vinegar and paprika give a heartiness to the mushrooms and lentils. Below, the stew is served with sliced Early Girl tomatoes and basil. Since they are not quite in season right now, we will be foregoing them and I might opt to offer some quick-pickled onions or some such notion. Who knows, maybe this is a family tradition in the making?

Spanish Lentil and Mushroom Stew

 

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SPANISH LENTIL MUSHROOM STEW
From “Herbivoracious” by Michael Natkin. Reprinted with permission.

YIELD: 4-6 servings

5 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 small white onion, finely diced

3 garlic cloves, minced

kosher salt

2 cups French green lentils, rinsed and picked over

4 cups water

1 pound Crimini mushrooms, quartered lengthwise

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons sherry vinegar

1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved

12 big basil leaves, rolled into a bundle and cut into thin strips (chiffonade)

freshly ground black pepper

1. Heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic and a pinch of salt and saute until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the lentils and water. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook, uncovered, until lentils are tender but not falling apart, about 20 minutes. Drain.

2. While the lentils are cooking, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in your largest skillet over high heat. When the oil is shimmering, add the mushrooms in a single layer and sauté, turning occasionally, until well browned, about 5 minutes. If your skillet isn’t big enough to hold the mushrooms in one layer, work in batches. Season the mushrooms with 1/4 teaspoon salt.

3. Put the lentils in a mixing bowl and add the smoked paprika, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 tablespoon of the sherry vinegar. Taste and adjust seasoning.

4. Toss the cherry tomatoes and basil with the remaining 2 teaspoons olive oil, remaining 2 teaspoons sherry vinegar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt.

5. To serve, divide the lentils among bowls. Top with the mushrooms, and top the mushrooms with the tomato salad. Give the whole thing a grind of black pepper and another dusting of paprika if you like.

 

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Creamy Black Beans with Melted Onions

Creamy-Black-Beans-Recipe

It might seem like a given that a non-traditional person may not crave ritual.

I counter the presupposition happily. Each weekend, Saturday evenings to be precise, I pad into the kitchen, already clothed in pajamas to measure our black turtle beans and pour them into a big red bowl. They cascade into the bowl like dominoes clicking against one another when tipped over. The swish of water navigates between the beans until they are covered. I tackle this weekly soak as a ritual reserved right before bed.

This small act readies me for the coming week when the cooked beans will be our sustenance after a long Monday working and later in the week when we are looking for something healthy to eat that’s fast. They provide a continuity that sets us on a steadier path of making good choices. When paired with rice, we join the throngs of people around the world for whom rice and beans constitute a major part of their regular repast. These powerful ingredients work well together in forming a complete protein. Some people also turn to  beans for their low cost. Beans have a way of connecting the poor and the rich- their humility belying their strong health benefits.

making a pot of creamy black beans

Every two weeks, I know that quart sized jar will be running low and I subsequently plan a visit to the bulk bins. There’s something satisfying about watching an almost empty jar become full again. In its way, that emptying and refilling of the jar is reminiscent of life. In its way, it comprises the most basic ritual of all.

You may be vegetarian or vegan. Maybe you’re gluten intolerant or a real food purist. Perhaps you’re just looking to make healthier changes to your everyday choices. Can I suggest making beans a regular part of your routine? They are food of the soul of this non-traditional person who delights in the morning ritual of finding those hard black buttons hydrated and plumped overnight. They serve as signposts for what counts.

Creamy Black Beans Recipe

 

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CREAMY BLACK BEANS WITH MELTED ONIONS
I use beef broth in this recipe. If you are vegetarian or vegan, feel free to substitute in vegetable broth. I’ve tried it that way and it’s still tasty though you may need to add a touch of salt as needed. Some pots of beans are kind of soupy with a lot of liquid. I like to cook these low and slow so that the liquid gets reduced down into a creamy consistency and the onions take on a melted quality. The beef broth adds a bit of an umami flavor note and an ever so slight smokiness.

YIELD: 6 side servings
TIME: overnight plus 2 hours

2 cups dry black turtle beans

4 cups organic beef broth (I use Pacific Foods)

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 small onion, chopped

1 teaspoon cumin

4 sprigs of fresh cilantro

 

1. Allow your beans to soak overnight by covering the dried beans with water, making sure there is an extra inch of water above the beans, as you will find them plumped up the next morning.

