This is the Black Bean Soup you’re looking for

Bean Soup

So I really like black beans. There was a time in my life when I would cook up a pot of black beans regularly. I’d use them in tacos or burritos, mix in white rice, and even make up a little soup. I like to use them in place of other beans. I mean, come on who really likes the kidney beans in chili? *

I can’t remember where I first ate black bean soup, but I vividly recall the experience. It was a small hot bowl, almost bittersweet chocolate in color. The taste was savory and spicy with just a bit of lime. It wasn’t totally smooth, but had whole beans swimming in the thick beany broth.

The deal sealer with black bean soup are the garnishes.  In the same way as a good chili, you need to top black bean soup with something. Preferably many somethings. This restaurant topped the soup with a scoop of steamed white rice. It was amazing. It is the flavor of that soup that I chase when I make my own recipes today.

This recipe below also busts a myth or two. You really don’t need to soak beans before you cook them. I still will soak beans if I think about it, but often I just cook up black beans for soup and it’s just fine.  Also, I added salt relatively early in the cooking process and again it was just fine. I know some claim that salt inhibits the cooking process with beans, but I haven’t had that experience, and by adding salt your beans aren’t blah.

Black Bean Ingr

For the Beans

1# black beans

1 ham hock

2 bay leaves

6 cups of water

1/8 t baking soda

1 t salt

For the Soup

3 T olive oil

1 large onion

1 large carrot

1 red pepper

2 large cloves garlic

½ t red pepper flakes, I may have used a bit more, so to taste

1 ½ T ground cumin

½ c chopped tomatoes (I used some larger pieces from a jar I canned last fall)

4 cups chicken broth

Some Garnishes

Lime juice

Minced cilantro

Red onion

Greek Yogurt

 Alternate garnish

Cooked white rice

Chopped BBS

 How to do it

Start by combining all the bean ingredients except the salt in a nice sized Dutch oven. Turn it up and get a good boil going over medium heat. Stir in salt and lower the heat to a peppy simmer.  Simmer covered until the beans are tender.  Mine took about 90 minutes, but check them. Also, keep track of the water. If it starts to get low add another cup. When the beans are tender, I put everything in a large bowl,  remove the hock and the bay. When the hock is cooled, remove the meat and chop it up to add back in.

Saute bbs

Wipe the dutch oven clean with a paper towel. Toss the oil in the pan and heat over medium high. Add the onion, carrot, pepper to the pan and stir occasionally. You’ll cook them until they are very soft and lightly browned. Add the garlic, pepper flakes, and cumin to the pan, stirring frequently until fragrant maybe a minute or two. Add the beans, cooking liquid, tomatoes, hock meat, and chicken broth to the pan and adjust the heat so you get a nice boil, then lower to a simmer for about a half hour so the flavors can combine.

Soup bbs

When it seems ready, take 3-4 cups of the soup and put it in the container that held my homemade stock. You want something tall, so you can whip out your immersion blender and frappe the soup into a smooth thickener.  Once it’s smooth, add it back to the pot and you should have a slightly thickened bean soup that still had whole beans and bits of veggies.

Whirr bbs

Then you’re done. This soup is very close to what I remember from that soup that got me hooked. It is just a little thick, but still silky with a depth of flavor that has just a bit of heat. Don’t forget when you serve it to have a little assembly of garnishes. Your guests will love  customizing their own bowls with various add ons. Let’s be honest, people usually hop up their chili until it’s more garnishes than actual chili, and that’s how it should be.

Bean Soup

Suggested beverage: Malbec or a Pale Ale.

* Answer is no one.  Kidney beans are gross.


Why you should be watching Treme

NOLA 085When I fall in love with a new restaurant, there’s nothing more fun than introducing others to it, or cooking a new recipe and watch as a friend or love’s face lights up with pleasure eating it. It’s also the same when I clue someone into a really good show. You not only get to give your friend some honest tv watching enjoyment, but you get to relive the experience with them as they discover the joy/thrill/suspense you found in the show. Now I want to do that for you, and the show I think most of you probably haven’t seen and really need to is HBO’s Treme.

I absolutely love this show. I’ve been trying to think about what exactly why. It’s a little show, not glitzy. Even though it’s on HBO it has never gotten the buzz of a Sex and the City or the Girls. It’s not about self absorbed 30 somethings in too expensive clothes or self absorbed thick brained 20 somethings in no clothes. No, it’s a small show that is tenderly and beautifully rendered about a city, people, and music that I love. Whoever writes this show clearly knows the city and loves it too.

