Food is Love, Love is Food.

A blog devoted to the connection between meals, memories and the special moments in our lives.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Snow Day Bliss: Michael's Black Beans

Once, several years ago after new neighbors had moved in a couple of houses up, they invited my daughters over on a snow day to play with their kids.  They indicated that they would feed the kids lunch, "Although,"  the neighbor stated, "I am not sure it will be terribly creative. I don't have a lot of food in the house.  I am just not the kind of person who heads to the grocery store when a storm is coming,"  she said derisively.  I knew instantly that she and I would not be friends.  I am the kind of person who heads to the grocery store.  It is the first thing I think to do, and the crowds never annoy me. Inevitably, I will hear a cashier say, "Everyone is freaking out because we are expecting three inches of snow."  But there I always am, at the grocery store, buying all kinds of unusual ingredients, not because I am afraid of I will be snowed in and starve.  I know that studies show that the average American family could eat for three months on just the food in their freezer and pantry alone.  We could probably go longer.  I see a snowy day, though, as an opportunity.  It is freedom to cook whatever you feel like eating, bake delicious treats, spend time in the kitchen and as a result, warm your home, create amazing aromas, and fill the bellies of those you love most.In short, it enables us to create that feeling of coziness that we are so often lacking in our hectic lives.  When I learn of a snowstorm coming, I begin to imagine what I might want to cook.  I go to the grocery store and walk slowly up and down each aisle, looking, pondering.  I am pretty sure they see me coming and put out all the expensive, specialty items, knowing that I will see them and want them.  I may make phone calls home asking my husband or daughters to look up recipes just to make sure I have all the ingredients necessary.  Then I buy extra ingredients just in case.

One of my fondest memories from when my husband and I were dating was a particularly snowy winter.  I had a little apartment not far from where he lived, and on several occasions that winter when a decent amount of snow was predicted, we'd go to a great market nearby, stock up on anything we might even be tempted to cook over the next twenty-four hours or so, and then just hunker down, pots aboil, sauces simmering, luxuriating int he comfort of being together, and creating some memorable meals.  It was during one of these storms that Michael first made his "Black Beans."  He has made it hundreds of times since, and it is a sure crowd pleaser.  Friends of ours who are avowed non-cooks have asked for the recipe and have made it themselves, assuring us it is not difficult, and our daughters ask for it regularly.  It is warm, light, filling, healthy, and even picky eaters love it (just ask our daughter Anna). It is great in the summer at a barbecue or in the winter, and it always evokes the feeling in me of being happily tucked inside with the people I love best, knowing that there is nothing I would rather be doing, even if I could.

Nowadays, snowstorms usually happen on a weekday when, although Emily, Anna, and I get to stay home, Michael has to go to work.  So my snowstorm cooking is usually with my girls.  We often bake cookies, make meatballs and sauce, or a pot of soup.  They ask me how I learned to cook, and I tell them stories of growing up  downstairs from their Nonna, who made many delicious meals for them, and whom they loved deeply. I hope they will look back on these days with the same warm memories.  I hope they will understand that it was not just about the food that we cooked, but rather, about honoring the past, tending to the needs of those we love, being together and being present to eachother.  It is luxury to have time, unexpected and uninterrupted, with those we love the most, and good food makes it both ritual and celebration.

Michael's Black Beans:

3 stalks celery, chopped
4-5 garlic cloves, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 large carrots, chopped
4 tbs olive oil
6 15 oz. cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1  15 oz. can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes
1/4 cup prepared green salsa
1 bay leaf
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp chili powder
48 oz chicken stock

In the bottom of a heavy pot, saute the onions, garlic, carrots and celery in the olive oil.  Reduce heat, and cover, cooking until they are soft.  Add the bay leaf, the tomatoes, and the green salsa. Stir until combined and simmer for about five minutes.  Add the chicken stock and spices.  Add all but about 1/2 cup of the black beans.  In the meantime, place the remaining black beans and all the pinto beans in a blender with a few ladles of the chicken stock from the pot.  Blend until smooth, then add back into the pot, stirring to dissolve the bean paste. This will thicken the black beans as they cook and reduce.  Bring the mixture up to temperature, then reduce heat on the pot to simmer, and leave uncovered, stirring occasionally.  The longer this sits simmering, the tastier it will be.  It will have the consistency of a thick soup or a stew.  We sometimes serve it with rice, and sometimes all by itself with a slice of dense, crusty bread or with some cornbread.  It is great with a dollop of sour cream, some chopped red onion, and a sprinkle of shredded cheddar cheese.

1 comment:

  1. I'll follow your recipe to the last detail and hopefully i can have it done perfectly. 'll try it and share with my family.