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Friday, July 24, 2015

Everything you Need to Know about Prepping and Cooking Dried Beans, Plus Tons of Recipes to Use Them in

I absolutely love any sort of legumes--chickpeas, lentils, red beans, navy beans, cranberry beans, the works!  I look forward to a good vegetarian meal based on beans, mmm mmm!  They're hearty, healthy, versatile, easy-to-make, and delicious!  For some reason, dried beans have gotten a bad reputation with even good cooks.  They've come to be known as finicky, difficult, or troublesome to make.    I hope that this recipe, along with some key tips will help change your mind and get you excited about putting on a pot of beans in your house.

How to Prep Dried Beans
The very first step when cooking dried beans is to sort them or pick out any deformed or split beans or any small stones that may be mixed in.  Once you sort the beans, give them a good rinse or two to clean them.  After cleaning, the next process is soaking.

When cooking dried beans, proper soaking is a must.  There are quick-soaking methods using boiling water and doing a thirty minute soak, but I find that for creamy, tender beans that remain whole during cooking rather than bursting out of their skins, a good, old-fashioned soak is best.  Quick soaks work in a pinch, but with a little planning, you can cook perfect, restaurant quality beans.

While salt is often discouraged during cooking because it is believed to harden the beans, it actually serves the opposite purpose during the soaking process.  For a 1 lb bag of dried beans, soak them in 10 cups of warm water with 2 TB of salt dissolved into it.  This trick comes from Cook's Illustrated and TheKitchn blog.  The salt makes for perfectly creamy beans with tender skins.  Be sure to soak for at least four hours, but overnight works just fine.  Even two days is okay.

How to Select Dried Beans
I found out the hard way that the date on beans matters, even if they aren't expired.  The closer the expiration date, the harder the beans, even if the date seems way far away.  Always, always, always check the date on your beans and get the one with the expiration date that is the furthest away.  That being said, at some stores, that doesn't help much because no one ever buys beans there.  Buy your beans where there is high turnover.  It makes all the difference.  Many times, I have cooked beans for hours upon hours and they never tenderized.  Thanks to a tip from TheKitchn, finally, I learned that the freshness of the beans impacts the cook time and their ability to tenderize.  On that note, don't go out stockpiling beans unless you plan on burning through them pretty quickly.  Don't buy beans unless you plan on using them with a reasonable amount of time.  Freshness matters, even with dried beans.

How to Cook Dried Beans
Before cooking your soaked beans, be sure to rinse off the soaking liquid.  This is important for ease of digestion, as the dried beans release a difficult-to-digest protein.  Rinsing helps to alleviate some of the digestive woes that some people face.  If you are one of those people, the more you eat beans, the less they will irritate your stomach.  The same is true of milk.

As far as cooking methods go, there are a few different options.  I will outline the advantages of each.

1. Pressure Cooker
This is my method of choice.  It's quick, it's easy, and it gives you creamy beans without the fuss.  I know you've all heard awful stories of pressure cooker mishaps, but these days, you can find them with a number of excellent safety features to prevent the horrible injuries of the past.  Just the same, be sure to follow the manual's instructions.  I strongly recommend the two burner method if you have an electric stove.  This means that you get the pressure cooker up to high on one burner as you have another burner going on low to medium, depending on what is being cooked and the type of cooker.  Once optimal pressure is achieved, move the pot to the lower heat burner and turn off the high heat burner.  The only disadvantage here is that you can't see how your beans are progressing.  This means that you have to find the cook time for your specific type of bean on one of the many pressure cooking time charts online.

2. Slow Cooker
A slow cooker ensures tender, whole beans every time.  The problem, however, is that it takes all day.  If you're in no rush, go for it.  You can always set your beans at night and wake up to a pot of cooked beans or start them first thing in the morning to enjoy them once you get home from work.  The advantage here is that you can watch your bean's cooking progress.  If you are using a less common bean, this is a great way to ensure that you don't ruin them.  You can always cook them on a Saturday and check on them after four hours, then every hour after that to be sure that they cook properly.

