Hearty Chicken Soup

For many reasons, I’ve been feeling an increased need for comfort lately.  It could be the gray and cold New York February weather, the political climate, or the fact that Valentine’s Day is over.  I don’t know about you, but chocolates seem to taste the sweetest when eaten on Valentine’s Day.  Never mind, it’s something to look forward to again next year.  Haven’t made any travel plans yet, and my commute from work walking home from the train leaves me chilled to the bone most nights.  Time to make a little Hearty Chicken Soup, the kind that you can make in your sleep and with a crusty baguette makes a fine dinner.  This can be two servings but I usually make this for myself.

Hearty Chicken Soup


1 Tbsp butter

1/4 cup diced white onion

1 stalk celery

1 carrot

2-3 handfuls wide egg noodles

3 cups chicken broth 

1 bay leaf

1 clove garlic

Dash ground tumeric

1 chicken breast, skinless and boneless

3-4 handfuls of washed baby spinach

1 scallion

Salt and Black pepper


Dice the celery, peel and dice the carrot, and add with diced onion to a 2 quart saucepan with the butter. Sweat the vegetables until softened over medium heat, about 5 minutes.


Meanwhile in a separate small saucepan boil water with a dash of salt and cook the egg noodles until done, about ten minutes.  Drain and set aside.


Peel the clove of garlic and add whole to the vegetables in the saucepan, along with a bay leaf, a dash of tumeric for color and the health benefits (like reducing inflammation in joints) and some salt and black pepper to taste.  Pour in the chicken stock and bring to a boil, then lower heat back to medium and let the soup simmer.

Cut the chicken breast into little half inch cubes …


…and slide them into the simmering broth.  Summer until the chicken is cooked through, about 5-10 minutes.  

Slowly add the baby spinach and stir until it wilts down into the soup.

Stir in the reserved cooked egg noodles.  The reason the egg noodles are cooked separately is because they give off starch into the water as they cook, and you don’t want that starchy taste in your soup.

Thinly slice the scallion and stir in.  Remove the bay leaf, and taste the soup to see if it needs additional salt or black pepper.  


Serve with a crusty baguette.

A Morning in Old Greenwich, Connecticut

In April of this year my dear was all geared up to run the Greenwich Cup Half Marathon, something he’d been dreaming about and planning for some time.  Of course I wanted to be there to support him, and we both wanted to check out Old Greenwich for the first time.
What I didn’t realize until that weekend was that it meant I’d be getting up at 4:00am on a Sunday, tying on my sneakers, and rushing out to catch the early train on Metro North that would take us there just in time to register for the 7:00am starting line.

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No problem, I said. We sped through the pitch dark morning along with other passengers on their way home from all nighters in the city, then hitching a ride at the Old Greenwich station with other runners so we wouldn’t have to walk the mile of road in the cold weather.  It was April in New York, and at 5 degrees below zero – a particularly cold weekend.  I had my feather down coat on but was freezing my toes in sneakers, wishing I had worn boots.  I wasn’t the one, of course, dressed in long tights and a long-sleeved jacket warming up to run 13.1 miles.  That was my honey.

So we stood at the beach at 1  Tod’s Driftway waiting for the race to begin.  And then they were off!


I waited patiently, enjoying the ocean view, and thinking about my dear happily sweating, running and toiling through the track.  They could have had some nice little coffee shop nearby, that would have been nice.  Old Greenwich appears to be largely residential, and while this stretch of beach is beautiful, it was not very “built up” which is its appeal to the wealthy who live here in peace and serenity, I have the feeling.


I got my cafe fix however, don’t you worry.  First my guy came busting through the finish line, got his medal, and we both devoured free bagels and orange wedges.  Then after a leisurely stroll down Shore Road and Sound Beach Avenue back in the direction of the train station we were led to this wonderful little bakery called “Sweet Peas’s Baking Company”.

We had a great brunch there, including a veggie omelette and smoked salmon toast with capers.  The best part was the take-away:  carrot cake muffins brimming with chopped nuts, bakery fresh donuts, and crisp baguettes to go.

Click here for my review of Sweet Pea’s Baking Company on Yelp.