2. Drain the soaking water the next day and discard it. Place beans in a heavy pot with beef broth, onion, cumin, olive oil and cilantro. Bring to a boil. Once boiling, turn down the heat and cover the pot partway with the lid, letting the ingredients simmer.

3. Low and slow is the name of the game here. Check and stir the beans occasionally. The beans will be done when they are soft and edible but not mushy with the liquid reduced to an almost gravy-like consistency, around an hour and a half to two hours.

4. Remove the cilantro sprigs and discard. Serve.

 

SERVING SUGGESTIONS:
These are my go-to beans as they are versatile, so I like to keep them pretty true to form as stated above. I’ve noted a few ways to consider serving them below. Make them your own and adapt away (and if you do, leave a comment – I’d love to hear how your creativity runs wild).

– Serve with polenta or steamed rice with sautéed greens for an easy meal.

– Add extra broth as you heat up leftover beans and make an easy black bean soup. Serve with a dollop of plain’s goat milk yogurt and chopped raw red peppers.

– If you’re feeling particularly frisky in the kitchen, use an immersion blender and puree until smooth for a healthier take on refried beans.

– Stir in a spoonful of Oaxacan mole for a bit of chocolatey complexity and with fresh corn tortillas.

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White Bean Stew with Rosemary and Garlic

white-bean-stew

New Year’s Day in Texas requires a pot of beans- black eyed peas to be precise. Our next door neighbor would annually bring over the black eyed peas and requisite cornbread. As a transplant in California, I decided to do a small bait and switch with this tradition this year. Sunday afternoon, we settled in for a bowl of beans, served over brown rice. It seemed a bit of a nod to old and new, which is fitting for New Year’s, is it not?

I consulted Melissa Clark’s “Cook This Now”, eager to try out her recipe for White Bean Stew with Rosemary and Garlic. I had the pleasure of meeting this New York Times writer and James Beard award winner last year and loved hearing how her husband Daniel sometimes reads poetry to her while she’s cooking. It reminded me of Beck and his guitar accompaniment that occasionally serenades my flurry of kitchen activity.

I’ve been cooking my way through this gem of a cookbook the past month or so, kicking around its tires, so to speak. Beck and I devoured the Seared Wild Salmon with Brown Butter Cucumbers. Another evening found us feasting on Roasted Chicken Legs with Smoked Paprika, Blood Orange and Ginger (the leftovers paired a few days later with a carrot jam sauce, made a great variation of Orange Chicken). Yet another evening, we salivated over the Spiced Braised Lentils and Tomatoes with Toasted Coconut. I have machinations of menu planning ahead of me accented by recipes from “Cook This Now.” This cookbook lives up to its title.

I like Clark’s friendly tone and the detail she writes into her recipes. She categorizes the recipes by seasons. This is a great way for people wanting to cook seasonally to get started, though as we know in California, our seasons are a bit out of sync with other states. At the end of each recipe, she provides footnotes with other ideas on creating variations on the original theme, and I appreciate that call for experimentation and the nudge to adapt and personalize the recipes.

Back to these beans! Let’s be frank. Soaking dried beans overnight requires a bit more forethought but yields for a quicker cooking time in the end. So next Saturday night, set a big bowl filled with dried cannellini beans and water several inches above the beans,  to soak. Put on a pot of easy Sunday beans to warm and feed you well into the week.

white bean stew starry night

 

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WHITE BEAN STEW WITH ROSEMARY AND GARLIC 

from Cook This Now by Melissa Clark
Copyright © 2010, Melissa Clark, Inc. Published by Hyperion. Available wherever books are sold. All rights reserved.

The original recipe calls for making them with farro. We tried them instead with brown rice at one sitting and at another, over polenta, and found both options highly palatable. You can also add kale to the beans, but I wanted to try them out without the extra accoutrements (don’t skimp on the celery leaves in the recipe- they were a bit of revelation). These beans will be making their way into many meatless Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays to come.

