Sunday, February 25, 2007

Tardi Gras

IT'S OVER! IT'S OVER! The play was a rousing success, but it's over at last, and I can reclaim my life! Whoo-hoo! So maybe next weekend, I'll have more intricate food projects to blog about. In the meantime, I have two things to share. First, I engaged my trusty crockpot yesterday so that it could be doing the cooking while I was otherwise dramatically occupied. You see, what I really wanted was more of the red beans and rice that June prepared for her Mardi Gras celebration last week. In a truly heartbreaking scheduling conflict, I got to be there for appetizers, but had to leave for a dress rehearsal before dinner was served. But as June is the kindest of friends, she saved me a portion which I gratefully accepted and gobbled down much later that evening. But it was so good that I wanted more! So I decided to make some on my own.

The problem is, I have never made red beans and rice before. Well, I'm an expert on rice thanks to my Hawaiian father, but the red beans are new to me. I consulted dozens of recipes, and no two were exactly alike. I compiled an exhaustive list of all the possible additions and decided to include every single thing that appealed to me. This threatened to produce an inedible hodgepodge, but it actually turned out great. Even Cyd, who does not enjoy rice-based dishes, had to admit that it was very good. The only part that was troublesome was the crockpot method. Several recipes recommended 8-10 hours on low, but after EIGHTEEN hours, the beans were still hard! So I cranked that bad boy up to high, and three hours later (that's 21 hours total for those following along at home!), they were perfectly done...tee hee. So be guided by my folly and also your familiarity with your own crockpot to correct the timing issue. But as luck would have it, mine were done just in time to enjoy while watching the Oscars! And since Ellen was hosting, the New Orleans fare seemed fitting, even if we are almost a week past Mardi Gras. ;-)

Red Beans and Rice

1 lb. dried red beans
1 ham bone or about a cup of country ham, small dice
1 large onion, diced
1 bell pepper, diced (I used an Italian frying pepper)
1 large stalk celery, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
2-4 tablespoons Cajun seasoning (I used "Joe's Stuff")
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon hot pepper sauce (or to taste)
1 tablespoon dried parsley
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes (or to taste)
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1/4 teaspoon sage
1/4 teaspoon marjoram
1/4 teaspoon oregano
salt and pepper, to taste

1 pound sausage (preferably, andouille, but smoked will do)

steamed white rice

Rinse the beans and discard any floaters. Place in the crockpot and cover with water to an inch or two above the beans. Add all other ingredients except the sausage and cook until the beans are tender.

Remove the ham bone (if using) and the bay leaves and discard. Also remove a couple of cups of the beans and mash them into a thick pulp with a potato masher. Add the mashed beans back to the pot to thicken the sauce.

Slice the sausage 1/4 to 1/2-inch pieces and brown the slices on both sides in a frying pan. Add sausage back to the beans and serve over rice.*

*I would offer a rice-making tip here. I used to always make my rice on a stovetop, but when I got my latest microwave, it had a rice-cooking mode. I thought you couldn't possibly make good rice in the microwave, but you can! For a small batch, I rinse a cup of long-grained white rice three times until the water is fairly clear. I drain it and add about a cup and a half of water and a good pinch of salt to the rice. I cover the microwave-safe dish with a good-fitting lid, and then nuke it for about 18-20 minutes. Then I let it sit with the lid on for another five minutes or so before fluffing with a fork and serving. I doubled the amount of rice tonight, and the cooking time was more like 30 minutes. I know, it's a long time, but it makes perfectly fluffy rice every time!

And if that weren't enough, I even managed to squeeze in some canning this evening when I got home from the play. I didn't really mean to can--it was accidental canning. I had unearthed a one-pound package of haricot verts from the fridge when I was digging for something else. Yes, these are the same beans from our Superbowl menu three weeks ago. Clearly, something needed to be done with them, and fast! And I remembered that I had recently run out of my beloved dilly beans that I usually make each summer. I adore anything pickled, but dilled beans hold a special place in my heart (and in my Bloody Mary!). So I decided to throw together a few pints using my favorite, tried-and-true Kerr recipe. Here it is:

Dilly Beans
(Source: Kerr Home Canning and Freezing Book)
Yield: 8-10 pints

4-5 pounds green or yellow beans, ends trimmed

8-16 heads fresh dill (or 1/2 to 1 cup dill seed)
8 cloves garlic, peeled
4 cups white vinegar (5% acidity)
4 cups water
1/2 cup canning or pickling salt
1 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes

Wash and trim ends from beans. Cut into four-inch lengths (smaller beans can be left whole). In a four-quart saucepan, combine vinegar, water, pickling salt and pepper flakes. Bring to a boil over high heat. Meanwhile, in each hot pint jar, place 1 to 2 heads of fresh dill (or two teaspoons of dill seed) and one clove of garlic. Firmly pack beans upright in jars, leaving 1/2-inch of headspace. Pour hot vinegar mixture into jars, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Carefully run a nonmetallic utensil down inside of jars to remove trapped air bubbles. Wipe jar tops and threads clean. Place hot lids on jars and apply screw bands (fingertip tighten only). Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

*These beans are best after sitting for a month or so to achieve their full flavor--if you can wait that long!


Randi said...

I always shy away from canning veg because I heard they have to be canned in a pressure canner. Is that true?

Joy Bugaloo said...

Well, yes and no. Low-acid foods--like regular canned green beans--would indeed have to be canned using a pressure cooker. But high-acid foods, like anything pickled in vinegar, and all jams and jellies (recipes usually include a little citrus juice) can be made in a water bath canner. Give it a try! These dilly beans are SO easy. I have the very best dill pickle recipe, too, from my best friend's grandma in Missouri. Let me know if you want it.

Mia Mia said...

I have a question about pickles. Last night I made some dilly beans in a boiling water bath (my very first time!), and now there are lots of air bubbles in the jars, clinging to the beans, and even some at the top. We definitely processed them for the full ten minutes, and none of the information I have seen mentions this phenomenon. Do you have any advice?