Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Favorite Black Bean Soup

Hooray! It's Soup Season! I love soup!!! Every week during the cold months I try to make soup, hoping it will last a few meals in our home.  We have recently added this to our favorite soup rotation of Tomato Basil, Baked Potato, DIY Tortilla & Tortellini Soup.

This is my favorite Black Bean Soup Recipe I have found. I'm not sure why we love it so much, but we do.

Maybe it's because when it's cooking on the stove, it makes the house smell like a Mexican fiesta, and my girls yell down from the top of the stairs (which is the spot where smells from the kitchen are most pronounced, oddly enough) and ask, "What are you cooking, Mom? It smells sooo good! Are we having tacos for dinner?"

Or maybe because it is a meatless meal, which I prefer, and yet one that Dave, who prefers a meaty meal, calls "hearty and delicious".

Or maybe because my son, who is the only non bean-fan in our house tasted it yesterday and said, "you are right, it's good.  I like the flavor, I just don't like the texture of beans". This was a big step in the right direction.  I declared, with elation..."Oh, you are on the verge!"  We are standing on the precipice of bean-dom with this guy, y'all!

(Another hopeful moment regarding this advancement was last night, when we had Greek for dinner and he was devouring the Hummus and commenting on how much he loves it, I reminded him, "you do know that hummus is made of garbanzo BEANS, right?")

Black beans are a favorite food of mine, but when it comes to soup, it's never been my favorite soup.  I like it, but if I am at a restaurant, it's not the soup I typically order. I think because it is sometimes so pureed, and I like hunks of something in my soup, and sometimes is thick and gloppy.  Also, I usually want rice or cornbread with a bowl full of beans!

This Bean Soup recipe is from Bon Appétit magazine from 2004, that my friend Gretchen passed along to me a couple of years ago.  It is a really nicely balanced soup, as some of the soup is pureed for thickness, but some beans are still intact. (I have added an additional carrot, and more beans – and therefore a little more chicken broth – to the original recipe.)

I love sour cream dolloped on all things black bean, and my girls definitely want it on this soup. But the recipe calls for garnish of green onion, cilantro and feta cheese. Brilliant idea, Bon Appétit. The feta is so delicious.  I think it really takes the soup to the next level. I highly recommend you try it topped with feta.

Black Bean Soup with Jalapeño
adapted from Bon Appétit magazine

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tsp ground cumin
1 to 2 tsp. chopped jalapeno chile with seeds, divided
3 15-16 oz. cans black beans, undrained
1 15 oz. can petite diced tomatoes in juice (or you can use 2 cans if you like more tomatoes)
2 cups chicken broth

Chopped fresh cilantro
Chopped green onions
Crumbled feta cheese

Chop onions, carrots and garlic.

Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat.  Add onion, carrots, and and garlic; sauté until vegetables begin to soften, about 6 minutes.  Mix in cumin and 1 tsp. jalapeño.  Add beans, tomatoes with juice, and broth; bring soup to boil.  Reduce heat tot medium, cover, and cook until carrots are tender, about 15 minutes.

Transfer 3 cups of soup to a container/blender and blend until pureed smooth.
(I love using my immersion blender, and if you have ever tried to puree hot soup in your traditional blender and it exploded and made a mess, you'll understand why this speedy, tidy and simple blender solution is such a winner!)

Return puree to the pot.  Simmer soup until slightly thickened, about 15 minutes.  Season to taste with salt, pepper and remaining 1 tsp. jalapeño, if desired.

Ladle soup into bowls. Top with cilantro, green onions and feta cheese (or sour cream if you'd rather).

Dave told me the other day, when we were making Tomato Basil Soup, that he has been craving soup and that his love for soup seems to be ever-increasing.  This was music to my ears! He likes soup and has been supportive of my cold-months soup crusade for years, but now, he's begun to crave this mainstay.

