“Cream” of broccoli soup

broccoli soupThis was a spur of the moment, I’m hungry, what’s in the fridge, kind’ve meal. Perfect for the cool weather we’re having in Chicago these last two days. I made the soup last night but brought leftovers to work today, which is when I decided to write this post. Because it’s so good! And because maybe you, too, have bone broth, white beans, and roasted broccoli in your fridge. If not, maybe this post will inspire you to make some. I like to make big batches of bone broth and beans (separately, as in one batch of bone broth and one or more batches of beans) when I have the time. I then freeze  small containers for later.

Indeed, that’s exactly how I wound up with 2-cup containers of bone broth and white beans in my fridge. I’d taken both of them out of the freezer a couple of days ago, after I finished teacher training, without a specific plan but knowing I needed food, didn’t have time to make anything, and would be able to make something quick, easy, and nourishing. And voila, broccoli soup! To make it I just combined the broth and the beans in a saucepan with leftover roasted broccoli, heated, and pureed with my handy immersion blender, which may be my most useful kitchen tool.

Because this was so simple, there isn’t really a recipe. But I don’t think I’ve blogged about bone broth yet. So that’s what I’ll discuss. Briefly.

I’ve been making bone broth pretty steadily for the last year or so. At first I made a new batch every week. That was great when my boyfriend (who wasn’t ever really my boyfriend and is still gone and who I still miss terribly — broken hearts SUCK) was around to create interesting soups and help me eat them. But he usually wasn’t around and I pretty quickly figured out that once a week made way more broth than my freezer could hold. Now I make a new batch whenever I use up the last container from the freezer. It’s a good system.

My recipe, if I can call it that, is based on this one from NourishedKitchen. Basically, you roast a chicken, cut off the meat, then simmer the carcass for a couple of days with vegetable scraps, a couple of bay leaves, some peppercorns, and filtered water. I used to let it go for days for perpetual soup, like the recipe at Nourished Kitchen. But I prefer the richness of single batch broth.

Allegedly, bone broth will heal your gut, fight inflammation, reduce joint pain, inhibit infections, and, my favorite, promote strong, healthy bones. I don’t know if any of these claims are true. And I don’t care. Because it’s delicious, easy, affordable, environmentally responsible, and, at the very least, more nourishing than store-bought chicken broth.  You should definitely make some. As an alternative for the vegans and vegetarians, use extra water next time you cook chickpeas and use that instead. It is wonderful.

Boston Baked Beans

Once again, it’s been a very long time since my last post. Dreamsofmyfava is languishing. Yet I am thriving. Living. Slowly learning how to be in the world more fully as I am. Which maybe isn’t the same as being the person I wish I was or could be. It’s all very interesting. At least to me. I’ve also been very busy with big projects at work. Indeed, I think maybe all my energy for writing has been directed there. So that I’m now writing this blog post only because on Friday I finally finished the reply brief in a really big case I’ve spent huge amounts of time and energy on in the past year and won’t start work on a new case until Monday. Mental space is crucial.

view from the gazebo at Pete and Anna's cabinBut this post is meant to be about Boston Baked Beans, which I made yesterday. I was inspired by my recent trip to New England. I was there last weekend to visit a dear friend and her husband, who live in Cambridge, Massachusetts. We spent a little time in Cambridge, but mostly we were in their family’s cabin in New Hampshire.

The cabin has no electricity or running water. Which maybe sounds terrible. But instead it was lovely. I’d been there once before, for their wedding several years ago. This time was different, though, because it was just the three of us and their dog, surrounded by and immersed in nature. And probably because I am so different now from how I was then.

My friend’s parents built the cabin thirty years ago, and have gradually added a million thoughtful details. Like this handletree handle on the screen door to the gazebo. Or the handwashing station next to the outhouse, which I didn’t photograph. So you’ll have to trust my words to convince you that it somehow managed to be more luxurious than any bathroom I’ve ever visited. An outhouse that smelled of wood and air.

