Joy of Cooking: Classic Bean Burritos

My first recipe for the Cookbook Challenge is from Joy of Cooking, The Classic Bean Burrito. I love Mexican food. I love Tex-Mex food. I love anything spicy.  This was right up my alley.

The only change that I made to this recipe was that I reduced the quantity a little bit.

The first step in making these burritos is preparing the refried beans. The Classic Bean Burrito recipe directed me to another recipe in the book for Refried Beans. The book calls for 4 cups of cooked black beans including their cooking liquid. Earlier in the day I had cooked a pot of black beans but ended up with only 3 cups of beans and liquid. So I cut the recipe by about a quarter. That will effect the number of burritos that we end up with.

3 Cups of Cooked Black Beans – Still warm from the crock pot

To make the refried beans, heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add one medium white onion and saute until it is a deep brown. I a gigantic white onion, so I used about half of it.

Onions Sauteing – Not yet deep brown

When the onion is browned add 3 cloves of garlic. Cook for another minute, being careful not to burn the garlic.

It is easier to mash the beans if they are warm. My black beans were still warm from the cooking process. Into the onion mixture, stir in, one cup at a time of beans. Mash each addition as you go using a potato masher making the puree as coarse or as smooth as you like. When all the beans are added and mashed, add 3/4 cup of cooking liquid or water.

Cook over medium low heat until the beans are just a little soupier than you like them. They will thicken up as they cool a bit. Be careful to keep the heat low and stir often. The mashed beans have a tendency to plop and splatter.

Refried Black Beans

Apologies – there is just no way to photograph black beans and make them look appealing!

Now we can make the Classic Bean Burritos:

The recipe calls for 8 flour tortillas. But I had cut the bean recipe by a quarter, so I only needed 6 flour tortillas. I bought the burrito sized tortillas at my store. I looked for whole wheat, but sadly my store was out of those. They have the advantage of whole grain and they provide a little more fiber.  Wrap the tortillas in foil and put them in a 350 degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes while you prepare the other ingredients.

Grate 1 and 1/2 cups of Monterrey Jack Cheese and 1/2 cup of Cheddar Cheese. Mince 1/2 cup onions. Mince jalapeno or other pepper according to your taste. You can test a little bit of the pepper on your tongue to see how hot it is. I have found that jalapenos  vary greatly in their heat.

I set up an assembly line of burrito ingredients.

Bean Burrito Assembly Line – beans, cheese, onions and peppers

Working with one warm tortilla at a time, spoon about a half cup of the Refried Beans, sprinkle with cheese, onions and peppers. Roll into a burrito…tuck the sides as you roll from the bottom. It takes a little bit of practice to get that just right. Lay the rolled burrito on a foil lined baking sheet.

Burritos rolled and ready for the oven

Pop the burritos into a 350 degree oven for 5 minutes or until they look slightly browned. This will melt the cheese. I sprayed my burritos with a little bit of olive oil. The recipe didn’t call for this but my tortillas were slightly past fresh. I wanted to make sure that they wouldn’t crack or split during the cooking process.

Cooked Burritos – slightly browner, but warm and melty inside

Serve with sour cream and minced chives. I also served some good fresh salsa. Some guacamole would have been nice too.

We ate two of these Classic Bean Burritos for our dinner. I decided that I would freeze the rest. I had got that idea from Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food. I wrapped the burritos individually in plastic wrap. When your are ready to eat them, remove from wrap and pop them into the microwave. Having those it the freezer is really great. Whenever I need a quick meal or snack, I’m ready to go. According to Martha, they will keep in the freezer for up to 3 months.

The Verdict –  The Classic Bean Burrito is delicious! The refried beans were wonderful; much better than anything you would get from a can. The texture and flavor was superior. The burritos were a snap to make. In fact, the refried beans were the most time consuming part of the process. The burritos tasted great. They were fun to eat. It’s a winner.

The tortillas that I purchased were not as fresh as I think they should have been. But that was my fault – not the recipe. So that is an important take away – get really fresh tortillas!

Also, I think it would be better to warm the tortillas in the microwave rather than in the oven. My experience is that they dry out less that way. Just wrap tortillas in a clean kitchen towel, microwave on high for 15 – 20 seconds per tortilla (or until the are pliable but not tough). I would work in groups of one or two tortillas so as not overcook them.

