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Cooking Beans

Cook with what you have sounds nice but what should/would you like to have on hand? This is a fun and complex question. I’m going to tackle a small fragment of this question today. I’m going to talk about beans, white beans, and cooking them at home. A quick side note about dry beans. Here in the Portland area we are lucky to have a couple of very local sources of dried beans. Ayers Creek Farm sells their beans at the Hillsdale Farmers Market. The quality, flavor, varieties are unbeatable and worth seeking out. Sungold Farm sells pinto beans that are wonderfully sweat and creamy and are available at both the Portland Farmers Market and the Hillsdale Farmers Market. I have also had very good results with dry beans purchased from grocery stores, both bulk and packaged, so don’t let the possible lack of local beans deter you.


Navy Beans with bay leaves, garlic cloves and chunks of onion ready to cook.


I love to cook beans. The taste is unbeatable; it’s simple to do once you’re in the habit; and if you cook large quantities at once and freeze them it’s as convenient as having canned beans on hand but with better flavor, less waste, less expense, etc. My routine, since I work from home, is to put several pounds of beans in a big bowl covered with water before I go to bed. The next morning I drain them, put them in a big pot with a couple of bay leaves, a chunk of onion and few peeled, whole garlic cloves and simmer them for 35-60 minutes depending on the bean. Small white ones like the navy beans in this picture tend to cook in about 35 minutes if they haven’t been sitting on a shelf for several years.

For those of you who leave the house every day, you could put them to soak in the morning and then cook them while you’re making dinner. Once cooked, I strain them (reserving the liquid) and put them into pint and quart containers, pour the cooking liquid up to cover them (helps preserve them and it’s great liquid to keep if you’re going to make soup later on) and then freeze them. I do this with white, black and pinto beans and chickpeas regularly. Oh and on the perpetual question of when to salt the beans you’re cooking, I have long gone with the recommendation of John Willoughby from a piece in Gourmet years ago where he debunked the theory of not salting until they’re cooked. So, I salt at the beginning with great results but if you have a different method with which you are happy, by all means stick with that.

So what to do with all those “bean popsicles,” as a student of mine once called them? The frozen beans thaw quickly in a pan over high heat with a bit of water. I just thawed a pint for my lunch in about 5 minutes this way.


Navy Beans with tomato, garlic and oregano


Of course if you have the presence of mind to take them out of the freezer a few hours or a day ahead of time, great. They keep well in the fridge for the better part of a week. So, for the above lunch I mashed some garlic with salt, sautéed for a minute, added a can of tomatoes, broke those up a bit, added oregano and cooked over high heat for a about five minutes. I then added the thawed beans and heated those through. Some black pepper and a little olive oil to finish and voila!  This makes a delicious light lunch or side dish mixed with pasta and maybe some sausage a hearty and quick dinner.


Navy Beans with tomatoes, garlic and oregano


You could also toss the beans with some tuna, parsley, capers, finely chopped onion and a vinaigrette with plenty of red-wine vinegar and/or lemon juice. (For another local pitch, I love Oregon Albacore available at local grocery stores and farmers markets.) Or you could mash the beans with some lemon zest, juice, garlic, olive oil and a little rosemary or thyme and have a hearty spread. Or you could make a soup with kale, other veggies, sausage and white beans. The options really are vast.


White Bean and Tuna Salad



I’d love to hear from you on this subject. Do you cook beans? What do you do with them? Have you found it easy? Too much effort? Not satisfactory? Beans too mushy or crunchy?

Happy bean cooking and thanks for reading!

P.S. I’m going to be teaching a 3-part series in January on pantry stocking and cooking quick meals similar to the ones described above in case you’re interested.

Cook With What You Have, Year One


Stuffed Pumpkin - recipe below!


It’s been one year, pretty much to the day, since I launched Cook With What You Have out of my kitchen. It’s fun to reflect on this time–the 40 classes and events, the new friends, quantities of olive oil I’ve gone through, recipes tested, fliers posted, emails sent, dishes washed, blog posts written, farmers markets frequented, onions chopped. . .

