Black (bean) Magic

The relationship between cooks and bakers is a curious one. True, our work is similar in many respects. We all use pots, pans, stoves, and spatulas, and we are all trying to produce delicious, quality food for our customers. Nevertheless, there remains an ancient and unending tension between our two professions. Some may try to explain this as a simple instance of what Freud calls “the narcissism of minor differences,” or the phenomenon of perceiving a group that shares many of your own group’s traits – but is different in certain trivial ways – as utterly different and threatening.

But I think a better explanation is that bakers are just plain weird. We – and here i speak for all cooks – don’t quite understand their methods. Their work involves strange and complicated chemistry (some say witchcraft), and most of it is done under the cover of darkness, while the rest of us are sleeping. They claim that this is necessary in order to have their freshly baked goods prepared in time for breakfast. But I think it has more to do with their natural fear of sunlight. Indeed, bakers are the vampire-witches of the culinary world.

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Bakers making chocolate chip cookies, c. 1620. Image by Brandon Muncy

However, over the last five or so years that I have been working alongside the Co-op bakers here in the Cordata kitchen, I’ve had the opportunity to not only observe their behavior, but to get to know them as individuals. And it turns out that, despite their many peculiarities, they are not nearly as threatening as we had once thought. In fact, the cooks here at Cordata have come to grow quite fond of the bakers over the years.

Thus it it is with heavy hearts that we will be seeing them off this summer when they move to their new location on Holly Street, just across the street from the downtown store. I know that I will certainly miss goofing around with Darcy, getting expert gardening advice from Lisalyn, and talking about music and movies with Jessica. But what all of us are really going to miss is those goodies – not quite perfect enough for retail, but perfectly delicious nonetheless – that the bakers frequently leave for us: broken chocolate chip cookies, edge-trimmings from Texas fudge cake, and tiramisu. Oh God! The tiramisu!

Yes, the big move will be great for our customers – the new location will feature a retail space, a cafe, and large windows so that passersby can get a good look at the bakers in action, and so that the bakers can get some well-deserved sunshine, (which, incidentally, will put the vampire hypothesis to the test). But, for yours truly, their exodus will be a bittersweet occasion indeed. Thankfully they have decided to share some of their secret knowledge with me, so that even in their absence we can still enjoy some of their magic.

And if you think that all of that vampire-witch stuff is just typical cooks’ paranoia, try these wonderful, and I mean wonderful, vegan and gluten-free brownies – made with black beans! How else, other than by appeal to the dark arts, do you explain that? 

Black Beauties

2 cups dried black beans (or 6 cups canned black beans)
1 1/2 cups gluten free oats
1 cup agave syrup (maple syrup or brown rice syrup will also work)
6 tablespoons cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
3/4 cup coconut oil (grapeseed or safflower oil will also work)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 cups chocolate chips

If using dried beans: Rinse black beans. Place them in a large bowl and cover with water, leave to soak over night. Drain beans, then place in a large pot and cover with 10 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to maintain a simmer. Cook beans, covered, for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until they are tender. Drain and allow to cool.

If using canned beans: just rinse.

Preheat oven to 350. Add oats to a food processor, with the blade attached, and grind until fine. Place ground oats in a large bowl. Add cooked (or canned) beans and agave syrup to food processor. Blend until completely smooth (this may need to be done in batches depending on the size of your food processor). Add the remaining ingredients, including the reserved oats, but minus the chocolate chips, and blend until smooth.

Transfer mix to a large bowl. Stir in the chocolate chips and mix together. Spread mixture into a well-oiled 9×13 inch baking dish or casserole. Smooth out the top and then place in oven. Bake for 35 – 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool for at least 10 minutes.

Dust with confectioners sugar, and/or top with some vanilla ice cream, and/or peanut butter, and/or just dig in with both hands.

Greetings Fellow Food Lovers!

The powers that be here at your friendly neighborhood food co-op, and in particular our kitchen’s fearless leader, and the previous author of this blog—the inimitable Sara Young—have seen fit to give yours truly a mouthpiece with which to muse about all things culinary. And I couldn’t be more excited!

So, if you’ve followed my previous writing for our quarterly magazine, then you can expect more of the same—a lot more of the same! And if you haven’t, thats OK, now’s your chance to catch up. Just scroll down (or click on that “previous” button in the top right corner of the screen) to check out some of my previous writing—delicious recipes included!—and to get a sense of what’s to come in the very near future. You can also click on that “about” button at the top of the screen to learn a little bit about me and the direction I intend to take this blog.



Welcome to Kimchi Nirvana

There are two types of people: those who love kimchi and those who loathe it. I used to count myself as one of the latter category’s staunchest supporters. “How,” I thought, “could anyone enjoy something that looks like it was collected from a crime-scene and smells like a fisherman’s socks?” But those were the dark times, before my conversion.