We made Ham and Pepper Frittata sandwiches the next day with the baguettes, which were still crisp and fragrant the next day.

Click Ham and Pepper Frittata Baguette for my recipe.

A lovely morning in Old Greenwich, and I would come back to Sweet Pea’s Baking Company just for the donuts!

Ham and Pepper Frittata Baguette

One morning in April I got up at 4am to start a day trip to Old Greenwich, Connecticut.  The excuse was to cheer on my boyfriend at a race, but the excitement was also about checking this area out.  It was a great morning, but by 11:00am it already felt like we’d had a full day.  Gratefully we stumbled into The Sweet Peas Bakery, where we had a wonderful brunch, coffee and tea.  I munched on toasts spread with cream cheese and topped with smoked salmon and capers.  

Just as enjoyable was stopping by the counter to load up on goodies before we left:  scrumptious carrot cake muffins, the best fresh doughnuts I’d ever eaten, and of course we had to grab their baguettes!  They had a heavenly crispy exterior and that tender and fluffy interior that you look for in a great baguette.  We saved one for the next morning for brunch and weren’t dissapointed – even the next day it made a great brunch sandwich, filled with a frittata made with what I had around that day, ham and green and red bell peppers.  Delish!  


Ham and Pepper Frittata Baguette

Serves 2

French baguette

1/2 a green bell pepper, chopped

1/2 a red bell pepper, chopped

1/2 a cup chopped baked honey ham

4 eggs

2 Tbsp milk

1 Tbsp each olive oil and butter, plus more for the bread

Salt and black pepper to taste

2-3 Tbsp grated Parmean cheese

Note:  you can make the frittata in one big skillet and then cut it in half to make two portions, or divide the ingredients in half and make two single servings in a small skillet, as I did here.

Directions

1.  Cut baguette into two pieces and then split lenghtwise.  Toast lightly and spread with olive oil or butter; set aside.


2.  In a non-stick skillet that can go in the oven, heat olive oil and add chopped ham, green and red bell peppers. 


3.  Sauté over medium-low heat until the ham has crisped up and the bell peppers have softened.


4.  Meanwhile, whisk the eggs in a bowl with the milk and season with a little salt and black pepper. 

5.  Add butter to the skillet, and when it has melted pour in the eggs.  Cook until the eggs are just beginning to set around the edges.  Top with grated Parmesan cheese.


6.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F and place frittata in the oven.  Bake until it is cooked through and slightly puffed and golden brown on top, about 10 minutes.

7.  Let rest for a minute then flip out onto a plate, fold in half with a spatula and fill the toasted baguette with the frittata.


That’s all there is to it!  A great baguette makes the sandwich.

Prague in 48 Hours

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The golden city of Prague – it is many things to me:  my birthplace, my heritage, the first foreign country I visited as an American, a place to come of age in after the Velvet Revolution, and an old friend that I go back to visit time to time….just to keep in touch.

This past August I made another one of my visits, this time staying two nights in a modest hotel near Namesti Republic and stopping by all the typical tourist attractions.  It amazes me that no matter how often I do the Prague Castle, the Charles Bridge etc. it feels like an exploration, a new discovery.  Perhaps because each time I go time has passed, life has happened and I’ve changed so the experience is always different.  To me that is the beauty of travel.  It is much less about the destination than how you weave your experiences back into the journey of your life.

DAY 1

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I’m sure you know about flying into the Vaclav Havel airport, taking a taxi into Prague and the hundreds of hotels in every price range located all over Prague.  I encourage you to get a room for around $100 a night, because that price goes far there and you might as well be walking distance from the places you want to see.  Walking around Prague is half the fun of seeing it.

“Prague – A Guide to the Golden City” by Harald Salfellner is a great comprehensive guidebook which can be purchased at a convenient bookstore on Wenceslas Square that also sells other English title books.  I got a map too.  I like walking around with my map like a tourist, and hopefully getting lost and winding down some unexpected street in the process.

