Recipe Du Jour: Black Bean Soup

6903389797_9f9a7d38af_oSo as part of my real food lessons from GNOWFGLINS, I recently learned to soak and cook dry beans.  Most of the time when a recipe called for beans, I used canned beans.  They were convenient, but I’ve known for a while that cooking from dry beans is healthier (fewer preservatives, and reduces gas) and cheaper.  I think I overcooked them a little because I used a slow-cooker for the actual cooking, but that’s something to experiment with.  (Also, if you want to try this, make sure not to use a slow-cooker on kidney beans.  They have a toxin that needs to be boiled out, so only cook them in a stock pot or pressure cooker.)

In any case, I cooked a whole pound of dry black beans, and I needed something to use them in.  What better than my black bean soup?  It also gives me a chance to test out my new immersion blender.

Ingredients:

  • 2 (14.5 oz) cans black beans (or equivalent amount cooked)
  • 1 (8 oz) can Spanish style tomato sauce
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp gr. cumin
  • 3 cups chicken (or veggie) broth

Directions:

Heat all ingredients together in a pot.  When hot, use immersion blender to halfway puree the soup.  Don’t puree completely; you want to be able to see some whole beans still.  (If you don’t have an immersion blender, ladle about half the soup into a blender.  Blend, and then add back to the pot.  Be careful when pureeing hot liquids!)  Serve with a nice crusty bread, my favorite is sourdough.

Notes: 

This soup is something that would be great in a bread bowl.  It comes together really quickly and makes for an easy weeknight meal.  Watch out though, it can be a bit spicy.  The image above I was testing my new blender, and so I pureed the soup a bit too much.  The completely pureed soup is best as a dip and definitely needs bread.  Personally, the texture is better with some whole beans still left.

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Recipe Du Jour: Beef Stew

6903388775_da806bba45_oBeef stew is one of those perfect comforting dishes for wintertime.  While this year has been particularly mild, the past few days have been more like the cold winter I’m used to.  And I’ve finally found a beef stew recipe I love.  I grew up on a very simple sort of stew: beef, potatoes, and carrots in a thick gravy.  Over the years, I’ve tried various recipes or restaurant versions, but nothing worked.  Many had tomatoes, peas, or corn, or they had too much garlic or strong herbs like rosemary.

But this recipe is warm, simple, and fills your belly quickly.  Adapted from the recipe here.

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound beef stew meat
  • 2 tbsp oil (I used lard)
  • flour mixed with pepper (maybe salt.  I didn’t use salt because I knew my broth was really salty.)
  • 2 cups beef broth (and 2-3 more cups of water or broth for later)
  • 1 tsp dried parsley
  • 1/4 tsp gr. black pepper
  • 2 large potatoes (or 3-4 little ones), peeled and cubed
  • 2-3 carrots, peeled and cut into 1 inch circles
  • 2 stalks celery, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1/2 large onion, chopped
  • 1 tsp cornstarch mixed with 1 tsp water

Directions:

Heat oil over medium heat in a dutch oven or other large pot.  Coat meat in flour, and cook meat in oil until brown.  Add the broth, making sure to scrape the bottom of the pot to free any stuck bits.  Stir in parsley and pepper.  Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and cover.  Simmer for about 30 minutes.

Add the potatoes, carrots, onions, and celery.  If necessary, add up to another 3 cups of broth/water to increase the liquid to the desired amount of sauce.  Add the cornstarch mixture, and cover.  Simmer another hour.  Stew is done when the veggies are soft and the sauce is thick.  If it doesn’t thicken over the hour, remove the lid and simmer a little longer.  Serves about 4.

Notes:

This really doesn’t need anything to go with it.  It’s a nice one-pot, one-dish meal.  I’d be curious to see how it fared in the slow-cooker.

Slow-Cooker Wednesday: Exploded Chicken and Rice Soup

sd530693I am pleased to announce the return of my Slow-Cooker Wednesday series.  My schedule once again has created a night where I won’t get home until late, and I definitely won’t want to cook at that time.  In an effort to keep up with my 2-month resolution Eating at Home More, I decided to reinstate the slow-cooker.  It also helps that the weather has been bitterly cold lately.

Now, in actuality, I use the slow-cooker on Monday nights, but I’ll still post these on Wednesdays.  Also, this wasn’t the first recipe I tried.  The first one was a flop.  It seems that most “traditional” slow cooker dishes end up tasting weird to me, strange spices, strange textures, I just can’t seem to get it to work.  I’ve made my chili in the slow-cooker successfully, so I think it’s just the style of recipe.  So, I’m restricting myself to mostly soups and stews, to see how that goes.

