Miss Ginsu: About/Bio

 

A Beautiful Bean Salad at the Brooklyn Food Conference

The call went out. And the foodies poured in.

The people who pickle and the people who vend kitchenware. The people who grow community gardens and the people who grow kombucha. The Slow Food people and the Just Food people. The vegans and the grass-fed meat vendors.

They came, they spoke and they distributed their recycled paper brochures.

Brooklyn Food Conference Expo

Disappointingly, the workshop I really wanted to attend (Permaculture: an introduction to ecological design systems fro sustainability) was stuffed to the walls with folks pouring out into the hallways of John Jay High School.

But the good news is, the lunch was delicious. The finest cafeteria food I've ever eaten in a high school cafeteria. (I realize that's faint praise, but it really is intended with the highest regard.)

Cafeteria Food at the Brooklyn Food Conference

Here you can see the tender mushroom quiche I couldn't keep my paws off (it was very much like the ones I make, actually) and the delightful bean salad. It had sauteed red onions and a savory sesame dressing. Simple and lovely, with a crunchy shout-out to spring.

You'll note that cafeteria serving tray is compostable sugar cane and the fork is fashioned of some kind of biodegradable corn plastic. Both went into the conference compost bins, although the napkin I used had to hit the trash can, for inexplicable reasons.

Though I can't share much of the food conference with you, I'll try to recreate that tasty salad for you here, dear reader. It seems like it'd be just the thing for a spring picnic: inexpensive to make and no worries of mayonnaise poisoning on a hot day.
Sesame Three-Bean Salad (Makes about 4 cups)
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 medium red onion, halved and sliced
1 cup fiddlehead ferns (or asparagus cut in 1" pieces)
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp cider vinegar
1 tsp sesame oil
2 1/2 cups cooked beans (ideally, a mix of black, pinto and navy)
1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, sliced in half

1. Heat the vegetable oil over medium-high heat in a medium-sized skillet. Add the red onions and fiddlehead ferns (or asparagus, if using), and sauté, moving constantly in the pan for 5 minutes or until tender-crisp. Remove from heat.
2. In a small bowl, whisk soy sauce and vinegar. Whisk in sesame oil slowly to incorporate.
3. Mix the onion mixture with the beans and sliced tomatoes. Toss to coat with the sesame vinaigrette. Taste the mixture and adjust the seasoning with a little more soy sauce or cider vinegar, to your taste.
4. Allow the flavors to mellow for several hours in the fridge before serving.

Thanks to the Brooklyn Food Conference for sponsoring the event, and even more thanks to whomever cooked lunch. You, anonymous anonymous kitchen worker(s), made my day.

Happy Eating!
Miss Ginsu

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5.03.2009

Recession Proof: Rumsford's Soup

If you read much food writing, you may have encountered writer MFK Fisher's notes on thrifty cuisine.

In her 1942 recession-proof tome, How to Cook a Wolf she wrote of an inexpensive, nutritious meat-grain subsistence loaf (writer Jeffrey Steingarten later taste-tested that very recipe in The Man Who Ate Everything).

But far earlier than that, in the late 1700s, a remarkably multi-talented scientist/inventor named Benjamin Thompson (later known as Count von Rumford) was also interested in nutritious subsistence food, which led him to the creation of Rumford Soup.

Soup Bowl

The original Rumford Soup was composed of nothing more than pearl barley, yellow peas, potatoes, salt, old, sour beer and maybe a bit of vinegar. Cheap eats, indeed.

In today's prices, Rumford's recipe makes a meal for less than $1 per person, the most expensive ingredient being the beer.

This soup (as well as his efficient stove innovations) caught on in Europe and America and led to the establishment of the soup kitchens that nourished generations of the poor.

The traditional version of the recipe goes something like this:
Classic Rumford Soup (Serves 6)

1 cup pearl barley
1 cup dried yellow split peas
4 cups diced potatoes
1 tsp salt, or to taste
3 cups water
3 cups (2 12oz bottles) wheat beer (hefeweizen)
Malt or cider vinegar (to taste)

1. Put the barley, split peas, potato cubes, salt and water in a large stockpot. Slowly simmer the mixture for 1 to 2 hours, adding additional water, as necessary.
2. When the soup begins to thicken, add the beer and continue to simmer for 20 minutes.
3. Season to taste with a little vinegar and more salt, if needed. Serve with bread.

