Ginger Syrup

8 ounces (225g) fresh ginger, unpeeled
4 cups (1l) water
2 cups (400g) sugar
pinch salt

Cut the ginger into thin slices. Run a knife over it to chop it into rough, smaller pieces. (As shown in the post.)

Place the ginger along with the water, sugar, and salt in a nonreactive saucepan. Heat to a boil, then reduce the heat to a steady simmer, and cook for 45 minutes to one hour.

Let cool, then strain the syrup through a fine-mesh strainer. Store the strained syrup in the refrigerator, covered, until ready to use. The syrup should keep for at least two weeks under refrigeration.

To make ginger soda: Fill glasses 1/3rd full with syrup and add a generous squeeze of fresh lemon or lime juice. Fill the glasses with ice then top with sparkling water or tonic water (or a not-too-sweet citrus soda). Stir gently to mix the ingredients and garnish with a round of citrus or fresh mint.

Other Uses: You could also make a terrific cocktail with this as a base, using bourbon, whiskey, or rum. Another possibility is to use a few spoonfuls of this syrup to sweeten iced tea or drizzle over a fruit salad.

This syrup is quite spicy and if you find it a bit too zippy and want to tone it down, the next time you make it (or the first time) you can blanch the chopped ginger first in boiling water, let it simmer for a couple of minutes, then drain it and proceed with the recipe.

Coconut Milk Rice Pudding with Smoked Sesame Seeds

2 cups almond milk, divided
1/3 cup tapioca pearls
1 cup coconut milk
1/4 cup agave syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon cornstarch with 1 tablespoon water mixed in
1/4 teaspoon salt
Smoked sesame seeds (for garnish)

In a large bowl, soak the tapioca overnight (or for at least 4 hours) in 1 cup of the almond milk. When you’re ready to cook, add the other cup of almond milk and warm the tapioca and almond milk mixture over medium heat. Wait until the pudding is boiling, then add the coconut milk, vanilla, and agave. Cook for another 10 or 12 minutes, stirring continuously.

Finally, add the cornstarch-water mixture and salt, cooking and stirring for five minutes. Cool in a Tupperware or glass bowl for at least an hour before serving. Or eat a little warm, it’s wonderful! When serving, sprinkle a few smoked sesame seeds on top.

Mango and Sticky Rice

1 cup Thai sweet or sticky rice, available in Asian groceries
1 can coconut milk, unshaken
3 tablespoons raw or white sugar, divided
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch (or tapioca flour, available in Asian groceries or in gluten-free section)
2 ripe mangos
Toasted sesame seeds and mint, to garnish

Covered saucepan
Steamer basket
Small saucepan

1. Gather your ingredients. The sticky rice is the most important thing here; you cannot use regular rice. Here’s a photo of the sticky rice I use; it comes in 5-pound bags at the Asian grocery. The grains themselves are small, quite plump, and very white.

2. Soak 1 cup of dry sticky rice in water for about 1 hour. (Some recipes instruct you to soak it overnight, but 1 hour seems sufficient.)

3. Drain the rice and rinse it thoroughly. Then pour about 1 cup of water into a saucepan, and place the rice in a steamer insert inside the saucepan. Cover tightly and steam over low to medium heat for 20 minutes.

4. While the rice is steaming, make the first sauce. You will make two coconut sauces to go on the rice: One thin one to mix into the rice itself, and then a thicker sauce to spoon over top. Start by opening the can of coconut milk and spooning out the thick cream on top.

Place the thicker coconut cream in a small bowl. You should have approximately 1/2 cup, give or take a bit. (All measurements here are approximate, which is completely fine for this recipe.)

5. Pour the thinner, lighter coconut milk left in the can into a small saucepan. (It will be a little over 1 cup.) Stir in 2 tablespoons sugar and 3/4 teaspoon salt. Warm over medium heat, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes. Do not let the sauce boil.

6. By now the rice is probably done. The grains should be tender and shiny. Spoon the rice out into a bowl (it will be clumpy).

7. Slowly pour the warm coconut milk over the rice in the bowl, stirring frequently. You want the milk to coat the rice but not leave puddles. Keep stirring, and stop pouring in coconut milk when it looks like the rice is saturated. You may not use all of the milk.