P.S. If you were looking for a kitchen gadget to add to your Christmas wish list, the immersion blender is a lovely tool to have in your kitchen and much-appreciated in a recipe like this!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

2 Years and 40 Minutes Later: Coconut Cream Pie

Do you ever long to do something and put it on a “to do list”and it sits there for weeks, months, even years? Sometimes the delay is because we fear that it will be hard to accomplish, or at least complicated or time consuming.  And so we put it off. 
And we keep transferring it from one list to the next list.  (It could be writing a letter to someone, or trying a new recipe, or scrubbing the grime out of the refrigerator.) And then finally one day we get the gumption and we just go for it.  And then, we think, “that was not that difficult, or time consuming or dreadful after all”! And we wonder why we were hung up for so long.  And we feel ambitious in that moment and want to do the very thing again within days.  Perhaps to make up for lost time!

Yeah, that was me last week.

I have been wanting to make a Coconut Cream Pie forever! It’s one of my favorite desserts and I had wanted to give it a try and hopefully share it with you here.  But for some reason, the combination of my fear of making the custard-y filling of the pie, and not having the right occasion at which to serve it kept me from making it.  Instead, I continued to rewrite it on the "to make" list on my refrigerator dry erase board for a couple of years.  Then one day, I decided to force myself to just do this.  And, low and behold, it wasn’t hard at all and it tasted even better than I imagined it would!  

I'm inspired. To transfer this experience onto other tasks I have been putting off. And I'm inspired to add this pie to my favorites list.

A couple of choices must be made when pie-making after deciding what kind of pie: the crust and the topping. The question is whether to use a pastry rolled crust or a crumb crust.  I love a homemade graham cracker crumb crust- it's buttery and nutty and is more predictable and easier than a pastry crust. When it comes to the topping you have to decide between a meringue and whipped cream.  Meringues are pretty intimidating, require baking (hoping for the right climate), and in my opinion (though stunning to look at) don't have much flavor.  Fresh whipped cream, on the other hand, is simple, quick, predictable and oh so delicious! 

I wasn't sure how this combination would be and I needed it to succeed, since I had been putting it off for 2 years and wanted success! I have to say, it was one of the best coconut cream pies I've ever had.  (I will warn you that it was much more flavorful on day 2). We had a slice on day one and it was good, but the next day it was de-li-cious! 

Coconut Cream Pie
Step 1: Make the Crust
1 1/2 cups Graham Cracker crumbs
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 stick (4 Tbsp. melted butter)

Make Graham Cracker Crust – I put graham crackers in a ziplock bag and crush them with my fist, or with a mallet.  (You can make them as fine or coarse as you like). Stir together ingredients for the crust.  Combine until well incorporated.  Press into a lightly greased pie pan – reserving one spoonful for tasting (okay, you don't have to, but I can't ever resist!) Place crust into oven and bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees.

READ HERE if you want to know more about making a graham cracker crust.

Step 2: Make the Filling
Spread 1 1/3 cups shredded sweetened dried coconut on a cookie sheet or cake pan and toast, stirring occasionally, in a 300˚ oven until golden brown, 20 to 30 minutes.

Whisk in a medium, heavy saucepan until well blended:
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 tsp. salt

Gradually whisk in:
2 1/2 cups whole milk

Vigorously whisk in until no yellow streaks remain:
5 large egg yolks

Stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or heatproof rubber spatula, bring the mixture to a bare simmer over medium heat.  Remove from the heat, scrape the corners of the saucepan with the spoon or spatula, and whisk until smooth. Return to the heat and, whisking constantly, bring to a simmer and cook for 1 minutes.

Off the heat, whisk in:
2 Tbsp. butter, cut into small pieces
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup TOASTED shredded sweetened dried coconut (save the 1/3 cup for topping)

Step 3: Put it Together
Spoon the filling into the prepared crust and press a sheet of plastic wrap directly on the surface. Allow to refrigerate at least 3 hours to firm the filling.

Step 4: Top it Off
Make whipped cream: 
Pour 1 pint of whipping cream into mixing bowl and let it go full speed for a few minutes until thickened and peaks remain when you pull out the beater. (Watch it or you will have butter in your bowl!) Add a hefty spoonful or two of sugar and voila! 

Before serving, remove plastic wrap, top with whipped cream and sprinkle with remaining toasted coconut.