I think this recipe could be improved immensely by replacing the beer with some flavorful stock and adding some ground black pepper, a liberal sprinkling of grated Parmesan cheese and a sprinkle of fresh parsley... but all that would obviously add a few cents onto the per-person price.

I've come up with a revisited version of Rumsford's famous soup, which is a little more dolled up and comes out to about $2 per serving if you make your own stock.
The Rumsford Redux (Serves 6)
4 cups chicken, beef or vegetable stock
1 1/2 cups split yellow peas
2 medium potatoes, diced
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 cup pearl barley
1 to 2 bay leaves
1 to 2 carrots, peeled and sliced (1/2")
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt & ground black pepper, to taste

Soup Garnish (optional)
1 small red onion, minced
1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
Juice of 1 lemon

1. In a heavy-bottomed stock pot, combine the 4 cups broth with the peas and the potatoes.
2. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to a steady simmer. Covered and cook until the peas and potatoes are tender, about 45 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium heat. Saute the onion in the oil about 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and add to the potatoes and peas.
4. Add the barley and carrot and continue simmering until the barley is tender, about 40 minutes.
5. Prepare the garnish by combining the chopped onion, parsley and lemon in a small bowl.
6. Remove the soup from the heat, and if it seems a bit thin, add a little more water. Stir in the grated cheese, and season with salt and pepper. Serve with small spoonful of the garnish (if using) atop each portion.

Obviously, Rumsford's soup was vegan-friendly, and my modernized version can certainly be made vegetarian or vegan as well... just make sure the stock is veggie and skip the cheese.

AND as promised, here's the solution to yesterday's soup crossword.

Yours in tasty thrift,
Miss Ginsu

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1.14.2009

Day 20: The Scarborough Loaf

This post marks Day 20 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

Like me, you may know a few vegetarians. Like me, you may have once been one of those vegetarians.

In those days, I was always a little befuddled at the holidays. I mean, feast foods are pretty proscribed for omnivores (1. roast something 2. add starchy sides).

Those who shun meat are left without a lot of festive "center of the plate" foods. Spinach lasagna just seemed so everyday, and I was never wild about the tofurkey.

Scarborough Loaf

While making this vegetarian loaf I was humming a little Simon & Garfunkle, so you can probably guess the inspiration for the seasonings...

Though suitable for lacto-ovo vegetarians, this loaf does contain a little egg and milk, which help it stick together better. If you're making a vegan loaf, skip the egg and milk and substitute 1/2 cup vegetable stock.

Chestnuts are a bit easier to come by at the holidays, and I think they make the loaf particularly seasonal.
The Scarborough Loaf (Makes 1 9" by 3" loaf)
1/2 cup brown or red lentils
2 Tbsp olive oil, divided in two portions
1/2 lb (8oz) mushrooms, chopped
1 large onion, chopped (1/2" pieces)
10-12 whole chestnuts, roasted & chopped (or substitute 1 cup chopped walnuts/pecans)
3 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
1 Tbsp fresh sage
1/2 tsp fresh rosemary
1/2 tsp fresh thyme
1/2 tsp ground pepper
1 cup breadcrumbs
2 eggs
1/4 cup milk
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp soy sauce

1. Put the lentils in a saucepan with enough water to cover by 1 inch. Add a pinch of salt to the pan, set over a medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Simmer 15-20 minutes or until very soft. Drain off any excess water and reserve the lentils.
2. Meanwhile, pour 1 tablespoon of the olive oil into a large skillet and sauté the chopped mushrooms for 10 to 12 minutes. When softened, move the mushrooms to a large mixing bowl.
3. To the same skillet, add the other tablespoon of olive oil and sweat the onion pieces. When the onions are soft and translucent, remove them from the heat and add to the mushrooms in the mixing bowl.
4. Mix the drained lentils, chopped chestnuts, parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme and ground pepper into the mushroom-onion mixture.
5. Blend in the breadcrumbs, then add the egg, milk, balsamic vinegar and soy sauce.
6. Lightly oil a loaf pan, press the mixture firmly into the pan and bake at 350°F for 25 minutes. Slice and serve warm.

