Traveling, Cooking, Reading, and Trains

Date: December 22, 2018

After Santa came through the neighborhood with the North Riverside Fire Department we had a quiet morning and lunch. We played the card game “Oh Snap” with Jurgen and then Chutes and Ladders with Jurgen and Cornelius.

After lunch Cornelius went down for his nap and Carla and I decided to take a walk. Usually we walk separately with one of us staying back to play with the grandkids so Andrew and Henriët can catch up on sleep, rehearse, do chores or whatever. But Carla and I wanted some quiet time together so we headed out. As you know I usually stop at the Riverside depot for train pictures; but today I followed Carla on one of her routes roughly paralleling the Des Plaines River.

Riverside Garage is tucked into a cul de sac just north of the train tracks. I’ve always liked the look of this building. It seems to do good business; there are always cars inside and out.

Riverside Garage. Riverside, IL

Riverside has plenty of big, stately homes and it’s fun to take them in. By big I mean houses with statues outside.

Big house with horse statues. Riverside, IL

I liked this sculpture a bit more.

Lawn sculpture. Riverside, IL

Frank Lloyd Wright lived and worked around Chicago; as a result there are houses and building scattered around. A few years ago (a few? Try 2011) we toured Wright’s home in Oak Park and some of his other buildings. The church Andrew and Henriët are members of was designed by FLW; it underwent a huge renovation which finished a couple of years ago. So, it’s not surprising to find a Frank Lloyd Wright house here and there throughout the villages. Sure enough, Riverside boasts at least one.

Frank Lloyd Wright designed building in Riverside, IL

Some of the characteristics of Frank Lloyd Wright houses are large central chimneys, hidden entrances, very horizontal lines, and large screens of windows. As objects to look at they are nice; but they seem cold and impersonal to me.

In 2014 we toured the Gordon House in Silverton, Oregon. As with the Riverside house I appreciated the lines but it didn’t seem like a practical place to live. Wright certainly wasn’t a user friendly architect. He told people what the house was going to look like, how it would be built, and how it should be decorated. It rains on the west side of the Cascade Mountains in Oregon; the owners wanted a garage. Nope. That would disrupt the flow. Rain gutters? Again, Nope. The interiors just seemed so sterile. Not my thing.

The Riverside house has a garage; I think – not sure – it was added later. You can see the driveway doesn’t line up perfectly. Here’s a shot without the garage.

Frank Lloyd Wright designed building. Riverside, IL

We enjoyed the Christmas decorations on our walk. We saw a unique take on Santa. The big tree in the front yard muddies up the picture a bit.

As we finished the loop we got to a path along the Des Plaines River. Although they aren’t evident in this photo, there were quite a few people out on this cold but clear day.

Walking Path Along the Des Plaines River – Riverside, IL

As we got back to downtown the sun lit up the old water tower beautifully.

Riverside’s Water Tower in the Winter Sun

Santa’s Visit Date: December 22, 2018

The Village of North Riverside has some pull with important people. On the Saturday before Christmas, Santa was escorted through the neighborhoods by the North Riverside Fire Department. One stop was the corner near Andrew and Henriët’s home. Exactly on schedule a fleet of fire trucks and ambulances arrived with lights flashing and sirens blowing. There were the Chief’s SUV, at least three fire trucks and two EMT/Ambulances. It was exciting to see them come in.

Santa Visits North Riverside

Santa escorted through North Riverside by the NRFD
Santa’s escort through North Riverside
Another of the NRFD Fire Trucks escorting Santa

Santa stepped out of the fire truck with the help of NRFD he passed out a few gifts and talked with the boys and girls.

Jurgen checked in and found out he was definitely on the “nice” list.

Jurgen talks with Santa

Cornelius was brave enough to stand next to Jurgen as long as dad was there. But he didn’t want to sit with Santa on his own. I think next year will be the year for him.

Jurgen ran over to show me what was in his gift backpack. Cornelius got a back pack too.

Cornelius, Ouma, Jurgen, and Papa after Santa’s visit to their neighborhood.

Cornelius was catching a bit of a cold and was glad Mama was around

Cornelius with Mama during Santa’s visit to the neighborhood.

