Sunday, July 20, 2014

Fine Eating in Portugal


I almost called this post “Snails, Sardines and Gooseneck Barnacles” but thought that might not sound as appetizing. Although we did eat those things during our nearly two weeks in Lisbon (pronounced “lish-boa” in Portuguese – go on, say it! It’s a fun accent) the capital and largest city, then Porto, the second largest city three hours up the coast, along with a few day trips to near by towns. We also took a trip to Greece in the middle to celebrate the wedding of two dear friends. You can read all about them in this post, and you can get a delightful recipe for moussaka.

Here’s a shot of one of the beautiful plaza’s in Lisbon.


Eating is such a great way to experience a new culture, and we took full advantage of the country’s offerings.

During our first dinner, we walked into a tiny neighborhood place near our hostel outside the hustle of the tourist zone. I noticed plates of small tan and brown bean-shaped morsels on most everyone’s tables, and requested a plate of the same before we even got our menus. They were snails! Tiny brown snails, still in their shells, sautéed or boiled and bathed in olive oil and garlic. I honestly enjoyed their flavor but couldn’t do more than about half the plate.


The rest of the meal was soft cheese and fresh bread, boiled potatoes and olive-oil poached shark.


The next evening we found a great little cafe with a view of Lisbon.


The heart of old  Lisbon is located on a river very near the Atlantic Coast, so seafood is huge here. Grilled sardines are another local specialty so I tried those our second night. They were served with salad, and I ordered a chilled gazpacho (chunky tomato bread soup) with it. The sardines have a pretty strong flavor but the char from the grill was pleasant paired with it. Grilled sardines are a traditional dish in Portugal – you could find them on almost every menu. 


The next day, after wandering around a 1,000-year-old castle (no big deal), we spent the afternoon at a cafe, sipping Sagres beer (a refreshing lager brewed in Lisbon), and eating bread with sun dried tomato spread and olives. So civilized.


The Portuguese like pork. A lot. One of our favorite pork experiences was in sandwich form at this pop-up place in the middle of a large, main plaza in Lisbon. Dry-cured pork, similar to Spanish “jamon serrano” or Italian prosciuotto, was layered on super fresh bread smeared with queijo amarelo, a super soft, almost runny cheese, sort of similar to brie. Yum.


We are big vegetable eaters in regular life and found greens and other healthful foods a bit difficult to come by in the restaurants. A soup of the day was offered at most places which was usually a vegetable broth soup, so we often ordered that to get a shot of veggies in.

“Caldo Verde” is a typical soup and literally means green broth. It’s made with chicken broth, potatoes and cabbage and or kale. That was one of our faves. The one below came with a poached egg.


Cherries were everywhere in Portugal! Often cherries were an option as dessert at the end of a meal. This restaurant served them over ice. A perfectly refreshing end to a heavy meal.


I love finding restaurants with good food AND good atmosphere. We had several meals on the windy, stair-studded steps of Lisbon, like this one.


We took planes, trains and automobiles to get between Portugal and Greece. On one leg of a flight we were served a surprise meal, smoked salmon sandwich, with a fruit smoothie! Also, contact solution came in the mix. Kind of a strange addition, but I’m not complaining.


And then we got to Greece for the wedding. And what a wedding it was! We were so so SO happy to celebrate with Chris and Maria. This is them during the Jewish part of the ceremony (the first part was in a beautiful Greek Orthodox church in the village) under the chuppah that some friends and I built.


Our time in Greece was spent doing wedding prep and hanging out with dear friends, but we did manage to sneak down to Amoudi Bay to have some fresh-grilled calamari. The calamari is only seasoned with salt, pepper and lemon juice so you can really taste the sea and the smokiness from the grill.


Absolutely delicious, especially when you’re sharing the meal with this guy.


We ate a lot of fine things in Greece, but the best part of those meals was dining with dear friends.


This was a shot from Myrto’s birthday party and the day before we left. What a delight.


See you later, Greece. We’ll be back soon.


On our way from Greece back to Porto, a city in Northern Portugal, we had a six-hour layover in Barcelona, so we went to La Boqueria, a large, public market, for breakfast.


We finally made it to Porto. What a beautiful city on the banks of the Rio Duoro. This is where Port wine is made, and another spot for excellent seafood.


