Sunday, November 21, 2010

Baked Beans Part 2

Swift on the heels of my first foray into bean baking I made another attempt. This time I chose to use different beans, a different recipe and a different technique. The Dutch oven was in need of reseasoning yet again before I could use it but the house was shut up tight due to the onset of winter. Without adequate ventilation for that smoky process I decided to turn to the programmable slow cooker instead.

The beans in this batch were Lina Cisco Bird Egg that I had grown and harvested fresh rather than dried. This method worked well because I could pick and shell large or small amounts and just keep adding them to the zip-top bags in the freezer.

Since the beans weren't dried I skipped soaking them and tossed them directly into the cooker. The recipe I used was "Classic Baked Beans" from "The Everything Healthy Slow Cooker Cookbook" by Rachel Rappaport. As with many slow cooker recipes, the ingredients were all just dumped in together. The only other cooking needed was frying the bacon. I used the real thing this time since the whole recipe only called for two slices.

The essential onion and garlic were added. And where the recipe called for "spicy mustard" I used a mixture of horseradish bratwurst mustard and jalapeno mustard.

Salt, pepper, molasses, brown sugar, water, chili sauce and cloves rounded out the ingredient list. Though I set out to follow the recipe exactly, I forgot to add the cloves. The chili sauce I purchased specifically to make this dish is practically indistinguishable from ketchup.

Ew. That's not too appetizing. Let's add the water and give it all a stir. Now it looks more like food.

Knowing the shell beans would probably take less time to cook than soaked dried beans I set the cooker for six hours rather than the eight to ten the recipe called for.

As it turned out, the beans were sufficiently cooked in only four hours--If I remember correctly. I either didn't make a note of the cooking time or lost it. I cooled them and stuck them in the refrigerator. A few nights later reheated some on the stovetop to serve with dinner.

We served the beans with scrumptious pork chops topped with Door County cherry salsa and a side of coleslaw. Yum!

The flavor was smoky and rich thanks to the bacon and again, not too sweet. However, the slightly metallic undertone was there again! In the previous batch I had blamed it on the cast iron Dutch oven. Now I'm not so sure. the current suspect is the fancy schmancy organic molasses I used in both batches. I'm half tempted to try a different brand--probably the classic standby my mother uses. Then I'd just have to figure out what to do to get rid of an almost full jar of expensive organic molasses! I seem to remember my father using it as a supplement to feed cattle. Maybe this will be my excuse to get a nice little Jersey cow for the back yard...

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Baked Beans Part 1

I love baked beans. We serve so many meals that include them it's ironic we buy the canned ones when making our own wouldn't be that difficult and possibly more economical. I made a couple of batches in the last month using two different methods and the results surprised me. The recipe I used is an altered version of Alton Brown's. I'll point out the changes I made as I go along.

For the first batch I used beans I got for free--can't beat that! Our garden neighbor had a bunch of pole beans mature and dry. He didn't want them them so I picked and shelled them. They're an unknown variety and definitely not the white Great Northerns the recipe calls for. The color was more of a medium brownish tan. Referring to my many catalogs I might say they fall into the category of yellow beans.

Before I could actually start cooking I ended up having to re-season our Dutch oven. Apparently when we used it last time we either cooked something acidic in it or cleaned it too thoroughly when we were done. A few small spots of rust had developed on the bottom and inside the lid. After that time-consuming task I was finally ready to bake some beans!

The actual cooking begins with the bacon and vegetables. To cut down on the fat but keep some smokiness I substituted Canadian bacon and reduced the amount to ten ounces. I used local onions and the jalapenos came right from our own garden.

I didn't want the finished beans to taste too sweet, so I reduced the brown sugar and molasses by half but kept the full amount of tomato paste. Ew. Not very pretty at this stage of the game. Taking an idea from one of the comments posted on Alton's recipe I added a crushed calcium citrate tablet to make up some for the reduced molasses. After all, everyone knows that the combination of sugar and calcium keeps the beans from cracking.

In the pot it was starting to look like food!