The statue of St. Wenceslas on a horse is a popular meeting spot for those going out for a night on the town, and of course there have been several historic events at this square.  I love the lavish architecture of the hotels lining the square that have stood the test of time.  A walk through a short underpass below the National Museum brings you to Vinohradska street, and for me a passage back into time when I used to live in an apartment in the section called Vinohrady.  My grandmother used to live in Zizkov.  This used to be my life I ponder, as I walk up the incline.  I take a nice break in the park at Namesti Miru, then continue on.  Zizkov is now a trendy place both for living and nightlife.  There is also a new movie and shopping complex by the metro stop Flora.  If you plan to explore either of these, I recommend you take the street cars, which are fun and cheap,

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imageor take the metro, which is also cheap and easy to navigate as there are only three lines (A,B,C) which are clearly marked at every station. Tickets can be purchased at shops or ticket machines in the stations at a flat rate for 30 min, 90 min or for 110 Czech crowns (about $5) you can get a 1 day pass for unlimited public transportation.

 

Day 2

I stayed at the Clarion Hotel located on Hradelbny and practically around the corner from Starometske (Old Town), so I saved the Old Town for my last day and spent day 2 trekking to the Prague Castle and Charles Bridge.  I started out the day with breakfast at “Opapa” on Revolucni 7, a modern and tourist-friendly place where you can get breakfast or lunch at good prices and even pay with your debit card.  While the Czech Republic is part of the European Union, it does not use the Euro, so you need to either bring Czech crowns (Koruna) with you or scale the many exchange places scattered throughout new and old town for a good exchange rate.  Most hotels and restaurants, such as Opapa, also take credit cards so that makes it easier on the traveler as it’s never a good idea to carry around a lot of cash on you.IMG_1632

Here is a more complex than usual, but exciting, route for heading out for the day to see the Charles Bridge and Prague Castle:

  1. From Old Town head down Karlova to the Charles Bridge.  One of the best statues on the bridge to see is the one of St. John Nepomuk, who was famously thrown off this bridge to his death.IMG_1751
  2. Cross the Charles Bridge.  At Malostrana, make a right and visit the Kafka Museum on Cihelna.
  3. Have lunch somewhere here – restaurants with scenic views of the river are everywhere, with prices pretty much the same at each.IMG_1747
  4. Using your map, wind your way left through Mala Strana, a romantic neighborhood in the shadow of the castle not often explored by tourists.  Find your way to Ujezd and the place where you can take a ride with a trolley car up to Petrin Hill.IMG_1727
  5. You will need to buy a ticket for the ride up to Petrin Hill, however your reward is that you did not have to climb a hundred steps up to see the castle.  Enjoy the beautiful view of Prague from Petrin Hill; take pictures.IMG_1732
  6. Visit the Strahov Monestery and maybe take a coffee break at a nearby cafe overlooking Prague.  Then make your way in the direction of the Prague Castle; there will be signs.IMG_1720
  7. Enjoy the amazing Prague Castle; you will need to purchase tickets. Hopefully by now it is around 3pm.  The castle grounds will close around 5pm but there are less crowds now.  The lines for the tickets will be shorter, you can get an audio guide and take your time touring the church,IMG_1737
  8. as well as the Golden Lane, the old Jewish ghetto where Kafka used to write.IMG_1738
  9. The best part:  walking DOWN the castle stairs back to Malostranska.  Return across the Charles Bridge to the Old Town where you began.

Day 3

This is fun shopping day and wandering around the Old Town.  Plenty of time to browse all the gift shops, outdoor markets and modern shopping malls that have sprung up all along Namesti Republik and down Na Prikope towards Mustek.  I was in the mood for pizza for a quick lunch, and I recommend Pizza Nuova, located right on Namesti Republic.  It is a modern pizzeria with wood-burning ovens and excellent customer service.IMG_1621

Ham and Artichoke Pizza, at “Pizza Nuova” on Namesti Republik

 

 

 

Now that I was fueled up, I could tackle the many historical sites of the Old Town:

The Astronomical clock, dating from the medieval times when the clock mechanism was considered a modern day marvel, and it still works.

