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Tag Archives: on life and beans

There are two sides to this pancake.

I highly value having an organized spice cabinet.

Your eyes tell you it’s true: she has acquired matching, stackable plastic containers to organize her spices. These are restaurant take out dishes, so either the family has had a lot of coleslaw lately, or she’s got a friend at Terry Lynn’s Delicatessen down the road.  She hasn’t alphabetized them (please, no) but you know she’s about to tell you where to get the best prices on the spices.

I think you must be getting to know me.

Buy spices in bulk if you possibly can. If you live in the city, you can find great prices at Whole Foods. If you live in rural Kansas, drive by Glenn’s Bulk Foods smack dab in the middle of nowhere Reno county.  There you will find bulk spices, health foods and large bags of Lucky Charms marshmallows–all sitting cozily and neighborly next to one another in the two-aisle Mennonite shop.  You can also find good deals on spices in the ethnic food aisle at some big Walmarts.

Despite my love for keeping ducks in a row, I find the random part of the concrete-randomness of me taking over.

 Here is my spice cabinet, today.

And here am I.

And THAT is the part of me that should be doing Latin and working out the equation for photosynthesis, reading “The Red Badge of Courage” and planning how to occupy the four year old during homeschool so that she isn’t trying to jimmy the locks on the stationwagon with bobbypins…again; but instead is writing to fellow consumers of affordable food.

Well, it can’t be all beans and games around here, so I am headed back to studies.

See you soon,



Coming home to home cooking.

We traveled to the homeland to enjoy time with family.  We ate tender braised beef that had been raised right there on the ranch.  We ate sweet corn grown by my aunt–and just about the only area sweet corn that has managed to survive the drought.  We ate party foods–pizza, potato chips, and cotton candy and sno-cones from the Sheridan County Fair.  We ate, ate, ate and ate

It was all good food.

And when we came home, my 11 year old cooked us a supper of boring lentils and boring cornbread.  It was quiet around the table except for passing the salt and honey butter.   Somebody piped up, “I’m so glad we’re home and eating lentils.”

Me, too.

Get Your Black Belt in Black Beans

The house is filled with the aroma of cumin and bay.  Oh.  So lovely, it is.

I’m cooking black beans this morning and I thought I’d share the how-to with you.

Last night after supper, I rinsed a big bag of black beans and started them soaking.   No way would I want to try the quick-boil method with black beans; they are too firm for that.  After breakfast, I dumped out the soaking water, rinsed them, added them back to the pot and filled up the pot with fresh water.  I’m cooking my 2 lbs. of beans  with 4 bay leaves and a heaping tablespoon of cumin.  Hopefully you can find inexpensive bay leaves and cumin in the Mexican food section of your grocery store.  Both those items will be cheaper there than in the spice aisle.  When the beans are tender in a few hours, I will add salt, but not before.  Be prepared to be patient with your black beans.   For my 2lb. bag of dried beans, I will have a yield of about 3  quarts of cooked beans.  The eight of us will eat up one big jar for a meal.  The rest I’ll put in mason jars to keep for weekday lunches.

Here’s the thing about black beans:  they are firmer than other beans.  It’s that firmness that makes them perfect for veggie burgers, bean salsas, or any other bean dish where you’d like to see an intact bean.  I very much enjoy their meaty flavor.  I also really like the thick, dark bean broth you get when you cook black beans.  Poured over rice, it’s a savory sauce.  When someone smiles and says, “I’m having black beans and rice,”  she’s thinking about black beans nestled on top of a bed of hot rice, black bean gravy making rivers down the pile, black beans topped with yogurt for tartness and salsa for spiciness.

Black beans cooked with cumin are so good.  So, so good.  I think you’ll enjoy both the cooking and eating.

Happy aromas to you!

Salt of the Earth and Salt of the Sea

When you begin cooking your own foods from scratch, you’ll be adding your own salt.  It’s much easier to see how much you are adding if you spoon salt from a little dish.

If you go to the Culinary Institute of America, you can pay $$$ for Chef Louis to teach you this trick.  Or you can go to the home of a CIA grad and observe your chef-friend’s dish of salt sitting happily next to the stove.  Or you can check out this fabulous cooking-school-cook-book and read it for yourself:  The Kitchen Counter Cooking School:  How A Few Simple Lessons Turned Nine Culinary Novices into Fearless Home Cooks.

I like the taste of kosher salt.  I also really enjoy Kroger’s Mediterranean Sea Salt.  I think iodized salt is good for play-doh.

