Black Bean Pasta Salad

Black Bean and Corn Salad moves uptown with the addition of orzo, asparagus, and …
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I thought it was time for a new pasta salad for summer not because I needed one but because Sylvie did.  Sylvie’s graduating from high school, you see, and of course she’s having a graduation party.  Since Sylvie, a stellar singer and dancer, has cooked and baked with me since she was a wee girl, I’m thrilled to work out something fun and luscious to go with her dad’s great pulled pork tacos and bring it along to fete one of my favorite students and people.

Listen to Sylvie sing! 

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Best of the Beans–Cornbread, too, of course

Listen to the peaceful piano stream from Minnesota Public Radio while you read…. (click on “Listen: Replenish your spirit.)

“Cheap Eats” has a sort of nasty ring to it, but it’s a bit on the real-edgy side, too. I get it. I’ve been without a lot of bucks at the grocery store check out; I’ve had to feed six people three times a day for a lot of years. My stove has cooked many a meal for a big bunch of folks along the way. “Cheap,” though, is tricky to a serious cook; it’s not the thing we’re looking for. “Inexpensive?” Sure. That rocks. Who doesn’t like “inexpensive?” But “cheap” smacks of poorly made or tawdry (think cheapskate) — just not terribly positive, even in today’s world. But when I look hard at it, and we’re all looking hard at things right now, we might be in a place where we need to know exactly what cheap eats are. And I know. The thing is, they’re sometimes pretty good. In fact, if you know how to cook cheap eats that taste good, you’re a mighty special person. You know how to add a thick schmear of seasoned rice at the bottom of each bowl to stretch a few cups of chili. You probably are intimately acquainted with why God made potatoes fried in bacon grease. Or perhaps you can make a big platter of crispy butter biscuits served with a deep bowl of beans and a little chopped bacon and manage to feed 10 hungry people? In other words, you’re like a lot of people’s grandmas who knew from tough times.

my grandma and great-grandma (wish I knew the dog’s name)

And, if we look at what we think of now as beautiful, sophisticated dishes from any old country you want to name, they’re often the meals country people made out of what they had to feed everyone who was coming to the table that night. Tough old pieces of meat simmered for hours with whatever was in the garden or on the shelf or ancient hens cooked to smithereens and served over noodles…maybe vegetables with little other than an onion and some herbs to make them tasty. A few eggs stirred up with a bit of cheese served with yesterday’s bread grilled up with butter and served with jam. Kettle of lentils bubbling on the back burner. The meals made out of what was grown nearby, out of what was available, or out of what some smart cookie had preserved and stored from last season. The food made without a grocery store just down the street.

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Turkey Taco Soup or Sneak Peak at Blue Cheese Biscuits with Steak

Easy, healthy and truly yummy, as a good friend would say

I’m sure this could have a better name. 

Sometimes people ask how I name recipes and my answer is always the same, “It must say what it is.” 

Do I want catchy names?  Yes.
I just seldom use them.  How about Taco Trouble Soup?  Tonza Turkey Soup? 

Of course, as a working cook  of sorts, the recipe must also be FINDABLE IN WORD DOCUMENTS.  You could think about that and come up with wonderful storage ideas for people who cook on multiple levels and must maintain articles, recipes, photographs and so on.

This could be Turkey Chili Soup  or Taco Soup (of which there are many) or Turkey Vegetable Chili–etc., but it’s very soupy and it tastes like tacos.  Without the gazillion calories of the tortillas.  Without the cheese (though you could add that at the end, if you’d like.)  And it’s quick.
This hot bowl of fuel fulfills the black bean, onion and tomato portion of my series on meals or dishes including the “12 best foods,”

  1. Broccoli
  2. Black beans
  3. Tomatoes
  4. Salmon
  5. Soy
  6. Sweet potatoes
  7. Oats
  8. Onions
  9. Blueberries
  10. Walnuts
  11. Spinach
  12. Chocolate

  Nearly everyone I talk to about food just wants things fast.  I like everything at Alyce-speed.  I don’t like to rush; I don’t think it’s worth while.  If I don’t have time to cook, I always can have an omelet or grab a piece of cheese and an apple.  But, hey, I hear you.  I hear everyone who works,  everyone who has kids, everyone who just wants time to veg and I don’t mean eating them in the kitchen.  So, for all my students, friends and family hard-pressed for time, here’s something scrumptious that makes a ton (save some little containers for lunch) and can be frozen in batches.  So you can skip cooking next Saturday, too.  See below….  (For more really quick recipes, check out my recipe page –link at right and below–some are labled “Dinner Now!”)
Frozen Soup in the Crock-pot:  Place your container of frozen soup (or stew or casserole) upside down in the sink and turn on the hot water over it for a minute or two.  Dump that container into the crock-pot; add a 1/4 c water to the bottom, cover and turn on low.  Dinner that night is on the way.   You will have a hot and ready meal by late afternoon.  (Make sure you freeze your meals in containers that will easily turn out into your crock-pot.  This is worth buying a couple of extra containers just for this very purpose.)