My epiphany came in the form of a hot dog—a plain old bratwurst with ketchup and mustard. But where once sat a drab pile of sauerkraut, there, atop my dog, sat that blood-red concoction from the farthest east—pungent, spicy, and redolent of the ocean. I was immediately struck with that feeling you get when you see someone you know, but outside of their usual context, like running into your dentist at a party. “What are you doing here,” I thought. But I persevered. And I’m glad I did, because the flavor, to put it mildly, was sublime.

My road to kimchi nirvana, however, was not an easy one. Like coffee or alcohol, kimchi is an acquired taste. And just as the road to coffee and alcohol connoisseurship is often paved with sugar and littered with bottles of peach schnapps, it often takes a bit of flavor-masking to develop an appreciation for kimchi. So, don’t just dig right into the jar. At first,try it in a stir fry or on a hotdog. Or better yet, try this kimchi stew recipe, which tastes like a funkier version of American chili.

Still, you might be wondering, “Why not just stick with what I already know and love?” Well, there are kimchi’s legendary health benefits to consider. But more importantly, the taste (once acquired) is utterly delicious. So, hold your nose, open your mouth, and see the light.

Kimchi Stew

6 ounces thinly sliced pork belly (or 2 cups cooked shredded chicken)
2 tablespoons minced garlic 1 tablespoon minced ginger 2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon mirin

1⁄2 yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 cup tightly-packed kimchi
1⁄2 cup kimchi juice from kimchi jar (if there isn’t enough squeeze kimchi to extract more)
11⁄2 cups water
1 tablespoon red miso
2 tablespoons Korean chili flake (or 1 tablespoon red pepper flake)
8 ounces soft tofu, cubed 2 thin-sliced green onions
1 tablespoon butter

Instructions –

  1. Marinate the pork belly (or chicken) with garlic, ginger, soy sauce, and mirin while you prepare the other ingredients.
  2. Put a heavy bottomed pot over medium heat. Once hot, add pork belly mixture, (or if using chicken add a little oil then chicken mixture). Sauté for a few minutes, then add onions and kimchi. Sauté for about 5 minutes, stirring often, until very fragrant.
  3. Add kimchi juice, water, miso, and pepper flakes. Bring to a boil, then taste.Add more chili flakes if desired.
  4. Turn heat to low, add tofu and simmer for 20 minutes.
  5. Just before serving stir in butter and garnish with green onions.

A Tradition Worth Preserving

I’m from Ohio. Yep, that part of the country known to historians (and some more attentive third graders) as the Old Northwest. When I tell this to people here the image that typically arises is one of sleepy little towns surrounded by vast stretches of farmland. What they are picturing, I think, is Iowa. But the reality is much more, well, rust-colored. There are farms there to be sure. A local, sustainable food culture is even beginning to take off. But it certainly isn’t part of the DNA of the place like it is here—at least not yet. Rather, the midwestern zeal for industry and efficiency seems to have spread from the cities to the surrounding countryside resulting in a landscape dominated by factory farms and monoculture. And you guessed it: corn is king.

Growing up in a place like that can easily lead to a serious disconnect between a person and the food that he or she eats. To my young mind, food came from the supermarket, not from farms. I didn’t know any farmers. And the farms themselves—with those stalks of corn all lined up in their rows like vast battalions brandishing spears—were almost menacing. Really, have you ever noticed how many horror films are set in cornfields? Anyway, the farm did not seem like a place that anyone would ever need, or want, to go to.

There was, however, one exception. Each year my family would make pilgrimage to our local pumpkin patch. We would all clamber into the farmer’s wagon and roll out through the orange, glistening fields to harvest jack-o’- lanterns and pie pumpkins for the fall holidays. I was too young to think much about it then, but something about visiting that place, and picking with our own hands the food that we would soon eat, seemed important, elemental, right—like a tradition worth preserving.

Those early experiences made a deep and lasting impression, and I have no doubt that they have made me a more conscious, and conscientious, eater. That’s the thing about traditions, they have a way of shaping the way that we come to see the world. This savory stuffed pumpkin recipe has become a tradition around our house. And trust me, it’s a keeper.

Savory Stuffed Pumpkin
(recipe slightly adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s original version available here.)

