Cranberry beans with charred peppers, garlic, sage, and Big Fork Black Pepper sausage over mustard greens

Borlotti beans with mustard greens, Big Fork sausage, charred pepperrs, garlic, and sageThis recipe is adapted from Saltie, A Cookbook, by Caroline Fidanza, who explains that the recipe originated with Marcella Hazan, who it turn got the recipe from her husband’s housekeeper. (http://bit.ly/1fCkSFz) While all of the recipes in Saltie sound fantastic, the book reads almost like a memoir, so it’s taken me a very long time to move past the stories and into the food. But now that I’ve crossed the line I anticipate a spate of Saltie-based dinners. Because man–this recipe was delicious! Admittedly, a lot of the yum came from Big Fork’s perfect, perfect sausage. (http://bit.ly/1fa2ofI) Which is not in the original recipe. And I used frozen, not fresh, beans. So my version of this recipe differs slightly from the original. Only slightly, though. Here’s what I did.

2 cups fresh or frozen cranberry beans
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
12 cloves garlic, 6 halved, 6 thinly sliced
1 bunch of fresh sage leaves
Kosher salt
3 bell peppers, yellow, orange, and/or red
1 bunch mustard greens, washed and trimmed

Bring a pot of water to boil, add the cranberry beans, halved garlic, a glug of olive oil, and 12 sages leaves. Reduce the heat and simmer for 30-40 minutes, until tender. Salt liberally and allow the beans to cool in the cooking liquid. Or, alternatively, drain the beans, salt, and dress with 3-4 tablespoons of oil. While the beans are cooking, core and seed the peppers, then slice them into strips that are approximately 1 inch long, and 1/2 inch wide. Don’t worry about being precise. Variation in sizes will just result in the smaller pieces being more charred. The only trick is to make sure all of the peppers get cooked, to bring out the depth that comes with carmelizing. Raw peppers are lovely in their place. Just not here.

Heat 3 tablespoons of the oil in a cast iron skillet over high heat. Being careful not to overcrowd, spread a layer of peppers in the skillet, salt, and cook until well-browned/slightly charred, about 8-10 minutes, using tongs to turn. Transfer to a heatproof bowl when done. Repeat, adding oil as necessary, until all of the peppers are cooked.

garlic and sage

Pour the remaining oil (you should have about 1/4 cup) into a separate skillet over medium heat. Add the sliced garlic and saute, stirring, for about 3 minutes, until it turns gold and starts sizzling. Add the rest of the sage leaves, stir for another minute or so, then remove from the heat. Pour the contents of the pan over the peppers.

Slice the sausages (1 per person) into 3/4″ rounds, and saute for 5 minutes or so, until browned, in the skillet that you used for the garlic and sage. Turn to make sure both sides are browned, working in batches if necessary to ensure there is enough space around each piece for even browning. If you haven’t already done so, drain the beans. Add the cooked sausage to the beans.Borlotti beans and sausage

To serve, place a few mustard greens in the bottom of individual bowls or a large serving bowl or platter. Top with beans, sausage, and the pepper-garlic mixture.

Note that I used a lot of mustard greens. Probably 3 or 4 leaves per serving. In retrospect, it was a bit much. I will probably go with 2 leaves next time. Also, this time I followed the original recipe and kept the leaves whole. But it was kind’ve a pain to cut them. Next time I will tear the leaves into bite-sized pieces first. If you try this out, please let me know what you do. And how you like it. Note that you can easily make this recipe both vegan and gluten-free. Just leave out the sausage.

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Gluten- and dairy-free blueberry muffins without refined sugar

blueberry muffin insideDespite the almost slogan-like title, these muffins are delicious, solidly structured with a perfect balance of sweetness that’s just right for breakfast. Or at least so I believe. But I could be wrong. Because I made them yesterday for a brunch that wound up being cancelled at the last minute. So no one but me has tried them. And I have a cold. Which brings my palate into question. Still. I’m pretty sure they’re good. And I’m certain that they’re good for you, full of whole grain flours, coconut oil, and blueberries. And free of all those trendily objectionable ingredients.

