Monthly Archives: June 2013

You Can Make Beans

I’m always amazed that food writers and professional chefs, ordinarily so fussy about using only the freshest ingredients and cooking from scratch, invariably volunteer canned as an alternative to home-cooked beans in their recipes. That tells you something. It’s not that slow-cooked dried beans aren’t better, but canned beans are good, too, and so convenient.

In her New York Times column (“A Good Appetite,” June 5, 2013) Melissa Clark admitted that canned Great Northern beans, “turned out beautifully” in her White Bean and Asparagus Salad with Tarragon-Lemon Dressing. They proved superior to the dried cannellini and navy beans she tried first, which, “cooked up inconsistently, with some beans turning to mush while others remained stubbornly and unappealingly al dente.” And they were a lot “less costly” and “easier to deal with” than the vacuum-packed heirloom Italian controne beans she tried second.

I always stock flats of canned beans-black, kidney, garbanzos- to toss into salads or soups, turn into hummus or simmer for side dishes. A favorite weeknight or company side dish, which I call “Mexican Beans,” is made by combining a 15-ounce can of black or kidney beans with lightly sautéed onions, garlic, chopped canned tomatoes and a little chipotle in adobo; adding grated jarlsburg or cheddar cheese (whatever’s around); seasoning with some red wine, cumin and chile powder, and simmering covered for about 20 minutes over low heat and then uncovered until the mixture thickens sufficiently.

When You’re in a Jam….

The strawberry jam at our summer town fair last year didn’t set very well, so we sold it as an ice cream topping. However, according to Cathy Barrow, who wrote a column on the subject called “Decoding the Jam” recently for the food section of The New York Times, the solution is to add a kiwi.

Barrow explains that kiwi are, “packed with natural pectin and ready to make any jam gel,” even strawberry, which seems prone to resist. She promises that the subtle flavor and slight tartness of the fruit won’t affect the berry flavor in the least.

Herb Etiquette

I know that many people store their green herbs by setting the bunch in a glass of water, as though they were flowers. But I’ve always found that the leaves don’t hold up well that way and the stems become waterlogged. So I was happy to come across an item on Bon Appetit’s Web site that supports my approach, especially since I turn to fresh herbs so frequently at this time of year.

Here are Bon Appetit’s instructions verbatim. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

• Remove any rubber bands or twine and submerge herbs in a large basin or bowl filled with cold water. Let sit for a few minutes, then swish to release dirt. For grittier herbs (like basil), repeat with clean water until no dirt remains. Lift from the water, trying not to stir up the dirt, and dry in a salad spinner or gently pat between paper towels.

• Place washed and dried herbs in a single layer on a few damp paper towels. (I sometimes substitute a clean tea towel-THH.)Loosely roll up the bundle and store in a resealable plastic bag in the crisper of the refrigerator for up to one week. Perishable basil is best used right away.