While quite nice on its own, I think it'd be even more fancy (and tasty) drizzled with a mushroom cream sauce or a vegetarian gravy.

Holiday Cheer,
Miss Ginsu

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12.20.2008

Dear Miss Ginsu: Poisoned by Bay Leaves?

Dear Miss Ginsu,

I have a culinary/biology question. I made black bean soup yesterday — the kind where you blend the beans into a purée.

I took out the bay leaf, blended the beans and finished the soup. Then remembered I actually had two bay leaves in the pot. Today I was in, um, intestinal distress, hot flashes, dizzy, etc. Could the bay leaf be the culprit?

— Bad Belly

Bay Leaves

Dear Belly,

Sorry. Wasn't the bay leaf.

Bay leaves are perfectly edible... they're just not very digestible. It's like eating a piece of tree bark. A little tough on the throat maybe, but it wouldn't be more than roughage in your guts.

Does sound like that's an unhappy tummy, though.

This is probably more than you wanted to know, but there are actually two forms of "food poisoning"

A. Food intoxication
B. Food poisoning

Food intoxication is caused by the toxins that the little bacteria produce. So if a dish is left out for three days, then frozen or cooked and then eaten, the little buggies might all be dead, but the toxins they made when they had their big bacteria party are still there. Intoxication tends to hit faster (2-8 hours after ingestion).

Food poisoning is created by the microbes themselves having their little bacteria party in your guts. That's why actual poisoning takes a bit longer. It's generally not the last thing you ate, since it takes more like 8 to 24 hours to create problems.

So it probably wasn't the bay leaf or even the beans. Since you made them fresh, there was really no opportunity for growth. Hope that helps!

Here's to happier tummies,
Miss Ginsu

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10.21.2008

FoodLink Roundup: 10.13.08

Cupcake's Link Roundup
Last week, Cupcake was shopping and dining at the Brooklyn Flea. Where in the world is Cupcake this week? Post your guess in the comments.

Open Letter to the Next Farmer in Chief
Common-Sense Food Activist Michael Pollan Strikes Back!

Brazilian-inspired soup
A slightly lighter take on that classic Brazilian takedown: feijouada.

Bread Without Yeast
Just add flour, water and patience.

Change Your Pumpkin, Change Your World
Is food political? You bet your sweet squash it is...

New food links — and another postcard from Cupcake — every Monday morning on missginsu.com

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10.13.2008

The Problem with Chickpea Masala

You know what the biggest problem with my Chickpea Masala is? I can't get it to look good. It smells great. It tastes wonderful. It looks... homely.

Oh, sure. I can toss some chopped cilantro or some parsley over the top of it. But come on... that's just putting lipstick on a pig. (Or is that a dog? Who knows these days?) Curry is just a homely dish.

Chickpea Masala

This is really the problem with all the bowl-foods. Delicious, yes. Tasty, yes. Recession-proof? Of course. Easy to make on Sunday and then take to work as leftovers? Without a doubt.

Just not good-lookin' enough for shmantzy guests, that's all. This is peasant cuisine.

Still, that's not going to stop me from sharing the recipe. It's so quick, easy and good for work-a-day lunches, I can't resist its humble charms.

Fast Chickpea Masala (Serves 2 (with leftovers) or 4)

1 Tbsp vegetable oil or ghee
1 medium-sized onion, halved and cut in 1/4" slices
2 cloves garlic, minced or mashed to a pulp
1 2" piece ginger, peeled and minced
1 jalapeño, seeded and sliced thin (optional)
2-3 Tbsp Masala Spices (see below) or a mix of your own
1 28-oz can diced tomatoes
1 15-oz can chickpeas (drained and washed)
1 to 1 1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
3 cups cooked rice (for serving)

Optional Garnishes
Chopped cilantro
Plain yogurt or cucumber raita

1. Heat the oil/ghee over medium-high heat in a heavy-bottomed pan and add the onion slices.

2. Cook until the onion goes from white to translucent (about 10 minutes) and add in the garlic, ginger and jalapeño slices. Cook 5 minutes more.

