Black Bean Stew (with Chorizo maybe)

This hearty stew originated as a favorite vegetarian dinner for Lolly and me a few years back.  This time I decided get all wild and crazy (it takes very little for a boring guy like me to get there) and throw in some chorizo to accentuate that traditional Mexican-style flavor profile.  It also adds a little extra spice.  For my vegetarian readers,  feel free to leave that out — it’s totally delicious in the original form.

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I use canned black beans for this recipe — one of my favorite kitchen short-cuts because it’s rare for me to remember to soak dry beans the night before.  Here are your ingredients to make 8 hungry people happy:

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, medium dice
  • 1 green bell pepper, medium dice
  • 1 large or 2 medium carrots, medium dice
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 can (15 oz) stewed tomatoes
  • 3 cans (15 oz) black beans
  • 2 tsp chili powder
  • 1½ tsp ground cumin
  • 1 qt. vegetable stock
  • 1 can (15 oz) whole kernel corn, drained
  • ½ tsp ground black pepper, or to taste
  • 1 tsp salt, or to taste
  • Sour cream, shredded cheddar and fresh chopped cilantro for garnishes
  • Optional: 4 cups cooked white rice
  • Optional: 1 lb. chorizo

If you decide to go with the chorizo, you’ll want to cook it before starting the main dish.  I prefer links with the casings removed, and then cut up into bite-sized chunks.  Fry them up to a rich brown color, then drain them on paper towels to remove excess fat — you won’t want that floating in your finished soup.

On to the main soup recipe:  In a large pot, heat the oil on medium-high and throw in the onion, pepper, carrot and garlic to sweat until tender, which should take about 5 minutes.  While that is working, break out your blender and puree the stewed tomatoes with one can of the black beans — this will thicken your soup later.  When your veggies are done sweating, stir in the chili powder and cumin to mix thoroughly.  Next come the vegetable stock, two remaining cans of black beans, corn, salt and black pepper.  If you’re using the chorizo, add it here as well.

Bring the soup up to a boil, then back it down to a simmer.  Stir in the tomato-black bean puree, and let your stew simmer happily for about 30 minutes until everything is tender and all your flavors are well blended.  Adjust your seasonings right before you’re ready to serve, and maybe even throw in a little pinch of cayenne pepper if you’re the adventurous sort.

One of the things that makes this dish a satisfying meal instead of just a soup is the extras.  I love mine with about a half-cup of cooked white rice in the bottom of the bowl, plus some shredded cheese, sour cream and fresh cilantro leaves for garnishes.  Serve it up with a nice crusty loaf on the side, and nirvana awaits!  Every time I make this stew we munch it down with a big happy grin on our faces, and I have no doubt we will continue to do that for years to come.  I hope you’ll try it and grin along with us.  Until next time:  Eat well, my friends!

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Cod à Lolly

I mentioned in an earlier post the cardinal rule of cooking in Dave’s kitchen: what Lolly wants, Lolly gets. The second rule is: when in doubt, always refer back to rule number one.  As it happens, Lolly wanted cod, and not just any old cod, but cod with almonds. Having no recipe at hand, I did what I so often do on a Tuesday night on my way home from the office – make it up on the fly while I’m walking the aisles at the supermarket. The result was an almond-crusted baked cod with garlic and rosemary, or, as it shall forever be known in our home from this day forward, Cod à Lolly.

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Here are your ingredients for two hearty servings, or four light portions:

  • 2 oz. whole butter
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 oz. slivered almonds
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 1 lb. cod fillets, cut into four 4 oz. pieces
  • Olive oil as needed for brushing
  • Kosher salt and white pepper to taste

Preheat your oven to 350°. In a small saucepan, combine the butter and minced garlic and cook over low heat to melt the butter and blend the flavors. Place the almonds into a small zipper bag and crush them with a mallet until they are in medium-fine pieces of more or less uniform size (no need to get OCD about that). Pluck the leaves off your rosemary and give them a fine chop with your chef’s knife. Mix the almonds and rosemary in a shallow dish, which you will use to dredge the cod fillets.

Brush the cod pieces top and bottom with a generous coat of olive oil, then season both sides with salt and pepper. Dredge them in the almond mixture, patting the coating firmly to ensure a thick, even crust, and place each piece into a 13” x 9” glass baking dish. When all four pieces are coated, top them with any leftover almonds, spoon the garlic butter over them and pop them into the oven. Bake for 15 minutes, then pop the heat up to 400° and bake for 5 more minutes to put just a hint of brown on the crust.

Bada bing, you’re done. We served up our garlicky, crunchy seafood goodness on a bed of long grain and wild rice, with a side of ribbon-cut zucchini and carrot sautéed in olive oil with a sprinkle of fresh oregano. As you might expect, we munched it right down with a big happy grin on our faces – and added a brand new dish to our family repertoire. Cod à Lolly is destined to be famous someday. Until then: Eat well, my friends!

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Baking Class, Week 6

This past week was number 6 for the semester as I continue to chug along at the Midwest Culinary Institute.  We got a primer in making pie dough and, as one might expect, pies themselves.  Aside from a tasty Quiche Florentine we made these lovely, and thoroughly delicious, miniature lemon meringue pies.

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The lemon custard was yummy in its own right, but the French meringue was pure heaven.  It was the first time I had ever tried an unbaked meringue, and found it to be totally different from what I was accustomed to eating on a typical lemon meringue pie.  Normally I wouldn’t post my culinary school recipes, but these are too good not to share.