While the neighborhood kids were taking their turns with Santa I went over to one of the fire trucks to grab pictures. One of the fire men asked if I’d like to see inside. Oh YEAH! I’m really just a big kid at heart. One of the small rewards of grand children is the opportunity to hang out around big equipment stuff.

Back seat of a NRFD Fire Truck. Note the air tanks fit into the seats.

After Santa visited all the kids on the block, he got back in the fire truck and headed out for his next stop.

I’ve never seen anything like this out in the west where we live. It was a fun community event. It was a great winter day providing ample opportunity for grownups and kids to visit.

The neighborhood celebrating the Christmas spirit

This was one of my best Christmas Vacations ever. I got to see 5 of my 6 favorite people/things.

  • Andrew and Henriët
  • Grandkids
  • Santa Claus
  • Fire Trucks
  • Trains

If Sarah and Jeff had been there it would have been perfect.

Dates of Visit: December 19 – 29, 2018

Our two grand sons live near Chicago; they are at the prime Christmas ages so we knew where we would be on Christmas morning. We arrived in the afternoon of Wednesday December 19 and had a beautiful dinner with our son, daughter-in-law, Jurgen, and Cornelius.

Both of the adult kids had work. Andrew is a high school math and music teacher and his school wasn’t on break yet. Henriët had rehearsals and performances every afternoon and evening. She sang solos in the Messiah at a large Catholic church where she works occasionally. She is also in the Chicago Symphony Chorus and they were performing the same piece. At 2:30 in length, that is a lot of singing. That meant we were on duty to take the four-year-old to pre-school and attend the Christmas show early Thursday morning. What a kick!

Jurgen stayed for his afternoon session; after giving Cornelius his lunch he was down for his nap. So, it was quiet and the weather was good. Carla stayed home while I walked the mile to the Riverside train depot to catch some action.

The weather was surprisingly pleasant – mostly cold, crisp, and clear – during our trip so I was able to get to the platform a few times on our trip. I’m posting my train photos from all the days to keep them together thematically.

No sooner had I reached the east-bound Metra platform than I saw a headlight approaching. I leisurely turned on my camera and adjust the settings when I realized it was coming faster than most trains do. It was the Chicago-bound Zephyr running right on time and it didn’t want to be late this far along. I put the camera up and pushed the shutter release.

I was well behind the yellow line but it was a rush to have it roar by at close to its 70 MPH speed limit. All that work I did this summer on perfecting my settings paid off. I now have my train settings saved in a memory preset. If not for that I never would have got the shot.

A while later a west-bound Amtrak rolled through. I think it was the west-bound Zephyr – or maybe the Southwest Chief.

California Zephyr? Accelerating past Riverside, IL

Don’t tell the La Posada Hotel in Winslow, Arizona – which I love – but I think this is my favorite train catching site on the BNSF Transcon. There are two nice platforms – stretching 1/4 of a mile from east to west. This allows good positioning and a better chance for good light. Except for early mornings, the photo spot in Winslow is shooting into the sun. Later in the week I got my favorite shot of the trip. It was cold but clear and the low sun lit up this BNSF freight beautifully.

Train picture of the trip: Westbound BNSF on a Bright Winter Afternoon in Riverside, IL

One of the great things about my Sony RX10M4 is its 600mm equivalent zoom. When I saw headlights down the track I could to see what was on the way. You can also see the line up of traffic lights every mile or so. I think that tall building in the background is Willis (nee Sears) Tower. Looking on the map it’s a pretty straight line along the tracks.

Downtown Chicago in the distance

Of course there is plenty of Metra traffic on this line. We went with the kids to downtown Chicago on Thursday and Friday after Christmas and took Metra back home. Well, Henriët had to drive the car back. More on that in a later post.

Outbound BNSF Metra on a Sunny and Cold Sunday Afternoon in Riverside, IL

The old water tower is the distinctive feature of Riverside; I think it’s a Riverside misdemeanor if you don’t include it at least 1 photo of it. I have another picture for an upcoming post.

Inbound Metra Passing by the Old Riverside Water Tower

On my last day on the platform, just before my favorite shot I realized there was another rail-fan on the other side of the tracks.

