Project Weeknight: Kinda-Brazilianish Beans & Rice

Since I stopped posting regularly I've had a devil of a time keeping up with new recipes I've tried, what I've liked, changes I made, and so on. I tried a new dish tonight that worked out so well that my son declared that it's going into the regular dinner rotation. I can't let this one get away!

It came to me via my friend Matt's blog* (where he linked to this recipe.) It's one of those dishes that is many times greater than the sum of its parts. Simple, fast, and delicious, just the way I like it.

Pinto beans, which we know and love, and bacon combine to almost remind one of the classic canned bean & bacon soup, always a favorite. The rice, cooked pilaf-style with onion, is a nice surprise.

I can rarely make a recipe as written, and this was no exception. Since this was our main dish, I used more bacon than called for but drained off half the fat before adding the garlic. You could omit the oil altogether and just rely on the bacon grease. I doubled the beans and added some refried beans (hey, they're pintos too!) instead of the traditional spoon-mashing step. I also used pre-cooked brown rice* I had in the freezer instead of cooking white rice from scratch, and it worked out great.

But be sure to read through the original recipe so you get the idea of how it should be done, ok? Check out Matt's blog, too, because he and his wife Holli are hilarious, adorable, and amazing. And I'm not even related to them, so you know it's true.

Geez, it's already taken me almost as long to write this as it did to make it, so let's get to it already!
Kinda-Brazilianish Beans & Rice, aka Matt Beans
via The {UN}eventful Life, adapted from Authentic Brazilian Cuisine

Serves 2, with some beans leftover.

Brazilianish Rice

1 Tablespoon oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 cups pre-cooked brown rice, thawed if frozen
1/4 - 1/2 cup water
Salt to taste

Heat oil in non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook until it just starts to brown. Add rice, stir until heated through. Add water, bring to simmer. Reduce heat, partially cover, and cook (stirring occasionally) until water is absorbed. Remove from heat, cover, and set aside.

Brazilianish Beans

1 Tablespoon oil (opt.)
2 teaspoons (1-2 cloves) minced garlic
2 (thick) or 3 (thin) slices (uncooked) bacon, diced (or even more if you're so inclined)
2 cans pinto beans, rinsed well and drained
1/4 - 1/3 can refried (pinto) beans (opt.)
1/2 - 1 cup water
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in saucepan over medium heat, add bacon, and cook until almost done. Add garlic, cook another minute, then add pinto beans. You can mash some -- maybe 1/4? -- of the pintos with a spoon to thicken the dish, or you can add the refried beans. Add water, bring to a simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally, for at least 15 minutes, longer if you have time, to let the bacon-y essence permeate those beans. Add more water if necessary to keep it from scorching. The "gravy" should be at least as thick as heavy cream. Salt and pepper to taste.
I served it with completely un-traditional grated Monterey jack cheese and diced tomato. I'd have added avocado if I'd had one. We eat a lot of faux-Mexican so I knew these familiar touches would bring the dish squarely into my son's comfort zone. And it did!

* Oh yeah, about the rice: The amount of water you'll need depends on how 'cooked' your rice is. I make large batches of brown rice, portion it in two-cup bags, and stash them in the freezer. I use a straight 2:1 water:rice (brown rice usually calls for more water) so the rice grains are intact and are not clumpy at all, just barely done, I suppose. I used 1/2 cup of water in my pilaf and probably could have used more. If your rice is fully done and the grains are "blown-out" you may have to modify the pilaf-ing of it. Or just follow the original recipe. It's all good. Oh, so good.


Hold on to your hats: It's a mini-rant!

ATTENTION! I hereby decree that

If it calls for a can of 'cream of whatever' soup, it's not a recipe.

There, I said it. Been holding that one in for awhile.

This is pilfered from Linda @ Salty Seattle. She said "cake mix", but that's not nearly as bad as canned soup recipes. Not that they aren't tasty (I grew up on them and look how great I turned out!) but the nutrition is dismal enough to qualify as junk food. Serving a cake mix creation as the occasional dessert?* Eh, whatever. Serving 'cream of' crap as a source of nutrition? No.

(Special dispensation granted for Ides of Meatloaf, natch.)