3. Add in the spice mixture. Cook an additional 3 minutes. The spices should begin sticking to the pan.

4. Add the tomatoes and chickpeas. Lower heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 20 to 30 minutes.

5. Season to taste with the salt. (At this point, you may wish to add either a pinch of sugar, or a squeeze of lime juice, as needed, to please your palate.) Serve immediately with rice and garnishes, or pack up for work-week lunches.

Masala Spice Mix

1 Tbsp cumin seeds
1 Tbsp coriander seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp black peppercorns
2 cardamom pods
1 tsp fennel
2 whole cloves
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp turmeric

It's best to use whole spices, toasting them in a pan and then grinding them up for this mix, but you can get away with ready-ground spices if that's all you can find. The turmeric, for example, is almost always found pre-ground, so if you're grinding, just add that at the end.

If you're going to skip anything, don't skip the cumin and coriander. They're essential. The others are all negotiable. If you like more heat in your mix, add in some cayenne. I enjoy using fresh chilies when possible, so I like to leave it out.

Store the surplus in an empty spice jar and use within a week or so.

A pilaf of white basmati rice would obviously be the traditional choice to serve with this curry, but I've been liking the brown basmati lately. It has extra fiber and extra nuttiness.

Happy Eating!
Miss Ginsu

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9.11.2008

Dear Miss Ginsu: Pickling green beans?

Dear Miss Ginsu,

We have a huge bean harvest — got any recipes for pickled beans?

Yours,
— Swimming in 'em


garden beans

Dear Swimmer,

Oh, how I lurv pickled beans! They're so very tasty. And texture-wise, I prefer 'em to pickled cucumbers. In fact, I hope there's still some CSA or farmers' market beans to be had. If I can keep from just boiling and eating them straight away, I'd like to get some into jars.

You can really just use any regular dill pickle brine recipe — bring it up to a boil, pour it over beans packed in jars, cool 'em and throw 'em in the fridge.

Or you can do the whole canning thing if you're inspired, though I'm rarely up to actually canning, so the refrigerator pickles are fine by me.

Here's a spiced vinegar brine that's good for pickling beets and beans and other stuff:

Spicy Bean Pickling Brine (Makes enough brine for about 1 quart of beans)

2 cups cider vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2" piece horseradish root, sliced thin (or 1 tbsp grated horseradish)
1/2 tsp whole allspice
2 tsp mustard seeds
1 cinnamon stick
10 whole cloves
1 lb green beans, washed and trimmed

1. Bring the vinegar, sugar, salt, horseradish, allspice, mustard seeds, cinnamon stick and cloves to a boil.

2. Place the cleaned, trimmed beans in a sterile quart jar. Carefully pour the hot brine over the beans.

3. Cap the jar, cool it down, refrigerate and wait a week before munching.


Enjoy your pickled beans as-is, or standing proud in Bloody Marys, or displayed among appetizer assortments, or chopped up in salads. Try them tossed into a summer succotash or served alongside a plate of Middle Eastern-style mezze delights. Nom!

Yours in pickle worship,
Miss Ginsu

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9.03.2008

Recession-Proof Recipes: Cool Beans

Back around tax time when I started this series, basic black bean soup seemed like a really tasty idea, but after a week of 90-degree days, I must admit that thick, hearty soups seem far less appealing. Just turning on the stove seems far less appealing.

Chickpea Salad
Chickpea, Yellow Zucchini & Sweet Corn Salad w/ Red Wine Vinaigrette

Thank goodness for canned beans. Cheap, tasty protein... no flames required. I've been making bean salads with my CSA vegetables for the past two weeks. And thanks to the remarkable versatility and variety of beans, I'm still not sick of them.

While blanching corn cobs, fava beans or green beans does require a pot of boiling water, there's plenty of veggies out there that are perfectly happy to hop into your salads in raw form.

Market-Fresh
Market-Fresh Succotash

And since bean salads are so simple, it hardly seems worth it to write up a recipe. So but I'll just do a little quasi-mathematical formula:

1 can of your favorite beans (washed & drained)
+ 1 cup sliced zucchini, cucumber, bell pepper, tomato, shredded carrot (or whatever veggies you like)
+ 1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs (basil, mint, dill and parsley all work just fine)
+ 2 Tbsp olive oil
+ 1 Tbsp citrus juice/vinegar (white wine, red wine, cider, malt, balsamic...)