When we first arrived, our hostel told us about “Francesinhas,” or “little Frenchman” sandwiches. Legend has it some drunk Frenchmen were missing home and asked a Portuguese restaurant to make them a croque madame, the famous grilled ham sandwich with an egg on top. Because they were drunk, they kept demanding more and more ingredients, and this sandwich was the result. It has about five kinds of meat sandwiched between two halves of white bread and cheese. There’s fragrant gravy – tomato and cumin-scented on top – along with the friend egg and fries. We both agreed it was something to try but one was enough for us.


I mean look at that. Wowza. We split one and were still super full.


One of my favorite travel food activities is to check out the chip flavors. You often see such crazy flavors! I like doing this so much I even wrote a blog post on the topic when Andrew and I were traveling in South America a few years ago. The “ketchup” flavored Ruffles were our faves on this trip.


We couldn’t go to Porto without tasting port. Everyone recommend Taylor’s, so we hiked up the hill to sample their ports. We tried tawny, ruby and a white port. I liked the tawnies best. Those are aged in smaller barrels which gives them more exposure to oxygen which makes them taste a bit sweeter and fruitier, and have a lighter color than the rubies.


If you go to Portugal, you MUST go into the Duoro Valley. We took the train up the Duoro river into the valley, then rented a car. We stumbled upon this guesthouse, Casa Grande do Serrado, on and boy did it work out. They not only had a gorgeous 200-year-old house to stay in, but they make their own wine and port so they took us out to vineyard for a private tour and tasting. All for $50! It was like Napa Valley but mountainous.


Our host Nuno was so hospitable and spent several hours sipping wine and port with us and talking about wine, soccer, Portugal and life. It was an absolute delight.


The next day we went to Lamego, a small town just south of where we were staying at Casa Grande. They’re famous for their sparkling wine. Andrew was driving so I finished the better part of this afternoon aperitif. Made the train ride back to Porto pretty entertaining!


Portugal is huge on custard pastries. We had a LOT of them. This one was coconut-flavored. It was super eggy and sweet – so good with an espresso. I don’t want to admit how often we stopped for these. Yum.


The most famous dessert in Portugal though, is Pastel de Nata. They are simply custard tartlets with caramelized sugar on the top, and you can find them everywhere.


On the way home one day we stopped in this fruit shop and stocked up on nectarines, peaches, bananas and oranges. It was so refreshing!

Our last night in Porto we took a tram out to the coast then walked up the beach several miles to a cluster of seafood restaurants. Our hostel had instructed us to try these sea barnacles (the small dark things at the bottom of the plate). They were hard to eat! You really had to dig in to pull out the small edible part. They sort of reminded me of crawfish – a lot of work for a small pay off. The shrimp we got were totally amazing and tasted very fresh. The dipping sauce you see is straight mayo.


After Porto, we headed back down to Lisbon, where our return flight departed from. To celebrate the last night of our trip we had a progressive dinner. We started around happy hour at Lost in Esplanada. Beautiful city views, happy hour specials and fresh, creative food. We had an impressive cheese plate with some roasted vegetables. I had rose and a beer while Andrew had an infused green tea and a beer. We relaxed, people-watched and enjoyed the view during our last night. It was totally delightful.



For Part II of our dinner, we splurged at Bistro 100 Maneiras, one of Chef Ljubomir Stanisic’s four restaurants. He seems to be a chef in the spotlight right now, and is food really proved that.

We started with smoked mushrooms in a jar with asparagus and a poached egg. The server brought the jar over, then mixed it all up and served each of us a portion. The mushrooms had some of their own liquid, which mixed with the poached egg. Definitely delicious.


Next up were these tasty little clams in an incredible ginger-garlic-dill broth. Really interesting. The grilled bread was totally necessary to soak up all the broth.


Our final course of the night was a dish of black pork with some fresh sprouts and polenta cakes. The pigs feast on mushrooms in a certain part of Portugal, which gives their meet a distinctive sweet taste. I read about black pork and other Portuguese delights in this post from Epicurious. A helpful read if you’re also planning a trip.


It was a delightful and delicious trip! I’d highly recommend Portugal to anyone. On to the next adventure!


Monday, July 14, 2014

The Best Summertime Black Bean and Corn Salsa


A number of years ago my Aunt Julie and Uncle Mark introduced a black bean and corn salsa to the family. We were at a normal weekend potluck, and they put it out alongside the hotdogs and baked beans without fanfare. In my memory though, this was an exciting moment. With our first bites, my family members were  transported into a  musical complete with matching colorful outfits and coordinated moves, dancing to the hustle while we all crooned harmonically about our love for this delightful new dish.

