Some months ago a food writer wrote, tongue only slightly in cheek, words to the effect of, “Shouldn’t you make use of that big bag of white beans you bought when there was nothing else on the shelf at the store?” I did and I should. Guilty as charged, your honor.
So when Terry showed me this recipe for winter white bean and Italian sausage soup and we had a cold, wet, rainy Monday in the forecast, I decided to make use of that stash.
You need to understand my relationship with dried beans. I have never been a soak-the-beans-overnight person. When I cook dried beans, which is almost always to make tostadas, I use my old, reliable stovetop pressure cooker. This time, however, I decided to be different. I took some of my white beans and soaked them for twenty-four hours. I then cooked them on the stove for another hour. Next, I drained the beans and added the ingredients specified in the recipe. Along with the canned tomatoes and basil I put in the sausage, which I cooked in a frying pan, and the broth, using vegetable rather than chicken, something I always do. In the aftermath of the Christmas rush, the grocery store was out of frozen spinach, so I used frozen peas and corn, which I had on hand.
The result was a very tasty and hearty dinner (to which I added garlic bread), on a cold, rainy winter evening on which Tasha kept going out into the back yard and getting herself wet. (She loves Terry toweling her off.)
A small measure of comfort and pleasure in difficult and unsettling times.
Rachael Ray’s premise for her 30 Minute Meals episode “Steak Out, Italian Style” is that if you are tempted to go out for a steak dinner you can just as easily make a great one at home. This episode tells you how.
Now I am not a big steak fan, you probably know that. But this dinner looked absolutely delicious, and I knew it was right up Terry’s alley. After I watched the DVR’d episode I brought it up via On Demand and showed it to Terry. She agreed that it looked great. I decided to make a go of it on Saturday.
It addition to rosemary steak, the meal includes Marsala mushrooms and waffle fries with Gorgonzola cheese sauce. Terry told me it was a “killer dinner,” and I have to say I was very pleased with the result. But a 30 minute meal? It definitely was not.
Now I did inadvertently leave out a couple of things. I forgot the wine for the mushrooms. (Yes, I forgot the wine in Marsala mushrooms.) And I was supposed to put crumbled bacon on top of the Gorgonzola cheese sauce. Totally spaced on that. But in reality neither were missed at all.
The comment at the beginning of the recipe on the web page says you should eat this in front of the television. Absolutely no way. This is a meal to be eaten with your significant other at the dining room table by candlelight, your faithful canine sitting on the floor nearby.
That’s what we did. It was marvelous.
I believe the first place I saw instructions for making a slow cooker whole chicken was in the Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer. They were, after all, interested in interested in selling their giblet-free whole chickens. It said, in essence, put the chicken in the crock pot and turn it on. That was pretty much it.
I have done this a few times, and I don’t know why I don’t do it more often. That was, however, our dinner yesterday.
The closest Trader Joe’s is a half hour away in the very congested town of Temecula. (I don’t know how you get from one block to the next in Temecula without getting bogged down in complete gridlock. Somehow, though, you eventually get to where you’re going.) Fortunately, however, our local Sprouts here in Hemet sells giblet-less small organic chickens, and that’s what I bought.
Shortly after eleven in the morning yesterday I put together a slightly modified mixture of Jamaican Jerk Seasoning Blend and rubbed it on the chicken. I put the chicken in the slow cooker and set it to low, so it was in the crock pot before eleven thirty. I then left it alone.
Around twenty to seven in the evening I put a rice mix on the stove and at seven o’clock I checked the internal temperature of the chicken. It was well above the required 165° for chicken. I put everything on the table.
It was a delicious dinner. The Jamaican jerk seasoning was great. And there was enough left over to seal up and freeze for two more dinners.
Sometimes a simple approach produces great results.
I continue my quest to try plant-based alternatives to meats. Sprouts Farmers Market market recently added a couple of LightLife products in addition to their Beyond Meat line. I bought a package of their Ground product and used it to make chili. I sautéed it with chili con carne seasoning and then added crushed tomatoes, black beans, and tomato sauce. I seasoned it with cumin, coriander, garlic, freshly ground pepper, and minced onion.
It was good. Really good. I’ve made a similar chili with Morningstar Grillers Crumbles and this was far superior.
The food industry is making great strides in this realm. I anxiously await the arrival of the Impossible Burger at Burger King here in Southern California.
Generally when I cook I pull out a recipe – usually from my Living Cookbook database. I may not follow the recipe exactly, I generally don’t follow the recipe exactly, but I have it there. Sometimes, though, I don’t feel like selecting a recipe and I don’t feel like shopping for ingredients.
I was in that kind of mood last week. Add to that the fact that I’m still supposed to be avoiding red meat and I ended up doing some vegetarian improvisation. On Thursday I made my own macaroni and cheese. I cooked the shells, threw them in a casserole dish along with two remaining slices of pepper jack, added shredded cheddar, and topped it all with panko drizzled with garlic butter. I baked it for fifteen minutes. It turned out well.