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The Jan Hus monument, leader of the Hussite revolution:

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The Church of our Lady before Tyn, where the Hussites would gather, The inside of this church is gilded with gold and extraordinary; it can be viewed by the public for free (closed on Mondays), but no pictures are allowed of the interior.

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and the site of the 27 crosses, where 27 Protestants were executed after the Battle of White Mountain.

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The Old Town Square is lined with outdoor cafes.  While on the pricey side, it is worth stopping by at one for a refreshing Czech beer and to do some people watching.  I did so to wind down on my last day and also to have one of my favorite traditional Czech foods, a hearty goulash with knedlicky (bread dumplings).  The sauce is beefy, savory and just a little spicy – so delicious and the bread dumplings are perfect to soak up every last bit of the sauce with.

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Beef Goulash and Knedlicky (bread dumplings) – Czech traditional speciality

 

 

 

I finished my trip with a concert at the Municipal Hall.  Concerts play every afternoon and evening here, and tickets can be easily purchased inside the day of the concert for a reasonable price (around $35 for mid-range seating).

Before the concert I browsed through the Kotva department store, which has been around in Prague from Communist times (although certainly renovated a few times since then!), and snacked on one of my favorite traditional Czech snack foods, “Chlebicky”, which are open face sandwiches made of various combinations of potato salad, ham, pickles, roasted peppers, hard-boiled eggs, tomatoes, herring etc.

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and then I stopped for a refreshing cup of tea at a new cafe that has become very popular with expats, “Cacao” on Celnici 4 about 1 street down from the Municipal building.  It has a large tea, coffee and snack menu plus free wifi.  Then it was off to the concert.

The municipal hall is located at Namesti Republic, where you can see the Powder Tower, and the Mucha mural at the top of the Muniipcal Building itself,

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At this particular concert, which lasted about 45 minutes, they played J. Brahms Hungarian Dance No. 5, J. Pachelbel’s Canon, A. Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, and some gypsy tunes that seemed to play to the heart of the lead violinist.  It was an intimate concert hall filled with only about 40 people, so you had a great experience of hearing classical music in a salon setting much like it was originally heard in.

I went to sleep that night in my hotel with the melodic notes of Vivaldi’s concertos playing in my mind, and dreamed of another season when I can return to this magical city.

Czech Hamburger (Karbanatky)

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One of my favorite recipes from Mom, and a classic Czech family dinner, is Karbanatky or a Czech hamburger.  Made from ground beef it is kept moist and juicy with meatloaf additions like bread soaked in milk, egg and chopped bacon.  Typical seasonings like paprika and marjoram make it Czech.

It is also different in that it is coated in breadcrumbs and fried until the outer coating is dark and crispy.  “Karbanatky” translates loosely in English into something that is barbecued, and this meaty burger definitely takes on that dark, crispy and smokey sensibility.

It is not served on a bun, but rather next to mashed potatoes dotted with butter and perhaps some caramelized shallots.  Enjoy topped with ketchup on a cold winter day, with a Czech beer, like Pilsner Urquelle.

1 slice white bread

1/4 of a white onion

2 sprigs fresh Italian parsley

1 clove garlic

1 slice bacon

1/2 lb ground beef (chuck or sirloin)

1 egg

1/2 tsp sweet paprika

1/2 tsp dried marjoram

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp ground black pepper

1/2 cup plain bread crumbs

Canola oil for frying

DIRECTIONS

1.  Remove crusts from slice of white bread, place bread in a small bowl and pour a little water or milk over it to soak.  Once bread is softened, squeeze out the extra liquid and place in a large mixing bowl.

2.  Finely chop white onion, by first slicing it: 

Then chopping the slices crosswise into small dice:


Place in mixing bowl with the bread.
Tear off the leaves of parsley from the stalk, and chop finely as well.  Place into bowl.

Mince garlic clove finely, so that there are no large pieces of garlic:


Place minced garlic into bowl.  Chop bacon, by first slicing crosswise and then chopping slices crosswise into dice:

 Add chopped bacon to bowl.  Mix everything in bowl thoroughly with a fork until combined:

3.  Add ground beef to the mixture in bowl.  Separate the egg, place the egg yolk into the ground beef mixture and the egg whites into a separate small bowl.

