Cold weather is always good for making real beans. By real, I mean not from a can – I mean dried beans soaked overnight and simmered in broth on the stovetop for a couple of hours. With lots of garlic and some onion, carrots and celery. In addition to the gorgeous smells you’ll have wafting through the kitchen when you make dried beans, the final product doesn’t even seem to belong to the same family of food as canned beans. These are beans that actually give a little resistance when you chew them, making them seem so much more robust and filling.

I had been eyeing some heirloom beans from Rancho Gordo for some time, so I finally ordered a few varieties to try. I had a hard time choosing, since they all sounded so good (and were soooo pretty). But select I did, and below is a picture of the types I went with.

Heirloom Beans from Rancho Gordo - Scarlet Runner Bean, Ojo de Cabra Bean (Goat's Eye), Vallarta Bean, Rio Zape Bean

Heirloom Beans from Rancho Gordo – Scarlet Runner Beans, Ojo de Cabra (Goat’s Eye) Beans, Vallarta Beans, Rio Zape Beans

I ended up using the Rio Zape beans for this particular recipe. The Rio Zape beans are an heirloom which is touted as being discovered in the ruins of the Anasazi cliff-dwelling people in the Southwestern area of the US, and are probably the most delicious beans I’ve ever had. But I got a nice close-up of the Ojo de Cabra beans I wanted to share as well:

Closeup of Ojo de Cabra (Eye of the Goat) Beans

Closeup of Ojo de Cabra (Eye of the Goat) Beans

So back to the Rio Zape beans. If you don’t have them or a similar heirloom bean, you can substitute pinto beans, but the Rio Zapes make such a nice tasty broth, you might have to throw in some additional spices to add some flavor. (Plus, you really, really want to try these beans.)

Rio Zape Beans, Carrot, Celery, Onion, and Garlic

Rio Zape Beans, Carrot, Celery, Onion, and Garlic

I did some research on the conventional wisdom that says you shouldn’t cook beans with salt because it will make them tougher, and it turns out that’s not actually true. So I went ahead and used broth, as well as some diced onion, carrot, celery, and lots of garlic.

(Slightly) Spicy, Garlicky Rio Zape Beans
serves 4

1 cup dried Rio Zape beans
1 small white onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
4-8 large garlic cloves, minced (the amount depends on your love of garlic)
1/2 oz grated pecorino romano (optional)
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp chipotle powder
vegetable or chicken broth (variable, but several cups)
2-6 shakes liquid smoke
1/2 to 1 tsp salt (only if using low-salt broth!)
brown rice

Rinse beans, then cover with 2 inches of water in a large bowl, and soak 6 hours or overnight.

Drain and rinse beans, then put beans in a stock pot, add all ingredients up through the broth, then add broth to cover beans by 2 inches. (You’ll want to taste the broth and adjust it with the liquid smoke and salt to your liking, but you might want to wait until it’s heated to do so. You’ll also want to go a bit light on the salt, since as it reduces, it will become more salty). Bring to a boil, then cook for 5 minutes. Turn the heat down to low, and simmer for about 1+1/2 to 2 hours (until beans are tender to your liking), checking every 20 minutes or so, and adding broth as needed to keep the beans submerged (towards the end you just want them to be barely under the broth, so the results aren’t too soupy, but you do want a little juice left. Once the beans are tender enough, you can turn up the heat and cook off a some of the excess broth if you like. Serve over brown rice.

Spicy Slow-Cooked Beans

(Somewhat) Spicy Garlicky Rio Zape Beans

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Happy Thanksgiving!

November 22, 2012

Too busy eating for a long post today! The best Thanksgiving dinners are the ones where everyone splits up the dishes and then brings them to add to the feast. My mom made turkey, stuffing and gravy, my dad the rolls, my brother the green bean casserole, my mother-in-law the cranberry salad, pumpkin pie, and cherry tart, and I made the chipotle mashed sweet potoatoes and cabbage, fennel and carrot salad with coconut lime dressing. YUM!

Thanksgiving Table

Thanksgiving Table

Clockwise from the top: Cabbage, Fennel, and Carrot Salad with Coconut Lime Dressing, Cranberry Salad, Turkey with Gravy, Stuffing, Green Bean Casserole, Chipotle Mashed Potatoes (Not Pictured: Dinner Roll)

Clockwise from the top: Cabbage, Fennel, and Carrot Salad with Coconut Lime Dressing, Cranberry Salad, Turkey with Gravy, Stuffing, Green Bean Casserole, Chipotle Mashed Potatoes (Not Pictured: Homemade Dinner Roll)

Several weeks ago I took a Boulder County Parks and Open Space Agricultural Tour. I’ve long been a huge fan of Boulder County’s Open Space (I love living in a town surrounded by farm land, hiking trails, and open fields), so I was excited to go on one of these tours. They do several each year, all featuring a great talk while the bus travels between farm destinations, as well as two or three visits to local farms. Unfortunately on this particular Saturday, it was the type of rainy day we hoped for all summer, but which naturally showed up instead during our fall tour.

