Smoky Bean Tacos with Chard

Fall is here, and with it come cold, damp, windy days tailor made for spending a morning puttering around in the kitchen. For the moment, I’m still excited by the cooler weather and bringing out my favorite cozy sweaters for the the first time…Come January, I  may be less excited, but for today – bring on the fall foods and Halloween spooks.

I’ve also had nearly 2 weeks now without traveling for work, and am beginning to feel my energy rebound. The house is a bit cleaner and I have more energy and time to get back to my kitchen. Mark and I also both took Friday off work and spent the whole day together. We saw close friends and remembered the joy of having a whole day together with nothing on the agenda. Bliss.

Friday evening, we spontaneously decided to check out the production of Count of Monte Cristo at Lifeline Theatre, just a few blocks from our house…and I am so glad we did. It was a stunning production that brought your forward in your seat as you were drawn into the Count’s intrigues, and once again, the sets and costumes at this small venue would not be out of place downtown in the theater district with the care and attention they put into every detail. If you live in Chicago, I’d highly recommend checking out the production which is playing through November 13.

A couple of weeks ago, Shauna wrote a beautiful post about her weekly pot of beans and using them to make breakfast tacos. Two weeks later, that post was still bumping around in my head, so I rummaged through the basket of beans in my pantry and came up with a small jar of my favorite Rancho Gordo Old Mother Stollard beans, which are perfect for tacos. The beans are nicely plump and can simmer a long time without exploding, while remaining creamy inside. In place of Stollards, I might recommend pintos – they will fall apart, but I like their creamy texture almost as much as the firmness of Stollards.

Bean Tacos with Chard
Serves 6

1 1/2 cups dried Rancho Gordo Old Mother Stollard Beans (or pintos)
1 carrot, snapped into a few pieces
2 stalks celery, cut in half
1 onion, peeled and minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch chard, washed, leaves separated from stalks and reserved; mince stalks
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 T bacon fat or olive oil
1 T olive oil for sauteeing the chard leaves
1 ham hock (about 12oz – if you’re vegetarian, triple the smoked paprika to add a nice smoky flavor)
1 T chile con carne blend, or another chile powder you like
1 T ancho chile powder
3 T chipotle puree
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp smoked paprika
salt & pepper to taste
Feta cheese & cilantro for garnish
fresh corn tortillas for serving

  1. The night before you plan to cook the beans, pour them into a large bowl and cover with 4-5 inches of water. Stollards will absorb a LOT of water.
  2. The next morning, heat a large dutch oven or soup pot over medium heat. Add the bacon fat or olive oil and heat until shimmering. Add the minced onion, chard stalks and red bell pepper and saute for 5-8 minutes until the veggies begin to soften. Add the garlic and stir for one more minute.
  3. Drain the beans and pour into the pot. Add enough water to just cover the beans, then add another inch of water on top. Add the ham hock, carrot and celery. Cover, and bring to a boil. Once the beans boil for 5 minutes, turn the heat down to low, so that the beans are a low simmer, throwing up the occasional lazy bubble. Simmer uncovered for an hour and a half, at which point the beans will be mostly done.
  4. Remove the ham hock and set aside to cool. Add the spices to the pot: cumin, smoked paprika, chipotle puree, chile con carne and ancho chile powder, and a 1/2 tsp of salt. Stir the spices into the beans. The pot will still be pretty soupy at this point.
  5. Let the beans simmer on the stove for another 1-2 hours, until the broth is reduced to a spicy gravy, clinging to every bean. Stir the beans whenever you walk by, but they don’t need a whole lot of attention of fussing. When the beans are done, and most of the liquid has evaporated, shred the meat from the ham hock, removing any fat, and add back to the pot of beans.
  6. Sauteeing the chard: Tear the chard leaves into bite sized pieces. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large saute pan, and add the chard along with a pinch of salt. Toss and coat the greens in oil, and cook for 1-2 minutes, just until the greens wilt. Scoop the greens out of the pan and spread on top of the pot of beans, and move the pot to the table, so that everyone can scoop their own beans for tacos and garnish how they like.
It’s been awhile since I shared a Miracle photo. She would like you to know that she now OWNS the blue club chair in the living room. And you probably wouldn’t want to sit in it anyway, now that it’s covered in blonde fur. 

