Sunday, January 11, 2015

Apple Hazelnut Blueberry Muffins. And, organization.

2015 is off to a good start.  Late last year, I read Marie Kondo's bestselling book on organization after David Lebovitz mentioned it online.  It's the kind of book that repeats itself for emphasis, but I didn't mind it.  I took away a lot of good advice, and have taken to paring down tons of worldly possessions that aren't doing me any good and might do someone else better.

Harder than getting rid of paper and toy clutter is getting rid of clothes.  I HATE shopping for clothes, and really it's not a stretch to say I can't recall the last time I shopped for clothes (not counting the desperation trips to the super thrift right down the street), so I tend to packrat them even if I don't figure I'll ever wear them again.  Inspired, I did get rid of some clothes but, it's harder still for me to part with t-shirts.  Some upwards of 20 years old, t-shirts are my fashion life.  At least most of them are now filed in an orderly fashion in my drawers, folded just one more time in half than my previous t-shirt fold has saved me tons of space in my dresser - I have room in my dresser that I never knew existed.  Thank you David Lebovitz.  Your power of suggestion has saved my (organizational) life.

In addition to well organized sock and t-shirt drawers, I took another organized cue and started my new year with a solemn vow to make sure my kitchen  is completely tidied up before going to bed.  The kitchen is my domain; I spend almost my whole day in it, or the attached dining room where my son is doing his schooling work.  It's a pleasant, south-facing space that has good light and is generally fairly clean.  But I am of the ilk that does not dry her dishes but rather waits for them to dry.  I do other things when they dry, but I do not take out a towel and dry them.  I'm stubborn that way.  I realized that having to empty the dish rack in the morning and then tidy the rest of the kitchen/dining area was causing me stress before our school day even began.  

After a week of spotlessness before bed, I can attest that I feel better coming into my space in the morning.  It makes for more peaceful breakfasts, and helps the day get off to a good start.  It just makes me happy in general not to be thinking about how I should scrub out the sink as my kid is trying to do his math.  (I also let the breakfast dishes dry in the rack, but before starting on lunch, I start with a clean space again.  I find I'm doing less dishes this way too - just 3 times a day instead of what seemed like endlessly.)

Other things making me happy in general are muffins.  Muffins are not usually something I get overly excited about - they are utilitarian and something I usually make out of necessity (even though that never stops me from trying to find really good ones).  Ordinarily I'd rather make tea cakes or quick breads, anything in a loaf pan really and I'm not sure why.  Muffins have a good place in a kitchen with kids, that's for sure.  And having a supply of them for the inevitable snack request is just good thinking as a parent I guess.

I've been enjoying the recipes in Whole Grain Mornings (Megan Gordon) for weeks now.  It's a great book of breakfasty inspiration, which I kind of need in the box-cereal free environment that I've created for ourselves.  We eat plenty of oatmeal and other porridge, but I don't break out of my smoothie mold easily, and I've that one particular son that is so picky.  The book is arranged by season, and the winter season is where I began, making Morning Glory Oatmeal (steel cut oats, carrot, raisins, coconut, why didn't I think of that??) and Pear Hazelnut Oat Muffins.  Those muffins!  I first made them in my clean kitchen before bed, getting the ingredients measured (the whole book has metric weights!  YES!) for quick morning assembly.  I got 15 muffins instead of 12, and we ate them by the multiples.  When warm, like a portable bowl of comforting oatmeal and when cool like moist slices of cake.  Like any quick-bready recipe, I cut the sugar in half and didn't miss it at all.  And then I started playing around with the flavors.  I'm fairly certain anything you add to these muffins will be a good idea.

apple blueberry hazelnut muffins.

I actually only topped some of my muffins with nuts instead of baking them inside as Megan suggests.  The baby likes nuts and isn't allergic, but I'm not too fussy with chopping so I then have to pick through the whole muffin as he eats it.  My older boy doesn't care for hazelnuts (I know, right?  More for me.) so I put them only on the top of some of them as a solution for us all.  I like how they get all naturally toasted, and it's like staking a claim to as many muffins as I like.  Or as many muffin tops as I like.