The Best Summertime Black Bean and Corn Salsa

Okay, maybe that’s a bit dramatic, but it really is good salsa. It’s become one of our families most beloved dishes. Julie and Mark say it originally came from Bon Appetit magazine, but they’ve tweaked the recipe over the years to really make it their own. The recipe below is from Julie’s memory; I edited it slightly for my taste.

The salsa is tasty with frozen corn (and easier) but if you’ve got some fresh ears on hand, boil or grill them then shave off the kernels. Fresh tomatoes are a must, and ’tis the season after all. I like to serve this with Tostitos Multigrain Scoops but any tortilla chip will do. It’s also suitable as a relish for hot dogs or grilled chicke, and perfectly good as a side dish on its own.

If you spontaneously break into song while eating this, don’t say I didn’t warn you.


The Best Summertime Black Bean and Corn Salsa

Prep Time: 20 minutes

This salsa is best after it sits for a bit. Make it early and keep it in the fridge until you're ready to serve to allow the favors to meld. It's also easily doubled.


1 10 oz. package of frozen corn
1/2 red onion, chopped
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
juice from two limes at room temperature
1 16 oz. can of black beans (undrained)
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered if large; add more if desired
1/2 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon cumin
salt and pepper to taste
tortilla chips, if desired


Spread corn on paper towels or dish towels to thaw and drain. Meanwhile, chop onion and combine with the sugar and lime juice. The sugar will help tone down the raw onion flavor.

Chop tomatoes and cilantro. Add to onions along with black beans. Mix well to combine. Drizzle olive oil over salsa and add cumin and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve with tortilla chips, is desired.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Table for One


I’m pretty pumped up about the fact that this blog post also appeared on the cover of The Tennessean’s Taste section! Big thanks to Keith Miles for the photos and Margot for letting us stage the shoot.


A pleasure I’ve recently come to know is dining out alone. I’m not talking about a grab-n-go airport meal or quick lunch on a workday. I mean a proper, sit-down meal at a destination restaurant solo.

Part of the pleasure is being content to push myself out of my comfort zone, getting over whatever social pressures (real or perceived) exist telling us not to show up alone. I find a meal by myself in a public place a time to be alone with my thoughts, cell-phone free, ordering just what I want. If the circumstances are right, it can feel like a mental date with yourself.

I first realized I enjoyed this experience last summer when my husband was away on a backpacking trip for a few weeks. One night, bored with eating alone at home and not in the mood to coordinate a meal with a friend, I walked to a local restaurant I hadn’t yet tried. I took a magazine, ordered a beer, and casually chatted with the bartender in between articles. I enjoyed the experience so much more than I thought I would. It was almost therapeutic.

Since that first meal, I’ve found myself traveling alone on a couple of business trips, first to D.C. and then to Dallas. Having not spent much time in either city, and as a person who enjoys trying new restaurants, I was motivated to spend my evenings exploring. Armed with only my smartphone, I cross-referenced local culture magazine restaurant recommendations with my Yelp and LocalEats apps, then navigated my way to the chosen spot. Making the meal into a sort of adventure like this is really fun.annakate2

I make it a point not to use my smartphone during the meal. Perusing social networks or checking email sort of ruins the experience. You’re not really alone that way. It’s nice to just sit there, disconnected, present in the moment. I don’t think our culture does enough of that. The solitude reminds of being on an airplane, when electronic devices are turned off and you’re forced to be alone with your thoughts. I do some of my best thinking on planes and often use the time to journal. (Although, with the increasing prevalence of wifi-enabled planes and talk of adding cell service, I fear this final frontier of disconnectivity isn’t long for this world.)

Another great perk is ordering exactly what you want. When dining out with my husband, we often order everything to share, so I choose my dishes with both our tastes in mind. There’s an indulgence about ordering completely selfishly. Along those lines, I’ve found I often order dessert when I’m out alone, something I seldom do otherwise.

I had one of my favorite dining alone experiences recently in D.C. I ended up at a Spanish tapas bar within walking distance from my hotel. I sat at the bar, and the friendly bartender kept me company. I had salt cod crudo, a fresh grapefruit salad, a couple of Spanish cheeses, and a cheesecake featuring Manchego cheese, a Spanish specialty, for dessert. It was a totally “Annakate” order, and I loved it.

