Savory Baked Beans on a Rainy Day

It was a dreary day in Seattle recently and I decided to make a batch of savory beans, slowly baked in the oven with herbs and garlic. And then I looked at my assembled-in-5-min-and-ready-to-go-into-the-oven beans and was inspired to write about it. Perhaps you are wondering where the heck I have been. That’s part of the inspiration too….to let the kind souls who have asked about me know that I haven’t fallen off the face of the earth or succumbed to some weird illness. I’ve been flying almost every other week for work.(Exciting you say? Not really. Though the flight into and subsequent drive from Missoula to Kalispell, Montana was quite beautiful. And wee Grangeville, ID is cuter than I expected it to be…). Plus getting myself slightly over committed with a few work and volunteer projects, and being a hockey mom and then there’s the fact that my year of food blogging put 10 lbs on me from all the thinking, tasting, re-envisioning and re-making (and re-tasting) of food! So I lost inspiration for a while. And seriously…of all the foods to lead to the first post in 4 months, it was the lowly bean? Not so glamorous. But VERY much in the comfort food camp. AND it’s healthy, low fat, high fiber, low glycemic and DELICIOUS! Ok, I’ll stop shouting now. Go make this.

Mixed beans with lots of herbs

Mixed beans with lots of herbs. Though next time I’d use about 1/2 the amount of rosemary pictured here.

Savoury Slow Baked Beans
From my mom, who might have read something somewhere about this method but then just made up her own recipe. She really should have her own blog.

Here’s the general method:
Combine dried beans in a large pot, fill with cold water and soak overnight. Then, drain and place in (several) baking dish(es), add a glug of olive oil and broth/stock of your choice to just cover the beans. Nestle in lots of halved garlic cloves and whichever fresh herbs you want, stems and all, celery stalks, chopped onion. NO SALT. Cover and bake at 350 – 375ºF for 2-3 hours. Check half way, you might need to add more liquid. Beans should be soft when finished. Take out the herb stems and celery stalks, smash in the garlic, onion and season to taste with salt. What you do next is up to you:
-eat in a bowl with a dash of hot sauce
-make some toast and scoop some beans on top
-serve a scoop over rice or quinoa
-puree to make a bean spread/dip
-puree along with cooked vegetables,additional stock or cream for a creamy soup
-use as a starter for a brothy vegetable bean soup

Tips:
Don’t include black beans with others unless you want it to look super dark.
Use rosemary sparingly. It will overpower the other flavors
Don’t salt until beans are soft

Roasted Fennel. Or, How Not to Be Bested by a Bulb

Ok, I did it. I admitted defeat. It was an exhausting inner struggle and finally I decided that I was the lesser in this battle and the sooner I accepted that, the better. So the garden won, and I gave up and hired a local guy to show my overgrown, weed-infested front yard who’s boss because I clearly could not be bothered was not up for the task. And I feel much improved. And it looks better than it has in years. Sometimes you have to admit defeat. Much like I also did the other night when I couldn’t stop munching on graham crackers with honey….I knew it was PMS….so I went with the flow (ha ha ha…see what I did there?) and caved in to the Borg hormones because I knew resisting was futile. TMI? Bad Star Trek jokes? Sorry….well, we’re all friends here, right?

Well one thing I did not let defeat me was my lack of interest in fennel. I’ve avoided it for years thinking who wants to eat a vegetable that tastes like black licorice? WRONG! It was reminiscent of celery but with a deeper flavour, sweeter, and it was wonderful! No licorice taste….ok maybe the merest hint, but it was so subtle. Cut in quarters, drizzled with olive oil sprinkled with coarse salt and pepper and roasted until tender with crispy bits. It was fantastic. We even persuaded Evan to try some and he replied with “Not bad”, but politely declined any further bites. More for us! Fennel will definitely be on the menu more often.

Roasted Fennel

2-3 fennel bulbs, trimmed of stalks and greens, and cut in quarters
Olive oil
Coarse salt and cracked pepper

Drizzle fennel with olive oil and a splash of balsamic if you like. Sprinkle with sea salt and cracked pepper. Roast at 400° until tender and edges are crispy. About 15-20 min.