Turkey Taco Soup  serves 6-8 generously

Note:  These ingredients can be changed to suit your tastes or what’s in your cupboard.  The ingredient police will not arrive if you change what goes into this soup.  Add corn if you like.  Use no rice at all.  Cut down on seasonings.  Add canned chile peppers or roasted red peppers.   Leave out the zucchini.  Add a bag of mixed frozen veg.   Drop in a little Tabasco sauce or let a big jalapeno cook whole in the pot. Get in there and cook, honey.

1T olive oil
3 slices bacon chopped into 1″ pieces (optional)
1 large onion chopped
1/2 green pepper, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1# ground turkey breast
1t freshly ground black pepper
2 t kosher salt
1T ea dried basil and oregano (or 1T Herbes de Provence)
2-4T chili power  to taste (You can make your own or I like Chili 3000 from Penzey’s–Spice Islands is next)
1/4 t ground cayenne pepper, opt.
1 28 oz can chopped tomatoes (no salt)
1 6oz can tomato paste
2 c salsa
1 zucchini, chopped into 1/2″ pieces
1 yellow squash, chopped into 1/2″ pieces
1 c red wine or water
2 c low-sodium chicken broth or water
1/4 c raw rice or use 1 c cooked rice or cooked small pasta (if cooked, add later)
1 can no-salt black -or pinto- beans (if you use regular ones, rinse and drain)
2T Dijon-style mustard (like Grey Poupon)

Toppings: 2 ripe avocados, chopped; 2 Roma tomatoes, chopped; 2 c shredded lettuce; 1 c grated Cheddar, 1 c crushed tortilla chips-can use any, all or none


  1. Heat the olive oil over medium heat and brown the chopped bacon in it.  Remove bacon and reserve to add in a little while.  Add onions, green peppers, garlic and turkey breast.  Cook, stirring often, until turkey breast is done and no pink remains. 
  2. Add seasonings:  salt, pepper, basil, oregano, chili powder, cayenne.  Cook 1-2 minutes, stirring.
  3.  Taste and adjust seasonings; they should be very strong and bright!  Add tomatoes, tomato paste, salsa, water/broth/wine and uncooked rice if you’re using.  Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer.
  4. Let cook about ten minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add zucchini, yellow squash, canned beans, Dijon-style mustard and cooked rice or pasta if you’re using that.
  5. Let simmer until all vegetables (and rice if you’re cooking it) are tender, about another 10 minutes.  Add reserved bacon and stir.  Taste; adjust seasonings and serve hot with toppings if you choose.

Around the ‘Hood +Two-Dog Kitchen

Why didn’t anyone tell me to read THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE?  I couldn’t put it down.  I ran into June at Costco and she, omnivorous she, had read it and seen the movie–which she didn’t think anyone would understand if they hadn’t read the book.  Often the case, I think.

We watched “The American” with George Clooney.  Well done, slow-moving, sadly violent and just sad.  How many people are that lonely in our world…and why?

Maybe you noticed I updated colors and pics on the blog.   Tell me if you liked it the other way better.  Or if you like this. 

Prayers for my friend L’s dad in the final stages of cancer.  Prayers for healing for C.

Snow:  On the west side of Mesa, you can’t walk ecause of the snow.  On the east (and by our house), it’s all melted except in odd, shaded spots.  It’s 40’s and 50’s every day.  Spring in the winter is what I call January and February in the Springs.

Planning a trip …we are, if I didn’t tell you, in the midst of serious move plans.  To somewhere around the Twin Cities.  A several year topic around the house.   It is a huge thing in some ways; we’ve been in Colorado 15 years nearly.   How I walk away from my loved ones here is more than I can figure out.  To not worship at First Congregational …ach.   On the other hand, this is our 23rd house and…why not have 24?  To live and cook at sea level has long been a goal for us…to be able to plant a big garden and eat a little off our own land is another…for me to find a job is a biggie.   That just hasn’t happened here.
So, it’s time.  There are a few people I’d like to put in my suitcase and you know who you are.