Before writing this article, I chatted with a friend about the subject of dining alone and realized it’s only enjoyable if it’s by choice. She’s in sales, and eating alone reminds her of sales trips solo in suburbs and office parks around the country. I can see her point.

With about a dozen solo meals under my belt, I’ve learned a few tricks to dining out alone. First, atmosphere is everything. You don’t want a place that’s too stuffy or too empty because you’ll draw attention to yourself, and that can be uncomfortable. A bar seat is my favorite, especially if it’s a chef’s bar or open kitchen so I can watch the food being made and maybe make some light conversation with the staff behind the bar. You’ll have more peace if choose a table, and that can be nice if you want some time to concentrate.

Waitstaff is another consideration. A seasoned server will know how attentive to be. Similarly, a friendly bartender can keep you company and connect you with others if you’re in the mood to chat.

These are a few of my favorite spots around town. Where are your faves?

  • Margot: The bar’s location near the door creates a great perch for people watching.
  • Silly Goose: This place is constantly packed, but the small bar overlooking the kitchen gives a solo diner a faster option.
  • Lockeland Table: Lots of solo seating options here. Choose from two bars (pizza and wet bar), communal table or patio.
  • Park Cafe: Intimate atmosphere and seasoned waitstaff to make you feel comfortable.
  • Burger Up: Lively bar with a friendly vibe.

The next time you have the opportunity, take the plunge and try having a meal alone. It might surprise you how much you like it.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Thai Green Curry with Shrimp: A great dish for a crowd


Some friends and I decided to start doing themed dinner parties each month. This month’s theme was “Thai,” and I volunteered to make the main course. I’ve made a few Thai-inspired dishes before, such as this Thai Black Rice Salad, which could be a main dish, but never a main main dish.

I found this recipe for Thai Shrimp Halibut Curry on, and boy was it delicious and easy. I modified the recipe some to feature all shrimp instead of the halibut, but I’ll make it again with the halibut sometime. This would also be delicious with chicken or even tofu if you aren’t a seafood fan. I’d also add chickpeas, since I seem to be obsessed with chickpeas.


Here’s why this recipe was a great choice:

  • It didn’t require a lot of fancy (expensive) ingredients. Fish sauce and curry paste are easy to come by and inexpensive. The Thai Kitchen brand of curry is widely available and only has spices in it – no weird additional ingredients.
  • It was easy to make the curry and rice in advance. The shrimp only take a few minutes to cook so you reheat the curry right before serving and drop them in.
  • It’s transportable and freezable (the curry part – separate from the rice).
  • The recipe easily doubles.
  • It was super flavorful and pretty healthy.

My friend Allyn made a delicious Siam Sunray cocktail, featuring vodka and coconut rum muddled with ginger and a thai chile and topped with soda and a squeeze of lime. It was so refreshing!


She also made a shaved cucumber and mint salad with fresh mango on top. A perfect salad for summer.


Here’s a pic of the curry finishing on the stove. Once we brought it over to Nesrin’s (who hosted), I let it simmer on low until we were just about to eat. I let the shrimp cook in the curry for about five minutes before serving it.


Look how happy this guy is to eat his tasty meal!


I didn’t get a good photo of it, but we had ginger-spiked no-cook goat cheese cheesecake for dessert that Nesrin made. Yum.

It was a successful dinner party. Looking forward to the next one!


Thai Green Curry with Shrimp

Yield: 4 servings

Since it's freezable, flavorful and something different than pasta, this recipe would also make for a great meal to take to new parents. Up the dried peppers to make it spicier if you want. The curry on its own isn't very spicy.


1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 cup chopped onions
1 large red bell pepper, diced
2 tablespoons minced peeled fresh ginger
1 teaspoon dried chile flakes
2 1/2 teaspoons Thai red curry paste (such as Thai Kitchen brand)
1 can unsweetened coconut milk
3 large limes, divided
1 tablespoon fish sauce (don't be scared - it just adds flavor depth)
24-30 ounces uncooked peeled large shrimp (you could add more or less shrimp depending on your guests)
4 tablespoons butter (this made the sauce velvety)
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil
Cooked jasmine rice


Saute onions, pepper, ginger and chile flakes in olive oil in a deep skillet or saute pan (you can also use a stock pot or dutch oven) until onion is translucent. Add red curry paste and mix well until well distributed. Add coconut milk, zest and juice from two limes, and fish sauce. If making curry in advance, pause here and refrigerate or simmer on low for up to an hour.

