Because of 3 consecutive days of professional commitments this weekend, I didn't have any time to cook. I barely had time to eat, grabbing half a bagel with whitefish salad here, a package of "Sweetheart Sushi" shared with my sweetheart there, as time permitted.
The sushi came from Whole Foods, and was a cute little package with 2 of each tiny, fishy morsel, including 2 tuna/salmon roll pieces molded into a heart shape in the middle. WF gets a little cloying at holiday times, but I have to admit it was tasty. Heart-shaped chocolates make some sort of romantic sense, I suppose, and I have a soft spot for Santa-shaped sugar cookies, but when we start forming raw fish into festive shapes, perhaps we have gone too far.
The weekend's activities culminated in a master class in singing I gave on Sunday morning, for which I wore the muslin Peter created for his current men's shirt sew-along. Imagine how amazing the shirt is going to turn out when the muslin looks this good:
|No, my face isn't dirty — that's my beard. I'll try to chart its (slow) growth with pictures on this blog.|
Oh, yes. This is a cooking blog. It's just that there was more happening on the sewing front than the cooking front this weekend. But I did squeeze in one kitchen project on Sunday evening, to reward myself for all the preparation I'd done for the master class.
Do you find it strange that I would reward myself by cooking up a pot of beans? Well, maybe I'm a little eccentric, but I have a feeling that many of my readers also "relax" by getting creative in their kitchens. It's an enjoyable diversion, to forget one's outer-world obligations and set about making something delicious out of what you find on hand in the inner, more controllable world of the kitchen. Here's what I discovered when I scoured my fridge, freezer, and pantry:
|The inspirations for today's project|
The pinto beans, ham hock, and onion would form the backbone — or at least the shank bone — of my diversionary cooking project. And I would do the main cooking in the slow cooker, so that I could try my first overnight recipe.
Lest you think I just dumped some stuff into the slow cooker, turned the dial to ON, and went back to eating heart-shaped sea creatures on the sofa, let me assure you that I was able to turn this into a full-fledged cook-a-rama. Of course you could cook beans in plain old water, but how much better would it be to cook them in homemade stock?
So I got out my frozen stockpile:
It looked a little meagre, even after I added those two potatoes. (They were an unpleasant squishy texture, having frozen out on the balcony and thawed again, so I knew that they would not do in any dish in which they would actually be eaten.) So I scouted around in the fridge to see what else I could toss in. I found wilting basil, some pieces of cabbage core, and a few garlic cloves. I also tossed in the outer layers and stem ends of the onion pictured above, having learned my lesson the hard way about putting raw onion directly in the slow-cooker. Now my stockpile looked sufficient for a batch of the good stuff:
I tossed all this compost in a medium saucepan with water to cover. Then I added a few peppercorns, 2 bay leaves, 3 dried red chillies, and a half tsp salt, stirred it up, and simmered it for a couple of hours. (I topped up the water at about the 90-min mark.) Then I strained the resulting stock through a sieve, mashing the veggies to get out all the liquid, after removing the carrot and kale stem bits to add to the dogs' next meal. I ended up with a little pile of Chihuahua bait and about 4 cups of a gorgeous, wine-colored broth:
|The color comes from the cabbage. This is a wine-free stock.|
Next, I dumped in the whole bag of dried pinto beans, which I'd rinsed first, and set the ham shank/hock on top:
Can I just take a moment to express how much I hate the kind of poorly designed ziploc bag these beans came in?
|My pet peeve.|
Even more exasperating is the fact that you can't actually get the product out of the opening they provide, because 1) it does not extend completely across the bag and 2) it is not at the end of the bag. This means that if you try to pour out of the opening, the product just gloms together at the end of the bag beyond the opening, clogging the slot. I always end up slicing the "resealable" zip-opening right off in order to emancipate the beans, so I'm left with a re-closable ziploc and an unattached bag. It's like having a zipper that is separate from your coat. Aaaaaargh!
OK, I feel better now that that is out of my system. Feel free to post similarly cathartic complaints below about packaging nightmares that drive YOU crazy.
I went on to pour the approximately 4 C of stock over the contents of my crock pot:
As you can see, the shank was left sticking out above the top of the liquid, but I decided that it would be OK if I remembered to flip it over halfway through the cooking time. (I hear a chorus of "don't touch that lid" coming from concerned readers all over the world. . . .) But then I wondered how this flipping would happen, given that halfway through the cooking time would be the middle of the night.
I needn't have worried. At around 1:30 am, the wafting, strong aroma of boiling smoked ham infiltrated my bedroom and jolted me awake. STIR ME! I guess it was screaming. You know how a loud sound —car alarm, slamming door, Chihuahua ear flapping — can rouse you from your sleep? Well, a "loud" smell apparently can, just as well. I wandered out into the kitchen, a little ear-flapping parade following me, ever hopeful to get a morsel to eat. I lifted the lid of the slow cooker and flipped over the shank, which was beginning to come apart. I just jostled it into pieces and stirred them into the beans. The whole dish was looking a little dry, so I also poured in another 3/4 C water and stirred it all up before replacing the lid.
I know that every lid removal adds cooking time, but at 1:30 am, there was at least another 10 hours to a meal for which I might want to eat beans, so I figured I was OK. I went back to bed and slept deeply despite the mouth-watering aromas still filling the air. When I awoke at 7:00, I turned the slow cooker to the keep-warm setting and went about my morning activities. Here's how they looked when the cooking was complete:
|I can't wait for the iSmell app to come out, so I can share scents as well as pictures with you. The aroma of these beauties was really quite enticing.|
Here's to a great beginning to everyone's week.