Sunday, November 30, 2008

Not Your Average Baked Beans

I discovered this recipe for baked beans on one of my favorite sites, 101 Cookbooks. If you've never checked it out, it's authored by Heidi Swanson, who is also a food photographer extraordinaire.

It's a really simple recipe, perfectly suited for the crockpot and so delicious it will make your eyes roll back in your head when you eat it. The only unusual ingredient was the beer. I used the same thing Heidi used--Lindeman's Framboise Lambic. It is a raspberry flavored Belgian style beer. It's way too sweet for my taste, but it makes an outstanding ingredient. I found it easily at our cute neighborhood wine shop, Once Upon a Vine. I think any berry flavored beer would work nicely. We used dried cranberries for the fruit, and we also used cranberry beans, which look quite a bit like pinto beans to me. They're very streaky and pretty. The only change I made to the recipe is the addition of garlic. I put in about 3 or 4 cloves, minced. I can't leave a recipe well enough alone, especially if it doesn't have garlic in it!

I started the beans before I left for work today and let them cook in the crockpot all afternoon. When I came back later and walked in the door the aroma made me salivate. Then I put the bread in the oven to bake and that just about put me over the edge!

And if any of you are thinking of trying this recipe and taking the slacker route, don't cop out and use canned beans or you will be punished. The dried beans cook a lot longer but they pick up all the flavors like crazy and all you have to do is soak them overnight. You can even sleep while the beans soak! Talk about multi-tasking.

I love, love, love coleslaw with my baked beans. I took a shortcut and bought the prepared cabbage and carrot stuff in the bag, but I also added about 1/4 cup of very finely chopped purple onion. I made a non-traditional dressing because I wanted a sesame flavor. I used canola oil, rice vinegar, fresh pureed garlic and ginger, sugar, salt, pepper, tahini and a few drops of sesame oil. Wow, it was really good!

On this cold, rainy and gray day, this ended up being the perfect dinner. Fragrant and savory beans, warm crusty bread (with butter going all melty, of course) and crisp, tangy coleslaw. So much for ramping down after Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Watching Rosie O'Donnell's new show...

...and she is so great! I hope her show does well, because I just love that big mouthed broad. But wait...Oooooh. Liza Minelli just came out onto the stage. Crikees, she's just bizarre. As strange as her mother became in her later years, Liza has more than eclipsed her. Plus she has a vibrato that is so rangey it needs two zip codes. But I am tickled that Rosie has a variety show because I was a child of the sixties and seventies and grew up with the likes of Carol Burnett and Sonny and Cher and yes, Ed Sullivan. (Omigod I am so middle aged).

Not that I think everything was better back then, but there was a lot of good stuff on TV. Playhouse 90! A play, every week. Really cool plays, on TV in your living room. Written by real playwrights. And I also remember a show every Sunday hosted by Leonard Bernstein that was all about teaching young people about symphonies and classical music.

And now Harry Connick Jr. is on, so I must excuse myself to give him my full attention.

Happy Thanksgiving, y'all!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

This is really Andy's sauce, but I made it today with his supervision. It's a delicious and versatile sauce, good over anything you can imagine. Pasta, pizza, gnocchi, eggs, whatever makes your tastebuds sing. I love the added smokey richness that the charred peppers provide.

I do the stovetop method of charring the bell peppers. As you can see, I take the grate off of one burner and stack it up on top of another. This keeps the peppers just a little farther from the flame, and as you turn them every now and then, they get nicely blackened all over. Then I close them in a ziploc bag and set them aside.

Meanwhile, in a saucepan saute half an onion in some olive oil until it's soft and translucent. Then add about 4 cloves of minced garlic and a dried red chili. Saute that for a couple more minutes, then add a good blob--about 1/4 cup-- of double strength tomato paste. I let the tomato paste fry with the onion, oil and garlic for a good five minutes or so. This step is important, as it makes the flavor of the tomato paste just explode.

Take the charred bell peppers out of the bag and scrape the skin off. Dice the flesh and add it to the pan, along with a 14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes. Let this simmer for about 20 minutes. Then blend it all up with an immersion blender until it has a smooth, velvety texture. Add salt and pepper to taste.

This can easily morph into a gorgeous soup with a bit of tweaking. Add vegetable broth after the saute phase, then cream at the end and a dash of smoked paprika.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

This is Tay.

Tay is short for Taylor. He's my parents' new cat, you can see that he is awfully cute. He's not grown yet, and still thinks he's the big boss of the condo because he has testicles. I've been telling him not to feel too attached to those things, because they're comin' off real soon.

Tay is very sweet when he's sleeping and reasonably sweet when he's awake, despite being a whirling dervish. He purrs really loudly the minute anybody picks him up. I think Mom and Dad are really enjoying him and looking very forward to when he settles down a little. He's kinda wearing them out.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Happy Birthday, Mom!

My mom turns 80 today! I am hopping on a plane at an ungodly hour on Saturday to go wish her a happy birthday in person.

When I called her today, she said she already got her biggest birthday wish--in the form of a really cool new President of the United States! Well, I guess that gets me off the hook for a creative present. I'm just delivering myself to her door.

You'd probably like my mom. She is smart, outspoken, generous, compassionate, liberal, articulate, resourceful and did I say she's outspoken? Yeah, if you don't want to know what she thinks of something or someone, that's just tough titty because she's going to tell you anyway. She swears a lot. It's kind of shocking to hear an 80-year-old lady using the premium cuss words. But when you spend as many years as she did in art education, you pick up a few key phrases from the kids.

At 80, she's not quite as physically spry as she once was, and her eyesight is pretty bad. But she has a first-rate brain, and to this day, when I am faced with any sort of dilemma or heavyweight decision that I need clarity with, she is always the greatest voice of reason in my life.

So happy birthday, Mom! Keep on rockin' like you do. You are my inspiration.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Great Voter Turnout!

I could not have anticipated the hordes of people at my polling place this morning. I've lived in my neighborhood for ten years and have voted in loads of elections, but today's crowd was many times more than ever before. It made my heart sing to see the hundreds of people waiting patiently in the rain to vote. I got there at 6 a.m. and voted at 8:30 or so. I didn't care about the waiting or the weather. Nothing was going to keep me away!