Black Bean Croquettes

The position of Mrs. Patmore, the cook at Downtown Abbey rotates – informally and unofficially. Nobody has the proper outfit. It would be beyond irregular at Downton Abbey to have Mr. Carson cooking in the kitchen – but he’s often in charge there at Downtown Abbey.

It’s teamwork – and a pleasure to chop vegetables, get distracted with Lady Baby, then come back to find those same vegetables sautéing or in the oven or a salad. Beans put to soak by one person, get cooked by another. And then on this last trip, get made into bean cakes!

Mark Bittman’s recipe for “Black Bean Croquettes” has been forever marked as a possibility in my copy of “How to Cook Everything,” so I was glad to hear they were on the menu at Downtown Abbey.

Wanting to make them back home, I read the recipe and Bittman’s “Basics of Bean Cakes.” Bittman says well-cooked beans are necessary and, because you can add “so many flavors,” canned beans work. (We made plain ones, but he gives recipes for bean croquettes with Southwestern or Asian flavors.)

I chopped two cups of drained, cooked black beans in the blender (don’t puree Bittman says, leave a few chunks).

The recipe calls for half a cup of chopped onions, but I used a mix of shallots and scallions (end of the old and beginning of the new CSA). Then combined the onions and the beans in a bowl with a lightly beaten egg, salt and pepper.

At this point in the recipe at Downtown Abbey, Mr. Carson used a half-cup of crumbs he had made with bakery bread in the food processor and some coarse cornmeal. Because it was handy, I used the panko I had left from the not meatloaf.

You want to add enough of one of these to help the cakes stick together but not be dry – (putting the mixture in the fridge for while before forming into patties helps). This amount makes four generous patties, looking very burger-like.

Mr. Carson heated an eighth-inch of oil in a heavy cast iron skillet and fried his, about three to five minutes a side by Bittman’s instructions. I used the other suggested method, and placed the croquettes on a lightly oiled baking sheet in a 400° oven, turning once, for a total of 20 minutes.

Mr. Carson’s tasted best. Hands down. Crunchy and flavorful. We ate them straight up.

Well, with ketchup of course. A bean croquette is a fine platform for ketchup – or salsa or some exotic chutney – enjoy!

Lady Baby

The chauffeur picked me up at the airport, on my May trip north to Alaska, and I joined Lady Baby riding in the back seat. She gave me a welcome (so it seemed to me) smile, but it might also have been her general good humor on display.

She’s grown – definitely a solid cherub package now, with strong legs and arms. But she retains her cheerful nature – willing to give the staff a chance to do their jobs without issuing imperious demands, amused at our antics. She seems often to be thinking: “What will they do next? – Oh well, I’m game!”

Pure looking is still enormously important to Lady Baby, but when she sets her eye on something now, she uses her hands with more coordination to deliberately reach, clutch, and hold fast. She’s very fond of grasping hoodie strings (often part of the staff uniform at Downtown Abbey).

Portraits of ancestors line the stairway there, and when going upstairs for a change of clothes or scenery, she likes to pause and hear a few portrait stories. I tell her about her dad, 6 years old in Chester, England with book tucked under his arm, or her maternal grandpa, young and posing by a “Welcome to Alaska” sign, her aunt and uncle smiling and happy, on their sunny summer wedding day.

Joining us at the dinner table, Lady Baby ate her first solid food while I was there –– rice cereal, bit of banana, and mama’s milk in a well-mashed and well-received combo. She sits in her pink-padded highchair with shoulder harness, like an alert and eager paratrooper about to launch.

Her low down seat is also great fun. She’s happily entertained there for periods of time – becoming the audience for Granny Katy’s “cooking show.” I hold up individual asparagus spears and a red colander – explain cumin and sweet potatoes. I ask her if she thinks we can cook five or six tortillas on one baking sheet?

She looks quizzical when I ask such a question – and sometimes answers with her sounds of effort – low down and throaty or excited and loud. I’m not sure of her meaning, but she’s amiable about my performance and cheers me on while we get dinner cooked. We have such a good time together.

And Alaska summer is coming – we sat on Downtown Abbey’s tiny front porch and watched the neighborhood world on view – kids playing across the street and passersby on the sidewalk.

Her birth in the winter’s nadir seems so long ago, when snow fell endlessly and her dad called her “a true child of winter.” Now with long daylight and budding trees – Lady Baby is a summer baby!

Asparagus

It’s May, it’s May – the merry month of asparagus! (And so far, rain and cold, but never mind.)

When I made the vegetable loaf recipe, I had a handful of extra asparagus. Even after several green spears posed on my drawing table for collaging, I was able that night to nestle them next to potatoes to be roasted and enjoy (olive oil and salt and pepper, 400° till tender).

The next day I remembered this by Heidi Swanson:

http://www.101cookbooks.com/archives/avocado-asparagus-tartine-recipe.html

so added the roasted asparagus to the avocado I’d slathered onto some bread for lunch (avocado being my most favorite sandwich these days). “Avocado on Garlic Rubbed Toast”  http://www.digginfood.com/ is Willi Galloway’s more elegant version.

And, to add a third real food blogger to this asparagus day, another Heidi – this one a young Alaska woman who cooks so well. In this post she tells how to simply and perfectly roast asparagus:

http://chenagirlcooks.blogspot.com/2012/05/roasted-asparagus.html

These cooks say it all, so enjoy! Enjoy spring!