If I made these again, I would use a little less cheese and I might use more Cheddar than Monterry Jack. That’s just a personal preference.

I was making every effort to follow the recipe exactly but I think that this recipe easily lends itself to lots of variations. Pinto beans would be a great option. You could layer some grilled vegetables in the burrito. Meat eaters could add some cooked chicken or beef. You could top the burritos with red or green chili sauce as you would eat them in New Mexico. There are lots of opportunities to make this recipe your own.

I will definitely make this recipe again. Joy of Cooking really came through on this one!

On The Road With Beans and Grains

It’s been almost two weeks since I posted last. Husband and I are on an extended vacation in our 27′ travel trailer. We left home on May 28 and won’t return until the middle of July. We are spending the month of June in a gorgeous National Forest Campground just North of Durango, Colorado. This is the third year in a row that we have made this trip.

Haviland Lake National Forest Campground

So how does one enjoy beans and grains in a travel trailer at an elevation of 8500 feet above sea level? There are some challenges!

The first problem is the elevation. I have never successfully cooked beans at high elevation. I assume that there are people who can do it – but I am not one of them. So most of the beans that I enjoy during the month of June will either be from a can or eaten at a restaurant. The elevation does not seem to be an issue when cooking grains. So I can prepare whole grains to my hearts content, with a few caveats.

Our trailer has a “full kitchen”. It has all of the same appliances as my kitchen at home but they are smaller. We have a refrigerator, stove top, oven and microwave. In addition to that we brought along a toaster oven, a small crock pot and we have an outdoor gas grill.

I should tell you that my crock pot is really small. It holds 6 cups or one and a half quarts. That is the perfect size for us. It leaves us just the right amount of leftovers. I got mine at our grocery store for less than $10. You can get a similar one at Amazon. It is the Proctor Silex 1/2-Quart Round Slow Cooker.

We almost never use the oven in our trailer. It just generates too much heat in this small space. If we turn on the oven for even a few minutes, the whole trailer gets uncomfortably hot even on the coldest days. The stove top creates a similar problem though to a lesser degree. We do use it for quick jobs like scrambling an egg but we try to avoid using it to boil a pot of pasta. Too much heat! So most of our cooking is done in the microwave, the toaster oven, the crock pot or on the outside grill.

Cooking a big pot of whole grains on the stove top would be problematic. But I think I have a way around this! I have an idea that I can cook many types of grains in my crock pot. I did some research ahead of time. I have some recipes in hand. I will be experimenting with that.

Vegetable Barley Soup –  My first run at cooking grains on the road, was to prepare a crock pot full of vegetable barley soup. I am on record as loving soup. I think it is a perfect meal to have on hand. You can just heat it up, serve it with a salad and some bread or crackers. You are in business.

Barley Soup, Good Bread, and Condiments

This was a refrigerator soup…I just used whatever I had in the fridge. I cut up a zucchini, a small new potatot, and some celery and carrots. I added those to my small crock pot along with a quarter cup of barley and enough water to fill the crock pot 2/3 full. I let that cook on high for 3 hours. By that time everything was very tender. I added a half can of crushed tomatoes, oregano and paprika.  We ate that with a salad, some grilled bread, Louisiana Hot Sauce and some pesto from a tube for a bit of additional flavor. Very delicious. Very satisfying. And the little crock pot cooked the soup nicely without heating things up at all!

Hobo Packs – Daughter is grown now but in her youth she went away every summer to Camp Champions in Marble Falls, TX. She loved camp. She loved everything about it. She loved it so much that she went on to be a camp counselor while in college and later she worked for the camp as a staff member. One of the many things she learned at camp was to make Hobo Packs. This has become a real favorite at our house.

A Hobo Pack is nothing more than a foil packet that is stuffed with all the the things you like and the thrown on a hot grill. Cooking times vary of course. It is as much an art as a science.  A Hobo Pack is great anytime because it is quick and easy to prepare and the clean-up is a breeze. You can find a lot of recipe ideas at the Reynolds Wrap website.

I decided to make Hobo Pack enchiladas. I had a packet of Green Chili Enchilada Sauce from Frontera Grill, corn tortillas, canned black beans, chopped zucchini, grated cheese, a large sheet of heavy duty foil and I hot grill. It’s almost that easy!

