Monday, July 27, 2009

Hard core soft drinks

So there's slow food, and then there's sloooooow food. The thing about slow food is, it takes time. Usually we're just talking clock time, as with a meatloaf. Right now I'm baking a "Yes, We're Out of Onions" meatloaf. I can tell you how it is in about an hour. Sometimes slow food stretches out into calendar time. The ambitious menus planned for holiday and party spreads require scheduling at least some of the food prep and cooking for days before the event.

Lately I'm getting into brewing soft drinks, which stretches into the weeks in prep time. Last week I invited a few select friends for a root beer float party. Rain kept some away, so we were an especially small and cozy group, sipping the frothy heads off homemade root beer poured over scoops of homemade vanilla bean ice cream.

Root beer takes a week, ice cream about an hour and a half. The root beer recipe is from my co-op's newsletter. Coincidentally, I am on the cover of this issue.

Root Beer

Source: River Valley Market newsletter, July 2009

Makes 4 liters. Note: Fermented with yeast—may have slight alcohol content.


1/4 oz dried sassafras root bark
1/4 oz dried birch bark
1/4 oz dried sarsaparilla root
1/8 oz dried licorice root
1" piece unpeeled thinly sliced fresh ginger
1 split vanilla bean
4 qts filtered water
2 cups molasses
1/8 tsp active dry yeast


  1. Place the herbs in a medium pot with 2 qts filtered water; bring to boil. Remove from heat, cover, and let steep for 2 hrs.
  2. Strain root-infused liquid through cheesecloth-lined sieve into a very clean plastic container. Discard solids.
  3. Add 2 qts filtered water, stir well, and let cool to 75 degrees.
  4. Wash four 1-liter plastic soda bottles with hot, soapy water. Rinse well and air-dry. (I bought new half-liter brown plastic bottles from the friendly neighborhood brewing supply company to use for my soft drink projects.)
  5. Stir molasses and yeast into root-infused liquid; cover and set aside to let ferment for 15 minutes.
  6. Using a funnel, pour into bottles, filling to within 2" of top but no higher. Screw lids on tightly; ferment at room temperature for 12 hrs. Chill 2-5 days. After 2 days, root beer will taste strongly of molasses; 5 days will yield a milder beverage.
  7. When ready to drink, open bottles very slowly, easing caps open little by little, to let any excess gas escape gradually.
  8. Serve over ice or with vanilla ice cream.

The foam from the root beer is sometimes of the delayed sort. The first bottle I opened and drank, I'd been sipping for at least a minute when it suddenly began gushing. I recommend you pour the beer into a glass for drinking. For root beer floats, put two or three scoops of vanilla bean ice cream into a glass, then slowly pour root beer over it. The combination of this particular root beer with vanilla ice cream is creamy and delicious.

The beer is mildly alcoholic, is slightly thicker than a commercial root beer, with a stronger molasses flavor. There is less of the spearmint flavor I usually associate with root beer. It tastes a little like a porter. I think the next time I make this, I will try using more of the first three ingredients, which smell to varying degrees like spearmint. That said, I'm pretty fond of this batch and have been drinking the rest of it steadily. I am saving one to trade with a friend later this week. She's made hard lemonade.

Vanilla Bean Ice Cream


2 cups milk
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 pint heavy cream
1 vanilla bean

Makes about 5 cups.


  1. Beat the egg in a large bowl until it begins to froth.
  2. Scrape the seeds from the inside of the vanilla bean, and add them with the sugar to the egg. Beat until the sugar dissolves.
  3. Add the milk and cream and beat until well mixed.
  4. Freeze ice cream in an ice cream maker, according to your product's manual.

My next brewing project is under way: ginger beer. I'm following the recipe in Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions, which calls for creating a ginger "bug," then brewing and fermenting for three weeks. I still have two weeks to go before I can say how it turns out.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Green eggs and ham: part of this complete breakfast

I just noticed that the colors in this breakfast are those traditionally used in Mardi Gras decoration: yellow, green, and purple. Also topical because Dr. Seuss' birthday is tomorrow.

