Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Taco Lentil Soup and Crock-Pots!

I just got back from MidCoast Hunger Prevention Program where I did a food demo in the food pantry lobby.  I handed out samples of the taco lentil soup I'd made yesterday and encouraged people to sign up for the raffle--Sue, the food pantry coordinator, is giving away two Crock-Pots today.

 I made a handout for the soup and one with slow cooker ideas. While I was standing there talking to folks, I chopped up some jalapenos and made a salsa-ish thing so people could add a little kick to their soup if they wanted to.  One of the things that is tricky for me cooking there is that my tendency is to go spicy, but that won't work.  So I try to have options there for those people who are like me and want the heat--we can always add the heat, but it's not so easy to remove it once it's there.  Plus, I like the chopped fresh onions and jalapenos on top of the soup--adds a nice, fresh crunch.  Next demo will be Mexican food to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, so I guess that'll be May 1st!
Here are the handouts I gave out..
This is a very simple soup.  To use as a taco or burrito filling, just use less liquid.

--chopped veggies--use what you have and like--some suggestions are: onion, garlic, bell or hot peppers, carrots, summer squash/zucchini, potato
--corn is another good addition--either cut fresh off the cob, canned (drain the liquid out) or frozen

There are two ways to make the soup--on the stovetop or in a slow cooker.
Stove Top:
Place everything in a pot.  Cover with water.  Bring to a boil and turn heat down so it simmers.  Let simmer for 45 minutes to an hour, adding more water if necessary.

 Add chopped tomatoes (fresh or canned), tomato puree, tomato sauce, or tomato paste (you might need to add a little more water if this makes things too thick).

Add a packet of taco seasoning mix OR oregano, chili powder and/or cumin to taste.

Let simmer for an another 30-45 minutes.

Slow Cooker:
Place lentils and all veggies (except tomatoes) in the crock of a slow cooker.  Add water to cover.  Place cover on crock and let cook for 7-8 hours on low or 4-5 hours on high.  About an hour before the soup is done, add the tomatoes/tomato sauce/tomato puree/tomato sauce and the taco seasoning or spices.  Stir, put the lid back on and let the soup finish cooking.

Quick and Easy Salsa
chopped fresh tomatoes or canned diced tomatoes with liquid drained off
chopped onion
chopped jalapenos or other hot pepper
1 tablespoon of sugar
1 tablespoon of vinegar
garlic powder
dried oregano

Place everything in a bowl and mix well.

This goes well with the soup or on the tacos/burritos

The slow cooker is a great kitchen tool!  It allows you to make delicious, healthy meals without much fuss.  And it does this with very little energy.  I use my slow cooker a lot--less energy use means lower electric bills, the long, slow cooking produces really great results, and I do not have to spend that much time doing meal preparation!  In the heat of summer when I don't want to use the oven, the slow cooker comes to the rescue!  And I often cook things overnight so that they are ready when I wake up!

You can make soups and chili easily in the slow cooker, of course.  One thing to remember is that spices can lose their flavor in the long, slow cooking, so if making soup or chili, don't add them until about an hour or an hour and a half before the end of the cooking time.  Also, milk tends to separate in the slow cooker, so if you want a cream soup, just add it at the end of the cooking time.

I cook a lot of different things in the slow cooker.

WHOLE Chicken:  To cook a whole chicken, simply place it in the cooker and add a splash of water.  You can place cut up potatoes, onions, carrots, celery on top if you want.  Cook on low for about 10 hours. 

Chicken pieces work the same way--just place them in the cooker and cook.  I sometimes top the chicken pieces with bunches of fresh herbs--sage, thyme, bouquet garni, oregano, basil, tarragon all work well.  Beware--the smell will make you really hungry!!

The chicken cooked this way is very tender and works great for shredded chicken, which I like to use in tacos, nachos, and burritos or in spaghetti sauce.  You can also let it cool and make chicken salad.  Or just eat it!

Winter Squash:  So easy!  No more trying to hack apart the thick-skinned winter squash.  Just pile in as many squash as your cooker can hold and still have the lid on properly.  Add a splash of water.  Cook on high or low until a knife pierces the squash easily.  Remove from cooker, let cool a bit, cut open, scoop out the seeds, and mash up the squash.

Sweet Potatoes:  I do these the same as the squash, but I pierce them first with a knife.  You can "bake" regular potatoes in the slow cooker, too, the same way as the sweet potatoes.