But the larger issue, I think, is that I really am too old for browsing "Everything" Pinterest**. It takes all my will to not post self-righteous comments like "Cooking canned soup, chicken breast, and cream cheese in the crock pot for 8 hours doesn't turn it into food!" But that's another rant.

And that's why I'm here, sharing this with you, because if I scream it in my head one more time I might accidentally punch a random passer-by in the neck.

And... that's all I got.

* Speaking of dessert, here's a Weight Watchers-friendly mess I keep seeing on Pinterest: Box of cake mix, 20 oz Diet 7-up, top with Light Cool Whip. Food value? Bah, who needs it! Seriously, they'd be better off eating a spoonful of sugar. Worse, the alleged number of WW points is wrong by at least a factor of two. Also, here's a hint: If your cravings are strong enough to make this sound edible, maybe you ought to not FEED THEM.

** And if I see ONE MORE "smokey eye" pin... you do realize they all look EXACTLY the SAME, don't you?



I don't go to IKEA very often (it's over an hour away, and somehow it costs me $500 each time) but I freaking love the meatballs, so I've taken to buying a couple bags of them when I visit. First time I did I also picked up a pouch of their gravy mix... and lost it. So I have these meatballs cooking away, AND NO GRAVY! What to do?

Why, search the interwebs, of course.

It's taken a few iterations, but here's what I have settled on as my favorite version:

Close-enough Swedish Meatball Gravy
(cobbled together from various recipes)

NOTE: Technically you're supposed to de-glaze the pan the (from scratch) meatballs were cooked in with the stock but that hasn't happened yet at my house.

1/2 cup dairy*
(*half&half, cream, or most of a 5 oz can of evap. milk <-- what I use)
2 Tblsp flour
1 cup beef stock*
(*I use a cup of water with good-quality beef soup base, aka bouillon)
1 Tblsp soy sauce
 Salt & Pepper

(opt. step 0.) De-glaze the meatball pan with the stock. Ha.

Heat the stock to boiling, Add flour to dairy, whisk till blended. Add slurry and and soy sauce to stock, return to boil, and simmer till thickened. Add s&p to taste.

Soy sauce? Yes, soy sauce.  Believe it or not, it shows up in multiple "authentic" recipes I found. I have also discovered that I like the evaporated milk version the best. Besides, evaporated milk is the perfect emergency coffee creamer, so go get some right now. Some recipes add a little nutmeg. Seems like a good idea, but I haven't tried it yet.

Make up some boiled or mashed potatoes, crack open the jar of lingonberry jam,and you're good to go. If I'm feeling generous, I'll saute up some cabbage to stand in for a vegetable.



Mean-spirited observation of the day

So, does it really take a whole day to cook a couple of boneless chicken breasts in a can of "soup" and a block of cream cheese? In my universe, with the laws of physics as I understand them, it takes maybe 30-40 minutes, max. Sorry, but boiling that... amazing concoction for eight hours doesn't auto-magically turn it into "scratch" cooking. Your cat may have kittens in the oven, but it don't make 'em muffins.

I know of what I speak. I grew up on food like that. I cooked food like that for a couple of decades, back when we thought a white bagel bigger than your face was a good snack (apologies to my poor daughter) and Betty Crocker was a role model. But somewhere along the way I learned about sodium and the questionable-yet-pervasive practice we've developed of eating unpronounceable ingredients. I'm proof that a girl born and bred in the beige-food capital of the country can learn to cook real food (mostly) from scratch. A lazy girl, no less -- I do NOT enjoy spending hours in the kitchen, and I avoid it at all costs.

Seriously, it can be done. You don't have to take the word of a single crotchety old lady, either. There are lots of cool blogs written by hip young moms who are all over that shit.

Also, go watch Food, Inc.  Right now.


Bestest Leftover Soup

I keep forgetting to tell y'all about this: I discovered some while back that if you have, say, two cups of leftover Riso alla Pitoca and a quart or so of chicken stock, you can have a pretty damned amazing chicken and rice soup in a matter of moments. Who knew?

I'm sure it would work just as well with the Risotto di Zucca, or with any risotto, I suppose.

So there's your first tip of the year, and it's still January! Hope I can get some more out for you soon. It's been way too long, hasn't it?