Ingredients for Hobo Pack Enchiladas

I used a piece of heavy duty foil (or you could double up on regular foil) that was sprayed with Pam. On the bottom of the stack I put a small dollop of enchilada sauce. Then I layered a corn tortilla, drained black beans, chopped zucchini, a nice sprinkling of cheese and some more sauce.

Layering the Enchilada Hobo Pack

I reapeated that layer one more time and then topped with one last tortilla and enchilada sauce to cover. Tightly seal the foil packet. You don’t want it to leak!

Ready for the Grill

I put the packet on a screaming hot gas grill. It temperature gauge said that it was 500 degrees. Husband was cooking some chicken at the same time so he very kindly put up a “foil bridge”. Chicken makes me gag so he tries to keep it from splattering on my packet. Husband is very thoughtful!

Keeping my foil pack away from Husband's chicken!

It just needed to cook long enough got the zucchini to get tender, the cheese to melt and the flavors to come together. I cooked mine for about 15 minutes. Then I opened up the packet, sprinkled additional cheese on top, set it back on the grill for the cheese to melt.

Melted Cheese on Top

I served that with a salad of iceberg lettuce and radishes. I topped it off with some sour cream and had lots of salsa on the side. This was delicious! It was such a quick and easy way to make enchiladas! I can think of lots of variations on this meal; different sauce, different beans, more vegetables, shredded beef or chicken, etc. We will make this again. And again. And again.

So Delicious! The photo does not do it justice!


Rice in the Slow Cooker – My first attempt at making a pot of grains in the crock pot was with white rice. OK – I know you aren’t supposed to eat white rice. It’s brown rice all the way. But I like white rice. Husband likes white rice.  I find it easier to cook than brown rice. It seemed like a good place to start experimenting with grains in the slow cooker.

I don’t have any photos of this so you will have to take my word for it. I wanted to make something creamy and comforting so I used a can of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup.  Here is my recipe:

  • One can of Cream of Mushroom Soup into the crock pot
  • Fill the empty soup can with water and pour that in the crock pot
  • Now fill the empty soup can with rice and put that in the crock pot
  • Add some chopped green chilies if desired
  • Stir to combine
  • Turn the crock pot on high
  • Check after an hour – give it a stir.
  • Mine was done in about an hour and 45 minutes but I found recipes that said it might take as long as 3 hours.

This is a fantastic way to make rice on the trailer. It didn’t create any significant heat. It was creamy and delicious. And I could get it started and then go off and do fun things for a while.

I am very happy that I know this recipe. It is a good addition to my list of go-to’s!

Living Out of My Pantry – Days Eight and Nine

I am past the half way mark now. My urge to go to the grocery store is almost overwhelming. But for now I am comforting myself with preparing a grocery list. That’s pretty satisfying!

Day Eight – For dinner I made a meal that few people other than me would actually want to eat. But this is one of my favorite things. Cabbage sauteed with onions and Rotel. I love cabbage. I don’t know many folks who share my love of cabbage. Fortunately I started off this project with a whole head of cabbage on hand. Lucky!

I also love Rotel.

I try to always have a can of Rotel in my pantry. I believe that almost everything is improved by Rotel.

This could not be simpler to prepare. I used a quarter of a head of cabbage and sliced that fairly thin, and sauteed the cabbage and with some onion in olive oil.

Sauteing Cabbage and Onions

When the cabbage is wilted, pour in a can of Rotel – juice and all – and let that simmer for 5 or 10 minutes. If it gets dry, add a little water. It should be juicy!

Cabbage and Rotel - Yum

I usually eat this mixture over penne pasta but in this case I decided to use a whole grain. I had a bag of mixed 5 grain; farro, barley, brown rice, kamut and oats.

Quick Cooking 5 Grain Mix

I cooked this according to the package directions. It took about 20 minutes start to finish. My store sells this as a Store Brand so I doubt that it is widely available. You might look for something like it. It is low in calories, high in fiber, protein and nutrients. It is a little pricey but it tastes good, it’s healthy and it’s quick to prepare. The trifecta.

A Pot of 5 Grain Mix

This cooks up in very distinct grains. It isn’t at all mushy.

I was afraid that without pasta, I might not enjoy my cabbage quite as much. But it was great. The whole grains were tasty and a bit chewy. They were an excellent accompaniment to this dish. I ate it with just a little Parmesan cheese grated on top. I ate every last bite of that cabbage.

One of My Favorite Meals - Cabbage and Rotel

Husband passed on this meal. He does not share my love of cabbage!