Thank you all for enabling this little endeavor to grow and evolve! I get a big smile on my face as I think of the ups and downs and how much I’ve learned over the last twelve months. The interest in cooking and doing so more regularly with the bounty we have all around us is alive and well and looking ahead to the next year, I can hardly contain the number of ideas and plans I have–thanks to you all!


A recent class about to dig into that pumpkin


Many of you have requested a series of classes on how to stock and source your pantry/kitchen and how to turn all those ingredients into quick dinners, regularly. So that’s what we’re going to do in January. It seems like a good time of year to take stock (pun intended) of your cabinets, fridge, and freezer and get the year off to a fresh start. So I’m going back to the original Cook With What You Have motto and turning it into something a bit more manageable and tangible with materials and suggestions (and three classes!) for how to have enough on hand and keep yourself stocked so that weeknight dinners do not involve last-minute trips to the grocery store or grilled-cheese sandwiches three nights in a row.


My pantry


You don’t need a pantry this large or that many  kinds of beans and rice but if you want to be better equipped for healthy, delicious meals and saving money while you’re at it, you might want to sign up. Or you could ask for the series (or any one of the classes) for a gift this year. . . .I have also decided to make the materials available for a modest sum so if you can’t make any of the dates you can contact me for more information on the materials too.

And if you happen to have a pie (sugar) pumpkin sitting around your house at the moment, you might even be able to make that beautiful and delicious stuffed pumpkin right away. If not, then pick up one up at the store or the farmers market and make it for Thanksgiving. It’s so, so good.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone and thanks again for a wonderful first year!


Pumpkin Stuffed and Roasted

–adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Around my French Table

This is the most delicious, beautiful fall dish. It’s perfect for a regular old dinner (though it does take almost 2 hours to bake so maybe a weekend dinner) or a Thanksgiving treat. But it’s so easy and so adaptable that you should add it to your regular repertoire. It’s wonderful with cooked rice instead of bread (gets almost a risotto-like texture), additions of cooked spinach or chard, cooked sausage or ham chunks, with peas (straight from the freezer),. . .

1 pie pumpkin, about 4 – 5 lbs (just adjust the amount of filling if your pumpkin is smaller or larger – though you don’t want to go too much larger as it takes awfully long to cook)

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1/3 lb (or slightly more) stale bread, sliced and cut into ½-inch chunks

1/3 lb cheese, such as sharp cheddar, Gruyère, Emmenthal or a combination, cut into ½ chunks or grated

2-4 garlic cloves (to taste), finely chopped

2-4 strips bacon, booked until crisp, and chopped

¼ cup snipped fresh chives or sliced scallions (green onions)

1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme

1-2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

½ cup of cream or half and  half

½ cup milk

¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350F. You can using a baking sheet, a pie pan (as seen above), or a dutch oven with a diameter that’s just a tiny bit larger than your pumpkin. If you bake the pumpkin in a casserole, it will keep its shape, but might stick to the casserole, so you’ll have to serve it from the pot which is fine too.

Using a sturdy knife, cut a cap out of the top of the pumpkin. Cut a big enough cap that it’s easy to hollow out the inside. Clear away the seeds and strings from the cap and the inside of the pumpkin. Rub the inside of the pumpkin generously with salt and pepper and put it on the baking sheet, pie pan or in a pot.

In a large bowl toss the bread, cheese, garlic, bacon, and herbs together. Season with pepper—you probably have enough salt from the bacon and cheese but  taste to be sure—and pack the mix into the pumpkin. The pumpkin should be well filled—you might have a little too much filling, or you might  need to add to it. Stir the cream, milk and nutmeg with a bit of salt and pepper and pour it into the filled pumpkin. You don’t want the ingredients to swim in the liquid, but you do want them nicely moistened with liquid about half-way up the cavity. It’s hard to go wrong though. Better a little wetter than too dry.

