Food, family, crafts, and other stuff we like


Monday, May 17, 2010

Beans, beans the magical fruit...

My Dad said something recently that made me think differently about how I cook. We were talking about beans, though the concept can be used kitchen-wide. It was simple really, what he said about when going to the trouble of cooking beans you may as well cook up a huge pot. The soaking time and cooking time can be daunting, and a put-off if you are looking for a quick dinner. Hence the old can or two of beans that sits in all of our pantries. In the last few years I have come to be quite a purist and frugal shopper, shunning as many canned and prepared products as possible. I would much rather make my own. In a pinch of course, I will grab a can of beans, or diced tomatoes. But if I can save money, packaging, processing, etc, by doing it myself I will. And let me tell you that there is nothing that compares to a hot pot of beans or fresh tomato sauce. Nothing.
So my Dad's philosophy was to minimize the time spent cooking beans overall by cooking a lot at once. What do you do with so many beans you ask, there is no way we could choke down that many in a week. I agree. One or two meals is enough for me too. So what I do is freeze them. Pack cooled beans into freezer safe containers of various sizes. Glass jars such as clean peanut butter, pickle, mayo jars work well or you can use plastic yogurt containers or ziploc bags. When I freeze beans I make sure there is no extra liquid in the container, and fill the container about 3/4 full. When you want some beans pull a jar out of the freezer and thaw. For a quick thaw, pour warm water over the beans to loosen and then dump into a pan to heat. Try to use them up within a month or two or they will lose freshness.
Beans are delicious in tacos, chili, hummus, soups, sprinkled on salads, or as a side.
Though different varieties of beans have different cooking times, I usually follow the same process for all of them. And lately have been making fun bean medleys such as black, pinto, and kidney beans, shown above.

Basic Beans

Rinse beans and pick through. Cover with lots of water in a pot. Soak for 6 to 24 hours. I read recently that you should cook beans in their soaking liquid so you don't lose flavor, but if you want you can dump the soaking water and cover again with fresh water. I like to add onion and a bay leaf to the pot. Adding a few pieces of seaweed is supposed to reduce gas. Up to you. Don't add salt until beans are cooked. Bring to a boil and then simmer until beans are soft, anywhere from half an hour to an hour and a half, depending on the bean and soaking time.
Once beans are done, salt to taste. Storing them in their cooking liquid in the fridge is good for keeping them moist, though I like to drain it off when freezing.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Bienenstichkuchen (Bee Sting Cake)

Oh the mysterious Bee Sting Cake. Sweet German honey cake, topped with sweet sliced almonds, and a layer of creamy pudding in the middle. Jenny and I had the cake one night at Suppenkuche in San Francisco's Hayes Valley. It was a friend's birthday and we celebrated with Bangers 'n Mash, sauerkraut, huge steins of beer, and lastly Bee Sting Cake. Maybe the beer helped, but the cake put a spell on us. We were drooling and giggling over every bite. A few times we asked for it again when eating there but it wasn't on the menu. I asked where they got it and it was from a Russian Bakery in the Richmond. I never found the bakery, but must have had the name or address wrong, for now we have a new lead.
Because this cake was so damn good, it lingered in our minds and would come up now and again, and ultimately inspired the name of our blog. We decided that we would make one as a tribute to the publishing of Bee Sting Cake (we have been talking about doing this for years.) Easy right? Not so much. It is a fairly long and complex recipe. But we figured with the three of us, and the master egg cracker Alabama, age 4, we could manage. I chose a recipe that seemed authentic and easy enough to follow. Make the cake, make the filling, put it all together and viola!

Well, it wasn't that difficult to make, but the recipe we used called for way too much yeast, and the cake ended up way too heavy and musty. The pudding filling was pretty good, but could have been lighter. Gelatin smells like hooves.
So ultimately we called our first attempt a failure, and despite how good the picture looks, I won't share the recipe with you because it should never be attempted again.
The mission: Find the perfect Bee Sting Cake recipe. There are quite a few online, with all kinds of variations. I may scour the library for a German cookbook, see if I can find an authentic one. So darling reader, stay tuned for our next Bienenstich Bake Off. We will keep trying until we have mastered the elusive and lovely Bee Sting Cake.