Day Nine – I am really trying to be inventive about using up the perishable items that are currently available to me. After a quick inventory of my refrigerator, the two items that were nearing the end of their shelf life were coconut milk (opened that can on Day Two ) and the rest of the butternut squash (also Day Two)

I made a spicy black bean soup with butternut squash and coconut milk. This is a recipe that I improvised, combining ideas and ingredients from several other recipes.

I cut the remaining squash into small cubes, yielding about 2 cups.

The Last of the Butternut Squash

I tossed the squash in a bit of olive oil and but it on a foil lined baking sheet. I roasted the squash for about 20 minutes at 400 degrees. It was slightly browned and quite tender.

Meanwhile, I cooked a cup of dried black beans with some chopped onion and 2 dried chipotle peppers in my small slow cooker. When the beans were tender I let them cool. In my new Vitamix blender, I pureed the beans, the chipotle chilies, the squash and a half cup of coconut milk. This turned into a beautifully pureed soup. I returned the soup to the slow cooker and let it simmer until dinner was ready. Just before serving, I added the juice of one lime to add a bright fresh note.

A Delicious But Homely Pot of Black Bean Soup

There is just no way to make black bean soup look pretty. Sorry!

To go with this very flavorful and spicy soup, I made a 5 Grain Waldorf Salad.

Some of the Ingredients for 5 Grain Waldorf Salad

I combined chopped celery, apple and toasted walnuts with raisins and leftover 5 Grain mix. I topped that with a simple vinaigrette of olive oil, apple cider vinegar, honey and fresh lemon juice. The result was sweet and tart.

Really Good 5 Grain Waldorf Salad

This salad was spectacular. I can’t go on enough about how good this tasted. The grains were chewy. The apples and celery were crunchy. Nutty. Tart. Sweet. This salad really had it going on. Husband and I both loved this salad. It’s a keeper.

Dinner - Spicy Soup, Cooling Salad

The soup was spicy and full of flavor. The salad was fresh and refreshing. This was good combination and a great pantry meal!

Farro Four Ways

When I look back over my posts, I see a trend. I think that it is fair to say that I love beans. I am very comfortable making beans in every way, shape and form. But it seems like grains create a little more problem for me.  When it comes to grains, I am most comfortable with that old favorite – rice.

Cooking grains seems a little more awkward. Figuring out what to do with grains takes a little more effort. Husband isn’t a big fan of the more adventurous grains. I simply don’t have as much experience with grains. But I know that whole grains are a valuable part of a healthy diet. I know that there are a wide variety of grains available. It’s time that I take the bull by the horns (or the grains by the husk) and up my comfort level with them.

Farro seems like a good starting place. I have cooked it before. We like it pretty well. Let’s give it another whirl. I made farro four ways. I did it in four consecutive days, but that isn’t completely necessary!

I started with a bag of Italian Pearled Farro packaged by Nature’s Earthly Grains.


Pearled farro has had part of the outer husk so that it cooks more quickly. It was the only farro I could find in my store, so that’s what I got. A quarter cup  of farro has 170 calories, 5 grams of fiber, 7 grams of protein and a single gram of fat. So here is what I came up with:

Day One – Roasted Salsa Farro Salad.  I think that I invented this recipe But it’s possible that I have seen something like it in a cookbook. I love salsa. Daughter and I like Mexican food, but we always say that it is just a vehicle to get salsa into your mouth. That’s how much we love salsa.  So I took all the components of my favorite roasted salsa and made a salad out of it.

I had already cooked a batch of farro according to the package directions, and had that at the ready.

Ingredients for Roasted Salsa Farro Salad


I started with one really big jalapeno, some green onions and some cherry tomatoes. I coated the jalapeno and the onions with some olive oil. I put the cherry tomatoes in a small dish that can withstand very high temperatures and doused them with some olive oil. Then I got my gas grill screaming hot. I put the vegetables on the grill and got them nicely charred. The green onions cooked really fast. The jalapeno was done next. And the tomatoes took a few minutes to pop and sizzle. They never really got the char that I hoped for.

Ingredients After Some Time on the Grill


After letting everything cool a bit, I skinned and chopped the jalapeno. I chopped the onions (discarding some of the ends that got a little burned!). To a cup of  cooked farro, I added the chopped vegetables, all of the roasted cherry tomatoes, some chopped cilantro, a good squeeze of lime and a bit of olive oil. At the last minute I decided to throw in a handful of corn, for color and sweetness.

