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Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Vegetarian Red Beans and Rice - Revisited

UPDATED: February 3, 2016.  This recipe has been tried and tested and it works so well that it deserves yet another go around.  This time, I truly cooked it in a slow cooker, for about 10 hours!  The true secret is to saute your vegetables to bring out the most flavor and to soak the beans, at least 4 hours to overnight.

Laissez les bon temps rouler!  In honor of Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday or Fat Tuesday - I made a pot of vegetarian red beans and rice.  This dish is definitely in the category of one pot meals made in the style of the Big Easy's cheap-n-easy.  It includes a mess of the Cajun Holy Trinity with a smattering of carrots, a whole lotta Tabasco or Hot Sauce of Choice, a chipotle pepper and some nice old red kidney beans.  Let it cook down in and after a few hours you got yourself a big ole pot of spicy goodness.  As much as I like my meats, sausages and other porky treats - this loose interpretation of red beans and rice was made out of necessity so I could have a vegetarian meal option to take to my kosher workplace.  If you use enough vegetables, a good chipotle pepper and let the beans cook long enough, you will not miss the meat.  Besides, you could have something on the side if you need or crave that extra protein.  

The main thing is letting the beans cook down long enough that the begin to fall apart. If the beans you have are old and they just never get to that mushy stage, feel free to smash them a bit with the back of a spoon or an old fashioned potato masher.  The main thing is that the beans just cook and cook and cook and make their own "bean gravy", absorbing all the spice and smokey heat of the chipotle pepper.  Season with salt AFTER the beans are cooked down not before.  Remember to taste before you season, as the dish cooks, cools and sits, its flavors will develop even further.  I made this dish on Saturday and ate it on Sunday.  It was when I reheated it that I seasoned it with salt and additional Tabasco Sauce.  As for using okra - I know I'm mixing my meals here, making my red beans and rice morph into some sort of mumbo gumbo. I like okra and I wanted something else in the dish. Skip it if you don't like, don't have or can't find okra.  By the way, frozen okra is far easier to find in most grocery stores and works great.

Vegetarian Red Beans and Rice Ingredients:

  • 2 Tablespoons Vegetable Oil
  • Large Onion - small dice
  • 2 Celery Stalks - small dice
  • 1 Red and 1 Green Bell Pepper - small dice
  • 2 Medium Carrots - peeled & small dice
  • 5-6 Garlic Cloves - minced
  • 2 Cups Red Beans - picked over, rinsed and if time permits, soaked for 4 hours to overnight
  • 2 Bay Leaves
  • 1 Whole Dry Chipotle Pepper
  • 4 Cups Water - or 3 Cups Cold Water and  1 Bottle of Hop-style IPA Beer, like Hop Devil IPA (optional but it tastes so much better w/the beer!)
  • 1/2 Tablespoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper
  • Tabasco or Hot Sauce of Choice - to taste
  • 2 Cups Frozen Okra - Optional
  • Kosher or Sea Salt - to taste
  • 2 Cups Cooked Rice for Serving - White Long Grain is Traditional or use Brown Rice or a more nutritious option
  1. Pick over the red beans and discard any pebbles, stones or beans that are split or misshapen.  If time permits, soak the beans in cold water for two hours or overnight.  Drain and rinse the beans and set aside.  
  2. In a large stock pot or heavy bottomed pot, such as a Dutch Oven, heat the vegetable oil over medium high heat until the oil begins to shimmer.  Add in the onions, celery, bell peppers and carrots; sweat the vegetables for 10 minutes, or until the vegetables begin to take on a bit of color (but don't let them burn or caramelize).  Next, add in the minced garlic and saute for 2 minutes.  
  3. Add in the soaked red beans, the bay leaves and the chipotle pepper.  Pour in 4 cups of cold water, or enough water and the bottle of beer to cover the beans and vegetables by 1 to 2 inches.  Bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce heat down to lowest setting.  
  4. Keep the pot at a gentle low simmer for as long as it takes for the beans to cook down and become tender - so tender they begin to fall apart.  This may take 2 to 3 hours.  Keep an eye on the pot, adding more water as needed.
  5. As the beans cook down, the mixture in the pot will go from recognizable pieces of vegetables in a watery broth to looking like a pot of dark brown mush.  When this happens, taste the beans, seasoning with the black pepper, hot sauce and salt.  If serving right away, add in the okra (if using it) about 15 minutes before serving.  Otherwise, cool the mixture and refrigerate.
  6. If you make the red beans and rice to serve later or the next day, reheat the beans and add in the okra and then season to taste with salt, pepper and hot sauce.  Serve hot over rice.  Makes 4 to 6 servings. Recipe can easily be doubled to serve a larger crowd.  