3. Stove Top Conventional Pot
This is a method that I strongly discourage.  I see people do it online sometimes, but unless you live in an area with super fresh dried beans (Yes, I realize that's a bit of a contradiction), then your beans will require far too long of a cook time for this method to be practical.  If you choose this method, you'd do everything the same as anything else that you cook, and I'd recommend a lid.  I suggest going with medium heat, but I've seen people do high heat all the way and still get whole beans.  I think this has a lot to do with having fresher beans than I'll ever get where I live, so choose your method accordingly.

How to Season Beans
I change my beans up all the time.  While my all time favorite beans are Colombian, I sometimes do Jamaican, Haitian, Nicaraguan, or even Cuban.  Below is a go-to recipe that is inspired by the Colombian version.  My favorite beans are the plump, tender, soft-skinned, mildly-flavored cranberry beans used in Colombian frijoles antioquen~os or beans Antioquia style.

Best Colombian-Inspired Cranberry Beans
1 lb soaked dried cranberry beans (not the same as kidney)
2 medium carrots
Mix of red, yellow orange, and or green bell peppers (equivalent to amount of 1 total bell pepper)
1 medium onion
2 green onions
2 cloves of garlic

1. 1/4 c fresh cilantro (added in last few minutes of cooking.  You can chop it or leave it whole and pull it out)

2. splash of bitter orange juice or vinegar (added in last minute or two of cooking)

3. 1 cup coconut milk, added into cooked beans and cooked 8-10 min or so more.

4.  Dominican style - No green onion, 2 TB tomato paste, cooked with 1 red onion, green pepper, couple sprigs each of cilantro and parsley, good pinch of dried oregano, onion, and garlic until darkened .  Add in after beans are tender and cook 8-10 min.  Add in small cubes buttercup squash from beginning of cooking (optional).  Sub all peppers for 1 cubanelle pepper, if available.  Add in a splash of bitter orange juice at end of cooking.

5. Colombian style - Use ham hock and part of liquid chicken stock, Add in 1 tsp cumin, cook green onion with 1 cup  fresh tomatoes and 1 TB olive oil.  Add in 1/4c fresh cilantro at end of cooking.

6. Haitian style -  no green onion, 5 whole cloves, few sprigs fresh parsley, 1 tsp or so thyme or equivalent in fresh thyme.  Sub onions for a few shallots, if available.  Add in 1 can coconut milk to cooked beans and cook for 8-10 minutes.

7. Mexican style - Add in stove top dry roasted and peeled peppers like poblano, ancho, serrano, jalapeno, etc along with roasted garlic and roasted onion.

8. Cuban style - All green bell peppers, no green onion, 2 tsp cumin, 1 bay leaf, ham hock or other smoked ham, add in small cubes buttercup squash from beginning of cooking.  May add a pinch of sugar, depending on type of bean.

9. Jamaican style - 1 can coconut milk with 2-3 sprigs fresh thyme, and 1 whole habanero pepper.  Add in spinner dumplings in last 15-20 min, optional.  These are long, finger shaped dumplings made only with flour, water, salt, and pepper, and no or very little fat in the way of butter (1 -2 tsp).

10. American style - cook with ham hock or smoked turkey leg, one whole onion, 1 clove garlic, 1 bay leaf, salt and pepper.

What to Do with All Those Beans
Beans are so incredibly versatile.  While I am perfectly happy with a pot of well-seasoned beans, there are so many other things to do with them.

1. Hearty Bean Soup Bowls
In Colombian cuisine, there is a deliciously inventive treat called frijoles antioquen~os made from a base of bean soup that is turned into a complete, balanced meal.  Top your bean soup with any or all of the following toppings: chunks of avocado, cooked fresh or frozen corn kernels, chopped crispy french fries, small fried pork chunks (or you can sub in other great meats like cooked oxtail, pig tail, ham hocks, or neck bones).  It sounds crazy, but it's truly amazing!  You get savory meat, sweet, crunchy corn, creamy beans and avocado chunks, and crispy fries and pork, yum!

