13 June 2013

Easy Black Beans

Have you ever had one of those days when you just don't really feel like cooking?  For me, yesterday was one of those days.  Little Person and I have both been fighting off a cold, Bulldozer started soccer this week, and we are finishing up the last of the moving related stuff that I just had no desire whatsoever to do while I was pregnant.  Great timing, right?

Anyway, we try to eat good, healthy foods no matter what we feel like, because we know that what we put into our bodies has a direct effect on our physical and emotional health.  So for us, that generally means no take-out.  So what is an easy meal that I can get started in just a few minutes and then basically forget about the rest of the day?


Beans?  But don't they take a long time to cook?  Yes, they do take a couple of hours.  Most of that time, however, they are just fine by themselves on the stove.  It only takes a few minutes to get them going and then they just simmer away.  I can come back after a nice, hour-and-a-half-long nap and finish tweaking the spices and dinner is ready!  Well, maybe the nap bit is wishful thinking, but the rest is all true.

The other great thing about beans is that they are a wonderful protein, have lots of calcium and other minerals and they work perfectly with whichever spices you choose to use.  And as far as vegetables are concerned, whatever you have in your fridge is fair game.  Perfect for fridge-cleaning day...

For this recipe, I had some black beans on hand and found an almost-forgotten can of chipotle peppers in the pantry.  To those I added half of an onion that I had in the fridge, some peppers, a bit of tomato paste and a couple of carrots.  See?  Waste not.  And yet all of those ingredients combined turn into a warm, spicy bowl of beans that are delicious served over rice or with tortillas (or both!).

  • 1 lb dry black beans
  • 1 Tbsp bacon grease (or vegetable oil)
  • 1/2 large onion (or 1 small)
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 1 bell pepper (I was going to add 2, but Bulldozer found one of them...)
  • 1 anaheim chili pepper
  • 1-2 jalapeno peppers
  • 4 chipotle peppers
  • 1 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 Tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 bunch cilantro, divided
  • black pepper and salt, to taste

First step:  soak your beans.  If you plan ahead, by all means soak them overnight.  Otherwise, cover them with water, bring to a boil, cover and let rest off heat for one hour.  Of course, as we have already established, I tend to procrastinate.  So if you do too, bring them to a boil, drain off the first water and proceed with this recipe without soaking.

xt, in a large pot or dutch oven, heat your tablespoon of bacon grease.  And yes, despite no longer living in the South, I will always have a jar of bacon grease.  Doesn't everybody?

Dice your onion and slice your carrots, then saute them for about five minutes.

Dice all of your peppers and toss them in as well.  Taste your jalapenos to see if they are mild.  I had to stop at one, and even then I had to add lots of rice and Greek yogurt to get Bulldozer to eat his beans (only to watch him theatrically gasp and grab for his milk - perhaps we've been reading Calving and Hobbes a bit too much?)  Cook,stirring well, for a few more minutes.

Dice your chipotles and add them to the pot along with the tomato paste.

Stir in the soaked beans

and pour in 8 cups of hot water.
Bring to a boil, cover, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 90 minutes.

Now it's naptime, right?

If only....

When the hour and a half are up, this is what your beans should look like.

Stir in the cumin, oregano, half of the cilantro (coarsely or finely chopped - however you prefer), salt and pepper.  Mix well and continue to simmer, this time uncovered, for another 20 to 30 minutes (until the beans are tender and most of the cooking liquid has been absorbed/evaporated).

At this point, take the pot off of the heat and check the seasoning.  Chop up the rest of your cilantro and stir it in, reserving a bit for a garnish, if desired.

Serve over rice and/or with either flour or corn tortillas.  Also good with this would be avocado slices and maybe a good dollop of sour cream or Greek yogurt.

12 June 2013

Spiced Zucchini Bread with Cream Cheese Glaze

In most parts of the country, it's finally summer!  Although we don't seem to have quite gotten the memo here in Minnesota though.  Today was rainy and pretty chilly for June, I thought.  But maybe that's just because I am so used to triple digits from June to September...

Anyway, when your garden starts producing more than you can possibly handle, or if you get a little over-enthusiastic at the farmers market, what happens?  Do you let stuff go to waste?  Freeze it?  One thing I like to do is make bread, especially when it is unseasonably cool outside!

Zucchini, carrots, apples or berries all make wonderful quick breads that are fairly nutritious and quite delicious.  For this recipe, I'm combining shredded zucchini with spices and dates to make a moist, flavorful loaf that makes a wonderful tea-time snack.  I used a simple cream cheese glaze that I think works nicely with the spiced loaf, but if you prefer to leave the loaf plain, the flavors are certainly substantial enough to stand on their own.