And after adding the soaked beans and broth (I substituted chicken because we had some) it was really starting to look like--soup? I was a little skeptical that the beans were going to soak up that much liquid.

But after several hours--I don't remember exactly how many but it wasn't the six to eight the recipe calls for--the liquid was absorbed and the beans were done. AND, as you can see in this image, the Dutch oven had lost it's seasoning again! In fact, the inside of the lid was stripped completely!

Final assessment? Despite the bacon switch and reduction this was a meaty pot of beans. I could see further reducing the meat and adding some smoked Spanish paprika to maintain the smokiness in future batches. Also, the sweetness was still pretty high. Not too cloying, but definitely noticeable. But worst of all, the dish carried a distinct metallic flavor. I'm attributing that to the iron that got in as the steam corroded the Dutch oven. They were not horrible, though so we ate them of course, first with a pork chop and a side of braised cabbage.

In my next post I'll be cooking up some beans again with a different twist and perhaps a mystery solved...

Sunday, October 31, 2010


I think there's a zombie eyeball in my martini...

Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Tasty Surprise

I was at the sink washing some tatsoi I had just brought back from the garden when the doorbell rang. I expected it to be someone collecting for charity or promoting their favorite political candidate--it's that time again. Much to my relief it was our neighbor, Susan bearing a gift. Fresh eggs!

We're fortunate to live in a city that allows backyard chicken coops. Over the years we've had neighbors housing small flocks on lots adjacent to ours and this summer we noticed the family next door had joined the trend. The feathered ladies have just started laying and Susan said that they would keep bringing eggs to us! I was glad to be able to send some tatsoi with her and on future deliveries I'll be sharing other bounty from our waning garden.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Whitefish and Tabouli

Lake Superior whitefish with lemon butter caper sauce and tabouli made with some of the ginormous parsley plant in our garden. Honestly, that thing looks like a green muppet.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Garden Day 208

I'm kind of embarrassed about how little I've posted over the last several months. It's not for lack of material, quite the opposite. But ironically when I've got a lot of interesting things going on, I'm more likely to be doing them rather than writing about them. In any case, today I finally got up to the garden when it was actually light enough to take some pictures. For the most part, it's empty, at least of edibles.

As you can see, the dominant crop is marigolds! I'll get to those after I hit the remaining vegetable highlights. If you look over on the left side of the garden you should see a blueish-green squash. Our garden neighbor, Jeff is growing those and said we could take one. He doesn't know what kind it is, just that it's some African variety that a friend had given him. I need to look up info on how to tell when a squash is ready to pick. He said it's a pretty light, mild type.

The parsley plant got big fast! We've already made one big batch of tabouli and are set to make another. Next to the parsley, the arugula got too big before we could eat much it, but I harvest the small, inner leaves and have tried cutting whole plants back to see if we can get some more tender new growth.

This year's garden looks like it will begin and end in lettuce. A month ago, when I thought at best we had a couple of weeks left to garden I planted some greens. I wish I'd done more, especially spinach as only one plant came up and it is just now really growing. My garden notes will include a line for next year reminding me to be optimistic about the length of the season into the fall. There's little to lose in that approach.

One of the pleasant surprises of this year's garden was tatsoi. A friend gave me seeds and I didn't plant any last spring but finally did with this last round of greens. I was expecting them to be more like bokchoi with more bulb/stem than leaf, but they're not. Our plants are a little tattered yet from the hail storm but I still think they're attractive little rosettes of green. We've been enjoying it braised with garlic, ginger and galanga.

Now, about the marigolds. I planted them back when I planted the beans to keep away bean beetles. Either they worked or there just weren't any bean beetles to keep away. In any case, I greatly underestimated how much they would grow. In my shady backyard garden they never get much larger than they were when I bought them, so I planted quite a few of them fairly close together in the garden. They got huge! When I was tearing out the dead veggie plants last month I was set to rip them out, too but just couldn't because they looked so nice. Instead I decided to keep them and maybe make some garlands or a rangoli when Diwali came around. I may have to change those plans, too.