Indeed, my original goal was to make free muffins that were vegan to boot. blueberry muffin failBut that version (the little sunken lava cakes pictured on the right) refused to rise or even cook all the way through. So I gave up. Used eggs. Because, while the problem with version #1 may well have been an excess of blueberries, I was in a rush, and just didn’t trust that ground flax seed and water can really provide the structure eggs lend to baked goods. And I have no regrets. Because the end result  turned out perfectly, with a crispy rounded muffin top, a tender crumb, and a rich bite that reminded me of  a much less sweet form of pound cake.

blueberry muffinsAll that and the recipe includes beans! Sort’ve. Here’s what I did.

GLUTEN-FREE FLOUR MIX
1 cup brown rice flour
1 cup garbanzo bean flour
1 cup sorghum flour
1 cup tapioca starch
1/2 cup potato starch

My mix is based on a thoughtful post from Gluten Free Girl and the Chef. (http://bit.ly/1fARZsO) I discovered the site a couple of years ago after Shauna (Gluten Free Girl) and Danny (The Chef) Ahern published their first book, Gluten Free Girl and the Chef: A Love Story with 100 Tempting Recipes. (http://bit.ly/Lrhj9I)  In addition to great recipes, both their books and their blog include a ton of useful information about living well on a gluten-free diet. Plus their entire life seems like a sweet love story that is real and true and thus inspiring. So that’ s nice too. But I digress.

If you read Shauna’s post, which I encourage you to do, you’ll see that she and the Chef don’t like bean flours. Which gave me pause. I wanted to use garbanzo bean flour so that these muffins could include beans. That seemed like the only way I could avoid feeling like a total fraud for posting this recipe on my bean blog. Yet I didn’t want to make something icky. What to do?!

For this first time, I decided to risk the garbanzo bean flour. For the sake of the blog. Happily, my gamble paid off. Next time, though, I’ll probably try a different blend. Just to see.

To mix the flours, I started with the whole grains: brown rice, garbanzo bean, and sorghum. (Check out this post for some good information about sorghum (http://bit.ly/1envadS).) (The bags (I used Bob’s brand) are pretty small, so I had to pour the flours into the measuring cup instead of using the cup to scoop it out. To avoid waste, I measured over a bowl. When I finished the whole grains, I put the excess into a separate bag. Then I repeated the process with the white flours. So I now have three gallon-sized freezer bags in my freezer that are labeled as follows: 70/30 G/F mix; mixed whole grain G/F flours; and mixed white G/F flours. The idea is that over time, I’ll wind up with a sort’ve grab bag approach to gluten free baking. Super fun! And convenient. Because I’ve recently considered that the sometimes painful stiffness in my joints may correspond with my all too frequent over-indulgences in baked goods. This doesn’t mean I’m anywhere close to giving up bread. Or delicious pastries. But, as with refined sugar, it does mean that I will mostly eliminate gluten from the food I cook at home. If you’re not so committed, however, you may be interested in reading this review of a few commercial blends. (http://bit.ly/1alqlAZ)

MUFFINS (recipe adapted from Laura C. Martin’s trusty Green Market Baking Book (http://bit.ly/1k5guCC).)
2-1/4 c. gluten-free flour mix
4 t. baking powder
1 t. sea salt
7 T. coconut oil, melted
1/3 cup brown rice syrup
1/3 cup maple syrup
zest from one Meyer (or regular) lemon
2 large eggs
1/2 cup almond milk
11/2 c. fresh or frozen blueberries

Preheat the oven to 350 and grease a 12-cup muffin tin with a little bit of coconut oil. Whisk the flour mix, baking powder, and salt until well blended. In a separate bowl, whisk the coconut oil, syrups, lemon zest, eggs, and milk together until well blended. Stir the mixture into the dry ingredients. Fold in the blueberries. Using a 1/2 cup measure, spoon the batter into the muffin tin, filling each cup almost to the rim. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until a knife comes out clean. Cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then cut along the sides and pop out to cool on a rack.