Sugar Beet Field in Boulder, CO

Sugar Beet Field in Boulder, CO

Based on a comprehensive plan developed in the 70’s to conserve Open Space, the philosophy of the Boulder County Parks and Open Space is that urban growth should center around cities, and rural areas should be preserved. Open Space is defined as land intentionally left free from development, such as farms, wildlife habitats, recreational areas, natural landscapes, or cultural areas with historical buildings. For years after the initial plan, there was little money to preserve much land (two tax revenue initiatives were defeated in the late 70’s and 80’s). But beginning in 1993, four tax initiatives were passed that have allowed the county to accumulate 100,000 acres of open space, fairly evenly split between the plains and the foothills/mountains. Of the total acreage, 65,000 has been purchased outright, and the remaining 35,000 was purchased as conservation easements, which means the surface land itself is not purchased, but there are restrictions imposed on future development.

One of the great things about Boulder County Open Space is that parts of the land is leased to farmers who raise much of the local produce and livestock in the area. There are between 85 and 90 farms that lease from Boulder County Open Space, with the leases ranging from smaller farms of 2 to 5 acres, to those as large as 1000 acres. Leases are either cash leases, or cropshare leases in which the farmer and the county split a share of both farming costs and profit. The yearly lease revenue of about 1.5 million goes towards irrigation costs as well as back into the farms.

In this area of the country we basically have a desert climate. But crops like corn, sugar beets and other vegetables take roughly 2-3 feet of water per year. Since the average annual moisture in Boulder county is between 11 and 13 inches, there’s quite a deficit. The irrigation water that makes growing crops possible comes from snowmelt that flows into ditches which run through Boulder County. The first Boulder County ditch systems were constructed and used in the late 1850s, which is pretty cool.

The Boulder County Open Space department encourages the ‘local food loop’ concept, and strives to make it possible for smaller farmers to have the opportunity to lease some of the land. They’re also supportive of organic farming methods, and have met their goal of having 10% of the croplands on Open Space being farmed using organic methods. (This is about 15 times the national average of 0.7% of public cropland that is farmed organically).

So obviously, there’s still a significant amount of cropland that is traditionally farmed, and in fact some of those crops include genetically modified ones. Personally, when possible, I choose not to eat GMO foods, based on the fact that it just seems healthier to eat more naturally developed food. But as with most things, there are shades of gray in the arguments against GMO vegetables. This report on the Boulder County Board of Commissioners’ adoption of the cropland policy  has some good information on the open space position. Many local farmers have been using conventional methods for years, struggle to make ends meet as it is, and have found many benefits in using GMO seeds, such as drastic reductions in toxic pesticides required, reduced carbon footprint as a result of fewer passes for the application of pesticides, and a reduction of soil erosion as better tilling processes are possible. The sugar beet farmer that we visited sends the vast majority of his crops to locations that are well within the 100 mile radius that many locavores espouse. So I had to ask myself – how does a GMO sugar beet crop that travels 97 miles to Fort Morgan for processing stack up against organic peppers grown in Mexico and transported over 550 miles to Boulder? Not as simple as you would think it would be. While I wish that all the surrounding farming could be non-GMO (organic would be even better), and I buy organic whenever I can, I do respect the position of Boulder County Open Space in continuing to support farmers who have been farming the land for generations, while encouraging a gradual move toward more organic farming. I believe that any progress is better than no progress, and as consumers become more knowledgeable and voice their desire to have more organic foods, things will continue to move in that direction.

Something I found out at the sugar beet farm – sugar beets are amazingly edible in their raw form (at least in small quantities – not sure how it would work in bulk). I asked what they tasted like, and the farmer hacked off some pieces for us. It’s like eating sugary jicama, and I couldn’t help wondering if it would be free on the Weight Watchers point system since it’s a vegetable! We were supposed to see the beets being harvested, but since the entire field was mucky, we ended up just seeing the equipment and hearing the farmers speak.

