Today was a rainy, dreary day in sunny Florida. We all had the day off, but the weather pretty much relegated us to the house.
For breakfast, I decided to take yet another crack at pancakes. For a brief period of time, I had what I remember as the perfect pancake recipe. It came from an old show on The Food Network called ‘Taste’, hosted by David Rosengarten. ‘Taste’ was a great show, in which Rosengarten would devote each episode to a particular ingredient or food. Not unlike Alton Brown’s ‘Good Eats’, but a bit more serious and less over-produced. I like Alton Brown and his show, but it does get a bit hokey at times. ‘Taste’ was of the generation of Food Network shows where you could actually LEARN something about cooking- Mario Batali’s ‘Molto Mario’ was a stellar example. Those shows are all but gone now, replaced by reality TV and ‘Food Porn’, as Bourdain calls it.
Sadly, I lost the perfect pancake recipe, and I have been searching fruitlessly for a suitable replacement ever since. So, this morning I tried again with the pancake recipe from Ruhlman’s ‘Ratio’ iPhone app. I made the variation with 25% whole wheat flour, and I can only describe it as a miss. The pancakes were passable, but bland and a little heavy. As is so often the case, the batter seemed too thick, and I should have trusted my instincts (ALWAYS TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS) and thinned it with milk before cooking. Nevertheless, the family was ok with the pancakes, and devoured them anyway, along with some Hormel Black Label bacon- consistently good for bacon from the grocery store.
I decided to give Ruhlman another chance, and made bread from the Ratio app. I have made a few abortive attempts at baking bread in the past, but this was a home run. Richly browned, beautifully round in shape, and utterly delicious. I look forward to making more bread this year. The KitchenAid stand mixer is definitely a competitive advantage that I lacked in the past. I kneaded with the dough hook on ‘2’ for 10-12 minutes, and it showed in the finished product.
In New Orleans, Monday is the day for red beans, so this morning I dutifully soaked 2 pounds of imported Camelia red beans (thanks Mom) in anticipation of red beans for dinner. They are finishing on the stove as I write this. I started by heating the bacon grease left over from breakfast in a large dutch oven, and then sauteing 3 medium white onions, diced, along with a couple of generous pinches of kosher salt. Once the onions were translucent, I added 2 green bell peppers, diced, and 4 stalks of celery, also diced. A little more salt and 4 cloves of pressed garlic, and then 8-10 minutes of occasional stirring as the aromatics started to break down. Into the pot went the drained beans, along with 2 bay leaves, several sprigs of thyme from the garden, and enough cool water to cover the beans by about an inch. I brought the pot to a boil, and then reduced the heat to medium low, occasionally adding water as the level dipped. After cooking about an hour, I browned 1/2 pound of diced ham (leftover from a Boy Scout campout) in a separate skillet, and added it to the beans. The beans cook until they are done, which is a ‘feel’ thing. You want to have some start to break down, but don’t cook until they all break down, or your leftovers will be sludge. An immersion blender can be a useful tool for achieving a creamy texture.
I think it’s important to understand that the beans are the dish, and that meat is to be added as a garnish, not a centerpiece. In the past, I have fallen into the trap of too much sausage, ham hocks, etc., but well-executed beans should be able to stand alone, without excessive embellishment.
I served the beans over perfectly boiled white rice, thanks to John Folse’s excellent recipe in his “Encyclopedia of Cajun and Creole Cuisine”:
- Rinse 1 cup of long grain rice (Mahatma, not converted rice!) in a colander until the water runs clear.
- Place rice into a cast iron or other heavy saucepan along with 1 1/2 cups water, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon butter.
- Bring to a boil, stir with a fork, cover, and reduce heat to low- very low.
- Cook for 20 minutes, remove the top, and fluff with a fork.
We had the beans with a very basic salad of lettuce and cherry tomatoes tossed with vinaigrette, and it was a rustic, satisfying meal. I could honestly eat beans & rice every day and be happy with them.