Brown Rice and Heirloom Beans with Caramelized Leeks and Red Pepper Deglazed with Espresso Balsamic Vinegar (how’s that for a long name?)
March 23, 2013
After a many-week delay, here’s the recipe for the dish I made with beans, rice, leeks, pepper, and espresso balsamic vinegar during my Week of Eating Real Food. I didn’t actually have a specific plan (or any plan, for that matter) when I started making this dish, but I wanted to use some of the heirloom beans and brown rice I’d cooked ahead of time, and I’d bought some leeks and red pepper for the week, so I just went with it.
As an aside, I’ve really become enamored of leeks over the past several years. I love using them as an alternative to onions, and sometime last year discovered that they are absolutely outstanding caramelized. Their only shortcoming in my mind is that they are the dirtiest little vegetables I’ve ever worked with. While cleaning them you’d almost swear that the dirt was playing a game of hide-and-seek. But rest assured, they are worth the extra cleaning annoyance.
What I do to prepare them is chop the top (all the thick green part) and root ends off, then rinse them, taking the layers at the top end and sort of bending them back a little under the water, since this is where the dirt hides. If you have a particularly dirty leek, you may have to pull back an inch or so to rinse out all the dirt – and it can be hiding between every single layer. (This always makes me happy that I buy organic vegetables whenever I can – I feel much better knowing that this dirt is from an organic farm rather than one that uses chemical pesticides). To chop them, I cut them in half lengthwise, remove the inner ‘core’ (about 1/2 the layers), cut the outer parts lengthwise again, and then slice the cores and outer parts into 1/2 inch pieces.
So back to the dish. I decided to caramelize the leeks and pepper, but when it came time to start deglazing the pan, instead of just using normal balsamic vinegar, I decided I’d try my much-adored Espresso Balsamic Vinegar from Oliverde. I was a little uncertain how it would turn out, but it was actually quite good!
If you’re pressed for time, you could easily use canned beans and quick-cooking rice for this.
Brown Rice and Heirloom Beans with Caramelized Leeks and Red Pepper Deglazed with Espresso Balsamic Vinegar
1+1/2 c cooked beans (I used Spanish Tolosna beans*)
1+1/2 c cooked brown rice
1 tsp olive oil
2 lg or 3 med leeks, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
vegetable (or chicken) stock
espresso balsamic vinegar **
salt to taste
* Good substitutes would be cranberry, red kidney, pinto, or azuki beans.
** You can use a good quality balsamic vinegar if you don’t have espresso balsamic
Heat 1 tsp of olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet, then add the leeks and peppers.
Cook until the leeks and peppers become very soft, deglazing the pan whenever the vegetables start to stick, alternating between using 1 tsp of espresso balsamic vinegar and 1 tsp of stock.
Add the brown rice, the beans, 2 Tbsp of stock and combine well. Taste and add salt and/or more vinegar to your taste. Continue to cook just until everything is heated through.
After attending a food media event at Cuba Cuba, I was inspired to try to make some tres leches cake at home. But I thought I’d make coconut tres leches just for an added twist. I referred to a few recipes online, but definitely wanted to make mine much lower in fat and calories, since most recipes call for sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, whole milk, and even heavy cream. By using evaporated skim milk and light coconut milk (which I was delighted to find at Whole Foods with only recognizable ingredients on the labels), as well as skim milk, a reduced amount of egg yolks, and mainly erythritol for sweetener, I was able to make some completely delicious cake, with only about 1/3 of the calories and 1/4 of the fat of some tres leches recipes.
But then there’s the homely aspect of my cake making endeavors. Baking at altitude can be quite a challenge (and we’re at about 5430 feet here). I make a lot of quick breads, which are pretty forgiving, so I’ve been lulled into a false sense of baking-at-altitude competence over the years. It turns out that cakes are quite a different thing. (I don’t think I’d actually made a cake-cake since I’d lived in Colorado (which has been a long time). At any rate, if I did, it would have been at least 15 years ago, and therefore from a box with nice high-altitude adjustments printed on the side.) So, I had two different ‘not exactly what I was going for’ cake results while working on this recipe.
I made a 1/2 cake recipe both times. The first time I baked the cake in a large bread pan, confident that would better guarantee an even cake than a 9 x 9 cake pan. Things looked good for a while, until the middle of the cake fell, and I ended up with a nice canyon. (This symptom is quite common at high altitudes (I read after the fact) – with lower pressure and lower moisture the cake rises too fast, and the structure is compromised). But I carried on, and the result was fantastic tasting, albeit rather unevenly shaped.