I guess it smells of wood and air because there are trees everywhere and not much else. Except a few large stones, because the area was formed by glaciers.

As for the man-made aspects, another standout, which I again failed to document, was the garden, where one could easily get lost in meditation while ostensibly choosing and picking herbs and leaves for sandwiches, salads, eggs.

The cabin itself seems to have arisen organically, as if it was grown rather than built. Because there are so many considerate touches. Like the candleholders that are placed here and there and everywhere, so that they’re just where you want them, including one with a handle, and others that have been mounted to the wall in the back bedroom where I slept. That bedroom also held a basin so I was able to wash up a little inside just before bed and in the morning.

More extensive wash ups come with swimming outside in “The Pond,” which is apparently the New England word for “lake.” Whatever you called it, this pure body of water is deep and cold and still. Diving in you feel completely alive. And somehow extra clean.

Pone in the morningI think it was the lack of electricity that rendered the world of the cabin so special, so healing. My breath was deeper, like the way it is after yoga before I emerge into the clamor of city during days here in my normal life. Such a contrast from the cabin, where I felt like I could hear everything inside and out, uninterrupted by the noise I’ve become so accustomed to in Chicago. It was amazing. At one point, I even imagined I heard the trees speaking, not in words but with unmistakable meaning. Clear, direct communication.

During this moment when I believed I heard the trees speaking to me, my friend and I were in the gazebo. It had just rained, was raining, with alternating bouts of gusty wind and soft, barely audible patters. I was attuning her to Reiki, level one. (Because I’m a Reiki master now. Which is pretty cool.) I felt a deep sense of connectedness, with the trees and the stones and the rain and the gazebo and also with my friend, her husband, their dog, everything as one. And suddenly the trees were sending this message about how much they cared about my friend’s well being, recognizing her goodness, her beauty, the feeling they had of her belonging there, with the family, in that place. The trees were expressing their support for what we were doing. Which is cool. Because the trees are such a big part of everything there. It view from gazebofelt good to know or at least believe that we had their support and what felt like their love.

Now, writing this, I fear that maybe I sound a little crazy. Or, at best, eccentric. Whimsical. Like my imagination has gone overboard. Which very well may be true. But what I realize now too is that it doesn’t matter. What matters is that feeling. Because the feeling, whether objectively true or not, creates an opening. And with that open heart I allow the world to come in. Then, in that opening, I’m able to come out of myself with a deep faith that things are ultimately good.

Which brings me to the recipe. Finally.

Boston Baked BeansFor a long time baked beans were the only kind of beans that I liked, especially the kind that came in a can with heavy, syrupy sweet good sauce and awful chunks of fatty salt pork that I would fish out and cast to the side. As a kid growing up in the South I would doctor cans of Campbells beans by adding dijon mustard, brown sugar, and a little ketchup, then I’d bake them until the sauce was thick and bubbling. I liked to scoop them up with potato chips as a side for burgers.

When I was married my then-husband and I graduated to Bush’s baked beans, which tasted without doctoring similar to those beans of my childhood. I ate them the same way, scooped up with chips. Although he preferred plain Lays to my beloved Ruffles. The consequence of his strong personality and definitive taste combined with my insecurities was that I, too, learned to prefer plain Lays. (Now that I’m divorced I like both. Chips, which are gluten-free, may be my worst vice.)

Nowadays, when I’m trying to avoid anything with refined sugar, I eat almost no processed food. (Except chips. Damn chips.) This means I no longer buy any kind of canned baked beans. But I still love them. So, when we stopped at Calef’s County Store on the way home from the cabin, I was super excited to see these beans.Calef's Beans Then, last Sunday, lying in the guest bed in quiet, quiet Cambridge, I searched my friend’s extensive cookbook collection for baked bean recipes. And I decided on this one, an adaption from Slow Cooker Revolution. It took a really long time and wound up having to finish in the oven. But the flavor is perfect. I recommend.