Roasted Salsa Farro Salad


This was delicious. The grilled/roasted vegetables added so much flavor. The sweetness of the corn was a great addition. I didn’t expect husband to go for this but he actually went back for thirds. I served this as a warm side-dish salad with some cooked black beans. Husband had a piece of grilled chicken as well. And of course, I served some salsa along with it!

Dinner! Farro Salad and Black Beans


Day Two – Sweet, Spicy Breakfast Farro with Apples and Almonds. I got this recipe from the Nature’s Earthly Choice website. And then of course, I made a few changes to it!

To make a single serving of breakfast farro, I used a quarter cup uncooked farro, half an apple, 1/4 tsp. cinnamon, a pinch of cardamom, a pinch of cayenne, lemon juice and grated ginger.

Breakfast Farro Ingredients


So I cut the apple into small dice and sauteed that in a saucepan for a few minutes with a bit of olive oil. Then I added the all the other ingredients along with 3/4 cup of water.

I let that cook partially covered for about 20 minutes. I wanted the farro to be on the soft side. When it was done, I topped it with the almonds and raisins. Next time I might just cook the raisins in with the other ingredients so that they plump better. I also used a bit of agave syrup to sweeten it. It didn’t need much though.

Sweet and Spicy Breakfast Farro


This was very flavorful. The cayenne gave it a little bit of a bite. The other flavors made me think of chai. My breakfast farro was more apple than farro. But the cooked apple tasted delicious. You could easily increase the recipe to serve more people or retain leftovers in the refrigerator and microwave it for breakfast later in the week.

Unlike oatmeal, farro is not porridge like. The grains are very separate. That is a textural difference that I will have to get used to. Nonetheless, this was very tasty. I would make this again.

Day Three – Farro Stuffed Peppers. Husband doesn’t eat stuffed peppers. They don’t agree with him. But I love them, so several times each year, I make a batch for myself.

I started with two lovely, fresh, bell peppers. I find the red, yellow and orange peppers, to be a bit milder than the green peppers, but I love them all.

Beautiful Bell Peppers


I used some of my pre-cooked farro to make a stuffing. In a skillet, I sauteed, onions and garlic with olive oil, then added a cup of farro, raisins and almonds. Before I stuffed the peppers, I decided that it would be a good idea to add a little cheese to the stuffing mixture. I thought that might help it hold together. I grated about a 1/2 cup of mozzarella and cheddar. I added some of that to the stuffing mix and reserved some to put on top at the end.

Farro Stuffing for Stuffed Peppers


I cut the peppers in half lengthwise. Some people just cut the top off the pepper and stuff it that way. But I like a high ratio of stuffing to pepper and I find that is best accomplished with the lengthwise cut. I put the stuffed peppers into a baking dish. I poured marinara all around the sides of the peppers. I used about 2 cups of marinara, but I like things to be saucy. I used some homemade marinara, but a favorite store bought would be just as good.

Peppers Stuffed, Ready for Tomato Sauce and the Oven


I covered the peppers with foil and cooked them in a hot oven (400 degrees) for 55 minutes. I like my peppers to get well cooked. At the end of that time, I removed the foil. I felt like the marinara was getting a little too dry and thick, so I added about a half cup of water to keep everything moist. I also topped the peppers with the remaining cheese. I put that back in the oven for about 15 minutes

I would show you a picture of the cooked peppers, but there is just no way to get an appealing picture of stuffed peppers in the baking dish.  But I do have a picture of one of the peppers ready to eat. Even still, it tasted better that it looked. The farro was a great stuffing. It was mild and delicious and it worked well in this dish.

Stuffed Pepper and Salad for Supper


Day Four – Luccan Farro Soup. Apparently Lucca is a town in Tuscany. And this farro soup is a specialty of the that town. I had one recipe by Maria Batali and another by Mark Bittman. They were very similar. But in the end I followed Bittman’s recipe more closely.  Mario Batali’s recipe called for peas. I had a bad 2nd grade experience with peas, and lo these many years later, I can barely face a green pea!

This is a bean and grain soup, calling for farro and white beans. I used Navy Beans.

Navy Beans and Farro


The soup is very simple to make. It starts with onions, celery and carrots. To my surprise, I didn’t have an onion. So I used the 3 green onions that I had on hand.

