Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Holiday Beans

I wrote the following dinner report last year, but I never got around to posting it.  I stumbled across it the other day (virtually speaking--it's on my computer) and thought I'd post it.  

Well, it's been an age since I last posted.  I apologize for the long delay in posts.  It's not that I haven't been cooking or eating dinner; it's just the I've been wrapped up in moving, starting a new job, learning a new job, and generally getting used to my new life and routine.  Now that I've finished my first semester as a college librarian, I have 5 wonderful weeks off to celebrate Christmas with (some of) my family, visit my friends, and then enjoy my birthday before heading back to Spring semester 2012.

Since I last posted, I have cooked quite a bit.  I've made some old favorites like chili, scotch broth, spaghetti, and linguine carbonara.  I've also made stuffed pasta shells and a ton of cookies for various Christmas gatherings for work as well as the famous Praline Pumpkin Torte.

One of my favorite things to make for family holiday get-togethers is the doctored up baked beans that were one of my dad's favorites.  He really liked baked beans in most forms, but he always said these were his favorite.  I just wish he could be here this year to have them again.  The beans are pretty simple to make, starting with canned beans and adding a few ingredients, but the result is so good.

Alex's Christmas Beans

8 oz bacon, regular--not thick cut
1 large yellow onion, finely minced
2 large (28 oz.) cans Bush's Original Baked Beans
Yellow Mustard
Brown sugar

Chop or snip the bacon in to very small pieces.  I like to use a pair of kitchen shears as they make short work of the bacon.  Over medium heat, saute in a large, deep saucepan, stockpot, or dutch oven until bacon is just barely crispy and most of the fat has rendered out.  Scoop out the bacon with a slotted spoon and allow to drain on a paper-towel covered plate.  Pour out all but about 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat.  Add the onion and cook until soft and beginning to turn a caramel color.  

Once the onion is completely soft, pour in the two cans of beans, liquid and all. Stir to incorporate the onions throughout.  Add 2 Tbsp yellow mustard and 1/4 cup brown sugar and stir to combine well.  Stir in the bacon pieces.  Heat to bubbly, then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Taste the beans.  They should have a sweet, mellow smoky flavor with a bit of tang.  Adjust as needed with either mustard or brown sugar and allow to simmer for another 30 minutes to 1 hour.  These beans can just sit on the stove simmering while you prepare the rest of the dinner.  These are especially good served with ham and cornbread.

Thanks for reading.  I'm going to be trying a couple new recipes this week, so I hope to add 1 or 2 additional posts soon.  I'm making Bacon, Lentil, and Spinach Stew and Chicken and Leek Pie from my new cookbook, "One Pot of the Day: 365 Recipes for Every Day of the Year."  I'll also be roasting a chicken with lemon and fresh herbs, (I'll use the leftovers for the pie.) and doing some roasted root vegetables or maybe a vegetable curry.  I love fall!

Saturday, September 29, 2012


This week, I made Spicy Grilled Lamb Burgers in pitas with tzatziki sauce.  I posted about a similar dish I made about 2 years ago.  I sort of just tossed that one together.  For this one, I did some research, and it was even better than the last one.

In case you don't know, tzatziki is a Greek yogurt cucumber sauce usually served with pita wedges or on gyros. There are many variations of tzatziki around the Meditteranean and south-western Asia. In India, cucumber raita is similar in taste but much thinner. It's great for cooling down spicy curries. I looked up recipes for tzatziki and read several. I didn't follow any one recipe, but took the common elements among most of the recipe I read. I did not include the fresh herbs some of the recipes called for (usually dill, mint, or parsley), but I wasn't concerned with making a truly authentic tzatziki because I was making curried lamb burgers, not Greek gyros. There were differences in the various recipes. It's funny, some recipes called for plain yogurt, some called for sour cream, and some called for both. The recipes that called for plain yogurt had you strain the yogurt first for several hours to get out the excess liquid. Doing that, you end up with a thicker yogurt instead of the thin regular yogurt.

Since I had a container (6 oz.) of Chobani non-fat plain Greek yogurt, I skipped that step since Greek yogurt has already been strained. I added 3 cloves of garlic, minced and about 2/3 of a peeled cucumber. I had a regular cucumber with seeds, so I cut it in half and scraped out the seeds before grating it using a regular box grater. You can also use an English or Japanese seedless cucumber. I squeezed out some of the liquid using a paper towel then mixed the shredded cucumber into the yogurt. I stirred in about 1/2 tsp olive oil (for texture) and the juice of half a lemon. I then added just a little salt to taste. Once it was well mixed, I put it in the fridge to let all the flavors meld.

After about an hour I pulled it out of the fridge to taste it. The flavors came together nicely, but it was pretty tangy. I stirred in about 1/2 of a teaspoon of sugar and then let it sit while I made the lamb.

For the lamb burgers, I found this recipe for Spicy Lamb Patties on All-Recipes.com. I followed the recipe, though I didn't have green onion so substituted a little finely minced white onion. I flattened out the patties then grilled them using my non-stick grill pan rubbed with a little oil.

Normally, I would probably pop the pita in the microwave to heat up. However, since moving, I don't have a microwave, and I don't miss it all that much. Instead, I patted just a tiny bit of water onto the whole wheat pita then wrapped it in foil and put it in the oven to heat up. This turned out great. I ended up with a soft, warm pita.