Boston Baked Beans

2 oz. diced bacon
1 onion, minced
4-1/2 cups water
1 pound (2-1/2 cups) dried navy beans, soaked overnight
1/4 cup molasses (I used blackstrap but recipe calls for mild)
1/4 cup maple syrup (subbed for brown sugar)
2 bay leaves
1 tsp dried mustard
1/4 tsp ground cloves
2 Tb cider vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

If using the oven, preheat to 350. Drain and rinse the beans. Transfer them to the slow cooker insert or a dutch oven. Cook the bacon in a skillet over medium heat for 5-7 minutes, until the fat has rendered. Add the onion and cook another five minutes or so, adding the mustard and cloves for the last minute. Add the onion mixture, molasses, maple syrup, and bay leaves to the beans. If using the slow cooker, cook on low for ten hours, or on high for seven hours. If using the oven, cover and cook for a couple of hours. Check occasionally and add water to cover if necessary. When the beans are soft, add a teaspoon or so of coarse sea or kosher salt. Stir and continue cooking until the sauce is thick and bubbling, and the beans are tender but not mushy. I wound up using the oven to finish because the sauce didn’t thicken in the slow cooker. But I will try again. If you try this out, please let me know how it goes. And good luck!

Chickpea soup w/ garlic and bitter greens

Gosh. It’s been a long time since my last post. I would apologize. Except, as I started to do so, I realized that this might be my new norm. I enjoy blogging. But it’s no longer a priority. And I’m not sure I still want to write a cookbook about beans.

Not that I don’t still love beans. I do. I’ve just begun to recognize my limitations, especially when it comes to nutrition. There’s so much conflicting information that I don’t have time to sort through. Especially when it comes to beans.

Historically, at least in my world, it was well settled that beans are good for you, that they’re full of protein and fiber and all kinds of good things. But of course it can’t be that simple.

Before I dive into the great bean controversy, I want to give you the recipe, which I adapted from the Chickpea and Kale Soup in Franny’s: Simple Seasonal Italian Cookbook. Speaking of which, within a day of checking this book out from the library, which is what I do with cookbooks, I’d ordered a copy. Because it’s gorgeous and well written and wonderful enough to own. Plus the recipes are terrific. Here’s another review if you’re considering. Also, for what it’s worth, I made the original version of their soup a few weeks ago. And it’s delicious. But I changed things up to maximize the calcium content. See more on that below. Now, the recipe.

Chickpea soup w/ garlic and bitter greens

2 cups dried chickpeas
1 carrot, peeled and cut into 3 or 4 chunks
1 stalk of celery, cut into 3 or 4 chunks
1 small onion, unpeeled and halved
11 garlic cloves, peeled
5 strips of lemon peel, no white pith
1 rosemary sprig
1″ piece of kombu
large square of cheesecloth
2 tsp. coarse sea salt
3-1/2 quarts water
1/2 cup olive oil
1 Tb olive or grapeseed oil
1/2 tsp chili flakes
2 bunches of bitter greens (I used turnip and dandelion–the original recipe calls for Lacinato kale)
freshly ground black pepper

1. Soak the chickpeas for several hours in warm water. There’s more information on that below as well as here. I started mine in the morning then cooked the soup overnight.

2. Rinse the beans and transfer them to the slow cooker insert, if using, or a dutch oven. Combine the carrot, celery, onion, 3 cloves of garlic, lemon peel, rosemary, and kombu in the cheesecloth. Tie up the corners to make a little packet like this one. cheesecloth bundleAdd the bundle to the beans and submerge into the water with a wooden spoon. Add the olive oil. If using the slow cooker, cook on low for 10 hours. If using a dutch oven, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the chickpeas are tender. The timing will depend upon the age of your chickpeas, but check after 45 minutes. Add the salt when the chickpeas are tender and remove from the heat.

bitter greens3. Wash and trim the greens, then steam for about three minutes. Chop the garlic. Heat a tablespoon of grapeseed oil (unless you aren’t concerned about heating olive oil) and saute the garlic and chili flakes for a minute or so, just until fragrant.

