27 November 2010

Chili and Cornbread: Another Potluck

Chili and

Another potluck, another dish shared and this time Husband was so pleased with it that he requested it again. (I would say that he even went to the store to pick up a missing ingredient, but he loves going to the store, so that doesn't signify.)

Once you've decided to take the plunge and cook some beans, you may find yourself wondering how to turn them into to chili, and then you'll remember that the crazy woman who talked you into cooking dried beans in the first place promised you a recipe. And then you'll come looking for it, and so I figured I'd better get it up here.

This is a great potluck recipe, because it comes together quickly once the beans are cooked (and if you use canned I promise not to tell, just be sure to rinse them well.) the cornbread topping makes it easy to transport without any sloshing and dribbling, and it's easy for folks to serve themselves so they don't hold up the line. The chili itself is vegan, and you could easily skip the cornbread and offer corn chips instead to make the whole thing vegan and gluten-free (so long as you check the label on those chips.)

Three Pots of

And the random bit of food knowledge today is about the spice aisle. Chile is the fruit. Chili is the stew that is flavored with chiles. Chile powder is the dried, ground fruit. Chili powder is a blend containing chile powder and other ingredients. This version of chili is moderately hot, with a slow burn because I used ground chipotles. If you cannot get ground chipotles, feel free to use whatever ground chile you like. If you want a mild stew, start with just a teaspoon of chile powder and work your way up to the heat-level you like.


2 Tablespoons oil
1 medium onion
1 teaspoon salt
4-6 cloves garlic
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes (fire-roasted is nice if you have them)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 Tablespoon chipotle powder
1 teaspoon black pepper
7 cups beans cooked with salt and bay leaves. (I used a mix of black, red and pinto beans.)

1 recipe skillet cornbread (minus the butter for the pan)

Locate your casserole dish. Make sure that it's clean. Set aside.

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat.

Dice the onion and add to the oil along with the salt. Stir and allow to cook while you peel and mince the garlic. Add the garlic and cook until just fragrant.

Add the can of tomatoes with the juices and bring to a simmer. Add spices. Stir to combine.

Add beans, stir, and cover, lower heat to simmer.

Preheat the oven to 450 Fahrenheit.

Assemble the wet and dry ingredients for the cornbread, but do not combine.

Pour the chili into the casserole dish and smooth the surface. Combine the wet and dry ingredients for the cornbread, then pour the batter over the chili and smooth gently. The cornbread will rise and spread in the oven, so don't worry about getting into every corner.

Bake for 15-18 minutes until the cornbread is golden brown. Serve with whatever variety of chips, shredded cheese, sour cream and other toppings suit your fancy and your pantry.

23 November 2010

Beans, beans they're good for your heart...

If two people in two days tell me in real life that they miss me here on the tubes, does that say good things about my writing, or bad things about my real life presence?

Anywho, the past two weeks of silence were brought to you by my “Why am I writing this? Five people read it and I'm in regular contact with them anyway.” crisis. (Hi, five people!) The crisis actually only lasted a week, but then I got food poisoning (not from my cooking) and while I considered posting just long enough to sing the praises of my favorite ginger tea, I decided I'd just curl up in a ball instead.

The family has to eat no matter what crisis I might be having, and a favorite around here is black bean quesadillas. (Don't forget to shred your own cheese!) They're easy, filling, healthful, and once you've made the big pot of beans, you're all set up for another easy dinner later. Just add rice.

Dried beans are a great pantry staple, because they're cheap, nutritious and versatile. Unfortunately, a lot of people get their dried beans as far as the pantry but no farther. The poor beans sit in their bag gathering dust and getting drier and drier until no amount of simmering will save them. Do you have a bag of beans in your pantry?

Well, do you? Go look. Oh, there they are, red beans, leftover from that time you were going to make red beans and rice. It was 2005 and New Orleans cuisine was all the rage because of Katrina. Hmm... lets tuck those away for a just a tiny bit longer and go get some fresh beans. If you're not used to cooking dried beans, it's probably best to give yourself the best odds of success.

