It's cold again. The fog doesn't lift until well into the afternoon. This is a typical San Francisco Spring. Heck, it happens from time to time during the summer, even here on the sunny side of town. Looking at a new home listing for a condominium up the street, I'm amused to read that in the Summer, residents here enjoy "warm nights". It's a lie. With the exception of the few 90-degree-and-above days we get each year, nights here are, without exception, cool. It's nice to get a break after a very hot day, but when I travel back East I always remember how much I love walking into a summer evening without a coat.
It's so cold inside the apartment that eventually I put on a second sweater and turn on the heat.
I've decided to make something simple tonight: refried beans. They're not authentic—I think Mexicans use black beans. But they're the kind I used to make when I lived in Seattle, and it's been a while since I've had them. The recipe will be easy to adjust to include my imaginary friend.
Beans are intimidating for some people, or so I've come to learn. But they really are one of the easiest foods to make. Start by rinsing and picking over the beans to remove any clumps of dirt or small stones that may be lurking there.
Next, rehydrate the beans. One way to do this is to soak them overnight, but I'm rarely that organized. Usually I use the Quick-soak method: Place 1 cup of beans in a pot with at least 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil, and let cook for 1 minute. Cover, take off the heat, and let sit for 1 hour. Pour off the water and add 3 cups of fresh water, 1 teaspoon of salt, and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to a simmer and partially cover the pot. Cook until the beans are soft enough to mash between your tongue and the roof of your mouth. This will take anywhere from 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours, depending on the type and age of the bean. (20 - 30 minutes for lentils and split peas.)
Experienced bean cookers are getting ready to hit the comment button and explain that when cooking beans, salt should never be added until the very end of the cooking time because it will slow cooking, or make the beans tough. I've read that too. Almost every single thing written about bean cookery will tell you the same thing.
But Cook's Illustrated's The Best Recipe claims that their tests with black beans showed no difference in cooking time or tenderness whether they added salt at the beginning or at the end. They felt the pre-salted beans were more uniformly seasoned, and so they recommend salting at the beginning, and that's what I now do. I haven't had any tough beans. You can try both techniques at home if you'd like, and see if you think it makes any difference.
Cook's Illustrated also claims that pre-soaking the beans doesn't cut the cooking time for beans. But other sources claim that pre-soaking and pouring off the soaking water can help to reduce the flatulence-producing qualities of beans, and I'm loathe to make the experiment, so I always soak.
Because of the long cooking (and soaking) times of beans, many people rely on cans, or just don't eat beans altogether. Here are three techniques that should enable anyone to routinely use the cheaper dried beans.
Make ahead: Simple. Cook beans on the weekend when you'd be hanging around the house anyway. You can make a big pot of soup or chili and freeze part of it. You can even make twice the amount of beans called for in your recipe and freeze the extras, plain. Try to think about the amounts you might need in the future: maybe 1/2 to 2 cup portions for lunches (depending on how many people you are feeding) and 3-4 cup portions for use in future recipes.
Cooking beans in a Pressure Cooker:
I haven't tried pressure cooking beans, but this method is recommended by numerous cookbooks.
Put the picked-over, soaked, and drained beans into a pressure cooker with enough water or stock to cover them by about 1 1/2 inches. If you are using an older-type pressure cooker, add 1 1/2 tsp vegetable oil to prevent clogging. For modern pressure cookers, the oil is optional. The beans will expand, so don't fill the pot more than halfway full. Cover and lock the lid. Cook under high pressure for 10 - 12 minutes, then allow the pressure to release naturally. If the beans are not done, bring them back to high pressure for another minute or two.
Cooking beans in a Crockpot: Again, I haven't tried this, but with this method, your beans will be ready to eat when you get home from work.
Put the picked-over, soaked, and drained beans into a crockpot with water or stock to cover by about 1 1/2 inches. Set to high and cook for 1 hour. Turn to low, and cook until done, about 6 to 8 hours.
Of course, consult the directions that come with either of these devices to see if they give you more precise instructions for your particular model of pressure cooker or crockpot.
At the store today, there are so few things in my basket, I keep rechecking my list and mentally rechecking my meal plans for the coming week. My usual tendency is to buy extravagant amounts of staples whenever I am running low, but this week I find myself buying only what I need, even weighing beans to determine the exact amount I'll need for the coming week. The total comes to $21.51, reassuring after last week's sticker shock.
Some time ago, I found a large package of (non-organic) corn tortillas on sale—90 for $1.98 (2 cents each). I love corn tortillas, but don't use them regularly, so I bought the pack and wrapped stacks of 10 before putting them back in the bag and then into the freezer. When I get home, I pull out a small stack to thaw. These thawed tortillas are fine for using in recipes, but they are not pretty. They have a somewhat "flaked" appearance, so don't serve them to company or picky eaters.
My recipe for refried beans is simple: well-cooked pinto beans, mixed with garlic sauteed in olive oil, and seasoned with soy sauce—about a teaspoon for a cup (dry) of beans. I have salad and carrots vichy made with cilantro instead of parsley, and 3 warmed corn tortillas.
When I plate the meal, I discover the reason gourmet food writers favor black beans over pintos, or at least I develop a theory. The beans, as delicious as ever, lay on the plate like a pile of brown mush. There's really no way to improve it, no angle that will make them more attractive. Furthermore, I started dinner late, so it's dark by the time I eat, and I have no idea how to set the camera to compensate for the light. Try as I might, dinner getting cold, I can't get these pictures to come out right.
I'm no food photographer but these shots are below even my standard. I'm not showing them to you. Instead, I offer you a bowl of fruit.
Friday total: $4.90
. Remaining weekly allowance: $32.95
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