Archive for January, 2009

Red Beans & Rice

Wednesday, January 14th, 2009

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I have a bean.

Martin Luther King Jr. would have turned 80 this January 15. In his honor I’m preparing Red Beans and Rice.

Making food to pay tribute to a civil-rights icon may seem frivolous. The choice of Red Beans and Rice for Dr. King is not entirely inappropriate, however. It was one of his favorite dishes.

 

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Moreover, in an odd way, red beans are suited to the civil-rights movement.

Like that movement, they take long preparation and patience. Like many of the ordinary heroes of civil rights, these commonplace beans get together and over time manage to accomplish something quite wonderful.

The combination of the beans and rice, like the combination of races in our nation’s history, is complementary. When they finally join forces at the end of the cooking process, neither loses its identity. Together, however, they form a complete protein, just as the diverse races in the United States form a whole culture.

This particular Red Beans and Rice recipe is adapted from the formula used by my graduate-school friend Mike Mashon, now a Super Curator of Moving Images at the Library of Congress. In school we called him “Mike the Pirate” as a tribute to his extensive collection of videos of old movies, which came in handy as we studied film history. (Since the Library of Congress is one of our nation’s temples to copyright I should probably add that his videos were all legally duplicated for private use.)

Mike is from Louisiana, where I understand children learn about cooking Red Beans and Rice along with their times tables. I fondly recall his pots of this warm, hearty dish as ideal student fare–cheap, yummy, and nourishing.

Mike prefers Camellia brand beans and Rotel tomatoes with chiles. I was unable to find either here in Yankeeland so I used Goya beans and Whole Foods 365-brand canned tomatoes with chiles. Many of the flavorings are optional; I added the onion, garlic, and Creole seasoning myself. If you are a vegetarian, you may want to try the alternative suggested at a web site called www.gumbopages.com.  Instead of using meat, add a little vegetable oil to the mixture to replicate the fat in the meat, plus 1 teaspoon liquid smoke.

Mike cooks his beans in a large Dutch oven. He says they can take from 4 to 8 hours to cook that way. I used my slow cooker because it makes this easy dish even easier-no stirring involved!

 

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Red Beans and Rice

 

Ingredients:

 

1 pound red beans

1 can (14.5 ounces) tomatoes with green chiles

1 onion, chopped

2 stalks celery, chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

extra-virgin olive oil as needed to sweat the vegetables

salt to taste (I used a generous teaspoon)

1 pound spicy sausage, cut into small pieces and quickly sautéed to release flavors

(Mike’s mother likes to use half sausage and half cubed ham)

Creole seasoning or hot sauce to taste

 

Instructions:


Thoroughly wash the red beans. Drain them; then soak them overnight in at least 4 cups of water.

 

Pour the beans and their soaking water into a slow cooker. Add the tomatoes and chiles, plus enough fresh water to cover the beans if needed. Quickly sauté the onion, celery, and garlic in a little olive oil until they are translucent. Add them and the salt to the pot. Cover and cook on high for 3 hours.

 

At the end of the 3 hours, add the sautéed sausage pieces and a little Creole seasoning or hot sauce. If you’re not sure how spicy you’ll want your beans (remember, the chiles and sausage both add some kick), save the extra heat for the end product.

 

Continue cooking on high heat until the beans are soft (Mike likes to mash them almost to a paste), another 3 to 5 hours. Serve over rice. This dish is even better the next day.  Serves at least 8.

 

Mike the Pirate (left) with another darling from grad school, Dan Streible (Courtesy of NYU)

Mike the Pirate (left) with another darling from grad school, Dan Streible (Courtesy of NYU)

 

Avenaceous Meatloaf

Sunday, January 11th, 2009

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          Knowing that this blog and I are currently celebrating National Oatmeal Month, my college roommate Amy MacDonald recently sent me Wordsmith.org’s word of the day for January 5. The word was AVENACEOUS. It means relating to or like oats.

           Amy, known to her college friends as “Our Amy” (we like to take credit for her), is one of my favorite people in the world. She’s smart. She’s funny. She’s musical. And she’s as practical and loving as they come. She has a terrific family, from matriarch Kathleen and the seven(!) MacDonald siblings down to her own kids, Caitlin and William. Until recently I was under the impression that Caitlin and William were still extremely young. Last time I saw them they were sipping drinks of such an intense blue that only children under ten could digest them–or would want to try. According to Amy’s most recent missive, however, they have somehow become teenagers.