The first trick is to buy beans from a store that has a high turnover in the bean aisle. If you're in an area with a large Hispanic population, just go to a large supermarket with a good selection of dried beans and you'll be fine. If not, go to your favorite market and snoop around the bean aisle. Is it a large section? Is there a large variety of beans? Did someone who looks like they know what they're doing just buy some? Fantastic. This is the place. Buy some beans and head home.

Your second step is to sort and wash your beans. Pour out the amount you want to cook into a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and pick through to remove and discard broken, misshaped or discolored beans, as well as any small stones or clumps of dirt. I buy my beans in bulk and while my black beans are merely dusty, my pinto beans always have a few clumps of sandy soil that need to be picked out. Put the picked over beans in a strainer and rinse, stirring with your hands, until the beans are free of dirt.

Put your beans into a medium-large pot and add enough water to cover by 2”. I've messed around with ratios trying to figure out cups of water to cups of beans and I never get it right, but if I put my index finger on top of the beans the pot, and add water up to the middle of the second knuckle I get it right every time, no matter how many beans I have or what pot I'm using.

Now we come to controversy #1: to soak or not to soak. You don't NEED to soak. Soaking the beans doesn't produce any magical change in the beans except that they will need less time to cook after you turn the heat on than unsoaked beans. Soaked beans take about an hour on heat, unsoaked beans about two hours. But if you don't plan far enough ahead to cook beans directly, you're certainly not going to plan far enough ahead to soak them. So, soak them if you want to, or don't. Whatever.

Fast on the heels of controversy #1 is controversy #2: when to salt. Conventional wisdom says that if you add salt at the beginning of cooking your beans will never cook, and will remain hard and gritty even if you boil them for days. This is poppycock. You can salt now and everything will be fine. I use about ½ teaspoon salt per cup of beans.

What else you put in your beans depends on what you like and what you're going to do with the beans. For pinto beans and cornbread, I use a bay leaf, some black pepper, a garlic clove and a tiny bit of cayenne. For black bean quesadillas I use all of the above but swap out some chipotle powder for the cayenne because I like the smoky flavor. If you are the type to have bacon or ham hocks or smoked turkey legs lying around your house, by all means add a bit of one of those. I'm not, so I don't.

Cover and put the pot on the heat, bring to a boil then turn down the heat to a bare simmer and allow to cook until beans are tender, about 2 hours if you didn't soak ahead of time. (Not lentils, they're done in no time at all and are the subject of a different post altogether.)

If two hours seems like a really long time to wait for your beans to cook, cook them the night before and keep them in in the refrigerator overnight, or cook a huge batch and keep them in meal sized portions in the freezer.

Beans and cornbread make a lovely simple supper, or there is an almost infinite variety of beans and rice dishes. You could even cook up a couple of different types of beans for a nice vegetarian chili (coming soon!).  Now that you've made one batch successfully go back to your pantry for that bag of red beans and make some red beans and rice.

10 November 2010

What's for Lunch

My lunches are pretty plain. The four-year-old got leftovers (his request) today and the toddler and I got more ravioli. Some of the lunches over at What's for Lunch are so much prettier and more creative than mine, but I still post my pictures. I have two reasons. The first is you, dear reader, who probably came here from there. I love checking my stats after I post a lunch box, because it means I can see the map light up with visitors from all over. The other reason is that I enjoy looking at the lunches so much, even the ones which aren't pretty, that I feel like I ought to share something of mine in return.

So here is what we had for lunch today. If you're a visitor or you've been lurking, please take a minute to say hello.

LeftoversPinto beans, cornbread, peas, apple ginger muffin

Oh, look, more
raviolicheese ravioli and mixed veggies, apples, pound cake

Containers are Ziploc brand.