4. Transfer the greens and garlic mixture to the bowl of a food processer. Add two cups of cooked chickpeas and one cup of cooking liquid. Process until smooth, then return the puree to thechickpea soup with garlic and bitter greens soup. Stir, taste, and season to taste. Ladle the soup into bowls. If desired, finish with a squeeze of lemon and some Parmesan cheese. I skipped the Parmesan but enjoyed with a slice of cheese toast. Delicious!

Now. Nutrition.

I first learned about the great bean controversy from my friend Jessica, who commented on this post in which I considered whether to soak or not to soak dried beans. Basically, she explained that soaking is necessary to make the nutrients more available. Which is correct. But, because I am extremely stubborn, I couldn’t just take Jess’s word for it.

For most of the past couple of years I’ve accepted that there is a controversy and that I don’t know what’s what. However, I also figured that as long as I continued to feel well, my digestive system was able to handle any potential problems with the beans. But then I was diagnosed with osteoporosis.

Yup. That’s right. It’s a shocker, right? Because while I’m not exactly young, I’m hardly old enough to have osteoporosis. Except that I do.

The upside is that because I’m relatively young and basically healthy, the condition is expected to be totally reversible. I just have to change my eating habits and increase resistance exercise.

Regarding the latter, that’s been pretty easy: I signed up for a weight-lifting class at the hospital. The class is at the hospital instead of the gym because right now my spine is very fragile, so I have to be super careful. As an aside, this has also affected my yoga practice, which I’ve had to modify pretty significantly. Honestly, so far, that’s been the worst part of this whole thing. I’m not supposed to do forward folds, side bends, or twists. Apparently my spine is like a stack of thin fragile plates that could be very easily chipped. Ugh. It kinda sucks. But I’m trying to take it as a spiritual lesson. Which is sort’ve working. I recognize that the experience is good for surrendering ego. Yet it’s still really bad for the expansion of my physical practice. Sigh.

Regarding the former, it’s been a little more complicated. In fact, I’ve had to make a complete overhaul. Because unless you eat 4 cups of yogurt each day, it’s really hard to consume 1500 mg of calcium each day from food. Which is what I’m supposed to be doing. So. Starting with this information from my awesome MD, I began researching calcium-rich foods. And, among other things I’m supposed to avoid (like oxalates and sugar and salt) I found out that Jessica is right–in order for your body to access the calcium in beans, you gotta get rid of the phytic acid by soaking the beans. I’m not sure when my next bone density test will be, so don’t know how long it will be until I find out if my changed eating habits are working. But I’m hoping for the best.

Roast chicken with braised cannellini beans, carmelized parsnips, kale pesto, and pickled beets and red onions. Plus stuffed pickled peppers.

roast chicken with slow cooked cannellini beans, parsnips, kale pesto, and pickled beets and red onionsThis was the main course last night, at my first semi-solo (I had an awesome date, someone I’ve been seeing for a while and who came early and helped. A lot.) dinner party. Which was unbelievably great. So much fun. This shot doesn’t show much detail, but it captures the vibe pretty damn well. Beauty. Love. lightDeliciousness. Goodness, all around. Hooray for dinner parties! And I think this might be the best food I’ve ever made. Luckily, several of my friends are very talented photographers, so there is at least visual documentation. Proof. Because now, home alone with everything all cleaned and put away and fridge back to its normal state (it was packed with food for the past couple of days), it almost feels like a dream. A really, really good dream. But the photos show that it was real. Plus I have the menu! Here’s what we had:pickled peppers stuffed with goat cheese (2)

snacks: Kalamata olives and pickled peppers stuffed with goat cheese

salad: Vegetable “ceviche” salad

main: Roast chicken with slow cooked cannellini beans, carmelized parsnips, kale pesto, and pickled beets and red onions

cheese plate: stinky blue, aged goat, and a creamy cow/sheep milk something, all served with fig & almond cake, sliced apples, and grapes

dessert: peach crisp with vanilla ice cream, courtesy of one of my lovely and talented friends.