White bean, gluten-free, vegan pancakes

This morning, near the end of a three-hour Kundalini class, when I was meant to be deep in meditation, I started laughing out loud, realizing that the title of this post, a literal description of today’s breakfast, would fit perfectly into the sketch show I’ve been working white bean vegan gluten free pancakeson for the past several months.  (And which is finally almost finished!!!) So many health-food buzzwords crammed into a single recipe title, and all of them modifying the ultimate empty calorie breakfast food, pancakes. This recipe sounds like it would taste awful. So much so that it’s hilarious. And yeah. This may be the first time ever that I’m posting a recipe for which the photograph makes the food look better than it was in real life. But while I admit that these weren’t the best pancakes I’ve ever tasted, they were far from the worst.  In fact, they’re pretty good so long as you cover them with enough fresh fruit to ensure that each bite includes at least equal parts fruit and pancake. And maple syrup.

The truth is that I’d probably appreciate these much more if I did not have the luxury of a digestive system that tolerates gluten just fine, or if I was actually vegan. Because while the end result of this experiment is not light or fluffy, and a hint of beany flavor comes through if you don’t get enough fruit and syrup in each bite, they are pancakes. And who doesn’t love pancakes? Well, okay, I don’t. They just don’t compare to waffles, which I love without condition. But when I saw Kathy Hester’s beany pancake recipes, I knew I had to give them a try. (http://bit.ly/JP2DjX) Especially because I’ve had gluten-free pancakes in the back of my mind for almost a year now, since I saw this recipe for flax coconut pancakes in Food and Wine. (http://bit.ly/1dfRbcJ) So I decided to combine the two recipes, coming up with my own version. Which I ate this morning, a couple of hours before yoga.  The end result may not have been the very best pancakes I’ve ever tasted, but, as I said at the start, they were tasty enough. Especially given the title.

Note that the following recipe calls for several different types of flour, all of which I happened to have on hand. Because a while back I became interested in gluten free baking, trying to pack more nutrition into the baked-good punch. If you aren’t so stocked, however, please just use whole wheat pastry flour or even regular white flour. Although the nutritional value will decrease, I’m guessing the texture will improve. And it will definitely be less expensive and troublesome than going out and buying all these fancy flours. Now, here’s the recipe.

2/3 c. brown rice flour
3 T. potato starch
3 T. tapioca starch
3 T. coconut flour
2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
1-1/2 c. cooked (or canned) white beans, drained and rinsed
1-1/2 c. unsweetened almond (or other nondairy) milk
1/2 c. rolled oats (make sure they’re marked gluten-free if gluten is an issue)
2 T. olive or coconut oil, plus more for the pan
2 T. maple syrup, plus more for serving
1 T. ground flax seed mixed with 2 T. warm water
1 t. vanilla extract

1. Whisk the dry ingredients together in a medium sized bowl.

2. Using a food processor or immersion blender, puree the beans, milk., oats, oil, syrup, flax seed mixture, and vanilla together until smooth.

3. Stir the pureed bean mixture into the dry ingredients until thoroughly combined.

4. Heat a skillet (I always use cast iron, because that’s what I have, but use what you like) over medium heat. For each pancake, scoop about 3 T. of batter into the skillet, making sure to leave space around each pancake. Cook the pancakes for 3-5 minutes on each side. Serve with fresh fruit and maple syrup. This makes a lot but they should freeze well. Enjoy!

Lentil stew with cabbage and root vegetables

lentil stew with cabbage and root vegetablesThis is an intentional version of the accidental lentil stew I made a while back. (http://bit.ly/19jxNfI)  Or at least, the stew aspect is intentional. The cabbage, parsnips, and carrots are included because they were in the fridge. And because I like them. But I didn’t include onion or celery in this version because I was out of both. So yeah. Maybe this recipe is not so intentional. Yet it isn’t accidental, either. Somewhere in between. Maybe like the rest of my life. In which I try to act intentionally, always, try to make conscious choices. But somehow so often I feel like life just sort’ve happens. It’s challenging to be awake all the time, not go on auto-pilot. Especially when life is busy. Truly, though, as I’ve been reminded lately, every act is a choice, even the default of unthinking habit. Indeed, even not acting. Some acts, or moments of inaction, just require more effort. Intention.

