Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Urban farming

I'm moving from my apartment to a house in less than two weeks. Knowing that this change was upon me meant a scaled back urban farming operation this year. I chose the essentials -- tomatoes, which you can't buy in the regular groceries and cost dearly if you get them at farmstands. And some herbs -- basil, parsley, and mint...the most popular in this household.

The first tomatoes started to appear a few days ago, so this post is in celebration!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Cabin Cooking, Part 4

May 30, 2009
Black bean chili

1 C dry black beans
1 medium onion
3 cloves garlic
1 14 oz can diced tomatoes
Ancho chili powder – several tablespoons
Cinnamon powder – ½ teaspoon
Salt and black pepper
Cilantro, a handful, roughly chopped
Brown rice, cooked
Tabasco sauce, to taste

It just takes time, and time is what I had. The meal started to coalesce in my mind at the grocery store in Hayward on the way up to the cabin. At the grocery, I bought the black beans and a small can of diced tomatoes. And the garlic and brown rice and onions. Figuring all of these things would be good for something, somehow.

The cinnamon came from the inspiration from the previous meal. The ancho chili powder was a big surprise find at the Cable grocery store, as was the cilantro.
The beans needed to soak, so those started the night before. 1 cup of beans to 3 cups of water. While having breakfast the next morning, I started them cooking, adding a halved onion to the mix part way through. The package said to cook for an hour, so I did. After the hour, the beans were still a bit hard to my liking, which was going to be fine, because there was more cooking in store. I cooled the beans on the stove, and then stashed them, pot and all, into the fridge to await the evening.

About an hour and half before I wanted to eat, I set the pot of beans on the stove and brought them to a boil, then a simmer. Added whole cloves of garlic, and the can of tomatoes, and let that simmer while I got the brown rice going in a separate pot. (It would be interesting some time to try just cooking the rice right in the bean pot – add some more liquid, and see what happens. Why not?)

Then, back to seasoning the beans, with the chili powder, a good handful – I’m guessing three tablespoons at least, and a little cinnamon, salt and pepper. When it was all done, I tasted again, and adjusted the seasonings, knowing that as the beans cooled they would start to take on a richer, more complex flavor. It’s always difficult to know what something will really taste like when it’s boiling hot – the tongue can’t really interpret what’s going on properly. But let it cool a bit, and the flavors really start to come through.

When it was all ready to serve, I chopped the cilantro, a nice generous handful, and added those to the pile of rice and beans on the place. Before adding the Tabasco, I tasted first – I was curious as to what it would taste like with no heat. The chili powder and cinnamon made a complex combination. I was glad I chose not to add cumin – while that may have been good, too, it would have changed it entirely. Some allspice or cloves would have made a fine addition.
The Tabasco I added cautiously, just a few drops, to one corner of the pile, not wanting to ruin the whole batch if my instincts turned out wrong. My instincts were good, however, and the little bit of tart heat from the Tabasco (vinegar, pepper) was a welcome addition – though I could have easily done without. (What I think would be even better would be the Siracha pepper sauce – that Thai/Vietnamese sauce with the rooster – next time!)

With the Tabasco only dotted on one section of the beans, what I found was that the heat spread slowly through the rest of the pile, easing in intensity as I ate through it, which was a welcome variation in the flavor over the course of the dish. Like changing the volume of music, or the color of a painting, some variation.

Oh...and wine in little jelly glasses, was just the right amount of class for this cabin cooking...