Thursday, January 24, 2013

black-eyed peas with kale and bacon

I am a reformed vegetarian.

Between the ages of 12 and 28, I followed various denominations of vegetarian: full, pescetarian, chicken-atarian . . .

Then I lived in a house full of people from Oxford, England and Atlanta, Georgia. Suddenly, bacon was frying in a heavy black cast-iron skillet all the time.

And the smell well, the smell was irresistible.

Needless to say, bacon was my gateway meat.

Now, I am a proud omnivore and no denomination of vegetarian will describe me at all. Of course, we still do eat a lot of vegetarian meals . . . old habits die hard.

Which is why I'd like to offer you this almost-vegetarian dish  a dish whose genius lies in its use of bacon.

You see, you start with just a few slices of bacon and fry them up, until they're crispy and you can't resist doing a few taste-tests while they're draining on the paper towel. But  and here's the genius  you leave the little bit of bacon fat that has seeped out in the pan.

Yes, exactly! And then you cook your onion and carrot and celery and garlic in that bacon goodness. The veggies soak up that bacon goodness like a sponge and become glistening and full of flavour  all ready to hang out with their good friend, the black-eyed pea.

Do you know the black-eyed pea?

It's my favourite bean, possibly because it's my favourite card in my favourite card game  Bohnanza  but also because it's so tender and beautiful at the same time.

The black-eyed pea is yet another bean that is so much better bought dried, and then soaked and cooked. You know that strangely slimy, gushy texture canned beans have? Well, dried beans don't get that (unless, I suppose, you cooked them forever and ever). Instead, a dried bean plumps up and maintains its shape even while it gets tender on the inside. To say that I like dried beans would be an understatement (see, the vegetarian in me lives on).

Now, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking you don't have time to deal with dried beans. That's what I thought, too  I'm never on top of life enough to soak dried beans over night. But it turns out you can cut that time right down to an hour with the same results as soaking: just bring them to a boil, turn them off and let them sit for 1 hour.

Anyway, back to this black-eyed pea dish. I call it a dish because I like to leave just a little liquid to dip my bread in, but otherwise I like it thick and substantial. Magical things happen here: with that bacon and the cumin and these beans and even the kale.

This is, unapologetically, a deep-winter dish that you might find yourself waiting for all year round  vegetarian or not.

one year ago: lemon syllabub
two years ago: rosemary gruyère baked eggs
three years ago: shortbread in january

black-eyed peas with kale and bacon
adapted from eating for england and for the love of cooking

feeds 4

2 c. dried black-eyed peas
 7 slices bacon, chopped (easiest to do frozen)
1 small onion, diced
3 carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
15 oz. canned whole tomatoes, best quality you can get
salt and freshly-ground black pepper
1 tsp. cumin
pinch of crushed red pepper (or Korean red pepper)
3 1/2  4 c. chicken broth
 3 c. kale, chopped finely

First, prepare the black-eyed peas. You have two options.

Option 1: Put the black-eyed peas in a big pot with lots of water. Soak them for at least 8 hours.

Option 2: Put the black-eyed peas in a big pot with lots of water. Bring them to a boil. Turn off the heat, cover and wait 1 hour.

Drain your prepared black-eyed peas and rinse them well.* Set aside.

Put a big heavy-bottomed pot (like a Dutch oven) over medium heat. Cook the bacon until it's just cooked and a bit crispy. While it's cooking, prepare a small plate with a paper towel on top. When the bacon's done, use a slotted spoon to take it out and put it on the prepared plate.

Add the onion, carrot and celery to the bacon fat left in the pot. Fry for 2  3 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the tomato, salt, pepper, cumin and crushed red pepper and cook for 2  3 minutes. Break up the tomatoes with your spoon a bit while everything's cooking.

Pour in the chicken broth and prepared black-eyed peas. Bring to a simmer and cover. Let it simmer for about 30 minutes, until the black-eyed peas and veggies are tender, but not too soft.

Stir in the kale and bacon and simmer for 5 more minutes. Serve  we like this with crusty bread or homemade cheesy garlic toast and a glass of red wine.

