Slow Cooker Cowboy Beans and Potato Radish Salad for the Fourth

While many of my fellow Americans were traveling, watching parades, attending or hosting cookouts, and watching fireworks or setting off their own fireworks on Friday, the Fourth of July, I for one was just happy to have a DAY OFF. No work, no raccoons, no raptors, no obligations. I didn’t set an alarm and I slept until 10:30! It was so great! And the weather was sensational: clear skies and about 80 degrees with none of that thick humidity that so characterizes summer in the DC metro area. Ordinarily weather that spectacular would have pulled me to a park, but I figured they’d all be crowded and anyway, I kind of felt like I needed a day of rest. So instead I spent what would have at one time been a normal amount of time in the kitchen but for me lately was a LOT of time. I decided to make a fairly traditional Fourth of July dinner for Mark and myself, and I’m going to share some of the recipes! That’s right, I remembered this is a food blog!

The first thing I did was quick soak some beans to make cowboy beans. I took about a pound of Steuben Yellow Eye Beans, put them in an 8-cup Pyrex measuring cup, poured boiling water over them, covered, and set aside for an hour. I used the yellow eye beans because I have a lot of them (because I LOVE them!), but you can use whatever bean you think would be good. I’d have used pinto beans if I hadn’t used the yellow eyes. And then I did this:

Slow Cooker Cowboy Beans

1 lb dried beans, your choice (something like pinto, kidney, or Steuben Yellow Eye), soaked overnight or quick soaked (by pouring boiling water over them) for 1 hour
1 onion, diced
1/2 cup seitan, ground (preferably a “pork” flavor…I’ll probably do a post on this soon) (grind in a food processor, blender, or meat grinder)

For the sauce
1 pint canned diced tomatoes
3 chilis en adobo + some of the sauce
1/4 cup blackstrap molasses
1/4 cup chopped onion
3 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
5 cloves garlic, peeled
5 drops stevia (or a couple tablespoons white or brown sugar)

Put the sauce ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth. Drain the beans and place them with the rest of the ingredients, including the sauce, into a slow cooker and cook on high for 5 to 6 hours, or until beans are soft.

Here they are plated. Mark put his on his veggie dog, which is an excellent vehicle for them.

I also whipped up some potato salad, which helped to go through some of the pounds of young potatoes I’ve been collecting at the farmers market because I can’t resist them. (I can’t resist anything at the farmers market.) Because I also had a ton of radishes and was planning to buy even more radishes at the market the next day, I decided to throw some radishes into the potato salad as well, which added some crunch and interest. Mark hates mayo and I’m not keen on it in salad-sized doses, so often I’ll do vinaigrette-based potato salads, but since I grew up with mayo-based potato salads (and according to the number of people at my brother’s party the other weekend who informed me my mother’s potato salad was delicious, apparently I grew up with a good recipe!), I decided to go a little more traditionally (for me) creamy, so I did a yogurt-based dressing this time. Of course, putting radishes in potato salad is certainly NOT traditional in my family. (Although radishes always remind me of making green salads from my mom’s garden as a kid because radishes were my favorite part.)

Potato Radish Salad

2-3 lbs young potatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces
4 large or 6 medium radishes, sliced thinly then cut into 2-centimeter-wide sticks
2-3 spring onions, sliced

For the dressing
1/3 cup plain, unsweetened soy yogurt (Homemade is much, much better than store-bought. And I really, really need to do an updated post on it; that old one is embarrassing.)
2 Tbsp grapeseed oil
2 tsp Dijon mustard
juice of 1/4 to 1/2 lemon, depending on the tanginess of your yogurt (mine is quite tangy so I used 1/4 lemon)

Chop the potatoes – I never peel them – and put them into a medium to large pot. Cover with cold water, then bring the pot to a boil. Salt the water, reduce the heat and simmer until the potatoes are soft. You don’t want them falling-apart soft, but I like mine soft enough that they just start to break apart when I stir the dressing in. When they are done, drain them into a colander.

Meanwhile, whisk together the dressing ingredients in a small bowl. While the potatoes are warm, mix them together with the radishes, spring onions, and the dressing. Cover and refrigerate for at least a couple of hours.