2. Refried Beans
In 2 TB or so of oil, sautee about 1/4 onion and 1/4 green bell pepper, a clove of garlic, and, if desired, hot pepper.  Not all beans will need the extra seasoning, so if yours don't just use the oil and skip the rest.  Once veggies softened, if using, stir in about two cups of well-strained beans.  Cook over medium to medium high heat until any liquid evaporates, stirring constantly.  Smash beans with the bottom a flat, heat proof glass until smooth.  Stir beans until they form a big patty and no longer stick to the pan.  At this point, they're ready to enjoy!

I love refried beans with griddle tortilla, rice, and fried eggs for breakfast...or lunch, or dinner!  It's simple and satisfying.  You can use the refried beans as a side with rice or whatever else you like.  You could even make wraps as you would with hummus.  Just add in steamed veggies (broccoli, carrots, etc) either hot or cold,black olives, tomato lettuce, and even sour cream or cheese, if you like.

3. Cornmeal Country Bean Cakes
My mom was a skeptic, but she loves these.  In fact, everyone who has tried them does.  The crispy edges studded with creamy beans is the perfect textural juxtaposition, and the delicious corn flavor would please any good southerner.  If you like cornbread, you'll love these.  They're so easy and oh so very good!  Check out this great recipe from the Chickens in the Road blog.

4. Refried Bean Veggie Wraps
This is so easy and so very hearty and satisfying.  Once you make your refried beans, cover them and set them aside.  Using butter, lightly grease a hot pan over medium high heat.  Pass a flour wrap through the butter, being sure to coat both sides.  Be mindful, this is not even a tsp of butter.  Cook one side of the tortilla until bubbles up on the top and gets crispy, blistered and golden brown, spotted with dark brown on the bottom.  Flip the tortilla and repeat the cooking process.  Spread the pre-heated refried beans on your tortilla and top with steamed carrots, broccoli or whatever other cooked veggies you desire, along with  tomato, pickled jalapenos, and warmed and halved olives.  Feel free to add fresh herbs like cilantro or parsley here too.  Top with the shredded cheese of your choice, I used mozz.  Roll the wrap and griddle the seam and top in the hot pan until it sets in place and forms a crust and the cheese melts.  Here's the kicker, open up your wrap again and throw in cold chopped cucumbers.  They add a great crunch and a refreshing coolness.  Re-seal the wrap and enjoy!  Too good!

If you want something really hearty, spread the beans on thick.  It almost forms a meat-like texture and definitely gives you a full belly like meat.  If you're just too big of a carnivore, throw in some shredded chicken and call it a day.  Save your time and effort and just use a rotisserie chicken for an easy weeknight meal.  My carnivore husband loved this meatless and it fully satisfied his appetite without the double dose of beans.

5. Tostadas
Fry your own yellow tortilla or buy pre-fried tostadas at any supermarket.  Spread on a layer of refried beans then layer meat, sour cream, guac, lettuce, cheese, etc.  These can be an app. or a meal, depending on what you layer on it and how many you serve.  These are typically served with all cold ingredients, but hey, your food, your choice.  Be creative.

6. Bean Dip
We've all seen the 5 or 7 or 9 layer dips.  Think how wonderful yours would be with homemade, well-seasoned beans rather than some junk from a can.

How to Store Extra Beans
Finally, if you don't plan on using all of the beans within about five days, go ahead and freeze them on the same day as cooking.  Just pop them into a freezer bag.  It's worth making a big pot anytime you cook beans, and you'll be happy to be able to just thaw, heat, and eat them.

Let me know what you think.  How did you like the recipes?  Do you have any tips or tricks for beans?  How do you eat your beans?  What are your favorite beans?

References: http://www.mycolombianrecipes.com/how-to-make-frisoles-antioquenos, TheKitchn.com, http://chickensintheroad.com/cooking/country-bean-cakes/

Friday, July 17, 2015

Portuguese-Inspired Poached Fish in Tomato Sauce

So my husband decided that he was going on a diet, and he wanted to try his hand at baking fish to get more lean protein.  Inside I sighed the biggest sigh ever, and I said to him "Don't you dare leave me stuck with this bag of frozen fish.  You know how I feel about that stuff."  Anyway, a couple months later and nothing has been done with that fish, of course.  Humbug!  After living in Miami, I got really picky about seafood being fresh.  I can taste it when restaurants serve frozen seafood, and it's a huge pet peeve for me, so I definitely do not buy it for my house.  The only time it's tolerable for me is when it's fried, and I almost never fry food, so that wasn't happening either.  Well, my husband changed all of that for me because here I was, stuck with a family size bag of frozen Whiting.  *Hmph*

