Monthly Archives: September 2011

Beans, beans…the more you eat

Deep down, I know that beans are good for me. They are also a great component for whipping up simple and healthy meals. However, I also really hate opening cans to prep my meals from. They are full of preservatives, and I’ve never really gotten over the texture of canned beans (or the icky goop they are packed in).

Dry beans are fantastic. One of my favorite sources for local beans is a farm store called the Phipps Country Store in Pescadero, along the coast south of San Francisco. They grow and sell more than 75 types of heirloom beans, and I stock up whenever I’m in the area, but they also take online orders on their website.  I love the texture of dry beans when they have been soaked and then slow cooked until they still have some firmness and character. However, that takes some time.

Recently, I’ve found a great way to get the best of both worlds. I cook dry beans, freeze them in 2-cup portions in ziploc bags, and then have a supply of delicious beans whenever I want!

This time of year, I can do one step better. There are fantastic cranberry beans at the farmer’s market in September, so I buy the fresh beans in their shells, and shuck them myself. They are so lovely and tender when fresh, that it only takes an hour or so to cook them (with no soaking), and they end up delicious and firm, even after you freeze them. Unfortunately, their lovely speckles fade after cooking, so enjoy them while you can!

They are great in soups and salads, and can even be turned into chili or baked beans at that point. I love adding them to homemade soups to make them more hearty. I’ll share a few uses over the next few weeks, as I get through my freezer supply.

Here’s a basic template for cooking fresh beans, though using your instincts and checking for doneness are recommended.

Preparing Fresh Cranberry Beans

  • 5 lbs cranberry beans in shell
  • water to cover
  • 2 tbsp sea salt (optional)

Shuck your beans, and add to a large stock pot. Cover with water by at least 2″. Bring the water to a boil, then turn heat down to a simmer. I choose not to salt the beans at this point, as I’ve found it can affect the texture of the beans. I prefer to add the salt when I use the beans, but you can also add it about 10 minutes before the end of the cooking time.  After about 30 minutes, begin checking the beans for texture. I’d recommend turning off the heat when they are still a bit firmer than you prefer. Let the beans fully cool in the cooking liquid, then drain and portion into sizes that seem about right for you. I use quart ziploc bags and measure out 2 cups into each. Freeze flat in their bags, then tuck away for future bean adventures!

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Homefries U–Palm Springs Weekend

Last weekend, I had the fortune to attend the first ever retreat put together by the fantastic team at Homefries.com. The folks at Homefries are responsible for three of my favorite podcasts: The Joy the Baker podcast (with Tracy from Shutterbean.com), The Table Set, and The Crush. There were representatives of each at the retreat, and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to meet these previously disembodied voices in person.

One of the most fun parts of the weekend was meeting the other folks who attended the retreat. There were legit food bloggers like Megan from scarlettabakes.com, Rachel from sweettarteblog.com, and Sasha from globaltableadventure.com. There were also lots of us who are just getting started with food blogging and wanted some inspiration, and also a few peeps who just wanted to spend an awesome weekend in the desert with some new friends. I think that all of us got what we wanted out of the weekend.

We met in a fantastic home that had a great kitchen for demos, so we all really enjoyed watching Joy and Tracy at work making everything from donuts to breakfast pizza. Above, you can see Joy twirling puff pastry into cheese straws while Tracy whips up some brown sugar-pepper bacon in the background. Yeah, it was that kind of weekend.

We also got some fantastic photography lessons from Michael, who is the technical genius behind Homefries. We learned about lighting techniques, f-stop, and other necessities for beautiful food photography. I also was inspired to use some of the photo apps for my android phone like lightbox and picplz. You can see another tip I learned from watching Joy in action–ladders give great perspective!

Whitney from The Crush podcast and Domaine LA brought  4 different sparkling wines for us to taste. We discussed the different methods for producing sparkling wines, and tasted wines from France, Italy and Spain.

Nathan from The Table Set provided many drinks over the weekend, including several champagne punches that were fantastic. He also led us in a gin tasting, from old-fashioned Genever to the modern-day Hendrick’s. I especially loved the Aviation he made for us.

By the last morning, we were all old friends, and laughed and sniffed our way through Tracy’s exploration of spices. We certainly weren’t shy with our cameras at that point, either!

This photo sums up Joy over the weekend–exuberant, moving 100 miles an hour, and feeding us amazing food (homemade donuts, in this case!). What a great experience!

If you’d like to see all of my photos from the weekend, you can visit the flickr set.

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