Sugar Beets - Boulder County, CO

Sugar Beets – Boulder County, CO

Our final stop was The Rocky Mountain Pumpkin Ranch in Longmont, owned by the farmer who operates Full Circle Farms, the largest organic farm in Boulder County. Unfortunately, since it was so rainy, we didn’t get to visit any of the farm land, but we did get to hear a brief talk about their organic farming. I can vouch for their organic produce, which I have purchased both at Whole Foods and Alfalfa’s.

Due to the rain the only good pictures I got were at the sugar beet farm. I think it would be great to go on another one of these tours on a nicer day when I could see more of a variety of farming on Open Space, and I encourage anyone interested in finding out more about local food to join one next year.

For some reason I’ve been on a serious baking kick for the past couple months. Not sure why – as it starts to get colder in the fall I usually feel like making stews and soups, but it’s been all about baking lately. My latest baked good adventure has been scones. These are fairly low-fat (low-fat is technically 3 grams of fat per serving – these have 3.5 grams per serving), but delicious, nonetheless. I did use butter in them, but just a bit more than half that of most recipes.

I planned on making cranberry scones, since I love scones with fruit. But when I saw some jars of pumpkin butter (which fortunately does not contain any butter) at Whole Foods, I started wondering how pumpkin would work with cranberry. I decided the answer to that would probably be, ‘awesomely!’ I mistakenly thought we had dried cranberries at home, but since my dried fruit supply sadly had nothing but dates and figs, I ended up using frozen whole cranberries instead. And I think it actually turned out better as a result (certainly lower in calories).

Frozen Whole Cranberries (well, not anymore - Frozen Quartered Cranberries)

Frozen Whole Cranberries (well, not anymore – Frozen Quartered Cranberries)

As I normally do when I bake, I used erythritol to save calories. I’ve pretty much converted to using erythritol in all my sweet baked goods. I like the fact that it’s nearly zero calories, doesn’t affect blood sugar, and in my opinion, tastes just like sugar in recipes. The only downside I find is that it’s more expensive than sugar (but there are some decent prices online, it seems).

I decided to keep things simple, and make drop scones rather than ones that required rolling out and cutting with a cookie cutter. I made three batches, tweaking things each time. The first time I didn’t do anything to the cranberries but cut them up, and they were a bit too sour. My husband suggested sweetening the cranberries themselves, so the next time I macerated them with a bit of sugar while working on the dough, and that definitely did the trick. (I used real sugar for this part, because I wasn’t quite sure if erythritol would have the same effect.) Like most of my baked goods, these are a bit moister than the traditional incarnation, but in some ways I find that preferable.

Cranberry Pumpkin Scones
makes 18
1 cup whole cranberries (I used frozen ones – unfrozen might be messier when cutting them!)
2 Tbsp sugar
2 cups flour
1+3/4 tsp baking powder *
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
5 Tbsp cold butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup erythritol (or 1/3 cup sugar)
1/2 c + 2 Tbsp pumpkin butter **
2 Tbsp light buttermilk ***
1 egg white
1 tsp vanilla

* At sea-level, use 2 tsp baking powder.
** If you don’t have any pumpkin butter, just add some cinnamon and cloves to pumpkin puree, and sweeten it so it tastes like pumpkin pie.
*** Or just use another 2 Tbsp pumpkin butter – it will be sweeter, but a bit more pumpkiny

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Cut the cranberries into quarters, then put in a small bowl and sprinkle with the 2 Tbsp of sugar. Stir to coat the cranberries and let stand.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together well. Add the cold butter and cut it into the flour either with a pastry blender or two knives until the texture is sort of crumb-like. (You can also use a food processor for this part, but take it out before the next step and use a spoon.)

Add the erythritol, pumpkin butter, buttermilk, egg white, vanilla and cranberries. Stir with a wooden spoon to moisten all ingredients. You should have a very stiff dough, but you want it damp enough that you can scoop it up and put it on a baking sheet without it falling apart. Add a little extra buttermilk if you need to.

Cranberry Pumpkin Scone Dough

Cranberry Pumpkin Scone Dough

Scoop into 18 (or 16 or 20 – go for whatever number you’d like) even-sized blobs onto baking sheets either sprayed with cooking spray or lined with parchment paper. Bake for 18-22 minutes, or until firm. (Check them at about 15 minutes, and every couple of minutes after that, though.) Let sit for a minute, then transfer to a cooling rack.

Lower Fat Cranberry Pumpkin Scones

Lower Fat Cranberry Pumpkin Scones

Nutritional Information: per scone (18 per batch): 92 calories, 3.5 grams fat, 1.7 grams fiber

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