Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Beans and Greens with Bacon

Brr! The winter weather is pretty bad lately. Not as bad as last year, when we all got stuck in our cars for hours and ate frozen pizza for dinner. (I spent five hours in mine, but made it home safely.) But still it's been bad enough to have a few school closures or late starts. I'm taking advantage of today's day off to do the things that make me happy, like baking and sleeping in.

The other thing making me happy right now is soup. Gallons upon gallons of delicious, warming healthy (and sometimes not...) soup. I've got a regular rotation right now between loaded baked potato, vegan minestrone, chili and this wonderful bean soup I've been dying for a chance to post about.

There's two ways to make this one. One is the lazy shortcut way, which still produces a delicious soup. The other is slightly harder and still produces a delicious soup. Hear that? No matter what, you will be eating delicious soup. The lazy way is to use canned beans. The harder way is to use dried and soak them before using. Which one you do is up to you. It's not difficult for me to leave a bowl of beans soaking on my counter before I leave for work, but other people may not have that luxury. I just like working with dried beans and they are cheaper to play with.

This soup uses some of my favorite ingredients, bacon and kale. It also benefits from my current obsession with chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. I've taken to keeping these on hand to slide into soups, chilis and casseroles for extra flavor and warmth. They come in a can, but I only use one or two peppers at a time. The extras keep very well in a container in the fridge and make a very convent flavoring for whatever you are having. This soup is easy to make, if not very quick and makes delicious leftovers. I looked at several other recipes for pinto bean soups, but couldn't find one that incorporated much in the way of vegetables, so I had to make my own. They were mostly just slow cooked beans decorated with bacon or ham. I wanted more than that. This is especially delicious with a square of your favorite cornbread recipe.

2 cups dried pinto beans, soaked for eight hours OR two cans pinto beans, drained and rinsed
2 slices bacon
2 cups carrots, sliced
1 medium onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce
About 3 cups of curly leafed kale, sliced thin
Vegetable broth (I make mine using Better than Bullion)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
salt to taste

If you are using dried beans, you want them to soak for at least six hours before using. I measure mine into a mixing bowl, then cover with cold water and leave them be while I am at work. If you decide to use canned beans, just rinse and drain them before using.

Cook the bacon until brown and crisp. Remove from pot and set aside. Add carrots, onion, celery and garlic to the pot. Cook over medium heat in the bacon grease until softened. Add beans and chipotle pepper. Cover with water or broth and salt heavily if using dried beans. Bring it up to a boil, then drop it back down to a simmer. Times get tetchy here, because it can take up to an hour for dried beans to cook. If using canned, expect about twenty minutes. When the beans are soft, add the sliced kale, reserved bacon and black pepper. Salt it again.  Seriously. It needs salt. When the greens are tender, your soup is done!

Like my poorly lit iPhone pictures? I'm on Flickr now! And you can like me on Facebook!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Really Good Gumbo

I've been promising/threatening for years to post my gumbo recipe. By my standards, it's a long, complicated recipe. This is not a quick meal. But if you've got a Saturday to spend stirring roux, there's worse things you do with your time.

I usually make gumbo in the summer, when I'm off from school and the okra is fresh at the markets. But if you are craving a memory of summer, this is the soup to get you through the winter months. My version is heavy on veggies and lighter than most recipes. It's not quite broth based, because there is a roux, but just enough to give body and flavor. Because we need to watch carbs at our house, we skip the traditional rice that usually accompanies it. But if you don't have that problem, it goes great poured over white or brown rice.

The part that will tax your patience is the roux. Roux is a paste of cooked flour and fat. Cooked lightly, it's great for sauces. Cooked until brown, it's a base for gravy. Cooked until dark, it's base for gumbo. I'm a bit timid with my roux, since the dividing line between "perfect" and "horribly, horribly burned" is a thin one that jumps quickly. So I cook mine to a nice golden brown.