Five minutes before serving (if curry has been chilled, reheat first), bring to a simmer and add shrimp and butter. Cook five minutes until shrimp is cooked through.

Serve with lime wedges from remaining lime, chopped cilantro and basil, and rice.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Cauliflower Gigante Bean Salad with Lemon-Mustard Vinaigrette


A version of this post also ran in The Tennessean

Bon Appetit is a great magazine. If you’ve read my blog for very long you’ll know I often post adaptations of their recipes. Not only are the recipes great (and more straightforward and unfussy than you might think), but I also look forward to the photography and styling, culture and travel stories, and prep school guide (their how-to section). To give you an idea, here’s a quick roundup of some of their most recent non-recipe articles.

Interview with Ricky Gervais on favorite foods, including his love affair with cheese.
Where to eat and drink in downtown Los Angeles (the business district is experiencing a revitalization.)
Andrew Zimmerman on mastering culinary social media.

Sometime last year I encountered a version of this recipe in the magazine. It’s a combination of roasted cauliflower, gigante beans (giant buttery white beans), parsley, and a delightful homemade mustard-lemon vinaigrette. It was so tasty it even made it onto our Thanksgiving table this year. The original recipe calls includes barley and leaves out the spinach and sunflower seeds, but I adapted it to suit what I had on hand.

Cauliflower Gigante Bean Salad with Mustard-Lemon Vinaigrette

I served this with a piece of tilapia and called it a night. Enjoy!


Cauliflower Gigante Bean Salad with Lemon-Mustard Vinaigrette

Yield: 4 servings

Total Time: 25 minutes-ish

This is a great recipe for weeknights or for entertaining. It comes together quickly and is a little something different. As per usual, I like it because it contains inexpensive ingredients, is healthy, and doesn't require meat to be delicious.


1 head cauliflower, leaves removed, florets cut into uniform pieces
5 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, divided
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
zest of one lemon
juice of one lemon
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon mayo
1 can gigante, butter or white beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup fresh spinach, chopped (I estimate this to be a good-sized handful)
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1/4 to 1/2 cup sunflower seeds


Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Toss cauliflower with 1 tablespoon olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Roast on a rimmed baking sheet for 20 minutes or so, until edges look crispy and browned.

Meanwhile, make dressing. In a 1/2 pint jar (or any small-ish jar with a tight-fitting lid), combine lemon zest and juice, mustard, mayo and remaining olive oil. Screw lid on and shake well to emulsify. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

In a large bowl combine roasted cauliflower with beans, spinach, parsley and sunflower seeds. Pour on dressing and toss with tongs to combine. Serve immediately (while cauliflower is still warm) or at room temperature.

This recipe was adapted from the Warm Cauliflower and Herbed Barley Salad from Bon Appetit Magazine, March 2013.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Ruth Reichl’s Spaghetti Carbonara


Warning, while many of the recipes on this blog are light and fresh, this one is absolutely not. It’s cold, it’s February, and I’ve been eating mostly vegetables for a month. It’s time for some serious bacon.

This recipe comes from Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic In Disguisea delightful autobiography by Ruth Reichl, long time Gourmet magazine editor, about her time as The New York Times’ restaurant critic. It’s a captivating tale of disguises, chefs, the Times, and the New York restaurant scene in the 90’s. If you’re into food and dining out, you’ll like this book.


Interspersed among the reviews and restaurant adventures are some of Reichl’s favorite homemade meals. One that particularly caught my eye was Spaghetti Carbonara. I’ve had this dish in restaurants, and love its velvetty richness, but I’ve never made it at home. Reichl’s recipe is super simple – only six ingredients in all – and a very easy recipe.

You start by rendering the fat from a half pound of bacon. (How could that be bad, seriously?!)


While that (and the pasta) is cooking, crack two eggs in a large serving bowl and beat with a fork. Grind some fresh pepper over top.

Once the pasta is cooked, while its still piping hot, toss it with the eggs and pepper. Then, pour the bacon and rendered fat over top. Toss with a half cup of Parmesan and you’re in business. The egg, bacon and cheese form a delightfully rich sauce that clings to the pasta noodles perfectly. Delish.

photo 1

I served this with a tall glass of red wine and a raw kale salad tossed with cranberries, sunflower seeds and a balsamic vinaigrette. A perfect Sunday dinner on a cool winter’s night. Enjoy!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Green Beans with Miso Dressing and Almonds

This post originally ran in the Tennessean, here


One of my favorite parts about this vegetarian period is trying new foods. I like finding new veggie-centric dishes, ingredients and methods to try to mix up our month. I’ve been interested in more Asian foods lately, and miso in particular has been on my list.