Quick Rustic Ratatouille

The veggies in the photo above look so fresh don’t they? It’s all the bright colours I think. I bet you have a ton of zucchini and tomatoes in your garden…maybe even peppers and eggplant. Me? None. Zero. Zilch. It was not my gardening year. It was not Eggton‘s gardening year either. Check out her video. Oh, and read her. She’s funny as hell and always includes pictures of her kids dogs and posts yummy recipes.

For me, there was too much work travel this summer and then lack of motivation to get out there and work in the yard. I can only speak for myself because Bob has a garden too (he takes care of the back yard, I deal with the front) but he grew different stuff. Garlic, onions, peas, beans and some weird looking heirloom tomatoes, oh and corn! A few cobs actually grew this year. That was cool. His stuff looks great. Mine sucks. But I’m not competing or anything. 🙂

Ok so back to the photo of the ratatouille. The tomatoes and herbs are fresh but everything else has been quickly roasted until tender and the flavours are wonderful. You can make ratatouille any time of year, but there’s nothing better than when everything is in season. (And even better when they come from your own garden but I’ll leave that to you guys, ok?).

This is a quick, rustic rat that’s super simple to throw together. It really benefits from fresh herbs so if you don’t grow them yourself, splurge on them because it will be worth it.

Slice the zucchini in rounds, the eggplants in spears and roughly chop the peppers and onions into ~1″ pieces and toss everything into a mixing bowl as you go. Add salt and pepper. I didn’t measure the salt and pepper but you can see the amount I ground in. Add more if you like.

You dump it all onto a rimmed baking sheet and roast it quickly at high heat. While it’s in the oven you prep the tomatoes and herbs and toss it all together with the hot veggies.

We like ratatouille as a side dish or tossed in pasta, rice or quinoa as a main meal. It makes a great cold pita sandwich with a smear of hummus. I just had it again for lunch tossed with fusilli, some feta cheese and a drizzle of balsamic. Serious yum!

Quick Rustic Ratatouille
Thanks to my mom for this recipe…I’m not sure where she got it but she adapted it and then I did…..) Preheat the oven to 475º.

Cut and toss into a large bowl:
1 small eggplant, cut into thick spears
2 med zucchini, cut in rounds
1 med onion, coarsely chopped
3 bell peppers coarsely chopped
6 cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped (I’m starting to sound like a broken record. Hmmmm…kids today probably don’t know what that means.)

Toss with: 3 tbsp olive oil, salt and pepper and spread out onto a rimmed baking sheet (spray it or spread out a little olive oil on the sheet first)
Roast for 15 min or until the veg are tender.

While the veg are roasting: 
Chop: large handfuls of basil, flat-leaf parsley and cilantro (have about 1-1.5 cups of chopped herbs)
Halve: lots of cherry tomatoes

Take the vegetables out of the oven, stir in the tomatoes and herbs and transfer to a large platter. Enjoy!

First Day of School French Fries

Well, my kid is in Grade 2 now. Sorry, I mean 2nd Grade. My dual-citizen kiddo is really very American and gets mad if you call it Grade 2. There was excitement over a new lunchbox, cool school supplies (I loved school for the school supplies alone! I can spend all day in Staples now….), and a very grown up boy got washed and dressed, made his bed and cleared his breakfast dishes without being asked.

But then the anxiety hit and there was worry, and withering confidence and my very grown up boy became a very teary boy as we walked closer to school. So different from kindergarten when he proudly sat at his Very Own Desk and announced with a giant grin that we could go now. Almost 8 means more to think about, a bit less naïveté about the world, new awareness of things….and more anxiety than Almost 6 did. I hugged him goodbye, loosened his desperate grip on my arm, gave him a thumbs up from the classroom door and managed to get a weak smile in return.

As expected though, I was greeted at 3:20 with light and energy and “My day was AWESOME!!!!”
And then there was the traditional First Day of School Ice Cream and a coffee (milk) together at Starbucks, and home made french fries with dinner.