Bento Lunch

09 November 2010

Book Review: All in Just One Cookie

by Susan Goodman and Timothy Bush

If there is a small person in your life who loves cookies this book is a great way to introduce the idea that ingredients all come from somewhere other than the grocery store. Grandma gets a call that guests are coming over so she starts whipping up a batch of homemade chocolate chip cookies. Her cat and dog do research online and in real books, to find out where the flour, butter and the rest of the ingredients come from. There's a simple narrative and a lot of sidebar type sections, so you can read as a bedtime story or take the time to dig in deeper. My then three-year-old loved it, and I think it would be quite popular with kids who are independent readers as well. The illustrations are charming, and the full recipe is given at the end of the book so you can try it out, too.

(This is an unsolicited review. No goods or services have been received in exchange for this review. I am not affiliated with the authors, publishers or booksellers.)

08 November 2010

Skillet Cornbread

If I could only take one thing with me to a desert island it would probably be my cast iron skillet. It would be useful for bashing the local fauna on the head and for cooking said fauna over an open fire.*  Though I am not on a desert island my cast iron skillet is still in daily use, and has developed such a lovely patina that I don't need to grease it to cook an egg so long as I have properly preheated it first.

There are a few tricks to cast iron, and anyone who loves their cast iron will tell you what they are and they'll all be different and you'll get confused. Here's what I do with mine: cook with it often, scrub with hot water and a plastic scrub brush, heat it dry on the stove-top, repeat. It is a frying pan. Its ancestors helped tame the West. You don't need to coddle it.

My favorite (right now) use of my cast iron is cornbread. There are two basic forms of cornbread: Southern and Yankee. Southern cornbread does not have sugar in it. Yankee cornbread does. I don't think preferring one over the other says anything about the state of your palate, your sense or your immortal soul, though some people believe otherwise. I make Southern cornbread because sugar in the main course confuses me. Here's my recipe:

What, you wanted directions? And maybe something more legible than the fine art pictured above? Okay, but only if you promise to try the recipe. This is really, really good cornbread, especially when it's still hot. I usually serve it with pinto beans, but it stands up to spicy chili and pretty much anything else you want to pair it with. If you don't have a cast iron skillet, you can use an 8”x8” casserole dish.

alien moon


2 Tablespoons butter (for the pan)

¼ cup butter

1 cup cornmeal
½ cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda

1 egg
1 cup buttermilk
½ cup milk

Preheat oven to 450 Fahrenheit. If using casserole dish, put the 2 T butter in the dish, and put the dish in the oven while it heats.

Melt the ¼ cup butter and set aside to cool.

Combine the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly, you want to make sure that the baking soda and baking powder are distributed evenly.

In a medium bowl beat the egg. Stir in the buttermilk and milk. Stirring constantly, add in the ¼ cup melted butter.

If using a skillet, put it on the stove-top on high heat and add the 2 Tablespoons butter. Heat until butter begins to bubble.

Add the dry ingredients to the buttermilk mixture and stir until just combined. If using casserole dish, carefully remove it from the oven (hot!) and place it on a stable heat proof surface. Pour the cornbread batter into the hot skillet/ casserole. Immediately place skillet in oven and bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown. Check after 15 minutes and rotate if necessary for even browning.

*I would probably only smack the fauna on the head if they attacked me first. Besides, if I were really alone on a desert island I'd probably eat a poisonous berry and die anyway.

06 November 2010

Don't Overthink Hospitality

I sat on the picnic bench at the playground across the street, watching my son and his friends chase each other around. “You seem to have this kid-birthday-party thing down.” said another mother. I shrugged and I think I remembered to say thank you. It was a very simple party, which is why I was able to pull it off. And that's the secret, if such a thing can be called a secret. I know my limits. I cannot pull off a four course dinner party, so I serve family style. (Though I think I once did a 3 course meal. That was before I had children.) I cannot manage a theme birthday party with handmade invitations and goody bags and decorations and a fancy cake. So I host parties on the playground and serve un-fancy cake.

It's not that I'm a simplicity snob. I don't think that my family style dinners are better than other people's four course meals. In fact I think that four course meals are marvelous and I often wish I were the kind of mother who could do the adorable themed birthday parties. I certainly wish I were the kind of person who could produce a platter full of twee cupcakes with marzipan penguins on them.