This recipe originally comes from the blog A Year of Slow Cooking.  I made enough modifications to the original that I feel ok listing things here.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup chicken, already cooked
  • 1/2 cup rice, uncooked (I used brown long-grain rice)
  • About 4 cups of chicken broth (I used homemade 🙂 )
  • About 1/2 cup water
  • About 1 cup of vegetables (I used onion, celery, and carrot.)
  • Spices

Directions:

Puree the vegetables in a food processor or blender.  You will get a thick multi-colored goop.  Because I only used celery, onion, and carrot, mine looked very orange.  Put all the ingredients in the slow-cooker. Cook on low for as long as you want, at least until rice is soft. Serves 4?

Tastiness Factor:

This is where I explain the title.  I let my soup cook for so long that the rice didn’t really seem like rice anymore.  It had exploded.  I don’t know why, or what I could do for next time, and I actually don’t mind exploded rice.  Flavorwise…pretty good.  Mine needed salt and pepper and was oddly spicy hot.  The original recipe calls for herbs de provence, which I didn’t have.  I used a salt-free Mrs. Dash blend.  Next time I’ll try something else.  Also, you could really taste that the only vegetables I put in were the celery, carrots, and onion.  These are the traditional veggies my grandma put in her chicken soup, so I thought they were good starters.  Next time, I’ll definitely add a wider variety.  Maybe just chop up a stir fry blend or something.

Another big thing about this soup: it seems like it calls for a lot of liquid, but a lot of that ends up getting absorbed by the rice.  My soup ended up more like a gruel.  I don’t mind this, but some people may want something more soup-y.  I’d add more broth after the rice has been cooked.  Also, you want to eat this quickly.  Once it’s cold, it’s not as tasty.  But I think that goes without saying for most soups.

Reheat Factor:

Since the rice is already exploded, this reheats very well.  This is another place where you can thin it out, if you have some water or chicken broth on hand.  It does tend to thicken up in the fridge, again, not sure why.  But the flavor and texture are consistent with the fresh stuff once it’s reheated.

Overall Impression:

Not bad.  It has a lot of room to use leftover veggies, broths, meats, what have you.  Lots of flexibility.  I’d like to try it again, but I have other recipes to work through.  Also, I don’t know how much the original was supposed to make, but I ate this for about three days in a row, at about one to two meals each day.  Andrew didn’t eat any; he doesn’t really like soups.

Nutrition Facts (from here): 171 calories, 2.2g fat, 23.8g carbohydrates, 2.6g fiber, 12.4g protein

Recipe Du Jour: Comforting, Easy One-Pan Meatball Veggie Skillet

Meatball Veggie Skillet
Meatball Veggie Skillet

So, today’s recipe is a perfect recipe when you want something that is easy, doesn’t make a lot of mess and doesn’t require a lot of clean-up. This is a recipe passed down through my family, and it definitely speaks of all the traits we tend to like in American food. There’s meat, potatoes, and some veggies. And it tastes good too!

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup dry bread crumbs
  • about 1/2 cup of milk (use your best judgment)
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 tsp salt
  • dash pepper
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 tbsp grated onion
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 2 tbsp shortening, oil, or some other fat  (The original calls for shortening, but I just used a good cooking oil.)
  • 2 cups thinly sliced raw potatoes
  • 4 carrots, cut into about 2-inch pieces and quartered
  • 1 small package frozen peas
  • 1/4 to 1/2 small onion, chopped
  • 1 cup water (maybe more if needed)

Directions:

Soak the bread crumbs in milk.  Put meat in mixing bowl and add salt, pepper, nutmeg, grated onion, and bread crumbs.  Mix well and shape into meatballs (try for 12, but it’s ok if there’s more).  Roll balls in flour.  Heat oil and brown the meatballs on all sides.  Add veggies and water.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  If the pan seems crowded, remove the meatballs, put in the veggies and water, and then place meatballs on top.  Cover tightly.  Cook on low heat about 30-45 minutes.  Serve when potatoes and carrots are soft, but not falling apart.  Serves 4?

Tastiness Factor:

I grew up eating this at home, of course I think it’s tasty.  Specifically, the spices in the meatball keep them from being bland.  The nutmeg, especially, sounds like an odd spice to put in a meatball, but it works.  Most of the flavor in the dish comes from the meatballs, so everything else is less strong to balance it.  And it’s best when you can get some of the water from the bottom of the pan, because it acts as a broth.

Reheat Factor:

This reheats really well.  You can actually divide the portions, and then just pop it in the microwave with a little water.  Depending on how much moisture your meatballs soaked up while cooking, they may be soft and fall apart a little, but the flavor is still there.