But I digress. Really, the point of this post is the stew. Which is delicious. Also nourishing and affordable and filling and warming on a cold winter day. So you should make it. One note: the vinegar is essential. And, like the other ingredients, quality makes an enormous difference. I like Bragg’s brand the best, but whatever you use, make sure it is real apple cider vinegar, not the kind that is just white vinegar with artificial flavors. Here’s the recipe.

3 c. brown lentils
1 head of savoy cabbage, cored and thinly sliced
2 parsnips, sliced into rounds and/or half rounds, if the top is very thick
1-2 carrots, sliced into rounds and/or half rounds, if the top is very thick
2 cloves garlic, minced
1″ piece of Kombu
3 T. olive oil
6 c. water
1 T. sea salt
1/4 c. apple cider vinegar

Place the lentils, parsnips, carrots, garlic, kombu, and olive oil in the insert of a slow cooker. Stir to combine then add the cabbage. Pour the water over the top, cover, and cook on low for 8 – 10 hours. Turn off the heat, remove the cover, add the salt, and stir to combine. Wait a half hour or so before adding the vinegar, stirring again. You can eat right away but this will taste better if you bring to room temperature and then reheat. Or, better yet, make it a day before you plan to serve. A night in the fridge will give the flavors time to meld. Regardless of whether you eat immediately or the next day, enjoy! I like the stew as is, but it’s also very nice with a couple of slices of cheese toast.

Overnight granola and giving thanks, in Florida

I’m writing this from one of the two couches in my mother’s tiny apartment in Tallahassee, a couple of hours before I leave to return to Chicago. I’ve been in Florida for two weeks. This is at least the fourth time I’ve tried to write a blog post. I’m not sure what’s going on. Maybe writer’s block? Must be. Because I have a lot to say. Too much, perhaps. But every time I try to write something happens, I freeze. Stop. Decide to wait until later, when maybe it will come. And now here I am, the last day, still without having posted anything. Oy. That won’t do. So I’m writing this. Which will have to be good enough. Hopefully inspiration for more will return soon.

Before vacation, there was a different problem. For a week or so after my last post, I was just busy and overwhelmed with life. Then I had the flu. Which took me out for almost two weeks. It was awful on so many levels, probably mostly because of the surprising emotional component. There’s nothing like being sick with no one around to make you feel alone. It was a good wake-up call. To what I’m not yet sure, but it was a call to something, if only to make sure I always have some chicken soup in the house. To be grateful for my health, I suppose. Which I am. It is nothing to take for granted.

Now, as I prepare to head back to Chicago, I am absolutely filed with gratitude for having been born and raised here, in Florida. It’s a strange place, yes. I left because I couldn’t live here, had to escape the racism and small-mindedness. Yet it is also the most beautiful place I know, mysterious and deeply, richly alive. Although I took about a million photos and videos, so many that my phone is completely full, I’m having trouble with the transfer. But I have a few.

This vacation started and ended in Tallahassee, sandwiching a week on St. George Island.  During my daily walks on the beach I fell in love with a tree that had washed up to the shore. Here it is, as it looked during the sunny hours on the one stormy day. As you can see from the barnacles, it  obviously spent some time in the water before washing up to shore. Maybe it came here from Cuba, a refugee. I don’t know.

tree with barnaclesbarnaclestree in surf

What I do know is how incredibly lucky I am. So, so privileged. It’s so easy to take everything we have for granted. Being alive. Able to get up and go outside, breathe air, drink water, walk. Cook and eat delicious, nourishing food. It’s impossible, I think, to be thankful every moment. Life would become overwhelming. Too serious. Sometimes you, or at least I, have to take things for granted. Yet it seems important to spend at least some time every day in appreciation. Noticing what we have that is good.

Right now, before I finish packing, I’m noticing how delicious this granola is. I made it before I left Chicago. Because I meant to blog about it. It’s my new favorite. Which I decided to share despite the fact that it has zero beans. Only oats. And nuts. And a few other things. Although my photo will not upload (serious technical difficulties are making me CRAZY!), here’s the recipe, which I adapted this recipe in Fine Cooking. (http://www.finecooking.com/recipes/dried-cherry-coconut-granola.aspx)

4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
2 cups puffed rice cereal
1-1/2 cups dried, shredded, unsweetened coconut
1 cup sunflower seeds
1 cup halved or slivered raw almonds
1 teaspoon ground cardamon
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon table salt
3/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup extra-virgin coconut oil

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Whisk the syrup, honey, and oils, then add to the dry ingredients. Stir to combine.

