Red Beans and Rice, Cajun Style

Cajun Red Beans and Rice, once a Sunday stable. Sunday was wash day, and chores day. It was easy to put on a pot of beans and throw in the ham bone from Saturday’s dinner. Red Beans and Rice is a meal, not a side dish and goes very well with a nice green salad.

You can use red kidney beans or red beans.  I prefer red beans. I also make a double batch and freeze a couple of quarts for a surprise meal down the road.

Here are 2 pounds of red beans that have soaked overnight. The soaking softens the beans as well as removing the sugars that cause flatulence.

The drawback to the traditional soaking is the loss of flavor.

If you choose to not presoak your beans, be prepared to add more liquid during the cook and to extend the cooking time.

Either way, sort through the beans to remove all floaters, and foreign stuff like twigs, sand etc.

The next step is to saute the onions, garlic and green onions.

One of the fastest ways to ruin the edge of your knife is to scrape the cutting board, here I use the back of the blade, maintaining the cutting edge.

The recipe I am following came from the Time-Life Foods of the World cookbooks dating back to the 1970’s. It should also be noted that this is a Cajun, not a Creole recipe.  Think of Cajun as country and Creole as city.

The recipe is located at the bottom

What prompted me to make this for dinner was a stop for a snack in Hubbard, Oregon, home of Voget Meats.  They make some of the best smoked sausages and smoked pork chops that have ever graced my table. In their showcase where these ham hocks and they they left with me, along with my beef stick.

about 20 minutes before the beans are finished, remove the hocks and let cool down, Strip off the meat and return the ham to the pot.

We served this with white rice and sprinkled a little green onion on top.

Earlier I mentioned that this was Cajun, not Creole. If it was prepared in a New Orleans restaurant then it would have been a fancier version, as there might be Andouilli Sausage, more peppers or additional hot, hot sauce.

Instead of the onions, the Holy Trinity would have been the base. Basil, sage, parsley would have added an additional layer of flavor. The list of changes could go on.

I feel if you want to really experience great Louisiana cooking you should start in the country and progress to the city.  I love it all, well maybe not Okra.

 

RED BEANS AND RICE
Serves 4-6

6 cups water
1 pound dried small red beans or 1 pound dried red kidney beans
4 Tbsp. butter
1 cup finely chopped scallions, including 3-inches of the green tops, divided use
1/2 cup finely chopped onions
1 tsp. finely chopped garlic
4 cups water
1 (1 pound) smoked ham hock
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
6 to 8 cups freshly cooked long-grained rice (for serving)

In a heavy 3-4 quart saucepan, bring 6 cups water to a boil over high heat. Drop in the beans and boil briskly, uncovered, for 2 minutes. Then turn off the heat and let the beans soak for 1 hour. (Alternatively, you can soak the beans over night in water.) In either case, drain and rinse the beans in a sieve set over a large bowl. Set the beans aside.

Melt the butter in a heavy 4 or 5 quart casserole or stockpot. When the foam begins to subside, add 1/2 cup of the scallions, the onions and the garlic and, stirring frequently, cook for about 5 minutes, or until they are soft and translucent but not brown.

Stir in the beans and 4 cups water, the ham hocks, salt and pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to low and simmer partially covered for about 2 1/2 to 3 hours, or until the beans are quite soft. Check the pot from time to time and, if the beans seem dry, add up to 1 cup more water, a few tablespoons at a time. During the last 30 minutes or so of cooking, stir frequently and mash some of the softest beans against the side of the pan to form a thick sauce for the remaining beans.

With tongs or a slotted spoon, transfer the ham hocks to a plate. Cut the meat away from the bones and remove and discard the skin, fat and gristle. Cut the meat into 1/4-inch dice and return it to the beans.

Taste the beans for seasoning and serve at once, directly from a large heated tureen. Place the rice and remaining 1/2 cup of scallions in separate bowls and present them with the beans.

