Tuesday, September 25, 2012

It's Officially Autumn: Time to Make Some Crock Pot Chili!

I had something going on four of five nights last week, and my poor roommate did all the menu planning, shopping, and cooking. I vowed to shoulder more of the burden this week, so when I got home from choir practice last night at about 9pm, I forced myself to get something started in the crock pot for dinner the next day. We just had chili at the birthday party we attended on Saturday night, but I wanted more! So I rummaged around in the pantry, found my latest shipment of the beloved Rancho Gordo beans, chose the dark red heirloom pintos, Rio Zape, and got to work.

I rinsed the beans and added them to the crock pot, covered with a few inches of water, and cooked them on low overnight to give the dry beans a head start. I also browned the ground beef and the vegetables, and combined this with the tomato products and seasonings, and refrigerated this mixture overnight so that I could just dump it in the crock pot and run off to work the next day. Served with some shredded jack cheese and a dollop of sour cream and/or some corn salsa, and a toasty, spicy, autumnal weeknight dinner is done!

Crock Pot Rio Zape Chili

1 lb. Rancho Gordo Rio Zape beans (or dried pintos)
1 lb. ground beef
1 large onion, chopped
1 tablespoon roasted hot peppers, chopped (or use one can mild green chiles plus hot sauce to taste)
6 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
2 tablespoons dark chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground celery
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 28 oz.can crushed tomatoes
16 oz. chili sauce

Rinse dry beans thoroughly, add to the crock pot, cover with three inches of water, and cook on low overnight. The next morning, drain the beans, but reserve the liquor. Brown the ground beef with the onion, hot peppers, and garlic. When the meat no longer has any pink, stir in all of the seasonings, then add this mixture to the beans in the crock pot*. Pour in the tomatoes and chili sauce and mix everything together. (You may wish to add up to two cups of the reserved bean liquor to thin the chili to a desired consistency.) Cook on low for another 6-8 hours. Serve with your favorite chili toppings, such as grated cheese, sour cream, sliced green onions, and/or corn chips.

*If the beans are already tender enough by morning, then drain, reserve the liquor, and stash the beans in the fridge. Then cook the meat and tomato mixture by itself (thinned with some liquor) for 6-8 hours on low and add the beans back to the crock pot about 15 minutes to a half hour before serving, just to bring them back to temperature.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Lazy Sunday Cookin': Use Those Leftovers!

I declare today "Use Up Your Leftovers Day!" For lunch, I transformed leftover grilled chicken into a pretty kickin' curried chicken salad, if I do say myself. It was inspired by one that we had last weekend at the Black Cat Cafe in Sharon Springs, NY when we attended their annual Harvest Festival.

Curried Chicken Salad with Pistachios and Dried Cranberries

leftover cold grilled chicken, skin removed (four thighs or two breasts--or a combo)
1/2 medium red onion, finely diced
1/4 cup craisins
1/4 cup pistachios, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon mango chutney
2 teaspoons curry powder (up to one tablespoon)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic (or a clove of freshly minced)
1/4 cup poppyseed dressing (or mayo)

*Most people would want to add some celery to this, but I don't prefer it myself, so I added maybe 1/4 teaspoon of ground celery to the mix.

After having the awesome chicken salad for lunch, I put together a roasted acorn squash soup in the crock pot. I started by cutting two acorn squashes in half, scraping out the seeds, drizzling them with olive oil, and seasoning liberally with salt and pepper. I roasted the squashes at 400 degrees for about an hour and fifteen minutes until easily pierced with a fork. Then I scooped out the flesh and added it to the crock pot along with about two cups of some leftover vegetables from a pot roast the other night (carrots, potatoes, parsnips, and a little bit of tomato). I poured in perhaps three quarts of leftover chicken stock that I had stewed some green beans in and saved. I also sauteed two small onions, two stalks of celery, a few cloves of garlic, and two jalapenos from my garden with six pieces pieces of pork belly that I unearthed in the freezer. Once the pork belly was browned and the veggies were tender, I removed the pieces of pork, and then added the sauteed veggies to the crock pot. I threw in a big bundle of fresh thyme tied with some kitchen twine and about two tablespoons of chicken soup base. I turned the crock pot on high for two hours, then I fished out the thyme bundle and used my stick blender to puree the soup. Lastly, I stirred in about a cup of cream from my weekly raw milk share. So tasty...and it'll be even better tomorrow!