A bush tailed squirrel trackside in Riverside, IL

I learned my lesson about having the camera ready on the first day. On Saturday as Carla and I headed out for a walk – I thought I ought to look at some things in Riverside that aren’t near the train tracks – I heard the low rumble of an accelerating heavy freight train. The zoom came in handy as I snapped this BNSF heading through the intersection.

Kids and grandkids are the real draw but it’s not like I’m going to skip looking at trains if the opportunity arises. I’ll have more on our trip soon.

Author: Andrew Sean Greer
Type: Fiction
Finished: December 16, 2018
Rating: ★★★

Arthur Less travels around the world to avoid attending his impending 50th birthday and his old lover’s wedding. He has some interesting adventures along the way. Although he seems on the edge of despair, nice things keep happening to him. Here he is talking with one of his frenemies.

“Carlos.” He doesn’t feed victorious; he feels defeated. “My life, my life over the past year – “

“Arthur Less,” Carlos interrupts, shaking his head. “You have the best life on anyone I know.”

This is nonsense to Less.

Page 225

Which is the truth; your life as you see it or as others see it?

This novel won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2018. I’ve read 8 of the 9 winners going back to 2009 but I found this one the least compelling. While it was interesting, it wasn’t can’t-put-it-down interesting. My oldest son read the book and loved it and when we talked about it he pointed out a few things I had missed. Things that if I had paid better attention might have pulled me in more.

This novel won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2018. I’ve read 8 of the 9 winners going back to 2009 but I found this one the least compelling. While it was interesting, it wasn’t can’t-put-it-down interesting. My oldest son read the book and loved it and when we talked about it he pointed out a few things I had missed. Things that if I had paid better attention might have pulled me in more.

Photography Dates: December 6 & 13, 2018

I recently picked up some LED light panels to use with my food photography. I’ve used off camera flash in the past with some good results but I wanted to be able to monitor brightness and color balance using constant lighting. As you can see in most of the photos I used a white balance card to set my white balance. I set the WB in camera and then compared the values using the WB dropper in LightRoom. Using a card with flash photography isn’t perfect because we don’t get the full  flash when setting the balance.   You can get close but you don’t really know what you have until you import the pictures.

Using some produce and souvenirs we bought on our various Southwest trips, I set up some test pictures to see how it would work out. In addition to brightness and color balance I wanted to avoid hot spots and diminish shadows.

I used an Aputure Amaran HR672S and two Aputure Amaran H198 lights. Diffusion is essential; pointing the lights at the subject, even using the included diffusion panels left really harsh shadows. For the most part I used two lights coming from 4 o’Clock and 8 o’Clock with the third light pointed either behind the subject or reflected off a white poster board at the back of the picture.

First up, lemons and an onion on our counter top. It is difficult to get the WB correct with this countertop; there is so much brown that when the camera tries to do auto white balance, the photos come out with a dramatic orange bias. But using the WB card to set the balance and shooting with the same light I got pretty close.

LED Lighting Samples

 In the next picture the camera set a white balance of 4,950; Lightroom adjusted it just a tad to 5,150. I don’t see any hot spots but there is a discernible shadow behind the dude with the blue head.

LED Lighting Test

I used the colorful guy with spiky hair to see how colors came out. I did not use a White Balance card in this photo.

LED Lighting Samples

A few days later I tried again while using a white balance card. It made a difference, this is a little bluer than the first one. I think the difference is that I used brighter light here so the Brightness Value is 6.29 compared with 5.91 for the first. I think the color is more accurate – especially the background. 

LED Lighting Samples

I finished with some more produce. A little bit of a hot spot on the onion.

LED Lighting sample

It was a fun couple of days of testing. I’m looking forward to developing my skills.

Cook Date: December 4, 2018

I’ve been including pressure cooker posts on my blog since April 2014 so I got an early seat on that bandwagon. That said, I think I’m the last person on the planet with a pressure cooker who has not made butter chicken – an Indian dish made famous by Urashi Pitre. In January 2018 The New Yorker crowned her the Butter-Chicken Lady.   If you are on FaceBook or other social media you can find literally hundreds of links to her recipe along with literally hundreds of raves. So, somehow the dish welled up in my consciousness and I knew I had to cook it. You can find the recipe on her web site here.