2. Spread onto a heavy-duty baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350 for about 15 minutes, until just starting to brown. Turn off the oven. Stir the granola mixture, return to the oven, and close the oven door. Let the granola sit in the oven for 6 – 12 hours. Transfer to a large bowl, breaking up any large clumps. Store in an airtight container for up to one month. Enjoy!

Vegetarian variation of Rick Bayless’s “Classic Mexican Fried Beans”

refried beansIn his classic guide to Mexican cooking, Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen, Bayless writes of this recipe, “this is one place where pork fat makes an enormous flavor difference.” It’s true. Like most things in life, these beans are even better with some bacon. But this version, made with pinto beans cooked in the slow cooker with kombu, is quite good. Thick, rich, and, well, meaty. Yet clean.

In fact, my original plan for this weekend’s post included meat. I had planned to make  an elaborate steak chili based on one that an intern in my office made for the fall pot-luck. (Yes, my office has a pot luck. I am very, very lucky.) But then I noticed that my bank balance was a bit off after my first post-divorce, new federal filing status paycheck.  Less than it was supposed to be. Apparently the single-person tax is higher. So I now have even less money. Which isn’t great. But it could be worse.

I don’t always appreciate everything that I have. Because I’m a hopelessly flawed human. Usually, though, if given sufficient time to ponder, I manage to come up with something reasonably positive. At least in writing. It’s my strategy for avoiding misery. So. The upside to my new financial reality.

First, I really like beans, which are notoriously affordable.

Second, while I would prefer to have more money, I still have enough. And I have so much more than many, a fact that I’m reminded of every day that I spend out in the world. I may not be wealthy, but I am not poor. Indeed, I’m quite insanely over-privileged. And grateful.

Third, this little shot of reality forced me to be flexible. Which is something I need more of. Yesterday morning, in yoga, the intention was to explore what happens when we let go, go with the flow. Anne used another word, which despite persistent efforts, I have not been able to remember. And, sadly, she did not record this class, so, unlike many of her other classes it’s not posted on her Soundcloud. But, while I may not be able to remember the specific word that Anne used, I got the gist.  Oh, and as an aside, Anne has been posting a whole bunch of her Forrest yoga classes, for free! She’s an incredible teacher.  Generous, creative, and wonderfully clear. Her adjustments are also out of this world, so you should really try to see her in person. But these classes are a nice second best. Check it out. (http://bit.ly/1akRqxh)

Getting back to now, the lesson I’ve been learning, the lesson Anne emphasized yesterday, is to allow space. To do this, I’m learning to listen to my body. Separating experience into individual components–thoughts, feelings, and sensations. I’m starting to be able, in moments of overwhelm, to focus on sensation. Stay in my body. Which permits everything else to slow down and shifts the experience into a process of allowing rather than forcing. Eventually I come back to thought with a new calm. The power of mindfulness is not overrated. (http://bit.ly/5YxQvx)

Of course, this process is a lesson I am only just now beginning to learn. It is very new. So I fail, again and again. Yet each time I fail, I do so with more grace, as I slowly learn that this is what it means to live. To breathe into and from the space in between moments, letting go of the illusion that anything is ever under control. The reward is resilience. Quickly realizing that it’s okay to not make the steak chili. There’s always another option. Just don’t freak out. And, if you do freak out (I always freak out), don’t freak out about freaking out. It will be okay.

The cool thing is that now, almost a year after I went from once or twice a week yoga to a more regular practice of 3-7 days a week, I generally live in a more resilient place. So it was pretty easy for me to let go of the steak chili, think about what food I had, and decide to keep it super simple. So, yesterday morning, even before I went to yoga, I started the beans.

