Some months ago a food writer wrote, tongue only slightly in cheek, words to the effect of, “Shouldn’t you make use of that big bag of white beans you bought when there was nothing else on the shelf at the store?” I did and I should. Guilty as charged, your honor.
So when Terry showed me this recipe for winter white bean and Italian sausage soup and we had a cold, wet, rainy Monday in the forecast, I decided to make use of that stash.
You need to understand my relationship with dried beans. I have never been a soak-the-beans-overnight person. When I cook dried beans, which is almost always to make tostadas, I use my old, reliable stovetop pressure cooker. This time, however, I decided to be different. I took some of my white beans and soaked them for twenty-four hours. I then cooked them on the stove for another hour. Next, I drained the beans and added the ingredients specified in the recipe. Along with the canned tomatoes and basil I put in the sausage, which I cooked in a frying pan, and the broth, using vegetable rather than chicken, something I always do. In the aftermath of the Christmas rush, the grocery store was out of frozen spinach, so I used frozen peas and corn, which I had on hand.
The result was a very tasty and hearty dinner (to which I added garlic bread), on a cold, rainy winter evening on which Tasha kept going out into the back yard and getting herself wet. (She loves Terry toweling her off.)
A small measure of comfort and pleasure in difficult and unsettling times.
If you were to look at the list of programs recorded on our DVR you would see that most of them are shows from the Food Network. No surprise there, right? All of those programs have been promoting the Food Network Kitchen app for some months now. (Not to be confused with my favorite television program on the Food Network, The Kitchen, which airs on Saturday mornings.)
Rising above the cacophony of Black Friday sales was an offer of Food Network Kitchen at half price: $19.95 for a year, as opposed to $39.95. I couldn’t resist. The content is available across all of one’s devices, including the PC, where it is accessed from the Food Network web site. That means that I can save a recipe on my desktop and then access it from my laptop where my recipe software is. That’s a lot easier than the intermediary text file I have been using to save web address for quite a long time now.
The heart of Food Network Kitchen is classes: both live and recorded. These are real-time instructional videos. I believe that the original intent was that these classes be broadcast from the spacious Food Network kitchen facility in New York City. But COVID-19 and corresponding stay-at-home and social distancing orders made that unworkable. So what I have been watching is skilled chefs offering instruction from their own homes. These folks live in New York City (Brooklyn and Harlem, for example) where housing is expensive and apartments are small. A small apartment means a tiny kitchen and we get to peer into these tight spaces. (In two kitchens the toaster oven sat on top of the microwave. In another kitchen the refrigerator door hit up against the butcher block food prep island.) The chefs don’t apologize; they simply show us what great food one can cook in a small space.
There is much that I love about these classes, and at the top of the list is the fact that they are strictly cooking. There is no underlying plot point, as seems to be mandatory on most Food Network cooking (as opposed to competition) shows. (“Aunt Freida is coming over for dinner this evening, so I am making three of her favorite dishes.”)
The Food Network stars on The Kitchen, the Saturday morning television program, have been taping the program from their homes during the pandemic. Jeff Mauro, Katie Lee (Biegel), Geoffrey Zakarian, and Alex Guarnaschelli have let us see their large, fully equipped, to-die-for kitchens. (Sunny Anderson has not let us into her kitchen at home. We only see the outdoor grills on her deck. I’m not sure why.) But the rank-and-file staffers who bring us the live Food Network Kitchen classes from their cramped cooking spaces really know what they’re doing. I am impressed by their skills.
Food Network Kitchen is designed for a tablet. It needs more real estate than a smartphone offers, and the pause and rewind functionality doesn’t work on the PC when you watch a live class. But whatever platform you use, you can type in questions and have a good chance of getting an answer.
I received a generous thirty-day trial and have kept the subscription going. This is cool stuff.
You have probably read all you care to about our upgraded kitchen, but I feel compelled to write about how much we have been enjoying it in the month we’ve had it.
I’m not sure I knew how much I was going to love the improvements. What started as replacing the sink and faucet became those two items plus new counters, a reverse osmosis water system, and a new garbage disposal.
The solid surface acrylic counters are great to work with, and the light color brightens up the kitchen. The sink, being stainless steel rather than porcelain, is deeper and wider, making it easier to clean our pots and pans. More of them now lie flat in it.
I love cooking on our somewhat new stove with the new counters alongside. It’s nice to have accessible filtered water at the sink and to be able to make ice cubes in which we can see the ice crystals. We certainly still use the ice maker in the refrigerator, but I like seeing the clear ice cubes with my Scotch in the evening.
