I woke up yesterday morning and realized that I actually did need to wake up; even though it was Saturday. C r a p... I was still sleepy, so comfy, snugly and warm, beneath flannel sheets and stacked in-between pups. While Ginger had my left side, spooned into a crook by my leg, Buddy had the right; he is more mobile during the night and had tucked himself in, straddling forearm and ribs with just enough room for his chin to rest delicately on my wrist. Usually on a Saturday morning, I am abruptly awakened somewhere between 5:00 and 6:00 AM with the weight of a paw or 2 (or 4) on my chest and Ginger’s eyes staring down at me, willing mine to open. As I lay unmoving, soft growls and fake sneezes ensue (from her, not me), increasing in decibel the longer I stay still. This happens only on Saturday and Sunday, mind you. On say, a Monday, my alarm clock is not supplemented, other than with nasal snoring that emits a soft groan as he breathes in (Buddy, not Tom).
So on this particular Saturday, I found myself happy to be comfortable and content while the clock blinked that it was seven past ten. I could have stayed on this way for hours, maybe more. I am not usually one to sleep late though, let me be clear. It’s just that it was soooooo comfy, so warm, and the short holiday work week had drug on for what seemed like a full week at least. Tom needed to catch a plane though, which meant getting him to the airport by noon. When you subtracted out the morning coffee, showers and handling Ginger and Buddy’s needs, we were already running behind. I peeled away the pups, shuffled to the kitchen and started the morning brew machine.
We are not often apart for this long (he’s gone all week) and especially not starting on the weekend. Saturday and Sunday are for brunching, and lunching, and stories and friends.
So after dropping him at the door and pulling away from the curb, I considered the food; what all shall I eat? There are two camps to be in on this thought. Camp number one says lay low; go out to eat, take a break from the kitchen and prepare things that can be eaten directly out of the fridge with little effort and picked on all night. Camp number two says go big; cook things Tom doesn’t usually like, lot’s of them, and then make some more.
I thought about this as I drove down the highway back toward our house, and also wondered what things most needed attention on my ever growing, “I’ll take care of that later” list. My closet is still brimming over with unfolded clothes, hangers tightly cramped together with double, even triple, layers of clothes and the floor covered with stray belts, boxes and scarves. My bathroom drawer has become piled back up with extra bottles, jars and tubs of products I felt “I needed to try”. Once again, things fall to the floor (nearly hitting Buddy who insists on laying in the same danger zone as I get ready each day) as I dig through the clutter to unearth my brush, or my deodorant, or the eyeliner which has fallen out of my makeup bag, and into the abyss. I also have correspondence that is long overdue, bills and taxes and filing of months worth of papers. The refrigerator is in a similar state to my bathroom drawer, even though I just cleaned it before Christmas, along with my pantry, which had been tidy and organized but now I can’t close the door without tucking and shoving. I sound like more of a wreck than I really am, but who wants to deal with THAT stuff?!
None of that sounded like much fun on such a beautiful, sunny winter day though, so I decided to drive to the car wash and then go to Whole Foods before deciding what to do with the afternoon, and what to do about food. Everyone else, apparently, had had the same thought; the line at the car wash was so long that it was backed up out to the street. I knew that meant a wait greater than the 30 minutes it takes if the line is only 6 deep. I turned around and drove over to the market, emerging 2 hours later with three bags of groceries that I am not sure how or when I will eat. So although camp number one (lay low) had been sounding pretty good, I found myself in camp number three (sometimes you have to make it up as you go).
Cooking for two seems like it should be similar to cooking for one. I mean really, it is like adding one more seat (additional guest) to the table; how hard is that? Yet, there are so many people I know, that because they are most often cooking for only themselves, tend not to cook much at all. Sometimes it might be cereal for dinner or a grilled cheese; leftovers from lunch or a frozen entree, perhaps. Pasta is easy, tossed generously with Parmesan, but take-out is easier and probably more often the norm. I secretly like the idea of how easy that would be, so sometimes when Tom goes out of town for a night or two, I am convinced that I will take it easy on myself and relax. Somehow though, it never turns out that way. I always cook big; it’s just what I do. By big I don’t always mean multiple courses and mounds of food. Sometimes cooking big means taking the extra steps that could have been skipped and adding the extra thing that might not have been missed but is appreciated none the less. It means cooking from scratch, cooking full meals, and cooking real food. So as usual, tonight, that’s what I’ll do.
I wasn’t very hungry when I got home from the market yesterday but by the time I had put everything away, it was almost 5:00 and I hadn’t had lunch. I began cleaning the fridge, thinking I would figure out what I wanted to eat, but nothing jumped out and gave me a calling. Despite all the groceries I had just put away, I knew I had two really nice Prime beef short ribs that I held off from adding to the beef stew from a few nights before (didn’t need three pounds of meat in the stew), so I decided to cook them but wasn’t sure which way sounded good. By 8:00, I was beginning to get hungry. When I had told Tom I should cook things he didn’t like while he was gone, he said he didn’t like black beans as much as I did. So, remembering this, I began to crave fajitas (I love Mexican food)! I decided to cook a pot of black beans to put on my beef fajitas and use the rest to make a big pot of soup. By the time I sat down to dinner, it was after 10:00 PM. My pals Ginger and Buddy had stayed with me all night and when I sat down to eat, they were vultures, one on each side. Since this was too spicy for pups, I had fixed them a plate of the beef and carrots, diced up quite small (no seasoning) and fed them alongside me. It was just right (I think they’ll agree)!