Today I noticed there were several kinds of bees, butterflies and moths feeding on the flowers. Since marigolds are so pungent I never thought of them as being attractive to insects. There are so few other flowers around now that imagine nectar is at a premium. The poor little guys' days are numbered, of course. But I just couldn't see depriving them of a source of food.

So I guess I'll leave at least some of the marigolds for a few more weeks--frost permitting. It's not like there are any vegetable plants to compete with at the moment. And they're looking remarkably good given that I haven't watered them at all during the current drought.

Monday, August 30, 2010


Whole wheat crust, home-made tomato sauce, tallegio, kalamata olives, Hereford (three syllables) pancetta, sweet white onion, red bell pepper, herbs...

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Jalapeno Sea Bass

Served with beet slaw and a bean and tomato dish. Majority of the vegetables were from the garden. The chiles could have been but we were using up some frozen ones.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Garden Day 130 - At Last, A Tomato

One of the soft, arbitrary goals I had for the garden was to be able to pick a good-tasting tomato before August. We just made it! Ladies and Gentlemen, meet Paul Robeson.

Technically this isn't the first tomato out of the garden. I did pick a little 'Chocolate Cherry' the other day but that wasn't even a mouthful. So we could enjoy the flavor without a lot of interference I just sliced this one up and served it with tiny bit of olive oil and salt. It tasted so good as a little nibble before our tandoori grilled lamb chops. The flavor was mild but tomatoey and not too sweet or acidic. I hope Paul pans out as a good producer.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Garden Day 125

It's hard to believe four months have passed since we started the garden. If I didn't have so many other things going on, I would have posted more updates. As it is, you'll have to settle for a quick summary. First, as I mentioned before, lettuces were a big success this year. We've also been enjoying basil in the form of pesto, bok choy, mustard greens, kohlrabi, radishes, tons of beets, some really good cucumbers, purple carrots, our first red bell pepper, tons of chard, and now the beans are ripening. This handful is mostly Jacob's Cattle Gasless. I grew them to the fresh shell or "shelly" stage between green beans and dried beans. Rumor has it that the flavor is especially good at this point. For the next few evenings at least I'm going to be picking just the ones I think are at the peak of ripeness. I haven't decided exactly what to do with them yet, but aren't they beautiful? Soon, I hope, there will be some tomatoes and more peppers. The tomatoes have plenty of flowers and some green fruit, but I'm anxious to see some red!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Flowers in The Garden

It's high summer in the garden. Here are some images from the garden in general, not all from our own plot.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Garden Day 68

I haven't posted a progress report since day 7? I guess I've been busy! The garden is going fairly well. We've gotten some spinach and holey arugula (flea beetles!) The biggest success so far has been the lettuce. The fresh seed of mixed varieties has done spectacularly. I'm eating salads like a rabbit!

Of the butterhead type lettuces it looks like we'll get three heads of Merveille de Quatre Saisons, a red variety and two of the green one, Tom Thumb. I'm thinking spring rolls for the Tom Thumb.

Bean germination has been great for Lina Cisco's Birdsegg but the Jacob's Cattle Gasless is either very low or uneven. I'll give them another week and then plant something in the gaps if there's no progress. I've planted marigolds all around the beans to keep away Mexican bean beetles. I hope it works.

In the upper right corner of the whole-garden image you can see a section where I've planted under a floating row cover. The idea is to keep flea beetles and other pests off some crops including another planting of arugula. There are also sections of bok choy, mustard greens and kohlrabi under there.

Three tomato plants have gone in along with some bell peppers and a jalpeno. I have some roma tomatoes waiting for a free space. Hopefully the peas will bloom soon. We've eaten the one strawberry that ripened so far. The "greens" on the Bull's Blood" beet look beautiful. All my sunflower seedlings tanked before I could transplant them. There is now basil where the holey arugula was ripped out.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

A Bird in the Hand

This morning I got to do something I've wanted to for some time now. I went up to the Biocore Prairie Bird Observatory to observe and help out, to the extent a novice can, with bird banding.