Home Made French Fries

Use Yukon Gold or another white potato for good crispy fries. Cut them into sticks, place in a single layer on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Brush them with olive oil and sprinkle with coarse salt. Bake at 425º until brown. You probably have to turn them once but you can just push them around with a spatula unless you’re Type A enough to turn them individually with tongs. Serve with ketchup….and vinegar eh?

Mediterranean Baked Feta

Oh. You guys. You HAVE to make this. It’s simple and fantastic. We came home from camping and I saw Smitten Kitchen‘s post with all these ingredients I love…feta, kalmata olives, cherry tomatoes. This are the kinds of ingredients I use all the time. BUT I’d never had the idea to serve the feta warm. It takes it to a whole new level. After a week of hot dogs, s’mores, cold cereal, etc this was just what we needed. You need this too.

Slice cherry tomatoes in half, chop olives, toss with thiny sliced onion, minced garlic, oregano and a good grind of pepper.

Place tomato mixture around and on top of a block of feta and bake. Serve immediately. Preferably outside on a deck somewhere.

Mediterranean Baked Feta

You can serve this on crackers, flatbread, pita chips, soft pita etc. Or if you’re watching your bread carbs/gluten try it on cucumber rounds (patted dry), in a lettuce wrap, endive leaves, grape leaves….or just eat it with a spoon!

1/3 – 1/2 lb block feta
1/2 cup sliced cherry tomatoes
1/3 cup kalmata olives, diced (measure with whole olives, then dice)
1/4 cup thinly sliced onion
1-2 thumb-sized cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp dried or 1 tbsp fresh, chopped oregano
pepper

Preheat oven to 400ºF. Place block of feta in an oven-proof dish and set aside. In a separate bowl, gently toss tomatoes, onions, garlic, oregano together. Then place around and on top of feta. Add a good grind of pepper on top and bake for about 15 min.

Serve immediately. Feta will not melt, but will be spreadable. As it cools it will firm up but can be popped in the oven again. I think it won’t last long enough to really cool down! You could also make a balsamic reduction and drizzle it over when you take the feta out of the oven. (To make a reduction, pour some good balsamic in a sauce pan and heat over med-high until it becomes thick and syrupy).

Roasted Garden Veggies

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I had the house to myself today for the first time in a while. And though I had to spend the majority of it working, the opportunity to wander through the garden looking for lunch gave me a lift. I felt a little bit guilty snagging the first beets and carrots that were ready but I got over it pretty quick.

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I’ve always been pretty sure you can roast just about anything and it will be good. I had visions of turning those green beans into crispy bean-fries or something. I tossed them in olive oil and coarse salt but they were terrible. I’ll have to work on that one. Anyone have any ideas? But the beets and carrots are naturals for roasting. All you need are olive oil, coarse salt, pepper and whole sage leaves (which get all crispy, like little sage chips). Roast at 400º for about 20 min or until fork tender. A rainbow on my plate. Yum.

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Tomato and White Bean Salad

I’ve been waiting for months to make this salad again. Waiting for fresh tomatoes and sweet onions from the garden, basil from the pot on my front step…finally I couldn’t wait any longer. If I waited for my own tomatoes it would be late August before this came to be so we made do. Bob bought some unbelievable cherry tomatoes…so pretty!

These are not from my garden!

But this onion did come from our backyard. The first year growing them and we lucked out. They are very mild and perfect for eating in salad. (Try a slice of sharp cheddar cheese with a small slice of mild onion on top. It’s one of the best flavour combos).

I think this photo is really cool. Love Instagram! Doesn’t this kind of look like it belongs in a film noir or something?

This salad should work as a main source of protein for the vegan/vegetarians and as a really great side dish for the carnivores. On its own with some bread (or not), it makes a perfect lunch, outside, feet up, with a good book. It doesn’t really work for Evan, who hasn’t decided he’s going to try fresh tomato, nor beans, let alone all mixed up in the same bowl! Plus there are “bits of green” in it, which crosses it off his list immediately. So we ate this salad with some flank steak and quinoa. Bob The Veg ate the quinoa and salad, Selective Evan had quinoa and steak and I happily enjoyed all three. One meal, three ways.

Tomato and White Bean Salad
We were in a hurry when I made this salad and completely forgot to make a vinaigrette but it didn’t need it in the end. If you want one, drizzle some olive oil and vinegar. Use a mild vinegar like champagne vinegar or rice vinegar.