Note: In Louisiana, red beans and rice are traditionally made with a leftover ham bone and you may substitute a ham bone for the ham hocks in this recipe. Without trimming off the meat, cut the bone into 2 or 3 inch pieces with a hacksaw, so that the marrow inside the pieces will melt and flavor the beans. Add the pieces of bone to the soaked beans and water and pour in enough additional water to cover then completely. When the beans are cooked, remove the bones from the pot, trim off and dice the meat, and return it to the beans. Discard the bones.


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Slow-cooked Chianti Beef Stew – Part 2

In part 1 we selected our beef, cut it into cubes, seasoned and then marinated it with a whole bottle of Chianti

After marinating the beef, I caramelized 2 yellow onions and 4 cloves of garlic. I wanted to extract the sugars and condense them. This is a sweet dish using only the natural sugars that exists in the onions, garlic and tomatoes. Burner was set to medium.

Remember my sun dried tomatoes? I chopped up about 3/4 cup of them and tossed in. Use a can of tomato paste otherwise.

I then added a pint of our canned tomatoes and Basil.

Transfer onions, tomatoes etc to a small mixing bowl and transfer about 25% of the drained beef into the Dutch oven and turn the heat to high. Transfer browned beef to another mixing bowl and repeat ’til all the beef has been seared.

Turn the heat down to medium and add the reserved Chianti to deglaze the Dutch oven. Scrape all the great flavors from the bottom and sides.

The beef was salt and peppered when I marinated it so the only seasoning to add now will be the herbs. I used a tablespoon of our Italian mix.

Place Dutch Oven in a 325 degree oven for 2 1/2 hours, check tenderness, remove when beef is tender. Different cuts take different times. This is one of those dishes that you prefer a stew cut because the longer the cook, the better the melding of flavors.

This is a stew cooked to the consistency  of a good chili, not thinned

Ready to serve? If you made our tomato and spinach pasta, this would be an excellent time to use it.  The added flavors of the pasta along side the Chianti and tomato beef go great together.

Of course a second bottle of Chianti would also go well with this dish.

Enjoy.

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Cream of Mushroom Soup, Oh Yeah

Years ago I had to cook it, or throw it out. We where leaving town for the weekend and some how I had 3 pounds of mushrooms in the fridge.  1 pound chanterelles and 2 pounds  baby portabellas. This was the beginning of my love affair with fungi.

This is a large recipe so have some freezer space available, And, yes, this freezes wonderfully.

Start with a couple of coarse chopped yellow onions sauteed  till caramelized. Deglaze the onions with half a cup of white wine. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper and then add the mushrooms, cover and simmer till the mushrooms have given up their moisture.

The onions and mushrooms have all been coarsely chopped, we want onions and mushrooms to break down and release their moisture, we don’t want to cook away the liquid.

   

Add 2 quarts of beef or bone broth, homemade is the best and homemade is also very healthy for you. Pour in the rest of that bottle of white wine plus some sage and simmer for about 10 minutes or so.

Be careful about the sage as to not overpower the delicate taste of the mushrooms. This should be a lightly seasoned dish and you can always add more. We grow our own sage and replace the container every year, so our sage would have considerably more flavor then that 8 year old bottle in your spice rack.

Since this is CREAM of mushroom soup, you need to add a thickener, for the richest taste and consistency add 1 to 1 1/2 cups of heavy cream. Or substitute 2 cups of Greek yogurt.

Run through your blender for a very smooth soup, or use the boat motor if you like it a little chunky, your choice.

At this point, we do a final seasoning to taste, ladle it into our dishes, and enjoy something that tastes like it took hours to make.

If serving for a special occasion, garnish with a few thin slices of mushroom and a swirl of cream on top.

 

 

 

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Those glorious Shallots

Shallots are a wonderful alternative to onions and garlic, true or false? Well the answer is both. Onions, garlic and shallots are of the same family but all taste a bit different and affect your breath differently.

We have always been onion and garlic people and only played with the shallots. Generally because they are expensive, well at least compared to onions and garlic.

This past couple of years we have added shallots to out home garden. Year one was the learning curve. You plant the whole container (starts) in one place and they overcrowd and stunt each other, spread them apart (year two) and you get a nice crop. The picture of shallots on the patio table was 1/2 the crop of one box from the garden store. These where planted in an above ground 15 gallon flower flower pot.

