Desperation Beans and Rice

Desperation Beans and Rice appeared one snowy Sunday afternoon at the cabin when I forgot that the local supermarket closed at noon.  We had planned to drive back to New Richmond but decided to enjoy a cozy evening in front of the wood stove rather than risk the snow-covered highway.  

We did have a little bacon and some canned vegetables, a stalk of celery, some onions and a green pepper.  The improvised dish turned out to be a tasty and easy variation on our recipe for Red Beans and Rice.  It did not require soaking dried beans overnight and then cooking them with a smoked pork hock for two hours.  I did have to clean and chop the vegetables, but I just hummed “the weather outside is frightful” while working at the counter.

Although this dish has very little meat in it, even a carnivore like me finds it perfectly satisfying for a meal.  This recipe makes enough to serve four hungry diners.  If there are only two of you, you’re in luck.  Refrigerating the dish for a day or two improves the flavor, so you can enjoy a second dinner without having to cook it.

INGREDIENTS:

2 – 4 strips thick cut bacon (1/2 cup chopped)

1 medium onion (about 3 inches in diameter)

1 medium green bell pepper

2 large ribs celery

1 beef bouillon cube

1-1/2 cups water

2 bay leaves

1/8 tsp. thyme

1/4 tsp. oregano

1 15 oz. can kidney beans or small red beans

1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes

1/16 to 1/8 tsp. hot sauce 

Salt and black pepper to taste

2 or 3 green onions

3/4 cup white rice

1-1/2 cups water

1/2 tsp. salt

PROCEDURE:

Chop the bacon into half-inch pieces and put them into a heavy-bottomed three or four quart saucepan over low heat.  While the bacon begins to cook, remove the dry outer layers from the onion and chop it into a quarter-inch dice.  Stir the onion into the bacon and continue cooking until the onion is translucent.

Wash the bell pepper and celery.  Cut the pepper into quarters and remove the seeds and white membrane.  Chop the pepper and celery into a half-inch dice and mix them with the bacon and onion.  Add the water, bouillon cube, bay leaves, thyme and oregano and bring the mixture up to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer the vegetables for ten minutes.  

Stir the beans and tomatoes with their juices into the vegetables and continue simmering the mixture while you cook the rice.  When the beans and vegetables start to simmer, stir in the hot sauce and green onions and taste the beans and vegetables.  Adjust the seasoning to suit your taste.

Rinse the rice in a one-quart saucepan, add the water and salt and bring the rice to a boil, stirring a couple of times.  When the rice comes to a boil, reduce the heat to very low, cover the pan and cook the rice until all the water has been absorbed. Remove the pan from the heat.

Remove the pan from the heat, fluff the rice and spoon the beans over the rice in bowls.  Serve with salad (if you have some) and bread.

NOTES:   Feel free to use a third rib of celery or a really large green pepper and to add water if the mixture seems too thick.

I have not tried it, but I think that you you could substitute a can of black beans for the red.

Easy Creamed Chicken

When our family had chicken for dinner when I was growing up, there was seldom anything left over.  Today, however, Jerri and I are often confronted by half a chicken on the platter.  We remove the meat from the bones, simmer the carcass, strain the broth and find creative ways to make use of those leftovers.

We make chicken sandwiches, chicken salad and chicken tetrazzini with the meat and variations on chicken soup with the broth.  Very little goes to waste in the Rang household.

I vaguely remember occasionally having cubed chicken or turkey in a white sauce for lunch.  If it was turkey, it was probably created by Winifred Larson, our cook at Blair School.  She ordered the turkeys through the National School Lunch Act, which provided commodities to help public schools provide nutritious meals for students at low prices.  The more I think about those lunches on cold winter days in that white-washed basement, the more I wanted to try my hand at creating a dish like I remembered.

As a thrifty housewife, Jerri makes a delicious Turkey a la King, but her recipe is more complicated than my creation.  Also, mine is made with leftover chicken instead of turkey.  Here is what I did, and Jerri judged it an unqualified success.

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup hot water

2 chicken bouillon cubes

4 T butter

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/8 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. white pepper

1/8 tsp. tarragon

Dash of nutmeg

1 cup half and half

2 cups chopped cooked chicken

PROCEDURE:

Dissolve the bouillon cubes in the hot water.  If necessary, you can heat the water in your microwave until the cubes dissolve.  Chop the chicken into bite-sized pieces and microwave a cup of half and half until it is warm.

Melt the butter in a two-quart saucepan over moderate heat.  Stir the flour, salt, pepper, tarragon and nutmeg into the butter.  Using a wooden spoon, stir the mixture continuously for three or four minutes while it bubbles in the pan, then add the half and half.  Keep stirring until you have a smooth sauce.   

Add the chicken and cook the mixture until the meat is hot.  Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.  Serve over toast, rice or potatoes for a simple lunch or dinner.

NOTES:  if you have any available, you can substitute a cup of chicken broth for the water and bouillon cubes.  I use the cubes and water to avoid opening a quart box of broth when I need only a cup.

Leftover rotisserie chicken is especially good for this recipe.