Time to get creative!  I was not about to do baked fish sitting in yucky frozen fish juices, so that was out.  I certainly wasn't frying fish either, so I had no idea what to do with the stuff.  I looked online to get my creative juices going, and I saw some fish baked in tomato sauce, tomato-based fish soup, fish in New Orleans Creole tomato sauce.  Okay, now that I can work with.  So, I decided to create something with my roma tomatoes and add lemon to hopefully mask the frozen fish taste.  Aha! Portuguese-style seafood!  So, I decided to create my own recipe inspired by Portuguese flavors.  I added my own twist, and below is the result--a delicious, fresh, lemony seafood in a bright tomato and wine sauce splashed with lemon.  SOOO good!  Not only was the frozen fish edible, but it was delicious and high-end restaurant quality.  It was a complete win!  Thanks to my husband, a stellar dish was born!

This dish is very informal in terms of quantities.  Everything is to taste.  There's no need for strict measurements here.  Feel free to adjust quantities to your preferences.

Portuguese-Inspired Poached Fish in Tomato Sauce
4 whiting fillets

1 red onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, mashed into a paste or finely minced

1 can of Hunt's no salt added diced tomatoes (crushed would work great too) or equivalent amount of Roma tomatoes

zest of about 3/4 of a lemon

fresh lemon juice

~1/2 c of dry white wine (I used Chardonnay)

1 sprig of fresh rosemary

sea salt and white pepper to taste (white pepper is smoky and much less abrasive in flavor than black.  Leave pepper out of the sauce completely if you don't have white.  Black is okay for the fish only.  Trust me here.)

olive oil for sauteing

1. If frozen, thaw the fish completely and drain any liquid that remains.  Cut the fillets in half, lengthwise.  Season with salt, white or black pepper, all of the lemon zest, and a good drizzle of lemon juice on both sides of fish pieces.  Set aside.

2. Saute the onion over medium heat, being sure to salt them well, in olive oil until softened.  Once softened, add in the tomatoes, rosemary, and garlic, adjust salt, and cook until the sauce is thick and the tomatoes have broken down and become saucy.

3. Once the tomatoes break down, add in the wine.  Just add until you reach the desired amount of sauce.  Allow the wine taste to cook out for about 2 minutes or so.

4. Drop the temperature to medium low, add the fish directly on top of the sauce, cover, and allow it to poach for 10-12 minutes.  Check it towards the end to avoid overcooking.  You know when the fish is done when it flakes easily with a fork.  It should not be hard, but tender and juicy.

Serve this delicious, super quick, gourmet delight with mashed, roasted, or fried potatoes, or white rice and the veggie of your choice.  We had my roasted squash and tomatoes.  YUM!  Tell me how much you love this dish!

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Cuban Frita Burgers

When I lived in Miami, there were burgers of all kinds--Korean Fusion burgers from Sakaya Kitchen and their delicious food truck, there were Colombian burgers with sweet and savory sauces of all varieties imaginable, and Cuban burgers, called fritas.  While Colombian burgers were probably my favorite, the frita (free.tah) is the most practical to make at home with ease.  These burgers are smoky and garlicky with a nice sweet zip from the ketchup.  You definitely do not need any sauces or anything like that on these burgers, as they are packed with flavor.  Cheese is optional, but potato stix are a must.

These red-tinged burgers are aromatic and irresistible and are sure to please your guests.  Even the pickiest eater will be won over by this Cuban treat.  If you're lucky, you can go old fashioned and sub the ground pork for Spanish chorizo.  Be careful here as it must be Spanish, not Mexican chorizo.  You want that nice paprika-laced sausage that isn't the least bit spicy.  In Miami, they sell ground Spanish chorizo in the pack, just as you can buy ground beef here.  If you can find Spanish chorizo around, it's even better.  Either way, you're in for a real treat!  I hope this delicious frita becomes a staple in your home, just as it is in mine.  For me, it's the only way to eat a burger at home, well...this and portabella mushroom and beef combo.  Enjoy!

