Beans in the Burbs

You are so intrigued by the words ‘beans’ and ‘burbs’ in the same sentence that you can’t look away, I know. Halifax came and went in a blur. And you know what? What a great food city. I love St. John’s dearly but Halifax wins hands down for its abundance of Turkish and Thai food. And a kick ass waterfront. Touristy, yes, but well maintained, swarming with locals, lots of room for a walk or a run. Three months on tour makes the pants a little tighter so when I arrived I thought, this is so great, I finally have a place to run that’s safe and well maintained where I won’t get stabbed (I’m looking at you London). Too bad there’s a huge farmers’ market down that way and I only put on my running shoes to go eat cheese and onion pasties and spicy Mexican chocolate ice cream. I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t exercise, there was no time, no time! Here’s why: Two weeks in Halifax and then three months touring rural Newfoundland and Labrador. What? Listen, we had lovely downtown apartments, swankified to the point that I felt like I should get my nails done. The kitchens were immaculate, well-stocked, granite countertops, an absolute dream for someone who thinks about her kitchen at home and feels a knife pain in her heart. But I just…couldn’t cook. I knew I wouldn’t be able to get Vietnamese in coastal Labrador. The best hot turkey sandwich and homefries of my life? Yes. But no falafel, no red curry and sweet mother, no crab rangoon from the Gingergrass (get the peanut curry combo). So I ate my way through the city. Like a giant deprived godzilla, stuffing myself stupid and counting down the seconds till I got hungry again. I normally can’t eat before the show, but I broke that rule in Halifax. It’s pretty physical and there’s this birthing scene where I always regret eating curry.

It is here that I will pay homage to my pals who’ve actually gone through childbirth, as I cannot even handle reenacting one after a feed of Thai.

If I lived in Halifax and had stupid amounts of money to drop on a condo on the waterfront, I would gladly do it for the chance to stroll through the Halifax market at my leisure. It’s open every day except Monday, although it’s bursting at the seams with stalls on Saturday, almost bursting seams on Sunday. The best coffee, curry, jam, wine, jewellery, vegetables, homemade sausages and farm fresh meat in the city. Filled with vendors who are passionate about what they do. I know I sound like a tourist brochure, but all the ladies and gents I chatted with were friendly, knowledgeable and discerning. I love food, I have a lot of questions about it. These were my people. Like the lady from Tangled Garden who sold me the “Radiant Raspberry” jam. I tasted a sample and said “I’ll take it” before I had the chance to do something obnoxious like scoop out a handful and smear it on my face. It was flavoured with rose geranium and tasted like a picnic in a Jane Austen novel, no joke.

The buskers there have to be the best in the city. Zulkamoon played a few times on my visits and these guys are the like the pied pipers. The toddlers freaked out, I’d never seen anything like it. A surefire way to cure a shitty mood is to get a double shot cappuccino from Steverino’s and watch a dozen two year olds dance like drunk uncles at a wedding. Check it out, how can you not shake your ass? Just ask the guy in the suit dancing by himself, he’s sure breaking it down like no one’s watching.

What is also excellent about Halifax is that one of my sisters lives there. A little outside the city, but closer than a flight to St. John’s, that’s for sure. Robin loves food as much as I do and when we get together we’re like Paula Deen meets Jamie Oliver meets Bridesmaids. The energy gets to be a little frantic, much to the delight of her husband. When she found out I was going to be in town for work she gushed, “Oooh! We can have you over for supper! I mean, come over and cook us supper!” On my days off she’d pick me up downtown, we’d hit the grocery and liquor store and head out to the suburbs. A bottle of sparkling booze and some cream cheese brownies later and we’d end up splayed out in a pile of cookbooks in the living room, deciding what I would make for supper the next evening and watching YouTube videos until it was time for bed.

On this particular day off, there was a very specific game plan. There was only so much time and the meals had to spaced out properly to ensure optimum hunger levels. Breakfast couldn’t be too big if we were going to have a good lunch, a nice appetizer before supper, supper and then cupcakes. It was kind of like planning a giant holiday meal. I couldn’t ruin this day like I ruined Christmas ’07 by eating nine puff pastry samosas with a bottle of Bailey’s on Christmas Eve and having to pass on Mom’s oven apple pancake the next morning. That pancake comes but once a year. And I effed it up. I still have my regrets.

Cereal for breakfast. Then shopping for more groceries and booze with a little pit stop at Winners (I bought a tank top with pearls on it, someone’s almost 36). Robin would make us lunch, head to work and I would start drinking wine and making food so we could all have a late supper for 8 or so when everyone got home. Italian sandwiches for lunch. Robin threw these things together like she was doing a quickfire challenge on Top Chef. I sat there with my mouth open while she sliced some ciabatta buns, spread them with marinara sauce, Genoa salami, sliced onions, mozzarella and a sprinkle of oregano or Italian seasoning or something nice like that. How to grill them I wonder? Good ciabatta buns are all crispy and puffy and would never fit in any sandwich press I’ve ever seen in a domestic setting. Robin lightly oiled a frying pan before she put the sandwiches in and took a heavy cast iron pan and placed it on top of the works of it. Poof. Homemade sandwich press for extra puffy sandwiches. My eyes widened.

