Eat Well: The Winter Rut, Part One: Treasure Hunting in the Bookcase

The following post was written by my mom, WWW. Thanks, mom!
It’s easy to get in a rut with cooking. There are times when I find myself making the same things over and over again, week in and week out. I’m kind of like that with my clothes, too. I gravitate to my three favorite tops, layering with the same couple of sweaters or jackets, and wearing them with my one pair of “soul-mate” jeans. A few years ago, my dear friend Catherine, who is a fashion genius, mined my closet and put together for me the most amazing outfits from forgotten treasures, pairing things that I haven’t worn in years with some newer items and giving me a whole new wardrobe without my spending a dime. Since I am completely hopeless in this department, she lovingly wrote all of the combinations down for me in a notebook so I would remember what to wear for different occasions and made a list for me of new pieces to look for when I shop to round out my wardrobe.

I love this idea of shopping in my closet. It works well for cooking, too. I so often cook the same five recipes from my favorite cookbooks forgetting that there is a wealth of un-explored material right under my nose. When I am in a cooking rut, I gather all of my cookbooks, spread them out on the kitchen table, and look for recipes that I have forgotten about or ones I never have tried. I read through each cookbook as if it is a novel, truly imagining what the recipes might taste like, looking for ones that aren’t too time consuming and also add variety to our regular fair.

I realized this morning that I am in one of these ruts right now (I love borscht and split pea soup but I have made both of them twice already this month—that’s a little much!). Not only do I have my tried-and-trues to explore, but four new cookbooks that Larry gave me for Christmas and my birthday that I haven’t yet cracked open. I’ll start delving into those next week. Meanwhile, I’m going to go through my old favorites and this time, inspired by Catherine’s clothing notebook, mark new recipes and make a handy list to refer to the next time I get in a rut.


The first cookbook I pick up is The Moosewood Cookbook since, besides The Joy of Cooking, it is my oldest cookbook friend. (I bought it in 1978, a few months after I got married). I must admit, I have mainly used Moosewood for its amazing soups and salads. Many of the main course meals don’t appeal to me—they are too 70’s hippie or have way too much dairy in them for my taste. (Many of these recipes have been changed in The New Moosewood Cookbook, but I don’t have the new one). Three recipes in the main course section catch my eye today, though: refried beans, sweet potato pancakes, and eggplant Scallopini. I have never made these recipes but they sound delicious so I am going to write all three of them down on my list. Today, I feel like making the refried beans. I adore homemade refried beans—so easy to buy from a can, but so much better home made. They freeze great so I can make a big pot of them to use for lots of meals. And I like the sound of the recipe…not fatty like most refried beans and made with lots of cumin.

Moosewood Cookbook refried beans
(with a few modifications)

2 cups raw pinto beans
1 ½ tsp. salt
1 ½ cups chopped onion
½ cup minced green pepper (I used canned green chilis)
3 cloves garlic, crushed
½ tsp. ground cumin
¼ tsp black pepper

Cover the pintos with water and let soak 1 ½ hours or more (I do the quick soak method…bring them to a boil, cook for 2 minutes, and turn off flame letting them sit for one hour). Drain. Cover with fresh water and cook until soft.
Drain off excess water, saving some for adding back to the beans. Mash the beans well with a potato-masher and add a little water to them until they feel like mashed potatoes.
Heat about 3 Tbs. olive oil in a skillet. Add onions, garlic, cumin and ½ tsp salt. Cook over low heat until onions are translucent. Add peppers and simmer 5-8 minutes. Add sauted vegetables to the beans along with 1 tsp salt and black pepper. Mix well. Add more water if needed. Serve on tostadas or simply in steamed tortillas (or any other way you like to eat refried beans).


When I was a little girl, bean tostadas were my favorite Mexican food. So, today I made tostadas with the beans and they were AMAZING!! Here’s what to do to make the best tostadas EVER!! Either fry tortillas until super crisp and brown or buy already crisped tortillas. Put the hot beans on top (keep warm in the oven or microwave to warm them back up after you make the refried beans), add shredded cheese and layer with avocado or guacamole, salsa, shredded cabbage, or whatever else sounds good to you. Kids love to make these. You can put bowls of the ingredients out and let them add whatever they want to on top of the beans. This makes a wonderful easy dinner once the beans are made.


