Home Cook
Tips and Tricks

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.

Kale Soup (with a Digression on Chicken Stock)

I never cooked greens until a year or so ago; they just weren't part of my diet growing up, and I really didn't know what to do with them. I started experimenting with them, and now I use them a lot, and will throw them into all sorts of dishes. Here's one from last week.

Kale and Smoked Turkey Soup

Wash well two bunches of flat-leafed kale (might be called Lacinato or dinosaur kale.) Cut off the thick end of the stems, if any, and chop the rest coarsely. Set aside.

Throw some olive oil in a good-sized pot over low to medium heat. Add a diced onion and cook slowly until onion is soft, but not brown. Add a couple of cloves of garlic, minced.

Slice the meat off of a smoked turkey leg. Save the bone for something else. Dice the meat into maybe 1/2 inch chunks. Toss in with the onions and garlic and stir.

Chop up a couple of carrots and a few ribs of celery, including the leaves. Add that to the pot and stir. Let cook for a minute or two.

Add about 4-6 cups of chicken or vegetable broth*, some parsley from the garden, and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and toss the kale on top. Cover and let the kale steam until soft.

Take a cup or so of leftover rice from the fridge and stir it into the soup. When rice is warm, ladle into bowls and serve.

*I used homemade broth cobbled together from the soup stock scrap bag in the freezer. All the raw chicken or turkey skin and trimmings that would normally get thrown away get tossed in there, along with rotisserie chicken carcasses and scraps of onions, carrots, celery and parsley. When the bag is full, it goes into the crock pot along with water to cover, garlic, herbs, salt and pepper. I let it brood for for the day, strain out all the bits, then refrigerate until I can remove the solidified fat from the top. It then gets divided into one-cup portions in freezer containers. Those go into the freezer for whenever I need stock.