Megan reduces the oven heat immediately after adding the muffins to the oven.  I didn't do this, and in several batches the muffins were all fine.  You may choose to lower to 375 after the muffins hit the oven if you want.

Apple Hazelnut Blueberry Muffins (adapted from Megan Gordon)
makes about 15 muffins
  • 75 g. (3/4 c.) rolled oats
  • 120 g. (1 c.) AP flour (I used wheatier Lonesome Stone AP, which is like a white whole wheat)
  • 60 g. (1/2 c.) whole wheat pastry flour
  • 3/4 t. baking soda
  • 2 t. baking powder
  • 1/2 t. cardamom
  • 1/2 t. freshly ground nutmeg
  • 3/4 t. kosher salt
  • 215 g. (1 c.) peeled and shredded apple - 1-2 apples (do the shredding just before assembling to prevent browning)
  • 62 g. (1/3 c.) granulated sugar
  • 85 g. (6 T.) unsalted butter
  • 240 ml. (1 c.) yogurt/milk mixture (she calls for buttermilk, I make the milk about the thickness of buttermilk)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 t. vanilla
  • 1 c. blueberries fresh or frozen (add frozen still frozen and not defrosted)
  • hazelnuts enough to top muffins, about 2 T. chopped nuts per muffin
 Preheat the oven to 425, line muffin tin with liners or butter them well if you prefer.

In a small bowl, combine oats, flours, baking soda, baking powder, spices and salt.  Mix well to combine. 

Melt the butter over low heat, and shred the apple.  Put the sugar in a large bowl that will become your mixing bowl.  Add the butter, and stir well to combine and start to dissolve the sugar.  Then, whisk in the yogurt/milk (or buttermilk), eggs, vanilla, and shredded apple.  Add the dry ingredients and fold/stir it in gently.  Finally fold in the blueberries.

Fill the muffin tins almost to the top.  Top with coarsely chopped nuts if desired, and bake 22-25 minutes or until a tester comes out clean.  Cool the muffins in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove them to a wire rack to cool completely.  The texture of the muffin changes as it cools - it sets up more as it gets cooler.  I've had good luck keeping them in an airtight container at room temperature up to 4 days.


In a way, this recipe reminds me of Dorie Greenspan's Breakfast Bread, which includes applesauce and oats (and I also make it with half the sugar, and just a nut topping).  She calls the bread "almost puddinglike" inside and these muffins, at least while warm, would remind you of that description.  I would expect you could use fruit sauces instead of the shredded fruit, especially if baking by weight.  I'll probably try using applesauce or pearsauce or maybe even pureed mango or something.  I do know for certain that I'm not done with these muffins.

Can a muffin make you more organized?  I like to think so.  Having that little, generally nutritious something to pop in a hungry mouth on a whim is pretty nice.  I might make a point of more muffins, and maybe even stashing some in the freezer.  I got away from muffin freezing because I tended not to grab them and then months would pass and I'd discard my labors.  But with muffins this good, there's no need to freeze.  For breakfast, snack, or even as a dessert, they have helped my year get off the ground in a very nice way.  A nicely, organized way!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

"A pep talk for wilted saladmakers."

"A pep talk for wilted saladmakers" was what Mollie Katzen hand wrote into her Enchanted Broccoli Forest cookbook all those years ago.  12 years after she wrote it, I picked up a copy at a local bookstore, I was barely 18 and a burgeoning vegetarian.  I cooked through both of her handwritten books for years, and still pick them up when in need of inspiration.  Or in need of a pep talk for my wilted saladmaking.  

To me, salads (like sandwiches) are always best when someone else makes them for you.  The love that goes into something so simple, or just really good ingredients that have been treated nicely so that they reciprocate: that can't be faked. And I swear that if a friend or restaurant makes me a salad it's better by far than one coming from my own hands.

I likely ate a record number of vegetables in 2014.  I ate them steamed and raw, roasted, braised, and fried.  But very seldom do I make a proper "salad".  I know this is true when last week I had a lot of leftover salad greens and made a salad for supper and my husband said, "Wow. A salad."  (And he ate every biteful I loaded onto his plate.)  And the reason I had made the salad in the first place was that when I had friends visiting, E told me she's been favoring a honey mustard vinaigrette - so I made one up for lunch that we compiled of greens and roasted veggies, some cheese and chopped prosciutto.   Man that salad was good.  Probably because I only helped with the salad, and I was surrounded by good company.  I had extra vinaigrette, and we ate it and then I made more for Christmas Day.  It was good a vinaigrette.  I will write it down in a minute.

