Category Archives: cooking
This is not a big deal at all, just one of the little things I’ve started doing that’s turned out to be awesome, so I’m passing it along…
First of all, whenever I empty a glass spice jar, I never ever toss it out. Those are handy little suckers, and they don’t take up much space. (Note: the jars are infinitely reusable, but the plastic lids tend to take on the odor of whatever spice lived in there before. Please do not try this spice blend and store it in a jar that used to hold garlic powder, okay?)
Last time I ran out of cinnamon, I held onto the jar. Having gotten tired of, every time I made oatmeal or pie or anything of that nature, getting out 5 little jars and putting in a little of each spice, I made up a blend that basically matches what I’d end up doing if I got out all the little jars, and stored it in that jar-formerly-known-as-cinnamon:
“Sweet” Spice Blend:
In a spice jar, put (by the way, really anything beyond the first three or four is optional, just seriously yummy):
- 6 tsp ground cinnamon
- 2 tsp ground nutmeg
- 2 tsp ground ginger
- 1 tsp ground allspice
- 1 tsp ground cardamom
- 1 tsp ground anise seed
- 1/2 tsp ground cloves
Put the lid on, shake well. That’s it. Makes just under half a bottle, with the ones I have. I use this all the time. I sprinkle a little on my ground coffee before pouring the water over it. I put it on oatmeal. I put it in cakes. I put it in pies. I put it in rice pudding. Pretty much any cinnamony-winter-spicy dish or beverage I can think of, this is a great addition. (Like hot milk, with a little vanilla and sugar and some of this sprinkled on top…a lovely before-bed not-very-high-calorie drink…) And it’s incredibly easy. Using it means I crave less sugar in whatever the recipe is, too, because it adds so much really deep and layered flavor to whatever it is…
So–like I say, not a big deal–but do let me know if this works for you, or if you have any similar-type blends with more or less ingredients!
I don’t know why it never occurred to me to buy meat at the actual meat counter at Whole Foods rather than the pre-packaged stuff…but I started looking a few weeks ago and noticed a pretty decent amount of local pasture-raised beef, different cuts, for only maybe a dollar a pound more than the conventional stuff.
I confess: I love beef. I almost never eat it–after reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma and watching Food, Inc, I just couldn’t bring myself to buy it. But I have missed it desperately, and I love it.
Today the temperature around here dropped into the single digits, windchills in the negatives. I had to go shopping, and it is one of those days where it just hurts to breathe unless you have a couple of layers of scarf over your mouth and nose. The kind of day that just cries out for some warm, hearty, comfort-foody kind of dinner.
So I bought two pounds of pasture-raised stew meat. And brought it home and put it into the crockpot. We had the most delicious beef stew I can ever remember having tried in my life, if I do say so myself. Here’s what I did:
Crockpot Beef Stew with Red Wine
Place into the crock of a 5 quart slow cooker:
- 1 large onion, cut up
- 4 stalks celery, cut into bite sized pieces.
- 1-2 lbs stew meat (first toss with a little flour, salt, pepper, and garlic powder to coat)
- 3.4 russet or Yukon gold potatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces
- some cut up carrots
- 1 large can (or one quart, jarred) diced tomatoes in juice
- 1-2 bay leaves
(Erm…basically, fill ‘er up–put in as much as you want, of whatever different veggies you like.)
Over the top, pour 2 cups red wine. Cook on low 7-9 hours or high 4-5, till meat is tender.
About an hour before serving, add:
- 1 tsp dried thyme (or a few sprigs, fresh)
- 1/2-1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp dried rosemary (or a few sprigs fresh)
Make a slurry of 1/3 cup flour and enough cool water to make a smooth liquid. Blend in a little hot liquid from the stew, then mix all of it into the stew to thicken. Correct seasonings and add a little salt and black pepper if necessary.