The next time I thought I had a brilliant idea when I decided I would make individual cupcakes instead of one cake. Surely they would rise more evenly, and would have the added bonus of being individually sized automatically. That may have worked fine except for two issues. One, I should have made 14 cupcakes instead of trying to cram everything into 12. That probably would have let me avoid the magnificently spreading cake overflow which resulted in very wide flat-topped cupcakes.
Second, despite coating the muffin pan with a thin layer of butter and flouring all of the cups, there was some massive stickage. The process of removing them from the pan consisted of freeing and then popping the tops, and then excavating the bottoms from the muffin pan.
So plan B (C, I guess, since B was trying the cupcakes) was to invert the cupcakes in a large pan prior to poking them with a skewer and pouring the milk over them.
For the milk mixture, since sweetened condensed milk is thicker than light coconut milk, I reduced the evaporated milk and coconut milk just a bit. I’m not sure it really made much of a difference, but since I did it the first time, I did it the second time as well.
I think the sunken cake in the bread pan was the better form to work with, so that’s what the following recipe uses.
For general ratios and preparation, I referred to a recipe in Bon Apétit
Coconut Tres Leches
makes 8 servings
3/4 c flour (I used white whole wheat)
1+1/2 tsp baking powder (use 1/8 to 1/4 tsp less at high altitudes)
1/4 tsp cinnamon
4 egg whites
8 Tbsp erythritol (if using all sugar, cut this to 6 Tbsp)
4 Tbsp sugar
2 egg yolks
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp coconut extract
1/4 c skim milk
1+1/2 c fat free evaporated milk
1 c light coconut milk
1+1/2 Tbsp erythritol (or 1 Tbsp sugar)
1/2 tsp coconut extract
Preheat oven to 350°. (Try 375° at high altitudes). Butter and flour a large bread pan, being sure that the flour coats the entire pan.
Mix the flour, baking powder, and cinnamon together, and then set aside.
Using a mixer, beat the egg whites in a large bowl until firm peaks form. (Softer peaks for high altitude). Gradually beat in the sugar and erythritol. Add the egg yolks in two batches, beating well after each. Add the vanilla and 1 tsp coconut extract, and beat again. Add the flour and milk in five steps, and mixing well by hand after each step: flour, milk, flour, milk, flour. Pour the batter into the pan and smooth the top.
Bake for 25 minutes. Reduce the heat by 25° and continue baking until the cake is golden brown and the middle springs back when pressed, 10-20 minutes more. (It didn’t take that long for mine).
While the cake is baking, combine the evaporated milk, coconut milk, 1+1/2 Tbsp erythritol, and 1/2 tsp coconut extract, then cook in a saucepan on low heat, stirring often, until slightly reduced (about 15-20 minutes). You just want a low simmer while it’s cooking, so adjust the heat as necessary.
When the cake is done, remove it from the oven, and cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Then remove the cake from the pan and place on a cooling rack set on large baking sheet or in a large pan.
Poke holes all over the top of the cake with a skewer. Slowly drizzle about 1/3 of the milk mixture all over the cake. Wait until the milk soaks in, and then drizzle another 1/3 over the cake. Place a large inverted plate on top of the cake, then turn it over so the cake is on top of the plate. Drizzle the remaining milk over the cake.
Store any left over cake in the fridge. (I actually preferred it chilled, so put it in there before I served it.)
March 9, 2013
This past week a group of food bloggers/writers/media members were treated to some rather substantial samples of the food at Boulder’s Cuba Cuba Sandwicheria. The small order-at-the-counter restaurant is managed and co-owned by Cuban-born, Miami-raised Lourdes Sanchez, formerly of The Cream Puffery (a now defunct pastry shop/eatery near Liquor Mart, which my husband and I visited on occasion). Cuba Cuba Sandwicheria is associated with Cuba Cuba in Denver, and will be opening a new branch in the City Set development in Glendale this summer.
Lourdes was a very gracious host, bringing out a variety of sides, sandwiches, and a dessert I was a little devastated to find out wasn’t on the standard menu (but is a recurring special, fortunately). Many of the recipes for the food served at Cuba Cuba Sandwicheria are tweaked versions of family recipes, with the exception of Grandma’s flan, which needed no modification.
We started out with delicious Veggie Empanadas and Croquetas, but the Beef Empanadas that followed were my favorite of all the sides. I’m not a big red meat eater, but this was just too good not to fall for. The beef filling, while not spicy (Cuban food is generally not as spicy-hot as many other Latin American or Caribbean foods), was a wonderfully flavorful complement to the crispy pastry.