In November, I met my friend Deena in Chicago at we ate at Little Goat Diner.  I had been to the diner once before, and couldn't wait to go back.  We shared a salad called the Chickpea, which when read looks like a plain old salad.  I mean, you expect when reading the ingredients of a salad to just get a bowl of vegetables and then dutifully eat them... even when you also know that eating a "salad" in a good environment, made by talented people and enhanced by the company of a good friend is going to blow you away.  That salad came out in a gigantic bowl in front of us and I am still thinking of it to this day.

In December, I ate a salad at a newer local restaurant with one of my best friends.  We didn't know how much food to order and at the last second added on a salad to our order.  Again, I didn't expect to have a plate of salad overtake me for weeks after.  The ingredients were: Shaved Brussel Sprouts | Honeycrisp Apple | Pecans | Balsamic Shallots | Blue Cheese Croutons | Roasted Garlic Dressing.  More garlic than I've eaten in one place at one time in just about forever and it was definitely the plate we licked the cleanest.  If I frizzled up a bunch of shallots, broke out my mandoline for brussel sprout shaving, and used my own bread for croutons I couldn't mimic that salad I don't believe.  

If anyone did, I needed a pep talk for wilted saladmakers.

chile olives

Maybe the dining events of the past 2 months have challenged me to want to make a really good salad, one that could stand on its own and be eaten a number of ways.  (It could also be that I am so sick of sweets that I can hardly wait for the calendar to change tomorrow and I can impose self-induced sugar-freedom.)  This salad is one I am happy with.  I thought all morning about eating it for lunch today (the baby liked it too - the chickpea part anyway... he can actually say "chickpea", which is all the more endearing), after eating a different version last night.  It's the kind of thing that gets better with age.  Keep the components in separate containers and have instant breakfast, lunch, or dinner with very little fuss.

Chile olives are among my most treasured things.  My co-op used to carry them, and they haven't now for several months.  I was overjoyed to find them at Whole Foods, even if sometimes it means making a trip there just to get the blasted olives. I'm sure you could substitute other brined olives and some chile flakes of your choosing.  The dressing for the chickpeas is versatile and can be used in other things.  It keeps as well as all homemade dressings do when stashed in the fridge, for a week or so.

chickpea salad.

Last night I ate this salad with buttered sourdough toast and topped with runny-yolked fried eggs for supper, and today I ate it just plain for lunch.  I'd imagine it would be good in a number of different ways as well, including being wrapped up in a tortilla or another piece of lettuce of some sort.  I'm a big fan of the kale salad Dr. Weil popularized; even though kale's superstardom is waning just slightly, massaged kale salad is still good and makes an awesome pizza topping and omelet filling.  I especially love that it gets better with age, 4 days in the fridge and it's just as good as the first day, probably even better.

I swear that I love chickpeas more after I learned how to perfectly cook them, and I have Alton Brown to thank for that.  I alter my method to include brining the garbanzos overnight, and then I often just cook them on the stovetop instead of dragging out my slow cooker.  When cooked with a tiny amount of baking soda, they always end up with creamy centers. 

Chickpea & Kale Salad  (inspired by Little Goat Diner, Heidi Swanson chickpea wrap recipe, Dr. Andrew Weil's massaged kale salad, Elisa Girard's description of viniagrette, GoodKind's use of extra garlic.)
makes about 4 good servings.

Chickpea part:
  • 1/4 cup chile olives
  • 3 cups cooked chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 1/4 cup honey-mustard vinaigrette  (recipe follows)
  • 1 t. urfa beiber chile flakes (a new favorite of mine, found at the Spice House), or other chile flake you like
  • salt and black pepper
  • Aleppo pepper for sprinkling
Pulse the chile olives in a food processor until finely chopped.  Add in 2 cups of the chickpeas and pulse to chop coarsely, about 6 1 second pulses.  Transfer to a bowl, stir in the vinaigrette, reserved 1 cup of whole chickpeas, and chile flakes and season to taste with salt and pepper.  (If it seems dry, add a little more vinaigrette.)