In these grim COVID-19 days it’s a delight to have a kitchen that brings us so much joy and pleasure.
When we lived in Gilroy we did a complete remodel of our kitchen. And remodel we did. The contractor completely gutted the kitchen and built a new one from scratch. The only thing that remained was the dishwasher. (Which we had to replace soon thereafter because the contractor didn’t anchor it when he reinstalled it.) We loved that kitchen and hated to leave it.
Here in Hemet we have done a sort of incremental kitchen remodel, but it was not something we planned. Not long after we got here in 2015 the thermostat in our refrigerator (that came with house which had been built nine years earlier) gave out and we replaced it with a Frigidaire as the part for the thermostat was no longer available.
Things were rather quiet for a few years, but in early 2019 the oven quite working. It simply refused to heat up. We called the repairman who returned to the shop and called us with an estimate that amounted to half of what a new stove would cost. Since I badly missed the convection oven we had in Gilroy we went shopping for a new stove. This was in February, before my surgery that month. We found a Samsung model we liked and ordered it. It finally arrived in April, after my surgery and after I had recovered from a setback that landed me in the hospital for a week in March. By then I was ready to get back to cooking. And back to baking bread again, with that new convection oven. I write about the new oven here.
Then, in May, we decided we had had it with the Frigidaire refrigerator. We were constantly fighting with the ice maker, and it had several other annoyances that made it frustrating to deal with. We bought a new Whirlpool with a larger capacity and a bottom drawer freezer. We’ve been quite happy with it, despite the occasional annoyances with the ice dispenser.
In May of this year our built-in microwave, which was also was the same age of the house, stopped working. We replaced it with a Frigidaire and have been quite happy with it. It lacks a couple of features that the old one had, but it’s much quieter and it does everything we need.
Then there was the case of our kitchen sink. It was porcelain and had begun chipping. We tried to repair it, but it simply looked ugly. And the faucet, which had a removable nozzle attached to a hose, had been leaking for some time. I called the contractor we used to install our artificial turf about getting a new sink and faucet. He suggested replacing the countertops as well. Neither of us were fond of the tiles that were in place. We also knew that we were going to be in a COVID-19 world for quite a while longer, and while we have always done a lot of cooking in normal times, current circumstances mean we are cooking as much as or more than ever. So it didn’t take long for us to decide that replacing the counters was a good idea. While we were at it I thought installing a reverse osmosis water filtration system would be a good idea. That meant that we could have nice, clear ice and free up the space in the refrigerator taken up by the Pur water filter. No more filling it up at the sink and lugging it back to the fridge. No more dropping it when it slipped out of my hands, as it once did.
So we ended up with entirely new countertops (of the acrylic solid surface variety), a new sink and faucet, a new garbage disposal, and a reverse osmosis water system. All of that took three days, as opposed to the three months that our Gilroy kitchen remodel took, with everyone who came into the house following COVID-19 protocols and wearing masks.
That’s pretty darn good, and we have nearly the kitchen we want. We are both quite happy.
I think it is fair to say that I am a foodie. The bulk of the television programs I record on my DVR are from Food Network. I cook dinner most evenings. So what is on this foodie’s mind? Cooking techniques.
I think it makes perfect sense to say that cooking is cooking, but I tend to divide cooking into two categories: conventional cooking and cooking using a specialized appliance. Conventional cooking uses the stovetop, the oven, and the outdoor gas grill. Specialized appliances include the electric pressure cooker, the air fryer, and the slow cooker.
I have all three. The slow cooker seems to me to be the most conventional while the other two might be a little more gadgety. I have been happy with most of the meals I have made with my ancient and appreciated slow cooker. I have cooked plenty of electric pressure cooker meals as well, but for me the results are often not quite as satisfying as a conventionally cooked meal. Somehow pressure cooker meals can end up all tasting the same. The exception is pot roast, where I have adapted a tried, tested, and true recipe from the pressure email group. It always comes out marvelous.
The air fryer is great for things you might normally deep fry, and far healthier besides, but I have had mixed results. One has to be vigilant. The various models vary so wildly that a given recipe can’t be trusted for your individual air fryer. I have learned the hard way that you need to calibrate a recipe you might want to try against the time chart for your specific air fryer.
Ultimately I’m a conventional cooking kind of guy and that works out well for me.
I wrote a while back about how our outdoor gas grill never got used last year. This was due to a couple of factors: we had a new stove that we loved and on account of my surgery I was not allowed red meat until late August. So the grill sat there unused.
