Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Black beans with chipotle peppers and sundried tomatoes

It's been a really long time since I've posted anything...but it's not like I haven't been cooking. It's more like I've been making the same things over and over again. I've been tweaking my caesar salad recipe and continually making udon noodles with tofu. At least one or two roast chickens in there too, and some grilling adventures. But the problem is you can't write about the same stuff over and over again! So this is something I made last week in a weird fit of wanting black beans, and it was brand new and not the same old thing, so here it is:

I unearthed a nasty old bag of dried black beans from the back of the cabinet. You know, those little plastic tubes of beans that look all dusty inside. Rinsed well 2 cups of dried black beans and put them in about 4 cups of water to boil, along with 2 bay leaves, 1 tablespoon epazote and 2 cloves chopped garlic. No, I did not soak them. I don't believe that it actually matters whether you soak them or not. Maybe if you are in a hurry and you remembered to put them up the night before or something, then maybe it shaves 20 minutes off your cook time. But you can just go ahead and cook them up without soaking too. I partially covered the pot and did something else for about an hour and a half, checking occasionally and added more water once, then drained them off once they were pretty close to tender. Some people like to keep the bean water for further cooking but I didn't worry about it. I had a chicken stock simmering on the stove top, so I added 2 cups of that liquid, along with the onions floating around in there to my drained beans. If you don't have a chicken stock going, just saute 1/2 a minced onion in olive oil until lightly golden, toss in your beans, then add vegetable stock or packaged chicken stock or whatever you have handy. You don't want too much liquid--you're not making bean soup. Then I opened up a can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, minced up two of the peppers and added those to the pot along with some of the sauce. They have a nice, hot, smokey flavor. I wanted to put in tomatoes but I had none on hand, neither fresh nor canned. So I minced up about 1/4 cup of sundried tomatoes and put those in, figuring they'd rehydrate nicely. And guess what? They totally did! They're a little sweeter and have a nice texture, and it's a better match for the spicy chipotle peppers than fresh tomatoes would have made. After about another 20 minutes or so of everything cooking up together, I added a splash of worcestershire and took them off heat. I packed them away in the fridge because we had chicken soup that night. I just felt like making beans.

However, this was a good thing because the next night I was really hungry and grumpy from work and didn't want to take forever with dinner, so I just put some tilapia in a pan with hot butter, then poured over a mini can of coconut milk, and dusted the top with paprika, salt and pepper. I heated up the black beans (flavor had improved overnight in the fridge) and we had them with lime wedges alongside the fish. I'm pretty sure I diced up an avocado and put that on top of everything too. Anyway, it was delicious.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Lemon pancakes with banana topping

I don't want anyone to start thinking that we're particularly religious around my house--although we both grew up Catholic, we're not really any type of faith anymore. For example, we didn't go to church on Easter. As Brian would point out, it's stupid to only go one day a year, sort of meaningless in the big picture. You should probably just go the week AFTER the holiday if you're going to go at all; at very least you'll get better parking and at very best you won't be a hypocrite. However, there is nothing hypocritical about regular observation of the holy tradition of Easter brunch, and with that in mind we decided to make pancakes and invite some heathen friends over.

Grated the zest off one lemon (have I told you all about organic lemons yet? Use them if you can because pesticides pervade the oils in lemon peel so thoroughly that you cannot possibly wash them off) with a microplane (have I told you all about microplanes graters yet? Best damn graters out there), juiced the lemon and set aside. Mixed 4 cups flour with 2 tablespoons baking powder, 2 teaspoons sugar, 1 teaspoon salt. Separated 3 eggs and had Molly work out her aggressions by beating the whites separately into a fluffy froth. When they were quite fluffy, added 2 cups milk, the yolks of the eggs, a drizzle of melted butter and the lemon juice and zest. Mixed very well and slowly added to the dry ingredients, being careful not to overbeat once the wet got into the dry. Pancakes are fragile creatures. You should beat them as minimally as possible after you have combined dry and wet to keep them from becoming tough. It's important to mix very well the separate groups, but once they've been combined, just barely incorporate them and then set aside or you will have juvenile delinquent pancakes that drive hotrods and hang out on street corners smoking cigarettes with their hotpants girlfriends. I'm just saying. Heated up a very large, flat griddle and melted butter all over it. When it was sizzly, added pancakes in 1/4 cup dollops, smoothed them into roundish shapes and watched them puff up beautifully. Kept warm in the oven until it was time to eat.