SERVES 6

  • 1 pound dried cannellini beans
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, more for drizzling
  • 5 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 celery stalk , cut in half crosswise (reserve the celery leaves for garnishing)
  • 1 large onion, halved lengthwise from root to stem so it holds together
  • 1 whole clove (stick it in the onion half)
  • 2 rosemary sprigs
  • 2 thyme sprigs
  • 1 bay leaf
  • piece of Parmesan rind
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt or coarse sea salt
  • chopped celery or parsley leaves, for garnish (optional)
  • lemon juice and / or grated Parmesan cheese, for serving (optional)

1. When ready to cook, drain the beans and place them along with the oil, 3 of the garlic cloves, the celery, and the onion in a large pot over medium-high heat. Bundle the rosemary, thyme and bay leaf together, tie securely with kitchen twine, and throw it into the pot (or just throw the untied herbs into the pot, though you will have to fish them out later). Add the Parmesan rind.

2. Cover everything with water and stir in the salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and allow it to simmer, partially covered, until the beans are soft. This can take anywhere from 1 to 3 hours, depending on how long (if at all) you soaked your beans and how old your dried beans were when you got them.

3.A test of doneness is to place a bean in your palm and blow on it (the natural thing to do since it will be hot). If the skin breaks, it’s ready. Of course, tasting it is a better way to tell. If your bean pot starts to look dry before the beans finish cooking, add more water as needed. At the end of cooking, the water should not quite cover the beans. (If it’s too liquidy, ladle the extra out and discard.)

4. Mince the remaining 2 garlic cloves.

5. When the beans are cooked, remove and discard the onion, celery, herbs, and Parmesan rind (you can leave the garlic cloves in the pot, they are yummy). Ladle half of the beans into a food processor or blender, add the minced raw garlic, and puree. Return the bean puree to the pot (you can skip this step and just stir in the garlic; the broth will be thinner but just as tasty).

6. Serve the beans in bowls with your whole grains, drizzle each portion with plenty of olive oil, then sprinkle with good flaky salt, red pepper and celery leaves. If the stew tastes a bit flat, swirl in some lemon juice at the end to perk up the flavors. Grated Parmesan cheese on top is also nice. But make sure not to skimp on the oil, salt and red pepper when serving. It really makes the whole thing come together.

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Hunger Challenge Day 7: Black Refried Beans recipe

Black Refried Beans

Nathan and I are living off of $4.72 per day per person this week as part of the SF Food Bank’s Hunger Challenge. This includes  preparation, time and support… With a restricted budget, there are foods that don’t make it in, there are cravings and fatigue. I’m blogging my ramblings of the challenge this week.
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It’s the end of the challenge. Before me, I have a new week and menu to consider. There are groceries to be bought, dregs of this week to be engrafted into a new set of rules. Or are they?

Crossing this line isn’t the kind of whoop-whoop celebration that many challenges bring about. True, I will appreciate sinking my teeth into the crisped edges of an everything bagel and lick the toasted garlic and cream cheese from my lips with recognition of spending half a day’s allowance on a breakfast treat with two meals to go. I will continue to seek out ways to make the most of the food I do have, like making chicken stock after shucking the bones of all the meat. I’m young still. There is hopefully time yet for me to continue learning.

Poverty is nothing new to me.

I’m friends with people who could fall into the category of the working poor. I’m friends with people who used to live under the Bay Bridge and also play a wicked game of chess. I’m friends with women in India who live in a slum and sing as they hang out their laundry. I’m friends with people who never have to worry where their next meal is going to come from or the one after that. And I like them all without question.

So perhaps as we begin entering this holiday season, it’s good to ask the question, “who is my neighbor and how can I love them as I love myself?”

My friend Stacey worked and scrimped, making extreme choices for a year, all to pay off a credit card. She set a very real and very hard timeline for herself. We, her friends, respected and supported her as she lived on little and kept chipping away at her debt that she might find freedom. This act of perseverance was fraught with struggle along the way, but Stacey also learned some valuable life lessons that would see her through richer times as well as the lean times and eventually after she was married, allowed her the opportunity to stay home with their baby and live off of her husband’s small salary.  I’m sure this is the case for many living on small means, but she had become a budgeting queen.

Among the various lessons learned during her payback period, she taught me the art of finding free or very cheap ways to be with a person. The goal she showed me isn’t the “doing”, it’s the “being”. During this period, she would call and ask to meet up for a cup of coffee. For $1.50 we would catch up and at the end feel satisfied with the time spent. I’ve called up my friend Kenny to go for a walk instead of going to the cinema.

Time spent with someone who loves you is what counts, not what you can do or give to them.