To catch the birds, nearly invisible nets are erected at points around the prairie. Birds captured in the nets get a small, lightweight band attached to their leg. This band carries a unique identifying number so in the event a bird is seen again, the data collected from the previous capture can be compared to its current condition. This data includes various measurements of its size, health condition and breeding/nesting indicators.

While the bird itself may not enjoy the data collection very much what with being kept in a paper bag and suffering the indignity of having its nether regions blown on with a straw, it's contributing to a body of knowledge that helps us understand the life cycles and statuses of different bird populations and their habitats.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Cherry Blossoms

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Garden Day 7

Today I tackled the redesign. The two large raised beds that composed the north two thirds of the garden were converted to three long beds I could actually reach to the middles of. They're not especially even. I then covered the paths with newspaper mulch. I was going to further mulch them with leaves but there were no carts available to haul the leaves. Not even
April and the gardens are a hive of activity.

Garden Day 6

Yesterday I got back out to the garden again and spent a couple more hours weeding. At first I was attacking the weeds with my trowel and now I have my first blisters of the season to show for it. Then I finally figured out a technique for shoveling up a piece of earth and picking the weeds out of it. It turned out to be much faster. Now about 2/3 of the garden is practically weed free except for the paths. I intend to just cultivate them and bury them in newspaper and leaves.

I met some members of the family across the main path while we were working. The man, who I assume is the father of the toddler that was happily exploring their garden told me "It's a good neighborhood. Lots of children." I thought that was a nice way to think about it. By taking an abandoned plot I had joined a neighborhood. However, he warned me that lots of children meant I shouldn't expect too many strawberries if I grow them. "They're as bad as rabbits!"

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

What to Grow...What to Grow...

I've spent some time this past winter pondering what to grow in our garden. It's probably been a good ten years or more since the co-conspirator and I shared a plot with our neighbor friends. Back then anything was something so we weren't too concerned about intensive production. For some reason--probably miserliness--I'm more focused on getting more bang for the buck from this year's plot. Consequently, the first part of the season is going to be focused on a variety of greens. Planted early and growing relatively quickly, I think I can get a succession of different crops in various overlapping combinations. I've purchased some seeds, dug some out of the cupboard that I was using for sprouting (radish sprouts in sushi rolls = yum!) and a friend has come through sharing a variety of seeds from his vast collection. At this point in time I have packets, jars and vials of:

Arugula - Apollo
Basil - Italian Genovese
Bean - Black Turtle
Bean - Black Valentine
Bean - Christmas
Bean - Henderson Bush Lima
Bean - Horto
Bean - Jacob's Cattle Gasless (!)
Bean - Lina Cisco's Bird Egg
Bean - Ralph Ducher's White Kidney
Beet - Bull's Blood
Broccoli Raab
Buckshorn Plantain, Minutina
Carrot - Dragon
Carrot - Scarlet Nantes
Cowpea - California Blackeye #5
Kohlrab - Purple and White Vienna Blend
Lettuce - Lettuce Mixture (SSE)
Lettuce - Lolla Rossa
Lettuce - Tango
Lettuce - Tom Thumb (Butterhead)
Lettuce -Marvel of Four Seasons
Mache, Corn Salad
Mustard Green - Ruby Streaks
Nho Gai
Pea - Dwarf Gray Sugar
Racicchio - Carmen
Radish - Chinese Rose Winter
Root Parsley - Hamburg Root Parsley
Shinguku Chrysanthemum Greens
Silverbeet - Five Color
Spinach - Bloomsdale
Spinach - Correnta
Spinach - Olympia
Sunflower - Italian White
Sunflower - Moulin Rouge

Later I'll be planting at least tomatoes and probably peppers as well. Have I mentioned that the garden is a whopping 250 square feet including paths?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Garden Day 1

I've started working in our garden plot. As I mentioned before, we applied for a plot in the Eagle Heights Community Garden this season. Recently we found out we got one and this past weekend was the official opening. Yesterday I set aside an hour after work to get up there and start doing I didn't really know what, but I did know I wanted to get going. It's a good thing I dug right in.