For Friday dinner, we had some spinach and mushrooms in the fridge that needed to be used before they went bad. I cooked a cup brown rice, threw in the spinach along with mushrooms which I had sliced, added to that shredded cheddar and there was dinner.
Not elegant or fancy, but nutritious, easy, and inexpensive. As the tagline from the old Smooth Jazz TV program (I hate smooth jazz!) used to say, “Life is like jazz. It’s best when you improvise.”
I have been following through on my plan to do more vegetarian cooking. As I wrote previously, it has to do with the fact that I’m not allowed to have red meat for the time being and my perception that I can’t fix poultry for dinner each and every day. I could, yes, but I certainly don’t want to. The vegetarian approach also fit in nicely with Earth Day, as I reflected on Monday while noting all the various celebrations reported online.
It was in fact on Monday that I made a Cajun Skillet Beans recipe from Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home. The recipe included beans (I used garbanzo), celery, bell pepper, tomatoes, Dijon mustard, honey, and a lot of spices. The spice mix included thyme, basil, oregano, black pepper, and cayenne. I used hot chili powder rather than cayenne.
Terry and I both enjoyed the dish. There wasn’t enough left over for a second meal for two, so I was struck by an idea. On Tuesday at lunch time, a relatively warm day, I used our Vitamix to purée the leftover mixture that I had stored in the fridge. It made for a marvelous cold gazpacho soup (I know, that’s redundant). I added to that a slice of garlic bread from my home-baked sourdough loaf.
It made for a very tasty lunch.
I was looking for something different for a Saturday dinner and for something that I could grill on our new stove-top grill pan. I found this recipe for grilled chicken kebabs with pineapple salsa in my database, which originally appeared in Shape magazine in September 2010.
The marinade called for pineapple, garlic, rosemary, salt, and pepper pureed in a blender. The salsa consisted of diced pineapple, tomato, spinach, garlic, cilantro, and salt. I omitted the cilantro and salt in the salsa. I cooked the chicken on the grill pan along with pineapple pieces, forgoing the skewers. I also cooked rice as a side, which turned out to be completely unnecessary.
It made for a very tasty Saturday evening dinner.
Terry recently said that she wanted to have Manhattan clam chowder, so I pulled up this recipe from my database, which originally appeared in the Cooking Light issue of May 1999.
It’s really quite straightforward, calling for garlic, a chopped and peeled baking potato, oregano, black pepper, diced tomatoes, and clam juice along with the clams. Terry added cumin and chili powder and a couple of slices of microwaved bacon.
I took care of the garlic bread. It made for a really nice dinner on a cold evening.
I originally had this chocolate chip cookie recipe in my bulky three-ring binder, and it got transferred to my Living Cookbook database when I made the conversion. It’s from the old Yahoo Vegetarian Group and was written by the group owner, the incomparable Donna.
I followed Donna’s ingredients, but went my own way with the instructions.
¾ cup sugar
¾ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 cup butter or margarine, room temperature
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 cup coarsely chopped nuts (optional)
1 package (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips
I mixed all of the dry ingredients in my Kitchen Aid stand mixer and then threw in the wet ingredients. I next added the chocolate chips and then walnuts which I chopped using the chopping attachment for my immersion blender.
I used a soup spoon to place the dough onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper and baked at 375° for twelve minutes.
They turned out great!
I have written about this before, but it bears revisiting. This is an incredibly simple way to get multiple meals. The great thing about cooking a whole chicken in your slow cooker is that you put the chicken in the crock pot and turn it on. It’s (almost) that simple. You don’t need to add any liquids because the chicken provides plenty of liquid.
Most recently I bought a six-pound chicken at the grocery store. I pulled out the giblets and the neck and I rubbed it with a combination of za’atar seasoning and smoked paprika. I really prefer the Trader Joe’s whole chicken without the giblets, but the nearest Trader Joe’s is half an hour away in a very congested shopping district. I simply don’t have the culinary skills to work with those parts. (I can’t help but think of the Dan Aykroyd parody of Julia Child on Saturday Night Live: “Save the giblets!”)
I cooked the chicken on low for eight-and-a-half hours. Next time I need to remember to rub the spice mix under the skin. Otherwise it turned out great.
The chicken cost a little less than twice what we pay for a rotisserie chicken at the grocery store. We generally get two meals out of a rotisserie chicken. This one yielded four: that evening’s supper plus three bags sealed up in the FoodSaver and put in the freezer. The math certainly works.
I have a number of recipes in my database that call for using rotisserie chicken. The crock pot chicken is, certainly, a perfectly fine substitute for that, and I don’t have to worry about going out and finding a rotisserie chicken. I just pull it out of the freezer.
There’s a lot to be said for chicken in the slow cooker.