After devouring their piece of pie- my family declared it a success.  They also decided it was like a cross between Gretchen's Coconut Cold Cake (which we adore and have every Easter); and Key Lime Pie (which is one of my most frequently craved desserts).  And I agree.  It really merges the best of both of these beloved desserts!

If you want a good, classic, fluffy, delicious dessert – this one won't disappoint! Don't delay making this like I did. Now I shall go scrub my floors, so as to mark something else off my lingering list! 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Cream Cheese Brownies

I was in an airport last spring headed home from a conference. My colleague and I popped into a shop to grab a magazine, some snacks and a last minute happy to bring our kids before we waited at the gate for our flight.  The "grabbing a magazine" ended up taking a long time, as I was stumped by selecting a magazine. I was over-analyzing my decision, probably because I knew these were the final hours of my trip before I was back to the chaos and non-magazine reading of my real life at home.  The pressure to pick the RIGHT ONE seemed intense. 
 There was a section on fashion. I knew these were not worth the $6 since it would only make me wish for cooler clothes and a thinner body –basically feed discontentment.  So I stepped to the next section, but I knew the fitness magazines would simply make me wish for a better figure and more of a desire to workout to achieve that figure.  Then, I looked for a few minutes at the home magazines, which are typically my favorite.  But I decided they would make me want things in my home that at this point I don't have the budget to buy.  I didn't even walk over to the People magazine genre because I don't care for them.  So, I landed on the recipe magazines. Surprise, surprise. I found this one, which was all brownies and bars.
 It is a special edition of Better Homes and Gardens – so it's more of a cookbook magazine.  I love it. It was a $10 magazine, but really it is a paperback cookbook filled with 120 recipes! I have made a few recipes from it and have on my list to try several more ASAP.

I made these Cream Cheese Brownies and they are as yummy as they are attractive! They possess several qualities I admire in a bar: gooey, complex and pretty!  
They aren't hard but not simple. They require a few steps and a couple of bowls and pans but I think they are worth it.

Cream Cheese Brownies
borrowed from Brownies & Bars (by Better Homes and Gardens)

 for chocolate layer:
8 oz. semisweet chocolate chips (or coarsely chopped bars)
3 Tbsp. butter
4 eggs
1 1/4 cups sugar  
1/3 cup water
2 tsp. vanilla
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 cup chopped toasted pecans (or walnuts)

for cream cheese layer:
1 8 oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened
2/3 cup sugar
2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. lemon juice

Step 1:  In a saucepan cook and stir chocolate and butter over low heat until melted; cool.  Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 ˚. Line a 13 X 9 inch baking pan with foil, extending the foil over edges of pan.  Grease foil; set aside.
Step 2: In a large mixing bowl, beat 2 eggs with a mixer on medium speed until foamy.  Add the 1 1/4 cups sugar, the water, and 1 tsp. of the vanilla.  Beat on medium speed about 6 minutes or until mixture is slightly thickened and lemon in color.  Beat in chocolate mixture.  Stir in the 1 cup flour, the baking powder, and salt; stir in nuts. Pour half of the batter into the prepared baking pan, spreading evenly.  
Step 3: In a medium bowl beat the remaining two eggs, the remaining 1tsp. vanilla, the cream cheese and the 2/3 cup sugar, the 2 Tbsp. flour, and the lemon juice until smooth.  Carefully spread cream cheese mixture.  Using a table knife, swirl gently to marble. 
Step 4: Bake for 40 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a wire rack.  Chill about 1 hour.  Using the edges of the foil, lift brownies out of pan. Cut into bars.

Store in refrigerator. 

foil lined pan with overhang
melted chocolate & butter

Toasting pecans
add the nuts to the chocolate
spread in the pan

carefully smooth the cream cheese layer on top
blob remaining chocolate on top

and SWIRL with a knife!
Isn't that amazing?


