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Monday, September 20, 2010

Raspberries Again--This Time in a Salad

After being quite chilly and overcast all day, this evening turned warm enough that a salad seemed enough for dinner, but I had no tomatoes in the house. (That has been the hard part of giving over my garden this year to all the other things in my life. How can it be late summer and NOT have tomatoes everywhere in the kitchen--just seems so wrong!)

What I did have, however, was a small amount of raspberry pulp left from an experiment making raspberry syrup, some cooked chicken, apples and bagged mixed greens that had been on sale over the weekend. The result was a great main dish salad that went perfectly with some toasted home-made whole wheat-flax seed bread.

The amounts given below are pretty approximate, enough for two or three as a main dish, and definitely flexible. That is one of the delights of tossed salads, the opportunity to mix together varying amounts of whatever fresh ingredients you have on hand. The key here is to have crunchy (the raw broccoli and apple), crisp (greens), and savory (freshly grated pepper and the chicken which had been roasted with an herbal seasoning rub) along with the sweet/tart dressing.

Late Summer Salad

3 to 4 c mixed salad greens of your choice
grated carrot and chopped red cabbage--about 1/2 c or so of each (if you have the iceberg type pre-packaged greens, these might be included)
1 c broccoli flowerets, cut in small pieces
1 to 2 small Macintosh apples, cored and diced--do not peel
1 to 2 c diced roast chicken (I used dark meat from chicken leg quarters)

Raspberry Honey Mustard dressing
3 T mashed raspberries (see NOTE)
2 to 4 T honey mustard dressing, your favorite brand

freshly grated black pepper to taste

1. Toss all but the raspberries, honey mustard dressing and black pepper together.
2. Mix the raspberries and honey mustard dressing. Taste and adjust proportions as desired and pour over the salad.
3. Sprinkle generously with grated black pepper.

NOTE: I started a raspberry syrup by cooking 2 cups of raspberries with 2 tablespoons of sugar and a cup of water about two minutes. This was then poured into a fine colander so that the juices could be separated from most of the seeds. (I still don't have a sieve that allows for all the raspberry seeds to be strained out.) There was a lot of pulp left behind with the seeds, so I decided to try using the leftover pulp in this salad. The flavor was excellent, and the seeds added one more level of texture to the salad.
Fresh raspberries crushed and sweetened very lightly could just as easily be substituted here; just mix with the honey mustard dressing and adjust the proportions as desired.

Oh--the syrup? With over a quart a day of berries right now, I am trying a lot of new ways to use this wonderful fruit, and it seemed like a quart of syrup would be great in the refrigerator for breakfast or for a quick dessert over ice cream or cottage pudding. I tasted my first experimental batch while it was still warm--great flavor but a little on the thin side. Seems like a little more testing and adjusting is in order before posting here.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Another Take on Beans

Sometimes, it seems you can never do enough research!

Yesterday's post on bean cookery included the kinds of information that I have found to work best when preparing all kinds of beans. I knew of course that there were some differences of opinion on this whole topic.

Yes, I knew that there are times when pre-soaking is not necessary for black beans and even for pinto beans and a few others--the first time I ever had pinto beans cooked just by themselves was when an elderly neighbor in our mountainous VA community poured some into a pot with water and then sat down for an hour's chat over coffee.

And yes, Nanna's "recipe" included putting salt in the water right from the start. However, my own experience has been that beans in salty solutions (say, with a ham bone for navy bean soup) take a lot longer to cook than when all salt is left out. I have occasionally cooked beans without pre-soaking and still find that the total cooking time is shorter if I boil them for a few minutes and then let them sit for an hour or two before the final cooking.

But no sooner had I posted the information yesterday when I was made aware of something I have not tried but that sounds like it could change some of my habits:

Brining beans.

Actually, this would involve only one small change to the basic method I have been using for years, salting the beans (heavily according to some sources) during the pre-soak and then rinsing them and cooking them without salt for the remainder of the process.

When I saw that Cook's Illustrated endorses this approach, I knew I need to try it out, and I will be doing that in the next few days. Meanwhile, an update was definitely needed, to let you know there are, valid, alternative approaches to cooking beans. (Want to see a really intense discussion of this whole matter? Check out the following URL)

Bottom line, the message here is the one I like to share with anybody who steps into my kitchen:

Cooking is far more art than science, calling for flexibility and fun more than rigidity and worry.