I was at a different birthday party today, hosted by a mother who also has this birthday party thing down. There was a table of snack things, a counter of drinks and there was cake and singing. My younger son managed to crumble his scone into every corner of the living room. {Sorry, (not)Maud! The offer of a crumb hunting beagle still stands.} Kids played. Parents chatted. I discovered that a good friend of (not)Maud used to be good friends with good friends of mine and that we had used the same birth educator.

That is really the goal of getting people together: to celebrate milestones and to connect with each other. That doesn't require fancy cakes or four courses. It requires that you give people something from the best that you have and that you accept something from the best that others have. If you happen to have a gift for penguin cupcakes, then sharing that is appropriate. If you happen to have a gift for finding the best Indian take-out in the area, then sharing that is appropriate. The Leftoverist makes an excellent argument that even a McDonald's apple pie can be a loving invitation to community. (If you don't already read In Praise of Leftovers you really should.)

Don't over-think your efforts to host others. Hospitality doesn't have to photograph well. It just has to create a space of welcome.

05 November 2010

Life was Sacred

This is from my archives, originally published in May 2006.  I was taking a class on the Hebrew Scriptures, which is why this starts with a quote from Deuteronomy, but even if you're not a Jew or a Christian the thoughts this reading triggered about food and what we do with it are still relevant.  When I wrote this four years ago there was a burgeoning awareness about food and the importance of knowing where your food comes from but it was not as widespread as it is today.  Even now though, there are plenty of people who think that what we eat and how we eat don't matter.  What we eat and how we eat and who we eat with all matter.  There is more to food than calories, more to nourishment than the recipe you choose.

Nevertheless, you may slaughter your animals in any of your towns and eat as much of the meat as you want, as if it were gazelle or deer, according to the blessing the LORD your God gives you. Both the ceremonially unclean and the clean may eat it. But you must not eat the blood; pour it out on the ground like water. You must not eat in your own towns the tithe of your grain and new wine and oil, or the firstborn of your herds and flocks, or whatever you have vowed to give, or your freewill offerings or special gifts. Instead, you are to eat them in the presence of the LORD your God at the place the LORD your God will choose—you, your sons and daughters, your menservants and maidservants, and the Levites from your towns—and you are to rejoice before the LORD your God in everything you put your hand to. Deuteronomy 12: 15-18

And thus was the act of worship divorced from the act of slaughter and meal preparation. Originally, the slaughter of a domesticated animal was a sacred act, a recognition that all life was sacred. As part of the reforms in Deuteronomy worship was centralized at the temple in Jerusalem. In order to make it possible for people in the outlying areas to have meat for their meals, the rules were changed. Now only the animals that were part of the tithe needed to be slaughtered in the sacred way. The day to day relationship that people had with their meals changed.

For most of the ancient Israelites, the fact of slaughtering an animal for meat probably wasn't all that different before and after the reforms. Everyone would have been aware that the lamb roast in front of them had been fuzzy and bleating just a few hours before. Even for the wealthy, the connection to food was tight. But by removing the act of worship from meal preparation, the connection began to loosen. Slaughter became a more casual act.

Most modern Americans have no grasp on how their food gets to their table. Meat comes packaged in styrofoam trays. Muscle is yummy, and good grilling. Stomach and pancreas are gross and no one should ever eat them. Leather can be skin so long as we don't actually discuss it. Americans eat more meat per capita than anyone else. But we don't want to think about it. We don't want to think about what's left over when you remove the meat from a carcass, and we don't want to think about what happens to those leftovers.

We don't really want to think about our vegetables, either. No one wonders where their broccoli comes from, or how their potatoes got to their supermarket from Idaho. No one ponders the life of their asparagus. Sure, it's just a vegetable, but it was once alive. That's how it is able to nourish us. We cannot thrive on inorganic material. We are life, and life needs life.