8. Set the rice aside to finish absorbing the coconut milk; after 15 minutes or so it should have soaked up any milk that is still liquid.

9. While the rice is standing, make the coconut topping sauce. Rinse out the coconut milk saucepan, and pour in the coconut cream that you took off the top of the can. Stir in 1 tablespoon sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together a few teaspoons of water and the cornstarch.

10. Whisk this cornstarch slurry into the coconut cream and cook over low heat for about 3 minutes, or until the mixture thickens considerably. Set aside.

11. To cut up the mango, first cut off the bottom so it can stand upright.

12. Slice away the skin in thin strips, until the mango is completely peeled.

13. Cut off the flesh in slices, starting with the broad cheeks on each side, then the thinner strips that will come off either side.

14. To serve, place about 1/3 cup cooked sticky rice on each plate, and arrange mango slices around it. Drizzle with the coconut topping sauce, and sprinkle with a few toasted sesame seeds. Garnish with a mint sprig, and eat while still warm.

Chicken in Coconut Milk

Chicken in Coconut Milk
Serves 4-6
1 3-lb whole chicken
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
1 tablespoon sesame oil or olive oil
1 cinnamon stick
2 whole pieces star anise
1 bunch cilantro
1 large lemon, cut into eighths
lemongrass, white part, 5″ chopped into 1/4″ pieces
6-8 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 16-oz can coconut milk
3 cups spinach leaves
2 green onions, chopped into 1/4″ pieces

Rinse and dry chicken, then sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Put in refrigerator for up to 24 hours, or set aside while you prepare remaining ingredients if you’re going to cook it right away.

Preheat the oven to 375° F.

You’ll need a covered pot that will hold the chicken close, such as a Dutch Oven. Melt the butter over medium heat, then add the oil. Put in the chicken, breast side up and let it sizzle for about 30 second. Carefully flip the bird and cook the other side, another 30 seconds. Remove from the heat, put the chicken on a plate, and remove the fat in the pot.

Put your chicken back in the pot with the cinnamon stick, star anise, a handful chopped cilantro stems (about 1/2 cup), lemon, lemongrass, garlic and coconut milk and cook in the preheated oven for 60-90 minutes (depending on size), basting the sauce over the top of the bird every 20 minutes or so. The chicken is done when an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thigh reads 165° F.

Remove chicken and put on a plate. Pull out cinnamon stick, and any other solids you do not want to serve with the chicken. Put sauce back on the stovetop, add the spinach and heat over medium flame just until wilted.

Carve chicken and serve each piece over rice with sauce spooned over the top. Garnish with chopped scallions and cilantro leaves.

Macaroni and Cheese with Butternut Squash and Smoked Gouda

12 ounces dried rigatoni
1 1/2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into chunks (3 1/2 cups)
2 3/4 cups milk
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
8 ounces smoked Gruyere cheese, shredded (2 cups)
8 slices bacon
2 small sweet onions, cut into chunks
3 ounces sourdough bread
2 tablespoons butter, melted
fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Lightly butter a 3-quart au gratin or baking dish; set aside. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain; transfer to a large bowl.

Meanwhile, in a large saucepan combine the squash and 2 1/2 cups of the milk over medium-high heat. Bring to boiling; reduce heat to medium, and simmer until the squash is tender when pierced with a fork, 18 to 20 minutes. Stir together remaining 1/4 cup milk and flour; stir into squash mixture. Bring to boiling; cook until thickened, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in 1 1/2 cups of the Gruyere until melted; keep warm.

Meanwhile, in a very large skillet cook bacon until crisp; drain on paper towels. Crumble; set aside. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons bacon drippings. Return skillet to the heat.

Add onions to skillet; cover and cook over low heat 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover and increase heat to high. Cook 4 to 6 minutes more, stirring, until onions are golden.

Add squash-cheese mixture, onions, and bacon to the bowl with the pasta. Toss well to combine, then transfer to prepared baking dish.