Chopped Vegetables


I sauteed the vegetables in a very large Dutch oven along with some olive oil.

Vegetables Sauteeing


When the vegetables were soft, I added two cloves of chopped garlic and sauteed that briefly. Then  I added 1 cup of navy beans that had been soaked for several hours along with 6 cups of water. Bittman calls for chicken broth but water worked fine for me. At this point I was supposed to add the farro as well. But I decided not to, because I had pearled farro. The pearled farro just didn’t need as much cooking time as the beans.

Beans Getting Tender


When the beans were tender, I added a cup of uncooked farro, salt, pepper, and one 14 oz can of whole tomatoes that had been well chopped, along with their juice. I let this cook for about 30 minutes. I took it off the heat and let it sit covered for another half hour. At the end of that time the both the beans and the farro were deliciously tender.

Luccan Farro Soup


I served this soup with some homemade whole wheat bread. We put a wedge of Parmesan cheese on the table to grate liberally on our soup.

Soup, Bread and Cheese


This is a very large batch of soup. Husband and I both enjoyed it. Enough to eat it as leftovers the next day. Husband described it as delicious and hearty. It would make a great cold weather soup.

Next time I make this soup, I think I will add some kind of green towards the end of cooking. I think that some spinach or chard would have been a nice addition.

Farro – what’s the verdict? Farro is  good. It has a nice large grain. It can be a little chewy but the texture is not off-putting. The flavor is mild. I enjoyed every sinlge dish that I made with this grain. I am still working on my comfort level with grains, but my four days of farro were a great start.


The Great Bean Challenge: A Taste Test

Last week, I assembled all available family members for a bean taste test. At issue, do heirloom beans really taste better than ordinary, store bought beans?

Rancho Gordo Beans - Cute Packaging!

I purchased heirloom beans from Rancho Gordo. I got a pound each of garbanzo beans, pinto beans and black beans. Rancho Gordo has many more interesting and exotic beans, but I choose bean varieties that I could also get at the the supermarket. The Rancho Gordo beans cost $5.50 a pound. I ordered them online. They arrived in about 5 days.

I went to my local grocery and purchased a one pound bag of their store brand, of the same 3 varieties of beans. The prices ranged from 89 cents for a pound of pinto beans , 99 cents for black beans and $1.19 for the garbanzos.

Store Brand Beans

As you can see there is a pretty big price differential between the heirloom beans and the store bought. I did pay some shipping on the Rancho Gordo beans. And I did have to wait a few days to receive them.

Beans ready to soak. Store brand up top, Rancho Gordo below

While I do not have a particularly scientific mind, I did try to be as scientific as possible in the conduct of the taste test.  Family would test, side by side, heirloom vs. store bought of each variety.

I cooked all the beans simply and in exactly the same manner. I used 1/2 cup of each dried bean. I soaked them overnight in fresh tap water. In the morning I drained the beans, set them to cook in 3 cups of water with no seasonings.   I checked the beans frequently for doneness. As soon as they were tender, I added 1/2 teaspoon of Kosher salt to the pot. I didn’t add any other seasonings as I wanted that pure bean flavor to shine through.

With the exception of the pinto beans, cooking times between the heirloom and the store bought did vary somewhat. To my surprise the heirlooms took a bit longer to cook than did the store bought. I am going to say that this result was un-scientific because I had the beans in different pots and on different burners. That would certainly be an issue.

The Cast of Characters: My panel of judges included Husband, my Mom, my Dad, my Sister, my Niece (she is a professional pastry chef!) and Niece’s two adorable kids, ages 8 and 6. I did not participate as a judge. I was just there to observe.

The Rules: This was a blind taste test. The beans were labeled “A” and “B”. I knew which was which…but the judges didn’t. Each judge had a note card for each bean. They were asked to make notes on taste, texture, appearance and last but not least, they needed to tell me their preference. They weren’t trying to guess which was the heirloom, they were simply stating a preference. I provided them with water, saltines, table salt, pencils, and a whole lot of plastic spoons.

Judges - readyto get started

Garbanzo Beans:  We started with the garbanzo bean. The heirloom bean was described as firmer, held it’s shape better, grainy. The store bought bean was described as creamy, a bit sweet, mild and tender. Four of the seven judges preferred the store bought bean. Interestingly, both kids, preferred the heirloom bean!