*Apparently, if you rinse beans, they are less likely to cause gas.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

pan de yuca

Pan de yuca  warm, salty and a little bit chewy.

What more could you ask for in a quick little bun?

Not much, I'd say. Which is why these are quickly becoming a new standard at my house.

These little buns literally mean "bread of tapioca" and they use tapioca starch and copious amounts of cheese for their structure. (Hmmm, could that be why I like them so much?)

The original recipe calls for queso fresco, but here on the Prairies, queso fresco is not stocked in my grocery store. I used feta instead and it gives them a good, salty heft.

Now, my Colombian friend tells me that I can make queso fresco and that it's much like ricottta, so I'll have to try that next time. But, honestly, I'm pretty happy with these feta darlings -- although I do see they get more rise in the original queso fresco version.

They are truly simple  faster than whipping up a batch of biscuits, I'd hazard.

Just whiz the feta, tapioca starch*, baking powder and a teeny bit of sugar in a little food processor (mine is called the mini-hachoir!). Blend in an egg, pull it out . . .

The dough is wet and craggy, but easy enough to roll into little balls.

The buns only take 15 minutes to bake (while you're putting the finishing touches on your soup, say) and they're perfect warm out of the oven.

And  bonus!  they're also good cold with your lunch the next day.

*You should be able to find tapioca starch at most grocery stores. Look in the gluten-free section.

one year ago: tomato sauce with onion and butter
two years ago: glorious hummus for bean month
three years ago: shortbread in january

pan de yuca (colombian tapioca buns)
adapted from my colombian recipes
bakes 12 nice little buns

1 c. tapioca starch
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. sugar
250 g. mild feta cheese, broken into a few big chunks
2 eggs, beaten

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Stir the tapioca starch, baking powder and sugar together. Pour into the food processor. Add the feta and pulse until mixed well. Add the egg slowly and pulse until just mixed.

Pull the dough out and shape 12 balls. Place them on the prepared pan. Bake for 14  15 minutes, or until golden brown on top. Serve warm.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

carrot and fennel soup

This is the kind of recipe I could see my mother being attracted to. She would look at it and think it would make a fine soup, if only she could add some lentils or dark leafy greens.

Mom, don't do it!

This is a simple soup, and it was meant to be a simple soup.

In fact, as I was perusing The Essential New York Times Cookbook, looking for a good January soup, I thought it might be too simple. (By the way, have I convinced you to buy this cookbook yet? You really should.)

But Amanda Hesser hasn't let me down yet, so I headed off to find the best fennel fronds I could. This is rather a spectacular fennel-frond specimen, isn't it?

The fennel glistened in the melted butter while I chopped and chopped the carrots and garlic. A little more frying to bring out the sweetness of the carrots and garlic, and then a chicken stock and water bath. After 25 minutes, everything softened up and I stirred in a bit of orange juice, sour cream and chopped fennel fronds.

I was a bit concerned at this point  I mean, acidic orange juice and sour cream? Can you say curdle?

Well, I needn't have worried. The sour cream does separate a bit, but it just doesn't matter. It seems to like to sit on the top of the soup in a buttery-brothy layer. Which means that every time I dunked my spoon in, I got some. And it was lovely.

Scott says it reminds him of a Mennonite soup (possibly because the only Mennonite seasoning appears to be sour cream), except that he's pretty sure that Mennonites don't eat fennel.

It reminds me of a kohlrabi soup we had at the Literaturhaus Café in Berlin, sitting outside in the garden, as the summer sun slowly set. The soup had such a fine, silky broth with big nuggets of kohlrabi and carrots and potatoes.