My last lazy Sunday cookin' project didn't involve leftovers, but like the squash soup, it signals the official start of fall. My roommate has already started bugging me to make her a pumpkin pie, but I think it's WAY too early for that! But someone on a foodie group that I belong to on Facebook posted a recipe for a spiced pumpkin bread, so I thought that might appease her. The loaves turned out very well, flavorful with the perfect texture--light and moist, not heavy or greasy. And like the soup, the bread will taste even better tomorrow. This may be my new boilerplate recipe for pumpkin nut loaves!

Spiced Pumpkin Bread
(Source: adapted from Sherry Rosen, Foodies! Group--Facebook)

3 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1 16-oz can solid pack pumpkin
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cloves (I only used 1/4 teaspoon)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (I upped this to 2 teaspoons)
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg (I only used 1/2 teaspoon, freshly grated)
*I also added 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts, optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour two 9”x5”x3” loaf pans. (I used flour-added baking spray.)  Beat sugar and oil in large bowl to blend. Mix in eggs and pumpkin. Sift flour, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, salt and baking powder into a separate large bowl. Stir into pumpkin mixture in two additions. Mix in walnuts if desired. Divide batter equally between prepared pans. Bake until toothpick comes out clean, approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes. Transfer to racks and cool ten minutes. Using a sharp knife, cut around edge of loaves to loosen. Turn onto racks and cool completely. Makes two loaves.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Corny party food!

I am on the board of the community choir that I sing in, and we had a gathering on Thursday evening at another board member's house to stuff envelopes for program advertising. Ho hum. But the four of us ladies had a nice time chatting, and the wine flowed freely, and the hostess served us this incredible corn salsa that I had to beg the recipe for, naturally.

Since I had a potluck birthday party to attend tonight, I decided to whip up a batch of the corn salsa to take along. I made a couple of changes, as is my way. Mainly, I swapped out fresh corn for frozen because....DUH...corn is still in season. Also, I added a lovely heirloom tomato because I had it knocking about on the counter, plus an avocado because I love them and want them in practically everything. This is addicting stuff!

Corn Salsa

1 can (15 ounces) black beans, rinsed and drained (chili beans are good, too)
1-1/2 cups frozen corn, thawed (I used three fresh ears of corn, steamed, shucked, and cut from the cob)
1 cup finely chopped sweet red pepper
3/4 cup finely chopped green pepper (I used Anaheim peppers)
1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
1 medium garden tomato, seeds and gel removed, diced, optional
1 ripe Haas avocado, diced, optional
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder (better yet, use a couple of cloves of minced fresh garlic!)
1/8 teaspoon pepper

In a large bowl, combine the beans, corn, peppers, onion, parsley, and tomato and avocado (if using). Combine the sour cream, mayonnaise, vinegar and seasonings; pour over corn mixture and toss gently to coat. Serve with tortilla chips. Refrigerate leftovers. Yield: 4 cups.

As one of the party guests was bringing chili for our entree (using tomatoes and peppers that she grew herself!), I decided to continue my corn theme and bring along some cornbread as well. However, I realized too late that I was out of cornmeal, so I ended up using a couple of boxes of Jiffy corn muffin mix and "zhoozhing" it up with an extra egg, some buttermilk, a can of creamed corn, a dash of honey, and some roasted hot peppers. Turned out delicious!

Sweet and Spicy Cornbread

2 tablespoons butter
2 boxes Jiffy corn muffin mix
3/4 cup buttermilk
3 eggs
1 tablespoon honey
1 can creamed corn
1/4 cup roasted Anaheim chiles, finely chopped
pinch of salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Place a 9 x 13 baking dish in cold oven with the two tablespoons of butter in it. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Mix the rest of the ingredients together. Don't overstir--it's okay if there are a few lumps. Remove the hot pan from the oven, swirl the melted butter around, pour in the batter, and return to the oven. Bake for about 20 minutes until golden brown and a tester pulls out with just moist crumbs sticking to it.

