Ultimate Lentil Soup

Forget it, I’m going to keep making and posting soup recipes until this stupid weather breaks or I die.  Whichever comes first.

Slow Cooker Revolution is on a roll with what it touts as “Ultimate Lentil Soup.”  I don’t really like lentil soup.  I don’t hate it but it’s not my go-to.  Jeeps loves it though, and he’s been killing himself shoveling snow so I wanted to make it for him.  It didn’t hurt that the recipe called for bacon and mushrooms.

Well, friends, to cut to the chase: this soup is tits.  Unbelievable flavor.  I snuck in a can of black beans toward the end and the country-style texture of beans and lentils rocks.  The mushrooms are killer.  The chard is a treat.  Bacon makes it all sexy.  I stirred some frozen sweet corn into the kids’ bowls to cool it off.  And they ate it. 

As my friend Art said, “This is not your mother’s lentil soup.”

Lentil Soup

Ultimate Not-Your-Mother’s Lentil Soup

  • 2 onions, minced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1/2 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 4-5 slices bacon
  • 3-5 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2″ pieces
  • 2-3 large portobello mushroom caps, gills removed and cut into 1/2″ pieces (the gills scrape right out with a spoon.  You do this to keep the soup from getting muddy)
  • 1 cup brown lentils, picked over and rinsed
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 8 ounces Swiss chard, stemmed and leaves cut 1/2″ thick

Microwave onions, garlic, oil, tomato paste, porcini mushrooms and thyme in bowl, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes.  Transfer to slow cooker.

Stir chicken broth, vegetable broth, bacon, carrots, portobello mushrooms, lentils and bay leaves into slow cooker.  Cover and cook on high 5-7 hours or low 9-11 hours, until lentils are tender.

Stir in black beans and chard, cover and cook on high until chard is tender, 20-30 minutes.  Discard bacon and bay leaves.  Serve.

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Coffee-Cocoa Rubbed Brisket

So this happened because whenever we go down to Maryland to visit my seester, I end up hanging out with my brother-in-law watching a lot of TV. And one night he let me control the remote and we ended up watching like seven back-to-back episodes of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives which, after Chopped, is like my favorite Food Network show ever. I love me some Guy Fieri, now there’s a man who loves food. I totally want him to come hang out in my kitchen and just make those mouthgasm noises.

My BIL did comment that a lot of the food didn’t look that good, and furthermore, it didn’t seem like food I would eat. I disagreed; I think most of the food looks awesome, and Guy certainly makes it sound amazing, but who knows how it actually is in person.

Anyway, one episode featured the restaurant Momocho in Cleveland, and the chef featured his specialty: coffee-rubbed brisket. It was slow cooked for hours, then shredded and served in a tortilla with onions and peppers.

This definitely had possibilities. Tacos and burritos are a sure thing around here and this meat looked really spectacular; furthermore it could be made in the slow cooker.

I remembered an episode of Chopped where the secret ingredient was ostrich. One chef rolled it in cocoa powder before searing it. I thought about doing this with the brisket because when I make chili, I always throw in a square of baker’s chocolate. Yet the coffee rub sounded interesting, too. Could I do both?

Of course I could.

I scouted around the Internet, compared and contrasted, and in the end, came up with this. And it was crazy.

Coffee-Cocoa Rubbed Brisket

  • 2 tbsp coffee
  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1 tbsp cumin
  • 1 tbsp chili powder
  • 2 tsp brown sugar
  • 1 tsp salt (the brisket, I confess, came out just a tad salty so I’m taking it down to a teaspoon, you can add more later if it needs it)
  • 1 can coconut milk

20130109-185203.jpgMix all the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Cut the brisket into two pieces, rub all over with either olive oil or coconut oil and then roll it in the dry rub, really getting it coated. Your hands will be a mess. It’s OK, just keep packing on the rub. Get the brisket into a ziplock bag and let it sit for either 2 hours or overnight.