Banana topping is made by cutting up 5 bananas into chunks and dumping them into a pot with a bit of butter to toast. Browned them slightly, then added 2 teaspoons sugar, 1 teaspoon each cardamom and cinnamon, and 1/2 teaspoon each nutmeg & allspice. Mixed up until bananas were falling apart slightly but still keeping shape, then added 1/4 cup orange juice. Cooked another minute or two then removed from heat to serve with pancakes.

We also had vegetarian breakfast sausage, a frittata that Molly brought and really really good, totally from scratch Bloody Marys made by Katie. Later on Brian and I ate jelly beans from Malley's candy company in Ohio, so it was a completely successful Easter.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Udon noodles with black bean sauce

So I was trying to recreate a dish that I order at Saigon Cafe--udon noodles in a black bean sauce with fried tofu. Holy crap, it is so delicious. I get that and a bubble tea for lunch and I'm pretty happy. Anyway, what I made at home the other day is absolutely NOTHING like the inspiration...but I think it turned out OK anyway. I was just experimenting and it ended up being pretty tasty. I guess Saigon Cafe has some kind of deal with the devil over there, not to mention a whole lot of authentic thai and vietnamese cooks in the kitchen.

First I fried up some tofu as usual. For the record--I actually like un-fried tofu just fine. Brian has texture issues so he prefers it fried up. Soon he will have fat issues if he doesn't watch it. Heated about 4 tablespoons canola oil in a heavy pot until sizzly, added 1 block of extra-firm tofu that had been cut up into 1" chunks (I have covered this issue before--the more you dry off your tofu the better it will fry up. I didn't dry it very well this time). Just tossed it all into the hot oil and let it brown on one side for about 3 minutes, then flipped all the pieces for total tofu-surface browning. Turned off the heat and drained all the oil (or as much as possible), then returned the pot to the stove and added 2 tablespoons teriyaki sauce and a little soy sauce, stirred it with the browned tofu over medium-high heat until the sauces made a shiny glaze, then removed all the tofu to a dish and set aside. I ended up just using the same pot to boil up 1 1/2 cups water and dropped in 2 packets of udon noodles. I don't know how other people find these. I find mine at the DeKalb Market, in the refrigerated section, right next to the miso & other Japanese products. They are a brand that claims in english to be "the best noodle!" but the rest of the packaging is in Japanese characters so I can't read it. Maybe Alan could. They come with a packet of soup mix that is really salty. Udon noodles are big, soft, thick noodles that are ususally packaged fresh and don't need more than 3 minutes of cooking. Soba noodles are a good substitute. Anyway, I boiled them in less water than normal and went ahead and added the salty soup mix that comes with. In a wok, I sauteed 1 clove minced garlic, then poured in the noodles and their cooking liquid. I let the liquid reduce down, then stirred in 2 tablespoons black bean paste. Then I tossed in the tofu and mixed everything up well. After about 1 minute, I added 1 head of thinly sliced baby bok choy (including both green & white parts). After this got wilty (another 1 to 2 minutes), I took everything off heat and we ate it then drank a lot of chardonnay while cleaning the apartment.

(Note to survivalists: If you wanted to make something like this in the wilderness, you get some tofu and black bean paste from your trip into town to the one organic grocery store, also picking up fresh green beans or snow peas, if they have them. Also get a can of water chestnuts if you can find them. Ask the meth-addled townie behind the register to locate them for you. Then you would saute the green beans along with the garlic to get them a little browned but still crunchy, then add drained water chestnut along with the fried tofu. I don't know what you do about the udon noodles! Maybe you can use any other type of pasta or even ramen? It would be different but still pretty good, I bet.)