1 can small white beans
1 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered or larger tomato diced small
1/2 cup diced mild onion
1/2 cup basil, sliced in ribbons
coarse salt and pepper to taste

Boys, Bikes, and Bonfires…oh, and a quinoa salad.

I remember three things from a summer camping trip when I was little.

1) Arbitrarily deciding I no longer liked apple juice, to the frustration of my mother who had just handed me a plastic Tupperware cup full (with those impossibly tight fitting lids – remember them?).

2) Running up to three tall wooden ‘Huey, Dewey and Louie’ ducks , patting each on the head, and naming them Mac, Two, and Quack after the campground. Only last summer, while roadtripping from Boston to Moncton, NB did I realize that long-ago campground was in Mactaquac Provincial Park (don’t laugh too hard, my French-speaking friends!).

3) Sitting on a picnic blanket at dusk, excited to be outside in my PJ’s WAY past my bedtime, to watch Bedknobs and Broomsticks on a giant outdoor movie screen.

I don’t have any other specific memories of that trip, turns out I was only about 3 1/2, but I remember the magical feeling.

So this year we argued about packed up the car made the 3:05, 3:35, 4:20 5:00pm Fauntleroy to Southworth ferry, and went camping. With two other families, we had five boys made up of three school friends (7yo) plus an older (15) and a younger (5) sib. The 15 y.o was a doll and I hope we do as good a job with E as his parents have done with him!

Fishing with a reed grass pole

Boys are genetically programmed to poke sticks in fires

Blurry boys. Not my fault, they just move too damn fast!

My speedy kid

It was a busy campground, not super-private, with showers and flush toilets and paved paths and is probably a cop-out to backpacking-with-your-tiny-tent-and-purify-your-own-water types. It wasn’t quite the Walmart of campgrounds though, I’ll reserve that for the one we were at a couple of years ago where some woman in full make up and heels was patiently waiting in the bathroom for the deluxe coffeemaker she’d lugged in to finish brewing.

Early morning blueberry pancakes and coffee. Life couldn’t get better.

Now, I am an admitted coffee snob but this is camping people! No electrical appliances allowed! But our camping stovetop perc had seen better days and so we went with the next best thing: Starbucks VIA baby! Normally I wouldn’t be caught dead drinking instant but we thought we’d try it and VIA totally raises the bar. Seriously, it rocked. The only thing better would have been some freshly ground Pike Place Roast or my fave: tall skinny vanilla latte.

This ain’t your mother’s instant.

The other smart thing we did was make Julie‘s Curried Quinoa Salad with Black Beans and Mango ahead of time. It travels well, is filling and fresh either on its own or keeping a hot dog company. My picky kid with the suspicious palate wouldn’t touch it, but other kids did! And the beans and quinoa give a ton of protein for the vegetarian who was not having hot dogs.

Yes, those white things are onion, but they’re super mild.

Curried Quinoa Salad with Black Beans and Mango
adapted from Dinner with Julie

1 cup (uncooked) quinoa
1-2 ripe mangoes, diced
1 cup diced cucumber
1 red pepper, diced
1/2 cup diced mild onion or 2-3 chopped green onions
1 cup chopped/torn spinach
1-2 cups chopped cilantro
1 19oz can of black beans, drained and rinsed

Cook quinoa according to package directions and put in a large but shallow bowl to cool. Chop the vegetables and toss with the cooled quinoa. Drizzle with the dressing below.

Dressing:
1/4 cup canola oil
2-4 tbsp vinegar (rice, champagne, wine)
1 tsp honey
1 tsp curry powder
1/4 tsp cumin
Whisk to combine and drizzle over the salad. Watch the amount, you might use more or less depending on how wet you like your salad.

Butter Beans with Leeks and Thyme

Evan will not eat this. Not one bite. But I guess I don’t really blame him, being 7 and all….the texture of beans is something that doesn’t come easy to many kids.  No matter, it was terrific for the adults and with the meal rounded out by a roast chicken (which he does eat), and some steamed broccoli (which he eats when he’s in a good mood, but only out of “just one bite” obligation), it all worked out in the end.