Last but not least, I would be remiss if I did not mention the life of the party, my new (to me) margarita machine! I bought it half price from a nice lady on eBay, and it's easy and lots of fun to use. And I think I have perfected my basic recipe:

Classic Margarita (Margaritaville Frozen Concoction Maker)
Yield: one pitcher

1 cup Jose Cuervo light classic lime margarita mix
2 tablespoons orange juice concentrate
1/2 cup tequila
2 tablespoons triple sec
juice of 1 1/2 limes

ice--filled less than halfway (ignore the fill line!)

Blend, rim a glass with salt, pour, and let the party begin!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Tomato Time!

Ah, harvest time and its embarrassment of riches! My department chair at school has been bringing in full shopping bags of organic, heirloom tomatoes for the past couple of weeks, and I always claim what's left over at the end of the day. Consequently, they have been piling up at home, waiting to be transformed into sauce or something. However, we were away for the weekend to attend the charming Harvest Festival in Sharon Springs (see pic below of me getting to meet Josh and Brent, the Fabulous Beekman Boys--LOVE them!), so I didn't have a chance to get my canning on.

Still, we made it back at a fairly reasonable hour last night, so I did have time to throw together a crock pot of the most amazing tomato soup using all the fresh garden tomatoes. I also just began a sort of organic milk CSA program with a local dairy (from another colleague at work in the English Department), so I was able to skim the gorgeous cream off of my weekly gallon of milk and stir it into the soup after it was done cooking to make a delicious cream of tomato soup, finished with lots of fresh herbs from my own little garden. My roomie cooked up some tortellini when she got home to make the meal a little heartier, and we also had garlic bread on the side. So yummy and so comforting now that fall is truly here and the weather has turned cooler. I really recommend making this soup overnight, then stashing it the fridge during the day--allowing the flavors to develop--then reheating when you get home from work.

Crock Pot Cream of Garden Tomato Soup

1/2 stick (4T) butter
2 medium onions, large dice
2 large stalks celery, large dice
1 sweet red pepper, ribs and seeds removed, large dice
4 large cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
about 4 lbs. fresh tomatoes, squeezed of gel and seeds, roughly chopped (I had about 16 smaller tomatoes plus a handful of cherries)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cans spicy V-8
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons chicken soup base
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon black pepper
bunch of fresh thyme and/or a bunch of fresh oregano, tied in a bundle
2 cups half and half
1/4 cup each fresh parsley and fresh basil, roughly chopped
salt, to taste (start with a teaspoon and go from there--AFTER you've added the soup base!)

In a large skillet, melt the butter, then add the onions, celery and red pepper. Saute about ten minutes until the vegetables are softened, then add the minced garlic and cook for another minute. Add all of the sauteed vegetables into the crock pot. Add the chopped tomatoes, tomatoes, V-8, sugar, chicken soup base, sherry vinegar, black pepper, and the thyme/oregano bundle. Cook for about eight hours on low (I let mine go overnight).

Fish out the herb bundle, then use a stick blender to puree the soup. Add the half-and-half and the fresh parsley and basil and blend again. Add salt to taste. Serve with grilled cheese sandwiches or cheesy garlic bread, or add some cooked tortellini to make the soup a heartier meal.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Pinterest win, Pinterest fail

You gotta believe that I am all about a good tip or shortcut on Pinterest, especially anything involving an avocado! A couple of months ago, I took a pinner's advice and added a ripe avocado to chicken salad (using less mayo, plus I added a squeeze of fresh lime and some cilantro leaves). SCORE! Great twist on boring old chicken salad. Moreover, when I posted about it on Facebook, my friend Jay reported that he tried the same idea with tuna salad and said it was delicious as well. I haven't tried that yet, but as my favorite sandwich in the world is krab salad on top of an avocado layer, I can't see why that wouldn't be yummy.

The most recent "add-an-avocado" tip I gleaned from Pinterest was to mix Boursin cheese with avocado to make a delicious spread for an sandwich. The store I stopped at last night didn't carry Boursin, so I bought Garlic and Herb Alouette instead and mixed half a container with one large avocado plus a squeeze of lemon juice, and then I proceeded to make an awesome Sunday brunch...as is my way.