Speaking of magazines, the other night I fell asleep on the sofa as I was taping torn-out magazine pages into my spiral-bound sketch books that I use for my recipe notebooks.  I was thinking about my students who came to my house for the Social Work dinner the other night.  One of them said my house was so "pinterest" which cracked me up because most everything in my house was inspired by a stack of torn out magazine pages, before there was a pinterest.  I call my notebooks "old school pinterest".

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Mexican Layer Dip- A Party Food Where The Party Is Optional

Do you love Mexican Layer Dip as much as I do?  Tell me you've had it.  It's one of my favorite party foods to make (and eat). It is always a crowd-pleaser.  You can add or delete anything you like.  I put cilantro, mostly because it's so fresh and pretty, but you can omit it.  I didn't put olives, though some people include them.  I was afraid the non-olive people would be turned off.

 In deciding what to blog about this week,  I was looking through photos of food I have made and kept coming back to the photos of the Mexican Layer Dip.  It's so yummy! It's a shame that it is a party food, since I don't have any parties to cook for this week and instead I have family dinners I need to be cooking every night!    

The more I think about it and the longer I look at these photos, the more I'm tempted to make this for dinner this week – served with chips and warm tortillas. And we can scoop up the dip and make a meal out of it.  

Who says Thursday night family dinner can't be a party, right?   

2 cans refried beans

cumin, garlic powder & hot sauce

16 oz. container of sour cream

guacamole (bought or homemade)

1 cup grated cheese (cheddar, pepper jack, colby-jack)

lettuce- shredded

diced tomatoes

cilantro leaves

Warm beans in a skillet on the stove top.  Add 2 tsp. ground cumin, ½ tsp. garlic powder and a couple of dashes of hot sauce.

 Stir together and warm until thoroughly heated. Spread on platter. Smooth until even. 

Spread sour cream on top, leaving an edge to reveal the beans underneath, and then guacamole

Continue to layer with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and cilantro.

Serve immediately (or keep covered in refrigerator until time to serve).  Serve
the day you make it. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Blueberries: Rustic Mini-Pies, Muffins and Ponderings on Perfectionism

Blueberry season has been a fun one in our household.  We love them.  We eat them like candy.  Mostly because they have been tasting like candy! This summer we had the chance to go berry picking a couple of times and it was such fun!  I didn't freeze any of them, because between eating them by the handful, on yogurt and granola in the morning, in fruit salad at dinner; and baking these rustic mini pies, blueberry muffins and cake, they have been gobbled up!  

There has been this internal dialogue happening for me surrounding blueberries and perfectionism.  I have a child who is quite the perfectionist (in certain areas of her life).  And when it comes to blueberries, which she adores, she is extremely selective.  When I buy them from the store, I find her eyeing carefully before reaching in to pick one to eat.  Even when we buy frozen berries, she is careful to find the dark blue ones and reject the pinkish purple ones.  She prefers dark, plump berries – and the biggest, roundest of all.  This annoys me and her brother! We see it as selfish! "How dare you pick out the "good ones" and leave the less than great ones for all of us!?", we say.  I have tried to help her see this.

The interesting thing that happened when we were blueberry picking in July was that she was the VERY BEST picker.  Her discernment in selecting the very best berries makes her an excellent picker.  If you have ever gone picking, you know it is a little tricky because the same branch will most likely contain berries across the spectrum of ripeness, and you have to carefully move about, plucking the very darkest, plumpest, best berries and leaving the green and pink ones for a later week.  I realized that this quality of hers, that in one sense is a selfish quality – one that needs to be reformed, in another situation, is the quality of discernment, carefulness, skillful selectivity.  In this action, rather than plucking the best for herself out of the bowl at home, she was gathering the best for our collective basket for all of our benefit. 
Isn't this true. Don't we all know that our strengths turned around can potentially be our greatest weaknesses?  It's hard to see this in others sometimes.  And it makes parenting a tricky, and skillful journey of trying to guide and shape the character of these humans under our care!  I would imagine  you would hope your surgeon is a perfectionist.  I sure do! And however, I want my friends to love me with my imperfections and all. 

