Thursday, April 21, 2011

Black Bean Bread

...while blowing bubbles bicycling backwards.  This is really good!  I know it sounds weird, but seriously...The beans give it a really nice texture, color, and flavor.

Here is what you need:

Flour (probably about 8 cups)
Black Beans (you didn't think I posted the recipe for nothing did you?)
1 Tablespoon yeast
2-3 teaspoons salt (depending on how salty your beans are)
Black olives*


If you've never made bread before, it's not that hard, especially if you have a Kitchenaid.  If you don't you should go buy one immediately.  Mine is my best friend.  Of course people have been making bread since the dawn of time so it's not strictly necessary, but quite beneficial.

To begin, take a few scoops of black beans out of your pot, making sure to get plenty of the liquid (please don't use canned beans for this) and put them in some kind of container where you can smash them.  Alternatively you could put them in a food processor or a blender, but I didn't think of that until now.  Anyway, measure the amount that you have and add whatever water is necessary until you have 4 cups of a rich black bean soup, which by the way, is also very good.  I'll have to post that sometimes.  Anyway, your bean/water mix should be luke warm.  If it's above ~105 degrees F when you put the yeasties in the poor things will die a miserable death and your bread will turn out ideal for making adobe huts with.  Put the yeast on top of the liquid and put a scoop of flour on top.  The amount doesn't matter.  Right now we're just trying to wake up the yeast.  Give it a little stir and let it sit for 20 minutes.  It should start to look like this.

A happy, thriving, yeast colony
In case you're curious, yeast eats up sugar and spits out carbon dioxide and alcohol.  We're not brewing beer here, so we're interested in the carbon dioxide.  As you know, it's the same thing you're breathing out right now.  Once we get the dough nice and kneaded it will act like a big starchy net that not only feeds the yeast but traps the gas from the yeast.  If everything goes well this symbiotic relationship will produce a nice puffed up lump that will make a delicious sandwhich after being baked.

Once the yeast is awake, add the salt and some flour and mix it in.  If you have a Kitchenaid this process is great fun.  Just put your dough hook on and keep dumping in flour while the hook mixes it.  You'll see it go through the pancake batter consistency stage, the cookie dough consistency stage, the biscuit consistency stage, and so on.  If you're doing it by hand it's not nearly as fun because you actually have to do work, and by the time it gets just past the cookie dough consistency stage you'll be mixing it and kneading it with your hands and making a big old mess. 

The dough will eventually start to pull itself off the side of the bowl.  Don't be shy about adding flour either, it takes a lot.  I dump in four or five cups right off the bat and let that mix in.  Once it is nearing the proper amount it will knead without sticking itself to the side of the bowl.  At this point keep it kneading for a few more minutes.  You'll still have to dust it with flour, but don't add substancial amounts.  If you're in doubt, stop kneading and pinch the dough.  It should be smooth and offer some resistance.  If it's gooey and sticks to your fingers when you pinch it, you haven't added enough flour.  If you're kneading by hand, give it eight to ten minutes.  Don't sweat it too much, you're bread will still turn out either way.  If you put in too little flour chances are it will have a cakey texture and if too much then a tough, dry texture.  It'll still be better than storebought though.  I always knead it by hand for a few goes at the end so I can get a feel for the dough.  It should be smooth, elastic, and not overly sticky.

Kneaded and Ready to Rise

Here's mine after kneading. 

Once you begin adding the salt and the flour the whole process of preparing the dough should only take 15-20 minutes.

By the way, turn the oven on to 400 F right now.

Next you need to let it rise.  This will give it some time to develop flavor from the yeast as well as make your dough light and palatable.  Just find a nice large bowl, smear it with olive oil, and throw the dough in there.  Cover it and set it in a warm place.  If everything goes well it should start growing.  In 25-45 minutes it should double in size.  Once this happens we'll have to shape it into the loaves and let it rise again.  Here is the dough pre and post rise.