The main is actually several different recipes. So it’s pretty involved. But omg — it was so unbelievably good. And while you definitely have to plan ahead, nothing is difficult. Plus, this is one of the few times where I think canned beans would be fine. So I encourage you to make this, or some version of this. Then report back and tell me if it is the best thing you’ve ever had. Here are recipes.

First, the peppers. This isn’t so much a recipe as directions for one of the easiest appetizers ever. You buy the pickled peppers from somewhere that has them (I got these from the olive bar at Whole Foods). Stuff the peppers with goat cheese. Done.

Second, the chicken, which again is not really a recipe. I used chicken thighs plus one boneless, skinless breast. Wash the chicken then pat it dry. Toss in a bowl with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, sea salt, and freshly ground pepper. Arrange on racks set on jelly roll pans. (I had five pieces of chicken on each pan. So you may only need the one pan.) Preheat the oven to 450. Let the chicken sit out while the oven is preheating, so it will season with the salt and come closer to room temperature. Sprinkle some fresh chopped rosemary over the top then slide it in the oven. Cook for about 45 minutes, rotating top to bottom and back to front about halfway through, until the skin is crisp.

Third, the parsnips. Again, not a recipe. Peel parsnips (I used five) and dice into pieces a little larger than 1/2 inch. Melt some butter in a cast iron skillet. Sprinkle with sea salt and pepper, then saute over medium high heat for ten or fifteen minutes, tossing occasionally. Set aside. After you turn the chicken, put the parsnips into the jelly roll pan and let them crisp up and absorb some juices. Unless there is a lot of rendered fat in the bottom of your pan, in which case maybe skip this step. It’s just a bonus.

Fourth, the pickled beets and onions. This recipe is from Saltie: A cookbook. I love this cookbook so much that I literally read it from cover to cover. Because it’s compulsively readable. You really feel like you get to know the authors and that if you lived in Brooklyn, you would want them to be your friends. Especially after making a couple of their recipes. So good! I deviated a little bit from the original, but only by cutting down the sugar and combining beets and red onions.

1 bunch of beets, scrubbed and trimmed
2 red onions, sliced into thick wedges
2 c. red wine vinegar
2 c. water
3/4 c. sugar
1-1/2 t coarse sea salt
1 T whole black peppercorns
1 T coriander seeds
1 T mustard seeds
2 whole star anise, broken up
8 whole allspice berries

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Put the beets in a roasting pan. Add just enough water to the pan to evenly cover the bottom. Cover with aluminum foil and roast until tender when pierced with a knife, about an hour, depending on the size. Let cool until you can handle them, then peel the beets, slipping the skins off with your fingers or a kitchen towel and using a paring knife where they stick. Slice into ½” wedges, then put in a large, heatproof bowl. In a saucepan, combine the vinegar, water, sugar, salt, and spices and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt. When the sugar and salt have dissolved, remove the pot from the heat and add the onions, Stir to combine. Then add the beets and let everything cool to room temperature. Once cool, transfer to (preferably glass) container, cover, and refrigerate. The pickled beets will be ready to eat the next day and will keep for up to 2 months.

And finally. The beans. The idea for these started with a recipe for slow-roasted pork shoulder with garlic-rosemary beans from Cooking Slow, by Andrew Schloss. I made it a couple of weeks ago as a test for the dinner party. The pork was delicious. But it was the beans that blew my mind. The original recipe calls for canned beans, but of course I cooked mine from scratch. Because I didn’t see how they could possibly hold their shape, I decided to brine. But I digress. The point is the finished project. They were incredible. Firm and meaty and infused with all the flavors of tomatoes, pork, garlic, and rosemary. Seriously delicious. But heavy and not what I wanted to serve. So I continued thinking. Reading. And came across a recipe from Gluten Free Girl and the Chef for beans braised in olive oil. Which sounded good. But a little over the top for what I was looking for. So I decided to experiment. Here’s what I did.