Before serving, fish out the sprigs of herbs and bay leaves. (In my family, we leave the bay leaves in and giggle at the person who “finds” them while eating.)
This was absolutely delicious, and made enough to eat tonight, serve again in a couple of days, and freeze a meal’s worth for some point later in the winter. Rich and flavorful, without the added saltiness of commercial beef broth. The herbs and wine gave it real depth of flavor so it didn’t need much added salt, and the different veggies were able to hold their own shape and distinctiveness while still soaking up a lot of the flavor of the rest of the stew. I ended up cooking it on high for about 4.5 hours, on low for 1 more, and then letting it sit on warm for another hour or so till we were ready to eat. Everyone’s crockpot cooks at a slightly different rate, so do whatever you need to make it work; stew is pretty forgiving, as long as there’s plenty of liquid in there so the meat doesn’t dry out.
We ate it with fresh whole wheat bread and butter, and a little more of the wine. A lovely, perfect dinner for a frigid night.
It’s Too Darn Hot (or, Crockpot Woes, why did they raise the temperatures to make them cook hotter??)
Did you know that Bob Fosse, that Great and Bizarre choreographer of the sixties and seventies choreographed a small dance sequence in 1953′s Kiss Me Kate? His first on-screen choreography ever? …Sorry, strange stream of consciousness there–the musical Kiss Me Kate, to the song “Too Darn Hot” from said musical, to my crockpot woes coming rapidly to a boil…
Confession time: All these months I’ve been blogging about my deep love for my slow cookers, I have neglected to mention the frustration they have caused when they heat up too fast, boil too hot, and finish my food way ahead of when I wanted them to. I’ve always assumed I was doing something wrong, and eventually I’d figure it out and enjoy the delight of blissful slow cooking like the rest of the world. But guess what–the rest of the world is apparently in the same boat.
Turns out, over the past 5-10 years the manufacturers of crockpots decided it was too dangerous to let food cook slowly all day, so they raised the cooking temperatures by about 20 degrees for each setting…which is to say, now “low” is more like “simmer,” and “hot” is more like “boil rapidly,” and either option has the high likelihood that your food will dry out and burn about an hour or two before your recipe is scheduled to be finished. It means that anything you wanted to just sit there quietly and let flavors meld over a few hours will get much of its flavor boiled off, or changed, that red sauce must be babysat, hot cocoa must be closely monitored to prevent icky-scummy-skin formation, and meats must be tested periodically before they become shoe leather.
(There are ways around this…but for the moment let me just rant a bit.) This ticks me off supremely. To me it’s another facet of our litigious society, where the manufacturers have to protect themselves from the ignorance of their customer base, and make everything as idiot-proof as possible. Also of the fact that our food supply is fundamentally unsafe, so manufacturers have to make sure we take every possible step to cook the pathogens and unfriendly bacteria out of everything we make so that we won’t be made ill by the food produced by the guys in the flu factories. Yes, I want to be safe. Yes, I want to eat Real Food, cooked well. But dammit, I want my slow cooker back.
There, I’m done. Yes, that was sort of a stupid rant.
But, then…is there any way to reclaim the working stiff’s ability to throw ingredients into the pot in the morning and come home to a beautifully cooked dinner, which is after all the reason we love–or used to love–our crockpots?
A couple of thoughts:
- If you have a crockpot that’s more than 5 years old, keep it!!! Do not even think of tossing it for a new model. (Or if you are, think about asking me if I’d like to take it off your hands.)
- Shop for vintage crockpots on ebay or at your local thrift store
- Babysit your new recipes the first time you cook them, and take good notes about what you had to change to make things work correctly in whatever crockpot you have. You may need to add extra liquid or shorten cooking times significantly to make it work out.
- Make sure your crock is always pretty well filled. The instructions will say that it should always be “2/3-3/4″ full of food when you start, but if what you’re cooking will cook down significantly, you may need to try for “completely full” at the beginning in order to be at 2/3 full by the time things cook down and the thing starts simmering busily, which the old crocks never did on low heat.