Kale part:
  • 1 good sized bunch of lacinto kale
  • juice from 1/2 a lemon
  • 3 T. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 or 3 garlic cloves
  • salt
  • shaved pecorino cheese (optional)
Remove the stems from the kale and slice thinly.  Mash the garlic cloves with salt on a cutting board with a chef's knife to make a paste.  Then blend the paste with the lemon juice and olive oil to make a dressing.  Add extra salt if you think it needs it, then combine with the sliced kale and massage it for 5 minutes.  I know, it seems silly to be standing around with your hands in a bowl of greens, but it does seriously do something magical to them.  Add cheese if using and that's it.
Honey-Mustard Vinaigrette - mix all the ingredients well  (I swear by this little device.)
makes about 1 1/4 cups, recipe is easily halved
  • 2 T. white wine vinegar
  • 3/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 t. dijon mustard
  • 2 T. (or so) minced shallot
  • 2 T. honey
  • salt and black pepper
  • 4 T. plain whole fat yogurt (optional.  It is good with and without.)
chickpea salad.
Will 2015 be the year of the salad for me?  I kind of think so.  I'm anxious to turn the page on the heavy and well sugared foods of late December and say good morning to a lighter, brighter, more vegetable infused diet in January.  If you have good salads to share, please send them my way! 

Happy New Year!!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Book Review: Fermented Vegetables.

I'm so happy to see the book I've already read and immensely enjoyed  popping up on all kinds of gift lists and book recommends lately, but with every mention I have felt more and more guilty that I didn't write a more timely review.  I have read quite a few books this year, but this one struck more of an immediate chord with me than many others.  Yes, I went through a fermenting phase, but this book reminded me of all the things exciting about the natural world, how simple things like vegetables have been handled and transformed for storage for as long as humankind has needed hold on to the season.  It also reminded me of just how beautiful the finished products can be, as varied and colorful as all of nature.  The Shockeys refer to the palette of vegetables, and that term definitely fits.

fermented veg book

It's gorgeously written too, I would challenge you not to read every word as I did back in October over a long weekend at my Parents farm, imagining yourself in a world of homesteading and pickling.  I sat in my Dad's comfortable chair with a stack of sticky notes and made a list of things to pick up at the Amish farm stands before leaving to come back to the city... sort of wishing I could just stay out in the country without coming back at all.

I made time the night I got back to start a kimchi.  I never made a vegetable ferment that started by brining the whole cabbage cut in quarters, and it really worked well.  Not overly fond of fermented garlic, the only modification I made was to cut the garlic content way back.  I packed three quarts before bed that night, and then only had to wait a long 12 days for it to ferment at room temperature before it was done to my liking.



I can't say I've had kimchi more than seldom, but I remember the first time like it was yesterday.  Our high school had open campus for lunch; so long as you didn't drive anywhere you were free to roam the town (population 850).  Fortunately for me, I met a new student my sophomore year that quickly became a friend.  Her mother was Korean, and in her little kitchen, mere steps away from the back door of the wood shop where I tried to spend as much of my high school career as possible, I discovered all kinds of interesting flavors I had never encountered before. 

Now I wish I knew if her mom made her kimchi from scratch, but at the time I didn't want to spend much time in the kitchen and probably wouldn't have thought to ask about such things.  I can't remember what I tried alongside the kimchi that day, but I'm sure it contained rice - I didn't know that some people kept constant pots of rice going in small electric cookers, that rice was integral to a whole culture and was eaten with every meal.  I never have traveled to Asia, but those days in 10th grade have stuck with me and every so often I get a real craving for those types of flavors...


It's easy enough to eat a spoonful or two of fermented veg right from the jar, likely with the fridge hanging open when you're pondering what else to eat for lunch.  But I thought that since I made such a lovely kimchi with the Fermentistas' help, I would make myself a more complex rice bowl.  I chopped up a good amount of kimchi, steamed some kale, found some already roasted beets, made a 6 minute egg and a simple dressing with ginger and sesame oil.  Then I ignored the silly amount of dishes I made for myself and sat down to a very nice lunch.

kimchi rice bowl.
It was really good, and satisfied my craving for Asian flavors.