Polenta:  7 1/2 cups of water and 1 1/2 cups of cornmeal into the crock. Whisk it around a little, place the lid on, and turn it to high.  Cook on high for 30-60 minutes and then give it another whisk, then turn the heat down to low for 5 hours.  It is beautifully creamy.  You can eat it like this or spread into a pan and let it harden, then cut into pieces and cook in a little oil on the stove or bake in the oven.

Dried Beans: The slow cooker is great for these!  I cook a bunch and freeze some for future use.  Place beans in a bowl and cover with water.  Let soak all day or all night.  Change the water a few times if you can--if not, don't worry about it.  Drain the beans, place them in the slow cooker and cover with fresh water to about an inch from the top of the crock.  Place the lid on the cooker and cook on low for 8-10 hours.  Drain beans. 

To make refried beans:
Put oil into a skillet, add chopped onions, and chopped peppers-bell or hot peppers, or a combination.  Cook these for a few minutes until the onion is soft and translucent. Add some dried oregano, chili powder, and garlic powder to the pan, if you want and mix in.  Then add some beans and mash them up with the back of a spoon as you mix them into the veggies and spices.   You can add some water, too, if the beans get too dry--just a little at a time--and stir in--the beans will absorb the water and will get nice and creamy.

To make split pea soup, you don't need to soak the beans at all--here's how I make it:
Place in crock
a one-pound bag of green split peas (about 2 cups)
1 cup of dried lima beans
a large onion
3 potatoes
a bunch of carrots
2 stalks of celery
water to within an inch and a half or so of the top

Cook on high for an hour and then down on low for 6.  When there was an hour left, add garlic powder, dried basil, and dried thyme.

Basic Vegetable Soup with Sausage or Chicken
cut up some Italian sausage or boneless chicken (this may be easier to do if the meat is still partially frozen
chop up veggies or use frozen--possibilities are endless--corn, peas, green or wax beans, onion, bell or hot pepper, zucchini, potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, tomato--anything you have, really

Put in slow cooker and cover with water to an inch and a half or 2 inches from the top.  Place the cover on and turn to high or low, depending on when you want the soup done.  For the high setting, after about 4 or 4 1/2 hours of cooking time, you can add herbs, spices, some tomato paste, if you want a tomato-y broth, and any chopped leafy veggies you want (such as cabbage, chard, kale, etc), then replace the lid and cook for an hour or an hour and a half more.  If you've got it cooking on the low setting, do this after about 7 hours of cooking time.  That's it.  This soup freezes well.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Speedy Salsa

I'm doing a food demo in the food pantry lobby on Wednesday.  I'm going to make a lentil taco soup.  I am also going to point out that by adding less liquid, the same "recipe" will work for taco/burrito filling.  I decided to include this speedy salsa recipe on the handout.  I made some yesterday morning so it was fresh in my mind--and it uses stuff that is usually available in the food pantry.
In the summer, when all of those beautiful, fresh, incredibly delicious tomatoes are so readily available, I use those.  But in winter, when fresh tomatoes taste pretty much like nothing, I use canned.

Speedy Salsa
Drain the liquid from a can of diced tomatoes (I saved the juice and used tomatoes with no added salt--I will use the juice tonight to thin some tomato paste when I make pasta sauce).  Put the tomatoes in a bowl or container and add a small onion, chopped, and either fresh or pickled jalapenos, chopped.  Sprinkle in some garlic powder (or add a minced clove) and some oregano.  Add a tablespoon each of sugar and vinegar and mix everything together well.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Cream of Vegetable Soup

I made this soup yesterday for supper. 
I had it with a tuna sandwich.  I used some celery, scallion, and garlic shoots from my "garbage garden" in the tuna.

To make the soup, I chopped fine some garlic, onion, a big red bell pepper, a few carrots, some broccoli (I chopped the stalks and florets separately), and some peeled potatoes.  I added everything except the florets to a little oil in a pot and cooked for a few minutes.  Then I added the potatoes and covered with water. I let it come to a boil and after a few minutes I added the broccoli florets.  When everything was cooked, I added some milk and pureed it all with the stick blender. 

