Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Beans and Bayless

Last night, I ventured into the Rick Bayless cookbook. Family Dinner Night always seems an appropriate venue for experimentation. I began the day by preparing a pot of pinto beans with onion, jalapeno (frozen from our garden last year), and shredded beef jerky. This cooked all day. Around 5, I began assembling the rest of the meal. I made the first recipe in the Bayless book: the Essential Simmered Tomato Jalapeno sauce, but because tomatoes aren't in season, I used canned (the recipe allows for this). I also used a frozen jalapeno pepper. I think, in retrospect, this sauce will be much tastier and zippier when I use fresh tomatoes and actually roast them first. I also used some frozen homemade vegetable stock I had, instead of chicken broth.

Meanwhile, I cooked a big pot of white rice (medium grain) with white onion and homemade chicken stock, and I poached three organic free range chicken breasts.
After simmering the sauce, I used it to make a casserole of layered steamed corn tortillas, ricotta cheese, sauteed mushrooms and asparagus, topped with melting cheese and green onions.

The picture, below, isn't the best because we forgot to take one before we started eating. However, you can see the basics. On the table, the pot of pinto beans, tortilla-ricotta casserole, white rice, shredded lettuce, avocadoes mashed with sea salt and lime juice, and a big bowl of fresh strawberries sprinkled with sugar, which I was so pleased to see in the grocery store this morning. Yes, they came all the way from California, but I couldn't resist them.

Before dinner, we enjoyed a lovely cocktail--one of the margaritas from Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen. Here is my adapted recipe:

Upscale 'Rita

Rub a lime around the edge of two martini glasses, and roll the edges in coarse salt.

In a cocktail shaker, combine:

Juice from 1 large lime (about 1/4 cup)
1/4 cup Milagro 100% agave tequila
1/4 cup Grand Marnier

Add 1 cup ice and shake for 15 seconds. Pour into prepared glasses.

Tomato-Jalapeno Sauce (adapted from Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen)

2/3 of a 28-ounce can diced tomatoes (I put the remaining tomatoes into the pinto beans, see below. I would use the fire-roasted canned tomatoes next time, to rev up the flavor a little more)
1 fresh (frozen) jalapeno, cored and mostly seeded (I would roast this next time), minced
1 tablespoon canola oil
1/2 medium white onion, thinly sliced
3 cups vegetable stock
1 teaspoon sea salt

1. Combine the tomatoes and jalapeno in a blender jar. Blend until the tomatoes are pureed.
2. Heat the oil over medium heat in a cast iron skillet. Saute the onion until very soft and starting to turn golden, about eight minutes.
3. Add the tomato/jalapeno mixture. Stir until the mixture bubbles and thickens, about ten minutes.
4. Add the vegetable stock and salt (only use the salt if you are using homemade vegetable stock). Heat until the mixture bubbles again, then reduce heat and simmer for about 15 minutes.

Punchy Pintos (based on the recipe from Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen)

Note: You definitely don't have to include the beef jerky in here. I had a package leftover I wanted to use up (waste not, want not) but you could use leftover tempeh bacon or smoked tofu or 1/4 teaspoon liquid smoke, or just skip it entirely. It will still be good. I didn't think the beef jerky really added anything, but the men in the family liked it

2 cups dried pinto beans
1 medium white onion, peeled and diced
1 fresh (frozen) jalapeno
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/3 of a 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon gold tequila (I used Jose Cuervo Gold)
Beef jerky (to taste--and totally optional)
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

1. Sort through the beans to remove any stones. Put the beans and onion in a soup pot or Dutch oven with 8 cups water. Bring to a rolling boil over high heat.

2. Turn off the heat and cover. Put the jalapeno, garlic, tomatoes, tequila, beef jerky (if using), and olive oil in a crockpot. Carefully add the hot beans with the water to the crockpot. Cover and cook on low for about 8 hours, stirring occasionally. Taste towards the end of cooking time and season as necessary with salt and pepper.

Serve with medium-grain white rice cooked with a diced sauteed white onion and vegetable or chicken stock.

Tortilla-Ricotta Casserole (based on the recipe in Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen)

12 corn tortillas
Tomato-Jalapeno Sauce (see above)
1 12-ounce container whole-milk ricotta cheese
1 cup mushrooms, sliced, sauteed in 1 tablespoon butter or olive oil
1/2 cup leftover steamed vegetables (I used asparagus)
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 cup shredded melting cheese
1 bunch green onions, whites and most of greens thinly sliced

1. Wrap the tortillas in a clean tea towel and steam in a vegetable steamer over boiling water for 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and let them sit for at least ten minutes.

2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spread a few ladles of sauce in the bottom of a 9x13 casserole (I used stoneware). Put four tortillas in the bottom of the casserole, covering as much of the bottom as possible (the tortillas will overlap). Spread half the ricotta over the tortillas. Sprinkle with half the mushrooms, half the vegetables, and half the cilantro. Ladle some sauce over this layer.

3. Repeat with another layer of tortillas, ricotta, mushrooms, vegetables, cilantro, and sauce. Top with the last four tortillas. Pour the remaining sauce over the whole thing. Sprinkle with the shredded cheese and the green onions.

4. Bake the casserole until it is hot and bubbling, about 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let sit for about ten minutes, to firm up. Cut into squares to serve.

Serve it all up with avocado mashed with salt and lime juice, and shredded lettuce, along with fresh strawberries tossed with sugar for dessert.


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