Bon Appetit, no matter how your beans are cooked!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Dried Beans, Peas, and Lentils--Some Basics and Two Recipes to Try

As we move into cooler weather, beans will become more and more a basis of soups, chili, etc. Keeping a supply of canned beans of all kinds is a nice last minute/emergency kind of thing to have in the cupboard, but preparing dried beans "from scratch" can be economical, healthier (much more control over sodium) and more varied--there are many kinds of beans that are not readily available in canned form.

I spent many years thinking that cooking with dried beans was too labor intensive and time consuming, not worth the effort since the only beans we ate were baked beans (usually canned pork and beans with additions to make them palatable), kidney beans in chili, or beans or split peas made into soup whenever I had a leftover ham bone.

My daughter and daughters-in-law have all helped introduce me to the world of legumes, broadening our menus, saving money, and adding nutrition all at the same time. The more I cook with these wonderful ingredients, the easier it gets.

In case you are still where I was just a few years ago, a few basic hints can help get you started with your own fragrant pots of bean or lentil dishes simmering in the slow cooker or oven. The following site provides a few charts on cooking times for various kinds of beans, yields after cooking etc.

I won't repeat all of Cooking America's valuable information, but a few points to emphasize or add:

  • The older the beans, the longer they will take to cook. How old are the beans you are buying? Hard to tell, so just try to rotate your supply. Even older beans will ultimately soften, but this is one of the main reasons why cooking times may vary quite a bit. Older beans will probably benefit from a longer soaking time as well as longer cooking time.
  • While you can soak beans overnight (or during the day while at work), I have found the best way for me is to cook the beans for a few minutes and then let them sit for an hour or two before draining and cooking. Which ever way you do the soaking, be sure you use LOTS of water. Beans expand exponentially it seems; if some beans end up not covered with water, they will not soften as much as the others and could be very difficult to cook to a softened stage.
  • Draining the beans after soaking is recommended. The reason is that the "flatulence factor" beans comes from oligosaccharides, and many of these will be dissolved in the water you are discarding. Yes, there is some nutrient loss, but the beans will still be a major source of protein, minerals, and fiber; if draining makes them more "socially acceptable," the small reduction in food value is worth it.
  • After draining, cook the beans in water or broth that has not been salted or that has acid ingredients like tomato juice--both salt and acid can change the structure of the beans enough to make it difficult or impossible to soften them completely. It can often take only another 30 minutes to an hour of cooking to tenderize the beans enough to add to your favorite recipe. Try doing this precooking before adding beans to the other ingredients for a bean soup or chili, and you will be surprised at how much faster the overall dish will take.
  • Lentils and split peas never need pre-soaking and, unless you have had them in the cupboard for a long time, can take as little as 20 to 30 minutes to cook.
  • Beans freeze well, and two pounds of beans take little more time to cook than one pound, so get in the habit of cooking up a large batch and freezing those you don't use right away in recipe sized batches, dividing up some of the liquid between all of the beans.
  • Your slow cooker is a great way to cook beans. For best results, go back to the manual/recipe book for your specific cooker to find out maximum amounts you can cook and what are the recommended cooking time.

Now for two recipes to venture into the world of beans, peas and lentil cookery.

The first is an easy dish common in many Middle Eastern countries and is thought to be similar to the "pottage" that Jacob used to bargain with Esau in the Old Testament.

The second uses garbanzos or chick peas, a kind of bean we more often think of as something only from a can. However, these are as easily prepared as pinto or navy beans, though they may require a longer cooking time.

Lentils and Rice (Mjadara)

2 c lentils
1 1/2 c rice
8 c water
olive oil
3 large onions, cut in strips

1. Boil the lentils in water until tender, about 20 minutes or so. Add the rice and simmer about 20 minutes. Add salt to taste. (NOTE: If brown rice is used, begin cooking the rice and lentils together, simmering until both are tender.)
2. Meanwhile prepare the onions. Cut each onion in half from top to bottom. Lay each half on a cutting board and slice in thin strips, again from top to bottom.
3. Pour about a quarter inch of olive oil into a large pan and saute the onions very slowly in the oil until they are a deep golden brown.
4. When the rice and lentils are cooked, pour into a casserole dish and spread the onions evenly over the top. If needed, this can be kept warm in a 200 degree oven for up to an hour or so.