Drank some Chappellete cab Friday night–a soooo sweet Christmas gift from someone we love.  Ye gods and little fishes, that was a tasty wine.  2006.  Mymymy.   And did it have a steak?  Yes.  Thank you!!

Going to the Mondavi wine dinner at The Blue Star Tuesday…a great night and someone’s birthday, too.  Happy Day.

I am working on BLUE CHEESE Biscuits w/ Steak.  Sneak Peak: 

Happy Birthday on Monday to our much loved son, Sean

Be well in 2011 as you sing a new song,

Pico de Gallo Halibut on Warm Rice Salad with Bacon Pintos

Pico de Gallo Halibut on Warm Rice Salad with Bacon Pintos

   Yes, my jeans are tight.  I’m sure they shrank.   Didn’t yours last month?
Whatever–I’m working on lighter meals, like this halibut, to make up for things like whole baked potatoes with butter and sour cream (Did I do that???  I did.) at MacKenzie’s Chop House.
  I’m also working on a series of meals that will use each of a dozen great foods (a la Dana Jabobi’s 12 BEST FOODS COOKBOOK) and do double duty–decrease my waistline and make me tres healthy.  How about you?  You could get in on it, too.
The list of the twelve best foods reads like this:
  1. Broccoli
  2. Black beans
  3. Tomatoes
  4. Salmon
  5. Soy
  6. Sweet potatoes
  7. Oats
  8. Onions
  9. Blueberries
  10. Walnuts
  11. Spinach
  12. Chocolate
We used sweet potatoes in the Potato Gratin with Rosemary Crust (last post).  One down.  
Next is tomatoes and tomatoes we have here in abundance with our halibut.  Onions is another and we’ve got onions in two places here.  3 down, folks.  Ok.  Let’s talk fish for the halibut.  Bad joke from the Three Stooges. Yuck, yuck, yuck.
Halibut, well, it’s just an incredible fish.  Meaty, bright, filling, flexible, dependable.   Currently not cheap.   Good with nearly anything.  I had (bad me) frozen two pieces that just weren’t going to get cooked last week.  I also had a quart of pico de gallo (the first I’ve ever bought instead of made) that said, “Use within 14 days of opening.”  (The 14th day was fast approaching.)  It seemed the pico and the fish were meant for one another.  Add to that I had some rice from an old favorite dish (rice with creamed pork tenderloin and mushrooms) that also needed a home and this easy, fresh  mid-week meal was born.

Warm Rice Salad in process.

If you never cooked beans, you don’t know how non-descript they can look in the pot while all the while tasting scrumptious.  Definitely not my photographic skills, right?  And, yes, they take a while at altitude.   They’re good in the microwave, though.  I cooked these earlier in the afternoon so they were very tender by dinner time.  You could choose canned beans, unsalted or drained and rinsed very well indeed.

The beginning of cooking the halibut–salted and peppered, it just goes into a very hot skillet with some olive oil.  Cook it for 4 minutes, turn and throw it into the oven (400 F) for about 6 minutes and it’s done.

Cilantro, tomatoes and avocado for the rice salad.

When the halibut is cooked, pull it out and top with pico de gallo, thus warming the salsa.

Add the rice “salad” to warmed bowls or plates, top with fresh tomatoes, cilantro and avocado and lay the fish w/ salsa on top.  Spoon some beans along side and squeeze fresh lime over all.  Maybe a quick dust of black pepper?  Eat while it’s hot.