Treme is a neighborhood in New Orleans, a real neighborhood with real people. The show starts 3 months after Hurricane Katrina and it lives in a world of musicians, chefs, and other NOLA characters who took weathered the storm and their attempts to take back their city. It isn’t easy, and it isn’t told in an easy way. People die, people you love die. There is injustice and it will piss you off and it will make you cry.

Treme shows New Orleans isn’t an easy city. It is dirty and messy and corrupt. It was before Katrina and the water from the storm didn’t wash that away. One thing that makes Treme so great is that it is honest, sometimes brutally so.

NOLA 053I’d say Treme is also about 50% music, incredible local music. It will make you want to go and hang out in every divey joint in the city because we all know that’s where the best music lives. The stories are told in short bursts, like jazz riffs. This isn’t conventional storytelling. Thoughts are sometimes started and then you move into another scene, no resolution or nicely wrapped up scene. Just bits that start and stop and circle back later. While there are a variety of characters and story lines, it isn’t really telling separate stories it is telling one large multilayered intertwined story. Strong characters fight, cry, lose, and fight the hell back. Or quit. It shows people fighting for their city and with their city. Solutions aren’t easy if they come at all, but in the end it shows the heart and soul of this wonderful city.

NOLA 75I love New Orleans. I was enchanted with the city before I even ever stepped foot in the place. It was one of those places I knew I knew would feel like home. When I was there for the first time and heard my first NOLA jazz and ate fried chicken from Willie Mae’s* I knew I was in love.

So watch Treme. There’s 3 short seasons already out and a final one airing this year to finish the story. In one episode you may cry and cheer,  yell FINALLY, only to then have the rug pulled out from under you. You will love these people, you will fall in love with this city and then trust me, you will go and the love affair will be there for life.

You’re welcome. Maybe I’ll see you there.

*if you haven’t eaten fried chicken at Willie Mae’s my darlings, you haven’t lived.  I’m not the only one who thinks so.

Seared Shrimp Salad with Blood Orange Vinaigrette


It’s not every day that a recipe knocks me off my feet. I cook a few times a week and you’d be surprised at how many of the online recipes are just meh – nothing I’d make again. I’m a busy gal and nothing ticks me off more than taking the time to make a recipe only to be rewarded with something boring. So when I try something new my expectations are so low, yet the bar is really high. This recipe really surprised me, it’s simple yet oh so tasty. I think it’s the low number of ingredients used in just the right way that allows this recipe to sing. I stumbled across this recipe on the lovely Tartlette blog. I changed it just a bit to meet my own tastes and the limits of my location. Her recipe called for scallops and since I’m terribly landlocked here in the middle of Illinois, I thought a safer bet was to use shrimp.

As an unexpected bonus, it didn’t take me longer than 10-15 minutes to make this whole recipe. Yes you heard me right, a totally homemade recipe in under 15 minutes. In fact, this is so easy you really don’t need a recipe for it, but I’ll walk you through what I did.

IMG_3973The vinaigrette calls for blood orange juice, red wine vinegar, minced garlic, salt/pepper and olive oil, you can see exact amounts on the Tartlette blog. Also, don’t be worry about finding blood oranges, heck my local Schnucks had ’em. If you can’t find them it’s fine to use a regular orange, but you won’t have the beautiful ruby red vinaigrette to drizzle and the flavor may be different and more breakfasty. IMG_3979I added everything but the oil and then added it slowly giving it a brisk whisk.  I didn’t use as much oil as her recipe, but I tend to like a more tart dressing.  If I were you I would add a bit and taste it. If it tastes good, stop, if not add more oil. You should always taste your food as you’re cooking. How else will you know if it’s delicious? And this dressing is seriously good. I didn’t use nearly all of it for the salad and am saving it for a something next week.

IMG_3991Once the vinaigrette was finished, all that was left was to saute up the shrimp. Like the recipe, I wanted to keep it simple. I dried the shrimp really well with paper towels and salt and peppered them.  I put a very light film of olive oil in my trusty cast iron skillet and set it to almost high.  It didn’t take long for the pan to have small wisps of smoke and I threw the shrimp in making sure they had plenty of room. Don’t crowd your pan or you’ll steam them and you won’t get any caramelly bits. I’m all about the caramelly bits.  12 shrimp were  enough for me, but if you’re making this for more than yourself you might want to do it in two batches, but even with doubling the cooking time on the shrimp this recipe is still wicked fast.

