Cool Beans

This award-winning cookbook’s author, Joe Yonan, is Food and Dining Editor of the WaPo.

My very favorite TV and movie producer, Danielle Renfrew Behrens, first introduced me to that expression – “Cool Beans!” Danielle is also our honorary goddaughter and Bestie of our daughter, Sara. Speaking of Danielle, if you haven’t been watching Poker Face, you should! Peter Travers from ABC News calls it a “fabulously addictive mystery series;” other critics remark that Natasha Lyonne, the star, plays the role of an updated Columbo (I have to add two asides here: 1. we went back and watched the first Columbo, which debuted in 1971; the similarities between Charlie, Lyonne’s role in Poker Face, and Lt Columbo, Peter Falk’s role in Columbo, are hysterical; 2. after watching clips of the fascinating Alex Murdaugh trial, we were amused at someone’s comment: “Where is Poker Face when we need her?!”).

What’s the connection with Danielle and Poker Face? Though filmmaker Rian Johnson (think Knives Out and Star Wars) is the creator, writer, and director, the series’ co-executive producers are Danielle and Natasha Lyonne and Maya Rudolph – through their Animal Pictures production company.

Here’s Sunset Strip in L.A. on a recent Sunday evening – and Poker Face…twice! Maybe that’s because it was just renewed for a second season?

Danielle is cool; Poker Face is cool – but how cool are beans?

A recent article in the Washington Post refers to a study published last year in PLOS Medicine that found that the average person could add years to his/her/their life by switching from a typical Western diet to a healthier diet — and that the foods that produced the biggest gains in life expectancy were beans, chickpeas, lentils and other legumes.

“Figure out how to get a cup of beans into your diet every day,” says Dan Buettner, author of The Blue Zones American Kitchen. “Just one cup gives you half of all the daily fiber you need.”

Thinking about beans, Andy claims that beans remind him of sea serpents and gremlins from his dark past. Check out Andy’s Corner for more on this and for another of Andy’s riveting video productions.

For me, thinking about beans brings back vague memories of visiting Washington D.C. as a child in the early to mid-1950’s. My grandmother and grandfather (aka “Mom and Pop Hill”) were living in an apartment there, since my grandfather was then a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. The one thing I remember most from that visit is going to lunch at the House cafeteria and being introduced to the Speaker, Sam Rayburn (“known affectionately as ‘Mr. Sam,’ Rayburn was a House institution who exerted his influence through skillful persuasion and humor rather than arbitrary rule.” Ahh, those were the days.)

Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy gather in 1961 for Sam Rayburn’s graveside funeral service.

And I remember the House Cafeteria’s bean soup.

The 1955 House Restaurant Menu back, featuring the famous recipe for House Bean Soup

Somehow that recipe has been remembered as “Senate Bean Soup” – with a few added ingredients (isn’t the Senate a little fancier than the House? 🙂

Maybe eating all that bean soup helped the Congressmen (were there Congresswomen then?) live long lives.

Because Andy and I are still obsessing over ChatGPT, I thought I’d see if it could give me a little more flavor-filled recipe update for the “Senate” soup. Here’s what I got (in an instant):

Not bad ideas, ChatGPT – but a little short on specifics

When asked about the origin of the phrase “cool beans,” ChatGPT responds: the exact origin of the phrase “cool beans” is uncertain, but it is believed to have originated in American slang in the 1960s or 1970s….Regardless of its origin, “cool beans” has become a popular expression used to express agreement, a sense of satisfaction, excitement, or approval.

I think we’d agree that there’s nothing better – or more satisfying – than a bowl of steaming-hot soup, a blazing fire, and a captivating TV series on a cold March night. Make a batch of bean soup ahead of time. Reheat – then relax and enjoy it all. Cool beans!

House and Senate and ChatGPT Bean Soup

House and Senate and ChatGPT Bean Soup

Taking what is a very VERY basic recipe from the House/Senate – and using some advice from ChatGPT – we developed the following recipe. Please note that there is conflicting information about soaking dry beans before cooking. I chose the simplest method…no soaking and longer cooking time, plus a hard boil to begin with.

  • 1 lb dried navy beans, cannellini, or Great Northern beans, rinsed and drained; I recommend Rancho Gordo’s Alubia Blanca beans, if you can find them
  • 4 c water and 4 c chicken stock
  • 2 lbs of ham hocks
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 c diced Yukon Gold potatoes (no need to peel, if they’re organic)
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 T lemon juice
  • optional: 1/2 tsp each of smoked paprika, basil, oregano, and thyme (use all, some, or none)
  • optional: a dab of sour cream and some minced parsley on top for serving – or a dab of butter

Add the water and broth to the beans, bring to a rolling boil, and boil (as suggested by Rancho Gordo) briskly for about 8 minutes, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Add the ham hocks, the onion, garlic, and bay leaves, partially cover, and simmer for about 2-3 hours or until beans are totally cooked but not mushy, adding more water if necessary to get the right consistency.

Remove ham hock from the pot. Remove the meat from the ham hock and cut into bite-sized pieces.

Add the potatoes, celery, and carrots to the beans and cook for another 20 minutes – or until all the veggies are cooked. Add the pieces of ham back into the soup mixture and reheat. Add lemon juice – and salt and pepper to taste.

Note: when we reheated the soup a few days later, we discovered that we needed to add more broth or water. The beans had absorbed lots of the liquid. And – if you want fast/simple white bean soup – try this, our “Quick White Bean Soup” recipe! Recipe brought to you by and Andy and Ann.


  1. I love playing with ChatGPT. It won’t be long and we will look back on this period as being the dinosaur age of AI!

    Great recipe and the addition of mashed potatoes is totally new to me.

    Thank you so much for a great post!


  2. Danielle Renfrew Behrens says:

    I’m honored to be immortalized in this blog! Thank you💗 ps: surprised you don’t like Abbott Elementary! #coolbeans4ever


  3. Jane says:

    Always love your blog and today’s reminds me of a story I’d like to share. When my girls were young (way last century!), I was using a then popular cookbook by Molly Katzen, the Moosewood Cookbook. Disclaimer – this story likely reflects my execution of the recipe rather than Moosewood recipes. I was trying to bring more
    protein into our meals. One night with great enthusiasm I made dinner using the Cheese Beans recipe. We all liked cheese and beans and it was healthy, what could go wrong. Well, it was SO horrible, absolutely inedible that we immediately trashed it and had grilled cheese sandwiches instead. YET, all was not lost and it was definitely memorable. At the time parents were encouraged to have code words to use when someone else was picking up your kids from school. A safety measure. You can guess our code word: CHEESE BEANS! We still laugh about it. A quick postscript – when my daughter was later at Cornell in Ithaca, NY we enjoyed many yummy meals at the real Moosewood Restaurant……yet never saw Cheese Beans on the menu. Thanks for reading!


  4. Bob Carleton says:

    ChatGPT made surprisingly good recommendations. Your enhanced bean soup sounds tasty… thanks for including a “print” function.


  5. Sara says:

    The transition here from Poker Face to beans is truly extraordinary.

    Danielle is cool; Poker Face is cool – but how cool are beans?

    Bravo. 🙂


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