Beans, vegetables, liquid - before it cooks in the slow cooker or pot

After the ingredients have cooked for at least 4 hours.
This batch cooked for over 10 hours on low!

The batch after I took a potato masher to it to "puree" the mix down!

This is what the mixture looks like as it cooks - you can distinguish all the vegetables and beans - it looks more like a vegetable bean soup. Have patience!  It takes a long time to cook down but it's worth the wait!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Peach Bourbon Spiced Old Fashioned gift kits

Photo:  Lori Mcleer
For holiday gifts this year, I gave out a peach infused bourbon, with an old fashioned spice mix to make a complete cocktail.  Add it to a rocks glass with some ice and you're good to go with about 3 stiff drinks!  I put peaches into a glass gallon jar with some inexpensive Kentucky bourbon, back at the end of August.  Good, fresh, juicy New Jersey peaches from a local farm.  I should have probably decanted the bourbon months ago, but I forgot about the jug; it was under my kitchen sink, hiding behind boxes of trash bags and a growing collection of empty bottles of decent bourbons and ryes.  I was only reminded of the infusion because we had to clear out the cabinet for the dishwasher repair man!  Better late than never.  

As luck would have it, I had a dozen clear Boston round bottles and caps; clear sealing toppers; spices and sugar cubes; and a few remaining silk sachet bags to hold the needed ingredients to create the perfect winter Old Fashioned.  The recipe, slightly altered to accomodate what I already had on hand, is from a fantastic book called SHAKE, written by Eric Prum and Josh Williams.  I'd say the idea to infuse the bourbon with peaches came from this book too, but I had thought about doing it long before I read the recipes.  Cocktail gurus Prum and Williams just helped me onto the path for creating the "kits" and gift ideas. 

To make the bourbon, all you need is a large glass jar or bottle, some fresh peaches (in season) and a bottle of inexpensive bourbon.  You could use a better quality but there's no real need to spend the money on something that you're going to use in a drink that has other ingredients.  Generally speaking when you infuse with fruits, vegetables or spices, a basic spirit at a modest price is a better way to go.  I took a bunch of peaches, pitted and cut them and added them to a large, clean glass jar.  Poured in a big bottle, about 1.75 liters or 1/2 a gallon, of Heaven Hill Kentucky Bourbon.  Close the jar and put it into a dark and cool place for a week or up to 3 months.  

When it's time to decant the bourbon, pour it through a fine mesh strainer lined with cheese cloth, into another clean glass jar. Reserve the bourbon soaked peaches for another use, such as adding into a coffee cake or bourbon peach upside down cake, or into a hearty salsa!  The peaches can be "frozen"; they won't actually freeze due to the alcohol, but they'll keep longer for you.   As for bottling the peach-infused bourbon, pour it into small pretty bottles, seal and label.  Store the bourbon in a cool dark place and enjoy within 3 to 5 months.  
For my gifts, I consulted the SHAKE cocktail book for the Spiced Old Fashioned recipe.  The original recipe calls for demerara sugar cubes - large, brown, rough cut cubes made from "sugar in the raw".  The cubes have a molasses taste with notes of spice to them.  They aren't super hard to find but you will have to look in specialty stores that carry great bitters and mixers or stores like Whole Foods.  I used simple, white cane sugar cubes.  It's what I have on hand and perfectly acceptable for an Old Fashioned cocktail.  I did have to go to one unusual store to complete the kit.  I wanted to include bitters iwht the spice mix.  I figured most people don't have bitters on hand unless they are cocktail aficionados.  So I looked high and low for ideas and then it hit me, small glass vials. It was too late to order them from online.  I reached into my memory banks to recall a place from another lifetime - Wonderland, a "headshop" at 21st and Walnut Streets.  Small, 1/2 ounce glass vials were procured.  The perfect vessel in which to add a wee dram of bitters.  

The bags were form Joann's Fabrics.  I printed recipe cards and then embossed them with embossing powder which gets heated with a special heating tool to affix the powder to the ink and "raise" the texture of the embellishment.  Voila!  A simple gift that is elegant and unique.  