= Tasty Bean Salad


White Bean Salad
White Bean, Cucumber, Tomato & Parsley Salad w/ Lemon Vinaigrette

Beans are already little protein powerhouses, but if you're mad for protein, or just really love meat, you can toss sliced, cooked beef, chicken, tuna, lamb, sausage, etc. atop any of these salads.

I particularly love bean salads with the olive oil-soaked tuna like the Spanish Ortiz Bonito Del Norte, but that kind of blows the economical angle. :)

Bon appetit, ya'll!

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7.22.2008

Recession-Proof Recipes: French Lentil Salad

Never does a cold salad sound so good as on a sticky, hot, lethargic day.

That's when there's nothing finer than slumping over to the fridge and finding a tasty stash tucked away. Yes, some generous former version of yourself (perhaps that productive weekend you?) had the foresight to prepare and place this delight in the fridge for your current lazy enjoyment. Thanks, past-tense self. You rule.

Using the spicy horseradish mustard whipped up in last week's post, it's quick (and tasty) work for you (or some former version of you) to make a one of this household's summertime favorites... the French Lentil Salad.

This is a terrific salad to have around because it's full of protein, it's easy to make vegetarian or meatetarian, it's easy to make in advance (and travels well to picnics), it doesn't take long to cook and it keeps in the fridge for several days, so you can make a large batch on a Sunday and eat it for your weekday lunches and lazy midweek moments.

French Lentil Salad with marinated artichokes
French Lentil Salad with marinated artichokes

The accommodating French Lentil Salad also welcomes a variety of ingredients. This week, we happened to have baby leeks in the CSA box, so sliced baby leeks replaced the scallions I usually use.

If I have a can of marinated artichokes around... in they go. A few extra olives in the fridge? Slice 'em up. Sun-dried tomatoes? Delightful. J really loves this salad with oil-packed tuna. (At $10 a jar, it's a splurge, but we really love the Ortiz Bonito del Norte. Mmm...)

French Lentil Salad with Serrano Ham
French Lentil Salad with Serrano ham

Basic French Lentil Salad (Makes about five cups)
The lentils
9 oz dried green lentils
1 tsp salt
1 bay leaf
Water, to cover

1. In a large pot, soak the lentils, covered in salt water, for 1 hour.
2. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer until tender, but not overcooked, about 15 minutes.
3. Drain, spread on a sheet tray to cool, and combine with the salad ingredients.

The vinaigrette
1/4 cup spicy mustard (or DIY mustard)
3 Tbsp wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 pinch sugar (optional)

1. Mix the mustard and vinegar.
2. Whisk in the olive oil until smooth.
3. Season to taste with salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar, to taste.

The salad
1. Mix the cooled lentils in a large bowl with the vinaigrette. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
2. Add in your choice of additions. Use whatever you have. I usually mix in:

1/2 to 1 cup chopped herbs (parsley, mint, cilantro or a combination thereof)
2-3 slices Serrano or Proscuitto ham, diced
1/4 to 1/2 cup dried currants, softened in hot water for 20 minutes
2 scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal

While French Lentils aren't the cheapest legume on the shelf, I can still pick up about 18 oz for less than three bucks, so a basic version of this recipe can be made for as little as 80 cents a cup (the olive oil, lentils and any dressy bits you add in being the expensive ingredients).

Not a bad price for such a delightful source of protein and fiber.

Cheers!

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6.18.2008

Cassou-lazy

In some book somewhere, Julia Child has a fantastic quote about cassoulet. I can't locate it at the moment, but it's something about cassoulet being a food ideally suited for a lumberjack. In Manitoba. In January.

Like I said, it's awesome. And it's hidden deep inside some text that apparently isn't part of Project Gutenberg.

In the readily indexed Larousse Gastronomique, we find that cassoulet is "A dish, originally from Languedoc, which consists of haricot (navy) beans cooked in a stewpot with pork rinds and seasonings." Simple as that.

