My proudest culinary achievements aren’t the ones where I followed a recipe really well or repeated a specific technique demonstrated by a chef, they’re the ones where on a freezing cold night, instead of ordering a pizza or Thai food (side-note: we still haven’t found good take-out in the West Village; anyone?) I whip up something delicious with what I have on hand.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I really like Anne Burrell’s show on Food Network. I Tivo it and watch it each week, and more than other current Food Network show it inspires me to cook. I’ve made her deviled eggs, I’ve made her chicken liver mousse (which didn’t come out too well, so I don’t think I posted about it) and–this weekend–after seeing her serve grilled salmon on a bed of stewed lentils, I decided to get off my couch and recreate the picture on the screen (minus the salmon). The best part is I didn’t even have to go food shopping to do it.
Before I left for Barcelona, two weeks ago, I created a three-ring binder of essential information. The first tab said “Hotels” and there I printed out the confirmations for the Hotel Banys Orientals, where we’d stay for most of the trip, and Hotel Coral Playa, where we’d stay when we went to Roses for dinner at El Bulli. (Note: both hotels were great choices, thank you all for your tips.) The second tab said “E-mails” and there I kept all the direct e-mails I received about where to go and eat in Barcelona. Tab three was “Comments” and I printed out all your comments from this post, highlighting the most commonly reoccurring restaurant suggestions, and then, in Tab Four “NYT,” I printed out profiles of those highlighted restaurants from the New York Times Barcelona page. Suffice it to say, I arrived in Barcelona fully prepped and ready.
If someone asks my friend Diana what I got her for her birthday this year, she’s very likely to answer: “Beans. I got beans for my birthday.”
That sounds like a negative thing, but in the case of Diana’s birthday dinner, it was entirely positive. These beans, like the beans Jack trades his cow for, were no ordinary beans: they were magic beans. Specifically: the Barefoot Contessa’s Baked Beans, which bake in the oven for six hours with bacon and ketchup and maple syrup and come out a deep rusty red and taste smoky, zippy and intense. In other words: the best beans of your life.
After my sticky bun disaster, I need to redeem myself and redeem myself I shall with the picture you see above: that’s cannellini beans and rice, an improvised dinner I whipped up with just a few cheap ingredients in less than 20 minutes.
And it was good. Really good! What was so good about it? Let me tell you.
Is cheating on a recipe like cheating on a test? I wondered that as I made the “Red Kidney Beans Baked with Chorizo, Chilli, Garlic, and Olive Oil” from Simon Hopkinson’s sequel to “Roast Chicken & Other Stories,” “Second Helpings of Roast Chicken.”
Simon, or Mr. Hopkinson (that feels more appropriate), calls for dried kidney beans in his recipe “soaked in cold water overnight.” I have a philosophy about recipes that call for dried beans soaked in cold water overnight: I hate them! Who plans a recipe the night before? I mean, ok, there’ve been times I knew I was having guests the next day where I made a cake ahead or marinated meat ahead, but I’ve never soaked beans ahead. I just refuse to do it; I use canned beans instead.
Monday night I went to a friend’s play reading that let out at 9:30. I was starved. I considered grabbing a bite (I was in the No Man’s Land of 35th and 8th Ave.) but then I decided I’d head home and grab a can of chickpeas from the bodega and make bodega hummus. (See here).
As fate would have it, though, on the subway I ran into the unmistakable, inimitable Rachel Wharton of The Daily News who I journeyed to Queens with this summer. Rachel has a degree in food from NYU, so I put her to the test: “Rachel,” I said, “I want to make a quick easy dinner with something I can get from my corner bodega.”
“Beans,” she answered.
“Yes,” she continued. “Beans. I ate beans all through college. With some onion, garlic, or whatever you have, they’re delicious.”