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Slow Cooker Beans & Ham

Today I'll be spending my entire day at a local music festival - the longest running human rights festival of its kind, anywhere (25 years). I know when I get home I will be exhausted and sunburned and cranky and hungry. So I decided to do the cooking beforehand. My husband will turn off the slow cooker when he gets home from work, before He comes out to the park.

Of course you can use another variety of bean here if you like... just not kidney beans, of the white or the red variety. They contain phytohemagglutinin, which is toxic, and must be boiled to bring it to a safe level - and your slow cooker just isn't going to boil them sufficiently.

Prep: 5 minutes the night before, 5 minutes in the morning
Cook: 6-8 hours
Servings: 12 servings

Ingredients
  • 1 pound dry pinto beans

  • 2 pounds boneless smoked (fully cooked) ham (optional) - also good are salt pork, ham hocks, and chopped bacon

  • 2 teaspoons salt

  • 1 bouillon cube, whatever flavor you like

  • 1 head garlic, cloves peeled but left whole


Directions

The night before, pick over your beans, discarding any stones or dirt clods or weirdly discolored beans. Put beans in a bowl or your slow cooker crock and cover with enough water to keep them covered if they double in volume (they won't, quite).

The next morning, drain your beans and rinse them well. Place in your crock with the ham or other meat, if you're using it. I cut my ham into a few large chunks - when the beans are done and it's falling apart, i'll shred it. If you like nice little cubes of ham in your soup, go ahead and dice it before you put it in.

Add enough water to come to about 1-1/2 to 2 inches below the rim of your crock. Pop in the bouillon cube and stir in the salt. Toss your peeled garlic cloves in.

TIP: Incidentally, here's a little kitchen gadget tip. You can buy a special garlic peeler. It's a silicone tube that you roll on the counter under your palms to loosen and remove the peel from your garlic cloves. They're not expensive, under $10 generally. I saw Graham Kerr using one on his cooking show once and totally wanted one. And I had one for a while, and it was awesome. Unfortunately, in communal/cooperative houses you sometimes lose things, and I lost my garlic peeler. Recently I realized that I had something that would probably work just as well. You know those little rubber jar openers that you get as promotional items? For a while now I've been using one under my cutting board on the countertop to keep it from moving around. But I have a nice 6" square one that works great for peeling garlic! Just put the garlic clove in the center, fold it in half diagonally around the clove, and roll back and forth until skin either comes completely off or is loose enough to easily pick away.

Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours, until beans reach desired tenderness. Shred meat if needed. Check and adjust seasonings.


Perfect Fried Potatoes

The perfect fried potatoes are hard! They can come out too mushy, they can come out half-cooked, they can come out burned, or they can come out with all of these in the same pan! What follows is my preferred method.

I really do think these are better made with bacon grease. If you're not saving your bacon grease, you totally should. It's free cooking oil, and it makes everything delicious. :)

Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 20 minutes
Servings: 4

Ingredients
  • 2-4 tablespoons vegetable oil

  • 1-2 tablespoons bacon grease

  • 1/2 to 1 pound of potatoes for each person

  • seasonings - at least salt and black pepper, but experiment with garlic powder, steak seasoning blends, cayenne, etc.

  • 1 small white or yellow onion, thinly sliced

  • 1-2 cloves of garlic per person, coarsely chopped (optional)


Directions

Scrub potatoes. Peel if you like, but if they have fairly thin skins, you can leave them on. Slice potatoes thinly - about 1/4 inch thick slices. You can also dice them or cut them into French fry shapes if you prefer, but do try to keep size and thickness fairly equal so they cook evenly.

Heat oil and bacon fat in large (at least 12" skillet). You want the oil hot enough to sizzle very slightly when you flick a droplet of water onto the skillet, but not hot enough that the water droplet dances all over the skillet, or your potatoes will burn. If you get a serious sizzle, turn the heat down a little bit.

Add potates to skillet in an even layer. Add seasonings. Don't stir - the less you disturb your potatoes while they're cooking, the better chance you'll have of them not falling apart. Cover your skillet partially - some steam in the pan is good, but if you cover completely you'll have soft mushy steamed potatoes instead of crispy fried ones.

After about 5 minutes, add your sliced onion and shopped garlic on top of the potatoes and return the partial cover. In 5 more minutes or so the potatoes will look kind of sweaty. This is when you want to turn the potatoes. Try to shuffle them around as little as possible, while getting the softening ones on top down to the bottom and the browned ones from the bottom up to the top.

If they start to look dry, you can add a tablespoon or so of butter to the top - it will melt down into the potatoes.

