Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Hill of Beans

For Christmas, my mom gave me 5 pounds of beans. These weren't just any beans...but Rancho Gordo beans. (Check out their website for the full range of products and great recipes.) Rancho Gordo beans are the darlings of the food blogs right now. I hadn't heard of them before I received this leguminous present, but I have since read lots of posts praising their qualities and some wonderful recipes. The photo above is of the Christmas limas, which were the most beautiful of my gift pack.

I have to say, the jury is still out. I've tried the midnight black beans, the Christmas lima beans, and the yellow-eyed pea beans. They were all very good, and I enjoyed the dishes I made with them a lot, but I'm not sure they are out of this world.
This is the French-style roast lamb and beans I made with the Christmas limas. While the beans did taste slightly of chestnut, as the blurb about them promised, I find the color of them cooked somewhat repellent. Maybe they just don't go as well with lamb as flageolet beans.
I still have the vaqueros and the pebbles to try from my gift, but I'm really still hankering for some creamy pale flageolet beans. I think I will have to try Rancho Gordo's, and then I can make my final judgement. Thanks, mom, for the excuse to cook up more beans!

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Joy of Meatloaf

(Apologies to the Chronicle for using the photo; I didn't think to photograph my meatloaf. But this is Cindy's as Cindy made it.)
I've written about my copy of my mom's Joy of Cooking (1964 edition). It's not often that this cookbook makes it into the news. But today's New York Times has a short piece on a nutritional study comparing the calorie counts of servings from the original 1936 edition and the 2006 one, with a reference to lean times, both financially and gastronomically. In case you prefer not to click over to the article, the study found that there is an average of 39% more calories per serving in the current edition's recipes, due to more caloric ingredients and larger serving sizes.
I've long noticed the evolution of recipes toward more luxurious ingredients and larger serving sizes in recipes from my own cookbooks. Because I was curious whether my impression was accurate, I compared 4 meatloaf recipes, spanning approximately the same number of years as my lifetime, with an eye on the approximate calories of each (that part is not so scientific).
1964 Joy of Cooking: 1 lb. ground beef, 6 slices of bacon, 1/2 cup of cream (among other less caloric ingredients), to yield 4 servings.
(I haven't actually tried this recipe.)
1989 Silver Palate New Basics Cookbook, "Cajun Meat Loaf": 2 lb. ground beef, 1/2 lb. andouille sausage, etc., to yield 8 servings
(This is very Silver Palate--adding an extra twist to gussy up a classic. It also includes various peppers, cayenne, etc. I find I usually have to delete at least one ingredient, and sometimes several, from every Silver Palate recipe, although I haven't actually tried this recipe, either. I'm not sure I want andouille sausage in my meat loaf but to be fair they also have a recipe for meat loaf without it, although that one also calls for spinach, carrots and cumin. Uck.)
Undated, probably from the 1990s, SF Chronicle meat loaf: 2 lbs. ground beef, no bacon or sausage or cream, to yield 8 servings.
(This is the slightly boring recipe I usually make--so far the leanest.)
2009 "Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen Mighty Meat Loaf" from last week's SF Chronicle: 2 lbs. ground beef, no sausage or bacon, to yield 4-6 servings.
("Cindy" as in Cindy Pawlcyn. I just tried this one last week, but we got more like 8 servings out of it, even with 2 teenage boys eating. Serving size on this one is way bigger than the others. This recipe is a lot more interesting than my usual, with more ketchup, more herbs, more minced vegetables, and even more ketchup in a spicy sauce with horseradish poured on top as a gravy. It was a big hit. I was told, in firm tones, that this beat my usual meatloaf. In fact, here it is, along with 3 other meat loaf recipes from the Chronicle's meat loaf extravaganza, if you want to try it).

Hmmm. Maybe meatloaf wasn't the best choice for my unscientific study, since the first two seem to be more or less equivalent, and only Cindy's showed a big jump in calories. Cindy's meatloaf was adapted from a restaurant recipe, which tend to be more caloric and luxurious. Also, after an era of food excess, even a comfort food associated with frugality has to feel plentiful, hence the excessive serving size. Well, it is exceptionally good meatloaf.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

More Backyard Birds

(photo by Dave Menke, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service National Digital Library)
California towhees are particularly nondescript birds, and for that reason I had overlooked them for a long time in our backyard. But I've been watching them--yes, through my binoculars from the back window--and I suspect that the three of them who visit regularly are living in the no man's land thicket behind our backyard. (I found out today when I visited my neighbor Fran's house that I'm not the only one that keeps binoculars by the back door to look at birds--she does it, too!) The towhees visit often, usually scratching at the mulch we put down to control weeds. They mingle with the two blue jays that visit, and do not always fly away when we emerge into the yard. They seem pretty unconcerned with the cats that wander through our yard, even though the towhees seem like beguiling targets to me when they are pecking at things on the ground. In contrast, two mourning doves who were sitting on the ground the other day startled with a long string of whistles and coos and flutterings in the way that they do when I stepped into the yard.

Saturday, February 7, 2009


This is the divine butterscotch pudding I made this week. I had a craving for butterscotch pudding in the middle of my yoga class (I have no idea why) and had to go home afterward to find a recipe. This one is from epicurious. (If for some reason the link doesn't work, scroll down to find the 2002 recipe from Bon Appetit, not the shortcut newer one in this month's issue of Gourmet.) This is real butterscotch pudding, made with a carmelized sugar syrup, egg yolks, whipping cream, butter--even scotch! It's fantastically rich and butterscotchy and worth the fussing.
I have been on somewhat of a pudding craze the last few months. Maybe it's the uncertainty about the economy, and I'm craving comfort food. I've made baked vanilla custard, rice pudding, angel pudding, a couple of types of chocolate pudding, and then this butterscotch. To be honest, pudding doesn't photograph all that well (or I haven't figured out the trick) so I haven't been photographing them. I guess this one would look a bit more dressy with a dollop of whipped cream. But in terms of taste, any additions are entirely unnecessary.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

New Things Growing

I planted these starts to get a "head start" on my garden. But I could have just as easily planted them right in the raised bed, since it has been warm enough for the starts to just grow outside. Now I need to get them in the ground. It is so exciting when the seeds sprout. It's a miracle every time. These are beets and sugar snap peas.
My daffodil bulbs are sprouting, too.