- Bear in mind, when cooking pieces of meat, that the meat will usually go through a stage of “too dry” before it hits “soft and tender and falling apart.” I’m sure there’s a chemistry lesson in this, but I don’t really know how it works. But it’s why you have to cook pot roast and stew so long. Again, in a hotter crockpot, you may need to add more liquid to make sure it doesn’t all cook off (which it shouldn’t do in a closed system, but somehow it always does anyhow), but if you cook your meat long enough it should eventually hit that tender stew-y stage. Or you could just follow Michael Pollan’s suggestions and not eat so much meat.
- I have not tried this yet, because in my desire to not be a big old consumer-buyer-of-things-i-don’t-really-need and also to cope with my small kitchen the idea of purchasing a fourth crockpot seems a little ludicrous, but if you can kick in the extra money to buy a programmable slow cooker, either one where you can set the temperature to which you want your food cooked, or one that lets you set the cooking time precisely and then have it automatically kick down to “warm” (which is somewhere just a little cooler than the old “low”–not really hot enough in most pots to actually cook on, but when you’re cooking basic vegetable products it can last a good long time on the warm setting) after a set amount of time. My current pot only has 8-hour and 10-hour options on low, which at the current heat setting is ludicrous; beans are the only thing I cook that can take that much time in the crock. A programmable cooker also would give you the option of exploring some of the lovely breakfast recipes you can make in a slow-cooker–oatmeals and bread puddings and stuff of that nature–and let them cook overnight. (A friend just sent me a couple…I will post about them as soon as I get to try them!)
Other than that…I got nothin’. It’s a sad thing. Once a food hits boiling and sits there for a while, you lose so much of the flavor, and it’s just tragic. Mulled cider, marinara sauce, pretty much anything you make loses all subtlety of flavor after that much time at a Real Boil. And forget anything like mulled wine or glogg–the alcohol just cooks right off, and what’s the point of that?
So…anyone got any other tips? Ways of getting past this annoying quality in our crockpots? Because this is just…sad.
Okay, not to put too fine a point on it, but this is just stupid.
I mean, come on. It’s insane that potatoes were ever a) treated like a vegetable, and b) served as tater tots and french fries and called “nutrition,” but that’s not the potato’s fault. Potatoes are awesome. And cooked properly, they taste great and are remarkably healthy.
And my son wonders why I pack his lunch every day?
Still working on Thanksgiving. What turkey isn’t eaten yet pretty much is gone into the freezer to later be made into shepherd’s pie or soup or something. But there were still a few mashed potatoes hanging around…
So I made them into pancakes. Very good, very easy, give it a try!
Mix together in a bowl:
- 1 cup leftover mashed potatoes
- 1 egg
- 2 tbs milk (optional)
- 1/4 cup bread or cracker crumbs (optional)
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- few shakes black pepper (to taste)
- sprinkle of oregano, cumin, thyme, curry powder, or any other spice you like…I did just oregano and it was great
Heat skillet to medium high heat with a little oil. (Oil can be omitted in a non-stick skillet, but don’t let it get too hot without food in it, or it can release toxic fumes!) Plop spoonfuls of potato mixture into pan in whatever size you like; flatten if necessary.
Let cook about 5-7 minutes on one side (lower heat if necessary and they are getting too brown) till the bottoms are nicely brown and a little crisp. They’ll get crisper if you use more oil, of course. Flip and cook on other side, flattening pancake with spatula.
Serve with nonfat Greek yogurt (or sour cream, if you must) and chives, or warmed applesauce, or whatever you want.