Sweet & Spicy Pecans

Our Miracle has arrived, and we adore our sweet little hound! Miracle was anxious for only about the first hour after arriving, then grabbed a toy, whipped her tail around in windmill fashion with utter joy and decided that she was HOME. Maybe Turbo was whispering in her ear that she was going to be happy here – I wouldn’t put it past him – he seems to have blessed Miracle’s joining our family from the first moment.

Miracle may be a tiny hound, but she’s got a big personality that is just starting to unfold. She’s a lovey hound who rolls onto her back to demand belly rubs from anyone nearby. A bit of a clown, too… She relishes in playing with her toys and is not above “discovering” new ones that are just as fun as stuffies – be it a cell phone, hat, bra, or fishing in the bathroom trash for a TP roll…life is FUN, and she is exploring every bit of it.

However, our little lady is not pleased when left alone…this week is the first time in her life when she’s been by herself, with no other neighbor-hounds in the kennel and it’s a definite shock. So, with the help of our wonderful “adoption counselor” from Greyhounds Only, Sue, we’re working through her separation anxiety to help her fully embrace her new life…and once she does – she’ll be free of that crate she so detests right now.

While we’re busy house-training the dog, it seems only fitting to fortify ourselves with some protein-rich snacks for those cold, hour-long walks trying to convince Miracle to pee outside. These sweet and spicy nuts are an addictive snack, far better than those overly-sweet cinnamon almonds you might get at a fair. Our friends Bill & Colleen gifted us with a bag of their cinnamon pecans when we were visiting them in Florida in November. We were hooked. Then, I discovered Shauna’s recipe in her new cookbook, and tried those as well. I liked both recipes, so split the difference for my own take on Shauna’s nuts – not quite as much sugar and egg white, and a tiny hit of smoked paprika for a little mystery.

I liked this recipe so well, I made up a few batches and gave them to all of our family as Christmas gifts. The day after Christmas, I received a message from my brother-in-law stating that: “There’s something wrong with the jar of nuts you gave me. I keep reaching my hand in, and nothing comes out.” If you make either of these spiced nuts, be warned that you may quickly have Brad’s empty jar problem – they are addicting!

What’s your favorite snack – nutty or otherwise? Share you favorite noshes in the comments section below…

Bill & Colleen’s Cinnamon Pecans

1 egg white
1 tsp water
½ cup sugar
¾ tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp fresh ground nutmeg
½ tsp fresh ground black pepper
5 cups pecan halves (almonds work well, too)

  1. Preheat oven to 250º. Combine sugar, pepper, nutmeg, salt & cinnamon together in a small bowl.
  2. Beat egg white with water in a large mixing bowl. Add pecans/almonds to egg white and mix.
  3. Add sugar mixture to pecans. Stir well. Spread on large buttered pan.
  4. Bake for 1 hour, cool thoroughly & store in an airtight container…maybe even on a high shelf to keep from eating the whole jar at once.

Sweet and Smoky Pecans & Almonds
Adapted from Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef cookbook
1 egg white
1 tsp water
½ cup brown sugar
3/4 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp fresh ground black pepper
½ tsp smoked paprika
¼ tsp cayenne
5 cups mixed pecan halves & almonds

  1. Preheat oven to 250º. Combine sugar, salt, cinnamon, pepper, paprika and cayenne together in a small bowl.
  2. Beat egg white with water in a large mixing bowl. Add pecans/almonds to egg white and mix.
  3. Add sugar mixture to pecans. Stir well. Spread on large buttered pan.
  4. Bake for 1 hour, cool thoroughly & store in an airtight container…maybe even on a high shelf to keep from eating the whole jar at once.

Chile Rubbed Sirloin Tip Roast

As with so many good things that have come into my kitchen recently, the initial inspiration for this one comes from Shauna, aka Gluten-Free Girl. She posted to twitter how much she loved Thomas Keller’s new cookbook, Ad Hoc at Home. I mentioned that I had just received my copy and she then convinced me in 140 characters that I needed to make his lentil and sweet potato soup. Which I did. And it is stellar.

Cooking with Thomas Keller requires far more precision than I’m used to. I cook by instinct and impulse, making a mess across the kitchen as I go. Thomas urges you to slow down, prep and cook precisely…this is a meditative practice I can definitely use. Cooking his soup took the better part of a morning, requiring much tending and fussing, but the end product is a composed soup where every element is showcased in each spoonful. It’s an incredible thing. But, this post is not (supposed) to be about soup. I set out here to tell you about the amazing roast you see above.