4.  Add all seasonings to the beef mixture.

5.  With your hands, smush and mush the beef mixture until thoroughly combined.  Shape the mixture into two hamburger sized patties and place on a plate while you prepare to fry.


6.  Pour bread crumbs out into a large plate or shallow bowl.  Pour canola oil into a heavy frying pan to coat the bottom, and heat slowly over medium heat.  Meanwhile, with a whisk whip the egg whites for a minute or so, until softly foamy (this breaks up the egg whites and makes it easier to coat the beef patties):


7.  Handling the beef patties gently, first coat one in the egg whites, then coat completely in bread crumbs, patting the crumbs in lightly.  Do the same with the other beef patty.


8.  Place patties in hot oil in pan and fry until deeply golden brown and crusty on both sides, about 10-15 minutes per side, flipping once.


Serve with mashed potatoes topped with caramelized shallots, a green vegetable and a cold beer.

Red Beans and Rice with Andouille Sausage

This is a one pot meal that satisfies on many levels – it’s easy and quick to put together, slightly spicy, nourishing and filling.  While this recipe is considered a one serving recipe, it makes a full bowl of flavorful, steaming rice studded with chunks of crispy andouille sausage and hearty red kidney beans.   Other types of sausage can be substituted, such as kielbasa or chorizo.  However the spice of andouille pairs nicely with the “sofrito” here, which is a base of finely chopped blend of aromatic vegetables that are sauteed before adding the rice.

This recipe can be made very quickly and economically using several tips that are listed at the end of the recipe, such as making batches of sofrito in a food processor in advance and then freezing 1/4 cup portions of it.  The beans (we are only using half a standard 15.5 oz can here) can also be pulled from a frozen stash.  When I buy sausages, I like to go to the organic section of my market and buy a package of sausages that are made from meat without any added antibiotics or hormones, which I feel is important for good health.  I then take the sausages out of the package at home and freeze each sausage in its own snack size food storage bag.  This makes it very easy for me to take out the amount of sausages I need to defrost for a recipe (here for example, we are only using one).  To defrost sausages, beans or sofrito safely, place them still sealed in their food storage bag into a bowl or other container filled with water, and leave in the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight.

Even without any frozen assets, you are only a few chops away from a satisfying meal with great Spanish flavor.  If you are not familiar with “alcaparrado”, it is bottled green olives with extra pimento and capers added.  It is sold in some markets next to the bottles of green olives stuffed with pimento, which can be substituted if you can’t find alcaparrado.  Adding olives at the end of the dish, along with the crispy sausage, adds a nice salty tang at the finish.

Red Beans and Rice - up close

Olive oil, about 2 tsp

1 andouille sausage (defrost if frozen)

1/4 sofrito (see recipe below).  If not using frozen, finely chop the following:  2 Tbsp white onion, 1 Tbsp each green and red bell pepper, 1 seeded plum tomato, 1 clove garlic, and 1 Tbsp fresh cilantro

1/2 cup white rice

1 1/4 cups water

1 bay leaf

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1/4 tsp salt

1/8 tsp ground black pepper

1/2 a 15.5 oz can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained (or defrost if frozen)

1 Tbsp alcaparado, or green olives stuffed with pimento

Directions

1.  Cube sausage, by cutting in half crosswise, in quarters lengthwise, and then across into small chunks.

Andouille Sausage

2.  Add 1 tsp olive oil to a medium saucepan, and heat over medium heat.  Add sausage and saute for about 5 minutes, until crisp.  Then remove to a paper-towel lined plate to drain.  If oil in pan starts to smoke, remove pan from the heat for a few moments, and turn down heat.

Crispy Andouille Sausage

3.  Add another tsp of olive oil to the same saucepan, and add the sofrito.  Stir and cook over medium heat for another 5 minutes or so, until the vegetables have softened.  Stir in the rice to coat with the sofrito mixture.

4.  Pour in water.  Add rinsed and drained beans, and all seasonings.  Raise heat and bring to a boil.

5.  Reduce heat, and simmer until the level of liquid meets the level of the rice.  You will see some rice poking through the surface of liquid.

