Cajun Red Beans & Rice

I have a group of awesome friends and one of my favorite things about them is that we all love to cook. With the New Year and increasingly crazy schedules and tight budgets, we decided to start a supper club of sorts. Once a month, we get together and somebody teaches us how to make one of their signature dishes and everybody brings complimentary side dishes. I claimed the month of February because of Mardi Gras and my love for New Orleans food. Together we made my red beans and rice and a King cake and we munched on Cajun spiced deviled eggs, crab dip, pralines and all sorts of other goodies.

Traditionally red beans are made with andouille sausage but as a vegetarian with mostly vegetarian friends, I obviously leave the meat out. Instead I substitute one of my favorite secret ingredients: liquid smoke. It costs a whopping $2.50 at my grocery store (next to the BBQ sauce and marinades, if you’re interested) and lasts forever. It adds a little bit of oomph to dishes that usually include sausage or bacon. Can’t find it or a little afraid? Feel free to leave it out, but you’re missing out on something. As for the beans themselves, this is a recipe where you’ll really want to start with dry. You’ll end up with a really tasty dish that’s fat and cholesterol free. Not a bad way to celebrate a holiday that’s normally associated with indulgence.

Red Beans and Rice

  • 1/2 pound dried red beans, picked through
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp Cajun seasoning (I like Tony Chachere’s)
  • 1 tbsp liquid smoke (optional)
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • salt to taste
  • 4 cups cooked rice (brown or white!)
  • Tabasco (optional)

In a large pot, cover beans with an inch of water. Bring to a simmer, cover and let cook for 30 minutes, adding water if needed. Once beans start to soften, add onions, celery, garlic, Cajun seasoning and liquid smoke. Cover and simmer until beans are soft, another 30 minutes or so. Remove cover, add bell pepper,  and continue simmering uncovered. Periodically stir the beans, mushing them against the sides of the pot with the spoon until the mixture is thick and stew like, then adjust salt to taste. Serve over with rice with Tabasco on the side. Serves 4 to 6.

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Welcome to February

Hey everybody! It turned out that a break was even more needed than I expected. I should have realized that with that much going on something was bound to go wrong or perhaps that it was my turn for the monster cold that had already flattened the rest of my lab. But I survived with the help of many Puffs Plus with Lotion tissues and spicy tom kha soup from my favorite Thai restaurant.and even managed to pull off a well-received talk at a conference. Now I just have to get through giving a 2 hour lecture this Tuesday and I will be able to breathe again.

In the meantime, I’ve come up with a single goal for the month of February and hopefully beyond: simplify. I’m interested in so much but I can’t enjoy myself when I’m stretched thin. I’m not auditioning for a solo with my chorus, I cut back on my volunteering, I convinced my book club to go every other month and am learning to say no to all kinds of things.

As for this blog, I’m going to cut back to posting 3 or 4 times a week and focus on the topics I really enjoy writing about, like recipes and DIY projects.

What are your goals for February?

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Study Break

Hey folks,

I currently find myself swamped with deadlines and responsibilities at work. By the time I get home, sitting down at the computer to come up with a new blog post has begun to feel like another assignment and responsibility. So, I’m going to take a study break and spend sometime relaxing and hopefully find some excitement in blogging again.

Mary Beth

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Simple Lima Beans

Y’all, I feel a little silly posting this recipe. After all, it only calls for 4 ingredients. But this is hands-down my favorite way to prepare baby lima beans: the limas get to stand out, rather than being smothered in sauce, and they taste fresh and summery, even though they’re cooked from dry.

Simple Lima Beans

  • 1/2 pound dried baby lima beans
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 bay leaf

(See? Only 4 ingredients!) Pick through and rinse dried beans. Then transfer to a pot, add the remaining ingredients then enough water to cover by an inch. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook until the beans are tender, about an hour. Add additional water if needed. Drain, and serve with a splash of olive oil and additional salt if desired. Serves 4.

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Weekly Update: January 21

I don’t know about you guys, but my weekends are either jam packed with social activities or nothing at all. This weekend was one of the former and I managed to pack an awful lot into 48 hours. Friday night I went to one of my book clubs, where we discussed the book¬†Gone Girl in all of 5 minutes before switching to Magic Mike, which oddly prompted a lot more discussion. I scurried off to catch the tail end of a wine and cheese with a group of classmates. Saturday morning I dragged myself up early to babysit then go into work (thrilling I know). Sunday I spent the whole day with a friend I haven’t seen in a while. After talking about it for 4 years (we met MLK weekend 2009!) we finally made it to the infamous farmers market under the freeway. This is not a fancy market, with pastries, coffee beverages and live entertainment, but dirt cheap local produce. For $4.50 I came away with 2 lbs of potatoes, 2 lbs of onions, 1 lb broccoli & 1 large bunch mustard greens. Then we went off to her house to cook it all up before more friends joined us for an afternoon of tasting her homebrewed beer and wine.

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Whole Wheat Bread

This week I was feeling a little lazy and never got around to feeding the starter for my half whole wheat sourdough, forcing me to bake a slightly more traditional loaf of whole wheat bread for my breakfasts. It’s a lot more like what you’d find in a supermarket: softer crust and slightly sweet. It’s also easily made in an evening or an afternoon, for same time bread enjoyment. I use brown sugar in this recipe because that’s what I always have on hand but feel free to substitute honey or molasses. Just keep in mind that you might have to adjust the liquid. Anyways, I hope you enjoy it. I know you’ll enjoy the way it makes your home smell.

Whole Wheat Bread

Whole Wheat Bread

  • 1 1/2 cups warm water
  • 3 tbsp oil or melted butter
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar, honey or molasses
  • 3 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp instant yeast
  1. Using a mixer with dough hook, food processor with dough blade or in a large mixing bowl, mix all ingredients to form a shaggy dough (it’s totally ok if there’s still a little flour on the bottom).
  2. Allow the dough to rest for 20 minutes.
  3. Knead dough for 10 minutes until it is smooth, if still slightly sticky to touch.
  4. Cover the mixing bowl and allow the dough to rise for 1 hour.
  5. Shape the dough into a log and transfer to a greased 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 bread pan.
  6. Cover the dough with a greased sheet of plastic wrap and allow to rise for another hour, or until it has risen to about 2 inches over the rim of the pan.
  7. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Bake bread for 45 minutes.
  8. Remove the bread from the oven and transfer it from the pan to a cooling rack.

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The Budget Fast

I’m sure this will come as a surprise to you but I’m super pumped about my trip coming up in a few months. However there was some uncertainty about my funding for the next few months so I had to wait to buy the tickets until that was nailed down. Unfortunately that translated to a slightly more expensive ticket than I expected. I can still afford my hotel, trains, etc, but there’s less money than I had hoped for for things like museums or fine dining. As a result, I’ve decided to go on a budget fast in hopes of saving up for a nice meal or two and a few glasses of wine along the way. So far I’ve eliminated my contribution to house improvements, stepped my efforts at riding the bus, crossed off the unnecessary or splurge ingredients from my grocery list, and am attempting to dial back at eating out except for special occasions (like last week’s birthdays). Any other suggestions for me?

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