According to Food Lovers’ Companion by Sharon Tyler Herbst (my go-to food dictionary), miso is, “A thick fermented paste made of cooked soybeans, salt, and often rice or barley, and used especially in making soups and sauces.”

If you’re like me, you’re most familiar with miso through miso soup at sushi restaurants. Basically, it’s salty, savory and complex. Miso is also chock-full of umami compounds, the elusive fifth flavor beyond sweet, salty, sour and bitter. Mushrooms, red wine, beef and Parmesan rinds are all chock full of umami, which is defined by the Japanese as “pleasant savory taste.”

In the recipe below, I used white miso, the sweetest and most mild of all the misos. Here’s a good primer on the different kinds of miso from Bon Appetit.


Green Beans with Miso Dressing and Almonds is super easy to make. After blanching the green beans, you mix up the dressing, toss the two together and serve. In addition to miso, rice vinegar, vegetable oil, scallions and a dash of sugar, there’s Japanese mustard. We’re not talking wasabi here; it’s a spicy mustard I found in the ethnic foods aisle at Publix. It’s got a great flavor, and I look forward to using it other dressings and even stirred into soups in the future. So many new foods!


Green Beans with Miso Dressing and Almonds

Yield: 4 servings

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 5 minutes

Total Time: 15 minutes

There was more miso dressing than I needed for the green beans, so I saved the remainder for another use. The almonds came from the baking aisle - I chose a small packet of slivered ones.


2 1/2 pounds fresh green beans
Kosher salt
1/4 cup white miso (fermented soybean paste)
3 tablespoons thinly sliced scallions, dark-green parts only, reserving 1 tablespoon
3 tablespoons unseasoned rice
2 tablespoons Japanese prepared hot mustard (not wasabi), or 1 Tbsp. English mustard powder mixed with 1
tablespoon water
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup slivered almonds


Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Blanche green beans (in batches, if needed) until crisp-tender and bright green, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl of cold water to cool. Then, trim and cut in half at least, thirds if beans are long.

Prepare the dressing. Mix all remaining ingredients except almonds in a mason jar and shake to combine. Pour over green beans and toss to coat.

To serve, transfer green beans to platter (or individual plates) and garnish with almonds and reserved green onions.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Pot O’ Beans


There’s no better way to follow up a heartfelt post about my new blog name and launch than a Pot O’ Beans.

The other day I posted a round up of some well-loved dishes I’ve been enjoying during this vegetarian month. I also alluded to a delicious bean dish I made.

I found this recipe for Pot o’ Beans in the January issue of Bon Appetit magazine. I was attracted to it because it didn’t require pre-soaking the beans. The author also described texture of the beans when they were done as chewy on the outside and creamy on the inside. That resonated with me as sometimes canned beans are just mushy all the way through. While I’ll always be a fan of canned beans for their convenience, the thought of having something simmering all afternoon on the stove is really appealing on a cold day. And it made the house smell amazing. While the beans are cooking, make cornbread.

IMG_3373This is not the greatest picture – you can’t even see the beans! To be fair, it was literally 3 degrees outside and I was cold and starving…

Once the beans were done, here’s how I served them:

  1. Using a wide-brimmed bowl, I put down a bed of the beans and some of their delicious, thickened cooking liquid.
  2. While they were still piping hot, I sprinkled them with a bit of feta so it got kind of melty.
  3. Over that came some sauteed greens; mustard, collards, kale or spinach all work. There’s a quick recipe for greens below.
  4. Then I tossed on a fried egg and sprinkled the whole delicious mess with cilantro and green onions.
  5. Serve with cornbread. Here’s a good cornbread recipe from Mark Bittman.
  6. Dot with Sriracha then crack open a beer.

A perfect vegetarian meal for a cold winter day. Yum!

Quick Greens Recipe: In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat. Add 1 bunch of greens, trimmed (large stalks removed), and chopped. Stir to coat leaves with oil. It’ll be hard to do this because there are so many – you’ll be amazed at how much they cook down. Add ½ cup water and cover. Steam for 5-10 minutes, making sure water doesn’t all evaporate. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Once greens are done, add a splash of apple cider vinegar.