Garbanzos and Shells with Spinach

1 T olive oil
1 med onion, finely chopped
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 finely chopped carrot (about 3/4 to 1 cup)
red pepper flakes to taste
1 T tomato paste
2 c garbanzos (use a 15 oz can if you don't have any cooked at home)
liquid from beans plus enough water to make 1 cup
salt to taste (if using canned beans, be very careful not to over-salt)
10 to 16 oz pkg frozen chopped spinach, thawed, including liquid
8 oz pasta shells, cooked and drained
Parmesan--freshly grated if possible
Freshly grated black pepper

1. Saute onion and garlic in oil.
2. Add all remaining ingredients except pasta. Stir until just heated through and taste for seasonings.
3. Fold in pasta shells and serve topped with Parmesan and black pepper to taste.

Food Photography, Cranberry Bread and Some Notes on Pan Sizes

One of the things I have not done as often as I'd like is to add photos to my blog entries. Sometimes I just haven't remembered to take pictures of the dishes before they are eaten, but there is also the problem of taking shots that really show the food in its best light.

An interesting blog reference in the NY Times today might be of help to anybody facing the same challenge of making foods look attractive in photos as they do in real life. This particular link deals with soups, but the site has many other references that could be very helpful over time.

An example of the many ways my photos and blog don't line up came last December. I actually remembered to take a series of photos of cranberry applesauce bread I wanted to post, but, by the time the bread came out of the oven, the camera battery needed recharging. Then, when I had a charged camera, the bread had been given away or consumed, so there was no final product. Thinking I'd make another batch and capture the results, I delayed posting. Then the holidays intervened and, until now, not even the recipe ended up here. Today's post is an attempt to make up for that.

I know it is not the season for cranberries yet, but I'm going to include the recipe anyway, to go with the photos. My guess is that it will work just as well with raspberries, so I may be trying that with the next picking of berries. (Last night, I took some young friends with me to the front of the patch and we came home with over a quart of berries just for snacking.)

Cranberry Applesauce Bread

2 c fresh or frozen cranberries, chopped
1 T sugar (for cranberries)
2/3 c sugar
1/3 c oil
1 egg
1 t vanilla
2 c flour
1 t baking powder
1 t soda
1 t cinnamon
1/2 t nutmeg
1 1/2 c applesauce
1 c chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. (If you are using glass loaf pans, heat to only 325 degrees.)
1. Toss the cranberries with a tablespoon of sugar and set aside.
2. Cream the oil, sugar, eggs and vanilla well.
3. Sift together the dry ingredients. Add this mixture and the applesauce alternately to the creamed mixture and beat well.
4. Fold in the cranberries and walnuts.
5. Oil or spray with non-stick coating a large loaf pan or a medium pan and three "miniature" loaf pans. (See the math below) Pour the batter into the prepared pans.
6. Bake large loaf for 50 minutes, smaller pans from 20 to 35 minutes. The bread is done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
7. Turn the baked loaves on to a cooling rack and allow to cool completely before slicing.

The Mathematics of Pan Sizes

Loaf pans are probably the least uniform of all baking pans. "Large" or standard loaf pans can range from 7 1/2 inches by 3 1/2 inches all the way to 9 inches by 5 inches. "Medium" pans have an even larger range, and the "miniature' pans as shown in the photo above may be as small as 2 1/2 inches by 4 1/2 inches. In general, a recipe like this, which makes at least 4 cups of batter, will fill a "large" loaf pan to about 2/3 full, resulting in a very high loaf. You could use a "large" pan and save out enough batter for a couple of miniatures (great gifts!) and still have a nice loaf.

So how do you decide what pans to use? Sometimes you may need to do a little trial and error with your own pans. If a recipe fills your pan between half and two thirds full, you will be fine. If it approaches three quarters full, you should probably put some of the batter in some smaller pans--or even muffin pans; muffin batters and quick bread batters are often identical.