And this was my whole plate Friday night; also featured are some dilly beans, pickled onions, and a Field Roast veggie frankfurter in a homemade bun. I ALMOST made homemade hot dogs just so I could say everything I served was made from scratch, but then I made some sauerkraut and went on a 7-mile jog/walk instead (couldn’t avoid going outside in that spectacular weather after all). But Field Roast is good and I had three lonely frankfurters in the freezer to use up anyway.

So that was my Fourth of July dinner. And here is an osprey dinner! (You can’t see it, but the parent osprey just put a bite of fish into the beak of her baby.)

I got that picture while kayaking last weekend. There is a nest right by our launch site, and as we were returning just before sunset, the mother (or father; they both tend to the young – but that one looks kind of big so let’s say it’s the mother) nabbed a fish and swooped back into the nest and started feeding the one baby. I was REALLY close. It was awesome! I take my mirrorless camera on the kayak with me because it’s weather sealed (and if I drop it in the Potomac I won’t have AS BIG of a breakdown that I’d have if I dropped my dSLR and a telephoto lens into a river just a few months before we go to Africa), so I whipped it out and took a ton of pictures, all excited. It took me a few minutes to even realize there was another kayaker just behind me, who was doing the same thing, although with a dSLR and the Canon 100-400mm. So we ended up talking (I don’t know what’s up with me chatting up wildlife photographers all the time because I’m normally very shy, but it happens) and I told him he was much braver than me taking that setup on a kayak. He said you just have to be very careful. (I’m pretty careful with my camera equipment, but I don’t know if I’m a careful kayaker. I’m a new kayaker.) And of course, when I went to process my pictures I was kicking myself for not being as brave as that guy because they sucked. I’d have gotten some spectacular shots if I’d had my dSLR and 400mm lens. I deleted all but three, including all of the ones where you could see the mother actually putting the fish into the baby’s mouth. I love my mirrorless camera for some things, but not for wildlife. 🙁 Of course, it’s really hard to take telephoto pictures on a kayak anyway. Even if I weren’t scared of losing my camera, it’s practically impossible to sit still in a kayak.

Anyway, although I was disappointed with my osprey pictures from last week, let me tell you a happier osprey story from last week. Some good citizens saw an osprey chick fall from its nest platform, tangled in fishing line, so they cut it free, got it out of the water, and brought it to the Raptor Conservancy of Virginia (where I volunteer). Kent at RCV warmed it up, dried it out, and kept it fed. As he told me today, there’s about a 48-hour window for returning chicks to their nest before the parents abandon it. So less than 48 hours later, one of our volunteers took the healthy chick back, waded out to the platform, and somehow returned the chick to the nest (about 8-feet off the water), and cleared the nest of the rest of the fishing line. Before he departed, he made sure the parents were still in the area, AND the parents were later confirmed to be seen feeding the chick! Success! Had the operation not been successful, I’D have been feeding a baby osprey today when I went into RCV! Which would have been a new experience for me, but it’s sooooooooo much better for them to be raised by their parents. (Besides, I had my fill of feeding chicks today: several red shouldered hawks chicks, a couple of barred owl chicks, several great horned owl chicks (oh my gosh, how they hate my guts!), a bunch of screech owl chicks (so, so, so tiny and cute!), and five barn owl chicks (OH MY GOD, THEY ARE SO AWESOME! AND HISSY!!!!))

Parent feeding chick > Renae feeding chick.

I hope the Americans out there had a lovely Fourth of July, and that the rest of you had a nice fourth of July. 🙂

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Summertime Black Beans with Quinoa

Last night’s meal was a celebration of summer! It was also a celebration of preparedness. I worked late, got irritated with what I was doing at work, got a headache (which I first blamed on my work but later realized I forgot to take my headache medicine in the morning; damn, I keep hoping I’ll be able to go off that stuff), and was annoyed. I also wanted something simple for dinner like a salad, and I had a ton of fresh vegetables at home (I don’t know how I live without the farmers market during the off-season), but I knew there was no lettuce in the house and didn’t feel like stopping at the store just for that, mostly because of the working late and headache. But then I remembered that the night before I had cooked Future Renae up a mess of black beans! Suddenly my attitude brightened! I drove home and in little time was serving this:

Summertime Black Beans and Quinoa

1 cup quinoa (I used multi-colored)
2 cups vegan broth or water
1 ear of corn, shucked and kernels removed
2 spring onions, chopped (thinly slice some of the green parts and reserve separately)
2 or 3 garlic scapes chopped (or a couple of cloves of garlic)
1 small summer squash, chopped (I used patty pan)
1 jalapeno, minced
1 or 2 tomatoes, depending on size, chopped
a little bit of vegan broth
3 cups cooked black beans
salt, to taste
1 avocado, peeled and chopped
lemon or lime wedges

Rinse the quinoa. Put some oil in a medium pot, then saute the quinoa for a few minutes until lightly toasted. Add the 2 cups of broth (or water) in a medium pot and bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 20-25 minutes or until all liquid is absorbed.

Cook the corn kernels in a small amount of water for a few minutes until soft, then drain. If you have super-fresh corn, you might be able to skip this step. I had really good corn and probably didn’t need to pre-cook it.

Meanwhile, heat some oil in a large skillet, preferably cast iron, and add the garlic scapes (or garlic) and green onions. After a minute or two, add the summer squash and jalapeno. Saute for about 5 minutes then add the tomatoes. Saute another few minutes, then add the black beans and corn. Cook until beans are warmed through. Add a little broth to keep things from getting too dry – I threw in 3 ice cubes of homemade veggie stock and let them melt. Season with salt to taste; I sprinkled it with a bit of a finishing salt.

Serve with the avocado, garnishing with lemon or lime wedges to be squeezed generously over the beans. Also top with the reserved green onions (which I totally forgot to do for the picture).

I thought I’d spice things up by flipping my placemat over and photographing the “cheerful” (or, according to Mark, “hideous”) side. This is me attempting to put effort into my food photography. So sad.

It wreaked havoc with my white balance, even though I manually calculated it with a gray card. Maybe the same old black is better after all? I haven’t changed the light in my dining room, not that my food photos ever looked great, but the last few I’ve taken have looked horribly unappetizing. Trust me, this looked much nicer in person.

This also made a very nice, refreshing lunch today.

And now, a chipmunk.

My mother thinks he has a cocaine problem. Nope, just sunflower seeds!

You know who you guys haven’t seen in a while? Torticia …

… and Gomez!

This is a game we play with Mezzie. He is obsessed with pipe cleaners, so Mark sticks them around the house in increasingly difficult places for Mez to get to. Hanging them from the ceiling fan pull is entertaining in that Mez will make these amazing straight leaps to get them down, but also kinda stupid because every time he does, he changes the speed on the fan. So it’s been a million degrees and Gomez keeps turning the ceiling fan off. But we keep doing it. 🙂

(PS, guess what? It’s only 88 degrees here today! NOT 110! It’s…wonderful.)

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In memory of Jeremy: Rice and Beans

Today would have been our friend Jeremy’s 34th birthday. Last year when I emailed his mother on his birthday, she asked me to think of Jeremy when I eat rice and beans. We eat a lot of rice and beans in this household, so I think of him often, and I figured there wasn’t a better meal to make tonight in his memory.

Please excuse my even-more-lax-than-usual “recipe”. This was really casual. First I put some rice in the rice cooker and got that started. Then I took 8 oz of Rio Zape beans from Rancho Gordo and cooked them, unsoaked, until not-quite-done in the pressure cooker. How long did that take? Ugh, don’t ask so many questions – I don’t know! Until I sensed they were almost done, I’m afraid. I was outside doing other things while they were cooking and wasn’t paying attention to the time. Let’s say maybe 20 minutes?

When they were not-quite-done, I did a quick release and drained the beans. Then, in the pressure cooker to save a pot to wash, I heated some oil and then added a chopped onion. Once that was cooked to translucent, I added a bunch of pressed garlic, and continued cooking until it was all starting to brown. I deglazed with a bit of the red wine from my glass, then added about 1 1/2 cups veggie broth, two bay leaves, a healthy splash of Worcestershire sauce for tang, some liquid smoke, and a bit of Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning. Once that was all boiling, I returned the beans to the pot and let it all simmer until the beans were creamy, maybe another 20 minutes?