It's yummy and there's enough left for tonight's supper.  Yay!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Mexican Pizza

Today's lunch was Mexican pizza.  We had not had this in ages--we used to have it much more often than we do now.  I'd make some for us to eat hot and extra for us to bring to work for lunches.  It's good hot or cold.  Now that we are no longer using canned refried beans because of the high sodium content, this isn't usually a last minute, throw together meal anymore.  I have to plan ahead, but the actual time I spent preparing is still minimal. 

I soaked pinto beans yesterday, changing the water several times.  Last night, in between parts 1 and 2 of the Campion mystery DVD we were watching, I drained the beans, placed them in the Crock-Pot, filled to within an inch and a half of the top with fresh water and turned it to the low setting.  This morning I turned it off, drained the beans, and refried them.

Olive oil into the cast iron skillet, to which I added 2 chopped onions, a chopped pasilla pepper, and two chopped jalapenos.  I cooked these for a few minutes until the onion was soft and translucent.  I added some dried oregano, chili powder, and garlic powder to the pan and stirred it in.  Then I added some beans and mashed them up with the wooden spoon as I mixed them into the veggies and spices.  I kept adding and mashing in more beans until I couldn't really fit anymore in the pan.  I added some water, too, and stirred that in--this made the beans nice and creamy.

To make the Mexican pizza, I place a corn tortilla on a baking sheet, top with a thin slice of cheese or a bit of shredded cheese, and place another corn tortilla on top of that.  I spread refried beans over the top, spread salsa on top of the beans, and top that with cheese.  I add pickled jalapenos to the top and onions (I used scallions this time because I had some that needed using).  You can add chopped tomatoes, too, if you want.  Bake at 400 until the bottom tortilla is slightly crispy.  Usually when the cheese on top is starting to brown, they're done, but it's always good to check and make sure that the bottom tortilla isn't soggy. 
Needless to say, I have refried beans and plain cooked pinto beans left.  We might have this again tomorrow or I might do something else with the beans.  I might freeze the leftover cooked beans or I might make myself some veggie chili to have for breakfast next week.  It's a busier than usual week for me next week, so it's probably a good idea to have some stuff ready to grab, heat, and eat in the fridge. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

I Ran Out of Chicken!

Steady traffic in the soup kitchen today!  104 first servings and 50 seconds.  I made chicken--I started with leg quarters and had to separate the thighs from the drumsticks. I had help with this, for which I was very grateful!  I sprinkled with dried oregano and basil and put the 150 pieces of chicken into the convection oven at 400 for about an hour.  I felt like making macaroni with it, and that hadn't been served yet this week, so I went ahead with that idea.  I had some crushed tomatoes, some fresh parsley and a little basil, and some dried Italian seasoning, along with fresh onions and bell peppers.  I cooked the onions and peppers in a little olive oil with some garlic.  At the last minute, I added the chopped fresh herbs and turned off the heat.  I'd cooked the elbows and put them in steam table pans.  I tossed some Italian seasoning on top and added the cans of chopped tomatoes.  Then I added the cooked veggies and herbs and stirred it all together.  There was salad and grapes and blueberries to round out the meal.  By noon I had to stop serving seconds on the chicken so we would have enough for firsts.  One person on the crew had to just have pasta because he came and asked for lunch at the last minute--I thought he'd already eaten and I felt bad.  He had some pasta and sauce, though.  There were 6 or 7 quarts of pasta and sauce left out of the 10 pounds I'd cooked.  Several people came up to thank me and tell me how much they enjoyed their lunch.  This is what makes me happy--people got served a healthy lunch of real food and they enjoyed it.  That's good!  One guy told me, "You really rocked that chicken!"  Every week I am reminded again that simple food can be very satisfying for people.  Cooking healthy, real food doesn't have to be complicated.  We can't really make it too complicated in the soup kitchen if we want people to be able to eat on time.  And week after week, they leave full and happy even though the food is not complicated and fussy.  I cook in the soup kitchen the way I cook at home (except I often cook beef in the soup kitchen and I don't cook that at home).  I use what needs using and I prepare it in basic ways using basic ingredients.  I try to avoid a lot of prepackaged sauces and stuff and instead I use herbs for flavor.  I am always so pleased when that approach is successful and I see people enjoying their lunches!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Fish Tacos

Things are getting back to normal here after a couple of foggy weeks of coughing and very little sleep.  Now I am getting 4-5 hours of uninterrupted sleep a night and another hour of dozing off and on.  That's about the best I can expect once we move the clocks forward. 