After it's all puffed up you need to take it out of the bowl, put it on a lightly floured counter, and beat it down.  Punch it with your fist until the gas escapes.  If your dough didn't come out well you can really put some emotion into it too.  Once it's deflated you can choose what kind of loaves you want.  You can use bread pans, make dinner rolls, make french bread, whatever.  I like to make boules.  That's a small round loaf. 

This recipe can make two enormous loaves or three nice size ones.  I weight it and then divide it into three equal pieces.  The whole dough gob usually weighs between 5.5-6 lbs.  You can just eye it.  Whatever form you are using the dough in, you want to shape the piece you're working with back into a single dough mass.  If you need to, pinch the loose ends together.  You're going for smooth.  I roll mine around in a circle on the cutting board for awhile. 

Put some oil on whatever pan you are using and put the dough in it.  The nice thing about bread pans is that after the second rise you can throw it straight into the oven.  For boules I use small wicker baskets that I have dusted with flour. 

Set your dough aside once more, cover it, and let it rise a second time.  This rise is more important than the first one.  If you let it rise too little your bread will shoot through the roof once you put it in the oven.  Too much and it will deflate like an old balloon and give you sub par results.

Check it after twenty minutes.  Touch the dough with your finger.  If the dough springs back vigorously it needs to rise longer.  If your finger makes a dent that just stays there looking back at you that means it's overproofed.  You want it to have resiliency but still leave a trace of your fingers indent.  Twenty minutes most likely will be too early.  Twenty five should be good.  Thirty might be okay, but I find it's usually too long in this state.

At this point your reward begins.  Put the bread into the preheated oven and wait for the delicious aroma to infuse your house and cause your neighbors to begin unwittingly salivating upon themselves.  For boules you'll need to turn them upside down, which is actually rightside up, onto a floured cutting board and slip them into your oven onto your preheated baking stone, or barring that, turn them out onto a cookie sheet and slip that into your preheated oven.  Before you do though, make a 1/4 inch deep slit with a razor blade in an arc from one side to the other.  This is to take care of the "oven spring", that last gasping cresendo of the yeast before it breathes its last.  Your bread will then look nice when you take it out as opposed to a giant lopsided hamburger bun.


By the way, these were slightly overproofed because I went jogging during the second rise.  Otherwise the oven spring would have been more substantial.  You can see the purpose of the arced cut though, right?

Cuban Style Black Beans

These are a staple around here.  Easy, inexpensive, and quite healthy.

1 lb. black beans
~1 teaspoon cumin
~1 Tablespoon coriander
~1 teaspoon oregano
1 green pepper
olive oil
salt and pepper
Balsamic Vinegar

The Goods

Soak your beans for 4-12 hours.  Rinse and fill pressure cooker 2-3 inches past the top of beans with fresh water.  Pressure cook at 15 p.s.i. for 30-35 minutes with all the ingredients added except the salt and vinegar.  Run cold water on the lid to depressurize, then season to taste with the salt and vinegar.

Note:  I always put hot pepper in my beans, usually cayenne and chipotle.  I also like jalapeno in the beans more than green pepper.  I think it holds up better.  However, from what I understand, Cubans don't make spicy food so I can't in good conscience put that in the ingredient list.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Orange-Habanero Mahi-Mahi with Honey-Cilantro Glaze

My neighbor gave me a plethora of deliciously ripe and juicy oranges straight from the tree so I’ve been experimenting with various ways to use them up.  I came up with this marinade/glaze and my wife and I enjoyed it immensely. 
You can use probably just about any type of white fish.  I had two pieces of tilapia and one mahi-mahi and both came out great.  I just happen to like mahi-mahi more.

Here is the ingredient list:
4-5 juicy oranges
¼-1/3 cup honey
Handful of cilantro
1 habanero

Find good oranges!
Juice the oranges and mix up the honey well in the liquid.  Chop the cilantro and mince the habanero.   Throw some salt in there to suit your own personal taste.  It doesn’t need much, maybe a teaspoon or so.