This dish is all about the spices. I knew the spices were the heart of this dish and the profile really piqued my interest. My cooking wheel house is American, western European, and Mexican cuisines. When I looked in my spice cabinet I had most of the spices but some were too old to pack any real flavor. Some of these spices are expensive and I thought twice about getting a bottle of garam masala just to use a couple of teaspoons and then have it sit in the back of the cabinet for the next 6 months. I know that whole spices – as opposed to ground – last longer. So maybe I could go that route. Then I read in the recipe that Urashi recommends making your own garam masala. So I headed over to Penzey’s spices to get some of the ingredients I needed. 

Ingredients for Garam Masala

The cardamom surprised me. It comes in pods – Urashi recommends using seeds from green or white pods. Yeah, the seeds come in pods so I had to pull the seeds out of the pods – which took a bit of time but wasn’t too difficult.

Cardamom pods for the seeds

I portioned out the garam masala ingredients.

Ingredients for Garam Masala

If I wasn’t taking pictures I wouldn’t separate all the ingredients into separate ramekins. I was working on my flash photography on this shoot so I took pictures from different angles.

Ingredients for Garam Masala

Into the spice blender they go.

Ingredients for Garam Masala

Voilá! We have garam masala. It smelled strictly delish.

Garam masala ready for including in butter chicken.

That was just step 1. I knew this would really jump start the dish but it isn’t required. Check the bulk spices section of your local grocer and see if you can buy the bit you need. 

The garam masala is just one part of the final dish – there are lots of other spices and ingredients in the final dish. The recipe calls for cilantro as well but Carla has the gene that makes it taste like soap so we exclude it if we can.

Butter chicken ingredients sans the chicken and cilantro – which we don’t use

Yeah, you see that correctly: butter AND cream. Urashi’s started her blog as part of a radical diet change a few years ago and this doesn’t seem to fit that profile. But am I complaining? No way!

I used every last ramekin I could to set up the mise en place. Like the garam masala most of the ingredients can me combined in the pot. The garam masala is divided into two 1-teaspoon portions and the butter and cream are held until the end.

Butter chicken mise en place

Everything except the butter, cream, and 1 teaspoon of garam masala is stirred together in the pressure cooker and put the chicken on top. Then we cook on high for 10 minutes with a 10 minute natural pressure release. Pull the chicken out and let it cool; then cut into bite sized pieces. Use an immersion blender to combine the sauce. After the sauce has cooled a bit, stir in  the cream and butter, then add back the chicken and rewarm. Serve over rice. 

Urashi and others suggest reserving half the sauce for using with with cooked chicken for left overs, We didn’t do that; while there was a lot of sauce it was great to mix with the rice and/or sop up with the naan we warmed up in a cast iron skillet. Dinner is served.

Dinner is served – Butter chicken

We liked it but be aware it is quite rich. I still have some garam masala I made so we’ll have it again this winter. Definitely great for company

Rating:  ★★★★

Samin Nosrat is the real meal deal. She wrote Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat and created and starred in the four-part Netflix series of the same name. In the series she traveled around the United States, Italy, Mexico, and Japan to explore the four ingredients “that can make or break a dish”. Carla and I were hooked within the first few minutes of the first episode and can’t stop raving about it to our friends. Samin is adventurous, out-going, and just plain fun to be around. Her book has won many awards including the Sunday Times Food Book of the Year. 

In the final episode she made buttermilk roasted chicken which brought together the four elements. The fat comes from the chicken and the buttermilk; the chicken is brined, which brings in the salt, buttermilk is tangy which introduces the acid, and for the heat she roasts the chicken in a particular way. I could have just looked up the recipe – this recipe is on her blog –  but  I loved her and the show so much I bought the book.

The recipe has only three ingredients: buttermilk, salt, and chicken. I went for a nice chicken.

Chicken, buttermilk and salt for this dish.