There's another issue at stake as well, that of preparing the meal. No matter how the food gets to your kitchen, it's not a meal until it's been prepared and served. If it hasn't been prepared and served, then it's still just food. A meal, prepared by you or for you is a nourishing thing. A meal is alive in a way that food is not. I like feeding people, and generally they're quite appreciative. Most of the people I feed are single, and food tends to be whatever they reheated, eaten in front of the television. It's not a meal. It can be yummy, and even healthful, but it's not a meal.

They don't need to be exciting, these meals we feed each other. Soup and salad is fine. Macaroni and cheese is fine. Chicken parts and green beans are fine. It is the act of preparing and serving that make them special. Sure, if you're me, you worry that the breadcrumb crust on the mac and cheese isn't brown enough, but the people you're serving don't care. I never care about stuff like that when someone has served me a meal. A little burnt around the edges, a little late because it took longer to cook than you thought, a little simple because you don't know how to do anything else? It all counts. It's the action that matters. Preparation and serving are still sacred acts. Without them, a meal is just food.

04 November 2010

Meal Plans

Except for the occasional magically delicious pasta salad, I am actually pretty bad at winging it. If I get towards dinner time and I don't have a plan then I end up saying “spaghetti” and grabbing the jar of sauce from the pantry. It's not that there's anything wrong with that, it's just that I'm happier when I don't feel like I'm resorting to an easy meal quite so often. So I need to plan. I went to the grocery store today, and before I went my husband and I talked through a partial plan.

Here's what I'm going to make in the next couple of days:
  • Black bean quesadillas (actually made these tonight.)
  • Chili with beans and either chips or corn tortillas depending on the results of a future trip to the store.
  • Beans and cornbread, adapted from the Pioneer Woman's recipe
  • Braised cabbage with red beans and rice from the Mediterranean Vegan Kitchen
  • Vegetable soup

And there are two things I'd like to get to making in the next week:

  • Korean-style beef served with spinach, green salad and rice from Madhur Jaffrey's Cookbook, which I picked up from a used cookbook merchant at the Farmers' Market. The limiting factor here is that it serves 6 so I need to invite guests. (Yes, I suppose I COULD scale it down, but that violates the spirit of the book, so I feel duty-bound to feed this recipe to family and/or friends. Would you like to come over?)
  • Cinnamon rolls from Uprisings. I made them years ago, and really appreciated that they were a sweet breakfast treat that wasn't a sugar bomb. They definitely fit in here and I want to try them again.

What do you want to cook this week?

03 November 2010

What's for Lunch: mini-ravioli

Okay, so there's no recipe here. It's just boiling and slicing so we can get to the playground. The mini-ravioli are from Trader Joe's and are very popular around here. As you can see, the toddler couldn't even wait for me to take a picture before he snatched a sample. They cook in 15 minutes. I just put the frozen peas in the colander and drain the cooked ravioli over them. This warms the peas and helps cool off the ravioli so it's ready to eat or cover for transport. Sides today were a clementine and half an apple. The container is a Ziploc I found at Target.

Check out the other bentos at What's for Lunch Wednesday.
Bento Lunch

02 November 2010

Slightly Easier: Oatmeal Whole-Wheat Bread


Or something. I'm as likely to post every day for 30 days as I am to become a GoGo dancer, but the improbable is not the impossible (and besides, impossible things are happening every day.)

What I am likely to do is change my mind about stuff, even/especially stuff that I have written authoritatively about in the past. So when I talk about having to knead bread dough for 20 minutes just after the sponge stage and again after the first rising, you can hold out hope that I'll offer up an easier alternative sometime in the future.

Like now, for instance.

Using the recommended procedure in The Tassajara Bread Book (which I commend to you) you can cut out the second kneading and replace it with another rise which does increase the time a bit, but it's inactive time, so that's not so bad. Tassajara also gets you out of washing to bowl after the sponge, so it's environmentally friendly, too!

Give it a try with this Oatmeal bread recipe. It's moist and flavorful and toasts up beautifully. It is too dense to be a good sandwich bread, but it is an excellent delivery vehicle for your favorite jam, and it uses up any leftover cooked oatmeal you might have.