Our Amy (wearing Kathleen's glamorous earrings)

Our Amy (glamorous earrings courtesy of Kathleen)

          Obviously, Amy and I don’t get together as often as we’d like. Unfortunately (from my point of view), she lives in California. Whenever we do, we talk for hours, just as though we were still sitting on our beds at Mount Holyoke. Even when we’re apart, we think of each other often. I’m convinced that no one else would have found the term avenaceous for me. If you’d like to see Wordsmith’s full tribute to this highly appropriate word, look at http://wordsmith.org/words/avenaceous.html.

          I was going to call the dish below “Your Basic Meatloaf with Oatmeal,” but I think the new name is much classier. Classy or not, this comfort food is a staple in my home in winter. My mother Jan never uses breadcrumbs to fill out her loaf. Oats are much tastier and more nutritious as well. If you’re feeding small children, chop the onion and bell pepper into very small pieces to disguise them a bit. Adults seem to like larger chunks.

          To keep from chilling your hands, take the ground meat out of the refrigerator about an hour before you’re ready to put your loaf together. Enjoy your avenaceous meal!

Avenaceous Meatloaf

Ingredients:

2 pounds good-quality ground beef (or a combination of beef with pork—or beef, pork, and veal!)

1 large onion, chopped

1 medium or 1/2 large bell pepper, chopped

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

1-1/2 teaspoons salt

lots of freshly ground pepper

1 or 2 eggs

1/2 cup old-fashioned oats plus a bit more if needed

1/2 cup ketchup

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Instructions:

          Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, combine the ground meat, onion, bell pepper, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper. (Your clean hands are the best tools for putting them all together.)  Blend in 1 egg and the 1/2 cup oatmeal. If it’s hard to get everything to bind together, add another egg and/or a few more oats.

          Fashion the meat mixture into a rough log, and place it in a baking dish. In a small bowl, combine the ketchup, brown sugar, and mustard, and spread them over the meatloaf.

          Bake the loaf from 45 minutes to 1 hour. Serves 8.meatloaf-ingredients-web1

Oat Cuisine

Thursday, January 8th, 2009
oatmealweb2          In my New Year e-mail to friends I mentioned that I was working on an article about oatmeal. The response was enthusiastic.

          “Oatmeal is our friend,” e-mailed Carol Cooke, a realtor from Alexandria, Virginia. Just as passionate was Sheila Velazquez. Along with her family, Sheila is working hard to resurrect the old Rice farm on Pudding Hollow Road here in Hawley, Massachusetts. They are basically camping out (brrr!) while nurturing their children and chickens, reconstructing the historic house’s interior, and reading seed catalogues as they dream of the garden they will plant in spring.

          Sheila wrote that on chilly winter mornings she enjoys oatmeal almost every day. She buys organic oats in bulk and cooks them with water, dried fruit, and cinnamon. She throws in a little salt at the very end. “So good and also a good way to use up fruit that’s getting past its time,” she added.

          Sheila offered me a recipe for oatmeal pie, which she termed a sort of “faux pecan” concoction. She said of oatmeal in general, “It seems that some of the most delicious foods are also the least expensive and best for us.”

          I don’t eat oatmeal every morning. Unlike the noble Sheila I always add at least a little brown sugar or maple syrup to my morning porridge. I do yearn for the warmth and comfort of oatmeal at this time of year, however. I’m apparently not alone. More Americans eat oatmeal in January than in any other month, a statistic that prompted Quaker Oats to name January National Oatmeal Month.

Of course, Quaker had a vested interest in creating a month devoted to its signature product. I forgive the company because oatmeal is indeed the perfect food in this dark and cold season. The old cliché that it sticks to one’s ribs turns out to be true. Whole grains like oats take longer for the body to process than many other foods.

The best oatmeal for health purposes is a long-cooking type such as steel-cut oats. If you’re in a hurry, old-fashioned oats take only five minutes to prepare and are still very good for you. Avoid the small packages of instant oatmeal, however. They tend to go overboard in adding salt and sugar.

Oatmeal always appears on lists of super foods. It is good for cholesterol and blood pressure. It also delivers several nutrients, as well as some protein.

