Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Bean Soup Demo and Stuff

I did a food demo in the food pantry lobby today.  I brought home beans and veggies Monday when I came home from the food bank.  I soaked the beans overnight, changing the water a couple of times.  Then I drained them one more time, put them in the slow cooker, and added some chopped veggies-- a couple of summer squash, a large bell pepper and a large jalapeno (ribs and seeds removed), an onion, some carrots, and some potatoes.  I turned it on the high setting for three hours and then turned it down to low for a couple more.  Then I chopped up 5 or 6 tomatoes and added them to the pot, along with some garlic powder, oregano, and Italian seasoning.  Then I cooked it for another hour and a half.  Today I brought the cooked soup down to MCHPP in a large container and had my smaller Crock Pot in my backpack.  The slow cooker was a little, um, slow in terms of heating up the soup, so some people had cold bean soup, but they said it was good anyway.  While I was standing there I chopped peppers and onions for the chili I will cook in the soup kitchen tomorrow, so we have a head start!  As always, I had a handout for people about the soup, so here it is:
Beans are great to have in the cupboard because they are can be used in many ways, they taste great, they are quite filling, and they offer lots of nutrition.  Canned beans are convenient and fast, but often high in sodium, so if you use these, give them a rinse first and you will remove a lot of the sodium.  Low sodium varieties are also available.

Dried beans are cheaper than canned and don't have the added sodium.  With a little bit of preparation, they can be just as convenient as canned beans.  You can cook bg batches of beans and keep any extras in the fridge or freezer.  If you are making something like chili or refried beans, you can make extra and freeze that, too. 

A good soak makes the cooked beans easier to digest.  Usually lentils and split peas don't need this kind of soaking, but the larger beans benefit from it.  There are a couple of ways to do this and usually both can be found on the bean package.  The first is a quick-soak method in which you put the beans in a pot with water, boil for a minute and then let sit for a couple of hours before changing the water and cooking the beans.  The regular method is to just put the beans in a pot or bowl, cover with water, and let soak for several hours.  I usually use the longer soaking way and I change the water several times. 

Cooking Beans
When your beans are ready to be cooked, you can change the water one last time and cook for the length of time suggested on the package.  Or you can cook them in a slow cooker, if you have one.  The slow cooker method is great because you can leave the beans to cook overnight while you sleep if you want.  Just soak your beans for a day, changing the water a few times.  Change the water one last time, put beans into the slow cooker and cover with water.  Turn the cooker on low and leave it for 8-10 hours.  Drain the beans and use in chili, mash them up for Mexican dishes, put some in the fridge or freezer, or add them to salads.

Beans can also be added to a slow cooker soup.

Kale, white beans, and hot peppers are a good soup combination.

Cooked pinto, kidney, black, red beans can be added to a skillet in which you're cooked some peppers (hot or sweet), chopped onion, corn in a little oil.  Add garlic and chili powders, cumin if you like it, and some oregano.  Mix everything together and mash the beans with the back of a spoon.  Good for tostadas, tacos, nachos, with rice, etc.
Slow Cooker Split Pea Soup
I make this in a 7 quart slow cooker.  To make in a smaller one, just use fewer beans.

1 pound dried split peas
1/2 pound dried small white beans or dried lima beans (optional)
chopped onion
chopped carrot
chopped potato
ham or bacon (optional)
water to within a couple of inches of the top of the pot
Put everything in the slow cooker and turn to low.  Let cook for at least 6 hours.  About an hour or hour and a half before serving, add some thyme, oregano and/or basil.  Or you can add Italian seasoning and garlic powder.  Stir in and let the soup finish cooking.