Oatmeal bread
with honey

Oatmeal Whole Wheat Bread

For the sponge:
3 cups lukewarm water
1 ½ Tablespoons yeast (2 packets)
¼ cup honey (or brown sugar if you want it to be vegan)
4 cups whole wheat flour

For the dough:
up to 1 ½ cups cooked oatmeal
4 teaspoons salt
1/3 cup oil (or butter)
up to 4 cups whole wheat flour

Combine water, yeast, flour and honey your largest mixing bowl. Stir to combine, then beat 100 times. Cover with a clean, damp kitchen towel and allow to rise about 45 minutes.

When the sponge has risen, fold in the oatmeal, salt, and oil. Fold in the remaining flour 1 cup at a time until the dough becomes too stiff to knead. Flour your scrupulously clean counter liberally and dump the dough onto the flour. Begin to knead, adding small amount of flour as necessary to prevent sticking. Knead for 15-20 minutes. Because of the oatmeal, this dough will be stickier than a straight-up wheat dough. If the dough is still unreasonably sticky after you've added in 4 cups of flour, oil your hands to continue kneading until the dough is smooth and supple, if still a bit wet. Form the dough into a ball.

Oil your mixing bowl. (Just grease right over whatever was left from the sponge. It will be fine.) Place the dough ball in the bowl and turn it once so that the top is oiled. Cover with a clean damp kitchen towel and allow to rise until nearly doubled in size, 50-60 minutes. It is ready when you can leave an imprint in the top of the dough when you lightly press it with two fingers. If the dough springs back, it needs to rise a bit longer. If it sighs and deflates a bit, it has risen too long. It will still taste great, but keep a close eye on it during the next rise.

Fully risen

Punch down the dough gently but firmly, flattening it out as much as possible inside the bowl. Form it into a ball again and flip it once. Cover with the towel and allow to rise again. This rise will take less time than the first, so check it after 40 minutes (or sooner if the room is very warm or the dough over-rose last time.)

Punch down again and return the dough to your cleaned, lightly floured counter. Divide the dough in two roughly equal pieces. Allow pieces to rest while you oil two loaf pans.

To shape loaves, knead one piece of dough 5 times, then flatten into a rectangle with the short end about as long as the length of the loaf pan. Roll the dough into a tight cylinder and pinch the long seam. Then pinch the side seams. Place the loaf into the pan with the seam side down and press lightly to form the bottom of the loaf to the pan. Repeat with the second ball of dough.

Preheat the oven to 350 Fahrenheit

Cover the loaves and allow to rise for 20-25 minutes depending on how warm the room is. With a sharp knife, cut a ½” slit along the top of the loaf.

Bake for 45-50 minutes. Remove from pans to cool, and allow to cool at least 10 minutes before slicing. Once the loaves have cooled completely, they will keep well wrapped tightly in plastic in the refrigerator. I generally keep the loaf we're eating wrapped in a kitchen towel on the counter and the second loaf in a freezer bag in the refrigerator until needed. These also make excellent gifts for your toast loving friends.

01 November 2010

Linking: Vegan Pozole

Michael over at Herbivoracious is working on a cookbook. I'm very excited about it, and you should be, too if you're at all interested in vegetarian cooking that uses real food and plays with flavors. As part of writing the book Michael put out a call for recipe testers and I volunteered. He sent me a recipe for Pozole Rojo de Frijol, a vegetarian version of a traditional pork stew.

I loved it. The kids liked it. The husband liked it. It must be said that not everyone at the table liked it, but I think that was my fault for misjudging the audience, not the fault of the recipe. I will make a couple of changes next time: I'll use slightly less lime juice, slightly less water, and I'll up the chiles. I used the minimum this time, and there was very little heat.

Obviously someone trying to write a cookbook doesn't want his recipes reproduced all over the internet, but I am allowed to link to it. So go read the recipe, try it for yourself, and then check out more of his blog.


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