So my take-aways are simple:

  • we ate better than we have in a long while because of the planning and preparing that went into making our meals.
  • we found ourselves hungry and frustrated at times.
  • I felt left out of social situations.
  • I found my eyes opened to see all the work and time necessary to eat well on a hunger challenge.
  • I felt exposed, knowing I do not live on food stamps, so this challenge is a rudimentary way to try and understand.
  • I heard you say you learned something new:

And that made me smile-  that made this worth it.

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Black “Refried” Beans

Why go refried when you can go less fat? The caramelized onions and garlic give a deep, complex flavor and the tomato contributes to these silky beans. Serve on tostadas or alongside with brown rice. Heck, refried beans are fantastic on nachos or in burritos as well as for the base of a bean dip. 

TIME: 5-7 minutes
SERVES: 4
COST: $2.62

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 garlic cloves, halved

¼ yellow onion, sliced

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

1 roma tomato, diced

2 cans black beans, drained

3 tablespoons water

 

Saute the garlic and onion in a medium saucepan over medium heat until browned around the edges, about 5 minutes. Add the salt and tomatoes, stirring frequently and cooking until the tomatoes loosen and slump, about 4 minutes. Add the beans to the pan and stir for a few minutes until slightly bubbling. Add the tomato-laced beans into a blender with 3 tablespoons water. Puree until smooth.

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Butternut Squash Chili

SOUP RECIPES- Butternut Squash Chili

Firsts carry a certain lightness where potential and possibility lead the way.

I knew and Nathan knew after the first date that we’d found something rare and good in each other. Over Senegalese food, we bantered and talked for hours. Here was a guy whose eyes did not glaze over as I lightly rebuffed the inane, seemingly mandatory chit chat of first dates. No, instead we talked about homelessness and the difference between managing it and ending it. We talked of dreams and goals both short term and the ones that required time and tenacity to cajole them into being.

Our first Christmas together was so unlike what I would have expected: where I envisioned Nathan and my dad commiserating over a blind taste test of sipping small glasses of port, instead there was my dad´s absence and a desire that they might have had more time with each other. Lest you think it was all dour and no flecks of snowflake, we had bits and bobs of delight woven into our day.

It started with a butternut squash and an idea to build a new tradition. I had a feeling he might be hungry and it was rainy outside. A chili felt right amid the sweet pastry ideas clamoring at the edges of my mind. This also reminded me of eating hoppin johns and cornbread New Years’ past, so it passed with muster. I wanted to make something spice-wise that would be reminiscent of those firsts in the very beginning. toasted cinnamon, Ginger, toasted ground coriander, toasted ground cumin and mortar and pestle sea salt. We garnished ours with crumbled fresh cornbread, a dollop of plain yogurt and some chevre.

Et voilà. We opened our gifts. Him a mobile stainless steel French press and me a book by Dan Simmons. Between spoonfuls of chili and lots of cuddling, this first Christmas was just right. Just enough ritual for our rather unorthodox selves.


We made the trek up to his parents’ house for what definirely equated to a more traditional Christmas: a tree with gifts as roots spreading out. Nathan’s sister tackling the family puzzle and conquering secured corners with her daughter. Her son playing video games. Nathan’s mom stirring and simmering the peas as the holiday ham warmed in the oven. An incident with Texas mixed nuts merited the implementation of the dust buster. Nathan’s brother practicing kicks in the upstairs loft. This clan evoked a cozy side of this first Christmas as one of their own.

And the chili? It tastes better the day after, much like marriage, like the investment of relationships.

 

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Butternut Squash Chili

YIELD: 4-6 servings

1 medium onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
2 tablespoons butter & 1 tablespoon canola oil
2 strips applewood bacon
1 pound ground turkey
1 tablespoon toasted Saigon cinnamon
1 teaspoon toasted cumin
1 tablespoon toasted ground coriander
1/2 roasted butternut Squash, chopped
1 large can pureed San Marzano tomatoes
1 can black beans, drained
1 can chili beans
Pinch of salt

Sauté the onions and garlic in a pan. When they’ve caramelized, place them in your stockpot over to the side to cool.

Cook the bacon in the pan for 8 minutes, flipping often. When cooked through, set on a plate with paper towel to cool. Drain bacon fat from pan.

Brown ground turkey with spices and salt in pan.

Once cooked through, add the ground turkey to the caramelized onion mixture in the stockpot. Add your chunks of butternut squash, along with the pureed tomatoes and beans.