I put the burger in the pita and slathered on some tzatziki and bit in. I couldn't believe how good it turned out. I only wish I'd had some lettuce to put in the pita with the burger. That would have been perfect.  All in all, a highly successful dinner.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Dinner Photos and Others

I ate leftovers last night, and the Vegetable Curry was still really good.  I took some of the leftover rice, mixed in some slivered almonds, and made it into small patties which I then cooked in a non-stick skillet.  I reheated the curry and poured it over the rice and added some fresh spinach.  Very yummy.  The pictures aren't the greatest, but you can get the idea.

In case that isn't particularly appealing, here's a nice picture of a rainbow over my neighbor's house...
and some clouds I saw while driving home...

and It's A Small World at Disneyland all lit up...

and a cool b&w ladybug I found on my car a few months ago.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Happy Memories of Chickpeas

Well, it wasn't Meatless Monday this week, but it was Veggie Wednesday. I made a vegetable curry, an Indian-type curry made with wonderful curry powder my mom sent me. She got it at a great market somewhere in the Napa Valley area. I can't remember exactly where or the name of the market (even though I've actually been there once or twice). The curry wasn't completely vegetarian because I used chicken stock (actually Better Than Bullion dissolved in some water--love this stuff), but it didn't contain any actual meat. You could substitute water or vegetable brother for the bullion to make this truly vegetarian.

I do not like garbanzo beans much at all. I don't like them in salads, I don't like them in soups, I don't even really like hummus. I think it's partly taste and partly texture. However, for some reason I like chickpeas (I prefer this name to garbanzo beans, maybe because I think of garbanzo beans as being something you add to salads.) in curry. I think I like them because they pick up lots of flavor from the curry, and they simmer long enough to be soft, so the texture issue is moot.

 I never would have known I liked chickpeas if it hadn't been for an Indian restaurant called Deboo's (I think that was the name) that used to be in the Bel Air shopping center in Natomas. The first time I went in, the owner asked what I wanted to order. I said I wasn't sure, and he said he would make me something good. He gave me tandoori chicken, some naan, a cauliflower dish, and curried peas & chickpeas. I didn't think I'd like the chickpeas, but they were surprisingly good.  I was happy to expand my culinary vista.

 Here's what I did to make my vegetable curry:

 First, I cut a leek lengthwise and then thinly sliced it into half rings. I sauteed these in a small amount of fat (equal parts olive oil & butter). After the leeks softened, I added a tablespoon of curry powder and stirred that around for a few minutes. I then tipped in a can of drained & rinsed garbanzo beans and a small to medium potato cut into chunks. I dissolved a rounded teaspoon of Better Than Bullion Chicken in 1.5 cups warm water. I poured that over the beans & potato chunks. I let this simmer, covered, for about 25 minutes.

Once the beans were tender & the potato cooked, I added some cornstarch to thicken the sauce and added some zucchini. I let this cook a little while longer until the zucchini was cooked but not mushy. I was going to add some spinach or cabbage but my pan was full, so I just left it as it was. It turned out really well. I served the curry over some rice.  I think it made about 4 servings.  Anyway, I have leftovers.

 The other way I like chickpeas is as falafal. Okay, so it's not really the same, but falafal is made with ground chickpeas. The first time I had a falafal was in Boston. Some friends took me to a tiny, hole-in-the-wall, Middle Eastern grocery near Haymarket. It's right along where they have the outdoor fruit & vegetable market during the warmer months.  The shop is down about 5 steps from street level, and you have to duck to avoid whacking your head on the top of the door frame. Inside there are shelves of groceries and bins of spices. Tucked to one side is a food counter. You can get takeaway of various types including shawarma & falafal sandwiches.

There is a little old man who works behind the counter. I never did get his name, but everyone referred to him as Falafal Man (though not to his face).  He makes the food, and it is delicious! For the falafal sandwiches he takes a piece of flatbread (locally made), spreads on some tahini & harissa, layers on some veggies including small wedges of dill pickles (unexpected, but delicious), and then tops that with falafal which he smashes a bit to break open and then wraps it all up. The sandwich is delicious, and Falafal Man is such a sweetie.  Several of us from Simmons went to see him right before graduation to say goodbye and to get a last falafal sandwich. He came out from behind the counter and hugged each of us. Next time I visit Boston, I am definitely going back.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

A Successful Stir-Fry

Well, it's been nearly a year since I last posted, and a lot has happened. I got a full-time job, moved to a new state, and finished my first semester as a professional librarian. I also turned 40 and went to Hawaii. It's been a busy year.

Just because I haven't posted doesn't mean I haven't been cooking during the year. I still have the information about the trifle I made from the Madeira cake (the one that turned out not so great). The trifle was much better than the cake. I also made some granita from orange, peach, mango juice and gin. Pretty tasty.

Tonight I made a very successful stir fry from a recipe from Williams-Sonoma. The recipe is called Stir-Fried Pork and Sugar Snaps with Soba Noodles.

The recipe sounded easy with ingredients available at the local grocery store. I was really surprised to see no garlic in the list of ingredients though. The main flavors come from soy sauce, ginger, sesame oil, and red pepper as well as a generous amount of green onions. There was a lot of oil in the recipe between the sesame oil and the oil for cooking the pork. I think it could be reduced, at least the amount needed to sautée the pork could be. A tablespoon was way more than needed. The flavor turned out well. I might try it with some garlic next time though to see how that changes it.

picture from Williams-Sonoma.com