Dried Bean Veggie Soup
--dried beans--can be one kind or a few different kinds
--veggies of your choice (potatoes, carrots, celery, turnips, zucchini, chard or kale, corn, bell or chili peppers are all good options)
--canned tomatoes, tomato paste, chopped fresh tomatoes, tomato sauce--any of these or a combination
--herbs and spices--Italian seasoning, garlic powder, OR basil, oregano, and garlic
  OR chili powder, cumin, garlic
--meat is optional--you can use ground beef, sliced or ground sausage, ground turkey/chicken, cubed boneless chicken, pork, or beef, bacon, ham, or leftover cooked meat(s)

Soak your beans.  When ready to cook, drain the beans and place in a pot with the chopped veggies.  If you are using meat, add that to the pot (if using ground beef or turkey or sausage, it would be best to brown that in a skillet first, drain off the grease and add the meat to the soup pot).  Cover with water and bring to a boil.  Turn down the heat so you get a slow boil and let everything cook for about 1 1/2 hours.  Then add the tomatoes and any herbs and spices you choose.  Let simmer for another half an hour.

To make this soup in a slow cooker, place soaked beans, meat, and  veggies in cooker, cover with water, turn on low and let cook for 6 hours.  Add tomatoes and herbs/spices, stir in, cover pot and let cook for another 1 1/2-2 hours.

Serve soup over pasta or rice.  If you've made extra for leftovers, it's best to cook and store the pasta or rice separately and combine them in the bowl at serving time.  This way the leftovers don't get soggy.

When I got home, I decided to keep on chopping, so I made some vegetable chowder for supper. Into a puddle of olive/canola oil in a pot, I added chopped onion, bell pepper, a couple of jalapenos, some peeled broccoli stalk, and some carrots.  I cooked these in the oil, stirring them around, and then added potatoes and enough water to cover.  I let this all cook until the potatoes were just about done and then I added some broccoli florets and cooked for another minute.  I turned the heat down to medium and added about a quart of milk and some garlic powder.  I gave Bill the option of sausage or tuna sandwiches to go with the chowder and he opted for sausage, so that will be supper.

I also made most of tomorrow's supper.  I took two chicken Italian sausages out of the package for tonight and chopped up the other three.  I also chopped a large bell pepper and a large onion.  I cooked this together until the sausage was done and then I added a pint of cut-up grape tomatoes, some oregano, and some garlic powder and stirred it all around until the tomatoes were cooked.  Tomorrow I will cook a pot of spaghetti to put this over.  And perhaps we'll have some foccaccia or other bread if there's something good on the bread shelf tomorrow.  If I don't bring any bread home tomorrow, we can have pita bread garlic bread--spread butter on pita bread, sprinkle with garlic powder and Parmesan cheese.  Cook on cookie sheet just until cheese is melted and bread is a little crispy.

Saturday, January 26, 2013


We have had a few days of winter here in Maine--finally!  It's good soup weather and Bill said he felt like some sausage-vegetable soup, so yesterday I made some in my 7-quart Crock Pot.  I chopped up onions, bell pepper, broccoli, cauliflower, potatoes, and carrots and put them all into the crock.  I cut up about a pound of hot Italian sausage and put that in.  I raided the freezer for a bag of green beans and one of celery that I'd frozen over the summer--they were from our CSA share.  I added some water and turned it to high. After 5 hours I added some chard (also from the farm share and frozen over the summer), some fresh basil that had come from the soup kitchen dining room, and some beet greens that had been diverted from the pig bucket at the food bank and placed in water in my fridge.  I also put in some dried oregano and garlic powder, stirred it all up, and left it for another hour and a half.  Then I turned the pot off and let it sit for half an hour before ladling soup into bowls and topping with some Parmesan cheese.  We had some whole wheat Italian bread on the side.  Today we'll be having some for lunch before Bill goes off to work.  He will probably take a container of soup with him to put in the freezer there so he can have it for supper on some future evening.  Slow cooker soup is great--it makes its own broth as it slowly cooks and like any soup, you can toss what you have into the pot and end up with a delicious bowl of soup at the end!  On Wednesday I will be doing a bean soup demo in the food pantry lobby and will be making the soup ahead of time.  I'm not sure yet what veggies will go into this soup, because I have to wait and see what comes into the food bank for me to use!  Guess I will find out!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Soup Kitchen Strata Photo Essay

Today Bill came with me and photographed me and the crew making strata and getting ready for the lunch crowd.  The result is the MCHPP gallery.