This entire prep took maybe 10 minutes beginning to end. Really easy, and if your kids are one iota less picky than mine I’d bet they’d go over famously. Also, it should be mentioned that how you make your mashed potatoes will have a lot of impact on this recipe–I do fairly dry garlic-smashed potatoes, so I needed a little milk to make my pancakes work okay. If you already do very smooth and moist mashed potatoes, you may not need any added liquid, and if you salt them liberally in prep you may not need to add any. Use your judgment. You could also probably vastly increase the amount of potato per egg, if you want to keep calories down and/or stretch your eggs. Or maybe even skip the egg all together, if you have some other vegan-ish methods of binding it all together…
These are delicious–easy and light and full of flavor; I’d make these as appetizers for a party or a brunch side dish or something like that in a heartbeat.
Okay, leave it to me two days after Thanksgiving to make MORE sweet-goodies, but we’re having a football party tomorrow afternoon (the only Sunday Bears game in the season that starts at 3:15, instead of noon, which is just about when we get home from church) with my husband’s co-workers, so we need stuff to serve them that isn’t obviously Thanksgiving-y, and I still have some stuff to get rid of.
All year long I save the heels of my bread loaves, cut them into cubes, and freeze them. They get pulled out periodically for bread pudding and Thanksgiving turkey stuffing. This year I accidentally thawed about 4 cups of cubes more than I needed (that’ll teach me to eyeball!), and I didn’t know what to do with the rest of them. So I made bread pudding.
This is another classic Jenn really-speedy-not-much-fat-better-for-you-than-it-seems kind of recipe. I haven’t made it in years, but now that I tried it again I realize I should do it more.
Bourbon Bread Pudding
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Put 4 cups stale bread cubes into a casserole dish (preferably one with a heavy glass lid you can use to cover it–I use my white Corningware round one.) They shouldn’t come all the way up to the top; a good inch or so at least of “head space” is helpful, because this stuff puffs as it cooks.
- If desired, add 1/2 cup raisins, currants, or dried cranberries to bread cubes
- Whisk two eggs till bright yellow and foamy; whisk in 1/3-1/2 cup sugar (brown is nice).
- Add 1 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp nutmeg, 1 tbs vanilla extract. Mix well.
- Add 3 cups milk and 1/3 cup bourbon (or other booze) and beat till well combined. (I did the last 3 steps right in my 4 cup Pyrex measuring cup–the eggs and sugar together made about 1 cup, then I added the 3 cups of milk. The bourbon on top of that still had us a good bit from the top.)
- Pour over bread cubes. When I do this, the 4 cups of bread and the 4 cups of custard take up about the same amount of space in the casserole, so I still have the inch or so of head space at the top. Moosh down bread so it soaks up the custard.
- Cook, covered, in a 350-degree oven for about an hour. Let it cool before digging in, however lovely it smells.
Obviously, any hard spirit will work equally well in this recipe–rum, brandy, Jamisons, whatever–and I’m sure you could leave it out all together and add a little more spice and vanilla. But it’s very easy. And yummy. And it makes me want to pour some of the Pioneer Woman’s Whiskey Maple Cream sauce over it when I serve it, though I don’t know that I’ll have time to make it…maybe I’ll just drizzle some cranberry sauce over it instead, also leftover…only I re-boiled it with a little bourbon and cinnamon to complement the pudding. It’s all I can do not to just stand there and eat it with the spoon, guests be damned.
It’s officially fall. I think we’re going to have Black Bean Soup tonight.
This is a delicious and easy soup, and like so many soups it can be a very nice template for all kinds of things you’d like to get out of the fridge. But the basic recipe is here:
Basic Black Bean Soup
In a saucepan, saute 1 chopped onion and 2 cloves minced garlic in a little oil till soft. If desired, add chopped bell or other peppers and saute. (If it weren’t meatless Monday, a little bit of ham is nice to add here too…but it’s Monday.)
Add 1-2 cups vegetable stock
Add 2 cups cooked black beans, drained or not, as you wish. You can use canned or some you made earlier in quantity.
Season with 1-2 tsp cumin, 1/2 tsp oregano, up to 2 tsp of your favorite chili powder blend, and/or a few drops hot sauce.