Place bread in a food processor and pulse with two or three on/off turns to form large coarse crumbs (you should have about 2 cups). Transfer to a small bowl; mix with melted butter. Sprinkle remaining Gruyere and the bread crumbs over pasta mixture. over Bake until top is browned, about 14 to 15 minutes. Cool 5 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Butternut Squash Lasagna

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 (1 1/2 to 2-pound) butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup water
3 amaretti cookies, crumbled
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 1/2 cups whole milk
Pinch nutmeg
3/4 cup (lightly packed) fresh basil leaves
12 no-boil lasagna noodles
2 1/2 cups shredded whole-milk mozzarella cheese
1/3 cup grated Parmesan

Heat the oil in a heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the squash and toss to coat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Pour the water into the skillet and then cover and simmer over medium heat until the squash is tender, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Cool slightly and then transfer the squash to a food processor. Add the amaretti cookies and blend until smooth. Season the squash puree, to taste, with more salt and pepper.

Melt the butter in a heavy medium-size saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk for 1 minute. Gradually whisk in the milk. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the sauce thickens slightly, whisking often, about 5 minutes. Whisk in the nutmeg. Cool slightly. Transfer half of the sauce to a blender*. Add the basil and blend until smooth. Return the basil sauce to the sauce in the pan and stir to blend. Season the sauce with salt and pepper, to taste.

Position the rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees F.

Lightly butter a 13 by 9 by 2-inch glass baking dish. Spread 3/4 cup of the sauce over the prepared baking dish. Arrange 3 lasagna noodles on the bottom of the pan. Spread 1/3 of the squash puree over the noodles. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup of mozzarella cheese. Drizzle 1/2 cup of sauce over the noodles. Repeat layering 3 more times.

Tightly cover the baking dish with foil and bake the lasagna for 40 minutes. Sprinkle the remaining mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses over the lasagna. Continue baking uncovered until the sauce bubbles and the top is golden, 15 minutes longer. Let the lasagna stand for 15 minutes before serving.

*When blending hot liquids: Remove liquid from the heat and allow to cool for at least 5 minutes. Transfer liquid to a blender or food processor and fill it no more than halfway. If using a blender, release one corner of the lid. This prevents the vacuum effect that creates heat explosions. Place a towel over the top of the machine, pulse a few times then process on high speed until smooth.

Whole Roasted Cauliflower with Goat Cheese

1 head cauliflower, whole, stem trimmed and leaves removed
2 1/2 cups dry white wine
1/3 cup olive oil plus more for serving
1/4 cup kosher salt
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes (or to taste)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 bay leaf
Coarse sea salt (for serving)

Heat oven to 475° F. Bring wine, oil, salt, lemon juice, butter, red pepper flakes, sugar, bay leaf, and 8 cups water to a boil in a large pot. Carefully lower in cauliflower, reduce heat, and simmer, turning occasionally, until a knife easily inserts into center, 15 to 20 minutes.
Using 2 slotted spoons or a mesh strainer or spider, transfer cauliflower to a rimmed baking sheet or roasting pan, draining well. (Reserve stock for another use, such as risotto).

Roast, rotating pan halfway through, until brown all over, 30 to 40 minutes. Transfer cauliflower to a plate. Drizzle with oil; sprinkle with sea salt. Serve with whipped goat cheese (recipe below).

Whipped Goat Cheese

4 ounces fresh goat cheese
3 ounces cream cheese
3 ounces feta cheese
1/3 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons olive oil plus more for serving

Blend goat cheese, cream cheese, feta, cream, and 2 tablespoons olive oil in a food processor until smooth; season with sea salt. Transfer whipped goat cheese to a serving bowl and drizzle with olive oil.

Note: Whipped goat cheese can be made one day ahead. Cover and chill in the refrigerator.

Curried Vegetable and Chickpea Stew

1 teaspoon olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 all-purpose potatoes, diced
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1-inch piece ginger, peeled and grated (about 1 tablespoon)
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 cups vegetable broth
2 (16-ounce) cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 medium head of cauliflower, cut into bite-sized florets
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes with their juices
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
10-ounces baby spinach
1 cup coconut milk

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Sauté the onion with one teaspoon of salt until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the potatoes and another teaspoon of salt, and sauté until just translucent around the edges.