For the bread:
  • 1 C pitted dates
  • 1/2 C boiling water
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 lb zucchini (4 small)
  • 1 C all purpose flour
  • 1 C white whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 C packed brown sugar
  • 6 Tbsp butter, melted and cooled
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 C plain Greek yogurt
  • splash of vanilla extract (about 1-2 tsp?)
For the glaze:
  • 2 Tbsp cream cheese
  • 1 oz powdered sugar
  • splash of milk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and place a rack in the middle position.  Lightly grease an eight-inch loaf pan and set aside.

To make the zucchini bread, the first step that should be taken is to chop up the dates.  You should have medium-sized chunks.

Then combine the hot water, 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda and chopped dates in a small bowl.  Make sure the dates are all covered by the water, because the combination of hot water and baking soda will help to rehydrate them a bit and soften the tough outer bits.

Next, lop the ends off of your zucchinis.  Then, using the large holes on a box grater, shred them.  If you were to leave them just like that, you would have way too much moisture in your bread and a soggy mess.  

Nobody likes soggy bread, so squeeze out all the moisture by wrapping your zucchini shreds in a few layers of paper towels (you should probably do this in about three batches) and squeezing as hard as you possibly can.  This is very relaxing, especially if you are feeling a bit frustrated with your kids at the moment...

By now you should have a small mountain of shredded, squeezed zucchinis.  Set them aside.

In a large bowl, combine the flours, baking powder, baking soda, spices and salt.  Stir to thoroughly mix them and set aside.

Next, in a medium bowl combine the melted butter, brown sugar, eggs, yogurt and vanilla.  

Whisk until smooth.

Now add the soaked dates and stir well.

Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl with the dry ingredients.  Give the zucchini one final hard squeeze with a couple of paper towels, just to make sure you've taken out as much moisture as humanly possible, and add it to the bowl, too.

Fold the ingredients together gently and only just until the flour has all been moistened.  Mix it too much, and it will be dense.

Scrape all the batter out of the bowl into the prepared loaf pan.  If you have little ones, a fun thing to do is use miniature cake tins in different shapes.  Bulldozer likes to have his own little teddy-bear-shaped loaf whenever I make banana or zucchini bread!

Bake at 350 degrees until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out with just a few crumbs hanging on.  For an eight-inch loaf pan, this should take around 50 minutes to an hour.  I'd start checking periodically after 45 minutes, just to be on the safe side.  If you are using little cake tins for the kids, they should take a lot less time.  I would check on them after 30 minutes.

If you do decide to make a glaze for the bread (although it does perfectly well on its own, or smeared with a bit of plain cream cheese), here's how to do it.  In a small bowl, combine the cream cheese and powdered sugar.  Mix well.

Start adding a bit of milk, a little at a time and mixing all the while, until you have the consistency you are looking for.  I wanted it slightly thicker than where I could drizzle it on, but much lighter than a regular frosting.  So I think I used about 2 teaspoons of milk total.

When your bread is done, let it cool in the pan for about ten minutes, then remove it to a wire rack. Let it cool for at least an hour and then spread on your glaze.  You could serve it right away, but I think, like most quick breads, it tastes much better the next day.

10 June 2013

Khoresht Fesenjan

When I posed the question of what my readers would like to see on this blog, one replied that she would like to see a recipe for Persian Chicken with Pomegranates, or Khoresht Fesenjan, as it is otherwise known.  Given the similarity of this dish to satsivi, I was very curious about its history.  According to one source (although I have to admit that I can't vouch for its accuracy), it may be from the Gilan province of Iran, which is near the Caspian Sea and borders Azerbaijan. So Khoresht Fesenjan is from an area near the Caucasus and possibly shares some of the same culinary influences.  It certainly seems to share an appreciation for walnuts, spices and fresh fruity flavors, as demonstrated here by the use of pomegranate.

This recipe is my first attempt at making Khoresht Fesenjan, so if it's not quite authentic, please let me know where I can improve it.  I wanted to go ahead and put it up here, though, because Soslan and I both thought it was quite tasty.  But I have seen so many different variations of this recipe that I do want to play around with it a little more and see if I can improve upon an already-good thing.  For example, I've read some recipes online that use more spices, including turmeric and saffron.  I think it would be interesting to try using a little more spice to round out the flavors a bit more.  Assuming it turns out well, I will be sure to share that with you all too!