Now stay close to the pan, but don’t stir them or turn them or mess with them at first. Leave them alone and watch, you’ll see the shrimp change and become pink, slightly opaque, and beginning to curl. When you see this happening, check the undersides. They should release easily and be just a little caramelized. Flip ’em and do the same to the other side. I like my shrimp firm, but cook yours until they are done to your taste. When they even pinker and totally opaque, give them a little poke with your finger. For me, the shrimp should be nice and firm, but not rubbery.  If you’re still unsure if they’re done you can also pop a sacrificial shrimp in your mouth and taste it to see if it’s right, no one’s looking.

IMG_3997When your shrimp are done mound some greens onto your dinner plate. I opted for a spring mix from our local co-op, but you can use whatever greeny lettuce you enjoy. Top with a nice serving of the shrimp and then drizzle the vinaigrette over the whole shebang. If it separated it’s fine just give it another whisk, and then drizzle away.

I think a sparkling rosé would pair really nicely with this. I had a Sauvignon Blanc already open and it was a bit tart. If you didn’t want a sparkler, I’d maybe try a dry Riesling. You don’t want something that competes too much, the dressing is a tiny bit tart, but it’s the sweet blood oranges combined with the briny slightly caramelized shrimp that dominate the flavors.

And there you have it, a delicious dinner that can be easily assembled in minutes after work. Make it for your honey or make it for yourself, but trust me you’ll want to make it.

How to make me love your wine tasting


Last night I went to a wine tasting/charity event sponsored by a local wine shop. I’ve been to a few of these things over the years and honestly I have mixed feelings about them. Most of the time I’m a little suspicious about the wine the salespeople bring. Usually it seems like wine they need to move mixed in with some higher end wines that make you feel like you’re getting in on special deal on the tasting.

They’re also usually like those “lady parties” like Mary Kay, or those candles where there’s an expectation that you’re going to buy something.  At those I often end up scanning the catalog and to find the cheapest thing I can buy and make a hasty retreat, but at a wine event I’m a pretty good ferreter and can usually find something to buy that I actually like. And dang it, ferreting out wine is fun.

If you choose carefully wine tastings can be kind of great. It really depends on the venue. If it’s your small local wine shop organizing it, the odds are better that they will pick good wine salespeople to show their wares. Now the salespeople are well, salespeople.  They remind me of drug reps that I worked with back in the day at the American Cancer Society. Some are better than others, but most are solid informational resources to learn more about their wine. Word of advice to the wine reps, you don’t want to be a little douchy. I got one of those last night and Dude, you act like a jerk and I’m not going to buy any of your wine. If you’re very particular about your wine, tell them what you like even if you don’t see those wine there, they’ll help you navigate to what you might like. If you’re like me and you like a lot of different wines just say that and you’ll get to taste everything.  I said that to one rep last night and her eyes lit up and said, “oh, we’re going to have some fun” and she proceeded to give me the intel on all her wine. I did buy one of hers. A memorable wine seller sold me a bottle by calling it a “porch pounder” and dishing about what a deal it was. It wasn’t a great wine, but could I picture myself on my patio drinking it icy cold on a hot summer night? You better believe it. Also, wine sellers take note, don’t be precious about your wine, pick favorites. No, all your wine isn’t great, we all preferences, so when I ask you what you crack open after a long day, just tell me.

One of my favorite things about a tasting is you can try varietals that you’ve never had without the risk of buying a whole bottle of it at the store. It’s really exciting to learn about an unusual grape or region that you’ve never tried.  It’s also cool to serve that bottle to friends or bring it to a party when everyone else is bringing another oaky Chardonnay or tired old Cabby Sauv. If you try something new and don’t like it, just pour it out.

At a tasting you don’t want to get sloppy. Well, maybe you do, but if you want to remember anything about what you’re tasting you can’t drink every pour, especially at a large event. And they add up, faster than you’d think. My rule is if I love it I’ll drink it, if not I take a sip and pour it out. That’s what the buckets are for, so use them. And heck if you want to get a little sloppy and have fun, go ahead it’s your party, but plan ahead who’s driving home.