But then they go into a discussion of longstanding ingredient disagreements and cassoulet rivalries in a variety of provencal French towns. The cassoulet section also includes recipes that insist pretty strongly that cassoulet must contain such-and-such a thing or must be made such-and-such a way.

I've seen the dish served at high prices in plenty of fancy restaurants, but here's the thing: at its core, cassoulet simply just what Julia and Larousse initially said. It's a beautiful, economical peasant food.

cassoulet
The finished cassoulet: ducky, porky, bean-y and tasty

Now, if you've ever made a cassoulet, you might balk at my use of the word "economical," above, but in truth, the French farmhouse wives that created the first cassoulets weren't going for haute cuisine... they were using up what was stored around the farm.

They kept ducks, and preserving the duck legs in a fat just happens to be pretty practical for those wondering what to do with a bunch of duck legs. They had cured bacon at hand. They had pork sausages, which were a frugal way of using up random pig bits. They had dried beans in the larder and root vegetables stocked in the root cellar. All the things that went into a cassoulet recipe were part of their everyday lives.

clove-studded onion
A clove-studded onion gives this dish a hint of the exotic.

Most cassoulet recipes are going to ask you to start with dry beans, soak them, simmer them with spices, etc. etc.

Now, I've made cassoulet from the bottom up, preparing the sausages myself, making the duck confit from scratch, soaking and simmering the beans... the whole nine yards. I'm here to tell you that yes, you can do all that, but that means you'll only have the time and energy to make cassoulet once (or maybe twice) in your lifetime, and that'd be a darn shame. Because it's really, really tasty.

If you make cassoulet the lazy way, you're more likely to make it a bit more often, and regardless of what Larousse might say, the end result of the lazy method is not so different from the "took me three weeks to do everything myself" method.

For most of us here in the States, duck confit is a bit challenging to come by, but if you happen to live in a large city (or in close proximity to a duck farm) you may, like me, have some on hand. I get mine from FrescoDirecto, where you can find them in the deli Tongue & More area (a title that always makes me giggle).

No duck legs? No problem. Skip the confit and make your cassoulet with beans, sausages and bacon. You could probably even get away with veg stock, veggie bacon and veggie sausage to make it vegan. Whatever. It's all good. Just make it soon. This is food best suited for chilly stay-inside evenings, and those cool nights will soon give way to sweltering summer.

cassoulet in progress
I used two clove-studded onions. They were small.
Cassoulazy (Serves 6-8)
1 medium-sized onion, peeled
8 whole cloves
1 1/2 cups good stock (chicken, duck or vegetable)
1-2 bay leaves
3 carrots, washed and sliced in 1" segments
3 cloves garlic, peeled
4 strips thick-cut bacon, sliced in half
1 pound garlicky pork sausages (I use sweet Italian sausages if I can find 'em)
A little bundle of fresh herbs, if you have 'em*
3 duck legs, confit (if you can locate duck confit, if not, skip 'em)
3 14oz cans navy beans (or cannellini beans), drained & rinsed
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

For the crusty top (if desired)
2 cups breadcrumbs
3 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

1. Heat oven to 325° F.
2. Poke the cloves into the flesh of the onion. Place the onion in an ovenproof heavy-bottomed pot or a Dutch oven.
3. Pour the stock into the pan and add the bay leaves, carrots, garlic, bacon pieces, pork sausages and the bundle of herbs (if using).
4. Bring to a boil, lower heat to a simmer, and allow to simmer, covered, for 20 minutes.
5. Add duck legs (if using), beans and tomatoes to the pot. Grind black pepper over the mixture. (Do not add salt. The cured meats will make this dish plenty salty.)
6. Cover the Dutch oven or stockpot, carefully place in the center of the oven and let the mixture cook for 1 1/2 hours. When done, carefully remove the pot from the oven and pluck out the bay leaves, herbs and leg bones (the meat should fall away easily).
7. If you'd like a crispy top crust, combine the breadcrumbs with the parsley and olive oil and sprinkle this mixture atop the hot cassoulet at the end of the cooking process. Turn the oven up to about 400° F and bake the cassoulet, uncovered, for an additional 10-15 minutes to brown the breadcrumbs.
8. Serve hot with a crisp green salad and a nice lager, an ale or a rich red wine with moderate tannins.

