{Laguna Lake}

Since it’s been so nice around here lately, I decided to head to Laguna Lake this weekend for a little post-New Years run. Laguna Lake is just off of Madonna Road in SLO, and is a beautiful spot to get some exercise, have a picnic, or just lay in the grass and soak in some sun. They have miles of dirt walking, running, or hiking trails to explore in an I-can’t-believe-I-live-here setting.

While dogs have to be on leash on all of the trails, Laguna Lake also has a great off-leash dog park that is always packed with people and their little furry friends.

Here’s a few pictures of the trails and the surrounding area, I highly recommend checking it out if you’re ever in town and looking for a little exercise!

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Check out the City of SLO website for more information about Laguna Lake Park.

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{Black Bean Soup}

Black Bean Soup

It appears that summer is back on the central coast. I’ve spent the last few days walking on the beach, reading in the delightful sun, and deep cleaning my house. Nothing like a little tease of sunshine to bring on early spring cleaning! And at night, I’ve been pushing that sunshine out of my mind and pretending like it’s the deep winter again (well, as deep as it gets around here!), so I can get in my soup making mentality. You see, for Christmas, my mom got me this:

Love Soup

Love Soup by Anna Thomas, who originally wrote Vegetarian Epicure. The book has 160 vegetarian and vegan soups–right up my alley! I love, love, love making soup. It’s so comforting and peaceful and usually you just have to saute a few things and throw them into a big pot together all day. Well, that’s what I thought anyway, until I picked this soup as my first to try: Spicy Black Bean Soup with Sweet Peppers.

Me, well, being me, I didn’t quite read all of the instructions before starting cooking at 4:30 only to later realize how long and involved this soup making process was going to be. A bit of advice: always read the entire recipe before you begin! But you knew that, I’m sure. And maybe not make another crazy meal the night after you make something like this. Just saying. But as labor intensive as this soup was, it was totally worth it. In fact, I think it was one of the best soups I’ve ever made or maybe that I’ve ever had. Really!

Here’s a brief overview of the process.

First, you combine dried black beans, water, onions, and garlic in a large pot and let simmer for 1 to 2 hours.

Black Bean Soup

Meanwhile saute carrots, celery, onion, and garlic with a little olive oil until they brown, about a half hour then add to the soup.

Black Bean Soup

Char 2 bell peppers, 1 red and 1 green on your stove top if you have a gas stove, or in the broiler if you don’t. Sweat them in a paper bag for a few minutes, then remove the skin, chop, and throw in the soup.

Make an Ancho and Guajillo puree by boiling them in water for for a half hour with some garlic, then blend, and add to soup.

Black Bean Soup

Finally toast some cumin seeds and add them to the soup along with vegetable broth, cilantro, and lime juice.

Black Bean Soup

Oh, and make some cornbread while you’re at it.

Cornbread

We made it! But seriously, you should make this–it’s worth the effort, I promise.

The recipe below is how I made it, tweaked a bit from the original. For example, Thomas argued for the inclusion of the Mexican spice epazote in the recipe but, alas, I could not find it at any of my usual haunts. I’ve never used it before, so I have no idea how much this changed the soup.

Black Bean Soup

Black Bean Soup

Adapted from Love Soup by Anna Thomas

Makes 7-8 servings

Print recipe!

Ingredients:

1 3/4 cup dried black beans

2 medium yellow onions, chopped

6 cloves garlic, chopped

1 1/2 teaspoon sea salt

6 medium carrots, peeled and sliced

2 large stalks celery, sliced

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 large bell peppers, 1 red and 1 greed

1 tablespoon cumin seeds

2 cups vegetable broth

1 small bunch cilantro

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

2 tablespoons ancho chile puree (2 dried ancho chiles + 1 dried guajillo chile + 2 cloves garlic + sea salt)

Steps:

Rinse beans and place in a large pot with about 10 cups water with half of each of garlic and onions. Bring to a boil then lower to a simmer. Cook, covered, until beans are soft, about 1 to 2 hours. Add a pinch of salt when the beans are soft

Heat oil in a large pan. When the oil is hot, add the carrots and celery along with the remaining onions and garlic. Add a pinch of salt and cook, stirring often, until the vegetables are soft and beginning to brown, about half an hour. When they are done, add to the pot of beans then deglaze the pan with a little bean broth.

Char the bell peppers either on the flame of you gas stove top, in the broiler, or in a 450 degree oven, until the skins are blackened. Place blackened peppers in a paper bag and sweat for a few minutes. Remove the peppers’ skins then core and seed, cut into 1 inch pieces, and add to the soup.

Make your ancho/guajillo chile puree by combing chiles, garlic, and sea salt in a small pot with 1.5 cups water. Bring to a boil then cover and reduce to a simmer, allowing to cook for about half an hour. Let the mixture cool a bit then blend into a thick sauce.

Toast the cumin seeds lightly then grind and add to soup along with the ancho/guajillo chile puree and vegetable broth.

Chop 1/2 of the cilantro and mix into the soup, saving the rest for garnish.

Finally, let the soup simmer for another 20 minutes or so then add a bit of lime juice and more salt, if needed,

Enjoy!

{SLO Restaurant Month}

January is restaurant month here in SLO county, which is essentially a month long celebration of the best restaurants SLO has to offer. Participating restaurants offer a 3 course prix-fixe meal for $30, or some sort of discount. Many restaurants also offer a rotating menu, so you can go back each week and try something new. Although $30 is still a little expensive on my budget, I’m still excited to browse all of the online menus and drool over the offerings.

Here are a few samples:

You can check out all of the participating restaurants and find more information here. The county’s Facebook page also has great up to date information!