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.

Braised Brussels Sprouts with Dijon Sauce

I’ve always wanted to like Brussels sprouts. I’ve tried them different ways over the years and never really liked them, which bugged me because it’s the only (well, aside from turnip, which I’ve never been a big fan of either) vegetable I don’t like. So just before the holidays I saw Smitten Kitchen‘s recipe for braised Brussels sprouts and thought, “This is it, this will be the one I like, finally!”

It wasn’t until I saw Brussels sprouts in a cute little mesh bag at the grocery store that I remembered I wanted to try this recipe out. I forgot to weigh the bag to let you know how many go into the recipe but I’m guessing it was about a pound. Enough to cover the bottom of a 12″ skillet. If you were really Type A you could count the number of sprouts in the skillet photo….oh nevermind, I’ll do it for you: 46.  23 whole sprouts.

And OMG, I was right about this being “it”. They were delicious. I think the Dijon paired with the bitter sprout is absolutely the right combination and adding a small bit of cream mellows it all out. Bob’s never been a big fan of Brussels sprouts either and was quite impressed with them. I even had seconds, willingly! So this is my go-to method and opens another vegetable door. Yay! I think we’ll even grow them this year.

Braised Brussels Sprouts with Dijon Sauce
Adapted, barely, from Smitten Kitchen

1 lb Brussels sprouts, trimmed and sliced in half, lengthwise
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 cup broth (chicken or vegetable)
2 to 3 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
2 tbsp heavy cream (oh go for it! It’s only 2 tbsp in the whole dish)
1 tbsp smooth Dijon mustard

Trim the ends of the sprouts and cut them in half, lengthwise. On medium-high heat add the butter and oil (using both allows for higher cooking temperature without burning the butter) and place the sprouts cut side down. Add a good grind of salt and pepper. Cook until the bottoms are golden brown, about 5-6 minutes.

Add the shallots, wine and broth, reduce heat to simmer, cover and cook until sprouts are fork tender, but not mushy. About 15-20 min.

When cooked, lift the sprouts and shallots from the braising liquid and place in a serving dish. Add cream to the skillet and simmer for a few more minutes, then whisk in the Dijon. Pour over the sprouts and serve immediately.

Cream of Leek and Roasted Bell Pepper Soup

Yesterday I just couldn’t warm up. Seriously, the house was 70 degrees and I was wearing three layers, including a fleece vest and I still felt cold. I’m sure it had nothing to do with all the snow on the ground…It’s been a fun few days with the schools closed all week and all the sledding, sledging, tobogganing (whatever you like to call it…) has been making me nostalgic about growing up in Ontario — Canada, not California, for my American friends. (The nostalgia has also been feeding my current obsession with the Hipstamatic iPhone app).

The topper was heading into the grocery store and finding myself in the newly designated “British Specialties” section wistfully looking at chocolate bars I haven’t eaten in years…Flake, Dairy Milk, Aero, Aero Mint. It was the mint Aero that really took me back because it’s probably been 25 years. Couldn’t resist. And then after I had eaten it I decided I wanted to take a photo and naturally had to go and buy sweetly ask Bob to go back to the store for another one.

One bite and I was also reminded of these ‘Parfait Mints’ my grandmother used to buy every Christmas. They might have been Laura Secord, but I’m not sure….little pastel-coloured piped white chocolate drops in a white box with a window in the shape of a tall parfait glass. So my mind wandered for a while…kind of how this post has wandered…

Cold days call for soup so I started rummaging through the fridge to see what I could come up with. Leeks that I bought almost a week ago, and some baby bell peppers that we weren’t using up fast enough. With some fried polenta on the side for the kid who will probably not have more than a taste of the soup. That’ll work.

Cream of Leek and Roasted Bell Pepper Soup

4 large leeks, sliced, white parts only
1/3 cup sliced mushrooms
1 clove garlic
1/2 cup roasted bell peppers (the pile of mini peppers in the picture became about 1/2 cup after being roasted)
3 1/2 cups broth (I used two 14 oz cans of chicken stock but you could use any stock)
white wine to deglaze
2 tsp dried sage
2 tsp dried thyme
salt & pepper to taste
heavy cream – to taste

It’s more efficient and less fiddly to use regular bell peppers but I happened to have all these mini ones. Slice the peppers in half or quarters lengthwise, remove seeds and place skin up on a cookie sheet. Brush with olive oil and put them under the broiler until the skin blackens and blisters. Meanwhile, you can prep the leeks and mushrooms.  When the peppers come out of the oven, cook the leeks, mushrooms and garlic over medium heat in the bottom of your soup pot with a blob of butter. While the leeks and mushrooms are slowly sweating, peel the skin off of the cooled peppers. Then add them to the pot along with the sage and thyme and stir it around for another 2-3 minutes or so.

Add in a glug of white wine to deglaze and let it simmer for about 5 minutes to burn off the alcohol. Then add the stock and let it all bubble for a few more minutes. When everything is soft, you can pour it into a blender or use a hand blender right in the pot. Puree until smooth. Slowly stir in the heavy cream if you use it. I ended up using about 1/2 cup. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

The photo at the top makes it look much greener than it actually was…it’s just the photo. Here’s another:

Soba Noodles with Tofu and Nut-Free “Peanut” Sauce

I’ve been meaning to make this recipe for a while but for some reason just hadn’t gotten around to it, plus Bob needed convincing that making a peanut sauce with soy nut butter would be good. The trick, I told him, was not to think of it as a peanut sauce replacement, but to just to consider it something new and probably yummy. He bought it. Hee Hee. And even took it upon himself to take care of browning the tofu while I put together the sauce. Evan said the other night…”Mommy, don’t you think Daddy is awesome?” Yup.