1 pound spicy sausage links (my preference is hot Italian turkey from Publix, but you can use whatever you prefer)
1/4 cup cooking oil
1/4 flour
1 cup onion, diced small
1 cup bell pepper, seeded and diced small
1 cup celery, diced small
1 pound okra, cleaned and sliced
1 14 ounce can of dice tomatoes
7 cups chicken broth
1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
1-2 teaspoons file powder
1 teaspoon smoked paprika

Lightly coat the bottom of your pot with oil. Fry the sausages until brown, then remove. With a rubber scrapper, dig up all those little brown bits. Leave them in the pot, because they will make everything tasty. Over medium heat, add 1/4 cup of oil and 1/4 cup of flour. Stir together to remove lumps and continue stirring. Keep stirring. And stirring. How long you stir depends on your patience and willingness to take things to the edge. I keep mine going until it's a rich caramel color. When you've had enough, add the onion, peppers and celery and keep stirring. When those veggies are soft, add the okra, tomatoes and chicken broth. Simmer until the veggies are cooked through. Make sure to add salt.

While your soup is simmering, take a skillet. In about a a tablespoon of oil, sauté your shrimp. Give them a good shake of salt and the smoked paprika. I like to cook the shrimp separately so it doesn't overcook.

After the okra s cooked through, add the file powder and sliced sausage. Simmer another minute or two. Check for salt.

Serve gumbo poured over rice, or not and topped with the shrimp.

Like my poorly lit iPhone pictures? I'm on Flickr now! And you can like me on Facebook!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Chowhound's Best Food Blog of 2014 is...

It looks like I won that award I mentioned last month. I can't decide if I should be embarrassed or thrilled. Even when I think I deserve recognition, I have a hard time accepting it. So I'll just say thank you to everyone who voted for me and promise to do my best at staying updated this year. I have, wonder of wonders, a weekend where I'm not grading papers, writing IEPs or preparing a training on Google Apps for Education. So once I'm done with my regular lesson planning, I'll get some posts in the queue for y'all.

Like my poorly lit iPhone pictures? I'm on Flickr now! And you can like me on Facebook!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

So I've been nominated for an award... is doing their annual awards and I was nominated for "Best Blogger". Let me explain.

This is not better than Smitten Kitchen.
See, I was browsing Chow a few weeks ago for recipes and ideas to try and I saw they were taking nominations for various categories of awards. One of them was for blogs. The rules said you could nominate yourself, as long as you were honest and said that's what you were doing. So I said, "What the hell?" and put myself down. I figured they get so many nominations for more popular blogs that mine would get pushed out and nothing would come of it. That did not happen. It looks as if they received very few nominations, so I didn't get filtered out as I anticipated. I am sitting there on the nomination list next to blogs written by professional chefs and people who I have bought cookbooks from. I didn't even know this until yesterday when I was browsing for recipes again and realized voting started a week ago.

So, while I really have no chance of winning this, I'd like my last place to be a respectable one. If you've got a minute between now and January 2, please head over to Chow and vote for me.

Like my poorly lit iPhone pictures? I'm on Flickr now! And you can like me on Facebook!

Monday, November 24, 2014

My Thanksgiving Menu

Oh man. I've been so bad about posting here lately. I'm the Google Apps for Education coordinator at work this year. If you don't know what that means, just know this. Google is my kung fu. And it is strong. But yeah, doing computer stuff all day means I'm pretty sick of looking at one when I get home. So I haven't been around here as much as I'd like. But I'd be remiss if I didn't make at least one post about the Foodie High Holiday of Thanksgiving.

No knead rolls
Typically, I don't have much to say about cooking for Thanksgiving. I do have some recipes you are welcome to try, but usually I'm enjoying my in laws cooking in far off and distant Texas this time of year. But this year we aren't able to make the trip, so instead I'm cooking at home with my parents and siblings coming over.

It's an interesting mix to cook for. The big potential pitfalls are that my dad and husband are both Type II diabetics. And my youngest sister is a vegetarian. So in a large, argumentative family of picky eaters, those are really the only ones I'm going to attempt to please. So I put together a menu that's... well, not healthy. It is a holiday, after all. But it's heavy on vegetables and low on processed carbs and sugars. No sodium hangovers this year.

I've provided links to recipes when I have it. I'm digging out some of my old stand by, as well as introducing some new favorites.

Appetizers (Because I need you to get out from under my feet)

  • Hot Crab Dip and crackers
  • Hummus and raw veggies
  • Cheese tray from Roswell Provisions

Main Event

  • Smoked turkey (Ordering a smoked turkey from Greenberg's is a Liang family tradition that's grown on me. Picture this: A perfectly cooked, flavorful turkey that isn't taking up half your oven for five hours. It being delicious seems almost secondary.)
  • Small roasted turkey breast, with butter and herbs tucked under the skin.
  • Curry Roasted Acorn Squash (recipe here)
  • Curry roasted acorn squash
  • Roasted brussel sprouts (done simply with oil, salt and pepper)
  • Cauliflower cheese (recipe courtesy of Smitten Kitchen)
  • Slow cooker green beans with bell pepper and tomato (Oddly enough, I've never blogged this staple recipe. I'll have to fix that.)
  • Chili Lime sweet potato wedges (Recipe here)
  • No Knead rolls (recipe here)
  • Salad (I had three heads of lettuce in my CSA this weekend. We are eating salad. Everyone is eating salad. Forever.)