“Did you like, just invent that?”

“Well…I guess? I dunno.”

“You’ve NEVER done that before? You just thought of that? Because if I find out you’ve been hiding this from me all these years I’ll be pretty pissed.”

“I just thought of it weirdo.”

“Now I have to buy a really good cast iron pan. Goddamn it.”

I’m sure someone else has done this before, but I got pretty excited about the possibilities. I was thinking about homemade meatballs on ciabatta, pressed heavy in a hot pan with buffalo mozzarella, the cheese and sauce running over the sides and turning to chewy crispy bits…BASIL! We had fresh basil in the fridge for the basil lime coconut cupcakes. I stopped Robin mid-bite. “Wait! Basil! Fridge! I’m such an asshole I can’t believe I forgot we had basil!” We pried open the sandwiches and stuffed it in. A teeny tiny glass of nice red wine to go with. Robin wasn’t pleased with the way the marinara sauce soaked into the bun; I wasn’t morally opposed to it, in fact I kinda liked it. She says that Jamie says to butter your bread no matter what kind of sandwich you’re making, so the sauce just sits there all saucy and doesn’t soak in. We’ll try next time and see how we go.

A glorified pizza sub? No effing way. A hot-pressed Italian sandwich on ciabatta with fresh basil.

Rob left for work and I got to it. Cupcakes first (some of you might remember these beauties from November) and a chicken in the oven to roast a couple hours later while I made the appetizer. Rudy the golden retriever suitably unimpressed that we weren’t going for a walk and I that was neglecting him to make bean dip. Doesn’t sound like much, does it? Kind of conjures up images of potlucks from the seventies. The kind of thing you make as an afterthought to keep the vegetarians happy. But the truth of it is, I’ve seen meat eaters lace into this stuff like it’s a tenderloin. You know that pizza dip thing that people make for parties? The one with all the cream cheese and sauce and cheddar cheese that is so gross and amazing and you just can’t stop? It’s like that, except hot and not gross and good for you. Or mildly good for you depending on how much cheese you like to use. It’s perfect and alarming for vegetarians because it gets them all nostalgic for bacon. You could do a vegan version by omitting the sour cream and maybe some soy cheese on top or just let the bean dip go naked without dressing it up in cheese at all. And it’s completely gluten-free. If you’re cooking for die-hard meat eaters get them to try it anyways and tell them to stop their whining. Or sprinkle some crumbled crispy bacon on top. If you’re looking for that classy edge, leftover taco ground beef.

I made this one night a couple years ago when my friend Petrina popped over. She’s a vegetarian, I had a can of black beans, I messed around and came up with this. I’ve played with it a bunch of times and settled on this recipe. It’s similar to the vegan black bean breakfast sandwiches I posted there a while back, except there’s sour cream and it’s zinged up until it’s really creamy and baked in a pan instead of formed into patties. You could choose not to zing and just use the bean mixture for burritos. Either way, black beans are smoky and amazing and generally please most people. Mess around with the spices and see what you like.

Smoky Black Bean Dip

1 can of black beans, rinsed and drained
1 tsp of ground cumin
1 tsp chilli powder
1/4 tsp crushed chillis
Salt and pepper to taste
Juice from half a lime
1 tsp of sour cream
Smoked applewood cheddar
La Chinata smoked paprika

In a medium sized bowl, add beans, spices, salt and pepper, lime juice and sour cream. Zing everything up with a hand blender or in a food processor til it’s smooth and creamy. Spread evenly into a 9×9 pan or a small lasagna pan. Grate the smoked applewood cheddar on top, followed by the smoked paprika (I like super cheesy with lots of paprika, but a just a sprinkling will do). Bake in a 375 F oven for 20 minutes or so until the cheese is golden and melty and a little crispy around the edges. Serve with tortilla chips, pita bread or other fun things for dipping.

This is super hot when it comes out of the oven (really?) so let it sit for a few minutes and mind yourself or you will burn your tongue like no one’s business. If you can’t get smoked applewood cheddar, try a smoked gouda. Plain cheddar will do fine if you use the smoked paprika, maybe just sprinkle a little of the paprika in the bean mixture before you blend to make sure you get a good smoky flavour. I’ve said before that the La Chinata stuff will punch you in the face, so use sparingly if you’re cooking for pals who can’t handle spice. Go cracked if you’re using regular smoked.

We had it with white, but I think a red might be nice. Best with beer though. And a golden retriever tucked under your feet. Just don’t let him try any of the dip. Yikes.

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