Serve with LOTS of hot sauce. If you haven’t had Rancho Gordo beans, by the way, you’re cheating yourself. You could use pretty much any bean in this “recipe”, and you’re definitely never going to go wrong with Rancho Gordo beans, which don’t even need seasoning. The Rio Zapes have the creaminess of pintos, but they taste almost like chocolate. And I don’t usually taste chocolate in things people like to say things like wine has “hints” of. They are definitely a flavorful bean.

I cooked for Jeremy every night when we lived together. I think he would have liked this. He may not even have pretended to grumble about the lack of meat. We miss you, Jeremy. “WHAT?” WE MISS YOU.

In other news, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about blogging over the last week or so. I’m starting to get much more serious about photography (although I’ve been “into” photography since high school), but I’m not going to lie to you: although I hope to improve my food pictures somewhat, I’m never going to be a great food photographer. Mostly because I cook in order to eat, and when I need to eat, I NEED to eat. I get bad headaches if I get hungry, and 99% of the time what you are looking at on this blog is my dinner – which I probably need to ingest right away. I’ve been finding myself thinking of blog posts I want to make, usually because I have pictures, but they aren’t about food. That’s not to say I don’t want to make food posts; I do. Very much. Even if they are more laid-back recipes like tonight’s. But I was wondering this week if I should set up a second blog for non-food-related pictures and rambling, so I don’t need to worry about straying too far off-topic here. I even looked to see if by remote chance itakepictures.com or .net was available, which would match ieatfood.net AND sound like an early Depeche Mode song (it’s not – available, that is; it IS an early Depeche Mode song).

The thing is, though, I didn’t really FEEL like setting up another blog. I could, easily. We have a server; I run other blogs for people. Adding another for myself wouldn’t be a big deal at all. But I just don’t know that I feel like dividing myself up that way. I think most of the readers of this blog would probably be at least somewhat interested in the other posts I want to make, because most vegans are interested in animals (and we’re mostly talking wildlife photos here), and anyway, I’m pretty sure most of my readers aren’t even vegan (which actually makes me very happy), and non-vegans who are open-minded enough to read a vegan blog are probably open-minded enough to not care if said blog sometimes features posts that aren’t about vegan food. Right?

What made up my mind, though, was when I thought about myself as a blog reader. I subscribe to a lot of blogs, and usually read most of them, but sometimes someone will make a post I’m not interested in, and you know what I do? Scroll right past it without even thinking. What I don’t do is think, “oh god, I can’t BELIEVE this person has gone off-topic, what a heretic!”. I don’t unsubscribe. I don’t think anything at all about it. It’s kind of crazy to think people are going to be upset if I sometimes unapologetically make a post to show off some pictures that have nothing to do with food. I don’t mind at all when food bloggers make an occasional post about themselves outside their cooking, in fact, I usually like getting a glimpse of them from a different perspective. So on that note…LOOK AT MY PICTURES THAT ARE NOT OF FOOD.

First up:

I’m not very pleased with this one because I should have used a smaller aperture so that the whole spider was in focus, but it’s a fun start to macro photography. This spider was about the size of my pinky fingernail; about half an inch long.

Like the spider, the following pictures were taken at Burke Lake Park.

I was stoked to come across some blue herons!

As I was heading back to the car, rushing a bit because I had a French lesson, I saw a squirrel way out on a limb over the lake.

I watched him slowly move ever further out, with some trepidation, wondering what in the world he was doing and whether or not squirrels knew how to swim, because I was going to be late meeting my tutor if I had to wade into the lake to rescue him.

Turns out he wanted a TWIG. Why he wasn’t satisfied with any one of the BILLIONS of twigs on the safe, sturdy GROUND, I do not know. (The twig is in his mouth in this picture, if you can’t tell. He’s feeling damn proud here.)

Suddenly, in one fell swoop, he was upside down and scrambling for dear life! Note, though, the twig is STILL in his mouth. This squirrel had his priorities.

Slooowly he righted himself.

Finally he inched himself to a thicker branch and had himself a good gnaw on his precious twig.

When he was done, he turned to stare at me like I was the crazy one.

I have some cute raccoon stories and pics, but I spent too much time on that ridiculous squirrel so I’ll save them for the next update! For now, here is the top of a pile of sleeping baby raccoons…

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