Put the cap in place and bake the pumpkin for about 2 hours—check after 90 minutes—or until everything inside the pumpkin is bubbling and the flesh of the pumpkin is easily pierced with the tip of a knife. Remove the cap for the last 20  minutes or so of baking to brown the top and let any extra liquid evaporate. Transfer very carefully to a serving platter if you baked it on a sheet. Serve, scooping out plenty of pumpkin with each serving or serve it in slices.



Blackberry Pie and Pie-crust Cookies

I’m teaching a pie class (sweet and savory) this Sunday, November 14. I am a bit evangelical about pie. I love to bake most anything but there is something about pie that appeals to the minimalist in me. Just flour, butter and water for that crust and apples, a little sugar and thickener for the filling and the sum of those few things is just so much more than you’d expect. But there are a few tricks to pie and we’re going to tackle that all-butter pie crust and crimping those edges (that inevitably do sag in places when baked thanks to all that delicious butter!) and getting the filling cooked just right.  We’re going to fill those crusts with apples, pumpkin, and Swiss Chard and eat our results.

And for all that hard work we’re going to be rewarded with eggnog–my grandfather’s recipe with bourbon, rum and nutmeg–and of course eggs, cream and milk–completely unrelated to the stuff in cartons at the store.

Swiss Chard Tart

My family (extended) has a thing about pies. At Thanksgiving, ever since I can remember, we’ve had a pie-eating contest. Slightly vulgar, I admit, but oh so fun and delicious unless you over do it and then you need a serious recovery period. Here’s a photo from last year’s pie (and tarts and cake) line-up sans my mother’s pumpkin chiffon and chocolate pies which were probably still in the fridge. Not a very good photo but I guess I wasn’t thinking about blog-worthy photos in the moment.  I should add that the contest is not highly competitive and is informally held over many hours and tiny slivers (especially of rich things like pecan pie) count. There’s a lot more talk than actual keeping track. And since my aunt Jane (or her daughter Martha) almost always win it’s not much of a nail-biter.

From l to r, Chocolate Tart, Pumpkin Bourbon Tart; Chocolate Guinness Cake, Brandied Dried Fruit Tart, Blackberry Pie, Apple Pie, Pecan Pie, Mince Pie

The sum total was 11 pies and tarts last year and we probably had 18 people for Thanksgiving. That is an obscene ratio! However, we all get to have pie for breakfast and lunch the following day and everyone gets to go home with a quarter of this and a few slices of that. And contrary to some opinions, misshapen, slightly soggy and less than perfect looking slices of pie are just as tasty or more so, than those pristine ones on day one!

As you can see, Thanksgiving is not strictly limited to pie. My sister-in-law and one of my cousins and I always bring some other tart or cake we just have to try. Some of us read the same cooking magazines/blog and occasionally end up bringing the same new idea–a dense chocolate hazelnut tart one year and a pumpkin cheese cake another. My mother and my aunt Jane have their standards and there would be mutiny if any of those were missing. For Jane that’s lofty apple pies and dense, gooey pecan; for my mother it’s those pumpkin chiffon pies and chocolate pies with lots of whipped cream. Actually all the pies are served with lots of whipped cream–probably thanks to the heavy German influence of the bunch. I tend to contribute a traditional pumpkin pie, a mince pie (my favorite recipe is from the Grand Central Baking book), and apple pie or something like a pear frangipane tart.

Speaking of not-so-beautiful: Rhubarb Pie never sets up well but is so good. It's much better to have a delicious pie than a beautiful pie, though the combination is unbeatable!

So whether you can make it to class on Sunday or not, give pie a try if you’ve been hesitant and let me know how it goes. And if you have questions or want tips or have tips to share from your pie-baking adventures, leave a comment here.

Happy baking!

Red Lentil and Winter Squash Dhal

I love fall! It's a foggy, misty morning and this is what I found on my walk this morning.