If you wish, attack just a little with an immersion blender, or remove a cup or two of soup into a blender or food processor, to thicken. Alternatively, if you use canned beans, use half and half whole beans and “fat free refried” beans (essentially just mashed up). Or completely mashed ones. It’s your dinner.
Serve with a dollop of plain creamy yogurt and a sprinkle of grated cheese.
Yummers. If you like, you can decrease the broth by a lot and serve this over rice; it’s just as good.
(UPDATE: and after all that, I got home from work to realize I’d used up all my black beans when I made chili last week…so we had pasta instead. Sigh…)
Yesterday the white potatoes, today the lovely beta-carotene-filled orange ones…
This is one of those “Thanksgiving is not complete without” recipes for me–which is why I have, the night before Thanksgiving, sent my husband out to buy me a bottle of bourbon when I discovered he’d drank the rest of our one small bottle sometime in the past 12 months. (Remind me to post his hot toddy recipe sometime…)
Almost as easy as the garlic smashed potatoes, it just requires a little extra bake.
Bourbon Sweet Potatoes
Ingredients: sweet potatoes, brown sugar, spices, bourbon, orange juice, chopped pecans (optional but awesome), currants (optional)
Cook as many sweet potatoes as desired. (Sunday I posted a crockpot-appropriate method, or you can just cut them into inch-thick chunks and boil them 15-20 minutes till soft.) You can leave the skin on if you wish, but I generally peel these–after they are cooked and cooled, the skin slips off very easily, so it’s a painless process. Unless you try it when they are still too hot–that is a pain-ful process. Which I’ve had reason to learn.
Line a baking dish (9×9 or 9×13, whatever fits your ‘taters best) with a single layer of cooked sweet potatoes.
Sprinkle with dark brown sugar (which, by the way, it’s really easy to make yourself out of white sugar and molasses)–I never measure, just take a small handful and sprinkle till it “looks right.” maybe 1/4 cup not-packed?
Sprinkle with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger, and a little clove–the cinnamon is pretty necessary; everything else can be left out if you want, or done in some combination.
Drizzle 1/4 to 1/2 cup bourbon (hic!) over potatoes, sugar, and spices.
Drizzle 1/4 cup orange juice over potatoes, sugar, and spices
Sprinkle with a handful of chopped pecans (or other nut of choice) that you kept back when you made the pecan pie. You could also (or instead) sprinkle a handful of dried currants on at this point.
Cover with foil and bake about 45 minutes at 325-ish–basically, put it in the oven about an hour before the turkey comes out. Take the foil off for the last 10 minutes or so to crisp the pecans.
A variation I discovered unintentionally one year (the year I was drinking too much wine with the Australians) when I overcooked the potatoes till they were too squishy to slice properly–smash/mash them with the bourbon, orange juice, and spices, sprinkle the brown sugar and nuts on top, and bake it that way. Easily as good.
I’m told you can do this same recipe with some other spirit–rum or brandy, or Jack, for example–and it’s still delicious. But the bourbon adds a really great complementary flavor to the sweet potatoes…
So, yesterday I talked about how to just sort of have some cooked potatoes on hand for whatever you want to use them for–and how you can do either sweet or white potatoes very easily in the crockpot. You can as easily chop them into manageable sized pieces (I usually do inch-thick slices) and boil them for 15 minutes or so until they are tender–whatever you prefer.
But–once they are cooked, you can either just eat them however you want, or use them as the basis for some really lovely side dishes.
Now, I know everyone has their own favorite version of mashed-potatoes-without-which-it’s-not-Thanksgiving (remember that episode of Friends, where Monica had to make a different kind of potato for everyone?). I’m not quite that picky, so I fix what my husband and I enjoy, which are lovely garlicky smashed potatoes with the skin still on. And they are amazingly easy.