This is me with Annette, the excellent soup kitchen coordinator, holding our bunches of spinach, which made a lovely addition to the strata. She is dressed for the cooler!

The Thursday crew is wonderful and without us all working as a team, we would never get the food ready on time.  Today, while I was breaking 18 dozen eggs and whisking them with 2 gallons of milk and tearing bread into the pans, they were in the back chopping onions, bell peppers, spinach, broccoli and cauliflower to go into the strata.  I layered the veggies on top of the bread, added some of the little bits of bacon and some cheese that Annette had left for me to use, and then ladled the egg/milk mixture on top.  Into the ovens at 425 for half an hour and then 400 for another half hour after that.  People do enjoy their strata and it's always nice when we have lots of veggies to add!

And we rely on Michael to keep the plates washed and Maurice to scrub those pans!  I try to always spray the steam table pans really well so that the food doesn't stick too much!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Pizza Mac

Last night I made pizza for supper.  I had a little cheese left over, so today for lunch I made pizza macaroni.  While the water was boiling and the macaroni was cooking, I made the topping.  I put some olive/canola oil into the skillet and added a chopped onion, a chopped cubanelle and a couple of chopped red jalapenos, and some cut up turkey pepperoni.  I stirred this around while it cooked and poured it over the cooked mac.  I sprinkled some chopped fresh basil and mozzarella on top and then topped with sauce.  The sauce was made from the last of the tomato paste I used for the pizza thinned to the right consistency with water and I added garlic powder and oregano. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

New Facebook Page

I started a new Facebook page as a companion to this blog.  I am not exactly sure how it will evolve yet, but I do know that it will not be simply a duplication of what is on this blog.   I hope that people will comment and share their own food stories, cooking ideas, tips, and tricks. When I do the food/cooking demos in the food pantry lobby, one of my goals is always to get the clients to share their ideas so that it becomes a conversation and isn't just me talking at people. I believe that the more stories and ideas we can share with one another, the better off we will all be! So if you're interested, like the page and feel free to share a food story/memory, a cooking tip, or a great food idea if you want!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Chili in the Soup Kitchen and Premade Leftovers!

I am tired.  We actually did not serve as many meals as we sometimes do in the soup kitchen today--I think our total was 113.  We've done as many as 170 on Thursday, but for whatever reason, things were slower today.  The meal was time consuming to prepare, though.  We made chili, so myself and another member of the crew started out by cutting up lots of steak into chunks while other crew members chopped up onions, bell peppers, and tomatoes. Annette, the soup kitchen coordinator, had about 9 pounds of dried beans that she had been soaking, so before we got started with the steak, I drained them, added fresh water and set them on the stove to cook.  When the steak was put in the convection oven, I got a couple of pots, added some oil, and divided the onions and peppers.  We had a new volunteer today (and she provided the soup kitchen photos), so she helped me prepare the actual chili so she could learn where stuff is and how things work.  She stirred around the veggies in one pot and I did the other.  Then we added some garlic powder, the cooked beans, an industrial-sized can of black beans and a large can of kidney beans.  Stirred that all up and added some chopped fresh tomatoes, cans of tomato paste, puree, diced tomatoes and the chili seasoning packets.  One pot was a little too thick, so we rinsed out some of the tomato puree cans and poured the water into the pot.  I let it simmer for a while and then turned off the flame.  I took a small steam table pan and ladled some meatless chili into that and kept it warm in the oven.  Then I split the two pots between the two deep steam table pans and the medium one, splattering sauce onto my clothes and glasses--this is why I always wear old clothes when I cook there! The steak was cooked by this time and we had 5 pans of it, so two went into each larger pan and one in the medium pan.  Then it was into the steam table for all three pans with several minutes to spare!  People were quite happy with their lunch today.  One person stood up and asked for applause, several people came up to tell me that they loved it, and one guy told me I could come and cook for him at his house. One guy felt that his beans weren't mushy enough, but you can't please everyone all the time!  It was a nice day for chili--the sun is out now and the snow is melting, but we did have a bit of snow this afternoon, so a nice bowl of chili with some shredded cheese and crackers seemed to hit the spot for people today.  I had some of the meatless chili and it was quite good.
photo by Laura McCandish