Cooked Garbanzo Beans

Pinto Beans: Let me say at the outset that the panel of judges unanimously agreed that this was the hardest bean to judge. They all said that these two beans were so similar that they could hardly make a judgement. They spent a lot of time on the pinto beans, going back and forth trying to discern subtle differences. The judges found the color of the store bought bean to be more appealing. The Rancho Gordo bean had a bit of a purple, gray-ish tint. The store bought was browner in color. The taste and texture were so similar as to make little difference. So I guess it came down to appearance. Six out of the seven judges chose the store bought pinto bean. The one person to pick the heirloom? My six year old nephew!

Cooked Pinto Beans - note the color difference

Black Bean: The judges were really knocked out by the difference between the store bought black bean and the heirloom. The store bought bean was deemed to be bland and tasteless. The heirloom was flavorful and creamy. They loved the heirloom black bean. Their comments about the Rancho Gordo black bean were far more effusive than on any other bean in the taste test. And their disinterest in the store bought bean was particularly apparent.

Cooked Black Beans

My Conclusions?  Well, the store bought garbanzos and pintos were chosen as the winners. The heirloom black bean won out by a long shot. My Dad suggested that perhaps the reason that they preferred the store bought beans was that it’s what they are used to (we eat a lot of beans in my family!). Perhaps appreciating the full value of the heirloom takes a bit of time.

A thought about the pinto beans; we live in South Texas so I am sure that the turn-over of pinto beans in our grocery store is very high. Pinto beans are a staple here. Maybe that plays a role in the outcome.

Judges - Tasting and taking notes

Will I stop buying heirloom beans? No. We were all a little surprised by the outcome of the taste test. However, I think that the companies that are selling heirloom beans are really passionate about beans. I think that they are making environmental contributions by preserving these beans. I think that they are helping communities by preserving these beans. I think that the heirloom bean movement raises interest, awareness and enthusiasm for making beans a part of our daily diets.


On the other hand, it is valuable to know that good tasting beans are readily available, inexpensively and conveniently at the grocery store.

These results aren’t scientific. And they only reflect the preferences of my family. It is possible that the results would be entirely different if I had served them more complex bean dishes. My Mom was really longing for some hot sauce. That’s how we eat beans in Texas!

We had fun. We all sat down around the table, tasted, talked and discussed. So I have to consider our taste test to be a great success. After the bean tasting, I served everyone a big dinner of baked ziti, salad, garlic bread and lots of Chianti. It was a good excuse to bring the family together.

One final note – The only judge on our panel to consistently choose the heirloom bean was my six year old nephew. He picked the heirloom bean every single time! The boy knows his beans.

Comfort Food: Casseroles, Gratins and Bakes

I grew up eating casseroles. And I love them! I love baked pasta dishes…lasagna, macaroni and cheese. Scalloped potatoes. Green bean casserole. Surely there must be a way to have that kind of comfort food using beans and grains!

A gratin is a French culinary technique in which an ingredient is placed in a shallow dish and is topped with a mixture of buttery breadcrumbs and perhaps some cheese. When it is baked, the topping gets browned, crunchy and delicious and the insides stay moist and succulent.

The word casserole comes from the French word for saucepan. So a casserole refers to the food as well as the dish it is served in. In the UK this same kind of meal is called a bake.

Well all of that sounds good to me. So Husband and I have been eating some very delicious baked bean and grain dishes. I have three ideas for you…one is a bean dish, one a grain, and the third has both beans and grains.

Flageolet and Roast Tomato Gratin – I bought a  pound of French flageolet beans from Rancho Gordo. I thought that a gratin would be a perfect use of this bean. The flageolet is described as being ultra-creamy and dense. I read in a number of places that roasted tomatoes are a perfect accompaniment to flageolet beans, so I came up with a gratin that combines the two.

I cooked the beans, along with a bay leaf,  until they were tender. I pulled out the bay leaf, drained the beans reserving the liquid. In a large skillet, I sauteed finely chopped onion and celery. When they were soft but not browned, I added the drained beans to the skillet and let that all cook together for a few minutes. I added some of the reserved bean liquid to make the mixture a little soupy.

Meanwhile, I had some beautiful little plum tomatoes. They were about the size of a large walnut. I halved those and roasted them in a baking dish with some olive oil and salt. I cooked those in a hot oven just until they were starting to brown on top.

I made a bread crumb topping using panko bread crumbs, grated Parmesan cheese, chopped parsley and some olive oil to moisten the mixture.