Stir in the curry, brown sugar, ginger, garlic, and chili and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Pour in 1/4 cup of broth and scrape the bottom of the pan to deglaze. Pour this onion-potato mixture into the bowl of your slow cooker.

To the slow-cooker, add the rest of the broth, chickpeas, bell pepper, cauliflower, tomatoes with their juices, the pepper, and the final teaspoon of salt. Stir to combine. The liquid should come half-way up the sides of the bowl; add more broth as necessary. Cover and cook for 4 hours on HIGH.

Stir in the spinach and coconut milk. Cover with lid for 1 minute to allow the spinach to wilt. Taste and adjust salt and other seasonings as needed.

Serve on its own or over cous cous, Israeli cous cous, or orzo pasta.

Recipe Notes:
Stove-Top Version: Instead of cooking in a slow cooker, simmer the stew over low heat on the stove top in a large Dutch oven or soup pot for 45-60 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender. Add the spinach and coconut milk and stir until the spinach ha wilted. Taste and add more seasonings if needed.

Crunchy Peanut Slaw

1 medium head green cabbage, outer leaves removed
1 1/2 cups roasted, unsalted peanuts
1 bunch green onions
1 cup chopped cilantro (about two big handfuls unchopped)
Salt and pepper

1/2 cup light oil, like canola
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar (or more, to taste)
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon soy sauce (or more, to taste)

Shred the cabbage very finely. The fineness of the shredded cabbage is really what makes this salad; you want it in in threads, almost, and with the threads chopped into bite-size lengths. Toss with the peanuts in a large bowl. Chop the scallions, including the green and white parts. Toss the scallions and chopped cilantro with the cabbage, seasoning very lightly with salt and pepper.

Whisk the dressing until emulsified, then taste and adjust to your own preferences of sweetness and saltiness.

Toss with the cabbage. Garnish with a few more peanuts and serve.

Slow-Cooked Hoisin Pork Wraps with Peanut Slaw

Hoisin and Ginger Shredded Pork
6 pounds pork butt, trimmed of thick fat
Salt and pepper
6 cloves garlic, smashed
1 large piece fresh ginger, about five inches long
1 bottle hoisin sauce (12-15 ounces)*

Rub the trimmed pork shoulder all over with salt and fresh cracked black pepper. Put in the slow cooker (cut in pieces first, if necessary). Add the smashed garlic cloves, tucking them around the pork. Peel and grate the ginger and put it in too. Pour the hoisin sauce over everything. Cover and cook on low for about 10 hours or overnight.

When finished and tender, use two large forks to shred the meat and mix it with the sauce.

*Note: Hoisin sauce is a rather sweet and lightly spicy barbecue sauce used in Chinese cooking. If you don’t want to use a processed product from the store, try making your own! Here is a recipe for basic hoisin sauce that calls for soy sauce, honey, hot sauce, and other common ingredients.

To Serve:
1 batch Crunchy Peanut Slaw (see related recipe)
2 dozen small tortillas or wraps (lavash bread is also nice, although I prefer whole wheat tortillas)
Spicy chili-garlic sauce (if desired)

Warm the tortillas in the microwave, covered with a damp towel. Serve the pork, tortillas, and slaw together, wrapping up the slaw and pork together.

Related: Recipe: Rigatoni with Shredded Pork in Mustard Cream Sauce

Slow-Cooked Carnitas

Makes 20-30 taco-sized servings

1 (6-8 pound) pork butt, also called pork shoulder
2 tablespoons coarse salt
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
8 whole cloves garlic, smashed
4 chipotle peppers (canned or dried)
1 cup tomato juice
1 cup orange juice

Trim excess fat from the meat and discard. Place all ingredients in the slow-cooker. Set to cook on LOW for 8 hours. Meat is done when it literally falls off the bone. When cool enough to handle, lift the meat from the juices and place in a large bowl. Remove the bone, then shred the meat.

Skim the fat from the juices and keep as a medium for re-heating the meat.

For carnitas tacos, reheat the meat and serve in corn tortillas with sour cream, cilantro, chopped red onion and lime wedges.

