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Saturday, May 31, 2008

Pork and Beans: A Childhood Favorite Gets an Upgrade

When I was a kid one of my favorite things to eat was hot dogs and beans. I was really happy when I saw my mother opening a can of Campbell's Pork and Beans, cutting up an Oscar Meyer hot dog and cooking them together until they were pipping hot. Yum.

When I was hungry and no one was home, I'd make a hot dog and beans sandwich with buttered bread. Hot or cold didn't matter, the beans were delicious either way.

But like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, I hadn't eaten hot dogs and beans since I was a kid. Last week I happened to be in the supermarket shopping for a Memorial Day dinner. I saw that Bush's Baked Beans were on sale.

If you haven't had Bush's, you're in for a treat. These are the best canned baked beans ever. Since I was making spareribs, the idea of baked beans seemed a good fit. But while I had fond memories about pork and beans, I wasn't going to use hot dogs. My adult taste buds needed ingredients with a lot more flavor.

Bush's Baked Beans with Italian Sausages

Yield 4 servings
Time 20 minutes

Ingredients

1 28 ounce can Bush's Baked Beans
2 Italian sausages (mild or hot)
1 small onion (peeled, finely chopped)
2 garlic cloves (peeled, finely chopped)
1/4 cup Italian parsley leaves, washed, finely chopped
Olive oil
Freshly ground pepper

Method

Grill the sausages until brown on all sides. Let cool, then slice into 1/4" rounds. Sauté the onions, garlic, and parsley with olive oil in a small pot until lightly browned. Season with pepper. Add the sausage rounds and baked beans. Stir frequently and simmer for 15 minutes.

Variations

Sprinkle grated cheddar cheese on top.

Add red peppers.

Add spinach to the sauté.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

At the Santa Monica Farmers' Market

Today was one of those picture perfect moments in Southern California. After days of overcast skies and the threat of rain, the sun was shining brightly and the sky was a deep blue. A few women had on tank tops and some men were wearing cargo-shorts, but there was enough of a cool breeze that light sweatshirts were still the order of the day.

Last week the Santa Monica Farmers' Market was uncrowded--maybe people were out of town in advance of Memorial Day--but today was another story. Getting close to the farmers' tables took a lot a patience and excuse-me's.

Flowers were everywhere and as Russ Parsons described in today's Los Angeles Times, early season cherries made an appearance--Rainiers, Burlats, Black Tartarians, Queen Annes, and Brooks.

The best news was the return of the pluot. Besides the Ha Farm's Mountain Grown Fuji Apples, Scott Farm's pluots and plums (which come later in the season) are my favorite fruits. There were nectarines and peaches but they looked too green and didn't have the fullness that comes from long days of summer heat.

Jimmy Williams of Hay Ground Organic Gardening was selling potted herbs and vegetables. Amazingly he grows all of his high-quality plants in the backyard of his Hollywood home. In the past I had been tempted to buy his plants but never did because our backyard was too heavily shaded. Happily our next-door neighbor is renovating her house and she's thinned out the giant bamboo that had doomed our garden to perpetual shade. To celebrate our backyard's return to full-sun, I picked up an Italian parsley and three tomato plants: Green Zebra, Sweet Olive, and Cherokee Purple.

Walking through the market today made me very happy. Compared to the waxy displays in the supermarket produce section, the farmers' market feels alive with displays of freshly cut flowers, mounds of cherries, arugula, corn, squash, onions, garlic, artichokes, asparagus, carrots, beets, bok choy, spinach, lemons, oranges, apples, apricots, cantaloupe, Lily's eggs, Rockenwagner's baked goods, Carlsbad Aquafarm's shellfish....the list goes on and on.

Because Michelle is out of town, I didn't need much, just the pluots, a bunch of scallions, parsley, and arugula for Michael's salads. The cherries looked so beautiful I couldn't resist buying a pound. I could happily have eaten them straight out of the bag, but friends were coming for dinner and with a little extra effort the cherries would turn into an easy-to-make dessert. I ate one handful and consigned the rest to the oven.

Baked Cherries
Yield 4-6 Servings
Time 45 Minutes

1 pound cherries
1 tablespoon raw sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Pit the cherries and put the halves on a Silpat sheet on a roasting pan. Lightly sprinkle the cherries with raw sugar. Bake for 30 minutes.

Remove and let cool. Cherry nectar will have accumulated inside each cherry, accented by the raw sugar's caramel flavor.

Dust with raw sugar and serve with yogurt, ice cream, or mixed with other fruits like mango or cantaloupe.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Corn Goes from Grill to Salad Bowl

When the weather warms up, I happily trade the stove for the barbecue. What a pleasure to be cooking outdoors. The heat blasting off the grill. The trees and sky overhead. I just love it.

We grill a lot of vegetables. Corn is one of our favorites. Besides enjoying corn on the cob, with very little effort the grilled corn makes a terrific salad.

Grilled Corn
Yield 4 servings
Time 20 minutes

4 ears of corn, silks and husks removed, washed
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper

Drizzle the corn with olive oil, then season with sea salt and pepper. Put on the hot grill. Turn frequently with tongs to avoid burning. Charing adds to the flavor, but just a little bit. Serve hot off the grill by itself or as a side dish.

Grilled Corn Salad
Yield 4 servings
Time 10 minutes

4 ears of corn, grilled
1 bunch Italian parsley, washed, leaves only, finely chopped
1 scallion, washed, ends removed, finely chopped
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper

Use a sharp knife to remove the kernels. In a bowl mix together the corn, parsley, and scallion. Drizzle with olive oil and season with sea salt and pepper. Toss well and serve at room temperature.

Variations

Use cilantro instead of Italian parsley.

Add sautéed onions and garlic, lightly browned in olive oil.

Add bell peppers, red, yellow, or green--raw is good; if grilled, remove the skins--chopped the same size as the corn kernels.