So now I am tired in a satisfied kind of way.  My crew and I did good work today making people happy and providing nourishment. 
photo by Laura McCandish

And happily, I made tonight's supper yesterday, so my cooking tasks are complete for this day!
I made these little frittatas in the muffin tins by pouring a little olive/canola oil into a frying pan and adding chopped onion, 2 chopped jalapenos with ribs and seeds removed, and a fairly large cubanelle pepper with ribs and seeds removed.  I cut off the small stalks from the broccoli florets and put the floret parts into a bowl and the harder stem parts in the oil.  I cooked the veggies, stirring them around in the oil, then I added the florets, some garlic powder, oregano, and a bit of water. Once the water was evaporated, they were done and I spooned a little of the veggie mixture into the bottom of each greased muffin tin.  Then I added a little bit of extra sharp cheddar on top of the veggies.  I beat 8 eggs and poured them into my measuring cup with the spout, so they would be easier to pour and I poured some beaten egg into each muffin cup. I baked them in a 350 degree oven for about 25 minutes.  A couple of these tonight with some oranges and a whole grain banana muffin will be supper.  I think they have a lot of potential--many kinds of veggies would go well here as would cooked brown rice, some chopped up cooked sausage or ham or any number of other things. Since they lend themselves well to using up whatever's on hand, I have a feeling that I will be making these again!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Crock Pot Chicken and Veg with Herbs

This is what last night's supper looked like before I got it on the plates:
You can just see the chicken drumsticks on the bottom of the crock.  I put those in first and added a few drops of water.  Then I spread some fresh herbs over them--it was from the soup kitchen dining room and was called "poultry bouquet."  It was sage, rosemary and oregano.  In the foil (which I sprayed with nonstick spray), I placed sliced potato, sweet potato, carrot, onion, and some garlic before closing them up and poking holes in the bottom.  I set the packets on top of the drumsticks, turned the Crock Pot on high for an hour and a half and then down to low for another 5 hours and this was the result.
 I put the veggies in the packets so they wouldn't sit in the grease from the chicken, but would still get some of the flavor infusion from the chicken and herbs.
It took only a few minutes to get everything into the crock; it smelled wonderful in here all day; and it tasted great!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A Pretty Yummy Healthy Dessert

This is a photo of the dessert we had last night:
It is homemade lemon pudding with blackberries.  Tonight we will have lemon pudding with blueberries.  Yum.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013


I use a lot of oatmeal.  We eat it almost every morning and I use it in muffins and bread.  A lot of people around here must love oatmeal because we often find an empty space where the oatmeal is supposed to be when we go to the store.  They have been doing a little bit better at keeping it stocked lately, but still, when we see the store brand of old fashioned rolled oats in the round carton, we pick up two or three just to have a supply!  In the summer, Bill eats his oatmeal cold--a muesli style thing.  Nothing could be simpler than this--dump some uncooked oats into a container, cover with a liquid and let sit in the fridge.  I like vanilla soy milk for this, but Bill was completely into orange juice last summer, so I made a new container every few days.  When it's time to eat, you just spoon some of the oatmeal into a bowl and add fruit (fresh, frozen, canned, or dried) and nuts.  That's it.  The oats are uncooked, but softened by their soak in the juice/soymilk.  When it's chilly out, we have cooked oatmeal.  I sometimes use fruit juice instead of water as a cooking liquid, but usually I just use water.  This is simple, yet can be very different depending on what you add to the bowl.  This morning we had strawberry sauce and almonds. The oatmeal was from a large container that had been in the soup kitchen dining room.  One of the other volunteers told me she brings it home and freezes it to use whenever she wants it, so this had come out of the freezer.
There were a lot of strawberries in the food bank yesterday, so I brought home some that needed to be used right away and I made a strawberry sauce with them--just put them into a pot with a bit of water and let them cook, adding a little brown sugar and mashing them some with a potato masher.  Other good fruits to cook are apples, pears, peaches, other berries, and cranberries.  I do the same thing with the cranberries that I did with the strawberries (except they don't need mashing and I use a little more sugar) and I keep a jar in the fridge--this is great stirred into oatmeal.  Sometimes we just toss in some frozen berries that we have thawed and sometimes we use dried fruit. If I have coconut, I will usually add some of that.  Most of the time we add either almonds or walnuts.  Sometimes I simply sprinkle in a bit of cinnamon and sugar.  I have even added a bit of sugar and a tablespoon or two of unsweetened baking cocoa to make chocolate oatmeal.  I like oatmeal all these ways, but perhaps my favorite is almond joy oatmeal.
Almond Joy Oatmeal
To a bowl of cooked oatmeal, add a sprinkle of sugar (whatever kind you like), 1 or 2 tablespoons of unsweetened baking cocoa powder (depending on how chocolatey you want it), some shredded coconut, and some sliced almonds.  Stir well and enjoy!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Waste Not--Veggies, Herbs, and Pasta