1 pound dried cannellini beans (if you want to use canned, you’ll probably need two 15-oz. cans)
1″ piece of kombu (if you’re cooking dried beans. This is for digestion.)
1 medium yellow or sweet onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 c. fresh rosemary
1/4 c. olive oil
1 14-1/2 oz. can of diced fire-roasted tomatoes
2 c. chicken broth or water

1. Brine the beans over night by adding about a tablespoon of salt to the water, stirring until the salt is dissolved, and then adding the beans. Rinse, cover with water, and add the kombu. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat, partially cover, and simmer for about an hour or until the beans are tender. It’s okay if they split. But you don’t want them mushy. When the beans are cooked, add a teaspoon or so of sea salt and let them cool in the cooking liquid.

2. Once the beans have cooled, transfer to a dutch oven or slow cooker. Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Saute the onion for a couple of minutes, then add the garlic and rosemary. Cook for another minute or two then add the onion mixture to the beans. Finally, add the beans and chicken broth or water. Make sure the liquid covers the beans by an inch or so; if it doesn’t, add more. Cover and cook. If you’re using the slow cooker, set for 12 hours on low. If you’re using the dutch oven, use the oven. To be honest, I did both. I started in the slow cooker, not just all day but all night. But there was still liquid on top and beans hadn’t turned dark and meaty. So I wound up transferring to a dutch oven and cooking for another hour or two at 400. They were perfect. Next time I’ll probably start with the oven. But we’ll see. Playing is fun. As is cooking for and eating with people you love.

gettting ready for dinner partyTo serve, scoop about a cup of beans and arrange them around the plate, randomly, leaving spaces. Sprinkle a smaller spoonful of parsnips over the beans. Fill some of the empty space with kale pesto, pickled beets and red onions, and chicken. Eat. Enjoy.clean plate

 

 

Roxanne’s Magic Bean Stew, courtesy of Michael Ruhlman

Hello! I feel like I’ve been away forever. And I’m not sure why. I think it’s because my food life has been taken over by trying to become gluten free. Which has been interesting, if difficult. Also, I had house guests for a few days. Plus there’s work. Yoga. My garden. Book clubs. Plays. Music. Friends.

Let’s face it: this effort I’ve been making over the past couple of years to rebuild my life after my marriage ended? It’s worked. My life is rich and full. The downside is that I find myself less and less interested in writing about what I’m doing. But, thankfully, this isn’t true for everyone. For example, Michael Ruhlman, who posted this inspiring entry about a conversation he had with Cleveland Clinic Preventative Medicine Physician Roxanne Sukol.  (I got my computer fixed and now the link feature works again!) They talked about food and nutrition and, at the end, he shared the following recipe. Which I’m planning to make for dinner tonight. I’ll let you know how it goes. If you try it, please do the same.

Roxanne’s Magic Bean Stew
(adapted for Michael Ruhlman’s kitchen and then again, for my style and the contents of my pantry)

1 cup of your favorite beans (I’m using Mother Stallard, from Rancho Gordo)
1 quart/liter water
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 onion, chopped
1 Bay leaf
1″ piece of kombu
Pink Himalayan (or Kosher or any other) salt and freshly ground pepper

Combine everything except the salt and pepper in the insert of your slow cooker.  Cover and cook on low in a slow cooker for 7-8 hours. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Greek lima beans

greek lima beansThis recipe is adapted from one I found in The Great American Slow Cooker Book, by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough. (http://bit.ly/1ee8Aji) The original recipe is named “gigantes beans with tomatoes and dill.” Although my version is pretty close to theirs, I changed the name, because that’s what these beans are to me, a favorite side at some (although not all) Greek restaurants. Tangy, velvety smooth, and deeply satisfying, I’ve loved them since my first taste, probably 15 years ago. But they aren’t a sure thing. And I’ve had trouble finding a recipe that works.