Infused Peach Bourbon Spiced Old Fashioned Ingredients:
  • 1 Sugar Cube
  • 5 Dashes of Bitters such as Angostura
  • 3 ounces Infused Peach Bourbon - see above for instructions
  • 2 Whole Cloves
  • 1 Cinnamon Stick + 1 for garnish
  • Ice, Rocks Glass
  • Fresh or Frozen Slice peach for garnish (optional)

  1. Add sugar cube and 5 dashes of bitters to a cocktail shaker and muddle until the sugar is dissolved.
  2. Add in 3 ounces of Peach Infused Bourbon, cloves and cinnamon stick.
  3. Add ice cubes in to the level of the liquid and stir for 15 seconds.
  4. Strain the drink into a rocks glass filled with 1 large ice cube.  
  5. Garnish with a cinnamon stick and if using, a slice of fresh or frozen peach. Enjoy!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Brownies with a secret

Black Bean Cacao Brownies with Peanut Butter Swirl
I'm here - just not posting on a regular basis.  I occasionally think of something to post, to share, to inspire you and me, and then I let the moment slip away.  It's been an odd year, good in some ways, i.e. getting married this past June; stressful at my full-time day job - it's so time to leave, it's been time to leave for over a year.  I teaching again, part-time at Sur la Table, in Marlton, New Jersey.  I mostly love the gig.  I wish the money were better, then again, who doesn't want more money?  If I could do it full time and make a decent living, I'd stop being a bookkeeper and be a Chef-Keeper instead!

Onto today's inspiration which comes directly from the class I taught this morning.  Because the recipes I use have been the intellectual property of Sur la Table, or their partner companies, I don't always feel that I can blog about what we've been making.  Today I feel that this recipe should be shared to a wider audience.  It is a brownie recipe that is gluten free, dairy free, low-fat and low-sugar.  Plus it's so fudgy delicious it was hard to stop eating.  Taking a moment to blog is allowing me a breather from the temptation of finishing off the batch I took home today.

I have not made many gluten free baking recipes before.  Finding this one and seeing how well it works makes me very happy.  I'm not about to adopt a gluten free diet but it sure is nice to have a variety of recipes to mix it up.  I'll be able to make this for friends and not stress about the taste or worthiness of it! This recipe comes via Sur la Table via Health Magazine. It's been tested by a variety of organizations and now by me.  It works!

The brownies use a "secret" ingredient - Black Beans!  There are also dried dates; maple syrup; cocoa powder or raw cacao for a true super food; baking powder, and not much else.  We made our batch with peanut butter swirled on top of the batter. You can omit the peanut butter or substitute a nut butter of choice.  I found the recipe to be forgiving and versatile.  What could be better? A recipe that tastes great and is easily adaptable.  Winning!

Black Bean Brownies

  • 1 - 15 ounce can of Black Beans - drained and thoroughly rinsed
  • 1/2 cup pitted dried Dates - about 3 ounces or 6-7 dates
  • 3 Tablespoons Coconut Oil (in Solid form); OR - Extra Virgin Olive Oil; OR - a Neutral oil such as Canola or Grapeseed oil
  • 1/2 Cup plus 2 Tablespoons Pure Maple Syrup - divided
  • 1/2 Cup Raw Cacao Powder or Unprocessed Cocoa Powder (Not Dutch Processed)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • Pinch of Salt
  • 2 ounces dark chocolate - 70% or higher, finely chopped
  • 1/4 Cup smooth peanut butter
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit 
  2. Line an 8x8 square pan with aluminum foil, allowing the foil to over-hang.  Grease the foil, set aside
  3. Blend the black beans in a food processor until they are well chopped.  Add the dates, oil, 1/2 cup maple syrup, cacao powder, vanilla, baking powder and salt.  Puree the mixture until it is smooth and well combined.  The mixture should look dark and glistening.
  4. Add in the chopped chocolate and pulse a few times to mix in. 
  5. Spread the batter into the baking pan.
  6. In a small bowl, combine the peanut butter with the 2 remaining tablespoons of maple syrup.
  7. Microwave for 10 seconds to soften.  Mix well (it may look separated and curdled at one point; don't panic, just keep mixing.  It will come together.) 
  8. Drop dollops of the peanut butter mixture all over the top of the brownie batter.  Use a butter knife or skewer and swirl the peanut butter mixture throughout, creating a marble pattern.
  9. Bake for about 30 minutes, until firm.  Let cool completely on a wire rack before cutting.  For cleaner cuts, let cool, then cover and refrigerate for at least an hour before cutting.
  10. Yields 12 brownies.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

#LoveMustWin Love Must Win part 1

16 years ago on June 2, 1999, I had a first date with my now partner, Liz.  We met or rather, became acquainted with each other in Mid-May 1999, at an event that I catered for the choral group for whom Liz worked.  It was a lavish affair, in the rehearsal hall of The Academy of Music.  My best friend, Rachel, another friend, Martha, and I spent 2 days cooking and preparing food and drinks for 100 people.  Our story of this catering gig is one of those legendary tales of our friendship and relationship, filled with pathos, drama and a lot of laughs.  At the time, it felt more like pathos and chaos. It took a few years for any of us to look back at the insanity that I got us into, catering a gig out of my small apartment kitchen for 100 or more people.  