I think there is great value in having high standards, being an achiever, discerning and striving for excellence!  And yet we can become enslaved to it, or defined by it, or run down from trying to maintain perfection, or becoming self-absorbed with our perfectionism.  One of my favorite truth-tellers is Brene´ Brown and in her book,  The Gifts of Imperfection, she dismantles this dangerous pursuit and gives antidotes which include Gratitude, Authenticity, Self-Compassion, and more.

So, back to berries.
I decided to make some pie out of the blueberries we picked.
When thinking about it, I decided individual pies would be easier to serve and would be fun to make.  
I looked up a filling recipe from my standard, The Joy of Cooking, and used a frozen roll-out pie crust from Trader Joe's.  (You can, of course, make a from scratch crust.  I just didn't have the time or oomph. The Joy of Cooking recommends a couple of crusts, if you're looking for a crust recipe.)

I really like rustic pies.  I like that they are free-form, not all alike, and can be made on a baking sheet.  I think I like the freedom of imperfection in them!  They are more artistic, less tidy, and somehow European-cool.  Some cookbooks call this kind of pie a Galette or in Italian, a Crostata. Maybe that's why they seem European.

For these Galettes, here's what to do:

Thaw the frozen crust according to the package.

Make the filling:
[Combine and let stand 15 minutes]:
5 cups blueberries
3/4 cup sugar (more or less depending on the sweetness of your batch of berries)
3 1/2 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. grated lemon zest
1/8 tsp. salt

Divide dough into 8 balls.  Lightly flour the dough and roll out between sheets of parchment paper.  Peel off the top sheet of paper.
Place rounds on parchment lined baking sheets. Spoon berry mixture in center of dough.  Gently wrap the dough around to form an edge, pinching and squeezing as you need to to create a pouch.  Sprinkle with Turbinado sugar.

Bake in 375˚ oven for 15 minutes or until crust is golden and berries are bubbly.  Serve immediately with vanilla ice cream!

I have been working daily on my school prep – selecting articles, designing syllabi, and course assignments and getting kids back to school.  In all of this I have had very little time to blog and very little time to play around online.  But I let myself do some pinteresting one day and saw a friend had posted these "very best blueberry muffins" and when I clicked the link, it was In Praise of Leftovers, one of my favorite blogs.  So, I knew I had to try them.  And I will say, they are delightful! They are certainly more of a cake-for-breakfast-muffin, than these BRAN MUFFINS or these CORNMEAL MUFFINS but man are they good.  So, hop on over to her BLOG and check out these muffins, if you are more in a muffin-making than pie-making mood.  

The "Best" Blueberry Muffins via In Praise of Leftovers
For batter:
6 Tb. unsalted butter
1/3 c. whole milk
1 egg
1 egg yolk
3/4 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 c. flour
3/4 sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
2 c. blueberries

For topping:3 Tb. cold unsalted butter, cut into little cubes
1/2 c. flour
3 1/2 Tb. sugar
Preheat oven to 375 and butter a 12-cup muffin pan.
Melt butter in a small saucepan over moderately low heat; remove from heat. Whisk in milk, egg, yolk, and vanilla until well combined.
Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Add milk mixture and stir until just combined. Gently but thoroughly fold in blueberries. Divide batter among muffin cups and spread evenly.
Combine all ingredients for topping in a bowl and rub together with your fingertips until crumbly. Sprinkle evenly over batter in each cup.
Bake until golden and a wooden pick or skewer inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean, 15-20 minutes. Cool in pan for at least 5 minutes (10 would be better), then run a knife around edges of muffin tops and carefully remove from cups. Serve warm or at room temperature. 

If your area still has blueberries to pick, I hope you can do it.  If not, I hope you can find some at the store and make something yummy with them before the calendar turns September...and consider how your perfectionism could be best utilized!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Corn: Popping and Shucking

Sometimes it’s the simple things that make life enjoyable – like freshly popped popcorn, cooked on the stove-top on a summer afternoon!  I have been loving making stove top popcorn.  I used Coconut Oil one day and was impressed with the taste of the popcorn with just salt added.  De-Li-Cious!  (Not to mention that Coconut oil evidently has health & nutritional value.)  I had usually made microwave popcorn as my go-to in life. It seemed the simplest, as stove-top appeared complex and tricky.  Though I have a great popcorn machine that is easy to use, I just have to climb up in the laundry room shelves to get it out to use it. Which has been a barrier.