This is the kind of breakfast I make for myself on a weekday, when I've got the whole morning to get ready for work, I'm full of energy, and don't have any chores waiting for me. Every morning, I share a pot of coffee with Kevin, and we both have fruit smoothies. Weekdays, he leaves for work with a container of oatmeal or some peanut butter toast to eat at mid-morning, and I'll often have the same, instead of or in addition to a couple of scrambled eggs. Not long ago, I put some herb butter in my morning scramble, and was so amused to have made green eggs that I bought some ham so I could make Green Eggs and Ham. I like them, Sam-I-Am.

The herb butter is a simple blend of equal parts parsley and cilantro, with a little garlic, salt, and pepper. Use two cups of fresh herbs like these, or a lot less of more potent herbs like rosemary, fresh citrus zest, or anything dried, with two cups of butter, blended in the food processor. If it's not moving smoothly in the food processor, add a little olive oil until it does. It keeps beautifully in the fridge, for more than a month, and goes on all kinds of things: plain rice or steamed vegetables, on chicken or fish, in eggs.

When my bananas get ripe, I peel the whole bunch and freeze them, for use in smoothies and baking. I use vanilla soymilk because we get it cheap in shelf-stable quart packages. Do not follow my poor environmental example on this. Use any kind of milk, but if it's unsweetened soymilk, add a teaspoon or more of sweetener, like maple syrup.


Serves 2

2 bananas, frozen
11 strawberries, hulled and frozen
½ cup frozen blueberries
1 cup yogurt
Cold milk to measure (about 2 cups)

Put the fruit and yogurt into a 5 cup capacity blender. Pour milk to the 16 oz line on the blender. Blend on the highest setting until the particles of blueberries are the size of coarsely ground pepper. Serve right away.

Green Eggs and Ham

Serves 2

4 eggs
2 oz diced ham
2 T herb butter
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat an iron skillet on high. Add the diced ham and toss while the skillet heats.
Beat the eggs with a little salt and pepper. When the skillet is hot, add the eggs, then the herb butter. Toss the eggs with the ham and herb butter gently until they are firm.

Sunday, February 15, 2009


Having a large and varied collection of homemade stocks in my freezer makes me feel warm and contented. It goes in sauces, soup, chili, and stews. When I want extra flavor, I use it in place of water for braising or steaming, reheating foods, and to cook beans or grains. It goes in risotto, in prodigious amounts. I can never have too much stock on hand. Someday when I learn to can, I will can my stock instead of freezing it. For now, I have a freezer full of quart Ziplock bags, labeled with a black Sharpie as to their contents and birthdate.

Stock is how to upgrade the water in a recipe. It's the way to get more beef flavor into beef stew than you get from the amount of beef in the recipe. It is the way to make chicken soup with twice the cold-killing power of chicken. In vegetarian dishes, roasted vegetable stock provides a powerhouse of umami, that meaty, rich, and satisfying fifth flavor, after salty, sweet, sour, and bitter. Stock is what bouillon wishes it could be.

lamb stock, refrigerated, shows how clearly it has gelled
I made a pot of chicken stock recently, not because I am low on chicken stock, but because I am rich in bones. Most of the chicken we eat, I buy whole and rotisserie or oven roast. If the whole chicken comes with a neck or any other organ meats, I save them. After carving off the breast meat, legs, and wings of a roasted chicken, I freeze the rest of the carcass, with the raw neck and organs, in a gallon Ziplock bag. When I have a quantity of chicken bits, and time to make it, I do. On a day such as this, when I'm off from work and have some cooking to do, I'll make a big batch of stock and stick around the house while it simmers, keeping it stirred and not boiling too hard. Maintaining a gentle simmer the whole time, not boiling, gives the stock a lighter, more delicate color and flavor, while rapid boiling can bring out bitter flavors.

