Welcome to my kitchen

A while ago, I realized I was serious enough about bread baking to stop diddling around with the 3-packs of yeast from the grocery store, or even the small jars for a small fortune. So I pulled up my big girl pants, and ordered "A Pound Of Yeast". It's in my freezer, and I use it regularly, and I guess that makes me "A Baker". Even though I always said "I can't bake". So, join me on my journey, and let's see what that pound of yeast makes, and where we go next....

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Continuing Chronicles Of The Lost Recipes…

Sometimes, sometimes……you just gots to take the easy way out.  Somedays, the magic in the little kitchen is just rolling.  I mean, *ROLLING*.  I am on fie-yah, baby.  I’m like Harry Potter with the Elder Wand in his hand (sorry, just finished reading The Deathly Hallows, and watched the first half of the movie over the weekend….I guess I’ve been “Potter-ized”).  Everything I touch just…works.  Pita bread from scratch ?  But of course !  Handmade corn tortillas that would make an abuelita proud ?  No hay problema !  Pierogies that would bring a tear to the eye of my Polish babushka ?  Routinely !  Cookies, and cakes, and stews, and roasts, and braises, and breads…..OH MY !  I can DO that.  I *DO* do that !

But somedays, (yes, I realize that’s not a real word, but its how I talk, so therefore how I write), somedays the train just doesn’t ever leave the station.  The ship never sails.  The horse never leaves the barn.  Insert the no-go metaphor of your choice here.  In other words, I’m the little engine that couldn’t in the little kitchen.

Rather than resort to the evil pizza delivery Megalopolies (which really don’t sell very good pizza, do they) or the even eviler Golden Arches, or the shame of the Blue Box ‘O’ Cheeze Goo, I go back to my neophyte cook roots, and go for the easy route and the “what can I pull out of the pantry using good quality packaged stuff” meal.

I….I….(twitch, shudder, twitch)…become…..Semi-Homemade (AARRRRRGGGGHHHH, there I’ve said it).

Confession is always such a difficult thing, isn’t it ?  But so freeing once it’s out there.  Now.  I don’t do this often.  Most days I am a firm believer in fresh and local and seasonal and scratch.  Because I have come to learn that those elements make a dish taste better.  Good ingredients treated respectfully and well, lead to good meals.  Pretty simple equation.  And now that I have the luxury of time, much more achievable than when I was working 50-plus hours a week.

But some days, quick and dirty (not to mention easy) works just groovy, and in this instance, the results are more than adequate.  In fact, they’re pretty damned good.

We’ve established previously that I am a fool for Cajun/Creole food.  I believe on numerous occasions we have established that fact….

We’ve also established previously that I do, in fact, know how to make red beans and rice from scratch, including soaking and cooking the dried beans, making a stock from a ham hock or ham bone, and all the attendant love and attention that such a project requires/deserves.

But, in a pinch, this latest installment from The Chronicles Of The Lost Recipes does pretty respectable duty.  AND, it does it in about half-an-hour of cooking/work time.

If all ya’ll recall (hey, a TRIPLE rhyme, good on me !), The Chronicles Of The Lost Recipes are dishes I used to make way back in the dark ages when I was a beginning sprout in the kitchen.  For the most part, they were quick and easy.  I was learning, I was busy building a career, and shortcuts were a good thing.  Over the years, I found ways to improve upon the basic recipes, and sourced the best of the store-bought, ready-made ingredients to improve the recipes even more.

So, here we have “Roberta’s Quick and Dirty Red Beans And Rice In A Hurry”.

Here’s whatcha need:

Bacon (oh yeah, babe), onion, garlic, beef broth or base, rice, dried thyme, salt, bell pepper and kidney beans.  And hot sauce.  Gots to have the hot sauce, cher.  And a special, secret ingredient we’ll talk about in a bit.

Let’s start with the beans.  If you’re using regular, canned kidney beans, dump them into a strainer, rinse them, and let them drain.  The canning liquid in plain beans is plain nasty, and you don’t need it.

If you are staggeringly lucky, you will have these….

…which are magical, and make this dish even better than the base recipe.  Sorry for the blurry focus….*I* was blurry when I took the picture.