The key thing to remember is that the baking temperature will remain the same (reducing the oven heat about 25 degrees for glass pans that tend to brown more quickly) but the baking time will change.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Slow Cooker Enchiladas

This is perfect for potlucks or a large family gathering, serving 8 to 10 (or more, at a potluck). It also reheats well so is a good recipe to make for a smaller family, providing lots of leftovers to tuck into the microwave. Remember that a slow cooker can be plugged in outside the kitchen (an attached garage, covered porch, or even a deck if you are around to monitor weather and stray animals!), so this is a good summer dish.

You will need at least a 5 1/2 quart oval slow cooker for this recipe: if you only have a 3 1/2 quart cooker, cut the recipe in half.

A note on the cheese: yes, the use of Velveeta is a more processed product than cheddar or similar cheeses would be, but it stands up best for this kind of slow cooker preparation, with no risk of clumping or separating that could occur with "natural" cheeses.

If you want to avoid processed cheeses, make a cheese sauce by preparing a white sauce and stirring in the cheddar, Monterrey Jack or other cheese just to melt. Use the resulting sauce in place of processed cheese.

Slow Cooker Chicken Enchiladas

15 to 17 corn tortillas, crisped in 350 degree oven
2 c rich seasoned chicken broth
1/3 c flour
1 15 oz can tomatoes and chiles, including liquid (see NOTE)
1 4 oz can diced chiles, including liquid
1 t cumin
1 c finely chopped onion
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1/4 c picante sauce, or to taste
6 to 8 oz American cheese, sliced thin--best to use a "block" cheese, like Velveeta in a one or two pound box, instead of pre-cut cheese slices
1 to 2 c grated mozzarella cheese
extra chicken broth as necessary
3 to 4 c diced cooked chicken

1. Toast the tortillas in single layers in a 350 degree oven for about 10 to 15 minutes, until crisp and just barely beginning to brown on the edges. Turn in the middle of toasting if needed. Remove from oven and set aside two or three of the most crisp tortillas for the topping.
2. Combine the broth and flour, blending well. Cook until thickened. Stir in tomatoes, chiles, onion, garlic, cumin and picante sauce.
3. Spread about a third of the broth and tomato mixture in the bottom of the slow cooker. Cover with a layer of tortillas, breaking up as necessary to cover. spread half the chicken over the tortillas and arrange seven of the cheese slices over the top. Cover with another third of the sauce. Repeat tortilla and chicken layers.
4. Spread about 1 cup of the grated cheese over the top and then cover with the remaining sauce.
5. Break the crisp tortillas that had been set aside into coarse chips and spread evenly over the sauce. Arrange the remaining American cheese slices over the top and sprinkle thickly with grated cheese. Spoon several tablespoons of the reserved chicken broth over the top. Cover and cook on low for 3 to 4 hours.

If desired, serve with sour cream (or plain yogurt), black olives, shredded lettuce and diced tomatoes on the side--and lots of hot sauce for those looking for even more heat.

NOTE: If you prefer less spicy enchiladas, substituted diced or crushed tomatoes for the tomatoes and chiles. Many brands of the tomatoes and chiles mixture have recently been reduced to 9 1/2 or 10 oz cans, so just using a smaller can will also reduce the heat.

Raspberry Apple Cake

My "ever-bearing" raspberries are well into their second crop, and I can barely keep up with the harvest this year. If you have access to a similar supply, this cake will make a wonderful dessert. Sorry, but those who have to buy raspberries will hardly find this a "frugal" recipe. When strawberries are next in season, I may a substitution.

We first enjoyed this dessert as a birthday cake for my six-year-old grandson. The richness of the cake eliminates the need for any frosting (though a dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of ice cream is a good addition), but no one seemed to mind not having a traditional-looking cake. Wish I could tell you how well it keeps, but it was eaten too quickly to know!

About the yield: I adapted this from several recipes on the internet. Since most of these seemed on the small side, I increased the amounts and discovered that my standard angel food cake pan seemed a little too small for the amount of batter that resulted. Six cupcakes were perfect for a six year old's cake (we put them in a circle on a plate and inserted a candle in each one), and the kids ate cupcakes while the adults had slices of the larger cake. Most bundt cake pans and perhaps larger angel food pans would hold the entire batch, but having cupcakes along with a cake provides nice leftovers--and they would freeze well for sharing with a drop in neighbor or friend!

