Slow Cooker Wednesday: Baked Potato Soup

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In this edition of Slow-Cooker Wednesday, I offer you a version of that favorite restaurant classic, Baked Potato Soup. It’s creamy, it’s savory, it will stick to your ribs on a cold winter night.

This recipe is based on the recipe from Slow Cooker: The Best Cookbook Ever. We’ve just changed the process a little. This is my favorite slow-cooker cookbook right now, mainly because it always uses whole ingredients. So many slow-cooker recipes rely on instant onion soup mix or other things that I don’t really consider food. The slow-cooker is supposed to make cooking a long meal easier, why take even more shortcuts with the ingredients?

Many of the recipes (including this one) assume a 5 to 7 quart slow cooker.  Mine’s only 4.5 quarts, so I cut the recipes into halves or three-quarters to not overload it.  The recipe below uses the amounts for the original recipe.

Ingredients:

  •  4 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 medium leeks, finely chopped, using the white and some of the tender green parts
  • 4 large russets potatoes, peeled or unpeeled and cut into 1/2 inch dice OR 6 medium red or Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch dice
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 cups finely shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
  • 6 green onions, finely chopped, using the white and some of the tender green parts
  • 8 strips bacon, cooked crisp, drained, and crumbled
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 cup sour cream for garnishing

Directions:

Heat the butter in a large skillet over med-high heat.  Add the leeks and saute until softened, 2 to 3 minutes.  Transfer the leeks to the insert of your slow-cooker and add the potatoes and broth.  Cover the slow cooker and cook on high for 3 hours or low for 5 to 6 hours, until the potatoes are tender.  Using an immersion blender, puree the soup, or cool the soup and puree it in a blender. (You have to cool the soup first for a normal blender or you might get burned.)

Reduce the heat to low and add the milk.  Cover the slow cooker and cook for an additional hour.  Season with salt and pepper, and garnish with the remaining ingredients.

Serves 8-10.

Notes: For the potatoes, you can use any kind you want, but the kind will determine how smooth or chunky the soup is. If you’re using the russets, they make a rich creamy smooth soup.  The reds or golds are best for a somewhat chunky soup. If you leave the skins in, they will add a slightly earthier flavor to the soup. Also, make sure that the potatoes are really cooked, as the texture could be thrown off otherwise.

It reheats well, but you probably want to add more broth or water to it, as it can thicken up quite a bit in the fridge.  Also, this would make a great bread-bowl soup.

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Canning Broth: Easier than previously thought

6832048268_3c29ea55c4_oSo, back near Thanksgiving, I made some turkey broth.  At the time, I measured it out, put it in freezer bags, and froze it.  This has been the way that I’ve done my broth for a while now.  However, I can never get the bags to freeze flat and therefore they take up a lot of space in my freezer.  (What I would give for the space to have a chest freezer!)  A friend came into a pile of beef (her dad had bought half a cow) and she wanted to share.  So we needed to make room in the freezer.

Last summer, when we canned the cherries, I bought a bunch of jars and a pressure canner.  Now, a brief primer on canning.  Most canning can be done in a boiling water bath, with pots you already own, as long as they cover the top of the jars.  This is for things like jams, jellies, and tomatoes.  These foods have enough sugar or acid (or both) that they can be canned with boiling water.  Other foods, such as soups or pasta sauces, don’t have these properties, and so need a much higher heat in order to be safe.  This higher heat can only be acquired at home with a pressure canner.  For more specific info, I recommend checking out a basic canning book, like The Ball Blue Book.  This was the book that I started with.

Ever since I learned about home canning, I’ve dreamt about canning my own soups.  The idea of pulling a jar off the shelf and dumping it in a pot, easy as store-bought soup, but so much healthier!  I’ve since learned that dream is a little unrealistic; most soups can’t be canned in their finished form with everything already mixed together.  But broth can be, and that’s about halfway there.

I’m pleased to say that this experiment was successful.  You basically wash the jars, heat the broth, fill the jars, seal, put in the canner and process for as long as the directions say.  Much more straightforward than making jam or preserves.  In fact, I’m going to make some ham broth later this week and can that too!  I’m also looking forward to canning my grandma’s chicken soup (which is basically carrots, onions, celery and chicken broth).

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.

Post-Turkey Day Broth

So yesterday was Thanksgiving.  I had a few friends over, made a turkey, dressing, gravy, the whole big deal.  There, as there are every year, were a few hiccups.  My turkey ended up being done a whole two hours earlier than I expected, so I had to scramble to pull together the side dishes.  Thankfully (har har), my friends were understanding.

Now it’s the day after, which for me means cleanup and dealing with leftovers.  Now, I’m actually a big fan of Thanksgiving leftovers.  Eating the same thing for 3 or 4 days in a row may sound boring, but I don’t really eat this stuff any other time of year, so it’s a treat.  I have convinced Andrew that maybe we should attempt turkey more often so I can try some of those other “Thanksgiving Leftover” recipes.

But one tradition that I’ve never done before that I’m doing right now is making Turkey Broth the day after.  I do this with chickens all the time, and my method is pretty much the same.  So it made no sense for me to not do it with a turkey.  If you haven’t already thrown your carcass away, I totally recommend this.

Recipe: Turkey Broth

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Ingredients:

  • Turkey carcass, preferably not completely cleaned (or add raw meat)
  • Celery, chopped
  • Onion, chopped
  • Carrots, chopped
  • Flavorings: I use a bay leaf, some thyme, some parsley, and a parmesan rind.

Directions:

Making a broth isn’t too hard.  You put everything in a stock pot, cover with water, and simmer until everything falls apart.  It normally takes a least a couple hours with a bone broth like this, just to get everything cooked.  Some people like to skim any nasty bits off the top, but I normally only worry about that after it’s all done.

My secret to easy clean up is using a steamer basket in the bottom of the pot.  Then, when I’m done, I grab the handle with tongs and pull it out and place it in a bowl.  No fiddly chopped veggie bits to give me problems.

When it’s done, let it cool.  If you want to remove the fat, put it in the fridge so the fat all rises to the top and solidifies.  It doesn’t bother me, I like having that extra flavor.  I also like to divide it up into freezer bags and then freeze it.  That way, if I need broth for a recipe, all I have to do is pull it out of the freezer.

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

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.