The day before you plan to roast the chicken, mix a pint of buttermilk with 2 Tablespoons of kosher salt. Clip the little wing tips from the bird and stash it in your chicken parts bag in the freezer for stock. Place the chicken in a gallon sealable plastic bag and pour in the buttermilk-salt brine. Seal it up tight, squish the bag to distribute the buttermilk all around the chicken. Put the bagged chicken in a shallow pan in the refrigerator and – if you want – turn the bag over a few times during the brine. 

Take the chicken out of the refrigerator an hour before you plan to cook it. Preheat the oven to 425°. I placed my cast iron skillet in the oven while it preheated. Scrape off the excess buttermilk. Samin says to tie the legs together; I tried to remember how to truss a chicken. It took me about 3 tries to get the legs securely tied together. The legs may look secure in the photo below but it didn’t hold during the cook – but it didn’t ruin the dish.

Trusssed buttermilk brined chicken ready for the oven.

When the oven comes up to temperature place the chicken in the skillet/roasting pan in a way where the legs can point to the back corner of the oven and then be rotated later. If you preheated a skillet in the oven, be careful, careful, careful – it is rocket hot. Use some good pot holders.

We had a hot oven so we roasted some carrots as an accompaniment. After peeling put in a big bowl and toss with olive oil and kosher salt.

Peeled carrots ready for olive oil  and salt.

After the chicken has roasted for 20 minutes drop the temperature to 400°. After ten more minutes – the chicken has roasted for 30 minutes at this point – turn the skillet/roasting pan to point the legs to the other back corner of the oven and put in the tray of carrots. Cook for another 30 minutes until 

Roasting chicken.

It’s important to keep the oven in the back of the oven which is the warmest part. And keep the legs pointed to the corners which will help the dark meat cook to the required temperature.

Cook for another 30 minutes making sure the thickest part of the thigh and breast is at least 165°. Remove from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes.

Roast chicken out of the oven and sitting on a trivet

Remove to a cutting board for carving.

Buttermilk roasted chicken ready for carving.

The carrots are probably done when the chicken is.

Roasted carrots to go with the roast chicken.

As I carved the chicken I pulled off a wing to enjoy. OMG this was sooo good. The chicken was very moist and tender. Roasted chicken can end up with dried out white meat – but not this dish. The only problem is that it was so tender I couldn’t carve it into picture-worthy pieces. But it tasted fantastic.

Oh, my this is a winner. My previous favorite roast chicken was spatchcocked dry-brined chicken. This dish is the new champion. Mashed potatoes or risotto would be other great sides. 

GO FOR IT. It is simple and delish.

RATING: ★★★★★ . The coveted full 5 stars.

When I blog cooking posts that I’ve tried from another web site I provide a link to the source and only post my own copy if I’ve made substantial changes. This original recipe comes from Cook’s Illustrated which has a pay wall. It is also available on the sister site  America’s Test Kitchen which has some free content though it requires registration. I apologize I can’t provide a direct link to a free version of the recipe but I hope you can get enough information to get you started on your own version.

Like many of my late Fall recipes- three of my last four – we start with mirepoix – diced onions, carrots, and celery.

Mirepoix for Chicken and Dumplings

Brown six bone-in skin-on chicken thighs in  a bit of vegetable oil; pour off the fat retaining about a Tablespoon.

Sautéd chicken thighs for chicken and dumplings

As the thighs brown we line up the rest of the ingredients.

Ingredients lined up for chicken stew.

Sauté the mirepoix until they start to brown.

Mirepoix sautéing for chicken and dumplings

After the mirepoix is lightly browned scrape up the flavorful browned bits with some dry sherry.

Dry sherry used to stir up the fond (brown bits after sautéing)

The original recipe calls for store-bought low sodium chicken stock to which chicken wings are added to add collagen to the stew. I used my homemade chicken stock so omitted the thighs since the homemade has plenty of body. I used the called-for 6 cups but it really could use 8 cups – you’ll find that the dumplings really suck up the broth.

Homemade chicken stock for chicken and dumplings.

Add the broth to vegetables in the Dutch oven, nestle in the chicken thighs. and simmer for about an hour – until the chicken is very tender. At the end remove the thighs and set aside to cool for a bit. When cool, discard the skin and shred the thighs into  bite sized bits; return the shredded parts and bring to a low simmer while you prepare the dumplings. I intended to add 1/2 cup frozen peas to the stew at this point but totally forgot. I added some to the leftovers and they were good.