When I have a quantity of some other kind of bones or scrap meat, I'll make a batch of stock. When I roasted a whole duck recently, I made some stock the same night, rather than wait for another duck to fall into my lap, and the last time I bought a pound of unpeeled shrimp for pad Thai, I did the same thing. Shrimp stock is the easiest: just shells and a little salt. For poultry, and meat stocks, I add bay leaf, sometimes a little thyme, lots of parsley, an onion, a couple carrots, and some celery or celeriac. Use the same for a fish stock, and keep white, mild fish bit for stock together, and stronger fish like salmon separate from both the milder fish and each other.

Livers are the only organs I don't put in stock, because they have a very strong, unstocklike flavor. I save these separately, and when I have a pint or more, I make a batch of chopped liver. I hear they're tasty wrapped in bacon and broiled, too. I might actually try this with duck bacon for Passover.

Roasted vegetable stock is made of a mixture that includes carrots, celery, potatoes, onions, mushrooms, and any other vegetables you want to use. You don't want to use a lot of cruciferous vegetables—broccoli, cabbage, and their relatives—because they make the stock strongly cabbage-y. Likewise, any very strong flavors, like sea vegetables, should be used sparingly. I don't include garlic in the recipe here; you can add it, it's best roasted, and keep the amounts small, as it can be an overpowering flavor. You can always add garlic and other strong flavors to the recipes you're using the stock in, but you can't take them out.

The vegetables I listed above are the ones I always use, and the rest depends on the season. I have made summer stock with eggplants and zucchini, winter stock with turnips and parsnips. Both kinds come out a rich brown from the caramelized vegetables. Wash them thoroughly, but don't bother to peel them, and only trim bad parts, not stems or dry parts, like outer layers of onions. Roast the vegetables, then use them to make stock with the fresh herbs and seasonings. You can add dried mushrooms to the stock, as well as the strained water in which you reconstitute the mushrooms.

The amounts of meaty bits and vegetable and water will always vary somewhat from batch to batch. As long as you use sensible ratios of meat and vegetables, herbs, and water, what you make will be better than water. Usually, I get as much stock out as I put in water, cup for cup.

All-Purpose Stock Recipe

The recipe may be doubled or halved. Make sure you have a big enough pot.

3-5 lbs of meaty bones: raw and/or previously cooked meat, bone, and connective tissue; or
a similar quantity of fish parts (heads, fins, tails, bones, skin) or scraps from shrimp (shells, legs, heads); or
a similar quantity of raw vegetables (see discussion above, particularly for shrimp and vegetable stock variations)

1-2 cups fresh parsley
2 roughly chopped, unpeeled yellow onions
2 ribs of celery or equivalent amount of celeriac
3-5 carrots
1 bay leaf (optional)
Few sprigs fresh thyme, oregano or marjoram (especially in meat stocks), or dill (in chicken or fish) (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Water to cover (about 2 quarts)

For vegetable stocks, follow these steps:
  1. Chop all of the vegetables including onion, celery, and carrots, into pieces of similar size. Toss the pieces in a large roasting pan with ¼ cup olive oil, 1 tsp salt, and ½ tsp pepper. Roast at 400 degrees F, tossing the vegetables every ten minutes, until deeply browned on most sides, about 40 minutes or longer, depending on how crowded the pan is and how small the vegetable pieces are.

  2. Remove the vegetables from the pan. Set the pan on the stove top and turn the burners on low. Pour a cup of wine into the pan—red or white is fine, the drier, the better— and gently scrape the carmelized bits off the bottom of the pan. Let the wine bubble for a few minutes and get all the good stuff, off the bottom and sides of the pan, dissolved into the wine. Turn off the heat and set this aside.
If you're using raw meaty bits, you may choose to roast them in much the same manner as the vegetables, above, including deglazing the pan.
  1. Put all of the ingredients in a very large stock pot, including liquid from deglazing the roasting pan, and water used to reconstitute dried mushrooms (if you use this, strain it well for sand before adding to the stock pot). The ingredients should not fill the pot more than about three-quarters of the way.