Slow-Cooked Barbacoa Beef

Makes enough meat to stuff 30 tacos

4 chipotle peppers (from a can), minced, plus all the adobo sauce it sits in
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
1 red onion, peeled and cut into large chunks
1 head garlic, peeled and cloves smashed
2 teaspoons ground cloves
1 tablespoon kosher salt
Juice of 4 limes
1/2 cup cider vinegar
5 to 7 pounds beef brisket
4 to 6 cups beef or chicken stock
5 bay leaves

To serve:
Corn tortillas
Diced onions
Minced cilantro

Stir together the chipotle peppers and their sauce, cilantro, red onion, garlic, clove, salt, lime juice, and cider vinegar and pour into a 7-quart slow cooker (if you have a food processor, you can also pulse till combined before adding). Place the brisket on top of this mixture. (Cut the brisket into a few pieces if necessary to better fit in the slow cooker.) Add stock to cover the meat and place the bay leaves on top. Use tongs to turn the meat a few times in the sauce.

Put the lid on the slow cooker. Cook for 8 to 10 hours on LOW. When done cooking, it should shred easily with two forks.

Transfer the meat from slow cooker to a rimmed baking sheet. Use two forks to pull the meat apart. Discard the fat, if desired (though if you plan on frying it again before use, the small fat bits are extra tasty and should be kept!). Place the shredded beef in large bowl and ladle the cooking liquid over the top a few scoops at a time. You want the meat to hold the liquid but not swim in it; you may not need to use all of the cooking liquid. (The leftover liquid is very tasty and can be frozen in cube-sized portions for use in later dishes.)

To keep the barbacoa warm for guests, you can return the shredded beef to your slow cooker and keep it warm on the WARM setting. Serve with fresh tortillas, onion, cilantro, and salsa.

Recipe Note
• Doubling this recipe: If your slow cooker is large enough to hold double the amount of meat, you can simple double the recipe. Otherwise, plan ahead and make two batches back to back. Once the meat is shredded, it should be reduced enough in volume to be warmed in a single slow cooker.

• Using Other Cuts of Meat: Other than brisket, any tough “roast” cut will work: shoulder or rump roast, top or bottom round. Similar cuts of pork, lamb, or goat also make fine substitutes.

Wild Rice Pilaf with Pumpkin

1 (2- to 2 1/2- pound) sugar or pie pumpkin, peeled, seeded and cut into 3/4- to 1-inch pieces to yield about 4 to 5 cups; 1 pound)
1 medium onion, cut into 1/2- to 3/4-inch dice (about 1 1/2 cups)
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons mild olive or vegetable oil
1/2 cup water
3 to 4 tablespoons maple syrup, preferably dark or Grade B
2 cups cooked wild rice

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Have ready a roasting pan large enough to comfortably hold all of the pumpkin pieces. Combine the pumpkin, onion, salt and pepper to taste and the oil in the pan, tossing to coat evenly. Add the water. Pour 2 tablespoons of the maple syrup over the pumpkin pieces. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the wild rice according to package directions to yield 2 cups cooked rice.
After the pumpkin has baked for 30 minutes, remove the foil and return the pan to the oven. Roast for about 30 minutes. (If the pumpkin is cooking unevenly, stir the pieces around after 15 minutes. Depending on the size of the pieces, total cooking time is about 60 minutes.)
When the pumpkin and onion mixture is tender and starting to brown, remove from the oven. Add the wild rice and 1 tablespoon of the remaining maple syrup, stirring to combine. Taste and add salt, pepper or maple syrup as needed. Serve hot.

Pumpkin Grits with Brown Butter

For the brown butter:

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
1 sprig thyme

For the grits:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion, very finely chopped (3/4 to 1 cup)
2 1/2 cups water
3 1/2 cups whole milk, or more as needed
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more to taste
3/4 cup stone-ground grits
15 ounces (1 can) pumpkin puree (may substitute sweet potato puree)
Leaves from 1/2 bunch thyme, chopped (3 tablespoons; may substitute leaves from 2 stems of sage)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

For the brown butter: Melt the butter in a medium skillet over medium heat, then cook for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the butter just turns brown. Transfer to a heatproof bowl and add a sprig of thyme, making sure it is completely submerged.