I cooked them in the slow cooker with a 3″ piece of kombu. In case you don’t already know (if you do, please forgive the repetition), kombu is a sea vegetable that “lends a delicious, meaty flavor to the beans (not at all fishy) and is mineral-rich, with additional B vitamins and trace elements, as well as a digestion-soothing gel that literally melts into the bean sauce.” (http://bit.ly/reIsZA) Note that the Weston Price article that I just linked to calls for pre-soaking for optimum digestion. My digestive system is pretty well acclimated to beans, so I don’t bother. But if you decide to soak, note that the beans will cook faster. Also note that the beans may fall apart a bit after long cooking. For this recipe, that’s a bonus. But if that’s a problem for you, try brining. (http://bit.ly/1hEnp2Q)

Assuming you are neither soaking nor brining, start by sorting through and rinsing one pound of dried pinto (or any variety of) beans. Discard any that are broken or discolored, rinse, and put in the insert of your slow cooker. Cover with about three inches of cold filtered water, add a 3″ piece of kombo, place the lid on the insert, and cook on low for 8-10 hours, or until the beans are tender. You want them to be on the soft side, so if you aren’t sure, cook a little longer. Once they’re done, salt liberally and allow to cool. The cooling period lets the salt fully permeate the beans. This amount will be enough to double the following recipe. If you’re making less, freeze the extra beans, making sure they’re covered by cooking liquid, or reserve for another use.

Now for the recipe. The following amounts make about 2 cups, enough to serve 1-2. Feel free to double if you’re cooking for more.

1 T. butter, olive, or vegetable oil
1 sm. yellow or onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 c. undrained, seasoned cooked beans, ideally slightly warm to facilitate mashing (if you’re using canned beans, drain and rinse well)
salt, if necessary

1. Heat the fat in a large cast iron or nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, for about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, cook for a minute or two, and then add approximately one cup of beans, using a slotted spoon. Mash the beans coarsely using a potato masher or the back of a wooden spoon. When they’re mashed to your liking, repeat with another spoonful. Continue until you’ve incorporated all of the beans.

2. Once all the beans have been mashed, add about 1/2 cup of the bean cooking liquid or, if you’re using canned, water. (Bean cooking liquid alone is enough reason to make your own beans. It’s so good!) Stir the liquid into the beans and continue to cook until the beans are just a little more soupy than you want them to be. They will thicken once you take them off the heat.

refried beans and eggsSalt to taste and serve, either as a side for fried eggs, as I did this morning, as a filling for burritos, or as a side. Or, if you’re feeling incredibly lazy, eat them as is, with tortilla chips, as I did last night. It’s true that this doesn’t rate super high on the scale of excellent single person self-care, but, well, there are more shameful suppers.

Lentil stew, slow cooker style

Yesterday morning, when I made this, lentil stewI planned to post about lentil soup. Basic, nourishing, plain lentil soup. A sort’ve gateway into the world of legumes. And something that really should be on this blog. But, despite my best intentions, it’s still not here. Because in my rush to get it done before leaving for work, I added too many lentils. Or, depending on how you look at it, not enough water. Probably the latter, as I made this with the intent of giving a large quantity away to a friend who is in the middle of a move.

The upside is that while the end result has almost no liquid, and therefore does not qualify as a soup, the flavor turned out exactly right. So I’m sharing the recipe, which I adapted from Diane Phillips’ “Slow Cooker: The Best Cookbook Ever.”

1 lg. onion, diced
4 stalks celery, diced
6 carrots, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 c. brown lentils, rinsed
6 c. water
1 2″ piece of kombu
3 T. olive oil (optional)
salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 c. apple cider vinegar

Combine everything except the salt and apple cider vinegar in the insert of a slow cooker. Stir, cover, and cook on low for 8-10 hours. Add salt to taste (I used 1 T. of kosher salt) and apple cider vinegar, if desired. The stew was good without the vinegar. But I think the vinegar adds a welcome depth.

Also, for those of you who aren’t familiar with kombu, it is a sea vegetable. While I do not bother with the presoaking that is recommended for optimal digestion, I always cook my beans with kombu because it “lends a delicious, meaty flavor to the beans (not at all fishy) and is mineral-rich, with additional B vitamins and trace elements, as well as a digestion-soothing gel that literally melts into the bean sauce.” (http://www.westonaprice.org/food-features/putting-the-polish-on-those-humble-beans)

I wish I could write more. But I must run. Go to work. Where I shall enjoy lentil stew for lunch. xo