As it turns out, our particular plot was in need of a lot of cleanup. In the foreground you can see two raised areas, the one farther back bearing a mysterious heap. Beyond them is yet another bed that spanned the whole plot, half of which belongs this year to someone we haven't yet met. It is, as the foreground bed was, covered in plastic mulch surrounding some kind of abandoned cabbagey plants. Sprinkled thickly through the paths and on the mounds are patches of quackgrass. After half an hour of desperate hoeing, cultivating and cursing (quietly--it's a family garden after all) I realized the only way to get rid of it was to painstakingly dig out each plant with a trowel. Even this way I know I'm not getting it all, but if I can set it back significantly it will help.

The mysterious heap appears to be where someone dumped what should have gone to the compost heap when they didn't feel like traveling that far. It's a mess of soil, plant parts--including more quackgrass!--and scraps of landscape fabric. I hauled some of it away but am now thinking it will be easier to just rake it out, pick out the weeds and trash and let it finish composting in place.

Day one was discouraging. I'm terribly out of shape so a single hour of chopping, digging and hauling has left me a little stiff and sore. I've decided I can't really in good conscience have the plot tilled as I had planned to. The process would just chop up and redistribute the quackgrass. So, I've got hours of trowel zen in front of me. There's no quick, brute strength solution. I'll just plod on believing there is going to be a really fantastic salad at some point in my future.

Next time: What I may grow

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Christmas in March!

OK, not really. In fact, I just dragged the xmas tree to the curb that had been serving as a bird perch in the back yard. But my Helleborus niger are blooming! One of their common names is Christmas Rose because in some places they bloom around the end of December. I've only once found a small, weak flower on mine in that season. Instead, these sit with their buds right at ground level all winter. This way they can even beat the Crocus to the punch, provided the snow goes away as it did this last week.

Also, coincidentally, I bought some Christmas Beans while I was visiting Alabama last week. I know nothing about them other than that they're a "pole lima" type. It's cool that I can buy almost a pound of them in bulk for cooking for about the same price a few dozen individual beans would have cost me in a seed packet. I haven't decided how I'll cook them. I may even save a few to plant in my garden this year. I mostly got them because I thought they looked cool.

Saturday, February 20, 2010


The co-conspirator and I are both nursing colds so this afternoon a pot of chili developed on the stove. As time for dinner approached I decided a good chili deserved some good corn bread. I turned to an old stand-by recipe, Skillet-Sizzled Buttermilk Cornbread from Crescent Dragonwagon's (I'm not making that up) Dairy Hollow House Soup & Bread cookbook. You'll see why.

I started out with some pretty course cornmeal. This stuff has some tooth to it but it's wonderful in everything from cornbread to waffles. I love the texture of a good cornmeal as much as the flavor.

It got incorporated into the dry ingredients with my secret ingredient, some kernel corn. Use some fresh, home grown stuff if you can but frozen works well, too.

Since I didn't have any traditional buttermilk on hand I fell back on a good alternative. Dry, powdered buttermilk is a great staple to keep on hand for occasions like this. And I could go on more about what Organic Valley has meant to the county of my birth, but I'll save that for another day.

To make up for the lack of liquid buttermilk I just added the correct amount of water to the dry ingredients and whisked them well. Maybe a little too well. Aw, what the heck. Those bubbles will just make the finished product lighter!

Now comes the fun part that sets this recipe apart. I warmed up a cast iron skillet and melted some butter in it, swirling it around to coat the inside.

Working quickly I then dumped the wet ingredients on the dry...

...and then just stirred enough to bring the ingredients together.

Next I poured the batter into the buttery, hot skillet. This is where the sizzle comes in! You can see the browning butter and creamy batter meeting in some really great kitchen alchemy.

In a fit of inspiration I sprinkled some smoked paprika across the top and put it in the oven. The result was moist, tangy, and flavorful!