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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Homemade Baked Beans

So, I like beans.  They're good for you and super easy to make, not to mention tasty.  I profess to buying canned beans in tomato sauce for the most part, unfortunately.  

Everyone does though... they're pretty unilaterally accepted as definitive in the 'brown beans' department.

Maybe not if you live in Boston... but I don't... so yah...

Anyway, you've probably noticed my many posts and mentions of homemade bean stews, and chilis and the like, wherein I'll use raw (dry) beans.  I do that often, and they can be really quite delicious.  However those are usually all as part of a large dish with multiple ingredients.

This time I decided to try making just beans.

So, first, I soaked my beans for a few hours (overnight works too), and then boil them for about an hour or two (until a ratio of 3:1 water to beans gets absorbed/evaporated).

Dry beans can be tough, there really is no way to overcook them doing this.

Anyway, once soft and cooked, the beans got transferred to my cast iron dutch oven for baking later.

So, now to the prep.  While many things could theoretically work here, what I chose today was (in approximate order of concentration) tomato, white onion, bacon, garlic, chili (that's a habenero pepper, so less is more!), oregano (fresh), cumin (freshly ground), and salt.

Once that is all ready to go, start a saute pan going with some butter and a small splash of oil to stabilize the butter.

When ready, throw in the onion and cumin first, give that a head start of at least 3 or 4 minutes, and then throw in the garlic.

Once the onion has started to caramelize a little, remove the entire contents of this pan to a large blender or mixer.

Chop up the bacon (just 2 or 3 slices, don't go crazy on the bacon), and then fry that up in the same pan.  Turn and shake it often, and drain the fat when you can.

In the meantime, while that is cooking, add the chopped chili, tomato, and oregano to the mixer with the onion, garlic, cumin, and butter.

You know what to do!

Having been the first time I'd made a sauce like this, it just reminded me so much of butter chicken.  It has the same colour and consistency... it got me to thinking that someday I'll make my own version of that... some tandoori chicken, some masala, and maybe some fresh cilantro...mmmmmmmm.  

However, that is an adventure for another day!

Anyway, once that is nicely pureed, pour, scrape, and wipe every last speck you can out of there and into the pan.

Let that simmer for a while before adding it to the dutch oven and mixing it all up with the beans.

Once it's all mixed together, put on the lid, and bake it for a couple hours (or more) at about 350°F.

While this was going, I decided to whip up a quick batch of quinoa because I figured something blander would be nice to accompany what I was sure would be some very rich and hearty beans!

So, I let that cook up and then sit for a bit before dishing it up.

After a couple hours, the beans were delightfully baked, and thick.  They even looked a little browned.

Now, you all know that I am a gregarious advocate of homemade and 'from-scratch' cooking, and I sort of thought that these beans would be better than canned.  However nothing could have prepared me for just how much better they were.  There was so much intricacy and intermingling of flavours I found myself savouring every mouthful.

Paired with some quinoa, I felt that this was not only an extremely delicious and hearty meal, but also quite healthy.  There was some saturated fat from the butter and the bacon, but there were also so many healthy and natural ingredients in there.  Plus, you could always choose no bacon, and vegetable oil instead to little adverse difference.

Plus, this meal is incredibly balanced.  Even without the animal products, I suspect there is enough protein and iron in here to support any diet.

Anyway... enough extolling its health appeal... it was phenomenally delicious.

Definitely going to be making homemade beans more often!


Thursday, January 17, 2013

Kartoffelnpuffer (Potato Pancakes)

Kartoffelnpuffer, as the name suggests, is German.

Sure, it suggests potatoes... and pancakes... but they're all really, really German.

And my wife, who actually has less German blood than I do, positively loves this stuff.

In fact, when she first saw these potato pancakes today upon arriving home from work, she literally jumped and clapped.

It's a sad but true fact that my wife never professes her love for me more than when I've concocted a creative solution to end her day's inevitable hunger.


Seriously though, I've said I was going to write something about potato pancakes for some time now.  Actually for over a year.  In fact, I just looked it up... I first mention it in My German Influences and then alluded to slightly in Kartoffel Kloesse a little after that.  

That's not to say I haven't made potato pancakes in the last year, just that I've not documented the process.

Until now.

That's right, release your bated breath, the time has finally arrived.

I do apologize for the photos, they were taken with my tablet not my camera.

So, I've become quite skilled at this process over the years, and of that original recipe I posted, only the core technique truly remains at this point, as I've tweaked and revised so many times.

One of the first changes was the use of real garlic and onion as opposed to powdered.  That stuff is blech.

So, I always start by sauteeing some chopped garlic and onion.

After softening that up nicely, I'll transfer it into my dish of 'prepared' grated potatoes.

"Prepared" means that not only have these potatoes been grated, but they've also had their juices squeezed from them, and separated.