Overall Impression:

This is one of my go-to busy night dishes.  Andrew makes the meatballs while I cut the veggies.  If you’re making it on your own, just cut the veggies first.  I will note that this is one of my grandmother’s recipes, and she tended to go heavy on the onion.  I’ve adjusted it above for what I use, but that may still be too much for some people.  I think this is a comforting dish, and with it being in one pan, it’s great on nights when I just want to be lazy and have comfort food.  For those who want to make it a little lighter, you could try other ground meats such as chicken or turkey.  I haven’t, but I wouldn’t expect it to be much different.  I recommend pairing with a salad to get even more veggies in.

Nutrition Facts (from here): 449 calories, 15.3g fat, 4.2g saturated fat, 35.2g carbohydrates, 6.4g fiber, 41.1g protein

Recipe Du Jour: Mac ‘n’ Cheese Soup

Ham and Mac and Cheese
Ham and Mac and Cheese

In every culture, there is the idea of comfort food.  The foods that remind you of home, or childhood, or just plain make you feel good.  Now, in most cases, comfort food is not good for you.  It’s meant to be good for the soul, not necessarily good for the body.  But I think in this recipe, it’s a step closer to being both.  I have many comfort foods, but one of my favorites is mac ‘n’ cheese.  It’s cheese and pasta.  What’s more comforting than that?  The source of this recipe is Little Yuzu, a blog that I used to follow for bento, but stopped reading when it turned to non-food topics more often than food ones.

Ingredients

  • Chicken Broth
  • Pasta (I used tiny shells)
  • Carrots, Broccoli and Cauliflower (This is what I used because I always have frozen on hand.  Any combination of these would probably be all right.)
  • Flour (for thickening)
  • Milk
  • Cheddar (I used sharp)
  • Ham (not in the original recipe)

Tastiness Factor:

I think everyone agrees that mac ‘n’ cheese and broccoli/carrot are a classic combo.  So is ham and mac ‘n’ cheese.  This is much thinner than what most people think of for mac ‘n’ cheese, but a smidge of salt and pepper made it great.  It was creamy, starchy, and had veggies.  I will note that because of the chicken broth and milk, the cheese flavor is not too strong.  I used a sharp cheddar, and the pasta didn’t taste that sharp.

Reheat Factor:

My bento basically looked like the bowl above, so I didn’t bother taking a picture of it.  While the soup thickened considerably after it had been taken off the heat, it still retained the same comforting texture.  Taste was about the same as the original.

Overall Impression:

This is absolutely great.  It makes me feel better about eating comfort food, and pairing it with a protein makes it a relatively balanced meal.  It reheated well, which makes for good bento food.  I will definitely be putting this into my regular rotation, as I always have the ingredients on hand.  I just wish I was good with coming up with recipes on the fly like Little Yuzu is.

Slow-Cooker Wednesday: Tortilla Soup

Slow-Cooker Tortilla Soup
Slow-Cooker Tortilla Soup

Back in my hometown in Texas, there is a little restaurant called Mamacita’s.  Mamacita’s has the most awesome Mexican food, and a great bowl of tortilla soup.  I have spent every year since attempting to duplicate it.  Many recipes have come and gone, but this my friends, I think this may be the closest I have ever come.  You can find the original recipe here.

Ingredients:

  • Chicken
  • Canned Tomatoes
  • Enchilada Sauce
  • Onions
  • Green Chiles
  • Garlic
  • Water
  • Chicken Broth
  • Cumin
  • Chili Powder
  • Bay
  • Corn
  • Cilantro

Tastiness Factor:

In case it wasn’t obvious, I really liked this.  I’ve always said that my ideal tortilla soup was red, either with tomatoes or some other secret.  I added tortilla chips and mozzarella cheese into the bowl, and poured the soup over it, and it was really good.  Not too much heat, but very tasty.

Reheat Factor:

Edited as of July 13: I reheated this in a pot on the stove, and it turned out almost exactly like it did in the crockpot.  I’m still not taken with the amount of corn in it, but the flavor still packs a punch.  Future reheats may require a little more chicken broth or water added, I felt like I got a lot of the “stuff” and not as much of the broth the second time around.

Overall Impression:

With the tortilla chips, I don’t feel that this needs corn in the soup.  I didn’t precook the chicken, just tossed raw (and frozen) chicken breasts into the crockpot and pulled them out and shredded them right before serving.  I also recommend actually chopping the tomatoes, instead of just mashing them.  I plan to tweak it a little, maybe add some celery,  and not add the cilantro until just before serving.  It got kind of funny after stewing for so long.  I bet some avocado on top of this would be great too.  This will definitely become one of my staple recipes.

Edited as of July 13: I forgot to note that if you use tortilla chips, you probably don’t need to add much salt to the soup itself, since the chips are already salty.  This recipe is hitting comfort food status for me; just thinking about a bowl makes me feel good.  Now, if only I can perfect my experiments to reproduce Mamacita’s green sauce.