In the craziness of the event, filling up trays, cleaning up drinks and dirty napkins, I spied this dark-eyed quiet beauty.  It was one of those lightening bolt moments of my life where I saw HER and KNEW I HAD TO TALK TO THIS WOMAN.  Liz may or may not have felt the same way about me but she managed to make her way towards me at the end of the night.  We chit-chatted and made small talk.  I tried to play it cool with her in the few spare moments we had to talk.  Whatever I said struck a chord with Liz and she remembered me.  A few days later the mutual acquaintance we had (who hired me to cater the party) told me he knew someone who liked me.  Yeah, just like in high school or junior high, whisper down the lane, "I know someone who likes you..."  

It took a few more weeks for Liz and I to actually talk and find out who each of us was.  Mind you, the acquaintance was all set to play match maker, hoping that all of us could go out for drinks together - him, his husband, another friend, Liz and me.  I was sweating it not wanting him to play yenta and my really wanting to know who this mysterious Liz girl was that liked me.  Finally, phone numbers were exchanged and Liz called me.  We talked for a while and made plans to meet on Tuesday night, June 2, 1999, in between her rehearsal and my evening job working a concession stand at a local theater.  After we were both done work, we met up for drinks at a bar called Potcheen.  We shared french fries and beers while sitting at the bar on high stools.  It was a modern day grown-up version of sharing a milkshake at the soda fountain.  A few dates later we realized that the lightening bolt had struck us both.  A month into our dating I told Liz I was awfully fond of her.  Love came slowly and steadily into our lives.

Here we are 16 years later; on our 16th anniversary, we went to Collingswood Borough Hall to apply for a marriage license.  Our wedding date is June 13th.  If you asked me back then if I had ever imagined that I would be married I would have resounding said NO!  Growing up I always knew I was gay, or I knew from age 13 on. My younger years I'm not sure, but definitely from 13 it was known.  I even have journal entries describing my conflicted feelings about my sexuality.  As I grew up, matured, figured things out, the world around me did as well. In the mid-80's when I was hitting my young adult years, being gay was not a socially accepted way of life but it was far easier for me to be gay in 1985-87 than it was for generations before me.  In the 1990's those of us living in big East Coast or West Coast Cities to be closeted didn't feel the need to be closeted.  But getting married? Not possible.  So I grew up, matured, lived and loved all without the thought that I could ever be married.  Until now.  

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Bike Sharing and Bike Riding

Now that we are no longer in the throws of winter's chill with the ice, snow, and sub-zero temperatures, a no-so-young woman's thoughts of fancy turn to biking.  As soon as it warmed up I began biking from my house to the train station in Collingswood.  It's easier all around for me to ride the one mile with no hassles trying to find a parking spot. No wasted gas on such a short trip. Bonus, I get ten minutes of exercise twice a day.  Not quite enough but better than nothing.  I'm not able to bike too far these days since my back has been such a mess of fractures, impinged nerves, herniated discs.  I had to sell my road bike because I can no longer be hunched over the handle bars; I need a ride that keeps me upright.  

I have two other bikes that fit this mode so the road bike went to a better home. It was sold to a woman I know who's athletic and appreciated a well-maintained bike.  I'm sad, real sad.  It's a chapter of my life that's over and it makes me lament what once was.  Of course I can't stay in this mind frame.  Gotta look to the next chapter I suppose.  There's always the gentle ride around town, both in Collingswood and in Philly.  I can't ride into Philly like I used to do a few years ago, I cannot carry the bike up the steps of The Ben Franklin Bridge or even up and down the steps of the PATCO train.  Unless I were to drive into town and bring my bike with me in the car, I have not had a bike to ride in Center City for over two years.  Enter the Indego Bike Sharing program in Philadelphia.  

Philadelphia is the latest city to get with the bike share program.  Launched on April 23rd, with over 60 locations and 600 bikes, the IndeGo Bike Share program has locations at all the prime hot spots in Center City, Spring Garden, South Philly and University City.  The big blue bicycles and solar powered kiosks are hard to miss.  You can step up to the service kiosk, insert your credit card and for about $8 an hour, pedal around the city on these three speed cruisers.  Or for a $15 per month fee, you can be a member of the bike share program - getting an unlimited hour's-worth of free rides and then you pay $4 per hour thereafter. Katie told me she hasn't even reached a full hour's ride yet

"I've opted for the $15/month plan, and since all my rides so far have been about 20-25 minutes, not hitting the hour-per-ride threshold, I've not paid anything other than the $15 monthly flat fee. It's really a great deal for commuting"

A third option which I joined is a $10 annual membership and paying $4 an hour as a pay-as-you-go option.  Once I read through all the legalities, debated on the merits of the program, mulled over the $1,000 liability claim waive should something happen to the bike, I decided that for my limited needs doing the pay as I go method was for me.  I now keep a spare bike helmet at my office for the spur of the moment errands and jaunts I may take throughout the spring and summer.  