After turning, you want to cook about 10 more minutes. You still don't really want to do much stirring, but do keep an eye on your garlic and onions so they don't burn. Garlic is okay to get a little golden brown, but not any browner than that or it will get bitter.

Check doneness and crispness, taste for seasoning, adjust seasoning as needed, and serve. Draining on paper towels is a not-quite-necessary step that some folks prefer to do.


Perfect Cornbread

If you don't want to serve your beans with fried potatoes, or if you just want cornbread too, here's a simple but delicious recipe. You can cook this in something other than a cast iron skillet/pan but it will NOT taste the same, I promise.

Prep: 5 minutes
Cook: 15-20 minutes
Servings: 8 servings

Ingredients
  • 3 tablespoons butter

  • 2 eggs

  • 1 tablespoon cooking oil

  • 1 tablespoon bacon grease

  • 1-1/2 cup milk (or buttermilk, or a buttermilk substitute

  • 2 cups self-rising yellow cornmeal

  • 1 tablespoon sugar


Directions

Preheat your oven to 425°F. Put the butter in your 10" cast iron skillet and place in the oven when you turn it on. Check it now and then to make sure it doesn't scorch.

Beat eggs with electric mixer or wire whisk until uniformly yellow and slightly frothy. Add oil, bacon grease, and milk. Mix well.

Measure the cornmeal and sugar into the mixing bowl. Do not use your mixer here - you want to stir gently with a wooden spoon or a fork until you get the lumps out and everything is mixed. Over mixing will make your bread tough.

Pull your skillet out and turn it to coat the entire surface with melted butter.

Spoon the batter into the hot skillet. Some of the melted butter will come up over the edges, which is totally fine.

Stick the pan back into the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes - check the center of the bread with a toothpick. If it comes out clean, the bread is done.

Let stand a few minutes before cutting and serving.
thesoupfairy: (Default)
Well, folks, something's got to give for me! Between being in school full-time and taking care of my family full-time and trying to maintain my physical and emotional health, I need to find ways to cut myself some slack.

So I'm doing an "investment cooking" thing. I'm going to start off with cooking three meals tomorrow, and then four meals the day after that. You might choose to cook it all in one day, or you might choose to just cook any of these recipes for dinner one night, freezing half for another day. However you do it, the idea here is to minimize your efforts and maximize your output. It doesn't take twice as much effort to make a double-batch of something, which you can then freeze all or half of for another meal.

When serving these pre-cooked frozen meals, try adding a crisp salad, crusty bread, and a simple dessert like ice cream or fresh fruit... depending on what the meal is, of course. It just takes moments to add such a simple touch, but it will make a world of difference.