I had a sirloin tip roast from our farm share that had been thawing in the fridge all week awaiting Sunday dinner. The traditional roast beef is not really my cup of tea, which might seem odd considering my love of beef and lamb stews of all varieties, buy hey – we’re all entitled to our culinary quirks, right?! Knowing how incredible the meat from our farm share is, I did want to do right by the roast, and cook it properly.

Searching around the web, I had a hard time coming up with cooking instructions for this particular type of roast. It’s a very lean cut, so I knew that a slow braise was not going to be the best use of this beauty. Stumped, I gave up and curled up on the couch with Thomas’ mammoth cookbook and set to reading, cup of tea in hand. Turning to the meat section – there it was! Thomas explained what I didn’t know…that a sirloin tip roast is also called a “tri-tip.” He outlined his preferred method of cooking the roast…which is the basis for this recipe, though I’ve streamlined a few steps, changed direction in the flavor profile to a slightly earthy, quasi-Mexican combination and added some aromatics for the basis of a simple pan sauce to spoon over the sliced meat.

The finished roast was a perfect medium-rare, sliced like butter and wonderfully tender. I think Thomas would approve.

Sirloin Tip Roast
Serves: a crowd

2 sprigs rosemary
3 cloves garlic, divided
kosher salt
fresh ground black pepper
red wine
1 1/2 T ancho chile powder
1 1/2 T smoked paprika
grapeseed oil for searing

1 sprig rosemary
5 thin slices of lemon
1 leek, green ends trimmed off, and sliced in half lengthwise
1 carrot, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1/2 onion, diced
1/4 tsp kosher salt

For pan sauce:
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/3 cup red wine
1 T butter
fresh ground black pepper
kosher salt

  1. The day before you plan to cook the roast, combine the smoked paprika and ancho chile powder in a small bowl and set aside. Mince 1 sprig of rosemary and 2 cloves of garlic, and set aside.
  2. Remove the roast from the fridge, and pat dry. Look closely at the roast – if you’re using a sirloin tip, there will be a few veins of silverskin throughout the roast. With luck, you should be able to slide your knife in next to the first vein of silverskin and butterfly the roast, opening one flap. Gently pushing your knife underneath the silverskin, trim it out. Look for the next vein of silverskin and again slide your knife under, continuing to open the roast like a book and trim out the silverskin. Continue trimming out the roast until all the silverskin has been removed.
  3. Sprinkle the minced rosemary and garlic on the inside of the roast, then roll the roast up into a tight log. Take your kitchen twine, and tie the roast up, encircling the roast with knotted twine every two inches. Once the roast is tied, take the chile mixture (reserve about a tablespoon of the chile mixture for the next day), and sprinkle it over the roast, patting it into the meat. Wrap the roast tightly in plastic wrap and stash in the fridge overnight.
  4. Cooking the roast: Remove the roast 1 1/2 hours before you plan to cook it so that it comes to room temperature. Remove the plastic wrap and pat it dry with paper towel. Combine the reserved chile mixture with 1 tsp of kosher salt and rub it into the outside of the roast. Let the roast sit for an hour.
  5. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Take out a roasting pan (or quarter sheet pan like I used). Pile the diced aromatics into the middle of the pan – carrots, onion, lemon slices, 1 rosemary sprig, celery and one clove of smashed garlic. Add 1/4 tsp kosher salt sprinkled on top. Take the halved leek, and set it at the ends of the pile of veggies to create a roasting stand for the beef to sit on while it roasts.
  6. Searing the roast: Heat a large stainless steel skillet over medium heat to get it scorching hot. Add some oil to the pan to coat the bottom, then gently place the meat in the pan. Sear for 2 minutes on each side, then place the roast on top of the aromatics and roast in the oven until the internal temperature reaches 140 degrees (for a medium-rare roast). Once the roast reaches temperature, remove the roast from the oven and place on a carving board and loosely cover with aluminum foil. Let the meat rest for 25 minutes before carving.
  7. While the meat rests, make the pan sauce. Place the sheet pan with the aromatics over a burner turned to medium. Add 1/2 cup of chicken stock and 1/3 cup red wine. Bring to a boil, stirring the aromatics. Reduce the liquids by half, then place a strainer over a small saucepan and pour the pan sauce and aromatics into the strainer. Press on the aromatics with a spoon to get drain all of the liquid into the pan. Place the pan back on the heat and bring to a boil. Add 1 T butter, and stir to melt the butter. Turn the burner off, leaving the pan on the burner until the meat is carved, then spoon the sauce over the sliced meat.