Garlic Smashed Potatoes
Cook as many white potatoes as you want–I like Yukon Gold because they are hard to mess up. Russets work for this too. (Small waxy or new potatoes aren’t as good, IMO.) Cut them up into fairly small pieces (this keeps you from having huge slabs of potato skin in the final product…if you don’t like skin, peel the things).
In a large skillet, heat a little olive oil (or heck, a couple tablespoons of butter–it’s your call. The fact is, the more butter you add, the better it tastes. sigh…) and saute 3-4 cloves minced or crushed garlic until golden; if desired, add a few other herbs such as fresh rosemary or thyme or whatever floats your boat. Add your potato pieces and stir.
You can either smash them in the pan while heating, or you can stir it all up, remove it to a bowl, and smash them there. If you are using a non-stick skillet, just don’t put anything metal anywhere near that lining, or you’ll scratch it. No, really, you will, however careful you try to be, you’ll scratch that lovely non-stick coating and then forever be worried about fragments of Whatever getting into your food.
Add salt and pepper to taste. If it’s a little too dry, add just a tablespoon or two of milk or broth, as you like it. Mash till you’re happy.
That’s what I do with mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving, anyway…
One of my priorities in giving Thanksgiving recipes here is to make things as simple for the cook on the Day Of as possible. The challenge for Thanksgiving every year is that most of us only have one stove and one oven, and managing turkey plus pies plus sides plus gravy plus all this stuff at once is the main headache, because all of a sudden everything is done at once and you’re not sure how to navigate it all…the slow cooker can take a lot of pressure off on that front. And this, by the way, is not just a holiday idea–try this year-round, it makes life much simpler at dinnertime!
Today I’m talking about potatoes, and prepping for both sweet and mashed: you have to cook the potatoes first before doing anything else with them, which can be either done on the stovetop in two big pots (basically, cut ‘em up, boil them for twenty minutes or so or just until fork tender, and drain ‘em in cold water to stop cooking) or in the crockpot overnight the night before. Stephanie over at “A Year of Slow Cooking” has crockpot baked potato instructions that will work perfectly well for this–essentially, wash and dry your potatoes (sweet or white), poke ‘em with a fork a few times, wrap each one individually in foil, and cook them on low in the crockpot for 8-10 hours or so or until soft all the way through. Then you can take them out, let them cool, and deal with them as you wish. Note: you are not really baking the potatoes in here, you are steaming them. Which is better for most Thanksgiving applications anyway.
Sweet Potatoes vs. Yams: the eternal debate, happens every year. Is there a difference? Yes. Will it have any effect at all on your cooking them for Thanksgiving? Not a damn thing. According to this site, the confusion comes from mis-naming sweet potatoes as yams for a long time, alongside with the other confusion that there are tons of different sweet potato varieties–bottom line is that normally we are eating sweet potatoes even when we think they are yams, because sweet potatoes are the ones indigenous to most of our climates, and 95% of genuine yams are grown in Africa and are indigenous to Africa and Asia.
Types of Potatoes to Mash: This is really up to you. But you should know that the whiter, starchier potatoes (the ones we usually bake) like russets and Idahos (Idahos are usually Russets, actually), have more starch in them and don’t stand up to boiling as well, and the smaller waxier ones have more moisture and tend to turn to glue if you smooth them too much. I like “smashed potatoes” better than the smooth creamy ones we all usually think of as “mashed” (really more “whipped” potatoes)–most sites I look at suggest that “Yukon Gold” is a good sort of middle-of-the-road potato…
I’m giving this potato-pre-prep thing its own post, because really this is something you can do any time–toss a few potatoes into the crockpot in foil before you go to work in the morning, and by the time you get home you can turn them into all kinds of things in a matter of minutes. Mash ‘em, smash ‘em, add a little salt and butter to the white ones or brown sugar and cinnamon to sweet ones, you can do all kinds of things. And put some in the fridge for tomorrow or the next day too.