Shallots have a very delicate flavor and I wouldn’t waste them in a heavy dish. Substitute onions with shallots in a gumbo or stew and you have lost what the shallot has to offer.

Where we use them the most is in lighter soups, sautes and thinly sliced and layered on top of a nice fillet of fish, either paper wrapped or baked. They also are wonderfull thinly sliced or diced in a garden fresh salad.

Shallots can be handled much the same way as you would garlic, a nice slow roast at about 425° for about 40 minutes. Use right away or store in the refrigerator and use in vinigretts and sauces. These shallots will be much sweeter because of the caramelizing

We have also been experimenting with drying foods as a way to extend their shelve life and shallots have proven to be an exceptional experiment. Our dried shallots are used primarily in soups, don’t bother to rehydrate them as the soup liquid will suffice. Give them a quick chop and toss them in.

For storage, store fresh shallots in a cool , dry location and do not store onions and shallots next to potatoes as both expel gases that will promote the other to spoil quickly. Our dried sliced shallots are stored in an airtight container, we prefer the Airscape containers as they have a valved insert that you press down over the shallots, limiting the amount of trapped air.

If they are new to you, then give them a try when preparing a more delicate dish, we are sure you will be pleased.

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The local farmers market

15 reasons why you should stop and check them out. Almost all small towns have them.

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The Holy Trinity

Cajun or Creole, to most of us they are the same. But if you live in Lousianna I wouldn’t say that too loudly. The food from this region is the best I have ever eaten. I just love the whole experience. For sake of space, I will call both types of food Cajun (even though they aren’t the same). Food from this region and style teaches us about building a meal. Blasphemy, to say throw everything in a pot. Cajun food is layered, a foundation, then the sill, then on and on. Then you blend the flavors. When possible, if I provide a recipe I will try to give both variants.

The best descriptive differences between Acadian/Cajun and Creole I have found can be read here. Even though I am married to a Cajun.

The Holy Trinity is the lowest part of the foundation. It consists of onions, celery and peppers (generally green peppers). I add a fourth component at this stage, and that is garlic. And I will probably add more garlic to some other layer as I go.

You will see that I have a mix of onions and a mix of green, yellow, and red bell peppers. Why? Because that was what was in the pantry, and needed to used up. Cajun and Creole food is about using what is on hand, you should never create the same Gumbo or Jambalaya, where is the fun in that? The mix consists of 2 parts onion to 1 part peppers and 1 part celery.

I used to be in a hurry and throw all of the trinity components into a food processor and chop away. Wrong, bad cook. All of the components are thin cell structures full of water. Over chop it and when you cook the layers you will end up with mush. Instead, take the time and do a medium to coarse chop and take your time. I would post on YouTube showing my fancy knife work, including the fancy blood spurting. But it’s kind of gross.

I have many skillets, but nothing beats the even heat of cast iron when cooking the Trinity. Over medium heat first add your oil, I used ghee* then add the onions and garlic and cook till translucent, and then add the peppers. Cook for another 5 minutes and finally add the celery, then cook for another 5 minutes, all over a medium heat and stirring more than occasionally.

What I show here is enough Trinity for 4 dishes. You usually cook 1/2 cup onion and 3/4 of a cup each of the peppers and celery.

What I accomplished this evening was creating the foundation for future dinners. I see all kinds of recipes for Gumbo made now, red beans and rice in 1/2 hour. Don’t even go there, you just can not make Gumbo, Jambalaya etc. on the fly. But if you take a boring evening and cook up 4 freezer bags of Holy Trinity/ Then some other evening or rainy Saturday make your Rue and freeze. Finish it off by getting some pork shoulders to make your own andouille sausage (not that garlicky, smoked stuff you buy in the store), and you will have the making for some truly fine food that can be assembled in a very short time.

*Ghee is a form of clarified butter that removes the milk solids from the butter, taste like butter but has a much higher smoke point then whole butter has.

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