There was a lot of consideration done on my part before I joined the bike share program.  My biggest issues are that this is a casual rider program, seemingly geared toward the tourist rider.  The rules of engagement are that once you remove a bike form the dock, you don your helmet (although wearing a helmet is strongly encouraged and HIGHLY encouraged by me, helmets ARE NOT provided) you ride around and then dock the bike at either the same location another station.  The bikes are not meant or allowed to be left, locked or brought into another space except for an Indego docking station.  This bothers me on a few levels.  Should I need to run an errand down to South Street, a few miles from my office, I couldn't bring my own lock with me that day and then lock the rental bicycle outside of a store.  If there's a dock station relatively nearby then I can ride form station to station.  All well and fine for mapped out errands.  

Last night I took my inaugural ride, picking up a bike at 17th and Pine Streets, riding down Pine Street to South Street.  I planned the excursion in advance, bringing my bike helmet with me into the city so that I could have it at the ready for the entire day and evening. After my leisurely ride down Pine and South Streets, I docked the bike at 2nd and South Streets. I met friends for dinner at 3rd and South, the one block walk back to the restaurant was no different than had I parked my car and walked to the restaurant.  I rode a total of 3.15 miles, for 21 minutes and was charged $4.  Cheaper than a taxi or Uber ride, faster and more convenient than had I walked saving me a lot of back pain!  The bikes are comfortable, easy to get on (a new consideration for me these days with all of my back issues and stiffness).  the bikes are a bit heavy but I'm used to riding sturdy weighted bicycles.

I've spoken with a few people about the program.  One woman I met, Jennifer B., an attorney and bicycle advocate, said she loves the program and didn't mind the fact that even though she had to walk a few more blocks to her home from the end--point stopping dock kiosk, she wanted to support the bike ride-share and it was more convenient to her than riding a bus from Center City to her home in the Spring Garden area.  A friend from Collingswood, Katie R, takes PATCO to Center City, picks up a bike at a location somewhere along the PATCO station stops and then rides up to her job in University City.  Katie checks the B-Cycle app on her phone to see which station has bikes available before she goes to that location.  Katie says that the program has been smooth sailing with the only snags so far being that once or twice the kiosks didn't have a bike available even though the app indicated that a bike was waiting for a rider.  

I'll have to try this out a few more times before I can fully endorse the program but so far so good based on my one ride and the experiences I've heard from friends and acquaintances.

In Collingswood, the bike share program that the Borough has is called  Collingswood Bike Share. I've known about the program and location for the 3 1/2 years that we've lived in Collingswood but as I have not had cause to use the program, I never explored the site.  You can basically pay a $25 a year membership and "borrow" a bike for the year, renewing each year thereafter. You can come in and work on bikes and the volunteer staff will help you fix a flat, mend a popped chain, even help you re-true a wobbly wheel.  There are spare bike parts, tires, cables and all kinds of reflectors through which to sort.  The C'Wood Bike Share is modeled in part on programs like Neighborhood Bike Works, allowing kids to come in, work on bikes and even earn a bike for their services.  People "donate" old bikes, parts, tires, etc. so this is the stock from which Bike Share Bikes are re-purposed.  

One recent Tuesday night I spent the better part of the evening hanging out at the Collingswood Bike Share. I had picked up a tag along bike for my wee lad. The fine dudes and dudette at the shop tried to help me fit it into my bike. No go. They huffed and they puffed but they just couldn't get that tag along to go. No problem seƱor Joseph Edward Bonaparte Junior did a mighty fine job working on the bike until we realize it just wasn't the right fit. I'll be back and I encourage all my Collingswood friends to support this amazing and hidden gem of Collingswood's bike culture.

It's really not fair to compare the two bike sharing/bike riding programs.  Bicycles to Mopeds in a way.  Yes both will allow you to ride around and get from point A to points B, C, and Z, and each have many merits.  I'm a lucky rider to have so many bikable choices in my life; my bikes, a Collingswood Bike Share if I need it, a quick zip around Center City on a rent-a-bike.  Bicycle culture is alive and doing very well.  Happy to still be a part of it while I can still get my aching tired body around!