Pour the can of coconut milk into the slow cooker. Put the brisket in, cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours.

Take the brisket out, skim the fat off the gravy. Shred the meat with two forks and put back into the cooker.

Serve over coconut rice, or in a soft tortilla, with onions and peppers.

Die.

20130109-185222.jpg

Arroz con Pollo (y Lágrimas)

I wanted this dish to be great.  This should have been great and it was so not great.

I’m depressed.

I did it for Redman.  He loves Mexican food, he loves rice and beans, he loves chicken.  And I love that little boy to pieces, I don’t need to explain to anyone here, this is not about sons, this is about dinner.  I thought why don’t I make this kid arroz con pollo?  He’ll love it.  And I’ll make it in the slow cooker, this will be a snap.  A slam-dunk.

Hah, it was more like a brick.

It’s my fault.  I didn’t think.  What’s going to happen when you put rice in the slow cooker for six hours, huh, smarty-pants?

Nothing attractive, I’ll tell you that.  It tasted all right, and Jeeps and I ate it, but the kids couldn’t get past the look of it.  Panda managed a few polite bites.  Redman looked at the dish and asked where the rice was.  And he was right to.  It tasted fine, but it looked like puke, there’s no nice way to say it, and when your dish looks like that, there’s no way to rescue it.  Even today I dissolved some of it in a lot of chicken broth and tarted it up with lime juice and cilantro, thinking it could pass for a Mexican soup.

It didn’t pass.

So live and learn, y’all:  NO RICE IN THE SLOW COOKER!!!  Let me beat myself with a wire hanger and repeat that.  NO!  RICE!  IN!  THE!  SLOW-COOKER!  EVER!!!!

I will give you the recipe now, verbatim, but note well that you should make yellow rice and peas separately, on the side, and then serve the slow-cooked chicken over the rice and it will be beautiful.  A slam-dunk.

Pollo Sin Arroz

      • 1 pinch saffron threads
      • 2 tablespoons boiling water
      • 1 large red onion, chopped
      • 3-4 cloves garlic, chopped
      • 2 bell peppers, any color, chopped (I used red and yellow)
      • 1 1/2 cups rice
      • 2 bay leaves
      • 2 tsp dried oregano
      • 1 tsp paprika
      • 1 tbsp dried parsley
      • 1 28-oz can tomatoes, drained
      • 3 cups chicken broth
      • 8 skinless chicken thighs
      • Salt and pepper
      • Frozen peas
      • Chopped cilantro or scallions

Put the saffron in a small dish and pour the boiling water over.  Set aside.

Season chicken with salt and pepper, set aside.

Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat.  Saute the onon, garlic, pepper for five minutes.  Add the rice and stir until well coated.  Add the herbs and tomatoes (if using whole tomatoes, break them up).  Empty all the vegetables and rice into the slow cooker.

Working in batches, brown the chicken on both sides and add to the slow cooker.

Pour the broth and reserved saffron over all.  Cover and cook 6 hours on high heat.  For the last 30 minutes, stir in the frozen peas.

Garnish with cilantro or scallions if desired.

Serve.

Sigh.

And no, I’m not going to show you what it looked like.  Let’s just pretend it looked like this:

Bok Choy with Asian-style Ribs

I’ve been on a mission to try bok choy for some time now, and a few stir-fry recipes from Fast, Fresh & Green have clinched the deal.  But Susie Middleton really threw down the gauntlet when she added as a blithe aside, “these would be good with some oven-roasted boneless pork ribs.”

Hello.

Asian-style boneless pork ribs.  In the slow-cooker.  Did such a thing exist?

