Home Cook
Oct 2009

For the Beans

Haven’t been cooking much the past week or so. I’ve had the flu and Spousal Unit went into the hospital last Wednesday for tests, so the kitchen has been operating in survival mode only. Thank goodness Spousal Unit believes in survival pantry stocking; all that chicken soup came in handy.

One thing Spousal Unit has been encouraging me to do is to write tips for husbands in the kitchen. He thinks Teach Your Husband to Cook would be a good title. I dunno; some husbands cook pretty darn well. Maybe it should be Teach Your Partner or Kid or Roommate to Cook. Whatever you want to call it, I’ll share a tip today along with my super-simple, survival-mode supper.

About thirty years ago I concocted a killer bean dip, but it’s been quite a while since I’ve had occasion to make it. Today, as we were out of canned soups, I started eyeing the refried beans. I didn’t have the energy to make the full-out version, plus I wanted to keep it extra mild so as not to stress my system. But it was tasty in a comfort food kind of way, and sure was easy. I’ll upload the killer dip recipe next time I make it.

Simple Bean Dip
  • 1 can refried beans
  • 1 can* corn, drained
  • 1/2 cup (or more) store-bought salsa
  • Cholula Chili Roast Garlic Mexican Seasoning,** a few shakes to taste
Empty the cans into a 1-1/2 to 2 quart, covered microwaveable dish, something like a Corningware covered casserole. Add the salsa and dry seasonings; stir well. Cover and microwave at 50% power for 10-12 minutes. If not yet steaming hot, stir and nuke again at 50% power for an additional 2-4 minutes. When steaming hot, give it a last good stir and serve hot with tortilla chips or corn chips.

If you want more of a kick, you could drain and add one of those little cans of chopped green chilies, or add a few shakes of hot sauce. It would also be nice with a little shredded cheese sprinkled on top just before serving.

I’m thinking tonight’s leftovers might wind up in a taco for tomorrow’s lunch. Just reheat in the microwave at half-power, then put spoonful or two on a tortilla with some lettuce, tomato and shredded cheese.

Corn is one of the few vegetables I’ll buy canned, rather than fresh or frozen. I think it holds up just fine. I rarely have the patience to use fresh any way but on the cob.

This is a mild, dry seasoning in a shaker jar that I’ve had in my pantry for a while now. It’s made by the same people who make the wonderful Cholula hot sauces, except they don’t seem to make dry seasonings any more. If you can’t find it, use a little chili power instead.

Simple Bean Tip

Since refried beans are so dense, they are not the easiest food to heat. You can do it in a saucepan or small frying pan over medium heat with a lot of stirring. You’d think the microwave would help, but that tends to overcook them around the edges unless you’re constantly stopping, stirring and nuking some more. It always seemed to me to be a lot of fuss and attention for such a simple side dish.

Not too long ago, I discovered that the easiest, least fussy way to heat the beans is just as I describe it in the recipe above. Spread them out in a microwaveable casserole, cover, then nuke at half-power for a good ten minutes or so. Using 50% power is the trick. They heat very evenly with no fuss whatsoever.

Hot Potato!

One of my favorite things growing up was my mom's German potato salad. It's served hot with a thick, sweet and sour dressing, and bears no resemblance whatsoever to a typical American potato salad. (I have to keep explaining that to the people who immediately say, "I don't like potato salad.")

Now, my mother's parents were immigrants from Austria, so I grew up assuming this was some old family recipe. When I was living away from home and asked her for it, much to my surprise she pulled out a newspaper clipping. I have no idea from where she got it, but if she was cooking it when I was a kid, it must have been published fifty years ago or more. I hand-copied it, then later typed it up and pasted it into my recipe notebook (a little three-ring binder which I've been using for the last forty years or so).

This is one recipe I don't tweak, I like it so much just as it is. I was going to post it just as I got it, but decided the rather terse instructions could use a rewrite.

Hot German Potato Salad
  • 3 eggs
  • 5 slices of bacon (or more*)
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1-1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice **
  • 4 cups sliced, cooked potatoes, skins on (4 large potatoes or 6 or more small ones)
  • 1/2 cup sliced onion (one small or half a large)
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh parsley, less if dried
  • 1 tsp celery seed

*That's what it says in the original. Need I say, I always go for "more."

**If you're squeezing fresh lemons, you'll probably need two. If you come up a little short, just make up the difference with white wine vinegar.

Hard-boil two of the three eggs. Set aside to cool.

Scrub the potatoes, but do not peel or slice. Put whole potatoes in a pot with just enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover. Let cook for about 30 minutes, or until just barely tender. (Poke with a fork or a slim, sharp knife. It should go in easily.) Do not overcook, or they will fall apart. Drain, set aside until cool enough to handle, then slice, about 1/4 inch thick. If potatoes are very large, halve or quarter lengthwise before slicing.

In a large frying pan or wide dutch oven, fry the bacon until crisp. Set aside to drain on paper toweling.