  2. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to maintain a very gentle simmer. Simmer the stock for as little as 30-45 minutes for very delicate matter like shrimp scraps and mild fish, a couple of hours for vegetable stock, or longer for meat, until flesh falls from bones and marrow cooks out of large bones. Do not overcook. Do not serve the boiled meat dressed as a salad or in soup, either: it's tasteless.

  3. Strain the stock through a colander into as many bowls as it takes, pressing down on the vegetables to release the liquid. Throw away the strained matter.

  4. Rinse the stock pot thoroughly. Strain the stock through a sieve, from the bowls back into the stock pot. Stir and taste for salt and pepper, adjusting the seasonings as desired.

  5. Let the stock cool thoroughly. You can remove excess fat from the top of cooled or (much easier) refrigerated stock, though this is not usually necessary. Stock will keep for several days in the refrigerator, or more than a year in the freezer. Fat will keep for a month in the fridge, more than a year in the freezer.
Tip: Store stock in the quantities you typically use. I store it in quarts for stews and risottos, and in cups for when I just need a little to braise or make a sauce.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Adventures in meat: eye round roast (beef)

I sent Kevin to a local farmer's meat market, with some vague instructions to get some meat. He got there a little late, so the supply was somewhat picked over, but he did get a nice big sirloin and some pork chops. He also brought me an eye round roast, which I've been playing with.

Eye round is not a great cut of meat. I've heard one customer talk enthusiastically about how tender this cut is, but this is a very relative statement to make. The "round," which is from the rear end, is not a tender piece of beef. Most round gets ground for burger. You can buy a bottom round roast or sometimes top round steaks, but you don't really want to roast or grill these: they are far too tough. Mark Bittman, in How to Cook Everything, is fairly dismissive of the round in general, and advises home cooks to stick with the classic steaks: the ribeye, the strip, the sirloin and tenderloin.

I hadn't yet consulted Bittman when I began making plans for the eye round. I thawed the roast and unwrapped it last night. The meat was very deeply red, almost purple, with very white fat. This is a good sign. I've come to expect this kind of color from grass-fed meat. The roast was also pretty lean, but not exceptionally so for this cut. Eye round is very lean.

I whacked off what I judged to be about a pound of the roast. A typical eye round is about five pounds. I sliced the pound into thin strips and marinated the beef in a mixture of tamari, sesame oil, and some sliced green onions. While the beef marinated, I peeled and sliced a turnip and a parsnip, and cut up two portobello mushrooms. I stir-fried the beef in some oil, garlic, and ginger, removed it, added the vegetables, added some mung bean sprouts left over from pad Thai earlier this week, and the rest of the bunch of green onions. It was fantastic.

Definitely, definitely marinate and thinly slice your eye round. It is not tender, but it is tasty. My plan for the next chunk of this roast is to marinate it for fajitas.

Beef Stir-Fry with Winter Vegetables

1 lb eye round beef (or other stir-fry beef), sliced into ½"-square strips, 3-4" long
½ cup tamari or soy sauce
¼ cup sesame oil
7-8 green onions, sliced into ¼" rounds
1 small turnip, sliced into ¼" sticks
1 large parsnip, sliced into ¼" sticks
2 portobello mushrooms, sliced into ½" pieces
2 cups mung bean sprouts
2 T garlic, minced
1 T ginger, minced
2 T canola oil

Marinate the strips of beef in a mixture of the tamari, sesame oil, and half the green onions for 30-60 minutes.

Heat a wok or heavy-bottomed pot on a high flame. Add the canola oil. When it is hot, add the garlic and ginger, then the beef. Stir-fry for a few minutes, until the beef is browned on all sides. Remove the beef to a bowl.