Cuban fritas

1/2 - 3/4 lb ground pork
1 lb ground beef
2-3 TB ketchup (or 2 TB tomato paste can also work)
5 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 onion, finely diced
1 tsp cumin
1-1/2 tsp paprika
1 tsp salt
1 TB cilantro leaves (measure before chopping) then chop (most people don't use this, but I love it)

1.Mix together by hand all ingredients above and grill as normal.

2. Top the burgers with shoestring potato stix, a slice of cheese.  Typically, you use American cheese, but I like provolone too.  In fact, I like to use one slice of each, yum!

References for inspiration

Monday, January 19, 2015

Homestyle Chicken and Dumplings with Rotisserie Chicken (Gluten-free and Traditional Recipes)

Chicken and dumplings is, hands down, my favorite dish of all time!  It's simple, warm, comforting, and hearty.  Having a bowl of chicken and dumplings is like a warm hug from grandma.  It just melts away the troubles of the day.

When I was younger, my mother would make chicken and dumplings, and it was delicious!  Whenever she didn't make it, I would ask my grandma, and she would always cook up a pot of her yummy chicken and dumplings.  I loved both versions, but my mom tended to make the soupier version, while my grandmother would make the thicker soup with more flour in it.  I was always partial to the thicker version and it's comforting creaminess, although there is actually no cream or milk in it.  If I am not mistaken, they both used cream of celery or cream of chicken for their base.  I know for sure that my mom does.  However, in the interest of cutting sodium and preservatives, I say try making the thick soup base yourself.  It takes no time, and you know exactly what's in it.  

Due to having to be on a gluten-free diet, I went without this dish for two years.  After much trial and error, my mom finally came up with  this trick for getting cornstarch to create results much like those of a flour roux.  It works great, and I was finally able to have chicken and dumplings just like my mom and grandmother used to make again!

While both my mom and my grandma used a fresh whole chicken, this version uses a rotisserie chicken to save time.  With this small adjustment, you can have chicken and dumplings for an easy weeknight meal, and it will be ready in a flash!  To adapt this recipe for a fresh chicken, just cut the chicken into pieces (I would also remove the skin) and cook until it is falling off the bone.  I hope you fall in love with this delicious classic soup, just like I did.



All dark meat of a medium rotisserie chicken, pulled in medium chunks (by hand, simple and rustic, remove skin)
6 c homemade chicken or turkey stock
½ onion, diced
2-3 stalks celery, cubed
Two carrots, sliced into 1/4" rounds
1/3c – 1/2c frozen green peas, thawed
1 stalk fresh thyme
Trader Joe's 21 seasoning salute to taste
Salt to tastes
Generous amount of coarsely ground black pepper (fresh is ideal)
1 TB butter (for finishing)


2 cups water
about 3 TB cornstarch (can skip this and simply whisk 2 TB flour into a cup of soup broth and whisk in before adding back to soup for traditional recipe)


2 c flour (sub with gluten-free AP flour mix for gluten-free)
1 TB baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 TB butter
1 c milk


1.       1. Add chicken chunks, celery, thyme, and onion to stock, cover, and bring to a boil over medium heat.  Allow to continue cooking.
2. Meanwhile, begin the slurry by whisking cornstarch into water and bringing to medium heat in a small pot.  Season with salt and pepper and whisk constantly, until thickened.

3. Once thick enough, stir in a few ladles of broth until homogeneous and add to soup.

4. Prepare dumplings by stirring together all dry ingredients and cutting in butter with a pastry blender to form a coarse sand. 

5. Form a well, pour in milk, and gradually blend in flour until well blended.  On a floured surfaced, knead until smooth, uniform dough forms.  Will be slightly sticky.

6. Roll dough out to about ¼” thickness and slice into strips about 1.5” – 2” wide and 2-3” long.

7. Add carrots to soup and stir in dumplings.  Adjust salt and pepper.

8. Cook covered for about 15 minutes over medium heat, stirring occasionally.

9. Stir in thawed peas and cook for 5 minutes more. 

10. Stir in butter, adjust seasoning, and serve.