Without further ado, here's the first go at Fesenjan:

  • 2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • olive oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1-2 tsp whole allspice berries
  • 1 tsp whole peppercorns
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 4 C walnuts
  • 4-5 Tbsp pomegranate molasses
  • salt, to taste
  • sugar, to taste

First, heat a little oil in a dutch oven and brown the chicken breasts deeply on both sides.

Add the onion and spices and enough water to cover the chicken.  Bring to a boil and then boil gently for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, finely grind your walnuts in a food processor. 

When the chicken is cooked, remove it to a bowl and cut it into large chunks.  Set aside for now.

Strain your broth into a large bowl or pitcher.  I used an 8-cup measuring cup for this purpose.  Discard the spices and bits that you strain out.

Dump the ground walnuts into your now-empty dutch oven and, stirring constantly, toast them over medium heat until slightly darkened and fragrant.

Now slowly add in some chicken broth until you get the right consistency.

Hint: this is too thick.

This is better.  It should be pretty soupy at this stage because you will continue to cook it a bit and it will thicken as it reduces.

Next you can start adding some pomegranate molasses.  I would pour it in a little at a time, stirring well and tasting after each addition to get it to the point where you like the flavor.  For us, that point was five tablespoons of molasses.  This gave us a rich brown color and a complex fruity-nutty flavor.  You can add about a teaspoon or so of sugar if it tastes too sour for your liking.

Stir in the chicken pieces, cover and cook over medium-low heat for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

By the end of 45 minutes to an hour, the walnuts should have released their oil and you should see some of it floating on top of the stew.  This is normal.  In fact, this exactly what you are looking for!  Your Khoresht Fesenjan is ready!

Serve with basmati rice and garnish with pomegranate arils and cilantro leaves, if desired.  Also, I would like to note that while it is traditional to eat this dish hot, we actually felt that the flavors were more clearly pronounced when served cold, after a night's stay in the fridge (and we tried it rewarmed too, but the Fesenjan tasted best cold, like satsivi). 

06 June 2013

Texan 'Lobio'

Beans are something we tend to cook and eat a lot of here.  They are easy, cheap, healthy and delicious.  And they can be prepared in so many ways that you never really get tired of them.  For example, if you are tired of trying out the different Georgian lobio recipes, you can always make them the Texan way, with plenty of bacon and peppers!

Although, the bacon may negate some of the healthiness.  But it makes them even more delicious, so that counts for something, right?

Moving right along then...

Oh, and if you like your beans spicy, leave the seeds in the peppers.  I have to take them out because Bulldozer won't eat much if something is too spicy (although he will, with a proud nod of his head, announce that sometimes he eats spicy things) and also because if eat something too spicy, Little Person will get me back for it later.

For Texan-style lobio, you will need the following:
  • 2 lbs pinto beans, sorted and washed
  • water
  • 1 large onion
  • 8 oz bacon
  • 1 poblano pepper
  • 1 anaheim pepper
  • 1 jalapeno pepper
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • cayenne pepper
  • black pepper
  • salt

If you have the good sense to plan ahead, soak your beans overnight in cool water.  If you are like me and decide to cook beans the same day that you have a meeting (during the circuit overseer visit, no less!), then follow this method: in a large pot or dutch oven, cover your beans with water.  Bring it to a boil and then drain off this first batch of water.  

Pour in about two quarts of hot water to start with and bring that to a boil.  Reduce the heat slightly, to a gentle boil.  Cover and let that cook while you get started on coarsely chopping onions and peppers.

Once you have your onions ready, throw them in the pot with the beans.  Cover and let that keep gently boiling.

After your beans have been cooking for half an hour or so, it's time to add the bacon (or ham hocks or some form or other of smoked pork).  Roughly dice it and toss the whole half-pound in.  Stir well, cover and keep cooking.

At some point, you will probably need to add a little more water.  I kept some water hot in my electric kettle for this, so that I wouldn't bring the temperature of the beans down and mess up the cooking time.  Always try to add hot water when you are doing this.  And only a little at a time, since we aren't going for a soupy consistency here.  Just a nice thick gravy with the beans.

Let the beans cook with the bacon a little while longer, maybe 30 minutes.  Then get ready to add in your peppers.  I add them toward the end of the cooking time so there is less chance that they will just fall apart.  If you need to, remove the veins and seeds.  If not, just chop them coarsely.

And stir them in.  Add your spices, including salt and ground peppers to taste.

After a little longer, check the beans for doneness.  They should be soft and creamy after about an hour and a half to two hours total cooking time.

Serve hot with avocado and tomato slices and warm tortillas or southern (read: non-sweet) cornbread.