A poll. Your honest thoughts on cooking beans.

Pinto beans: the kindergarten of cooking beans

A staple of our meals lately has become the simple pinto bean. I love the flavor of this bean–almost could be sweet,  and I love the texture–very creamy.

Pinto beans cook up easily, so if you would like to start on learning to cook your own beans, this is a good choice.

How to shop for dried beans:  pick a store that you think might have a good bean turnover rate.  The longer dried beans sit on the shelf, the tougher they are to cook.  I find that my local Walmart has good beans.  I like the “Casserole” brand.

Any bag of pinto beans will tell you how to cook them.  The favored way is to rinse the beans and let them soak overnight.  In the morning, I choose to drain off my soaking water, dump them back into the pot and cover generously with water.  I slow cook on the stove until tender, usually 2-2.5 hours.

After the beans are completely tender, I will add salt.  I don’t add salt during cooking because it makes for tough beans.

I’ve also found we don’t need ham.  The beans really have great flavor on their own and we don’t need the cholesterol or the expense.  Ham hocks are expensive!

When I’m in a hurry, I’ve also found that I can cook pintos using the rapid boil method.  Rinse beans, sort out the odd ones, place in pot and cover with water.  Bring water to boil and once you have a rolling boil, slap on a lid, shut off the burner and come back in an hour.  Now turn your burner back on and cook your beans for 2-2.5 hours.

For our family, I find it helpful to cook up a 4 pound bag, serve pintos for supper and store the remaining beans in the refrigerator.  For that purpose, I prefer using wide mouth quart jars.  Having jars of beans in the refrigerator makes meal prep fast–burritos, beans and cornbread, beans over rice.

Why choose cooking beans over canned?

Canned beans will typically contain corn syrup and salt.  Now I like my salt, but it just feels better knowing I am choosing the amount.  I don’t, however, want corn syrup in my beans for any reason.

Canned beans come in……you guessed it, cans.  When I cook my own, I am saving the environmental production costs of a steel can.  Yep, we do recycle, but still, I like avoiding the can in the first place.  For most canned products, the steel can is also lined with a “protective” product called bisphenol-A.  I don’t need BPA leaching into my food or my kids’ food.  There is also the gas/oil expense of packing the heavy cans of beans, water and corn syrup into pallets and lugging them across the country on trucks.

And then, finally, there is the the expense to me, the consumer.  Canned beans are just more expensive than cooking your own.  The price of canned beans at my Kroger has gone up and up the past year.  How about .79 for 15 oz of store-brand beans?  I can buy a whole pound of dried beans for a little more than a $1 and those beans will cook up to the equivalent of 3-4 cans of beans.  Yes, in a pinch, I will still buy a can of beans.  But with happiness in my heart and pocketbook,  I can tell you that I like the beans I cook better.

I hope you will give cooking your own beans a try.  Will you let me know how it goes?

Fannie Farmer taught me to cook: A tribute to Marion Cunningham

Marion Cunningham, the cook who revised and revived the traditional Fannie Farmer cookbook, passed away a couple of days ago.  She was 90.

This morning I pulled down my tattered, broken, fat paperback copy of The Fannie Farmer Cookbook–my second copy, the first having already perished from use.

When I got married in 1996, my mom gave me this book.  And when I wanted to learn how to make something, this was the book I consulted.

Pounds of homemade noodles, gravy, braised beef, roast chicken and peanut butter cookies: these are the foods that Marion Cunningham showed me how to cook for my friends and family.  Her tag line for the peanut butter cookies is my all time favorite.  “These are one of our household favorites and have been for over thirty-five years.  My husband ate thousands of these over the years.”   Of course, there is no full-color picture of her cookies there on page 866, but I don’t need a picture.  It was her mini-story that convinced me I should bake these cookies.  Of course, I always have hoped that it was not the thousands of peanut butter cookies that led to her husband’s passing, but that would not deter me.  They are good cookies.  I have written the recipe on the side of my flour container, and if you’ve ever had peanut butter cookies at my house, they came to you courtesy of Marion Cunningham.

On NPR, you can hear Marion talk about food and the importance of the family table.  These following words are from an interview she gave years ago.

“Eating food that strangers cook is vastly different than eating what’s cooked at home. The real key is sharing food at that table and, believe me, we know we’re not born civilized. We’re small savages, so you have to be taught the table is the place where you learn who you are and where you’re from, understanding that a lot of people just do nothing but fight at the table.

Nonetheless, you come to know one another.

The result is you know who you are.”

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