Consult the Oracle.  Of course it exists.  My searchings led me to the blog Choosy Beggars, and this awesome post about boneless Asian BBQ beef ribs.   She used beef, I figured it would work just as well for pork.  I’m not going to transpose it here, because hers is so well-written, being both about ribs and about slow cookers in general.  Just know I followed the recipe to the letter (and yes, there was a special shopping trip involved for things like oyster sauce, Chinese 5-spice powder, etc), and I’ll give you a few impressions here:

1) The recipe calls for a grated onion.  I know.  You just have to suck it up and do.  I’ve heard all kinds of tricks for keeping tears at bay while working with onions; frankly the only thing that is a surefire thing for me is having my contact lenses in.  No such luck so last night I had to try the remedy of chewing gum as I grated.  Not much help.  It was a sobby business.

2) The sauce smells amazing.  I put it all together last night in a tupperware container and the smell lingered around the kitchen for a while.

3) Ribs in cooker.  Sauce on top.  10 hours.  That’s the extent of it.  At the end, you will need to skim quite a bit of fat off the top.

4) I didn’t love them.  I know, bummer, huh?  They smelled amazing, they looked divine, they cozied up beautifully to the bok choy over rice, they were thoroughly enjoyable.  But I didn’t love them.  Maybe I’d love them if they were beef ribs but somehow I don’t think so.

I did, however LOVE the bok choy.  That and the rice I could eat over and over again.  So that said, here is the real star of the show…

Stir-Fried Baby Bok Choy with Golden Garlic and Silky Sauce

(I added some halved baby carrots to this recipe just so there would be something for the kiddies to fall back on)

  • 12 oz baby bok choy (4-5 heads that are 6-7″ long)
  • 1 tbsp oyster sauce (one of the specialties I had to go get, it was in both this and the rib sauce)
  • 1 tbsp low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/2 tsp cornstarch
  • 2 tbsp peanut oil (and again, had to seek that out.  Wow, does peanut oil smell good!)
  • 2 large garlic cloves, sliced very thinly crosswise
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt

Cut the bok choy lengthwise into quarters.  Wash them well by swishing them in a bowl of tepid water, and spin them dry (I shook mine dry, I didn’t feel like breaking out the spinner).

In a small bowl, combine the oyster sauce, broth and cornstarch

In a large, non-stick stir fry pan, heat the peanut oil over medium heat.  When the oil is hot, add the garlic slices and break them up.  Cook, stirring, just until fragrant, about 30 seconds (it smells awesome!)  Add the bok choy to the pan.  Season with the salt and turn the heat up to high.  Using tongs, toss the bok choy with the oil to coat and to distribute the garlic slices.

Cook, rotating and turning the bok choy with the tongs and spreading it out so that all of the stems have some contact with the pan as they cook, and so that the garlic doesn’t all gather on the bottom of the pan, until all of the bok choy stems are browned in parts (9 to 12 minutes).

Remove the pan from the heat and, using a silicone spatula, immediately stir the sauce as you pour it into the pan.  As soon as the sauce thickens and begins to coat the vegetables, transfer to the bok choy and the sauce to a serving dish.

Delicious.  The bok choy was crisp and savory, perfect with the sweetness of the carrots, and the sauce is indeed silky.  Really loved this dish.

Veal Stew

“Well, you all,” Polly said, “I’ve got another of those awful reading seminars downtown and I must dash.”

“Oh, darling,” Wendy said, “must you?  You’ve barely gotten here.”

“I must,” said Polly.  “I’m seeing you for lunch tomorrow anyway, Mum, so you’ll have tons of me.  These seminars are boring but invaluable, I’m afraid.”

She went around the table kissing everyone good-bye…She kissed her husband on the top of his fragrant head.  “Henry, don’t let the children eat another thing until I get home except for a glass of milk and a cookie at four.  I’ll be home by six.  At five-thirty take the brown crock out of the fridge and put it into the oven.  It’s veal stew…Good-bye, everybody.”

–Laurie Colwin, Family Happiness, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1982

Family Happiness is one of my absolute favorite books ever – a beautiful portrait of domestic life and a frank, flawed love story (it’s actually not a reading seminar; Polly is going to meet her lover).