Dumpling ingredients for chicken and dumplings

The recipe calls for buttermilk – which is great. I used Bulgarian style which I think has more fat in it that regular. Mix the dry ingredients of flour and salt. Melt the butter, let cool slightly then whisk into the buttermilk. Finally whisk in egg white – which keeps the dumplings nice and light. Drop the batter into the pot, cover tightly and simmer until a toothpick comes out clean.

Dumplings simmering in the chicken stew.

Dinner is served. 

Dinner is served – Chicken and Dumplings

This is delicious and is a great cold rainy day dinner.

Rating: ★★★★

Visit Date: November 24, 2018

We’ve had plenty of Portland area winter rain this past week so we had itchy feet to get out and walk a bit. For a change of pace we headed over to the Tualatin Hills Nature Park off Millikan Way west of Murray Blvd in Beaverton. 

Tualatin Hills Nature Park entrance
Tualatin Hills Nature Park entrance

Carl and I are big fans of the Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District. The Portland area in general does a good job of setting aside ample space for parks and nature areas. THPRD does its part on the west side of town. We have a THPRD greenway behind our house where Summer Creek flows.

The nature park has three main trails: the Vine Maple Trail runs through the middle of the park, the Big Fir Trail is on the south and the Oak Trail runs more north.

We started out the Big Fir Trail and took most of the loops off the trail. When finished, we heade up the Oak Trail and the Old Wagon Trail loop. I grabbed some picture – of course – with my Sony 55mm f/1.8 prime lens. Normally I’d take something with a wider aperture – like my 24-105mm zoom but I wanted to play around with the prime. I definitely had to adjust my perspective a few times since I couldn’t pull back to 24mm. Anyway, here are some shots.

Big Fir Trail. Tualatin Hills Nature Park.

In addition to getting some landscape photos I wanted to emphasize some of the late Fall color contrasts.

Tualatin Hills Nature Park. Beaverton, OR

This tree was covered with different shades of green. It was interesting contrast with the orange around it.

Tualatin Hills Nature Park. Beaverton, OR

Even though the area had been soaked with rain the paths were not muddy at all – they are very well maintained.

Side loop off the Big Fir trail at Tualatin Hills Nature Park. Beaverton, OR

I wanted to see what the blurred background would look like with a low/wide open aperture.

Tualatin Hills Nature Park. Beaverton, OR

Toward the end of the Big Fir Trail we saw the namesake trees across a meadow. Did I mention it was a foggy morning?

Big firs on the Big Fir Trail. Tualatin Hills Nature Park

I love ferns. Growing up in the desert I didn’t see many. Now tumbleweeds and Joshua trees we had in abundance. I love the ferns here.

Ferns at the Tualatin Hills Nature Park. Beaverton, OR

Another opportunity to capture the contrast of yellow and green. Go Ducks! 🙂

Tualatin Hills Nature Park. Beaverton, OR

And another close up with a creamy Fall background.

Tualatin Hills Nature Park. Beaverton, OR

Over the years the trees that go down become a home for all sorts of plant life.

Tualatin Hills Nature Park. Beaverton, OR

We logged around 9,000 steps and had a fun time sight-seeing in this park we hadn’t visited for a few years. It seems like it would be a nice place to go even in a light rain as the tree canopy would help serve as an umbrella.

If you live on the Portland West Side I think you’ll like the park. A couple of the trails – Vine Maple for sure – are made of asphalt, don’t have big inclines and are wheel chair accessible.

If you are visiting Portland this is a nice easy hike that won’t take up too much of a day. But if you want to spend a day hiking and don’t mind elevation gains, try Portland’s Forest Park. 

And for a real fun day, take the 4T loop; it is a trip around the west side of Portland on the Train, Trail, Tram,  and Trolley (Portland Streetcar). I wrote about it a few years ago here.

Cook Date: November 21, 2018

For the first time in years we weren’t hosting Thanksgiving dinner at our house. That gave me time to prepare a nice hearty soup/stew for dinner the night before Thanksgiving.