The secret to this fish is how you cook it.  You need to get your oven preheated to 425 degrees F.   After this find yourself a nice, thick bottom pan that is capable of being left in the oven.  I prefer cast iron.  Set the pan on the stovetop and heat it to just a notch below the highest heat level.  Splash a nice layer of olive oil in the bottom and wait for it to get hot.  Once your oil is practically smoking throw your fish in the pan, being careful to avoid the splattering oil that always seems to find any bare skin.  Set your timer for four minutes and don’t touch the fish!  Once four minutes elapses grab the pan and throw it in the oven as is.  Set the timer for four minutes. 

After baking the fish the first round, take it out and flip it, adding the nice marinade that you made earlier.  Put it back in for four more minutes.
Hopefully by this time you have your tortillas made, your beans cooked, and your brown rice done!

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Best Vegetarian Pinto Beans in My World

If you don't have a pressure cooker, please, go buy one.  There's no reason to boil beans for hours on end waiting for them to soften. 

You need to soak your beans.  I like to soak mine for between 4 and 12 hours.  In a pinch I've made them without soaking them but I think the results are sub par.  Drain, rinse and put more water, about 2 inches deep past the top of the beans.  Put it on high uncovered while you add the spices.  Here's the list

1 lb. dried pintos

Put these in before you boil

1teaspoon - 1Tablespoon cumin
1teaspoon - 1Tablespoon coriander
1/2 - 1 teaspoon cayenne
2-3 Tablespoons molasses
Splash of Olive oil
Black Pepper
A jalapeno or two cut into large pieces
Splash of Stubbs smoke flavoring

Put these in after boiling

~1/8 cup balsamic vinegar
Copious amounts of salt

Of course these are all approximations and can be altered to suit your tastes and the quantity of beans your making.  I don't measure anything, but I am a good approximator. 

After adding the top list, get your pot pressurized.  I use a 15 lb. weighted gauge pressure cooker.  Once it's pressurized I cook the beans for around 35 minutes.  This gives me a nice tender bean.  The elevation you live at will also make a difference in the cooking time.  I live at 3200 ft.  Keep in mind that the higher your elevation the lower the temperature at which water boils.  In other words, if you live at the beach you may want to check them a little sooner.

Once the time has elapsed I put the pot in the sink and run cold water on the lid until it's depressurized inside and then check them.  If you are the type who takes them off the heat and lets them acclimate naturally then your cooking times will be much different.

I read somewhere that adding salt and acids before boiling causes the beans to resist cooking.  I don't know if it's true or how much difference it makes, but I always put the salt and vinegar in last because it takes fine tuning anyhow. 

A word on the vinegar.  I've had to use different vinegars in a pinch, but a good balsamic will give you far superior results.  It really adds a nice complexity to the flavor.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Most Excellent Homemade Noodles

This noodle recipe is a workhorse to be sure.  I use it for lasagna, fettucine alfredo, baked sphagetti, chow mein, etc. 

There are two great modern mechanisms that will make your life infinitely easier when making these; a Kitchenaid and a pasta machine.  If you're lucky you might even have a pasta attachment for your Kitchenaid.  That being said, neither one is necessary.  Just try not to drip sweat into your dough when you're kneading it.

The basic ingredients are:

2 cups flour (preferrably high gluten, i.e. bread flour)
2 cups semolina flour
1-4 eggs
less than 1/2 c. cold water
1 t. salt
1 T. oil

You can alter the flour and the number of eggs to suit your taste.  If you want whole wheat noodles, substitute it in.  I've used all manner of flours in conjunction with semolina, including rice flour.  If I'm using the noodles for pasta I usually use only 1 or 2 eggs.  If it's for chow mein I'll put four.  Anyway...

Put the flours together in your bowl and whisk them together until uniform.  Put the remaining four ingredients into a small bowl and mix well.  I prefer putting them in a pint jar and "shaking the shizzle" out of it, as it's affectionately referred to here.  Make a well in the middle of the flour and pour the concoction in.  If you're doing this by hand start folding the mixture together with your hands until you can start to knead it.  If you have a Kitchenaid just put the dough hook on and let it slowly incorporate the liquid into the flour.  It's going to be pretty dry, which is good.  If you have to add a little water.  I let it knead for about 5 minutes once it's become a solitary lump of dough with no straggler crumbs.  If you're uncertain stop and check it.  It should be extremely stiff and unpliable.  Not at all like bread dough.