Investment Cooking: Plan Day 1


(Sensational Cheese Steak Sandwiches, Turkey Chili, and Chicken Milano)
  • Chop & Prepare:
    • Slice 2 pounds of sirloin steak into thin strips (if you didn't have it sliced at the store).
    • Slice 1 pound of fresh mushrooms thinly.
    • Seed 2 bell peppers and cut into strips.
    • Seed and dice 2 bell peppers.
    • Slice 2 medium onions.
    • Dice 2 medium onions.
    • Coarsely chop 14 cloves garlic.
    • Dice 4 medium carrots.
    • Dice 4 Anaheim chile peppers.
    • Dice 4 jalapeño peppers.
    • Chop one cup of sun-dried tomatoes.
    • Chop 4 tablespoons fresh basil.
  • Start the Sensational Cheese Steak Sandwiches
    • Heat 4 tablespoons oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add the sirloin strips and cook until browned. Add the mushrooms, the bell pepper strips, the sliced onions, and 4 cloves of the garlic. Cook and stir until vegetables start to become tender, about 5 minutes.
    • In a slow-cooker, combine 4 cups of beef broth with 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper, 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce, 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, and 1/2 cup dry red wine.
    • Transfer the beef and vegetables to the slow cooker and stir to blend. Cover and cook on high for 3-4 hours, until beef is extremely tender.
    • Clean and dry skillet for later.
  • Start the Turkey Chili
    • While beef and vegetables are cooking in the slow-cooker, get out your big heavy-bottomed soup pot.
    • Heat 4 tablespoons oil in soup pot over medium heat. Begin to brown 2 pounds of ground turkey in the oil. Add the diced onions, carrots, bell peppers, 6 cloves of garlic, and the chile peppers. Continue to cook, stirring often, until vegetables are softened (about 7 minutes).
    • Add 1/4 cup chili powder, 2 tablespoons cumin powder, 1 tablespoon dried oregano, 4 bay leaves, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon cayenne powder. Stir for 30 seconds, but be sure not to let the spices scorch.
    • Stir in 4 cans pinto beans, a 29-ounce can tomato sauce, a 28-ounce can diced tomatoes, 2 cups beef broth, and 3 cups frozen corn.
    • Bring to a high simmer. Lower heat and simmer, partially covered, until thickened, about 30 minutes.
  • Start the Chicken Milano
    • While chili is cooking, in a large saucepan over low heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter; add 4 cloves garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add 1 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes and 1-1/2 cups of chicken broth; increase to medium heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for about 10 minutes or until the tomatoes are tender. Add 2 cups heavy cream and bring to a boil; stirring. Simmer over medium heat until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
    • While sauce is simmering, sprinkle 3 pounds boneless skinless chicken breast halves with salt and pepper on both sides. In a large skillet over medium heat, warm 4 tablespoons oil and sauté chicken. Press on chicken occasionally with a slotted spatula. Cook for about 4 minutes per side or until the meat feels springy and is no longer pink inside. Transfer to a cutting board; cover and keep warm. Discard the fat from the skillet.
    • In the same skillet, over medium heat, bring 1/4 cup chicken broth to a boil; stirring the pan juices. Reduce slightly and add to the cream sauce; stir in basil and adjust seasonings to taste.
    • Clean saucepan for later.
  • Returning to the Turkey Chili
    • Remove bay leaves, divide into separate freezer containers, and let cool. When cool enough, freeze. (If you are serving Turkey Chili for tonight's dinner, keep one of the containers refrigerated for dinnertime.)
    • Clean soup pot for later.
  • Returning to the Chicken Milano
    • Divide chicken and sauce between two freezer containers, and let cool. When cool enough, freeze. (If you are serving Chicken Milano for tonight's dinner, keep one of the containers refrigerated for dinnertime.)
  • Returning to the Sensational Cheese Steak Sandwich
    • Remove the beef and vegetables from the slow cooker with a slotted spoon. Divide the beef and vegetables between two separate freezer containers; divide broth between the two containers. Let cool, then freeze. (If you are serving Sensational Cheese Steak Sandwiches for tonight's dinner, keep one of the containers refrigerated for dinnertime.)
  • What are you serving for tonight's dinner?
    • If you're serving Sensational Cheese Steak Sandwiches for dinner:
      • If you're starting from frozen, remove from freezer to defrost about 24 hours beforehand. Follow food safety rules for safe defrosting!
      • An hour and a half before you want to serve dinner:
        • Preheat oven to 400°F.
        • Wash and scrub 4 medium baking potatoes with cold water; prick deeply with a fork several times and bake until tender, about 45 minutes.
        • Increase oven temperature to 450°F.
        • Return beef, vegetables, and broth to a saucepan. Warm over medium until heated through.
        • While heating, slice a loaf of French bread lengthwise like a sub sandwich. Combine the 1/2 cup prepared horseradish and 1/2 cup brown mustard; spread onto the inside of the loaf. Overlap five slices of provolone on either side of the loaf.
        • Remove beef and vegetables from broth with a slotted spoon. Fill the loaf with the beef and vegetables.
        • Cool for 15 minutes before cutting in half lengthwise and then into wedges.
        • Brush potato wedges with olive oil and place skin-side down on a baking sheet. Set aside.
        • In a small bowl, combine 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, 1 tablespoon dried parsley flakes, and 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder. Sprinkle over potatoes. Season with salt and pepper.
        • Bake for 15 minutes or until crisp and golden brown. Keep hot.
        • Close the loaf. For a sandwich with soft bread, wrap with aluminum foil; for a crustier bread, don't wrap. Bake for 10-15 minutes alongside the potatoes. Slice into servings and serve with the broth for dipping with your Saloon Fries on the side.
    • If you're serving Turkey Chili for dinner:
      • If you're starting from frozen, remove from freezer to defrost about 24 hours beforehand. Follow food safety rules for safe defrosting!
      • Heat in slow cooker or soup pot until hot enough to serve.
      • Serve with cornbread; or over noodles for "Cincinnati Style" chili; or with tortilla or corn chips, sour cream, grated cheese, etc. for "Frito Pie" chili.
    • If you're serving Chicken Milano for dinner:
      • If you're starting from frozen, remove from freezer to defrost about 24 hours beforehand. Follow food safety rules for safe defrosting!
      • Reheat chicken and sauce in covered skillet over medium-low heat, stirring often to avoid scorching. Add milk if sauce is too thick.
      • While chicken is reheating, prepare an 8-ounce package of dried fettuccine according to package directions.
      • Serve chicken and sauce over noodles, topped with freshly grated Parmesan.
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The Soup Fairy

October 2012

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