Add the turnip, parsnip, and mushrooms to the wok. Stir fry for several minutes until a piece of root vegetable is slightly soft on the outside, but still has a little bit of bite.

Return the beef to the wok and add the mung bean sprouts and the remaining green onion slices. Adjust tamari, or add salt and pepper to taste. Serve over rice.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Roman Hash and Roasted Butternut Squash with Onions

I made this for company last week, with roasted chicken and roasted butternuts with onions. Usually I make Roman hash in a large skillet on the stove, but I was making a lot of it, so I used a large roasting pan and made it in the oven. It worked so well that it is my new preferred method. I used the pan first to make the roasted butternuts with onions, then when they were done I started the chickens. I took the birds out after 20 minutes, let them rest while I made the Roman hash in a cooler oven, then finished the chickens at that temperature. As each of the vegetable dishes came out of the oven, I transferred them to smaller, oven-safe bowls. When the chickens were done, I let them rest before carving them, and meanwhile reheated the vegetables in the oven.

We call Roman hash that because in Deborah Madison's The Savory Way, she describes getting this dish from a Roman neighbor. It's good all year round, and a favorite of mine to pair with roast chicken. It also makes a satisfying main dish or meal. One of my dinner guests was a vegetarian, a fact that escaped me because he is also a cook who is interested in meat. He ate Roman hash and butternut squash and was happy.

Another guest asked for the butternut recipe. The secret ingredient that makes roasted butternut and onions so delicious is roasting time.

Roman Hash

(adapted from a recipe in The Savory Way by Deborah Madison)

The proportions of ingredients are not that important, hence the vague measurements. Try it with purple potatoes: the colors are very striking. Other kinds of hearty cooking greens are also good in place of collards. Sometimes I make a lighter version of this without potatoes or cheese.

1-2 lbs collards, cleaned and veined
2 cups small red potatoes
3-4 fresh or canned tomatoes, quartered
2-3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
3 tbsp olive oil
¼ tsp dried red pepper flakes
salt and freshly grated black pepper to taste
freshly grated dry, salty cheese like Parmesan or Romano

Boil the red potatoes whole in their jackets until tender, about 15 minutes. Let the potatoes cool enough to handle, then slice into quarter-inch slices.

Chop and steam the collards.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Preheat the pan in the oven, add the red pepper and olive oil, let warm in oven for a few minutes.

Add the boiled, sliced potatoes, tossing them in the warm oil, and let roast for ten minutes. Turn the potatoes and bake for another ten minutes.

Add the garlic, greens, and tomatoes, tossing the mixture, and bake for another 10-15 minutes.

Salt and pepper to taste. Serve topped with grated Parmesan cheese if desired.

Roasted Butternut Squash with Onions

This is loosely based on an old Jewish-Italian "suffocated squash" recipe. It is very sweet: sometimes I make little Middle Eastern-style phyllo pies full of this mixture, and they're like fruit turnovers.

You can double this, but do not fill your roasting pan more than half full, or you will get steamed, mushy squash that takes forever to dry out and roast.

1 large butternut squash
2 yellow onions
¼ cup olive oil
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Peel the butternut squash and remove the seeds. (A melon baller is a handy tool for removing the seeds and goo from the inside of a hard squash.) Thinly slice the squash.

Peel and thinly slice the onions. Toss the squash and onions together with the oil, salt, and pepper, in a large roasting pan.

Roast for 15-20 minutes, then carefully flip all of the squash and onions over. Keep roasting and turning the mixture every ten minutes. Eventually the squash slices will soften and break. It is not important to try to keep the squash intact. It is important to move the vegetables at the corners of the pan into the center, rotating their location so you don't get burnt vegetables at the corners of the pan, and it all roasts more or less evenly. Keep roasting and turning until there are many warm, caramel brown places on the onions and squash, and nothing has burned yet, about an hour.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Stuffed cabbage

stuffed cabbage, before stewing

I got the camera and the crock pot both working. The camera is designed to be a point-and-shoot, which is perfect for me: I like my gadgets simple. My elderly PC took an hour or so to gingerly shake hands with it, and receive its photographic lode. The crock pot is point-and-simmer.