Next stop, The Silver Palate, another oldie but goodie. It was one of my favorites when I was a carnivore but has been collecting dust ever since I stopped eating meat. I open up to the soup section and there on page one, stained from use, is a recipe for carrot orange soup. I love that soup and haven’t made it in years. This is such a great time of the year to use carrots…I have a refrigerator drawer full of them since my CSA is bursting with them.
In the original recipe, she separates the solids and the liquid and processes the cooked carrots in the food processor, adding back the liquid until the right consistency. I just puree the whole thing with an immersion blender…it’s much easier.

Carrot and Orange Soup (The Silver Palate)
4 tablespoons sweet butter
2 cups finely chopped yellow onions
12 large carrots, 1 ½ -2 lbs peeled and chopped (I used the food processor)
4 cups stock (the original calls for chicken…I used vegetable)
1 cup fresh orange juice
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Melt butter in a pot. Add the onions, cover, and cook over low heat until tender and lightly colored, about 25 minutes. Add carrots and stock and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until carrots are very tender, about 30 minutes. Puree with an immersion blender (or in a blender or food processor).
Add orange juice and salt and pepper. Voila!


So ends today’s search. I already am feeling like I am coming out of my rut and have renewed inspiration. Next week, more treasure hunting!



avb | 8:22 AM

Since I own both of these cookbooks (and haven't cracked them open in a long time) you've inspired me to revisit them. The carrot and orange soup looks like a great place to start.

Anonymous | 9:03 AM

Oh man I do the same thing. My kids won't touch lentil soup anymore and forget about broccoli cheddar potato soup. I am a very loose meal planner, but that's where I get into trouble with ruts. I am totally soaking up some beans and making this. Carrot orange sounds good! I'm going to try that too!

Looking through my new Bittman cookbooks is also on my to do list. Gosh I just love it when I feel like I have a lot in common with you! ;)

Caitlin Carroll | 9:04 AM

I just made homemade refried beans in the crock pot a few days ago. I forgot how much better they are than canned! We piled on cheese and avocado and salsa and ate them with whole wheat tortillas. Yum!

Anonymous | 2:12 PM

I love WWW's recipes. I made the cauliflower soup last week, and now I'm digging the carrot orange.

One question: Do you add the orange juice when you add the stock or do you add it after the whole thing has simmered?

Wendy Woolf | 2:27 PM

Yikes! Somehow that line got left off! Add the orange juice after its cooked and pureed and then warm up gently!

Shelley Senai | 4:45 PM

Have to say I love WWW's posts. I've made a few of her recipes, including tonight the cauliflower and cheese soup! It was delicious though thicker and oranger than her pictures.

I served it with a bean salad recipe I sort of made up: a can each of red kidney, white kidney, black and garbanzo beans, chopped celery, chopped dill (had this leftover from the cauliflower soup recipe), bunch of spices (s&p, cumin, oregano, dash of cayenne), and a red wine vinegar vinaigrette (just whisked up some RWV w/ some olive oil). Those two things went great together!

But the real point of my comment is to say that perhaps it's time WWW got her own food blog? I know I'd subscribe! Besides the great recipes, she is a wonderful writer. I'd still love to see her in the Eat Well section here, no doubt, but WWW - you're so great in your blog posts, I want more! You'd do so well with your own blog. Something to think about... Thanks for all the wonderful posts! Keep 'em coming either way!

Wendy Woolf | 5:30 PM

Thank you so much, Shelly. Perhaps in the future! :)

Your soup was probably yellower because your cheddar cheese was yellow...I used white cheddar. And if it was too thick, just add more broth to thin it out. A lot can depend on the starchiness of the potatoes and also how big your cauliflower is.

Anonymous | 11:52 PM

Once I can eat again, im so coming backto this. I am officially out of ideas. And, Rebecca, thanks again for the lovely inclusion of our wedding story. We are soon celebrating our second anniversary and couldn't be happier.

Anonymous | 10:08 AM

Yum. Thanks for the tostadas idea. So easy and healthy.

Amanda | 10:53 PM

I've actually been repeating YOUR black bean soup/chili. Haven't gotten sick of it yet.

My aunt-in-law just let me borrow the Moosewood Cookbook and my mother in-law gave me The Joy of Cooking our first Christmas together. Funny coincidence! The Moosewood Cookbook has totally bewitched me. Everything from the recipes to the layout look so lovely!

Unknown | 7:14 PM

As a SAHM of twins I have gotten in a food rut. No excuses....time to pull out the guns. I'm making those refried beans!
Thanks WWW!
-Shannon in Austin

Kari Beth | 2:05 PM

featured this recipe for the refried beans/tostadas on my blog! thanks for such a great recipe!