These recipes will assume that you already have pie crusts prepared, since adding that procedure will make for a much larger post, and they are scaled to make one full size 9-inch pie or about eight individual sized pies.  So without further ado, here are your ingredient lists:

For the lemon custard:

  • 14 oz. water
  • 7 oz. + 2 oz. sugar
  • 2 1/2 oz. egg yolks
  • 1 1/2 oz. corn starch
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. lemon zest
  • 1 oz. butter
  • 3 oz. lemon juice

And for the meringue:

  • 4 oz. pasteurized egg whites
  • 4 oz. + 4 oz. finely granulated sugar

Just a quick note about the meringue ingredients:  it is important to use pasteurized eggs if at all possible because this component of the dessert will not be cooked.  Although the risk of salmonella is small from regular eggs, it is still there and could be particularly problematic for the elderly or very young children.  Also, if you cannot find finely granulated sugar at your local store, you can put regular sugar into a food processor and get it to the proper texture very easily.

To make the custard, start by dissolving the 7 oz. portion of sugar in the water and heat in a saucepan to boiling.  While that is heating up, in a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, corn starch, the remaining 2 oz. of sugar, salt and lemon zest to form a paste.  When the water-sugar mixture boils, remove it from the heat and slowly ladle about half of it into the egg mixture, whisking as you do.  This will temper the eggs so they don’t cook when you add them to the hot liquid.

Pour the tempered egg mixture back into the saucepan with the remaining liquid, and bring it all back up to a boil, whisking constantly.  As soon as it boils, get it off the heat.  Whisk in the butter and lemon juice until they are completely incorporated.  Transfer the custard to a bowl, cover it with plastic wrap in contact with the top of the custard, and refrigerate it until well chilled.  When the custard is cold, fill your prepared pie shell(s) with it.  A piping bag works well but is not essential for this step.  Regardless of how you get it in there, level off the custard with a spatula when you’re done.

Now it’s time to make the meringue, which only takes a few minutes.  You will need a stand mixer with a whip attachment, but it is essential to make sure both are totally clean and free of any residual fat.  Likewise, make sure no yolk gets into your egg whites when separating them.  The presence of any fat at all will prevent your whites from whipping up properly.

Beginning by whipping the egg whites on high speed.  When they get a little foamy, start to slowly drizzle in the first 4 oz. portion of sugar.  The sugar will stabilize the whites and give them structure.  Whip the whites and sugar until stiff peaks form, that is, when you lift the whip out of the bowl and the tail of meringue does not droop or bend when you turn the whip sideways.  Now take the second 4 oz. portion of the sugar and fold it gently into the meringue with a spatula until fully blended, but do not overmix or you may deflate the meringue.  Now you’re ready to cover the pie(s) with the meringue — you will get a prettier result with a piping bag and star tip.  Lastly, if you’re feeling fancy, give it a quick shot with a chef’s torch to brown the tops, and you’re done.

As so often happens lately on the day after a baking class, I’m the most popular guy at the office because I bring in the results of my efforts and pass them around to my co-workers.  Of course Lolly and I reserved one of these little beauties for ourselves, and munched it right down with a big happy grin on our faces.  I hope you’ll get as much enjoyment in the making as in the eating.  Until next time:  Eat well, my friends!

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If At First You Don’t Succeed …

As I continue to part-time my way through the Midwest Culinary Institute, I find myself in the middle of a class on the basics of baking and pastry arts.  This past Monday night was Week 4 — Pâte à Choux, also known as éclair paste, from which we made … you guessed it, éclairs.  Pretty, right?  Yeah, not so fast there, Sparky.

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The week before, I remember my chef instructor telling us what an easy dough it is to work with.  Just between you and me, I think he was toying with us as silent, sadistic chuckles echoed in the deep, dark recesses of his maniacal chef mind.  I quickly discovered that Pâte à Choux may be easy to make but it is decidedly not, in fact, easy to work with.  Rather it is a delicate, touchy and temperamental little beast that must be handled with utmost technical care.  Or more likely, this class exists to remind some of us why we were wise not to sign up for the full pastry arts curriculum.

In any event, I found my first encounter with this vicious, viscous goo to be somewhat of a comedy of small but significant errors — piping my dough before it was fully cooled, which caused it to flop on the baking sheet; piping the lines too close together, which meant they touched as they expanded, and then dutifully collapsed; to say nothing of my Quasimodo-like ineptitude with pastry cream and fine decorative piping work.  The end result was a batch of éclairs that looked like they had been prepared by someone wearing boxing gloves and a blindfold.  Count yourself fortunate that there is no photographic record of that atrocity.

Imagine my profound horror, then, when the chef announced that we will have to make these again for the midterm in a few weeks.  My immediate thought, since I fancy myself a rational creature, was that I would need to practice between now and then, which is what I spent this afternoon doing.  As it turns out, I have a neighbor who is a relatively recent graduate of the same culinary school, who kindly offered some pointers, lent me her piping tools, and served as my guinea pig to sample the finished wares.

Thankfully I am one who tends (for the most part) to learn from my mistakes and not repeat them (for the most part).  These éclairs are actually three recipes in one:  the éclair paste/dough, the vanilla custard filling, and the chocolate ganache icing, so it takes a few hours to get through the whole shabang.  I did two dozen of them in hopes that I would get it right this time and not have to walk around all week with a paper bag over my head bearing the ignominious inscription:  “Maker of ugly éclairs.”

I am happy to report that today’s attempt went much better than the first time around, and my neighbor gave me a passing grade.  She gladly accepted a third of the batch, and the other two thirds will go to my college student son and his housemates who, no doubt, will munch them down with a big happy grin on their faces.  The moral of my story is that in the culinary world the learning never stops and practice does indeed make perfect.  Until our next visit to the kitchen together:  Eat well, my friends!

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