I bought a thick-sliced three-seed baguette from Panera, then brushed the slices with pepper-infused oil and broiled them until crisp, topped them with the Alouette-avocado spread, a slice of very ripe black tomato, and then caramelized red onions and local and organic yellow and red sweet peppers. I served this with over-easy eggs on the side, plus a Bloody Mary made from spicy tomato juice purchased at the farm stand down the road and garnished with my homemade dilly beans. YUM and YUM, I say!

Then for dinner last night, I tried another shortcut dessert that I read about on Pinterest--a lowfat creamsicle cake. It's super-simple: Blend a white cake mix (I used French vanilla), with one cup of orange juice (and zest, if you have it), and one cup of Greek yogurt (I used Oikos plain). That's it. Mix it up, bake 30-33 minutes, cool, and you can add an icing or just a dusting of powdered sugar, if you like.

I baked my cake in a bundt pan, then glazed it with 1 1/4 cups powdered sugar whisked with two tablespoons orange juice, a tablespoon of melted butter, and a splash of vanilla. It looked pretty, smelled great, tasted okay (it's sometimes hard for me to get past the artificial, chemical taste of cake mix), but there was something amok with the texture. It was kind of...I don't know...chalky? In the immortal words of Hugh Grant in one of my favorite movies, "Two Weeks' Notice," the cake was good--it "just needed more fat."  If you're desperate for cake and you're watching your fat grams, maybe this would satisfy you. But I don't need cake that often anyway, so I'd rather wait and have the real, full-fat deal! Tee hee.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Cougar Couscous

Yesterday was our annual Fall Carnival at school. Sadly, it had to be held indoors due to inclement weather, but a fun time was still had by all. I particularly appreciated the lunch that was provided by the kitchen staff, especially the simple couscous salad that they served. Here's my recreation of it which we are having for dinner tonight. The only differences were that I used Israeli (pearl) couscous because I had it on hand and added some fresh chopped parsley. GOOD STUFF!

Cougar Couscous Salad
(Note: Clinton Community College's mascot is the cougar. I do not lure young men into middle-aged lair with this dish...though it might work! Tee hee.)

2 1/2 cups water
2 cups Israeli (pearl) couscous*
1/2 large red onion, thinly sliced
1 sweet red pepper, seeded and chopped
1/2 large cucumber, seeded and diced
4 small (or 2 medium) tomatoes, seeded and diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
6 oz. jar sliced green salad olives (with pimento), drained
1/2 cup bottled vinaigrette (or 1/4 cup red vinegar and 1/4 cup olive oil)
salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped

Bring water to a boil in a medium sauce pan. Add the dry couscous and big pinch of salt. Return to a boil, then reduce heat. Cover and simmer for about ten minutes until all the water is absorbed. Remove from heat and add to a large bowl with the onion, red pepper, cucumber, tomatoes, minced garlic, and olives. Toss everything together with the vinaigrette, season to taste, and add the fresh parsley. Chill for several hours or overnight.

*Of course, you can substitute regular couscous--prepared according to its package instructions.

Monday, September 03, 2012

More pickles and another cherry condiment...

It was such a glorious autumnal day on Saturday, that Cyd and I spent the afternoon hitting the farmer's market downtown and all of our favorite farm stands. And when I stopped at LaMoy's on 22B, I was seduced once again by a half peck of small pickling cukes. So with Cyd's help packing jars, I spent yesterday afternoon today making a second round of the beloved cornichon-style pickles

And since I had about a quart of Bing cherries left over after I made that cherry chipotle balsamic jam recently, and while the canner was still piping hot, I decided to whip up a small batch of Bing cherry salsa. It turned out pretty well, if I do say so myself! I can't wait to try it on some beef fajitas or a pork tenderloin.

Bing Cherry Salsa
(Source: adapted from a Bernadin recipe)
Yield: about 9 or 10 half-pints

6 cups fresh Bing cherries, pitted and roughly chopped
1 1/4 cups red onion, chopped
4 jalapeƱo peppers, seeded and finely chopped
1 large sweet red pepper, seeded and chopped
juice and grated zest of 2 limes
1/2 cup white vinegar
6 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
4 tablespoons honey
6 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground celery
1/2 teaspoon kosher or canning salt (or to taste)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup cilantro leaves, loosely packed and finely chopped

Combine all of the ingredients except the cilantro in a large, heavy-bottomed stock pot. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly to prevent scorching. Boil gently for about ten minutes until liquid has reduced. Remove from heat and stir in the cilantro. Ladle into hot jars, leaving 1/4" head space. Wipe rims. Cap and seal. Process in water-bath canner for 15 minutes.