I have a bunch of cilantro from the food bank that needs using and I have a lot of cabbage and peppers (both bell peppers and hot peppers, also from MCHPP--not sure why there has been an abundance of peppers lately!).  I decided to make fish tacos.  White fish, half each of a green and red bell peppers, a couple of jalapenos, an onion, some cabbage (all veggies roughly chopped) into the cast iron skillet with some olive oil.  Cooked it until the fish was flaky and the veggies were crisp-tender and then added some boiled chopped potatoes, some garlic and chili powders and some oregano.  I had mine in taco shells, Bill had his in a bowl (taco shells fall apart on him, so he's given them up--LOL), topped with salsa, a little pepperjack cheese, pickled jalapenos, and cilantro.  And of course, there are leftovers for tomorrow.  After cooking lunch in the soup kitchen on Thursdays, I like to heat and eat for supper.

I also had a nice little salad dressed with some balsamic vinaigrette, which I made by whisking together 1/2 cup of olive oil, 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar, a blob of mustard, garlic powder and oregano (food bank surplus that I brought home and dried on a cookie sheet in the window).  I was waiting for a new bottle of olive oil to make more dressing and Bill brought some home today.  Now I can use some of the cabbage and make some slaw over the weekend.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Crock-Pot Marathon!

My Crock-Pot is resting after a 36-ish hour marathon!  On Thursday night, I placed 4 large chicken leg quarters in the crock, along with a bunch of tarragon and one of sage that had come home from the soup kitchen dining room.  I put a little bit of water in the bottom, turned it on low, and went off to read my book.  Incidentally, the book was Drinking the Rain by Alix Kates Shulman, which I quite enjoyed.  Basically it is a memoir that heavily involves her time on an island off the coast of Maine and her discovery of wild foods and foraging. 

Friday morning I let the chicken cool for a while in the fridge before removing the meat from the skin and bones.  I put the meat from one of the leg quarters in a container and put it in the freezer.  The rest went back into the crock with chopped veggies--onions, pepper, potatoes, carrots, green beans (frozen last summer from the u-pick field at the farm), celery (frozen from last summer's CSA share), some chard stems and chopped broccoli stalks from the freezer, and later on, some kale, baby bok choy, and chard along with oregano, garlic powder, an a few crushed red peppers.  I turned the pot to high for a few hours, then down to low for a few more.  We had the soup with some bread last night, there's more for lunch today, and Bill is bringing a couple of containers to work. 

While the slow cooker was working its magic, I had been planning for the next thing by putting a 2 pound bag of small red beans in a bowl with some water to soak.  I changed the water a few times throughout the day.  After the soup had been placed in the fridge and the crock had cooled and been washed, I drained the beans, rinsed them, and placed them into the crock, which I then filled with water to about 2 inches from the top.  At about 9:30, I turned the pot to low and went back to my knitting.  This morning at about 7:30, I turned the pot off and removed the crock to let things cool a little.  In a few minutes, I will go drain the beans, put a container or two in the freezer, and make refried beans with the rest.  I do not know why I have been on such a bean kick lately, but they are handy to have around, healthy, cheap, and filling, so I won't complain.  I will just enjoy my refried beans, rice, cheese, cilantro, and jalapenos!  The will last several days and I will be able to just heat and eat--and then get back to my reading and knitting--or crocheting, or tatting. 

Friday, March 1, 2013


As I was working in the food bank the other day, I came across a bunch of loose cabbage leaves in one of the boxes.  These usually end up in the pig bucket.  If we have heads of cabbage, we normally cut them in half and bag them for food pantry distribution.  If they're really small, we leave them whole and if they're really large, we might cut them into quarters, but the loose leaves go to the pigs.  I decided to bring them home, so I stuffed them into a gallon bag.  I used a little less than half in some colcannon and made the rest into slaw.
I put the cabbage leaves, a jalapeno, some cilantro, and a bunch of scallions into the food processor fitted with the metal blade and gave it all a whirl.  I switched to the grating blade and grated a couple of carrots. I had a large red bell pepper, so I chopped that and added it, too. I dressed it with the leftover chili-lime vinaigrette that I had in the fridge.  It's convenient to have this kind of salad ready in the fridge because it can be eaten as is as a side dish or I can add stuff to it to make it a meal--cheese, other fresh herbs, cooked salmon or chicken, or whatever else comes to mind.