For the grits: Melt the butter over medium-low heat in the same skillet used to cook the brown butter. Add the onion; cook for about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until softened and almost creamy. Remove from the heat; transfer the onion and butter to a bowl.
Combine the water, 3 cups of the milk, salt and pepper in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan over high heat; bring to a boil. Use a long-handled whisk to slowly mix in the grits. Be careful; the grits will soon begin to sputter. As soon as the mixture has thickened a bit, reduce the heat to medium or medium-low and cook for 30 to 35 minutes, whisking often, scraping the sides and bottom of the saucepan and adjusting the heat as needed to prevent scorching, until the grits have thickened to the consistency of porridge. Add milk if the grits become too thick.

Add the onion, pumpkin puree and thyme leaves to the grits; cook for 3 minutes, stirring or whisking continuously. Remove from the heat; add the remaining 1/2 cup of milk and the Parmigiano-Reggiano; stir until the cheese is thoroughly incorporated. Taste, and add pepper as needed.
Divide among individual bowls. Drizzle each portion with some of the brown butter (discarding the thyme sprig). Serve hot.

Pumpkin Seed Crust (for Chicken or Fish)

1 cup raw, unsalted, hulled pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup plain dried bread crumbs
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Place the pumpkin seeds in a food processor; pulse until coarsely chopped. Transfer to a small, dry skillet; toast over low heat for several minutes, until fragrant, shaking the pan often to promote even doneness. Transfer to a mixing bowl to cool.
Stir in the bread crumbs, the oil, crushed red pepper flakes and the curry powder. Season with salt and black pepper to taste. Use right away, or freeze in an airtight container for up to 3 months.

To use it on the chicken, whisk 2 large egg whites until they are foamy. Pound 4 chicken breast halves to an even thickness, then dip them into the egg whites, coating both sides. Press both sides into the pumpkin seed crust mixture, making sure to coat them evenly; this will use about 1 3/4 cups. Saute in a nonstick skillet with a little bit of olive oil; the crust will brown nicely.

Basic Beans in the Slow Cooker

Any amount of dried beans
2 teaspoon salt per pound of beans, divided
Aromatics, like a bay leaf, peeled garlic, minced onion, or dried herbs (optional)
Smoked meat, like ham hock or smoked turkey leg (optional)

3 1/2-quart or smaller slow cooker, for 1 pound of beans or less
5-quart or larger slow cooker for 2 pounds of beans or more

Soak the beans overnight (optional): Rinse the beans under cool, running water and remove any shriveled or unappetizing-looking beans. Transfer them to a bowl and cover with several inches of clean water. Let sit overnight. Drain before cooking.

? Safety Note: If you are cooking kidney beans, boil them for 10 minutes before cooking. This neutralizes a toxin called phytohemagglutinin (say that 3 times fast) that can cause acute digestive distress.

Transfer the beans to the slow cooker: If you haven’t already done so, rinse and pick over the beans.

Add aromatics: Place the aromatics on top of the beans.

Cover with water: Pour enough water over the beans to cover them by about 2 inches. Add 1 teaspoon of salt and stir to dissolve.

Cook on low for 6 to 8 hours: Cover the pot and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours. If you this is your first time cooking beans or you’re cooking an unfamiliar kind of bean, begin checking the beans after 5 hours and then every 30 minutes until they are cooked to your liking. Beans generally finish cooking in 6 to 8 hours. When the beans are soft but still a little more firm than you’d like, add the second teaspoon of salt and continue cooking until done.
Cool and store: Cool the beans and then store them in the fridge for a week or in the freezer for up to 3 months.

Recipe Note:
• For a quicker cooking time, or if your beans are older than a year, try soaking the beans overnight with a brine solution of 1 1/2 tablespoons of salt mixed into 8 cups of water.