*This is sometimes referred to as a bouquet garni. Parsley stems tied with a sprig each of rosemary, sage and thyme are nice. Enclose the herbs between two celery stalks, if you're so inclined.

This dish makes very tasty leftovers for lunch, so don't be afraid to make a batch that's far larger than you need.

Bon appétit!

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4.15.2008

Recession-Proof Recipes: Black Bean Soup

Last week when I started up this series on good eating for bad financial times, I mentioned roasting, which magically makes just about anything tastier on the cheap. This week, I want to throw in a good word for beans.

fresh chickpeas

Packed with protein and fiber (nutritionists love 'em!), readily available, totally cheap (even cheaper if you soak and cook the dried ones), vegetarian-friendly and delicious for breakfast, lunch or dinner, beans are classic in haut cuisine and poverty fare alike.

I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that legumes/pulses have sustained generations of people across this planet for thousands of years. Why not try to work a few extra into your diet?

Here's ten classic ways to make beans a part of your week:

1. Chili
2. Lentil Soup or Salad
3. Hummus
4. Beans on Toast
5. Bean Dip/Spread
6. Channa Masala (Chickpea Curry)
7. Minestrone
8. Bean Burritos
9. Vegetarian Cassoulet
10. Beans & Rice



And here's one more just for good measure: Black Bean Soup. It's what I'm eating this week. It's really easy to make this one vegetarian or meatetarian, as you prefer.
Black Bean Soup

2 cups dried black beans, washed
1 bay leaf
4 strips thick-cut bacon, diced OR 1 Tbsp olive oil*
1 fresh jalapeƱo, sliced into rounds
2 large onions, diced
2 green bell peppers, seeded and diced
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 14 oz can diced tomatoes
Salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste

Sour cream or plain yogurt (optional), for serving
Chopped cilantro or scallions (optional), for serving

1. Soak the beans overnight.
2. The next day cover the beans with additional water to bring the level by 1 inch above the beans. Add the bay leaf, cover and bring to a boil.
3. Turn down the heat to a low simmer, and cook until the beans test tender, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
4. *If using bacon, cook that now, remove it from the pan (to drain) when done, and use the bacon fat to cook the veggies instead of using olive oil. If making a vegetarian soup, add the olive oil to a deep skillet and heat over a medium flame.
5. Add the onions and green peppers and sauté until softened, about 12 minutes. 6. Stir in the garlic and cook a few minutes more.
7. Add the tomatoes and simmer 10 minutes.
8. When the beans are tender, add in the vegetable mixture (and diced bacon, if using). Let simmer another 20 minutes.
9. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with a dollop of yogurt or sour cream, or refrigerate and reheat the following day to enjoy it after the flavors have melded a bit.


Happy eating!

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4.02.2008

FoodLink Roundup: 03.03.08

Cupcake Goes Western
Where in the world is Cupcake? Post in the comments if you think you know...

Recent interesting food news found roaming out there on the world wild web:

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3.03.2008

Beans on Toast Strike Back

After a recent post profiling the wonders of Beans on Toast, a reader asked about a recipe for do-it-yourself beans.

I'm not sure why I thought the task might be tricky. The beans in question are really just navy beans in a lightly sweetened tomato sauce. So surely it shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone that homemade beans for toast are cheap, easy... and yes, even tastier than beans from a can.

Aside from thrift and first-hand knowledge of the ingredients, there's another significant bonus. When you make the beans yourself, you get to tweak the flavor to your liking.

In the afore-mentioned bean showdown, J and I preferred the British beans because they were less sweet and had more tangy, tomato-y flavor. But we also liked the hint of molasses in the American beans.

I started out with Muir Glen tomato sauce, because I like the organic tomatoes and the lined cans — hooray for no horrid can flavor! Muir Glen tomato sauce already has a little garlic powder, salt and vinegar in it, so it arrives slightly flavored, but all you should really notice is a vivid tomato taste.

For this experiment I used a can of small white beans that I rinsed well under running water, but in the future, I'll try to remember to just soak and cook dried navy beans in advance. If you're not really fond of the deep, bass-note richness that molasses provides, certainly feel free to substitute sugar instead.