1 pie pumpkin, about 3 pounds
1/4 pound stale bread, thinly sliced and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 pound cheese, such as Gruyere, Emmenthal, cheddar, or a combination, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
4 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 apple, 1/2-inch dice
1 pear, 1/2-inch dice
4 strips bacon (optional), cooked until crisp, drained, and chopped
About 1/4 cup fresh chives or sliced scallions
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
About 1/3 cup heavy cream
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Cut a cap out of the top of the pumpkin. Scrape out seeds and strings from cap and inside of pumpkin.
  3. Season the inside of the pumpkin generously with salt and pepper. Place in a baking dish.
  4. Toss bread, cheese, garlic, fruit, bacon, and herbs together in a bowl. Season with pepper, you probably have enough salt from the bacon and cheese, but taste to be sure.
  5. Pack the mix into the pumpkin. It should be well-filled, but don’t overstuff it.
  6. Mix the cream, nutmeg, and some salt and pepper. Pour into pumpkin (add more cream if too dry).
  7. Replace the cap and bake for about 2 hours, checking after 90 minutes, or until the pumpkin flesh is tender enough to pierce easily with a knife tip. Remove cap during the last 20 minutes to bake off any liquid and slightly brown the top of the stuffing.
  8. Serve from the baking dish, making sure to scrape out some pumpkin flesh with each serving of stuffing.

(Note: Don’t be alarmed if your Thanksgiving turkey begins to turn green with envy when placed next to this good-looker!)

Eating Our Way to World Peace

Ahhhh, food. You are so many things: life giver, health sustainer, joy bringer…but peacemaker? Come on! But before you scoff, skeptical reader, consider for a moment how effective food can be in bringing peaceful resolutions to many of our everyday squabbles and skirmishes. Need to stop a baby from crying? Feed it! Need to halt a pack of vicious dogs? Throw ’em a bone! Seriously, just try to stay mad at someone after they’ve made you soup. But could the pacifying powers of food be brought to bear on relations between nations?

As it turns out, there are many who think they can. Guided by the belief that the best way to people’s hearts and minds is through their stomachs, thinkers such as Paul Rockower and Sam Chapple-Sokol are pioneering a new (and more delicious) brand of peacemaking—culinary diplomacy. The idea is pretty simple: the stronger the cultural relations that exist between nations, the less willing they will be to make war and the more willing they will be to make peace. And what better way to bring everyone to the table—figuratively and literally—than with some delicious food?

But even though food is very often the easiest access point to the culture of another people, it should not be the sum of our knowledge or interest in that culture—especially when our respective governments are at odds. This is the motivation behind Pittsburgh’s Conflict Kitchen, a cafe that builds its menu around the cuisine of whichever country the U.S. happens to be in conflict with at the moment. The current cuisine is Afghani, but past menus have focused on the food of Iran, Venezuela, and North Korea. Once they have lured you in with the arepas or kebabs, they seek to provide a richer understanding of the culture and politics of the focus country than that typically provided by traditional media or political rhetoric. Their goal is not to be subversive or edgy. They simply understand that even if our countries are at war, it is imperative to acknowledge and respect the humanity of others. And what could be more humanizing than food?

Following their lead, I’ve chosen a recipe from Russia, the focus of our conflict du jour. Regardless of whether or not Russia’s recent actions are justifiable, it cannot be denied that there is much work to be done in the department of cross-cultural understanding between our two nations. So, let’s begin with pancakes! Just be sure to invite some friends—or better yet enemies—over to enjoy it.

Blini (Russian Buckwheat Pancakes)

For the Blini—
3/4 cup white flour
1 1/4 cup buckwheat flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 teaspoon quick-rise dry yeast
1 egg, separated
1 1/4 cup milk (whole or 2%)
(These can be made gluten-free by omitting the white flour and upping the buckwheat flour to 2 cups, but they won’t be quite as fluffy)

For sweet topping—
1 cup blueberries, or other berry (if large, like a strawberry, slice thin)
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons lime juice
creme fraiche

For savory topping—
1-2 ounces smoked salmon
3/4 cup creme fraiche
1 tablespoon each, finely chopped fresh dill, tarragon, and chives


  1. In a large bowl whisk flours together with salt and yeast.
  2. In another bowl whisk together egg yolk and milk. Reserve egg white.
  3. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture. Pour in egg yolk and milk. Mix until smooth, then cover with plastic wrap and let rest in a warm place to let the batter rise, at least two hours, preferably four.
  4. Meanwhile, make the toppings. Add the blueberries to a small bowl with sugar and lime juice and mix. In another bowl mix 3/4 cup creme fraiche with herbs. Keep in fridge.
  5. Once batter has risen, whisk egg white until stiff, then fold into batter.
  6. Cook as you would cook tiny pancakes. Coat the bottom of a large skillet with grapeseed or vegetable oil to 1⁄4-inch depth and heat over medium high.When the oil is hot, carefully add the batter, about 1 large tablespoon for each blini. Don’t overcrowd. When the bottoms are browned and the tops are bubbling, flip and cook other side.
  7. Remove to a plate, top each with a little butter, and keep warm while you cook the rest.Top some with smoked salmon and a small dollop of herbed creme fraiche, and others with blueberry mixture and plain creme fraiche.