This year we decided that we would get back to grilling, but our grill was in serious need of cleaning. Due to social distancing we discontinued the services of our housekeeper, but thinking that she might appreciate the work we told her that we would pay her the regular house cleaning rate to clean the grill. However, she failed to call us on the agreed-upon day after the rain was to have ended, so Terry undertook the task of cleaning it herself. She completed the task and we’re now good to go. Given the current heat spell I think that we’ll probably give the newly-cleaned grill its first use tomorrow.
Here is something tailor made for these stay at home, quarantine, social distancing days. It is a new PBS program entitled Dishing with Julia Child. Simply calling it delightful doesn’t do it justice.
There are six episodes in the series. My local PBS station, PBS SoCal, is airing them in batches of two each Friday evening. If your PBS station isn’t showing the series it is available through your cable provider’s on demand service, or via streaming for PBS Passport and Amazon Prime members. In each episode professional chefs watch an episode of The French Chef and comment on it.
I DVR’d the first two episodes and mistakenly watched the second episode first. In that episode Julia shows how to bake bread. Sara Moulton and Carla Hall comment together, as do Marcus Samuelsson and Vivian Howard. They note how Julia loves butter, sneaks in tangentially-related cooking techniques, and provides alternate methods for doing a given task in the kitchen. In the first episode, which I watched second, Julia demonstrates preparing fish while José Andres and Eric Ripert point out how the camera started and just kept running. The program was not edited; if Julia made a mistake she recovered and went on.
If you’re looking for something to put a smile on your face in these bleak days Dishing with Julia will do it.
I have made falafel at home off and on at home for a number of years. I had always deep fried my falafel. That’s how you make falafel, of course. But we got an air fryer for Christmas and I shortly thereafter tried falafel in the air fryer. Turned out great. That’s good, because falafel ingredients are, after all, healthy. It’s just the cooking method that isn’t.
Now my falafel making had always been tied to my Vitamix ownership. The problem with that is when you put the garbanzo beans and seasonings into the Vitamix it works for a bit and then creates an air pocket and just spins, mixing nothing. Then there’s the problem of getting the mixture out from underneath the blades. Something of a pain.
So last week when I decided to try a new recipe, I used a totally different technique. I pulled out my KitcehnAid meat grinder attachment and ran the garbanzo beans through that into a stainless steel bowl. I threw in the seasonings, put on a pair of food handling gloves, mixed everything together, and formed the falafel balls. That worked!
Falafel lessons: air fry, don’t deep fry and use the KitchenAid grinder attachment along with that most valuable of kitchen tools, your own hands.
I spent one summer in college working in a local restaurant as a dishwasher. My senior year in college I worked for the food service vendor in a failed attempt to get into food service management. (That is another whole story.) In both cases washing dishes and washing pots and pans were two separate functions.
The same is true here at home. We have the dishwasher for plates, flatware, glasses, and other dishes. Pots and pans we wash in the sink. At our house in Gilroy, both in the original and remodeled kitchen, Terry always seemed to do the pots and pans even when I was cooking. Here in Hemet, I do most of the cooking and I do the pots and pans.
This makes no real sense, but I think it somehow has to do with the choreography and flow from the dining area to the kitchen in our respective houses. And I’m happy to clean the pots and pans along with the associated utensils (the KitchenAid (cheese) shredder attachment, the mandolin, etc.). After all, I got them dirty. I ought to clean them.
I enjoy cooking and am happy taking responsibility for the follow-up.
I have always been serious about spices in my cooking, but when we did our kitchen remodel in Gilroy we added a built-in spice rack and I went ape-you know what. We bought empty spice bottles at Bed Bath and Beyond and filled them with spices from the good folks at Penzeys. At our house here in Hemet we have a spice drawer rather than a custom-built spice rack, but we still have just as many spices. We even have an overflow plastic spice organizer in the pantry.
The thyme is in our main spice drawer. The parsley and sage are in the overflow organizer. And rosemary? I haven’t given rosemary proper respect. In fact, when I went to do a recipe that called for rosemary a couple of weeks ago I realized that I didn’t have any. I bought some fresh rosemary from the produce department in the grocery store. A couple weeks later I had another recipe that included rosemary and I used what was left.
I realized I needed to to give rosemary a better spot in my spice pantheon. So I added it to my last Penzeys order, and it now has a spot in the main spice drawer, booting out a rarely used spice. Why it took so long, I don’t know, but the disrespect has been addressed.
P.S. Remember when we listened to music on vinyl in stereo? Remember that you could separately control the left and right speaker volume? You could listen to Simon and Garfunkel’s rendition of the English folk tune independently on one side and their anti-war chant separately on the other. That’s something that we can’t do any longer.