Great eats

“Great eats” sounds a bit more descriptive, or at least more appetizing, than “Food dump” (the working title of this post), wouldn’t you agree?  We pretty much rocked the kitchen last weekend, yielding a week’s worth of delicious food along the way.

Eating well, especially with a baby in the picture, requires time and effort, I’m not gonna lie to you.*  It works, though, because we enjoy spending time cooking and baking — and the results are totally worth it (the resulting food, that is, NOT the resulting state of the kitchen)!

Friday
Anyhow, the great food parade began last Friday, when I whipped up a big pot of Easy Black Bean Soup to share with our special dinner guests — Gabriel’s great-grandparents — who drove all the way from Texas!  We served the soup with a side of wonderful bread.

How easy is “easy,” you ask?  Easy enough for me to make while home alone with The Dude all day and have dinner on the table before five-thirty.**

Saturday

  • Started the day by making some baked oatmeal, a favorite family recipe from my childhood.
  • Soon thereafter, Matthew started in on his almond croissant project.
  • Dinner = a tasty curry, featuring our garden potatoes and cabbage.

Sunday

  • The culmination of the almond croissant project provided our mid-morning snack.  Matthew’s first attempt at making croissants = huge success!  Watch out, Medici Bakery!
  • For lunch, we feasted on our first attempt of Pi-style deep-dish pizza.
  • Dinner brought a protein-packed Pad Thai.
Almond croissants, fresh out of the oven

Obviously I have some more recipes to post.  Look for those soon.  In the meantime, you can check out the current offerings on the updated and reorganized Green Recipes page.

Finally, you have five more days to vote for Her Green Life in the Circle of Moms Top Vegetarian and Vegan Moms, and you can vote once every 24 hours.  Thanks for your support!

*More on our evening/dinner routine in a coming post.
**A good two hours earlier than we usually eat these days, but it allowed Gabriel to sit at the table with us.

Brine your beans

A couple years ago, I switched from canned beans to dried beans.

Advantages of dried over canned:

  • Cheaper — plain a simple.
  • Avoids BPA exposure from canned beans.
  • Avoids excess sodium in canned beans.
  • Less packaging waste.  I buy most of my beans from the bulk bins, reusing plastic bags.  Even if you buy prepackaged dry beans, it involves much less packaging per amount of beans.
  • Dry beans require less energy to transport because they lack the liquid weight.

While I was happy enough with my bean-cooking method (quick soak or an overnight soak, drain and rinse, boil for about an hour), we recently discovered a new method that yields delicious, lightly salted cooked beans, reminiscent of the canned variety in a good way.

We happened across the idea of brining beans while flipping through an old edition of America’s Test Kitchen.  Basically, it’s a modified version of the quick soak, with salt added to the cooking water.

I initially reacted with skepticism, since the number one rule of cooking dried beans is “don’t add salt until the beans are fully cooked — it will make the beans tough and increase the cooking time.”  However, something about this method totally works.

How to brine beans

  1. Put desired quantity of dried beans in a pan.
  2. Add water to cover the beans, plus 1/2 to 1 inch on top — keep track of how much water you add.
  3. For every quart of water, add 2 generous teaspoons of salt.
  4. Cover and bring to a boil.
  5. Boil 3-5 minutes, then remove from heat.
  6. Let stand at least one hour (I’ve let mine stand for up to 8 hours — time over one hour neither helps nor hurts).
  7. Drain and rinse beans.
  8. Return to pot and cover with fresh water.
  9. Bring to a boil and cook 40 minutes to an hour, or until beans reach desired tenderness.
  10. Alternate cooking method: place in crock pot with enough water to cover.  Turn to low, and cook for 8-10 hours.

I’ve used this method successfully with black beans, pinto beans, and garbanzo beans thus far.  It should work for almost any kind of dried bean.

For ultimate convenience, follow the brining steps in the evening, letting the beans soak overnight, rinse them in the morning, and place in a crock pot to cook while you’re gone during the day.  You’ll return home to fabulous beans just waiting to be incorporated in your dinner — almost as convenient as the canned variety!

Spank it oh pita

Huh?  Oh, right, that’s supposed to be “spanakopita,” as in the delicious Greek spinach and phyllo concoction, but my mind tends to twist the word in a creative way.  I can’t see or say the word without “spank it oh pita” popping into my head, and now I’ve corrupted you, too.  (You can thank me later.)