Best of all, it is versatile. Broccoli is also a super food, but there are only so many ways a person can disguise broccoli. Believe me, I’ve tried! As well as making a tasty breakfast cereal, oatmeal can be tucked into fruit crisps, cookies, breads, muffins, and meatloaf. It can even be used to construct a facial mask. (Take that, broccoli!)

In this post and the next few I’ll share recipes to boost oatmeal intake this month. If you’re looking for a basic oatmeal cookie, you can’t do better than the formula for Vanishing Oatmeal-Raisin Cookies on the inside of the Quaker Oats box top. Dan Turner of Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, told me how to get the best consistency with these cookies: use a Crisco stick instead of the butter or margarine called for in the recipe. You’ll find that the cookies really do vanish quickly.

The Rice Farm in Hawley, Massachusetts

The Rice Farmhouse in Hawley, Massachusetts

Rice Farm Oatmeal Pie

          Sheila Velazquez says that she originally found this recipe in Farm Journal’s Country Cookbook, published in 1972. At one time she managed a farmer’s market, where the pie was a best seller. Sheila explains that the oatmeal forms a chewy crust on the top of the pie.

Ingredients:

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) soft butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup dark corn syrup
3 eggs
1 cup quick-cooking rolled oats
1 unbaked 9-inch pie shell
Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cream together the butter and sugar. Add the spices and salt. Stir in the corn syrup. Add the eggs, one at a time, stirring after each addition until all is blended. Stir in the oats.

Pour the mixture into the pie shell, and bake for about an hour, or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Serves 6 to 8.

Epiphany (The Color Purple)

Saturday, January 3rd, 2009

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          With Epiphany only a couple of days away, I decided to try making a King Cake yesterday. I first learned about King Cake from French friends. The French enjoy a “Galette des Rois” on and around January 6. In France, the cake is mainly bought in bakeries. It is made of layers of puff pastry with almondy cream in between the layers.

          In Louisiana, this concoction became a simpler King Cake. Both cakes celebrate the arrival of the three kings at the manger to visit Jesus, born twelve days earlier. Both also contain a surprise—a bean or crown in France, a plastic Baby Jesus in Louisiana. Whoever comes across the surprise in his or her piece of cake becomes king or queen for the day. In Louisiana, that person is also responsible for bringing a King Cake to the next feast. (Natives of that state eat King Cake from Epiphany straight through to Mardi Gras!)

          Louisiana King Cake is basically a sweet, yeasty bread baked in the shape of a ring, festooned with toppings that reproduce the traditional colors of Mardi Gras–purple for justice, green for faith, and gold for power. I had never made King Cake before. I looked to one of my favorite sources, King Arthur Flour, for suggestions.

          I didn’t follow the recipe precisely, so I can’t blame KAF for the fact that my cake didn’t come out as well as I would have liked. (If you’d like to see the KAF recipe, visit http://www.kingarthurflour.com/shop/RecipeDisplay?RID=1169473862062.)

          Even so, I think I’ll try something a bit different next time I attempt one of these cakes. My cake didn’t rise very well, perhaps because of the cold weather. Worse yet, the overall effect was bland. My cooking may not be gorgeous as a general rule, but it is hardly ever bland!

          Although the cake wasn’t perfect, the meal during which we ate it was pretty darn terrific. My guests all cheerfully helped decorate the cake. Different people were assigned the tasks of dying the glaze purple, green, and gold. My neighbor Peter, who has a wonderful visual sense, came up with a very creditable purple. In fact, he suggested that I call this post “The Color Purple.”

          As a reward for his hard work, Lady Luck let Peter find the cake’s surprise. His piece included a quarter as I had neither a bean nor a Baby Jesus. (Don’t worry; I counseled my guests to chew carefully!) He is now King of Pudding Hollow—for at least the next day or two.

          The experience of sharing even my imperfect cake with friends reminded me of the other, equally important definition of Epiphany. The word also connotes a moment of revelation. Eating with friends and enjoying the gorgeous pinkish/purplish light of winter in New England made me feel part of something bigger, both social and natural. And that’s a perfect feeling on Epiphany.

Alice was in charge of the color green.

Alice was in charge of the color green.

The King of Pudding Hollow

The King of Pudding Hollow

A Sky Full of Epiphany

A Sky Full of Epiphany

 

Note from Tinky MUCH later:   I made a lovely king cake for Mardi Gras. Click here to see the recipe………..