To assemble the gratin, I layered in the beans and topped those with the roasted tomatoes. I baked that for about 10 minutes just to get it good and hot.

On top of that, I added the breadcrumb mixture. I baked the assembled gratin for another 15 minutes to get it browned and crispy. I served this with a salad and some good bread. Husband grilled some chicken to have along with the gratin.

Flageolet and Roasted Tomato Gratin

This gratin was delicious. The crispy topping along with the “ultra-creamy” bean was excellent. The roasted tomatoes added a richness and depth.

Brown Rice and Vegetable Casserole – I adapted this from a recipe that I saw in the March 2012 issue of Cooking Light magazine. This turned out so good, I am going to try to give you an actual recipe because I think that it could be a Master Recipe for a grain casserole. You could use any grain and any combination of vegetables that appealed to you. You could even throw in some beans! You will need:

  • 2 cups cooked brown rice (or other cooked grain)
  • 2 cups chopped zucchini and mushrooms (or other vegetables)
  • olive oil
  •  1/4 chopped onion
  • 1 clove minced garlic
  • 1/2 cup grated cheese (I used cheddar in this recipe)
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 2 eggs (I used Egg Beaters as a substitute)
  • 1/2 cup panko (or other) breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup slivered almonds (or other nuts)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  1.  Toss the chopped vegetables with some olive oil to coat, salt and pepper to taste. Place evenly, in a single layer on a foil lined baking sheet. Roast at 400 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes until tender and slightly browned.
  2. In a skillet saute onions with olive oil until tender. Add garlic and cook for another minute or two.
  3. In a large boil, combine cooked brown rice, roasted vegetable, sauteed onion and garlic, grated cheese, milk and egg. Stir to combine.   Spoon mixture into a glass or ceramic baking dish. Cover with foil and bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, to make breadcrumb topping, combine breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese, almonds and chopped parsley. Moisten with some olive oil.
  5. Remove foil from rice mixture. Top evenly with breadcrumb mixture. Bake uncovered for 15 minutes until the topping is brown and crispy.

Brown Rice Casserole

This was absolutely outstanding. This is now on my list of favorite things. The casserole was substantial enough to eat as a vegetarian main dish but would also make a fantastic side dish. Husband and I both really loved this dish. Husband raved!

Polenta and Black Bean Tamale Pie – This was another winner at my house. It was a little bit of work to get it assembled, but the result was well worth it!

I cooked a cup of dried black beans until tender. I drained them, reserving the liquid. I also cooked a pot of polenta. I do this in my small slow cooker. I put 3 cups of water in the pot, add a 1/4 tsp. salt and then whisked in 1 cup of polenta. I used Bob’s Red Mill polenta.

I put the crock pot on high. Every half hour or so I gave the polenta a whisk. I got distracted with a phone call and forgot to whisk it for almost an hour. That didn’t seem to create any problem. After about an hour and a half, the polenta “blooms” and it suddenly looks like a thick porridge. The grains should lose their separateness. You can put the crock pot on low or warm at that point and it will be ready whenever you are. I would budget about 2 hours for the whole process.

While that was happening I prepared the beans. In a large skillet, I sauteed onion and garlic with olive oil. I put the sauteed onion and garlic in a blender along with about a cup of beans, one chipotle chili in adobo sauce, a tablespoon of tomato paste, some cilantro and enough bean liquid to get the whole thing moving.  I put the pureed mixture back in the skillet and added the rest of the whole beans. I cooked that all together for a few minutes, adding bean liquid as needed to have a thick, soupy consistency.

I layered the beans into a shallow baking dish and then topped that with some of the polenta. I didn’t want the topping to be overpowering – eyeball it to see what amount seems right to you. I baked that for 15 minutes in a 400 degree oven until the polenta was starting to brown. Then I topped that with grated cheese and continued to bake until the cheese was melted and browning.

Polenta and Black Bean Tamale Pie

Husband and I loved this dish. I served it with a salad and some sliced avocado. I put out salsa and sour cream as well. Husband went back for seconds!

What did I learn? All of these baked bean and grain dishes were great. They were comforting, satisfying and delicious. They do take a little bit of forethought. But if you already have a pot of beans and a pot of grains in the refrigerator… you’re halfway there. I can now imagine lots of ways to turn my beans and grains into the ultimate comfort food!