Cider Beans

1 pound dry Great Northern beans, soaked overnight (or using the quick soak method)
2 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil
2 medium yellow onions, diced small (about 2 cups)
1 large carrot, diced small (about 3/4 cup)
1/3 cup tomato paste
3 tablespoons blackstrap molasses (See Recipe Note)
1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon or spicy brown mustard
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 cups apple cider
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (about 20 grinds)
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
4 garlic cloves, minced

Put the soaked beans in a medium saucepan and pour in 4 cups of water, or enough to cover the surface of the beans by about 1 inch. Set the pot over medium high heat and bring the liquid to a boil. As soon as it boils, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer the beans for 1 1/2 hours, until they are tender and creamy. Don’t boil them. The water should be busy, like a Jacuzzi, but not toiling like a witch’s cauldron. Test several beans from around the pot to determine their texture. (See How to Cook Beans on the Stove)

While the beans cook, heat the oil in a large Dutch oven or saucepan over medium heat. Once the oil is hot, add the onions and carrots and sweat them for 30 minutes until the onions become a little flimsy and take on a smidgen of color from the carrots, whose diced corners will have become less severe as the veggies soften from the heat. Neither the onions nor the carrots should brown at all as they sweat. Keep an eye on the pot to make sure the heat isn’t too high, and give a stir now and again, but for the most part, leave these aromatics to their own devices.

So you don’t obsess over the simmering beans or the sweating vegetables, distract yourself by making the base for the cider sauce. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the tomato paste, molasses, mustard, and brown sugar until smooth and uniform. Slowly add the vinegar, whisking again until a looser paste forms. Pour the cider in a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly to make a fluid mixture. Add the salt, pepper, and thyme. Stir again to incorporate. Set aside.

After the onions and carrots have sweated for 30 minutes, add the garlic and cook for another 2 minutes. Pour the cider sauce into the pot with the vegetables and stir everything together.

When you’re certain the beans are relatively unanimously tender, strain them, reserving the cooking liquid. Add the beans to the pot with the cider sauce. Measure 1 1/2 cups of the bean cooking liquid and add it to the beans in the cider sauce. (Note: There’s a good chance the amount of liquid left in your simmered beans will be just right and you can take your chances with dumping everything in without straining or measuring separately. But pot sizes, different guesstimates of initial water coverage, and varying temperatures can make for inconsistent totals of simmer liquid. I’ve been specific here to help avoid watering down beans. If you come up short on simmering liquid, simply add more water to hit the recommended 1 1/2 cups.)

Simmer the beans in this liquid now for another 30 to 45 minutes, until the beans thicken the sauce with their starches to your liking. For saucier beans, simmer closer to 30 minutes. For thicker, richer sauce that coats the beans, simmer for 45 minutes or longer. Stir occasionally as the beans cook in the sauce to prevent any from sticking to the bottom. Adjust the seasoning with more salt and pepper to your taste.

Cool leftovers to room temperature before transferring to an airtight container. Refrigerate up to 1 week, or freeze for a month. When reheating the cider beans, add water a few tablespoons at a time to loosen the sauce as it warms.

Pumpkin and White Bean Soup with Ham

2 Tbsp olive oil
2 cups chopped yellow onion
3 bay leaves
2 stalks of celery, chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
One 2 pound whole sugar pumpkin, halved, seeds scooped out, flesh peeled, and cut into 1-inch chunks (resulting in 3 1/2 cups or 1 pound of chunks)
1/2 pound ham hock
8 cups chicken stock
1 15-ounce can of whole peeled tomatoes, drained OR 1 large fresh, ripe tomato, peeled and chopped
2 15-ounce cans of cannellini white beans, rinsed and drained
6 sprigs of thyme, tied with string (or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme)
1 large sage leaf (optional)
4 large Swiss chard leaves (can substitute kale), center rib removed, leaves roughly chopped
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil on medium heat in a large, thick-bottomed pot (5 to 6 quart). Add the onion and the bay leaves and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until slightly softened. Then add the chopped celery, cook for 2 to 3 more minutes. Then add the minced garlic and cook for a minute more.

Add the chopped pumpkin and the ham hock to the pot. Add the stock, tomatoes, and thyme. Increase heat to bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to maintain a simmer, uncovered. Let simmer for an hour and a half.

Remove the ham hock from the soup pot, to a plate to let cool enough to handle. Add the white beans and cook for 15 minutes. Add the chopped chard, simmer until chard is wilted, a few minutes more.

Strip the meat from the ham hock, chop it, and return to the pot. Add 1 to 2 cups of water to the soup to thin it to your preference. Remove the bay leaves before serving.