These cabbage rolls are the first dish I've made in this crock pot. They seemed like a safe dish to start with, because they are assembled from fully cooked ingredients. The long stewing in a crock pot allows the cooked grain to absorb flavors from the stewing liquid, the stuffing ingredients to marry, and the cabbage to become tender.

In crock pot speak, "low" is really quite low. I never saw the liquid bubble, though there was steam condensed under the glass lid. I think of this as a "feature" of the crock pot: that it will tenderly stew everything, without burning it onto the bottom or sides, for as long as it takes to render tough meat or vegetables meltingly tender. After two hours, Kevin checked the pot and decided they needed more time, making an executive decision in my absence, and finally stewed the already fully cooked cabbage rolls for four and a half hours. It seems unlikely that I'll overcook anything, at least on "low."

When I make something like this again, I will make sure to cover everything completely with liquid: cabbage at the top of the pot never got as tender as what cooked fully submerged in liquid.

To make this dish, I cored and steamed a head of cabbage: about ten minutes of steam was enough to make the leaves pliable. While the cabbage cooled, I browned two pounds of ground lamb, and sautéed some onion, combining those in a large bowl with a quart of cooked brown rice (left over from dinner the other night), more caramelized onions (that I browned the other day with the idea that I'd think of something to put them in), salt, pepper, and a little chopped parsley. Start with two teaspoons of salt for four cups of cooked grain, and adjust to taste.

I peeled the outermost leaf from the head of cabbage, which formed a shallow cup, and filled it with about a quarter cup of the lamb and rice mixture. If I didn't overstuff it, I could fold four corners of the leaf over to close the cabbage roll. It's nice if they stay together, but not the end of the world if they fall open. I used half the head of cabbage before I ran out of stuffing.

I put a quart of lamb ragù into the crock pot, and gently laid each cabbage roll into the sauce after I made it. When I was done, the pot was nearly full. Some of the rolls were above sauce level, so I added a couple of cups of duck stock (the last of it) to top things off.

crock pot full of cabbage rolls and tomato sauce, the remainder of a steamed cabbage, and a stuffed cabbage leaf

I stewed them in the crock pot on "low" for 4.5 hours, during which the cooked rice absorbed almost all of the liquid in the pot, leaving about a cup of rich tomato paste at the bottom.

stuffed cabbage, cooked

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Stews, with interludes of roast meat

"Honey, it's going to be stews, with interludes of roast meat, from here through to spring," I told Kevin, and he responded with a groan of pleasure. Stew and anything that starts with meat are popular around here. I like to make a pot of stew and eat on it for a few days. Success is any stew that doesn't overstay its welcome. Black-eyed peas were a recent stew, and I would say that thanks to the generous amount of bacon in them, they did not overstay their welcome with me, but just barely. I should have warned you in my last post that a pound of dried beans makes a lot of cooked beans. Generally, you'll get about four cups of cooked beans from a cup of dried, and two cups of cooked make a good meal. Laurel's Kitchen has whole pages of tables, including dried-to-cooked volume conversions. I have the old version of this classic American vegetarian cookbook, which was handed down to me from a friend, and a tattered, re-taped, and flour-enriched paperback volume it is, as I refer to it each time I make bread.

After black-eyed peas was a barley lentil stew with carrots and spinach, also a success. I made more than a gallon of it, flavored with a little over a pound of andouille, most of a fresh batch of duck stock, and an ounce or so of fresh basil. I used more of the duck stock tonight in roasting a turkey breast that I had in the freezer from Thanksgiving. We didn't have anyone over last year, but had ordered this big local turkey, so I butchered it and cooked it in pieces. I made stock from the largest part of the carcass, and the legs ended up in a cacciatore. On Thanksgiving Kevin grilled half the breast that I'd wet-brined, and tonight I honey-glazed and oven-roasted the other half for sandwiches: half a boneless breast, roasted at 450°F takes about half an hour for a meat thermometer to read 160°F internally.

