I had big plans. I was going to serve you a real whopper of a dessert today. It was going to be the butterscotch budino from Pizzeria Mozza, if you really want to know, the dessert that Frank Bruni calls “a pudding to shame all other puddings.” (Isn’t that that the single best line of praise ever? I want someone to call me “a pudding to shame all other puddings.”) It was going to be great.

Have you heard about it, this butterscotch budino? I first learned of it when Luisa wrote about Mozza last March, and then I went chasing the recipe, which, happily, was printed in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and Bon Appétit, each with a drool-inducing description. It sounded heart-stoppingly good: a ramekin of rich butterscotch pudding topped with a warm caramel sauce and a hearty smattering of salt and, on top of that, a dollop of crème fraîche whipped cream. Needless to say, I printed the recipe and planned to make it immediately.

Of course, “immediately” turned out to be this past weekend, which wasn’t so immediate, but anyway. I made it, and despite its three separate components, it was really quite simple and painless. (I even made the crème fraîche from scratch! So much cheaper that way.) But oh, I don’t know. I didn’t love it. Maybe I did something wrong? Or maybe it requires a pinch of pastry chef pixie dust that the recipe forgot to mention? The pudding was very nice, but it didn’t leave me clawing for more. The caramel sauce was likewise tasty, but it didn’t make me feel like ripping off my clothes and bathing in it, which, let’s be honest, a really good caramel usually makes me want to do. It wasn’t bad; I just wasn’t as excited as I wanted to be.

Does this make me a bad person? A picky little twit? Or perhaps I’m just so-so when it comes to making puddings and caramels? Maybe I’ll make it again this week, just to give it the good old college try. Or maybe I’ll dig out another recipe I clipped a couple of years ago, a recipe for butterscotch pot de crème, and try that instead. Would you like that? I certainly would. Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love ya tomorrow.

Anyway, this is just to say that I had Exciting! Fun! Plans for today, but instead, I bring you an old standby. Not that it’s anything to sneeze at. It’s just less flashy, that’s all. It’s the recipe for Brandon’s quick black beans with cumin and oregano.

Much like his chickpea salad, these beans are something we eat often for lunch, especially on Saturdays and Sundays, when we want to sit down and share a meal but don’t feel much like fussing. We ate them yesterday, in fact, and in mid-chew, I thought, Gosh, I really should tell them about this. Which is more than I can say for some things.

I’m going to go out on a limb here, but I really do believe it: that there is great value, people, in knowing how to doctor a can of beans. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s one of those important life skills, like knowing how to make a bed, tie your shoes, or operate a corkscrew. In this case, you just cook an onion in olive oil, add some cumin and oregano and a good splash of hot sauce, and then chuck in a can of beans, juices and all. (I know the can juices can seem kind of yucky, but as Brandon likes to say, think of it as a broth of sorts. Doesn’t that feel better?) It all burbles together for a few minutes, just long enough to warm through, and then it’s ready to go, earthy and spicy and faintly sweet. With a green salad on the side, or some sliced avocado, or some bread and a hunk of cheddar, or, heck, whatever’s in the fridge, these beans make a terrific, easy lunch. Which, if you ask me, is much more important than pudding anyway.

Have a happy week, friends. I’ll see you on the canned beans aisle.


Oh, but wait! One more thing: our cooking class on “misunderstood” winter vegetables – Brussels sprouts, fennel, and cauliflower – is coming up fast! And there are still a few spots available! The class will take place next Tuesday, January 29, in Bellingham, and is hosted and organized by In the Kitchen, a new production of Ciao Thyme, the lovely and talented people who catered our wedding. To learn more about our vegetable class – and our eggs class on March 18 – please click here. You can sign up by e-mailing classes (at) inthekitchenbellingham (dot) com, or by calling 360.733.1267. We’re tickled, just tickled, to have this chance to teach, and we really do hope to see you there.

Quick Black Beans with Cumin and Oregano

Canned black beans differ dramatically from brand to brand. Brandon usually uses Trader Joe’s brand, or Bush’s, or Goya, and all are very good. Yesterday we made these beans with Western Family organic brand, and they weren’t nearly as tasty. So be choosy about your beans.

Oh, and about hot sauces: you can use most any brand of Mexican-style hot sauce, but if you happen to make this kind, save the strained solids and use a spoonful in this dish. They toast a little in the heat of the pan, and the resulting flavor is really terrific. We’ve also used Tapatió, and it was very good too.

Olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 tsp. ground cumin
½ tsp. dried oregano
½ tsp. Mexican-style hot sauce, or more to taste (this amount makes mild beans)
1 small (or ½ medium) clove garlic, pressed
1 (15-ounce) can black beans
¼ tsp. salt, or to taste

Pour a glug of olive oil into a medium saucepan, and warm it over medium heat. Add the onion, increase the heat to medium-high, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent and pale golden. It should be just starting to caramelize; it might scorch a bit in areas too, and that’s just fine. Add the ground cumin and oregano, and stir well. Add the hot sauce, and stir well again. Add the garlic, followed by the beans and their can juices. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook until the beans are soft and warmed through. (Some brands of beans are softer than others; some will be ready as soon as they’re warm, but some need more time.) Taste, and salt as needed.

Note: This recipe doubles easily. There’s no need to double the onion, though; one is plenty for two cans of beans.

Yield: 2 servings