Days 10 and 11
I love having a lazy day. Jedi Knight was home sick yesterday and after I got the house clean in the late afternoon, the kids were making each other totally crazy. So we spent the afternoon playing Wii Lego Star Wars. I've made it all the way to Episode VI because yeah, I'm awesome like that. I love Star Wars too, but to give it its own day is declaring my geekiness with a little too much fervor.
But lazy day or no, cooking must always be done. For all of the other domestic things I'm mediocre at or uninterested in, I've always been grateful that I loved to cook, and that my husband does too. We made a "simple" dish yesterday of beans and rice, but the way we make beans and rice is enough to make you want to serve it three times a week. Plan ahead and enjoy.
My beans recipe is called "Frijoles a la Charra" (Beans in the crock pot) and came from a Mexican-American woman I knew in Texas. She was an aide at our school and brought these beans for the Cinco de Mayo party our faculty hosted each year. I've taken her basic and delicious recipe and made it uniquely ours. I make these beans every four to six months and freeze the leftovers which are excellent reheated any time you have Mexican food. To put the perfect, carnivorous, finish on these bad boys, I always make boneless, pork BBQ spareribs in my crock pot the Sunday before and then chop up the leftovers into the beans about an hour before serving. So here goes:
The day before you want to eat, fill your crock pot about half full of beans. I used a mixture of pinto and black beans this time around. Add water until the beans are submerged by a couple of inches. Sorry to be so cryptic about amounts--it really depends on the size of your crock pot! Allow the beans to soak over night.
In the morning, rinse your beans really well of the soaking water and put in fresh water before you cook them. This cuts down a lot on the gas factor. Return your beans to the crock pot and add just enough water to cover them. You can add more water later if you need to, but if you add too much then your beans will be too soupy. Set your crock pot to high until the water is boiling and then turn it down to low.
The next step will give your beans their flavor. You can add the goodies early in the morning, when you put the beans on to cook, or in the afternoon, but no later than three hours before you plan to serve them. All of the flavors need time to sit together.
On a cutting board, cut up 8 ounces of bacon (about half a package); there is no need to separate the strips. Add them to a fry pan (I actually use a wok) and cook them over medium high heat until the pieces all break apart and the bacon is crispy (this cut ahead technique saves time and a dirty pan and works great any time you need bacon bits and/or grease for any recipe). Watch the bacon carefully when it gets close to being done, as the difference between undercooked bacon and beating your smoke alarm for the next hour with your mop is about 7.8 seconds. Using a slotted spoon, fish out the cooked bacon and put in on paper towels to drain.
While the bacon is cooking, chop up a medium yellow or white onion and peel and chop (as fine or as roughly as you prefer) at least 3 cloves of garlic. I used 8 and left them kind of chunky. If you want your beans to be somewhat spicy, you can also chop up hot peppers at this point. For a large crock pot, I used 2 medium sized jalapenos, but only the seeds from one. Pablano and chipotle peppers are also nice.
When your bacon is fished out, add your onions, garlic and peppers to the hot bacon fat (those are three words I love together) along with 2 tsp oregano and 1/2 tsp cumin. Stir fry until the onions begin to clear and your eyes water. At this point your house will smell so good that a neighbor might drop by just to sit at your kitchen table and sniff. Do NOT allow this weirdo in.
When the veggies have started to soften just a bit, add two cans of Rotel to the the pan. If you don't know what that is, then you have clearly never lived in Texas. In Texas, they say "rotel" the way you might say "levis" or "kleenex." In other words, the brand name of the thing has become the thing itself. Rotel is a brand of diced tomatoes that contains diced green chilies. There are several varieties of Rotel, and other tomato brands have the green chili variety as well. Any of these will do.
Stir the tomatoes until everything is warm. Turn off the heat and check your beans. If it is still early in the day, and the beans have a lot of softening up to do, leave some water in the crock pot. If it is later in the day, and your beans are getting close to being cooked, drain most of the water off as the liquid in the tomatoes will be enough to finish cooking your beans. Add the contents of your fry pan to the crock pot and stir well. My recipe tells me to add my crunchy bacon bits in at this point, but I disagree. I can't stand soggy bacon. It is a sacrilege.
Still with me? Good. Because now you want to take an entire bunch of cilantro and add it to the crock pot. This is a good time to add your leftover ribs too. One last stir and let all of that hearty goodness just sit until it is time to eat.
When I made these in Texas, I would always ask Plantboy to stop at our favorite Mexican restaurant on the way home and pick up a half quart of rice and a dozen tortillas. I've yet to find an acceptable substitute for Cucos' homemade tortillas, but we have re-created their rice. Here goes:
Brown 1 1/2 cups long grain white rice with a tbsp of butter. While the rice is browning, mix 1 1/2 cups chicken bother, 1 1/2 cups warm water, 1 tsp of garlic powder (NOT salt) and 2 tsp of tumeric. When it is well mixed (it will be quite yellow), add it to the rice. Cover and simmer until the water is absorbed and the rice is cooked. About 20 minutes.
While the rice is cooking, dice a carrot, finely chop 2 Tbsp red pepper (we actually used a combination of those tiny Costco fajita peppers this time--lovely!) and a dice one small onion. Add a couple of tsp of olive oil to a fry pan and stir-fry the carrots for two minutes, than add the onion and peppers for another minutes. Add 1/3 cup of frozen sweet white corn and saute everything together until some of the vegetables have started to sear a little bit and a the corn is warm. Stir this mixture into the cooked rice along with about a third a cup of finely chopped cilantro. This picture is nice, but if you add the cilantro, your rice will be elevated to the level of art!
Invite plenty of folks over and pass around the napkins.