Simmered Black Beans

Yield: 8-10 servings

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 2-3 hours

You don't need to soak these beans overnight because they simmer for 2-3 hours. Make sure the beans are actually simmering (not boiling and not just steaming) so they cook fast enough. If you don't use all the beans in one sitting, freeze them. I used an enameled cast iron Le Creuset pot to cook these suckers. Thanks Amy and Elisa for the engagement gift!


3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons cumin
1 pound dried black or pinto beans
salt and pepper to taste
1 can diced tomatoes (I had some whole cherry tomatoes frozen that I tossed in toward the end.)


In a heavy pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook for 7-8 minutes until onion is translucent. During the last minute, add garlic and cook until fragrant. Add chili powder and cumin toss to lightly toast spices in oil. Add dried beans and stir to coat with oil.

Cover beans with water by two inches. Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer, partially covered until beans are cooked to desired doneness, usually 2-3 hours depending on the freshness of the beans. Add more water, if needed midway through cooking.

During the last 15 minutes of cooking, season to taste with salt and pepper. Add tomatoes.

To serve, pair with cornbread, sauteed greens, a fried egg, cilantro and/or green onions, and dot with sriracha.

Recipe adapted from Pot o' Beans, Bon Appetit magazine, January 2014.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Introducing … Hungry At Heart (my new blog!)

It’s my 100th post! One hundredth. One zero zero. I’ve been posting about my kitchen adventures for more than five years now, and getting to 100 posts feels like something after all this time.

To celebrate the occasion, I thought it was time to turn over a new leaf on this blog. It’s actually the same blog, I just have a new URL and a beautiful new header thanks to my very talented friend Christina of Niche Handbag fame. Thanks also to my cousin Chad for the legwork swapping everything over. For the time being, if you visit, it’ll redirect here. However, read on if you want an even easier way to stay in touch.

To make sure you never miss another post, click the “Subscribe via email” button over there on the right and share your email address. 

Even though I loved the story behind La Aguacate (you can still read about it here), it really was a terrible name for a blog. No one could pronounce it, spell it or remember it. When you’re trying to build a following, these are not good things.

And so Hungry At Heart was born. I’ve always been hungry to try new recipes and foods, and I love new experiences and adventures inside the kitchen and out. “Hungry at Heart” seemed to evoke those concepts. Big thanks to this handsome man for the idea. Since I’m kind of a softie, I liked squeezing “heart” in there. To illustrate the “heart” factor, here’s one of my favorite pictures of all time. So much love for these boys.

58704_10100725048703595_1542106091_nMy brothers and me the day I got married.

I look forward to a new year of deliciousness! I’ll still mostly blog about recipes, but may throw a few other thoughts out there – like family events or trips – from time to time.

What kinds of recipes do you want to see on this blog? What are your favorite kinds of posts? Leave a comment below and let me know. Your answers might spark a new idea.

Thanks so much for reading.



Sunday, January 12, 2014

Vegetarian January, Part III (Roundup of recipes)


For the third year in a row, my husband and I have gone vegetarian for the month of January. I suppose we’re technically pescetarian since we’ll eat the occasional fish, but it’s mostly all veggies all the time. Wondering what that looks like for a month? Here’s an idea of what we’ve been munching on so far:

Garbage Salads: Mixtures of greens, grains, nuts, cheeses, dried fruits, roasted veggies, herbs, spices, beans, citrus and eggs – really whatever we’ve got in the fridge. Here are a few previously posted recipes from this category.


Cellared Vegetable Salad

Falling for Thai

Thai-Inspired Black Rice Salad


The Original Garbage Salad

I had some of my favorite veggie burgers made up in the freezer.

photo 4

Black Bean Veggie Burgers

Eggs! Lots of eggs. I love adding a fried egg to almost anything, from garbage salads to pasta to rice. Here are a couple of egg-centric dishes, for an extra hit of protein.




Warm Black Eyed Pea Salad with Bacon (leave off the bacon to make it vegetarian, of course!)

We’ve also grabbed takeout from Wild Cow. I recommend the Beans and Greens and the Buffalo Grinder. Yum.

In a few days I’ll post the best dish I’ve made so far. I simmered dried beans on the stove for hours then tossed in some tomatoes, then served them with cornbread, mustard greens, sriracha, and a fried egg. Yum. I’ve also got a number of tasty dishes from a few other blogs I like. Basically, it’s going to be a delicious month. Stay tuned!