This is what mine looks like.  You can let it sit for awhile if you want, but it's not necessary.  I just start cutting mine up and feeding it to the machine.  You might have to run it through multiple times if it's not kneaded completely.  I do mine one pass on a 5.  Just remember that noodles expand when cooked.  By the way, the black flecks in mine are fresh ground pepper.  Feel free to add whatever you want.  You can put basil into the mix, spinach, garlic...Be creative.

If you don't have a pasta machine, buy one.  You can usually find them at Ross for 20 bucks.  Barring that, you're gonna have to break out the trusty rolling pin and roll it out nice and flat and cut it up with a pasta roller or a knife.  With lasagna it wouldn't be so bad, but forget about angel hair.

This is what it should look like coming out.  If it's bunched up and all stuck together that means your dough wasn't dry enough.  That's o.k.  Just dust each piece with flour before you run it through and it should be o.k.
Either way, at this point you should have some water boiling rapidly on your stovetop.  Throw the noodles in and the clumps will break up into nice lonely noodles.  It only takes a few seconds for them to cook so be ready to pull them out once they float to the top.  This recipe is a large batch of noodles, so I do it in stages.  You'll see...

These noodles were destined for some chow mein so here they are browning in my wok.  After I fry them for a few minutes I'll put them in the fridge until dinner time.

One final note on this recipe.  The proportions given make a heck of a lot of noodles.  I rarely make a batch that big.  If it's just for my wife and I for dinner one night I half it.  You can keep unused dough for a short while, but it's much better fresh.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Renovating the garden just in time for April snow

During warm weather my chaise lounge in the front yard is my favorite place to be.  I bask in the sunshine like a giant lizard.  I do some of my best thinking there.  Incidentally, I always make sure my chair points away from my decomposing garden boxes so I don’t have to think about how much work it’s going to be to replace them.  I’ll blame it all on the gophers.  Five years ago when I decided to be an amateur gardener they were driving me out of my mind with their incessant Houdini acts on my plants.  There one minute, gone the next.  It’s really disheartening when you’ve nurtured the poor thing from a seed to see it so callously devoured.  I did attempt to thin them out with a BB gun but it was a painstaking process that resulted in success only one time, and it was all rather traumatizing for a vegetarian, but I digress… 
So the first boxes I built were made out of particle board.  Yeah, yeah, some guy at Lowe’s said the same thing, “For garden boxes…?  Those aren’t gonna last…”  Lowes is the birthplace and breeding ground for unsolicited advice from strangers.  “See here pal, I’m just renting this spot for an unknown quantity of time, and therefore a lasting structure isn’t one of my design requirements.”  That’s what I should have said, but I didn’t think of it until now and that was five years ago.  Anyway, it was true but here we are still and now I really need to do something about the decomposing pressboard in my driveway.
My best idea was to do nothing.  After all, I’m in the job market and who knows where we’ll end up and when.  Let me just say that repeated rejection is a great motivator to start the garden.
This time I got some nice 2x10s and avoided all eye contact with strangers.  By the third box I had it figured out pretty well:  Cut the boards, assemble the box, staple the chicken wire to the bottom, and position as necessary.  My wife also came up with the great idea of sifting all the rocks out of the garden soil.  It’s beautiful, really.  My back is permanently crippled, but it’s really nice.  My neighbor’s cat also seems to appreciate it.  Where did I put that BB gun?

That's not my wall by the way.  That's my neighbors wall.  Once we finished the garden boxes the driveway looked so fresh and clean that I couldn't leave the front eaten up by crabgrass and asphalt chunks.  So...back to Lowes.  This time for some mortar.  Happily the stranger who offered me unsolicited advice was an employee and she knew what she was talking about.  I left with three 90lb. bags and after another days gruelling manual labor I became acquainted with even more nerve endings in my back that I never new existed. 

Sure it's a little amateurish, but it's not bad for a first attempt.  And after a week of beautiful weather reaching almost triple digits I'm ready to plant...

Except for the snow that's forecast for tomorrow.