  • Sour cream pumpkin pudding (recipe courtesy of Smitten Kitchen)
  • Apple crisp (The recipe I posted here several years ago is seriously out of date. I promise you a better one someday.)

The big appeal of many of these recipes is that I can do much of the prep work ahead of time. The sweet potatoes, brussel sprouts and acorn squash can be prepped ahead of time and kept in the fridge. The rolls are better if mixed a day or two ahead of time. The desserts can be made the morning of, with the apple crisp just needing to be popped into a warm oven to reheat while we eat dinner. The green beans will cook happily in my giant crockpot and not take up a burner or space in my oven at all. 

Anyways, thats my Thanksgiving plan. What's yours?

Like my poorly lit iPhone pictures? I'm on Flickr now! And you can like me on Facebook!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Curry Roasted Acorn Squash

Fall is finally here, which means I no longer have to feel guilty about turning on my oven. I love fall in north Georgia. It's the prettiest time of year and it has all of my favorite foods.

Big Trees Forrest Preserve in Sandy Springs

Look how pretty that is! And it's not hot and sticky outside anymore and all the mosquitoes are gone! This is my favorite time to be outside in nature. 

Thanks to Georgia's long growing season, the best foods are being harvested now. Crisp apples, savory winter squashes, fresh kale... The list goes on and on. 

And oh those winter squashes. Look, I've tried with summer squash. I've had them all, zucchini, yellow crookneck, patty pan. I've tried them grilled, fried, baked, sautéed and more. The only way I've been able to enjoy them is in zucchini bread. And if you have to chop it up really small and hide it inside a cake, you aren't really enjoying that vegetable, are you? 

But winter squash... savory, sweet. Blended into a soup or roasted in the oven. I was ridiculously excited to see the first acorn squash of the season in the Roswell farmer's market last Saturday. I was less excited when the farmer suggested I drench it in butter and brown sugar to eat it. I mean, yeah sure, butter and brown sugar make everything taste better. But there are just some things that just don't need it. 
My version of roasted acorn squash forgoes extra sugar and fats in favor of a hearty dusting of curry powder and drizzle of olive oil.  Curry powder goes amazingly with winter squash. Trust me. You'll like it better than sugar. It's simple enough to have any night of the week, but looks fancy enough to sneak onto the Thanksgiving table. And don't tell the carnivores, but it's actually vegan, so your hippy friends will love you. This is worth waiting for winter squash season. 
Curry Roasted Acorn Squash

2 acorn squash, sliced in half long ways and seeds removed
Extra virgin olive oil
Curry powder
Kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Slice your squash, carefully, because those suckers are tough and scoop out the seeds. Brush with olive oil, then sprinkle generously with curry powder and salt. Place on a cookie sheet and roast for about 20-30 minutes, or fork tender. To eat them, fluff up the insides like a baked potato and scoop it out with your fork. Makes a great side dish and fantastic leftovers. 

Like my poorly lit iPhone pictures? I'm on Flickr now!  And you can like me on Facebook!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Target Gives Discount for Bringing Own Bags Now

I am probably the last one to realize this, but I discovered last week that Target will take five cents off your bill for reusable bag you use at the check out line. I don't buy a whole lot of groceries there, but sometimes I will grab one or two things when we go to pick up prescriptions. I definitely plan on taking advantage of this in the future. Five cents isn't much, but considering how often I shop at Target, it'll add up for me. It's a great incentive to use the store more often.

Why is this a big deal? Aside from the environmental impact of not throwing away tons of new bags every year, bags cost stores money. When you bring your own, they save money. Which is fine, but I'm doing this for the baby sea otters, not for the grocery store's bottom line. So it's nice to see a company recognize that and pass that savings on to me.

Any other stores doing bag discounts? Let me know and I'll make a list of them on the blog.

Like my poorly lit iPhone pictures? I'm on Flickr now!  And you can like me on Facebook