Raspberry Apple Cake and Cupcakes

1 c butter, slightly softened
2 c sugar
2 1/2 c flour
1 T baking powder
1 c ground almonds
1 c finely chopped apples (I used McIntosh, with the peeling left on)
4 eggs
6 T milk
1 t almond extract
1/2 t pure vanilla extract
3 c raspberries +a few more for the top

1. Combine sugar, flour, baking powder, and almonds. Using a mixer at low to medium setting, mix in the softened butter until evenly crumbly.
2. Stir in the eggs, milk, flavorings, and apples and beat on low until creamy. Fold in the raspberries.
3. Grease and flour well a 10 inch tube pan and prepare six cupcake liners. (These will release better from the papers if you give each a shot of non-stick spray.) Pour the batter into the pans.
4. If desired, sprinkle the top of the cake with raspberries. Put two to three raspberries on each cupcake, lightly pressing them into the batter.
5. Bake the cupcakes for about 25 to 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Bake the cake for about 55 to 65 minutes. If the cake begins to brown too early, turn the oven down to 325 for the last 15 to 20 minutes.
6. Leave the cake in the pan for 10 minutes before turning onto a cake plate. This will slice best if cooled for several hours or overnight--if you can wait that long.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Refried Beans

For many years after our family developed a taste for all things Mexican, I was still buying canned refried beans, thinking this is one of those things that would be just too hard to make at home.

What a mistake. These are among the easiest of all foods to make "from scratch," especially if you cook dried beans for other dishes.

Traditionally, refried beans are made from either black or pinto beans, but other beans can be substituted. I often cook a two pound package of dried beans all at once, ready for a variety of recipes. While I often freeze part of the batch, I still find myself at times with another couple of cups of beans in the fridge needing to be used up...perfect for making into refried beans.

The nice thing about frijoles refritos is that you can make a couple of cups or a couple of quarts, depending on what you have available. They can be used as a side dish, just as Mexican restaurants serve them. Toast some corn tortillas in the microwave or oven or cut up some apple wedges or carrot sticks and the beans become a healthy after school snack. Roll them into a soft tortilla, corn or flour, with cheese, salsa and whatever add-ons you want for classic bean burritos or use them as a filling for bean enchiladas.

Today I had a supply of black, pinto, and kidney beans I had cooked for Saturday's soup. Now there were four cups left, along with everything else needed for a good batch of refried beans. Some of these became the main dish for lunch, fresh salsa stirred in and crisped tortillas and apple wedges for dippers--a well-balanced meal with little preparation. The rest of the frijoles refritos are tucked in the freezer for a quick dip whenever drop in company arrives.

Following is the method for making refried beans. Just about every ingredient listed can be varied according to your own tastes and the amount of beans you will be cooking. Just a few things to keep in mind:
  • The best pan for making these is your favorite cast iron skillet, but any heavy pan that doesn't stick easily will do.
  • Remember that the beans will thicken appreciably as they cool, so keep them a little soupier while preparing. If they do thicken too much, you can always add a little more water, bean liquid, or even some salsa.
  • Refried beans can be frozen, but some seasonings may intensify or weaken with freezing. Just taste again when you thaw and reheat them and adjust accordingly.

Refried Beans

Canola or olive oil
Cooked dried beans and liquid
For every 2 cups of beans, use approximately the following amounts:
2-3 T diced onion
2-4 cloves minced garlic
1 t cumin
1 T cider or wine vinegar
(optional) jalapeno, chile, or bell peppers--to taste
(optional) chili powder--to taste
salt to taste

1. Put enough oil in the bottom of a large heavy pan to barely cover the surface. Add the onions and cook on medium until just translucent.
2 Turn heat to medium high and stir in the beans and a tablespoon or so of the bean liquid for each cup of beans. Using a potato masher or heavy spatula, mash the beans well, stirring as you do so.
3. Add in the remaining ingredients and stir. Allow the beans to cook a few minutes and then stir. A slight crust will have begin to form and should be stirred into the beans.
4. Add more liquid as needed and continue to cook for several minutes, until flavors are well blended.