Stove top popcorn seems magical and classic but I was always intimidated. However, it is amazingly simple.  The instructions are even written on the popcorn bag!

How to make it:
You simply heat 3 Tbsp. oil.  (I have been using Coconut Oil) in a large pot with a handle and lid on Medium/High heat. Place 3 corn kernels in the pot, cover with lid. Listen for those 3 to pop.  When they do, the oil is ready.  Add ½ cup of corn kernels to the hot oil.  Cover with lid. 
Move pan back and forth, around on the burner while it’s popping to prevent burning.  You will hear the corn popping!  If you have a glass lid, which I unfortunately don't, you can see it as well!  When you begin to hear the popping slow down, remove from heat. 

Pour in a bowl and sprinkle with salt and mix around with your hands to distribute.
We have savored many an afternoon snack of stovetop popcorn this summer. (And it costs pennies!)

For Kettle Corn- Follow the above listed steps but simply add 3 Tbsp. of sugar to the oil before popping into the hot oil and swirl it around to distribute it evenly amongst the kernels.  Make sure you salt the popped corn well, as the salty/sweet combo is what makes it so super-delicious!

Another trick that we like in the summertime is cooking corn on the cob in the microwave.  I have a few complaints about cooking it in a pot of water (the way I traditionally think of cooking corn).  1.  I feel like all the nutrients are being swallowed up by the water, and the corn is left soggy. 2. You have to have a really big pot to fit a bunch of ears of corn in.  3. It takes forever to get an enormous pot of water to boil!  (And a watched pot never boils, I have found to be true).

A while back I learned to cook it in the microwave.  Shuck the corn and clean well.

(My kids are usually willing to do this task).  Then cut a piece of plastic wrap for each ear of corn and wrap each ear– making a little tassle on each end with a twist of the plastic wrap.

I have to tell you, at this point, that there is an incredible plastic wrap on the market.  I felt sure that I had written about it before, but when I searched the blog I couldn’t’ find it.  I apologize.  I have been keeping it a secret unintentionally!  STRETCH-TITE
Any of you who have been around my kitchen much at all,  know about Stretch-Tite.  It’s really pretty amazing.  It is easy to work with, doesn’t fly about, sticking to itself.  It is thick and sturdy.  The roll has a lot on it and lasts a good long while.  It creates a strong seal on dishes.  When my mom first discovered it, it was at an appliance store.  She gave my sister and me each a roll of Stretch-Tite for Christmas.  I am sure that first Christmas we were curious, and less than enthusiastic about getting Plastic wrap in our stockings.  However, we were quickly converted and it is now our annual tradition to get Stretch Tite for Christmas.  It's now available at some groceries, and CVS Pharmacy and Costco now distributes it with their storebrand name added. I have actually been known to give it as a gift once in a while to a friend.

After wrapping the corn (which you can do earlier in the day to have it prepped and ready), Place ears of corn in the microwave and cook for about 4 minutes per ear of corn.  I usually start with 8 minutes for my family of 5 and then check with my fingernail for doneness and cook additional minutes as needed.  The challenge is that the steam inside the wrap is VERY hot – so you have to be really careful.  I pull the plastic “tassles” at each end and tear off the wrap.  It’s hot and ready to eat.

This week, as I was working on this post, I looked online to see if there was a consistent guide on number of minutes to cook corn in the microwave so I could give you a more specific instruction.  I happened upon this YouTube video that astounded me! This dear man cooks corn on the cob in the husk in the microwave and not only does it cook it, the shucking is mess-free without silks everywhere. I tried it and it is really good.  I don't know how many ears of corn would work in the oven at the same time, but I am wowed!

Try this switch: instead of microwaving your popcorn, try stove-top popping
and instead of stove-top boiling your corn on the cob, microwave it!  And look for some Stretch-tite.  It might change your life, and maybe even your Christmas shopping list!