Tonight's supper was constructed primarily out of food that would have otherwise gone into the pig bucket in the food bank. 
To my glug of oil in the pan, I added peeled and chopped broccoli stalks (brought home from the food bank--after trimming the heads to place in bags for food pantry distribution we either bring the larger stalks home or they go into the pig bucket), a yellow summer squash, a zucchini, a bell pepper (these were brought home from the soup kitchen dining room when no one else wanted them, wrapped in towels and stored in the fridge), a chopped onion and 4 sun-dried tomato chicken sausages, chopped (these last two things came from the grocery store).  I cooked some spaghetti and topped it with the veggie/sausage mixture.  Then I added some fresh Italian parsley and fresh basil leaves that were torn up and mixed together. The herbs also came from the soup kitchen dining room.  When we tossed everything together to eat it, the heat wilted the fresh herbs very slightly, but I quite liked them that way--they were still a bit crunchy and added a fresh bit of zing to the bowl.  We have leftovers for lunch.

I am glad that I know how to take the food that would otherwise get tossed out and put it to good use.  I have discovered that I like to work with food the same way I work with yarn.  I take what's available and turn it into something.  I either buy my yarn at thrift stores or someone gives me their odd balls and scraps or they give me yarn as a gift and I decide what to make based on what the yarn tells me.  I think there have only been two times that I have decided what to make and then gone to get the yarn for it--it's always the other way around--I have yarn and it tells me what it wants to be.  It works the same way with food.  I can take the stuff left in the soup kitchen dining room or stuff that would go into the pig bucket in the food bank and I can use it.  I gratefully accept what's available and make use of it and I feel good about doing my part to avoid food waste.  Even when I go grocery shopping, my cart is full of general staple foods and not specific ingredients destined to go into a specific recipe.  I find that I like living this way--it is a natural fit for me.  I find it to be very creative to take what comes and to make something from it. I get a great deal of satisfaction from these things. It makes things very simple, too.  Once in a while we will decide we want to eat something specific and then we might go to the store and get what we need for that.  Mostly, though, we eat what I make from what's here and there are no "quick" trips to the store to pick up a missing ingredient.  And the less time I spend shopping, the better!  Anytime I am not in the store means more time to do stuff I really want to do!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Oatmeal Pancakes and Fruit Sauce

On Monday we ended up sorting lots and lots of strawberries in the food bank--enough so that we could take some home.  Tonight I made oatmeal pancakes and strawberry sauce for supper.
I prefer to make some kind of fruit sauce to have with pancakes instead of using syrup.  In the photo above, taken several weeks ago, the sauce is made from apples and cranberries. I also use this kind of fruit sauce in cooked oatmeal--made some apple-cinnamon this afternoon to have in the fridge and there was strawberry left from supper.  It only takes a few minutes.  I don't bother to peel the apples--just wash, core and roughly chop.  Place in a pot with a little water.  If using cranberries, add those.  Pears are good, too, as are peaches.  Let cook for a few minutes--add more water if necessary.  Add some sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, or a little of each, if you want.  When sauce is thickened and bubbly and fruit is soft--or even mush, serve on waffles, french toast, pancakes, or oatmeal--or put in a jar and keep in fridge.