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Bringing Back Beans

December 4, 2017

Winter in Albany is feeling shorter and shorter all the time. Maybe it’s because the climate is changing. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older and time seems to speed up. Maybe it’s because I’m just getting used to it.

Call me crazy, but it seemed to turn colder earlier and snow more when we arrived to the region about ten years ago. Winter was long. And coming from over a decade in California, and the better part of my life spent in Florida, I had no context for winter at all, much less an upstate New York winter.

As time has marched on, I’ve found ways to celebrate winter, and make it a joyful time of year. Seasonal cooking is a big part of that. And in the fussy household, it begins with beans.

Beans are great to eat all year long. And we totally do that. The big difference between hot weather beans and cold weather beans is that hot weather beans come out of cans.

Canned beans are great. I’ll admit to using a can of chickpeas to bang out a quick batch of hummus. Cans of cannellini beans are fantastic for bulking up a vegetable heavy pasta dish. Barely a week goes by without a burrito night, where canned black beans are one of the family’s favorite fillings.

In my heart of hearts I know that a pressure cooker is a great way to cook dry beans in the summer without generating a lot of heat. But it’s not something I’ve pursued, for a couple of reasons.

For starters, my pressure cooker is supersized. That is great because it makes large quantities of stock, but it takes a long time to get up to temperature. I’m really really tempted by the Instant Pot, but I just don’t know what appliance would have to be sacrificed to give it a space on the counter.

Regardless of how the beans are cooked, there is always the matter of what to do with a mass quantity of hot food. In the summertime, the refrigerator is jam packed with perishables from the CSA. Fridge space is at a premium, and I would barely have room for the beans, much less the ice packs needed to help cool them down.

There was that time that I was in desperate need of stock and filled the sink with bags of ice, to cool my golden elixir of deliciousness while stirring in a stainless steel bowl. But buying bags of ice to cool down stock just feels wrong somehow.

When winter rolls around, not only does the fresh produce in the fridge dwindle, but the garage itself becomes a perfect cooling zone for big pots full of hot liquids.

I actually keep a refrigerator thermometer out in the garage, just so I’m confident that the temperature is in the “safe zone” for food storage. Hot foods come down to temperature much quicker in the near freezing garage than they do in the fridge. And once they are cool, I can divide them up into portions, freeze some, and work the rest into meals for later in the week.

Tonight, the weather isn’t quite cooperating. But Little Miss Fussy is having a friend over for dinner, so we’ll be able to make a larger dent in the cauldron of Cuban black beans than usual. Plus, we haven’t had the kids’ favorite dish for months, so I suspect they will eat bowl after bowl of the stuff.

Still, there will definitely be leftovers. That’s part of the point, because on Wednesday I’m taking off to Phoenix for a work trip. It also just so happens I have a cousin out there, so I will finally get to see his desert compound.

I can’t wait. My sandals are excited to get out of storage a bit earlier than expected. After talking with Jon in Albany, and rereading the post from Steve N, I’m really hoping to get a visit to Pizzeria Bianco.

The blog will continue. The family will survive. I’ll spend most of my birthday in transit to meetings. But Yelp meetings are always fun, and it’s a rare chance to see my colleagues who are scattered all over the country.

And some time after I return, I’m going to start making chicken stock again. I’m even going to try a suggestion from Greg K about using the pressure cooker to make a remouillage and marry it with the primary stock before reducing them both.

Nothing like a good pot of simmering liquid to take some of the chill out of winter; there’s a pot roast that’s calling my name; and surely a few other bean dishes will be made over the next few months. I’m not sure if we’ll be trying anything new, or just sticking to the classics.

We’ll just have to wait and see.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Bob W. permalink
    December 4, 2017 11:40 am

    The Instant Pot has been a game-changer for our busy family — it was worth carving out the counter space. Beans, rice, quick sauces for pasta, stock, soups, various proteins for burrito bowls, etc. — the thing is a workhorse.

  2. December 4, 2017 12:02 pm

    Just get the 4 quart Fagor. None of that insta nonsense.

    • Bob W. permalink
      December 5, 2017 11:29 am

      I like my 4 quart Fagor, but I love the Instant Pot. Since getting the insta in August we haven’t used the Fagor once.

      Now that it is getting colder, that may change, but having pressure cooker versatility without heating up the house has been awesome.

  3. December 4, 2017 12:43 pm

    I also went with the Fagor Lux and I’ve used it way more than I ever thought I would. I don’t store it on the counter though, it stays in the box in the basement until I need to use it, it has a convenient carrying handle on the box.

  4. KingOfBeacon permalink
    December 4, 2017 12:48 pm

    I recently saw an episode of America’s Test Kitchen where they basically said canned beans > dried beans, every single time. The canned ones are under such quality control that you get the perfect bean where as the dried are inconsistent (size, shape, moisture content all varies).

  5. chrisck permalink
    December 4, 2017 4:18 pm

    KingofBeacon — depends on the quality of your dried beans. I use Rancho Gordo beans, which are more expensive (a relative term since a pound of beans makes a ton of food) but you know when they were grown and harvested. If you have any interest in heirloom beans beyond the very limited varieties available in the supermarket (whether canned or dry), the way to go is ordering R.G. beans.

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