Anyhow, with only a bit of help from yours truly, Matthew made spanakopita on Saturday night, using the Barefoot Contessa’s recipe.  This recipe yields a delicious spinach pie, which of course we double (after baking and cooling, we cut one pie into wedges and pop it in the freezer for future meals).  For a double recipe, we go a little light on the feta cheese (we used about 3/4 lb instead of 1 lb for the double), and the 1/4 lb (1 stick) of melted butter for the phyllo in a single recipe is plenty for a double recipe.

The finished product, golden & flaky

The directions say to “cool completely and serve at room temperature,” but we never wait that long.  We can always eat the leftovers at room temperature 😉

Steaming spanakopita

We enjoyed our distinctly not cool spanakopita with a side of the most delicious oranges ever.  Local Harvest had a limited quantity of citrus that someone brought directly from California after a trip — not at all local, but perhaps the freshest and most truly ripe oranges I’ve had the pleasure to eat.  They were also organic and unwaxed, so I zested each and every one before eating.

Retrospective menu

I fell off the cooking wagon for a couple of weeks, but I got back in the swing of things last Thursday night with — hmm, now I can’t quite remember.  Ah, right, lentil sloppy joes.  And I roasted some broccoli and cauliflower for a side dish — delicious fresh out of the oven, but not so great as leftovers.

I opened a jar of our canned tomatoes for the sloppy joes.  I saved some of the tomatoes and used them to make County Vegetable Soup with Pasta on Friday night.  This recipe comes pretty close to what I made — the main difference is that my recipe calls for pesto as a garnish.  Also, I used whole wheat shells for the pasta, which I cooked separately and added to the bowls when serving to keep them from getting mushy.

I love sitting down to dinner and doing a tally of all the garden and local produce in the meal.  The soup was a great one for this: the leeks, carrots, zucchini, green beans, tomatoes, and basil for the pesto came from our garden, and the cabbage was locally grown (we didn’t have much luck growing cabbage this fall).  This is a wonderful soup — really hearty and flavorful — perfect for these frigid days.

On Saturday night, I found my cheesy side with a baked macaroni and cheese dish (recipe from 1000 Vegetarian Recipes, our go-to cookbook).  On the side, a serving of steamed, grated beets with butter and salt, as well as a small roasted beet salad.

I finished my cooking spree with Swiss Chard risotto on Sunday night.  Instead of arborio rice, I used oat groats.  Instead of the normal time-intensive risotto procedure of adding small amounts of broth at a time while stirring almost continuously for an hour, I added the liquid in two installments and simmered it with minimal stirring.  The oat groats produced a creamy, hearty risotto, which I paired with roasted root vegetables (garden potatoes and beets, plus local sweet potatoes).  Risotto recipe coming soon, once I get it out of my head and into the computer — which I hope occurs before I forget what I did 😉

Grilled

I threw this together as a fast, easy weeknight dinner last week.  We have a semi-functional charcoal grill, but firing that up just to grill a few veggies hardly seems worth the effort (not to mention the air pollution).

When we first received a hand-me-down George Foreman [countertop] grill from my MIL, I was skeptical.  Would this be just another appliance taking up space on our counter?  The answer, for us, is no.  We use the grill pretty regularly — not quite that “real grill” flavor, but pretty good with a lot less fuss and effort.

For this meal, I tossed eggplant slices, whole okra (sliced lengthwise from tip, stopping just before the stem so it stays together), and onion slices in some olive oil and salt, then set them on the grill.  The only drawback with our rather small grill is that this does require multiple batches, but everything cooks pretty quickly, so it doesn’t take too long.

To round things out, I tossed brown rice (cooked for an earlier meal) with some frozen peas, garlic-infused olive oil, and roasted sunflower seeds.  We enjoyed the grilled okra dipped in our homemade catsup, spiced up with a little chili sauce.

Beyond the countertop grill:

Gas grills generally come out ahead environmentally in the “gas vs. charcoal” debate, but both types use resources and create air pollution.  If you already have a charcoal grill and aren’t ready to plunk down the cash for a gas version (like us) here are some tips:

  • Avoid lighter fluid, which has a whole slew of nasty chemicals in it.
  • Instead, invest in a charcoal ladder, which enables you to start a nice, hot fire, with nothing more than charcoal.
  • Look for charcoal that is additive-free and/or Forest Stewardship Council certified.
  • When you’re down cooking, pour water over the charcoal to cool it down so you can use the remaining pieces next time.

What are your tips for tasty, greener grilling?