Red Beans and Rice - step 3

6.  Cover, lower heat and cook over very low flame for 15 minutes.

7.  Uncover, add the crisp sausage and olives, cover again and turn off the heat.  Let sit covered for another 15 minutes until the rice has fully absorbed all the liquid.

8.  Uncover, fluff with a fork, remove bay leaf and serve.

Tips:

To make sofrito in advance, finely chop the following in a food processor:  1 chopped white onion, 1 small seeded red bell pepper, half a seeded green bell pepper, 1 seeded jalapeno, 1 vine ripened tomato, 2-3 cloves garlic and 2 handfuls of washed fresh cilantro.  Portion out by 1/4 cups into a snack sized food storage bag, press flat and freeze flat so that it defrosts quickly.

As only half a standard 15.5 oz. can of beans is used in this recipe, you can drain, rinse and freeze the other half for future use in the same or other recipes.  You can also freeze cooked dry beans in the same way if made in advance.

 Black Bean and Quinoa Burger

Take a break from the beef burgers of summer with a tasty vegetarian quinoa burger, delicately spiced with cumin.  Black beans provide substance, along with fiber and iron.  Quinoa, even though a grain, is a source of complete protein.  Boost the health quotient even further by serving this burger topped with smashed avocado on a whole grain english muffin or bun.

Quinoa burger

1 Tbsp quinoa

2 Tbsp olive oil, divided

1/4 cup onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, chopped

1 Tbsp green bell pepper, chopped

Pinch of red pepper flakes

1/2 cup cooked or canned black beans (about half a 16 oz. can, see note)

1/4 cup panko crumbs

1 egg, beaten

1/4 tsp ground cumin

1/8 tsp salt

1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1 whole wheat english muffin

1/2 of a Haas avocado

1/2 of a small lime or lemon

Directions

1.  Cook quinoa in a small saucepan with 1/2 cup water and a pinch of salt over medium heat for 10 minutes, until done (when fully cooked, the center of the grain will turn white, surrounded by a transculecent circle.)  Drain quinoa and place in a medium bowl.

2.  In a small skillet heat 1 Tbsp olive oil over medium-low heat and saute chopped onion, garlic, green bell pepper and a pinch of red pepper flakes about 5 minutes, until softened.  Remove to the bowl with the quinoa.

3.  Drain and rinse the black beans if using canned, and add beans to the bowl with the quiona.  With a fork or potato masher, mash the mixture into a paste.  It’s ok if you leave the texture a little chunky.

4.  To the black bean mixture stir in panko crumbs, 1 Tbsp of the beaten egg (use the rest in scrambled eggs the next morning or as an egg wash for another recipe) and all the seasonings.  Form into a patty the size of your english muffin or bun.  Place the patty on a plate, cover in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to set for about 10-20 minutes.  This is not essential, but it helps to firm up the mixture and lets the flavors meld.

5.  Meanwhile, pit avocado and scoop out half into a small bowl.  smash the avocado with a fork, add the juice of half a lime, a pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper.  Mix well and set aside.  If you don’t know what to do with the remaining avocado, it can be sliced and served as an appetizer, sprinkled lightly with salt, black pepper, and drizzled with olive oil.

6.  When ready, heat the remaining 1 Tbsp olive oil in a small non-stick skillet over medium heat.  Add the black bean and quinoa patty and fry until golden brown on both sides and cooked through, about 5 minutes on each side.

7.  Split and toast the english muffin or bun in a toaster or toaster oven.  Place cooked burger on the bottom, top with the smashed avocado, and top with the other half of the english muffin or bun.  Serve with sliced tomatoes or hot buttered corn on cob.

 

Quinoa

Quinoa grains, uncooked

 

Yield:  1 serving

Tip:  I like to  cook 1 lb. of dry beans, then cool and portion them out by 1/2 cup amounts into small food storage bags that I freeze for future use.  If you don’t have any cooked beans on hand or waiting for you in the freezer, drained canned beans will work in this recipe as well, however cooked bean will have more nutritional value than canned. You can also freeze the leftover canned beans for future use in the same way.