NOTE: Canned beans may be substituted in this recipe, but the liquid may be very salty, so you may want to use water as the liquid rather than the bean liquid.

Serving suggestions: Salsa, grated cheese, and/or yogurt (or sour cream) may be stirred into the beans for using as a dip or as a side dish with other Mexican foods.

Toasted Tortillas

These are a very simple and very healthy crunchy snack for dipping in refried beans, salsa, etc.
They work best with a microwave that has a revolving plate, to be sure they cook evenly.

Place six corn tortillas in the microwave, directly on the microwave tray. Cook on high for about three minutes. Turn the tortillas and continue cooking for another two to three minutes, until they are crisp and just starting to brown slightly. You may want to turn once or twice more. Be sure to watch so they do not burn.

If desired, these can be seasoned with seasoning salt, garlic salt, etc. after the first turning.

Ready to eat as soon as cool.

Experiment with your microwave and you will find the right time for two to seven or eight tortillas. You can also cut the tortillas in wedges and spread across the microwave tray, for "baked" tortilla chips. If you have good corn tortillas, these will be far better tasting than any "baked" chips you can buy--and a lot cheaper as well!

Holiday Hospitality

Our Labor Day weekend weather was perfect for early autumn, with blue skies, a bit of crisp coolness in the air and breezes (that have been strengthening into full force winds this afternoon). Perfect weather both for eating out on the new deck and firing up the oven for the first home-baked bread in awhile.

The second of the "ever-bearing" raspberry crops is in full force, so I invited two friends over to help make another batch of raspberry jam. They would be staying for dinner, so I started the day cooking some beans for a soup to go with the freshly baked bread and still warm from the stove jam. The meal was a simple one but all the fresh from the garden flavors were perfect for the setting. Yes, we donned sweatshirts by the time dinner came, but it was still a delightful evening, topped off with a little more raspberry picking for my friends to take along with them.

Meanwhile, the freezer is filling up with the bumper crop of berries, so I took out a package of chicken leg quarters to thaw on Saturday night. I wasn't sure how I would use the chicken but thought that cooked, deboned chicken and broth would take up much less freezer space if all I did was cook it and return everything to the freezer.

Sunday morning, the five pounds of chicken (which had cost less than $3 on sale) was quickly trimmed of fat and skinned before putting it into the slow cooker on low, with just some poultry seasoning, some dried herbs, and seasoning salt. I rendered the fat and skin (that's a topic for another post) and then went off to church, leaving any further decisions about the chicken until later.

And there at church were some old friends from out of town visiting their daughter. After catching up a bit, we discovered they had time to come over for lunch before going on to a 3 pm appointment. They went home to change and make up a quick vegetable saute--zucchini, yellow squash and cherry tomatoes with some fresh herbs from the farmers' market--and I dashed home to do "something" with the chicken.

Rice was an easy decision for a side dish, as I could put that on to cook while I worked on the rest of the meal. There was still bread from Saturday night, along with plenty of jam, and I had cantaloupe, honeydew, and raspberries to make a fresh fruit plate for dessert. Now all I had to do was turn the chicken into something worth serving to guests.

The aroma of roasted chicken met me at the door (by adding no liquid, the chicken had developed a lovely browned, roasted, appearance, with the juices now a deep golden--and very rich--broth), and I decided to just prepare an old-fashioned gravy into which I would cut the chicken and serve over the rice. It worked beautifully, with about half the deboned chicken in the refrigerator for another meal. The best part? Lunch became a wonderful time for breaking bread and talking together with old friends, with very little fuss for any of us.

Both the soup and the chicken sauce were put together with very little measuring, but an approximation of how I made each of them follows.

Garden Vegetable Soup--Tomato Base

1 29 oz can or jar spaghetti sauce, your favorite flavor
1 15 oz can diced tomatoes and chilis
1 large onion, diced
2 medium to large carrots, sliced thinly
2 to 3 c frozen corn
3 c grated zucchini
3 c finely shredded cabbage
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 t Worcestershire sauce
1 T sugar
2 t vinegar
1 to 2 T mixed dried herbs (mine was a mixture of basil, thyme, rosemary, and marjoram)
freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 c beans, cooked with little or no salt (see NOTE)
salt and seasoning to taste
water and bean liquid

Saute the onion and carrots in a small amount of canola oil until the onions are translucent and the carrots are barely tender.