I wasn't able to start fermenting all of the things that piqued my interest in Fermented Vegetables, but I am so excited to have this book as a resource for the upcoming seasons.  Whether you have fermented forever or have never fermented before, this book really is an excellent resource for cultivating a growing addiction or lighting a fire under a timid, first timer.  It has reignited the passion I once had for fermenting, and is going to be a first stop for new ferments for a good long while I suppose!

Disclaimer:  I did receive a copy of Fermented Vegetables for review, but as always my opinions are my own.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Quince, year two.

"Just one more week and things should slow down a little bit."  I think that has been my mantra since September 2nd when our school year began.  Instead of slowing down, we're spiraling head first into the holiday season and I know full well that when I have the time to blink twice it will be the new year.

For this monthly edition of trying to keep up with my food blog, I bring you quince.  This is the second year now I've had quince, and I had much more to use than last year.  When I picked them up from Klee's, they were already picked for a week and fully perfumed.  I read about storing them with the linens (along with using the spent fruit to make membrillo) in this very charming article.  Instead of a brilliant green, most of them were already bright yellow.  Being pretty new to this fruit, I wasn't sure how ripe they would get, how long they would hold.  I pledged to do my best to get them preserved as soon as I could, and 10 days later I made good on my promise.

Just the day before I got them, I learned that quince, along with their relatives apples and pears, are  related to roses - which is probably old news to you, but was a revelation to me.  I started to taste quince in a different way, I could feel the velvety rose petals ambling for my olfactories; I felt like I was dealing with flowers instead of fruit.

But meanwhile:  my 100th loaf of sourdough this year:

100 :: 11.07.14
I started my 2014 loaves project in January, not really sure how many loaves of sourdough bread I bake in a year.  Turns out it will be more than 100...

The one thing I wanted to make first with the quince this year was membrillo, the sliceable fruit paste made from naturally pectin-heavy quince pulp.  I made two batches, using different methods and (obviously) differently aged fruit.  The membrillo I made first with the just ripe fruit was redder and set more readily than the one I made more than a week later, but my variables were many so it's hard to say what factors played a part in it.  I set both experiments to gel in lightly oiled ramikens and pudding cups, and let them sit in the open air after unmolding them.  (The second batch had to spend a few hours in the dehydrator to become sufficiently cured.)


I'm very happy with my membrillo.  I wrapped each piece in waxed paper and layered them in a zip top bag.  I proactively bought myself a piece of manchego cheese to enjoy some with, but haven't made the time for making some fancy crackers - so my gourmet snack or appetizer is waiting for me to catch up I guess.

The second quince experiment came to me by way of Saltie - that cookbook crush that I've had since last spring that is still going strong.  Saltie candies quince to use in a quince lassi (yogurt, honey, candied quince??  I'm definitely in.), and it turns out that candying quince is about as effortless as it gets.  Except that I popped it into the low temperature oven too late in the day and had to set a night alarm to keep checking on it.  Now that the actual baby is sleeping pretty consistently through the night, I create the kitchen project that needs sporadic monitoring.  I don't really value sleeping through the night when I have the excitement of things like this.

candied quince.

The candied quince is a tad gritty - but in the way that a pear is a little bit gritty.  It's a pleasant gritty, and it's hard to stop nibbling after a single little cube.  The syrup is very thick (you can see it in the jar that I turned upside down), and it does have some movement.  I have the two jars stored in the fridge and as I think of them I keep turning them head over heels every few days.  I have not tried the lassi yet, but I will.  I've been trying hard to rein in my sweet teeth.  I've made more than one apple galette in the past two weeks.  I like to think I've gotten rather good at the galette; I barely use any sugar (and I never measure the dark brown that I use in it, only that I grab what I can with my thumb and 3 fingers and sprinkle it over the apples), then I add a few spoonfuls of applesauce and some cinnamon and nutmeg.  The applesauce in this one was spiked with quince.

apple(quince) galette.