You can start with canned butter beans, but I much prefer starting with dried if the thought crosses my mind in enough time to make it happen. They hold their shape better and aren’t as mushy as canned beans can get. Soak them overnight in cold water or do a quick boil and then soak for 90 min or so. The bag of beans will have instructions. But seriously, you just throw the beans in a mixing bowl with cold water and leave it. The next morning just drain them and put them in the fridge until you’re ready to do more with them.

I sweated the leeks and a clove of garlic (kept whole) in a bit of butter and olive oil, until the leeks were soft, added the thyme, salt and pepper and a good glug of white wine. Then I tossed it all with the beans, some stock, a bit of heavy cream (just a bit) and popped it in the oven for about 40 min. Easy. All you need to do next is chill for a while until its time to cut up the already roasted chicken you got at the grocery store (brilliant invention). AND if you go with bag o’ broccoli, it only takes about 3 minutes to steam it.

I totally forgot to take photos of the butter beans as they came out of the oven. But they looked pretty similar, just deeper in colour and creamier.

Butter Beans with Leeks and Thyme

2 cups dried butter beans (or 2 cans, drained and rinsed)
2 leeks, white and a bit of green only
2 tsp dried thyme
1/3 cup dry white wine
~1/2 cup broth/stock (if you’re using canned beans you may only need a bit to keep them moist in the oven)
salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp heavy cream (optional)

Slice/dice the leeks and toss in a frying pan with a bit of olive oil and a clove of garlic (whole). Stir fry about 3-5 min on med-high, then add thyme and stir around until fragrant. Add wine (pan should sizzle) and let it bubble for a couple of minutes. Meanwhile, put the drained beans in a casserole dish, then pour the leeks over top. Combine well. Stir in stock and cream, cover and put in the oven at 375° for about 40 minutes.

Hot Salad

Hot salad. Doesn’t that sound sexy? All right, I’m a geek. I guess you could just called it sautéed vegetables but that sounds so boring…and it also sounds like a side dish. This is a one dish meal. And it made a perfect lunch the other day. My inspiration is a local restaurant called 50 North where they make this wonderful Grilled Steak Salad that I strove to recreate at home. Of course, by the time I got around to making it at home, I couldn’t recall exactly what went into it, except that it had small diced vegetables and potatoes, some sautéed or braised greens, grilled steak on top and a cherry gastrique (a thick sauce made from a reduction of wine or vinegar, sugar, and fruit– I had to look that up…didn’t know what a gastrique was. Now that I know, I need to make it!)

What’s great about this salad is that it’s filling with the potatoes added (and steak if you added that too…I would have, but was working with what I had on hand at the time), but still light. I used onion, zucchini and asparagus, but many others would be great…rainbow carrots, beets, parsnip, snow peas…. The vegetables and potato are finely diced then sautéed briefly.

The pan is deglazed with some wine (because cooking is always better with wine, right?), the greens added along with broth and cooked until they are wilted and everything is tender.

I threw in some dried cranberries for the sweetness the gastrique would have provided. Voilà . Super easy.

Hot Salad
inspired by Grilled Steak Salad at 50 North

3 cups finely diced vegetables (zucchini, carrot, asparagus, beet, snow peas…whatever)
3-4 cups fresh baby spinach (or swiss chard or kale*)
1 cup finely diced new potato
1/2 cup finely diced red onion or shallot
1/3 cup dry white wine
2/3 cup broth
1/2 cup dried cranberries
salt and pepper to taste

*if using kale, chop roughly with a knife into small pieces and then scrunch it up in your hands to bruise it a bit before cooking.

Sauté the vegetables and potato in butter/oil/both for a few minutes on medium-high, until very bright in colour. If using asparagus, just do the stalks for now, save the tips to add later.

Deglaze with the wine and let it sizzle for a couple of minutes, toss in the cranberries and the asparagus tips if using, give a good grind pepper and a sprinkle of coarse salt. Then pile on the spinach or chard and pour the broth over the whole thing. Cover until greens start to wilt. Stir to combine and let bubble until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Serve hot on its own or with sliced grilled steak over top.