Home-cooked beans vs. canned beans
Home-cooked beans at the foreground, Heinz beans (imported from the UK) at the rear.

You'll notice right off the color of your home-cooked beans is more bright and saturated than the beans from a can. Why? Well, you're not using any filler, like modified food starches, which will thin down the tomato sauce enough to make it more orange-red and slightly pasty by comparison.

Beans on Toast (from Scratch)
1 8oz can tomato sauce
1 15oz can small white beans or navy beans (or use 2 cups cooked beans)
1 1/2 Tbsp molasses
1 tsp sugar (or to taste)
1 Tbsp rice vinegar or cider vinegar
Sliced bread (preferably whole-grain), for serving

Combine ingredients in a small saucepan over medium-low heat and simmer 15-20 minutes. Season to taste with a little more sugar, molasses or salt. Serve hot over toasted bread.


You can probably find a pound of dry navy beans for a $1 to $1.25, depending on where you live, and that bag will offer many, many beany brekkies. A small can of tomato sauce will run you .65 to $1.

Now, beans on toast isn't an expensive option to begin with, but you can immediately see how economical this protein-packed brekkie can be.

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1.14.2008

Brekkie Showdown: Beans on Toast

J grew up with a basketful of alien habits, thanks in part to his mum, an Irish immigrant.

Cookies are biscuits. Sweaters are pullovers. Tea goes with brekkie, as well as the afternoon biscuit for teatime. Shepherd's pies have lamb in them, dammit. Oatmeal is steel-cut. The instant stuff in the packets is dust (or if he's feeling less than generous, it's shite.)

And beans, apparently, are for toast. Beans on toast? Why not beans near toast? Why not beans beneath toast? These are not valid questions. Beans go on toast.

Not just any beans, mind you. There are beans, and then there are beans. The beans J recognizes as beans (and craves on toast) are, in fact, navy beans.

Internet research told me that BoT is among the world's best performance breakfasts, thanks to its protein/carbohydrate ratio. Gets you going in the morning with lasting energy to power you (and your brain) through to lunchtime. Clearly, breakfast experimentation was in order.

The internet also told me I should use "Heinz Beans with tomato sauce" (a UK import product I ran across at my local Key Food), though "Heinz Premium Vegetarian Beans in rich tomato sauce" (an American product) could do in a pinch.

Who am I to argue with the internet? I decided to go with the double-header. Beano a beano.

Bean v. Bean

The Queen's Beans sold for $1.49 but came with a slick pull-tab on the can. The Yankee Beans cost me a mere .99, no pull-tab, no frills. Immediate comparison showed that the Yankee beans sported twice the sugar and a bit more fat. Both products promised a tomato sauce.

J said that when it's part of the Full Irish, Beans on Toast is generally served with fried eggs, potatoes, rashers (bacon) and sliced tomatoes. Sometimes a white pudding is in attendance.

As I was hoping to remain ambulatory after breakfast, we decided to go with bacon, poached eggs and BoT with a side of fresh cherry tomatoes.

Making Brekkie

The contents were immediately differentiated on opening the cans. As you can see, the Brit beans sit like little pearls in their pinky, translucent tomato sauce, while the American variety are darker and the sauce and beans share the same hue.

J didn't see the bean pouring process, so he wasn't aware which bowl of beans was which, but as it turned out, we both immediately preferred the UK version of the Heinz beans. The beans themselves were toothsome ("They taste like beans.") and their sauce was sweetly tangy. Real tomato flavor was apparent.

The Premium Vegetarian Beans were comparatively cloying. They tasted less like beans and tomato sauce, more like salt and sugar.

Beans on Toast with Poached Egg and Rashers

At that point, we couldn't bear to ruin perfectly good toast with substandard beans; we scooped only the tangy, tomato-y UK beans across our toast. Truly tasty, wholly satisfying and entirely worth the extra half-dollar.

J was happy. I was happy. I'd even go so far as to say that beans on toast may very well take up a spot alongside steel-cut oats, granola and power smoothies in our brekkie rotation. Meanwhile, I'll let you know if I suddenly begin rating better on standardized tests.

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12.29.2007