We ate the turkey this evening with bacon, avocado, and mayo on whole wheat toast, and sides of oven-roasted curried sweet potato fries. Oven-roasting does not give the same crispy exterior as deep frying, but soft, sweet fries with chewy roasted bits are pretty good, too. To make the fries, I scrubbed and sliced three very big sweet potatoes, tossed them with about half a cup of olive oil and a tablespoon of curry powder, then roasted them in the same 450° oven as the turkey breast, turning them every ten minutes until they were totally soft through, and beginning to brown on some sides. I let them roast for about half an hour, and could have roasted them longer to get them crispier, but the turkey and bacon were ready.

I have two recent acquisitions, both sure to make appearances here. One is a digital camera, a simple point-and-shoot model from Kodak that I intend to use mainly for taking pictures of food I cook. The other is a five-quart programmable crock pot. I'm planning to break both in on a batch of cabbage rolls. The local version of this dish is known as galumpkes, is stuffed with beef and rice, and is simmered in tomato juice or puree. My cabbage rolls will be made of lamb and rice, and simmered in a lamb ragù from my freezer.

I missed the last local meat sale at our winter farm share location, but there's another coming up, and I hope to stock up on roasts, and to get some bone-in, for making more stock and sauce. We're also expecting another local lamb this month, so hopefully I have a big stash of stock bones coming. I don't know why quart freezer bags full of meat stocks and sauces filling my freezer give me such a warm feeling of food security, but they do.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Black-eyed peas

I lived in the South for many years, and there's a tradition there of eating black-eyed peas on New Year's Day. So I'm told, each pea eaten will give you a day of good luck in the new year. Every year on January first, I make a big pot of them.

I don't follow a recipe so much as a method, this being a dish I learned at my former mother-in-law's elbow. She never follows a recipe, eyeballs every measure. The amounts in this recipe are highly approximate: as long as you follow the instructions, the amounts are not so important.

Usually I would soak my peas overnight in plain water, as I would with any dried bean, but I forgot to put them on to soak on New Year's Eve, so I started with unsoaked beans. Even cramming the pot full of unsoaked beans, the method likely to cook slowest, they didn't take longer than two hours to soften. Soaking overnight might take half an hour off your cooking time.

You can cook black-eyed peas (or any dried bean) in water, or stock, or a combination. Most kinds of stock are fine, though I've never tried a fish stock. Yesterday's peas were cooked in equal parts of chicken, turkey, and roasted vegetable stock. The onions, garlic, and bay leaf are important, and I would say the bacon is essential for the traditional flavor, but this can be made as a vegan dish. Roasted vegetable stock provides lots of deep, caramelized vegetable flavor that substitute for the sweet and smoky flavors of bacon.

If you use meat in your beans for flavor, the amount and type is also variable. You could use pork hocks, duck bacon, turkey sausage, beef bones, kielbasa, or whatever meaty thing you like to use to flavor your food.

Black-eyed peas

1-2 lbs dried black-eyed peas, washed thoroughly and picked over
8-14 cups water, meat and/or vegetable stock, or a combination
1/4 - 3/4 lbs bacon, diced
1-2 bay leaves
2 onions, diced
1/2 bulb of garlic, roughly chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

To shorten the cooking time, soak the peas overnight in a generous amount of plain cold water, then drain and proceed.

In a large, heavy pot, cover the black-eyed peas with about three times their volume of water and/or stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to maintain a very slow boil. Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer until the peas are tender, 1-2 hours.

If the beans have very little liquid in them before they are tender, add more water or stock. If there is too much liquid, raise the heat and allow it to boil gently, uncovered, until the liquid is reduced.

Salt and pepper to taste before serving. Serve the peas and their juices over rice or cornbread, with a generous helping of cooked greens.