There are dinners that are quick to prepare, there are those that take a long time and then there is the occasional one that tastes like it took a long time to make but was actually pretty quick. Today’s post is about this latter category. This is not the quickest dinner in the world but it’s very doable on a weeknight if you have the ingredients (more or less) on hand. And on a side note, I am developing a two-part series on pantry stocking and really quick dinners–20 minute dinners–so stay tuned for those.

This recipe calls for a fair number of spices (some of which you can get away with omitting if you don’t have them on hand) but having a well-stocked spice rack is awfully useful especially this time of year. Whole spices like cumin and mustard seeds, called for in this recipe, keep really well so stock up once a year on those (or more often of course if you use them lots) and you’re set. Being well-stocked in general is also a big money saver. This topic deserves a whole series of posts but maybe we can consider this the introduction.

I think of being well-stocked as the foundation for the “cook with what you have” philosophy. For me this means that I rarely shop for a specific dish/menu. Instead I shop to restock the dry goods pantry, the crisper/fridge/freezer. This kind of cooking/shopping does not suit everyone but it can be fun, creative and is definitely a good way to trim the grocery budget, if that’s a goal of yours. And with practice, this kind of cooking really is so satisfying. To quote my friend Elizabeth who after a successful dinner of this nature, said, “I stared down the fridge and I won!” And you won’t need to go whole hog down this road, but try it for a few nights and see how it works. Most people have things floating around their dry pantry that in combination with some eggs or cheese or herbs or meat or veggies would make a wonderful frittata, soup, stew, gratin, . . .. Let me know how it goes!

And with that little challenge I’m going to commit to building up my recipe archive on this site to offer more of these kinds of recipes or ideas but thisthisthisthis, and this one all might be considered in such a category.

Red Lentil and Winter Squash Dhal

–Inspired by Dana Treat’s Red Lentil Dhal which was inspired by The Modern Vegetarian

Serves 6

Yes, list of ingredients is long but most of it is spices and the dish comes together quite quickly. If you use veggie bouillon you’ll need much less salt that the recipe below calls for. It’s extra delicious with the bouillon so by all means use it if you have it, or make it if you don’t:)!

1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil

2 tsp. cumin seeds

2 tsp. black or brown mustard seeds (can omit in a pinch)

1 medium onion, finely diced

1 ½ inches of fresh ginger, peeled and minced

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 jalapeno chili, seeded, finely chopped (can omit and just use more chili flakes/powder)

1 ½ tsp. curry powder

2 tsp. ground cumin

1 tsp. turmeric (can omit in a pinch)

Pinch of chili powder

Salt – about 2-3 tsp. kosher salt (it takes more salt than you might think unless you’re using veggie bouillon)

2 cups red lentils

2-3 cups diced winter squash (acorn, butternut, kabocha, pumpkin, etc.)

5 cups veggie bouillon or water

1 15-oz. can coconut milk

Juice of 1 lemon

½ a bunch of mint, chopped (can omit in a pinch)

½ a bunch of cilantro, chopped (can omit in a pinch or substitute parsley)

Heat just enough oil to coat the bottom of a large pan and add the mustard and cumin seeds.  As soon as they begin to pop (only takes about 30 -90 seconds) add the onion, turn down the heat to medium, and cook until softened – about five minutes. Add the ginger, garlic, minced jalapeno, curry powder, cumin, turmeric, and chile powder and fry for 3 minutes.

Add the lentils and stir to coat with the oil and spices.  Add squash, salt, water, and coconut milk.  Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat so the dhal is at a simmer.  Cover partially and cook, stirring occasionally so it doesn’t stick to the bottom, until the lentils and squash have partially lost their shape and are soft – about 20 minutes.  Stir in more liquid as necessary for the consistency you want. Add the chopped herbs. Cook for a minute or two then season with more sea salt and add the lemon juice to taste.  Serve warm over long grain white or brown rice and with plain Greek or other whole milk yogurt if you’d like. This also freezes well.

And finally, if you’re itching for a cooking class or would like to give someone (or yourself!) the gift of a class, there are some fun options available.

Happy cooking and eating!