Frijoles Cinco de Mayo

This past week’s weather made me think I was suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder. I swear, all I’ve wanted to do is curl up on the couch, veg out and eat. A lot. Unfortunately, the obligations and duties of work and life in general keep me from doing such a thing – but that doesn’t mean I can’t make something comforting for dinner on a cool, stormy Cinco de Mayo evening.

I recently bought a really inspiring cookbook called Blue Eggs and Yellow Tomatoes by Jeanne Kelley. Jeanne lives a lifestyle envied by many, including myself: she is a French culinary school graduate who has worked for Bon Appetit magazine for over 20 years, and contributes regularly to other foodie publications. She lives just outside Los Angeles and grows her own fruits and vegetables in her “modern garden”, which she tends regularly with her daughters and her landscape-designer husband. She also collects freshly-laid eggs from her Araucana chickens, and even has a pet goat. Jeanne’s mission in this book is to “build a bridge between country-fresh and urban-chic”; her recipes are inspired by her garden’s bounty, her haute cuisine background, and what’s in season at the local farmers’ market. Le siiigh…

Of the many delicious recipes in her book, one that really stood out was the Black Beans with Orange and Chipotle. I found the combination of sweet, citrusy orange with smoky, spicy chipotle and inky black beans to be unusual and enticing. In honor of Cinco de Mayo – and to satisfy my comfort food craving due to the dreary weather – I thought it would be perfect for Tuesday’s dinner.

When making a pot of beans, I always thought it standard procedure to presoak the beans overnight before cooking them. Not so in this recipe. Jeanne claims that black beans will turn a “sad, gray color” if presoaked; in order to keep that deep, inky black color, just rinse the dry beans briefly before putting them in the pot. The beans are flavored with onion, garlic, orange peel, bay and a healthy dose of fiery chipotle peppers. Chipotles are smoked jalapeños stewed in adobo sauce, which is made with tomatoes, garlic and vinegar – and a little goes a long way. The beans are finished with a sprinkling of queso fresco, a Mexican crumbling cheese, and chopped cilantro.

No pot of beans would be complete without something to sop up the drippings. While the beans were cooking their last 30 minutes, I made a quick batch of corn muffins using War Eagle Mill’s organic cornmeal and flour. I like to flavor my corn muffins with a little sugar, chopped jalapeños and – of course – lots of Monterey Jack. Slightly sweet, slightly spicy and super cheesy, these corn muffins were the perfect accoutrement to a bowl of warm, spicy beans. ¡Buen apetito!

Black Beans with Orange and Chipotle

(serves 6)

1/4 c. bacon fat or olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 pound dry black beans, rinsed
3 bay leaves
12 inch curl orange zest (about an inch thick)
1 Tbs. minced canned chipotles
salt to taste

Heat the bacon fat or olive oil in a heavy, medium sized pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, and sauté until tender, about 8 minutes.

Stir in the beans and add 8 cups of water, the bay leaves, and the orange zest. Bring the beans to a simmer. Skim any foam from the top of the beans. Partially cover the pot and gently simmer the beans over low heat until they are very tender, stirring frequently, about an hour and a half.

Stir in the chipotle chiles and season with salt. Uncover and simmer until creamy, about 25 minutes.

Cheesy Jalapeño Corn Muffins

3/4 c. all purpose flour, sifted
1 Tbs. baking powder
2 Tbs. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 1/4 c. yellow stone-ground cornmeal
1 egg, lightly beaten
3 Tbs. melted butter
1 c. milk
2 Tbs. chopped jalapeños
1 c. Monterey Jack, shredded

Preheat oven to 425°. Grease a muffin tin or 9×9 inch pan. Combine the flour, baking powder, sugar, salt and cornmeal in a medium sized bowl and stir to combine. In a separate bowl, combine the egg, butter and milk. Pour the liquid into the cornmeal mixture and combine the ingredients in several swift strokes. Distribute the batter evenly in the muffin tin or into the pan. Bake 20-25 minutes, until lightly browned. Serve immediately.

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