In the event you have the magic “Louisiana Style Red Beans”, drain them, but do NOT discard the sauce from the can.  Put the strainer over a large measuring cup, or a bowl, and capture all that lovely, seasoned sauce, and use it as part of the liquid you’ll need for the recipe.

Sadly, for this version, I only had plain ol’ kidney beans, so they got the big drain over the drain.

While the beans are draining, chop up the bacon into large-ish (technical culinary term alert !) pieces, and brown them up in an appropriately-sized saucepan.  Let them get nice and brown, but not over-crisp.

While the yummy bacon is browning, chop the onion into large-ish wedges.

Drain the crisped bacon on paper towels, saving that lovely, deeeee-licious bacon fat.  Add the wedged onion and some garlic, and sauté them around until the onion gets soft.

Measure out a total of 2&1/2 cups of liquid.  You’ll want, for the full recipe, about 13-15 ounces of canned beef broth (or the equivalent amount of water mixed with beef broth base), water, and if you’re using the magic “Louisiana Style Red Beans” the sauce from the can.  Whatever gets you to 2&1/2 cups of liquid works.

Speaking of beef broth base, this stuff is also magic:

No, they don’t owe me anything.  Yes, I buy their products.  I always have both the beef base and the chicken base in the fridge.  MUCH better, MUCH less sodium than those nasty little cubes.  YES, it would be better if you had homemade beef broth/stock, but seriously….this is the real world.  I don’t have the freezer space for stock.  This stuff works for me.

So, get your requisite amount of whatever combination of liquid you come up with, and dump it into the saucepan with the onion and garlic.  At that point, we’ll have the much-beloved toxic waste spill look.

Then dump in the rice, the dried thyme, the bacon and some salt.  And here’s my next little secret weapon.


True, unadulterated magic.  (Geeze, I guess I really do have Potter-mania, don’t I ?  Everything good in this post is magic…..find a new word, will ya, Roberta?)

Seriously.  Smoked salt is unbelievable.  I found this on a culinary excursion a friend of mine (Hi Marissa !) and I took for my birthday this year.  Subsequently I’ve seen it at Trader Joe’s, and it’s certainly available on line.  *WARNING*---its potent stuff !  When I tasted it out of hand, I got such a hit of smoke, I almost gagged.  But just a pinch in this dish gave it the smoky back-taste it’s always sorely lacked from not cooking for hours with a ham hock and andouille.

Get some smoked salt and play with it.  You’ll have fun, but use a light hand, it could very, very easily overpower all the other flavors in the dish.

OK, back to the Q&D (*q*uick & *d*irty) red beans and rice.  After the rice has simmered, covered, for a bit, stir in the bell pepper, and let it go again for a few minutes.  Then pull it from the heat, stir in the drained beans, cover and let it sit until the liquid is all absorbed.

Sploosh in some hot sauce and enjoy pretty good red beans and rice that didn’t take you all day to cook.  I had it with the last hot link left over from the day I made my caldo verde.

Here’s the actual recipe, which I got from Uncle Ben’s Rice about a million years ago (OK, the © on the card is 1986, so maybe only 500,000 years ago….).

Roberta’s Quick and Dirty Red Beans And Rice In A Hurry
6 servings

6 slices bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 onions, cut into 1/2-inch wedges
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 can (13 to 15 ounces) beef broth (not concentrated), or the appropriate amount of beef base mixed with water
1 cup rice
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon salt (smoked salt is best)
1/2 cup diced bell pepper
2 (16-ounce) cans kidney beans, drained and rinsed (or 2 cans “Louisiana Style Red Beans, drained, sauce saved, and not rinsed)

Cook bacon in large sauce pan over medium heat until well browned, but not overly crisp, about 5 minutes.  Remove from skillet and drain on paper towels.  Reserve about 2 tablespoons drippings in pan.

Add the onion and garlic to the pan, and sauté until the onion is tender, but not brown, about 5 minutes.  Add enough water to the canned beef broth (or the canned broth/bean sauce combination) to make 2&1/2 cups of liquid total.  Add to pan and bring to boil.  Stir in the rice, bacon, thyme and salt.  Cover tightly and simmer for 15 minutes.  Add diced bell pepper, cover and continue simmering for an additional 5 minutes.

Remove from heat, stir in beans.  Let stand, covered, for another 5 minutes, until all liquid is absorbed.  Adjust to taste with hot sauce and serve.

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