When I got my haul of quince, I also got some more apples that I had destined for apple pie filling.  Omer's wife, Candy, freezes the peeled sliced apples with spices in portions enough for pies and that sounded pretty good to me.  But man if those apples didn't stand around the kitchen for a whole week, every day ticking by with me feeling more and more guilty that I hadn't tackled the lot of them and gotten them tucked into the deep freeze.  I finally conceded and just turned them into more sauce: but it was the best sauce ever because most of those apples were Belle de Boskoop variety, and I decided that I would call it my "reserve sauce" and add some spent quince pulp.  I have yet to can it - I have 4 quarts worth of sauce waiting for me... I think I'll schedule it for tomorrow evening if I can swing it.

The pulp for my reserve apple(quince)sauce came from making quince syrup.  Again, I made two batches, the first redder and maybe a touch more floral and the batch a week later less so, but still every bit as delicious.  I didn't mean to repeat myself, but I enjoyed the flavor of the syrup so much that I kind of had no choice.

quince syrup.

The last thing I made was quince jelly.  I used the fruits that had been at home with me for about a week, and the flavor of the jelly is probably a little milder than if I had used them at what I think might have been their peak of ripeness.  But the color and set of the jelly is so good that I don't care.

quince jelly.

It's like the palest champagne color, and so pretty that I forgave it for being a little too vigorous and boiling over (ALL over) my freshly detailed stove top.  (Note to self: stop being so cheap and invest in a 7 quart preserving pot.)  I quickly ladled out several scoops to a bowl (and even still had some boiling over...) and was so surprised when it set.  This little jar was the result of a very big mess, but I take some comfort in the 7 other perfect jars nestled on the canning shelf.  I'm going to have a lot of sweet stuff to work my way through this season!  Fortunately it will remind me of these busy fall days, the generosity of the orchard, the pleasure of learning new things, and enjoying the mess along with the organized.

Monday morning was chilly and I started my oven at a low temperature and roasted the last 6 quinces to make a jar of jam like I did last year.  I kept poking at them with a knife every so often, getting up from my coffee at the table where one son was doing school work, and the other was busy underneath with his own contrived works.  I wondered where I got so lucky to cultivate a home life like this, I wondered why it passes so quickly even when I try so hard to slow our lives down.  But winter will hopefully help me out with this, help us nestle in beneath the snow and not really need to go anywhere.  If winter is gracious, it will help us all in our patience and remind us of what now lines the basement shelves.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Full of beans.

 I guess I really wasn't kidding that I am on the once-a-month blogging track.  It wouldn't pain me so much if there weren't so many things I wish I could write about, but my days are full not only of food but of little humans and plenty of learning.

Keeping a whole foods kitchen, preparing almost all we eat from scratch takes time - more time than I previously realized.  When you start out on such a journey and then just keep adding and building, towering ever upward, pretty soon you can start to feel like our ancestors likely did: spending most of your time and energy finding and preparing food.  While I've cut back on the ferments, there are still plenty of things to plan ahead for.  And while still on the path of economic recovery, humble things tend to take the center of our plates.

I treat meat like most other non-American cultures, as a condiment rather than a "deck-of cards" portion served alongside traditional side dish vegetables and starches.  Years ago I overdid it on the green salad making (having one a day sometimes 2 for more than a year...) and I can barely make a green salad now to save my soul.  If you make me a green salad, I'll happily eat it - but otherwise I get my greens sauteed or added to something baked.  What then to make for dinner?  So often I feel frustrated that my older son is still as picky as he is, and he recently added eggs to the list of things he doesn't currently like.  Sometimes I feel just plain worn out considering what to cook around here.

pintos & garbanzos.

Beans are usually my answer when I feel like the pantry is looking bare except for jars and jars of  miscellaneous grains, nuts, and seeds, and we don't feel like pulling a whole chicken from the freezer.  Beans are probably the one thing I can get every family member to eat simultaneously and without fuss.  Just about any bean makes my list too. Bulk Kidney, Navy, Pinto, Black, and Great Northern, rare stashed Tepary or meaty Good Mother Stellards or handfuls of long cooking legumes like garbanzo beans often push their way into my cooking life by default.