This soup is kind of like that. It is simple, but it's also much more than the sum of its parts. The broth is lovely and thin, and the carrots and fennel slices are big and soft, just waiting for your spoon to find them.

one year ago: glory bowl and tomato sauce with onion and butter
two years ago: glorious hummus for bean month and naomi's granola
three years ago: shortbread in january

carrot and fennel soup
slightly adapted from The Essential New York Times Cookbook by Amanda Hesser
serves 4 to 6

2 tbsp. butter
1 medium fennel bulb, trimmed and thinly sliced, about 1 c. fronds reserved and minced
680 g. (1 1/2 lbs.) carrots, peeled and sliced about 1/2 cm thick
1 large garlic clove, thinly sliced
2 c. chicken stock*
4 c. chicken stock
1/2 tsp. salt + more to taste
1/3 c. orange juice**
1/4 c. sour cream
freshly-ground black pepper

Set a big heavy pot (like a Dutch oven) over medium heat. Once it's heated, add the butter. When the butter has melted and looks foamy, stir in the fennel slices. Cook for 8  10 minutes, stirring every so often, until the fennel has softened.

Stir in the carrots and garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Pour in the stock and water, and season with salt. Let the soup come to a simmer and cover it. Let it simmer until the carrots are very tender, which should take about 20  25 minutes.

Take the pot off the heat. Stir in the orange juice, sour cream and reserved fennel fronds. If your carrots are soft enough, use the back of a spoon to mash a few against the side of the pot. If they're tender but firmly intact (as mine were), push a potato masher down a few times to break them up a bit. However, this is completely optional, as this soup is meant to have a silky, fine broth with big nuggets of carrots and fennel slices. Season with lots of freshly-ground pepper, and more salt if necessary. Serve.

* The original recipe just calls for water here. If you don't have chicken stock, use water and season accordingly. But I do think the chicken stock gives a rounder, richer base to the soup.
** The original recipe calls for fresh orange juice. I obviously didn't see that when I bought a big jug of Tropicana. It was still lovely.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

happy things in the new year

I returned home in the morning on New Year's Day.

As I carefully lugged my bulging suitcase – full of imported B.C. wine  up the front steps and into the house, I was happy to be back.

The sun streamed in and I looked fondly on my Christmas decorations and the shiny new pot my favourite husband had given me for Christmas.

And I went back into my favourite part of this house: the kitchen.

First, I made those Ottolenghi spice cookies* I'd been drooling over for the past month.

They are divine. I don't think an hour goes by when I don't think about them. Currants bathed in brandy, rough bits of dark chocolate in a dense, spicy dough with a slathering of lemon glaze . . . it doesn't get much better than this. I am attempting to limit myself to two a day. But I might break.

Then, while the tomatoes were roasting for this deep and dark soup, I tried making pan de yuca. These are Colombian cheese buns that are made with tapioca starch and queso fresco.

Edmonton is not exactly a Latin food mecca, so I had to sub in mild feta instead of the queso fresco. But  no hay problema!  they came out soft and salty and perfect for dipping in the soup.

So that was one dinner. The next night, I knew I was dining alone, so I went kind of crazy and bought barley! With gluten in it! Wild times, I know.

I've been thinking about barley risotto ever since I ate it almost a year ago at the Twisted Fork in Vancouver. It was creamy and cheesy and the barley had such a nice bite . . .

After a bit of searching, I found this recipe for Meyer Lemon Risotto with barley. I adapted it a bit  with a regular lemon, asiago cheese and no greens or nuts  and it was just exactly what I hoped for. (This might make me live on the wild side a bit more often.)

Because the risotto was enough work, I wanted to cheat and only make one vegetable for the side. A fat head of cauliflower stared at me from the fridge, and I found this recipe for roasting it with olive oil, lemon, garlic and parmesan.

By the time the cauliflower had baked up golden with singed brown tips, it was perfect with my barley risotto. Of course, this kind of dinner called for good wine, and I had a glass of one of my favourite wines in the whole world.

For dessert, I ate a slice of chocolate cheesecake that my mom sent home with me.

I am now living on leftovers and am one very happy girl come mealtime.

2013, I feel good about you so far.

one year ago: glory bowl
two years ago: naomi's granola
three years ago: shortbread in january

*I adapted the spice cookies to be gluten-free. Let me know if you'd like my GF flour substitutions.

P.S. My husband kidnapped the camera. If the ransom goes through, I expect it will be back tomorrow. The pictures on this post are from our stay in Ucluelet this summer. But isn't there some lucky omen to starting the new year with shells?