BLACK BEAN SOUP – GARNISHED WITH AVOCADO AND LIME CRÈME
INGREDIENTS (for beans)
2 cups black turtle beans – rinsed and drained
6 cups water
1 onion, skin and ends removed, cut in half
3 cloves garlic (or more if you like), peeled
1 TB cumin powder
1 TB dried, Mexican oregano
1 TB chipotle chili powder (Plus more if you like. You could also use another chili powder; just don’t use a mixed powder with salt. I like mine spicy so I do tend to use closer to 2 TB)
1 jalapeño, core and seeds removed
Juice of 2 limes
1 TB olive oil
Sea salt to taste – approximately 3/4 TB
Fresh ground pepper to taste
More lime juice as desired
1 small smoked ham shank (You could omit this if you prefer to stay vegetarian but consider adding smoked paprika for a layer of smokiness to the soup.)
INGREDIENTS (additional for soup)
1 Chinese eggplant, ends removed
1 poblano chili
2 medium sized tomatoes
1 cup water
1 cup orange juice (preferably fresh squeezed)
1 cup beer (Use only 1/2 cup beer and more water or orange juice instead if you prefer not to have it tasting distinctively of beer. I used Bridgeport Kingpin Double Red Ale (as it happened to be in the ‘fridge, but any good, deep ale will do), the whole cup and thought it was great but sometimes a more subtle flavor is desired in which case, drink the rest of it alongside. If you prefer no beer at all, use a chicken or vegetable broth instead).
Additional seasoning as desired
INGREDIENTS (for lime creme) – double or triple as needed
1/3 cup crème fraîche (or sour cream)
1 TB lime juice
1/8 tsp cardamom
Make the lime crème by blending all of the ingredients together. If you use sour cream, you will make it easier on yourself to blend in a processor. If using crème fraîche, you can probably just whisk it in a bowl. This can be stored in a clean jar or squeeze bottle in the fridge for a week (I only made a small amount because I am by myself and also I don’t have much sour cream and am out of crème fraîche). It will (and should be) tasting of lime which cuts through the spice of the soup nicely.
To cook the beans, I use a pressure cooker (a trick I learned from my sister-in-law, Irma; saves tons of time and always turns out well). I have the Cuisinart electric pressure cooker that my Mom got for me – love it!
Put all of the ingredients, starting from the black beans, through the 1TB olive oil, into the pressure cooker. Cook on high for 22 minutes. When the pressure valve is released, check that the beans feel done. They should be barely firm and give under your tongue. If too hard, simply turn on for another 3-5 minutes or just let simmer instead.
Meanwhile, as the beans are cooking, heat the oven to 400 degrees. Put the eggplant, tomatoes and poblano onto a 1/2 sheet pan. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and sprinkle over some sea salt. Put this in the oven for about 15 minutes (just enough time to get me around the block walking with Buddy and Ginger).
Peel the skin from the tomatoes (it will slide right off), remove stem and seeds from the poblano and cut the eggplant into large chunks.
When the beans are done cooking, add the sea salt, fresh pepper, more lime juice (I usually squeeze in 1/2 a lime) and ham shank (if using). Let this simmer for at least 15 minutes to take in the salt. Adjust seasoning by tasting the liquid; it should not be too salty or bland. The ham shank will add more salt flavor so keep that in mind. I only added it to the beans now so that it would build up some smokiness for the soup.
The beans are ready (since I was making fajitas for dinner last night, I set aside approximately one cup using a slotted spoon for this use).
Pull out the ham shank and put it into a medium sized pot. Set aside an additional 2 cups of the beans (liquid and all).
Transfer the purée to the pot with the ham shank. Add the water, orange juice and beer. Let simmer, uncovered, to thicken, stirring often. After an hour, check for seasoning. Add additional cumin (I added 1 TB more), salt, pepper or lime juice to taste.
Now at this point, when the flavors seem good and it is still not too thick, I set aside 2 cups to eat, non-chunky style, before adding the reserved beans and chopping in meat (two soups in one – I also did this to enjoy a small cup with dinner without waiting to finish the whole process). This is totally optional though. You could even (as I did), continue the rest of the way the next day – (just do the next step, set aside and let come to room temp before covering and storing in the fridge for the night).
(Hint, this is the next step) – Add the 2 cups of beans that were set aside for the soup. Because you had some of the cooking liquid in it, there will be additional heat but the flavor of the beer will start to retreat.
Bring to a simmer, stirring every now and again for as long or as little as you like. I have left mine on low simmer for a few hours now and everything is flavoring nicely (mmm… it smells good – or is that our dinner I smell which is now cooking too?). Remove the ham shank, discarding the bone.
Shred the meat; chop and add back to the soup (I have been known to serve this in shallow bowls, topped with shaved cabbage and sliced pork tenderloin then garnished with the crème and diced mango… some other time, no beans tonight!
Ginger says, “Come on Mom, time to eat!” (Raw meat, not bean soup.)