I justify the cost of eating less meat by buying mostly organic beans and legumes.  If I keep a sharp eye, my co-op will sell almost all of the standard varieties on sale 5 lbs. at a time, at some point during the year.  I collect my beans carefully, choosing them wisely, tenderly bringing them home, and housing them in quart canning jars.  Dried beans keep a remarkable long time.  I feel like I have an ace in the hole having a whole shelf of them to choose from.


I have cooked beans all matter of ways.  I have soaked them 12 hours and then carefully cooked them in a barely simmering pot of water without salt.  I have taken them off the shelf, rinsed them, and pressure cooked them for 20 minutes which wasn't enough and then re-pressure cooked them for longer.  I've put them unsoaked in a pot of water and cooked them for hours and hours and still ended up with chalky insides.  I've put them in a crock-pot and hoped for the best, frustrated that it took the day and I still had mealy beans.

I now swear by brining beans.  Emma Christensen wrote the article that I most refer to based on and endlessly tested Cook's Illustrated method and some solid science by food scientist Harold McGee.  It's titled "Think Salt is the Enemy of Perfect Beans? Think Again."  I think again every single time I make any type of bean or garbanzo bean (which should be properly titled garbanzo legume).  I've referred so much to that article that it nearly comes up automatically when I begin to type brine into my search engine.  For some reason, I can't remember the ratio of salt to water, of water to bean quantity.  Oh well.  It's good to know the Internet exists - and good to know people like my Mom who say things to me like, "well, about how much salt?  I'm not going to measure, that's too much monkeying around."

The morning I want beans for dinner (and we're early risers over here), hopefully 7-8 hours before, I throw a half pound of dried beans with a spoonful of kosher salt in a half gallon canning jar and fill it with water enough to cover by several inches.  I'll stir it well with a chopstick.  And I'll admire it on my counter for the bulk of the day.  This works particularly well with pinto beans destined for refried beans.  After the brine, I rinse them well and add them to a pressure pot.  I add another small spoonful of kosher salt and just enough water to cover by about 1 inch and lock on the lid.  I bring it up to pressure over high heat, and when the gauge starts to rattle, I turn it down to medium and time it for exactly 4 minutes.  Then I remove it from the heat and let the pressure come back naturally (without the quick-release method of running the pressure pot under the faucet).  Perfect beans.  Every single time.  In 4 minutes. ...and 8 hours of beforehand thought.

Magic Seal
My pot is old and secondhand, I try not to worry that it's aluminum since my beans are barely in it.

The 4 minute pressure rule is my standard for most brined beans.  I've tried it with different types of white beans, black beans, and red beans.  Every once in a while, they will be too soft or need to be cooked some more - but those occurrences are pretty rare.

Garbanzos get a slightly different treatment.  I soak them 8-12 hours, actually I aim for 24 hours if I'm thinking that far ahead, and I give them the same brining as the other types of beans.  When I go to cook them, (I rinse them well and) I add in a 1 t. of baking soda per pound of beans.  If I pressure pot them, I start with 8 minutes, then let the pressure come down naturally and check them.  But this week, I decided with just a half pound to cook them on the stovetop.  It took barely an hour for perfect beans, creamy still composed pebbles that would work well in a salad (or getting picked up gingerly by a baby), mashed for felafel, or blended completely smooth for hummus.

Alton Brown is where I got the baking soda idea.  I make my hummus somewhat like he does, but I always like to add in cumin powder and some cayenne.  I also use my bean cooking water to help blend it.  Being thoroughly soaked and drained, I don't find any "digestive" issues from using the cooking water, and I figure there is more flavor.

I've come to think of most of my raw ingredients as good friends.  I'm not much of a meal planner, and I exploit their different attributes as I'm considering our dinner hours.  I'm getting better at thinking ahead for meals, especially since I'm not able to grocery shop on a whim anymore, and often I'll cook twice as many beans as I need and freeze a half pound in their cooking liquid to further help me swiftly pull supper out of my sleeve.  Even with dried beans, I feel like they make a quick meal.  I feel savvy that I don't shell out for canned beans which don't often taste the best and are really quite expensive by comparison... not to mention they don't often sit well in the belly either.

Do you have a pressure pot?  Do you use it to get quick dinners on the table?  Please share!