Keep on low-medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring to ensure chili is well blended.

We served it with a dollop of plain yogurt, some chevre crumbled on top and a piece of cornbread. Delish.

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Chicken Sausage with Lentils and Salami

SAUSAGE RECIPES- Meaty Lentils

Two weeks before the time my finger would find a circlet of white gold wrapped around it, the chaos and nervous jitters had come and been communicated through. What remained were the small embellishments for the party celebrating a newly cemented us. Weddings often bring people together in unexpected ways and one of the pieces of wisdom I have received this year is if someone reaches out, reach back.

I don’t possess a superwoman complex though I will be the first to admit sometimes you want things done a certain way. Just so. Tie the green ribbon so it faces the front of the wedding program so guests can see words to sing along inside on the back page. I call it detailed. Nathan calls it perfectionist. That’s pretty true too. Going into planning a wedding, I decided to act as if this was the biggest tradeshow, event or party I’d ever planned. It helped a bunch *and saved a mint.* Early on, the devil kept me company in those details I obsessed over and slowly I found them drift away. The details that remained were the ones I knew were manageable with help. As a wise woman told me in grief support group this year, if someone reaches out, reach back.

Nathan’s sister has a way with a pen and when she asked if she could help, I quickly responded. With my workdays at full throttle and the wedding tasks acting as evening projects, I knew whatever I made needed to be quick, filling but also energizing.

Enter chicken sausage with lentils and salami and apple radish relish.

We cut and tied ribbons for the wedding programs in the span of an hour while Nathan’s sister wrote in her elegant script, penning names on all our table place cards. Dinner satisfied and our project was easily completed. I think one of the best things about having people help you is the shared experience. A memory to file away in the memory bank for later. I will remember with fondness Nathan’s sister, all the spools of sage green ribbon and her clever cursive script on mango colored place cards.

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Chicken Sausage with Lentils and Salami

  • 1 cup brown lentils
  • 2 ¼ cup water
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground sage
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 chicken apple sausage
  • 1/4 cup salami

Set the water on high heat. Once it reaches a rolling boil, add the sage, garlic powder, onion powder, and lentils and cover. Turn heat down to simmer for 15 minutes. Don’t add salt yet. While the lentils are cooking, chop the chicken sausage and salami. When you have about five minutes left on the lentils, begin to heat up the sausage in a separate pan. Once the lentils are done and the sausage is cooked, combine in a separate dish with the salami. Serve with a side of brown rice for a hearty dish.

Apple Radish Relish

1 honeycrisp apple, diced
3 radishes, diced
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon fig vinaigrette
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste

Dice the apple and radishes. Mix together the fig vinaigrette with Dijon mustard and olive oil. Drizzle vinaigrette over the slaw and toss to combine. Serve atop Meaty Lentils as a slightly sweet, piquant condiment.

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Lentil Quinoa with Kale

Lentil Quinoa with Kale

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Lentil Quinoa with Kale

I came up with this dish a few weeks ago and found it so yummy that it was my vegetarian contribution to the Thanksgiving meal yesterday. No turkey, no tryptophan, no troubles! What I discovered in making this recipe is how marvelous the kale cooking liquid is. I actually reserved all of it, using some of it in the recipe below, and then freezing the rest for a rainy day. I love the savory green flavor that is a mighty good stand-in for stock. 

1 bunch curly kale, ribs removed, rinsed, chiffonade-cut
6 cups water
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 leek, rinsed and thinly sliced
1/2 teaspon red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup rinsed quinoa
1/2 cup brown lentils

Plunge the greens into a large pot of boiling salted water, cook them for 10 minutes. Drain the kale into a bowl, reserving 3 cups of the kale cooking water. Drizzle and swirl the olive oil into a skillet set over medium heat. Add the leeks, garlic and pepper flakes stirring occasionally for 7 minutes or until the leeks have softened. Add the kale and 1 cup of the reserved cooking liquid reserved cooking water to the garlic mixture. Cook for 15 minutes. Pour the remaining reserved kale cooking liquid into a saucepan. Bring to a boil and add the quinoa and lentils into the saucepan. Add the kale and any liquid in the skillet to the lentils and quinoa. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes, until the lentils are cooked through and most of the liquid has cooked out.

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Lentil Quinoa with Kale -0958