Next was the vegetarian Boulder Cuban Sandwich, served with a side of garlic mojo, also quite tasty.
The Cubano sandwich, with pork, ham and cheese led me to eat a bit more than I had intended to. There was something rather addictive about this one. Lourdes indicated that the authentic Cuban bread is an important factor in their sandwiches, and the pork they marinate overnight and then slow cook doesn’t hurt, either!
Cuba Cuba Sandwicheria also serves pork, beef, chicken, seafood, and vegetable plates with rice and beans, as well as other sides such as sweet plantains (which are fantastic), plantain chips, and Cuban fries. Their beverage selection is fairly extensive for a smaller establishment, with Cuban sodas, beer, mojitos and sangria, fountain drinks and several Cuban espresso drinks.
And then we closed with dessert. We each got a small piece of the creamiest Bread Pudding I’ve ever eaten. I’ve tried many a bread pudding, and I think this ties for top honors with the Chocolate Bread Pudding at Tortugas in Longmont, holder of the title for well over a decade. A gluten-free member of our group was given a piece of Grandma’s flan. Luckily for me, she couldn’t finish it, so I got to try some of it as well. And I couldn’t agree more with Lourdes — it would be pretty hard to improve on its beautiful texture and the taste, which was a sublime caramel. Later in the week, my husband and I got a piece of chocolate Tres Leches to go, and we can attest to that one being outstanding as well.
March 3, 2013
I’ve been wanting to make my Eggplant Spinach Lasagna again and take decent pictures now that I have a real camera. The ones I took back when I originally posted the recipe were taken using my cellphone, and were sadly in hues I’m not sure really in nature. I haven’t changed the recipe, so it is included unmodified (except for a note on the tomatoes) below.
Eggplant and Spinach Lasagna
6-9 lasagna noodles (however many you need for 3 layers in your pan)
1 lb eggplant
12 oz baby spinach
8 oz part-skim mozzarella, grated
16 oz fat-free cottage cheese
3/8 oz pecorino romano, shaved
28 oz crushed tomatoes*
26 oz stewed tomatoes (or just use another 28 oz crushed tomatoes)*
4 Tbsp minced garlic
2 tsp olive oil
1+1/2 tsp Mexican oregano (divided)
1/2 tsp basil
3/4 tsp salt, divided
* I’ve also made this with ~ 42 oz diced tomatoes and 14.5 oz tomato sauce – it just depends on how chunky you want your tomato sauce.
In a large, wide skillet, sauté the minced garlic in the olive oil over low to medium-low heat for a minute or two. Remove 2 tsp of the garlic and set aside. Add the tomatoes, 1 tsp Mexican oregano, the basil, and 1/2 tsp of salt to the garlic. Stir well, and adjust spices to taste. Cook the sauce over medium-low to medium heat until it thickens, 20-30 minutes. (Turn it down if you need to prevent splattering). Once done, set aside. You can continue with the other steps while it’s cooking – just check it fairly often.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Slice the eggplant into rounds about 1/3 inch thick. Spray a couple of cookie sheets with cooking spray, place the eggplant slices on the sheets, brush lightly with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt. (I actually didn’t brush them with olive oil, and they turned out fine – your choice). Bake about 10 minutes (check at 5 minutes) until lightly browned. Turn the pieces and bake for another 2-5 more minutes. Remove and allow to cool. Once cooled, cut into pieces that are about 2″ in size. Set aside. You’ll want the oven at 350 degrees for the lasagna.
Combine the cottage cheese, shaved pecorino romano, 1/2 tsp Mexican oregano, 1/4 tsp salt, and the 2 tsp of garlic. Set aside.
Steam the spinach (or just put it in the microwave, covered for about two minutes), so that it is wilted, but still bright green. Set aside.
Cook the lasagna noodles as per directions. Drain.
Assemble the lasagna in the following, evenly spread out layers:
- A thin layer of the tomato sauce
- A single layer of lasagna noodles
- 1/3 of the tomato sauce
- 1/2 of the cottage cheese mixture
- A little less than 1/2 of the mozzarella
- The eggplant
- Another layer of lasagna noodles
- 1/3 of the tomato sauce
- The spinach
- The remaining cottage cheese mixture
- A little less than 1/2 of the mozzarella
- Another layer of lasagna noodles
- The remainder of the tomato sauce
- The remaining mozzarella
Cover loosely, and bake for 35 minutes at 350 degrees. Uncover the lasagna and bake for another 10 minutes.