Here’s what I wrote when I first made these beans: While this version is okay, even good, it isn’t perfect. The beans are a bit too sweet.

At the time I thought that was an accurate assessment. But last night, when I tried these beans again (I froze a few servings from the original batch), I realized that in fact they are absolutely wonderful. Sweet, yes. But in the best way, completely delicious. I had them for dinner with bread, nothing else, and at the end of the meal the bowl was literally unmarked. Because I scooped up every last drop of sauce.

That said, this version is not what I hold in my memory as the perfect Greek Lima Bean. And maybe there never will be a perfect. Because over the years I’ve tried several recipes.There was one that came close, which I made pretty regularly for years. I’ve meant to post about it. But I haven’t made it since I started blogging. I’m not sure why. Perhaps because I associate that version with a version of myself I’m glad no longer exists, the perfectionist version who made trial runs of everything before dinner parties and wouldn’t eat anything that wasn’t exactly right. That version of me had great dinner parties, it’s true. My food was always perfect. But back then, in my marriage, I was always too anxious to relax without at least two glasses of wine. And I didn’t really have much fun. I pretended, I think fairly well, but honestly I preferred for everyone to leave me alone while I worked. I was far too stressed out to enjoy a conversation, even with people I loved. Which is sad.

The good news is that lately I’ve started to think about dinner parties again. Real dinner parties. With more than two guests. Where I will have fun. For these dinner parties held by this now version of myself, I plan to be okay with cooking food that might not be perfect. Because what matters is that I’ll be relaxed. Have fun. Maybe even make food ahead of time so that I can devote full attention to guests. Which is what I’m doing now, with these beans. Sort’ve.

I say sort’ve because, while I’m starting to think about real dinner parties, it’s not happening just yet. But I am having a good friend over tomorrow. She offered to give me Reiki and I offered to give her dinner. Cooking for the people I love gives me about as much joy as anything. And I’d be fine cooking with her here. No anxiety in cooking for one or two people. Still, I’m cooking ahead of time because tomorrow another friend somehow convinced me to take a Bikram class, followed by brunch. Which is both exciting and terrifying. I dread Bikram, am convinced I’ll either vomit, faint, or both. However, I promised. So I’m doing it. And therefore I’m cooking today. Ahead of time. Being okay with imperfection.

Of course, while I’m happy to have lost the perfectionism, I hope my food is still good. Because, well, who wants to eat–or serve–bad food? Not me. So. Here’s hoping everything turns out. This is the recipe for the beans:

1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1 28-oz can plum tomatoes, chopped (or diced)
1 lb. dried gigantes (or giant lima) beans
1-3/4 cup white wine or vermouth (I used white wine because I don’t have vermouth)
1/4 cup honey
3 T tomato paste
1/2 cup water
1 bay leaf
1″ piece of kombu
1/3 cup chopped fresh dill
2 t salt
1/2 t freshly ground black pepper

1. Heat a large cast iron (or other) skillet over medium heat. Add the oil, then add the onion and reduce the heat to low. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onion is soft, fragrant, and golden.

2. While the onion is cooking, pick over and rinse the beans, drain, and add to the slow cooker insert. Stir in the wine, honey, tomato paste, water, bay leaf, and kombu. In case you don’t already know, 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/1fgkJ6Z) Cook on low for 5-7 hours.

3. Stir in the dill, vinegar, salt, and pepper. Cover and continue cooking for another 3-5 hours, until the beans are tender. Add more water if necessary to ensure the beans are fully submerged. But don’t add too much–you want a thick, rich sauce.

In case you’re interested in the rest of the menu, most of which I’m making today, we’re having these beans with a kale salad (http://bit.ly/1cKY6aE) and potato-celery root latkes (http://bit.ly/1dD8dC2). I’ll try to remember to comment to let you know how it all goes together. Bon appetit!

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.