Measure out 1/4 cup of the bacon drippings, then discard the rest. Add the quarter cup of fat back into the pan. Add the flour, sugar, salt and pepper to the pan and mix into the bacon fat. Stir over low heat until pasty.

In a small bowl, lightly beat the remaining raw egg with the water, vinegar and lemon juice. Add gradually to the flour mixture and stir until thickened.

Add the sliced onions, stir and cook for just a couple of minutes.

Crumble the bacon and add to the pan, along with the potatoes, parsley and celery seed. Toss gently over low heat until well covered with the sauce and warmed through.

Garnish with sliced hard-boiled eggs, Serve warm.

Birthday Greens

Working fifty hours a week has kept me out of the kitchen, but yesterday we belatedly celebrated Isaac's 60th birthday with a cake and a home-cooked meal.

  • Spiral-sliced ham (a heat-and-serve shortcut)
  • Hot German Potato Salad
  • Swiss Chard with Garlic
  • Pumpkin Walnut Bundt Cake with Spiced Rum Glaze

The cake recipe went up yesterday, and the potato salad deserves a post of its own, so here is the swiss chard. I really must flesh out my essay on cooking greens and get that posted. I shall do that in my copious free time ...

Swiss Chard with Garlic
  • 1 bunch swiss chard
  • 1-2 slices of bacon (or a splash of olive oil)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced (or more)
  • salt
  • pepper

Wash the chard well, especially if it's from the farmers' market rather than a supermarket. Dump it into a sink of cold water, swoosh it around, then drain the water. Repeat until you don't see any more dirt or sand at the bottom of the sink. Set aside.

In a large frying pan (one with a lid) or wide, shallow sauce pan, fry up the bacon until crispy. Remove bacon from pan and pour out most of the bacon grease.

While the bacon is frying, cut off the very ends of the chard stems and discard. Tear off the leaves from the thickest part of the stems. Chop the stems in little slices. Once the bacon and most of the fat is out of the pan, put over moderate heat and toss in the stems. Stir them a bit, then add the minced garlic. Let the garlic and stems cook a minute or so while you prepare the leafy bits.

Roll up the leaves into big cigar shapes and slice across into shreds maybe 1/4 inch wide (precision is not important). Add to the pan with the stems and garlic and toss it around. Shake on some salt and pepper to taste. Cover. The moisture still clinging to the leaves will steam the greens. Give it a good stir every few minutes.

Once it's wilted to your liking, turn off the heat. If you're using a heavy pan with a good lid, you can also turn off the heat any time after it starts to steam and just let it sit with the cover on. It will continue to wilt until you're ready for it.

Crumble the bacon over the greens, toss and serve.

I didn't actually add the bacon back in last night, as I was using it in the potato salad. I usually make this with olive oil, so if I'm using bacon I don't use much salt. Along with the salt, pepper, and garlic, you could also add dried red pepper flakes, or maybe a couple of drops of hot sauce or hot sesame oil. To taste, of course. Hey, it's your dinner--make it the way you like!


Isaac's Belated Birthday Bundt Cake

Isaac's sixtieth birthday was last week, but between my schedule and his health, we didn't really celebrate. As long as I had today off, I declared it birthday day. Here's the cake.

Pumpkin Walnut Bundt Cake with Spiced Rum Glaze
  • 10 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 2/3 cups white sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp spiced rum
  • 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 can (approx. 2 cups) pumpkin puree
  • 2 cups spelt flour
  • 2/3 cup barley flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp allspice
  • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 350º. Butter a Bundt pan really, really well.

Using a mixer, beat the butter and sugar together until well mixed. It will be crumbly, not creamy. Add the eggs and vanilla, beat well until it is very creamy and lemon-colored, then add the pumpkin. Mix until just blended.

Sift the dry ingredients together and add to the wet ingredients about a third at time, mixing gently with the machine or by hand. Stir in the walnuts.

Spread the batter evenly in the Bundt pan. Bang the bottom of the pan a few times on the table to shake out any air bubbles. It will pick up the details of the mold much better this way. Bake for one hour, until the cake begins to pull away from the sides of the pan and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool on a wire rack for ten minutes ("no more, no less," according to the official Nordic Ware site ), then invert onto a plate. (Don't pick it up with bare hands; use hot pads.) With luck, it comes out in one beautiful piece.

Captain's Rum Glaze
  • 2 tbsp spiced rum
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 cup confectioner's sugar

Stir together, then drizzle over top of the cake.

Alternately, dust with powdered sugar or cinnamon sugar.

The alert reader may notice significant similarities to the previously-posted Banana Cake. This is hardly accidental. Much of my baking consists of tweaking one recipe to accommodate other ingredients.

The aforementioned Nordic Ware site suggests spraying cooking oil on the pan, then dusting with flour, but I haven’t been thrilled with the results. I liked the butter, but I could see that dusting with flour would have helped the cake climb up the sides of the pan. However, the result was dandy anyway.