Follow-Up (9/9/12): I made a garlic and herb pork loin roast for dinner and topped it with the cherry salsa and a cornbread stuffing on that side that I zhooshed up with some roasted peppers mixed in. DELISH!

Sunday, September 02, 2012


I have a friend from college that I recently reconnected with on Facebook whom I lovingly call Dr. Bob.  He's not actually a Ph.D., but he had a professorial manner and wardrobe even when I met him in his late teens. Tee hee. Anyway....Bob mentioned a fabulous restaurant meal that he had consisting of polenta, andouille sausage, onions and peppers, with a fried egg on top. Inspired by his description, I whipped a fascimile up for our din-din the other night. Very yummy!

There's not much of a "recipe" per se, but I prepared a cup of polenta in two cups whole milk, two cups of buttermilk, a cup of water, and a big pinch of salt, all of which had been brought to a boil. After gradually adding the polenta, I brought it back to a boil, then simmered it for 20-25 minutes, whisking frequently, until completely tender. Then I took it off the heat and added about a cup of freshly-grated romano cheese.

While the polenta was cooking, I also caramelized a couple of large Anaheim peppers (seeded and sliced), one medium red sweet pepper (seeded and sliced), and a medium red onion (peeled and sliced) in a large skillet with two tablespoons each of butter and olive oil. When the peppers and onions were almost tender enough to suit me and had taken on some color, I threw in a couple of tablespoons of minced garlic, and four large links of andouille (sliced) and continued cooking until the sausage was browned. Lastly, I fried some sunny-side up eggs to top things off. Had I been thinking about it, I should have garnished the whole affair with some chopped fresh parsley. Oh well...next time. Still, it was a fairly simple, very tasty supper!

Then for brunch yesterday, I fried the leftover polenta in butter and topped each portion with homemade corn relish, more fried eggs, and bruschetta (my roomie had hers with a giant slice of heirloom tomato instead of the bruschetta). On the side was something I picked up at the farmer's market called shoulder bacon, which may be my new favorite thing, thanks to local producer, Caton Acre Farms. SCRUMPTIOUS!

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Thai-ing one on...

One of my favorite things to order at our local Thai restaurant (shout-out to Sawatdee!) is the Laap Gai salad that's made of minced chicken along with red onion, scallion, cilantro, mint, carrot, and a chili-lime dressing. So tasty! Using that as my inspiration, I tried to mimic the flavors in a noodle salad that I think turned out pretty well. I really liked the taste, however, I might not use rice noodles next time, because after a day in the refrigerator, they started to break down and get too soft and mushy. But if you make it and eat it immediately (hot or room temperature), it's great. If you want it as a cold salad as I did, then maybe use spaghetti or fettucine or some wheat-based pasta instead. But this flavor combination rocks if you love the Thai food!

Laap Gai-Style Thai Noodle Salad

1 package wide rice noodles, cooked acc. to directions, drained and cooled (or another pasta of your choosing)
1/2 red onion, slivered (or use a couple of shallots)
2 small carrots, grated
1 sweet pepper, seeded and chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon sesame oil
juice of two limes
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon miso
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon grated ginger
1 teaspoon sriracha
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons basil, finely chopped
1 tablespoon mint, finely chopped
4 green onions, thinly sliced
2 large curried chicken breasts, grilled, chilled and thinly sliced
1/2 cup honey roasted peanuts, chopped

Prepare the pasta then drain and cool. Mix the noodles with the veggies (onion or shallots, carrots, sweet red pepper, and garlic.) Whisk together oils, lime juice, fish sauce, miso, soy sauce, honey, ginger, sriracha, and pepper. Pour over the noodles and veggies and toss everything together. Then sprinkle in the fresh herbs, scallions, the chicken pieces, and peanuts, and toss once more. Serve immediately or chill overnight for best flavor.