Finally if you really want to make my day, have the wine right there so I can leave with it in hand and give me a discount. Last night discounts started at 6 bottles, there weren’t 6 that I liked enough to buy, so I picked my two favorites, something new and of course Pinot Noir. I had two other wines I would have bought if I’d gotten at little off all of them, so that’s a small sale loss.

Oh, the wine above is a lovely little Malbec that I drank later, but did not come from the tasting. They didn’t have it right there, you got to pre-order it, so then I can’t share it here.  It’s available at Binny’s if you have one.

edited-I just noticed this is my 100th blog post. Compared to some, that’s a drop in the blogging ocean, but for me it feels milestoney.  If you’re new, take a peek back at the archives and see what you’ve been missing. I hope you like what you see and come back.

Once More into the Fray

pansiesIt’s spring, the time of rebirth and renewal, and for me a time to reboot and get back to business.  Not that I haven’t been about business in the past couple of years, but I haven’t lived here very much and folks that’s about to change.

I know you’ve heard it all before, “I’ll post more often”, “I swear I’ll change”, or “this time it’s different”, but it really is (hopefully). I was stuck in a research position for the past two years that took a lot of my time and a tiny bit of my soul. Not that what we were doing wasn’t good work, it was, it is. Heck, we’re helping young adults deal with their substance abuse issues, God’s work…but I need to get back to my own research and focus on me, so just like T.I., or Eminem, or the Ghosts from Poltergeist said “I’m Back”.

I now also have Photoshop for my Mac which will make it a lot more fun for me to play with the pictures I take and post here.  Look forward to the posts you’ve enjoyed in the past about food, but I also want to post about wine, and life.  I also might blog a bit about tv. Those posts might end up elsewhere eventually, but for now I want to share my thoughts about the shows I like and why I like ’em. Yes, there will be bitching about academia too so you’ll just have to deal. Oh and Top 10 lists, oh yah there will be Top 10 lists. I hope to get back to bringing you my own unique set of insights and info from right on the edge of the prairie.

Election Day

So it’s finally here, thank God. I know I’m not alone in feeling like this political cycle couldn’t end fast enough.  I’ve seen friends on Facebook beg for people to stop with their political posts, and even seen a few log off until after the election.  It hasn’t been pretty folks.

  For me it also wasn’t always like this.  In my family we looked forward to election day, held parties, and celebrated our ability to pick our political candidates freely.  We had Republicans mostly and Democrats (usually just my uncles), but we never had heated arguments, just watched the results roll in.  Sometimes our candidate won, sometimes they lost and the world seemed to keep revolving, life never ended.

I’m not sure when this stopped, but it happened in both my family and in the rest of the country.  People started to lose their shit when it came to politics.  Maybe it was that crazy 2000 Bush/Gore cycle, maybe that’s when people started to come unhinged when it came to political discourse.  I know that the televised news channels have only added to it with their 24/7 coverage of every single misstep and slight positive edge. I also am insulted that more and more celebrity is being thrust into the political realm. People like Katy Perry and Lindsay Lohan’s views on candidates are now news. Why? The line has further blurred between news and entertainment with John Stewart being interviewed as if he were a political insider.  Have we really compromised our own intelligence that much that a comedy show is now replacing factual news? And why does it seem one political party gets to hog all the spaces at the cool kids table? An election should be decided on who’s views and platform you feel is best for the country not who you think is cool or hip.

I’ve seen some pretty terrible things online especially in the past 6 months regarding this election from both sides.  Lies, fear mongering, and distasteful humor posed as a political stance.  The freedom and instant gratification that the internet has brought to politics has not brought out the best in people and it makes me sad.

I’m staying away from news until later and will watch the results with a glass of wine and my pup. Someone will win and their supporters will be thrilled, someone will lose and their supporters will be devastated.  It will hopefully be over and the country will only change incrementally. Our leaders regardless of the party are mainly variations of a theme. We have enough checks and balances that little changes dramatically anymore.

So in an hour I’m heading to the polls to vote for the person I think will harm our country the least.

Happy Election Day.

Mobile Bloggin’

So I discovered the mobile app for this and my brand-spanking new tumblr (you can see the link below). Now I can blog from anywhere I get a signal.

Is convenience a compromise to quality or will it remove the excuses and get me here more often? We shall see…