Meanwhile, put the all the tomato products and other vegetables in a large slow cooker turned to HIGH. Stir in the onions and carrots and beans and liquids to reach desired consistency. (My soups like this often end up being almost as thick as stew!) For the liquid: Rinse the spaghetti sauce and tomato and chiles containers with a little water and add this to the soup. You may use as much of the bean liquid as desired in the soup too, depending on how much you want the bean flavor to predominate.

Add the seasonings and taste. Cook on HIGH for about half an hour or so and then turn to LOW, cooking another few hours or so. Taste for seasonings again after the mixture has been cooking for awhile.

NOTE: I had cooked a mixture of pinto beans, kidney beans, and black beans earlier in the day, but any beans would work for this soup. If you are using canned beans instead of starting with dry beans, be sure to taste before adding ANY salt!

Old Time Sunday Dinner Chicken and Gravy

2 c cut up cooked chicken
1 to 2 c chicken stock
2 to 3 c water
1 c instant nonfat dry milk powder
1/3 c flour
seasoning salt, poultry seasoning, and sage
1 t Worcestershire sauce--no more, as it will quickly overpower the relatively mild flavors of the rest of the dish
black pepper to taste
1 small onion, chopped
about 1/4 c green or yellow bell pepper, finely diced

Combine the chicken stock, water, and dry milk powder in a LARGE microwave-safe bowl. Stir about 1/2 cup of water into the flour to make a paste and stir this into the stock and water, stirring to be sure all the flour is dissolved. Cook on medium power three or four minutes, stirring occasionally, until the mixture bubbles and thickens. (You will need to watch, because these mixtures can boil over even very large containers very quickly!) Stir in the seasonings to taste.

Meanwhile, saute the onion and bell pepper in a little of the chicken fat until just tender. Stir the chicken and onions and pepper into the sauce and serve over rice. (If this were really traditional Sunday chicken and gravy, it would probably be served over piping hot biscuits or mashed potatoes.)

Friday, September 3, 2010

Peach Nectarine Jam

Peaches and nectarines were on sale at Aldi for 19 cents each, averaging out to about 55 cents a pound, so it was time to try another jam without commercial pectin. Sekapps, a local orchard, had half bushel windfalls of the first of the season apples so I had a good supply of slightly underripe fruit there, so everything was ready for the experiment to begin.

The result was everything I had hoped for--honey-colored preserves jelled just right, with a flavor that will remind us of summer well into the fall, if we can keep the supply long enough for that.

This week the price has gone up to 25 cents each for these same fruits (plums too), but they are still economical enough that I may try another batch. I will be making more raspberry jam now that the second crop of those berries is yielding a couple of quarts every few days, so any future batches will have to be put into canning jars and processed in a boiling water bath--I need some refrigerator space for the other produce of fall!

Peach Nectarine Jam

2 c chopped peaches (1 pound)
3 c chopped nectarines (1 1/2 pounds)
1 c grated apple (1/2 pound)--I used Paula Red variety, a type of McIntosh
1/4 c lemon juice
4 c sugar

Combine all ingredients in a large, deep pot, stir, and let sit for a few minutes to dissolve the sugar.

Heat the mixture to boiling and then cook over medium high heat, stirring often, until a candy thermometer reaches 220 degrees or until the mixture sheets off the spoon. (You may also use the cold plate test--drop a few drops on to a chilled glass or porcelain plate and check to see if the mixture is the thickness you seek.) This batch took about 22 to 25 minutes to reach the jelling stage after it began to boil.

Remove from heat and skim off foam. Pour into jars. If this will not be kept in the refrigerator, use canning jars and process in boiling water bath--5 minutes for half pints and 10 minutes for full pints.

This made approximately 3 pints of jam. I don't have an exact measurement, because I used a variety of containers, including a couple of footed sherbet dishes from a garage sale. These were covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated until I could give them as small hostess gifts.