Last weekend we were FaceTiming with our son and grandsons who live in Chicago – Mama was at a rehearsal. We were mostly chatting with the four and two year olds while Papa was making a white bean stew. He told us it was one that I made for them a couple of winters ago. I couldn’t remember it exactly – there are a LOT of white bean soup recipes around – but I was intrigued by his using a small bit of parmesan cheese rind in it. I remember using that in Minestrone soup but not the one he was making. He also added water for the liquid  and I thought, hmmm; that doesn’t sound like me; wouldn’t I have used chicken stock?  

I hadn’t made a bean soup/stew dish for a few years so I knew it would soon be on the menu. I spent the first half of the week pondering and searching through my recipes but just couldn’t find anything that matched what he was making. I found slow cooker recipes, stove top recipes, and oven simmered recipes, but nothing in the pressure cooker like he was making. So,  I texted him and asked him to text me a picture of the recipe. That solved the riddle; that past winter I searched expressly for a vegetarian option and found this recipe from Dad Cooks Dinner  Mike Vrobel is a go-to guy for recipes so I used that.

I found things I liked in that recipe and a couple of others I’ve made.  First was a basic white bean and kale recipe from a a healthy-workplace initiative at my old job a few years ago.  Next a slow cooker recipe from Cooks Country (recipe may be behind a pay wall) added some flavors that improved on the simple original. Finally I used the Dad Cooks Dinner vegetarian-version recipe for pressure cooking steps and the parmesan rind.

I pulled it all together in a blended recipe you can find here.

Let’s get started by brining some Great Northern beans overnight. You can  use Cannellini beans also.  

This time of year it seems like every dish starts with mirepoix: carrots, onion, and celery. With kale and garlic for later in the dish.

Vegetables for Tuscan bean stew
Vegetables for Tuscan bean stew

 We start off with a big difference from the vegetarian version the kids made the week before: Pancetta! It’s diced and gently sautéd until crispy. We need to be careful, it will go from perfectly crispy to burnt in the blink of an eye.

The pancetta is sautéing and everything else is lined up.

Once the mirepoix is finished, we add the beans and give it a big stir.

Mirepoix and Great Northern beans for Tuscan bean stew

Now we are ready to add the liquids and aromatics. I had time to take another close up just because I was fiddling with the camera

Next set of ingredients for Tuscan bean stew

While everything cooks under high pressure for 20 minutes I cut the stems out of the kale and chop into one-inch pieces.

Kale for the Tuscan bean stew

After a quick pressure release we taste and adjust seasoning, then drizzle in a bit of balsamic vinegar for brightness. If the broth isn’t thick enough for your liking, mash a few beans agains the side of the pot. Finally toss in the kale and simmer for about 5 minutes until the kale is tender. 

Ah, delicious goodness ready to be served. (I actually took the picture after we both had two helpings). The recipe makes plenty of soup.

Yummy Tuscan bean soup.

Carla and I watched the four-part Netflix series “Fat, Salt, Acid, Heat” featuring Samin Nosrat – a classically trained chef. She travels to a few different countries to demonstrate how each of those four elements of cooking works. She is very engaging and her enthusiasm is contagious. It the best shows about food I’ve seen in years.  She is so fun I’d love to hang out with her sometime. Since watching, I’ve been mindful of the things I cook in a whole new way.  One of the things she did was demonstrate how dried beans transform during the brining and cooking process. I totally stole the idea of this picture from her.

Dry, soaked, and cooked Great Northern beans.

Carla whipped up some corn bread to go with dinner. Another great choice would be a thick crusted French bread.

Dinner is served. We sprinkled a bit of grated Parmesan Reggiano cheese on top. A drizzle of nice olive oil would be good as well.

Dinner is served. Tuscan bean soup.

This gets a rare 5-star rating. It was just terrific. Carla absolutely loved it. It’s a perfect dinner for a cold, blustery late Fall or Winter dinner. 

RATING: ★★★★★

A note about the pictures – I used my Sony A7R3 with a Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS Lens attached. This lens is amazing but it takes some work to master it. I have a long way to go. I am astounded by the shallow depth of field you can get with it. Take a look at the small area in focus in the shot with an F/2.8 aperture. 

Shallow! depth of field with Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS Lens at f/2.8