You'd be surprised how much juice is in a potato if you've never squeezed one before.

One of the most important tricks in pulling this off, is to re-incorporate the potato starch once it has settled.

See, of the squeezed potato juice, much of that is starch, which is considerably more dense than the liquid and settles on the bottom of your container after a few minutes.

So, carefully pour off the liquid and then you're left with starch, wonderful starch.

Not surprisingly, this has a similar consistency and feel to corn starch, and if you've ever made 'magic mud' as a kid, your tactile memory will immediately remember the feel of this stuff when you stick in your fingers.

Anyway, so all of that starchy goodness gets added back into the 'dry' potato gratings, as does the above-mentioned and recently sauteed onion and garlic.  I also added some freshly-chopped, fresh oregano leaves.  Because oregano is awesome.

Next, to this mix, we are going to add an egg, about a half a cup of flour, and finish the batter off with a pinch of salt and pepper.

Remember that this is called 'pancake' for a reason - the batter consistency should be rather wet.  I've found some recipes call for too much flour, which makes the pancakes dry and gummy.  In fact, every time I make this dish, I put in less and less flour... perhaps someday in the future there won't be any flour at all?  

In any case, remember it is a batter and not a dough.  So, it's wet and gloopy.

Now it's just the frying of the cakes in the pan.  :)

The more oil you use in the pan, the crispier the pancakes will get.  So bear that in mind.

I usually transfer cooked pancakes to an oven-safe plate to keep warm on low heat, because it often takes some time to cook these in any great amount.  4 - 5 is usually all we need for two people (they are very filling), but even that can take a surprising length of time.

Anyway, once everything is all done, I get a few 'toppers' out for them.  Sour cream (or as we prefer, 0% Greek Yogurt) is great, along with some of the chopped green onion if you've saved them, or some chives.  I wouldn't think ill of you if you chose some good ketchup either... <wink, wink>.

Anyway, for tonight's topping, I whipped up an oregano and scallion Greek yogurt.


Monday, January 7, 2013

Fennel Ricotta Rigatoni

A creamy ricotta cheese sauce with strong overtones of fresh fennel and Italian parsley, served on a bed of thick rigatoni noodles.

Few dishes could compare, in my opinion.

This would be in the running for one of my favourite concoctions.

Anyway - we still had company from the holidays, and we had decided to spend the entire day out walking in the park.  It was a really cold, crisp, wintry day, and when we finally arrived home for the evening, we wanted something warm and filling, but quick and easy also.

So, after uncorking a nice dark pinot noir, I made this Fennel Ricotta Rigatoni.

I didn't take many photos of the preparation of this dish, perhaps because it was similar to oh so many other cream pastas I've shown here on this blog before, or perhaps because I was more into the pinot than I thought.  In any case, however, I prepared this dish much the same as I do many other pastas.

That is, sautee some root veggies (onion, garlic in some olive oil) with the notable addition of diced fennel root in this case (a large amount, as fennel can be surprisingly mild in flavour, and when using as a dominant flavour, feel free to go big).  Then, once sauteed, pour in some milk, simmer for a few minutes, add some cheese (ricotta), some herbs/spices (some chopped parsley, a dash of black pepper, and a pinch of salt).  Stir, maybe add a thickener (some pre-mixed corn starch).  Drain your cooked pasta, but then dump everything back into the cooking pot and stir.  Let that acclimate on low heat for a few minutes and then serve!


Anyway, I steamed up some asparagus, and then tossed them in the pan which had held the sauce.  That got them nice and creamy-coated.

Then I plated the whole pasta into a large serving dish, and we went to town!

The meal only took me about 30 minutes from start to finish which was good because we were tired and hungry!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Whole Wheat Artisan Bread

Well, as you know I've perfected my artisan bread recipe over the years.  And the latest iteration was just about as good as I think I'd want it.

However, that was white bread.

And, as promised, here is my attempt at the same thing, using 100% whole wheat flour instead.

A couple of tweaks, namely a touch more sugar and salt (which incidentally, in case you didn't know, have opposing affects on yeast respiration... sugar encourages, salt discourages... neat, huh?) 

As you can see, it turned out relatively well.  Maybe slightly less round, and a bit more crumb to the loaf, but the crust was crisp and light, and the interior moist but not too dense.

So, overall, it was successful.

That said, however...


We (all of us who partook) decided it still paled compared to the white flour version, which was just perfect.

So, the verdict?

It worked out OK, and I was glad to have attempted it, but I think I'll leave my homemade baked breads white.  

The wife and I are especially alright with that option, given that the majority of our bread consumption is bakery-bought multi- and whole-grain breads, which we consume the vast majority of the time.

So, we can leave the treat of freshly baked bread exactly that, a treat!