Actually, he said it was good and even Evan liked the bit that he tried (not enough to eat a whole bowl, mind you, but it’s a start). Evan loves tofu and loves soba noodles, the latter practically drowned in rice vinegar. He looked suspiciously at the sesame seeds on the tofu and needed to scrape them off before trying it (sesame seeds only belong on bagels don’t you know) but admitted it was pretty good. His version of dinner was a bowl of plain soba noodles with tofu on the side, plus a little of our version to try. Love meals like this….we’re all eating the same stuff even if it’s seasoned/sauced a little differently.

Soba Noodles with Tofu and Nut-Free “Peanut” Sauce                                             Adapted from The Family Kitchen 

Of course you could probably substitute peanut butter in the same proportion, though I don’t know that for sure, having never eaten peanut butter. But this recipe would work with any peanut sauce you find somewhere on the net. Depending on how sweet you like it and whether you use sweetened soy nut butter or not you may want to adjust the amount of brown sugar. I use the I.M. Healthy brand of soy nut butter and the one I buy is sweetened but they do have an unsweetened one (and also a chocolate soynut butter which is the nut-allergic person’s version of Nutella and its so awesome I won’t buy it anymore because it disappears by the spoonful!) 

For the tofu:

1 package firm or extra firm tofu
1 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp sesame seeds
a splash of soy sauce
1 tbsp canola oil

For the sauce:

2 tbsp soy nut butter (creamy)
2 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tbsp soy sauce (reduced sodium)
1 ½ tsp hoisin sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
¼ tsp fresh grated ginger
1 tsp brown sugar
1 clove garlic
Hot pepper flakes to taste

The rest:

1 package soba noodles
2 baby bok choy thinly sliced
2 bell peppers (red, orange, yellow or a mix), thinly sliced

Gently press the whole tofu between sheets of paper towel or dish towel to remove excess water. Then cut into 1” cubes. Toss in a bowl with the sesame oil, soy sauce and sesame seeds. Heat canola oil in a non-stick pan over medium-high heat, add tofu in a single layer and cook until all sides are brown and crispy. About 10 minutes total. 

While tofu is browning, grate the ginger. You can use a wood rasp like in the photo (available in most kitchen stores or online here) or a cheese grater on the fine side. Whisk together everything for the sauce but the garlic, then cut the clove in half or thirds and drop it in the sauce and stir. If you really like it garlicky, crush the garlic, but I didn’t want it to be overpowering. 

Start the soba noodles when you flip the tofu. Slice the baby bok choy and peppers and dump them in your colander. Drain the cooked noodles over them to blanch the vegetables.

Transfer noodles and vegetables to a large bowl. Add tofu and sauce (remove the chunks of garlic) and toss to coat. 

One of these days I’ll figure out how to start a new line without everything ending up double-spaced in the recipe. Bear with me. Thanks for scrolling endlessly. Update 1/21/12: I figured it out!! Yay!

Southwest Style Quinoa and Black Beans

Today is Yesterday was my mom’s birthday so it’s fitting that my first post features one of her recipes (which we had for dinner last night but I found out that I can’t edit a blog post very well on my iPad and was already comfortably curled up and was too lazy to move to the desktop) …anyway,  we both kind of wing this dish instead of following a measured set of instructions. Cooking’s more fun that way! This meal is great because it’s one dish, is full of protein and fiber and tastes amazing…well, if you’re a grown up. Scratch that, it would taste good to a picky first grader too if only he’d actually taste it!

It took a bit longer to make than I remembered, mainly because of the chopping and cooking the quinoa but you sauté the peppers and onion then pretty much toss everything together and leave it until the quinoa is plump and the liquid is absorbed; so it’s relatively low-maintenance. We made this for dinner one night last week but we were still all on holiday with a very relaxed pace and I wasn’t really watching time. Last night was the night before school started again and I couldn’t believe that it was about quarter to eight when we started dinner! So next time I’ll start a little earlier. Come to think of it, it also could be all the crazy photos I was taking while I was cooking, which made the whole process take much longer.

Once the peppers and onions and garlic are softened, add the quinoa and chicken stock (or water if you prefer) and let it simmer until the water/stock is absorbed. Add the black beans (you can also add them earlier…whenever you think of it!) When it’s close to done but there’s still some liquid left in the pan, stir in the chopped cilantro. Serve hot, with (optional) grated cheese and a blob of plain yogurt or sour cream if you’re feeling decadent. It doesn’t really need it though.

So what did Evan have for dinner? Cheese quesadilla. Oh well.

If I’d been thinking, I’d have cooked some quinoa separately for him and offered him that plus the sautéed veggies on the side. But I forgot.

Southwest Style Quinoa and Black Beans (variation on beans and rice)

2 bell peppers, any colour

1 medium onion

1 clove garlic, chopped or minced

2 cups chopped cilantro

1 cup quinoa (white or red)

1 can black beans (drained and rinsed)

2 cups chicken stock or water

Dice the peppers and onions and sauté on medium-high in butter or olive oil until just soft. About 5-6 minutes. Add uncooked quinoa and chicken stock and stir to combine. Lower temp to simmer, cover and leave it, stirring occasionally. When most of the liquid is absorbed stir in the chopped cilantro and black beans (if you haven’t already) and leave for another 5 minutes or so, until the rest of the liquid has been absorbed. You can speed it up by raising the burner temp and removing the lid but you’ll need to hang out by the stove, stirring every few minutes to make sure it doesn’t burn. You really can use any veggies you have on hand (carrot, frozen corn – thanks for the idea mom!). You can also add cooked quinoa (or rice) at the end (this is a good use of leftover rice or quinoa that’s already in the fridge) instead, but I like the flavor depth you get from cooking it all together.