Pico de Gallo Halibut with Warm Rice Salad and Bacon Pintos    serves 2
Beans:   (Follow directions below or use canned, drained and heated beans.)
1/2 # pinto beans (you’ll have  alot left over for huevos or chili)
2 onions, chopped (divided–1 for the pintos and 1 for the rice)
3 cloves garlic, minced (divided–2 for the beans and 1 for the rice)
4 thick-cut pieces of bacon, diced
Fresh ground pepper
Kosher salt 
Warm Rice Salad:
1 T olive oil
(onion and garlic from above)
1 Medium zucchini, diced
1 Yellow squash, diced
2-3 c cooked rice
1/2 c fresh cilantro, divided
1 Roma tomato, diced
1 Avocado, ripe, diced
1 Lime, divided
2 T olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2 pieces (4-6 oz) fresh or unthawed and patted dry halibut filets
1/2 c pico de gallo, home-made or store-bought 
  1.   BEANS   —  In a 6 qt. kettle, place picked over and cleaned pinto beans and cover with water.  Bring to a boil over high heat and boil for two minutes.  Remove from heat, cover, and let sit for an hour.  Drain and replace beans in pot; pour in about 4 qts of water.  Add 1 chopped onion, 2 cloves of garlic minced, all of the bacon, the pepper and several drops of Tabasco (or a whole, fresh jalapeno).  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 2-3 hours until beans are tender.   While beans cook, check pot regularly and add water if needed.     When done, cover and keep warm  or cool and reheat when needed.  Taste and adjust seasonings before serving.
  2. WARM RICE SALAD —  In a large saute pan or skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat and add onions and squashes.  Cook, stirring frequently, for five minutes or so until nearly tender. Stir in garlic and continue to cook until all vegetables are tender.   Add rice, stir, and season well with salt and pepper.  Sprinkle with most of the cilantro, saving a little bit for garnish at the end.  Squeeze the juice from half of the lime over the rice and stir.   Turn off heat and cover to keep warm while you cook the fish.   Add the fresh tomato, cilantro and avocado right at serving time.
  3.   HALIBUT  —   Preheat oven to 400 F.  Heat a medium skillet over medium- high heat with 2 T olive oil.  Season fish well with salt and pepper and place skin side up in hot pan.  Do not disturb for 3-4 minutes until well-browned.  Turn fish over and place  skillet in oven for about 6 minutes until fish is firm and flaking.  Remove from oven and spoon salsa on top of each piece.  Let fish sit a minute or so.
  4. TO SERVE:  Spoon rice onto warmed plates or large shallow bowls (pasta bowls are nice) and top with halibut and salsa.   Add the tomato, the avocado and cilantro to the top of the rice.  Spoon some beans to the other side of the rice and fish.  Squeeze the other half of the lime over all of the food in each bowl or plate.  Dust with pepper if you’d like.
  5. Serve immediately while hot.   

What I’m Reading, Listening to, Working at or Doing around the ‘Hood:

Had neighbors for dinner Sunday night at the spur of the  moment.

Enjoyed my husband at home…no travel this week.

Wondered about a job for me..did some work on that.

I’m reading DEVIL’S TRILL by Gerald Elias (I told you that.) and ordered DANSE MACABRE,  too.   Ah, violin mysteries.

 I also picked up, and started, THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE.  (I know–you read this in ’03)

I’m still reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s AN ALTAR IN THE WORLD.  Superb.
THE ART OF CURATING WORSHIP by Mark Pierson arrived, but I haven’t started it yet.

The book club book is Isabel Allende’s DAUGHTER OF FORTUNE.  Not yet, either.  Nope, I haven’t begun it.

I taught piano lessons and learned alot.  I let a student choose a piece to work on and it was Bach. 

I did my best to listen to myself playing and singing old standards.  Piano bar retirement plan.  You know those jars that say, “Piano Player’s 401K?”  They’re real.  Put something in them, please.
As I write, I’m listening to Patti Digh’s 37 DAYS, which you can listen to, too, right on her blog of the same name. (Link on my blog)  What would you do if you had 37 days?  Patti travels and speaks…if you can get her.

We watched “Did You Hear What Happened to the Morgans?”  Glad it happened to them, though the bears are here, too-so that wasn’t so funny to me.
I played through/listened to the new Lenten cantata from Pepper Choplin/Lorenz.  Hm.  Jury is out there.

I think I finished washing all of the linens from Christmas.

I’m looking at local hunger issues for and figuring out a series of articles on same. 

There’s a second article about where to drink just a glass of wine in Co. Springs in the works as well.

I played with the dogs every chance I had.

Today–reupping my “Y” membership.

Talked to my daughter on the phone twice and texted back and forth to Jeanne…several times.

Spent a long time on the phone with Sue..,..such a treat.  A treat to have the time and a treat to have Sue.  Prayers here and now for Sue’s father-in-law, in the last stages of cancer in Virginia.   Also praying for friend, C, recovering from surgery.

Kept up with my family via fb.  My nephew is deer hunting and I wish I could get some sausage.  One of my nieces  is on the way to new health after a long New Year’s hospital stay.

Went out for supper at old-time family Italian Luigi’s  to share a pizza and salad with Dave in front of their fireplace.  Listened to his work stuff and was grateful my jobs don’t involve that kind of stuff.  The tough ones for me are getting mah, may, me, moh, mooo right.  Or answering questions like, “I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t sing that hymn this Sunday.  You tell me why?”  I get to help make people happy, healthy and wise as they sing their hearts out or cook yum food for loved ones. 

Nice work if you can get it.

Healthy… yes. 

Thanks, God.
Two-Dog Kitchen


Be well in 2001 as you sing a new song,