In my slow-cooker book is this wonderful-sounding recipe for lemony veal stew with chickpeas and spinach.  I hardly ever eat veal:  formula-fed could break your heart, and organic, milk-fed, free-range veal costs a fortune.  But at last, I found some of the latter on sale and could finally try this stew.

It follows a very classic formula of preparation, much like the chicken stew or beef carbonnade.  You dredge the meat in seasoned flour and brown it in batches.  You then brown your vegetables, add the seasoned flour, deglaze the pan, dump it all in the cooker and let time do the rest.  This came out as wonderful as it sounded:  filling for a chilly fall day but still bright and fresh-flavored from the lemon and herbs.  Plus, because I only had 1 1/2 pounds of meat instead of the required 3, it was the perfect amount of food:  there is none left.  Now I will be snapping up organic veal whenever I see it.

Lemony Veal Stew with Chickpeas and Spinach

  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 3 pounds boneless veal shoulder, cut into 1 1/2″ cubes for stew
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 celery rib diced
  • 1/2 bag baby carrots, left whole (my addition because I cannot conceive of stew without carrots)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary leaves
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 cup white whine
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 15-oz can chick peas, drained and rinsed (because I only had half the meat in the recipe, I used two cans of peas)
  • Juice and grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 6-oz bag baby spinach, coarsely chopped

Mix flour, salt and pepper in a medium bowl or ziplock bag.  Add the veal and toss until the meat is evenly coated.  Shake off the excess flour and reserve seasoned flour.

Heat half the olive oil in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the veal in batches and brown lightly on all sides.  Transfer each batch to slow cooker.

Add the rest of the oil to the skillet.  Add onion, celery, and carrots and saute over medium heat until tender, but not browned, about 3 minutes.  Add the garlic, rosemary, thyme and ginger and stir once or twice.  Add the reserved seasoned flour, stirring until the vegetables are well coated.  Add the wine and chicken broth and bring to a boil, stir until slightly thickened.  Pour over the veal.  Add the chickpeas, lemon juice and zest, and bay leaf.  Stir to combine and cover.  Cook 3-4 hours on high, or 6-8 hours on low.

Stir in the spinach and cook for 1-2 minutes, until spinach is wilted.

Serve.

Die.

 

Slow-dance Chicken

I started writing “Slow-Cooked Chicken” but I guess I had something on my mind because it came out slow-dance.  Anyway.

I’ve had this recipe dog-eared for a while because it struck me as what the disastrous maiden voyage of David Crockpott was SUPPOSED to have been:  an attractive dish of tender chicken and vegetables.  Key word attractive.

So I made it tonight.  This is how it looks in the book photograph:

But it didn’t come out looking that way for me.  Because my chicken all slid off the bone and when slow-cooked chicken slides off the bone, it shreds.  Especially the white meat.  So while it was totally delicious, it didn’t have the same eye appeal as the book picture, at least not for me.  But I can live with that.  Because it really was delicious.

Slow-Cooked Chicken Dinner

  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup All-Purpose Spice Rub (see below)
  • 1 roasting chicken, about 7lbs, or equal amount cut-up chicken
  • 1 1/2 pounds golden or red-skin potatoes, quartered (I used the red and the skins turn a very depressing color.  You may as well use golden)
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
  • 1 large onion, cut into chunks
  • 24 baby-cut carrots (I used 30.  Ha!)
  • 4 celery ribs, cut into 3/4″ lengths (Use a ruler.  Ha!)
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 3 tablespoons instant mashed potato flakes (stay with me, you’ll see.  It’s genius)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

All-Purpose Spice Rub

  • 2 tsbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp dry mustard
  • 1 tsp ground dried sage
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp dried rosemary
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper.

Mix all in a small bowl, makes 1/4 cup.

Boil the potatoes in several quarts of salted water for 5 minutes.  Drain and place in the slow cooker.

Mix the flour and spice rub in a medium mixing bowl.  If using whole chicken, cut into 6 pieces and remove skin from all except for wings.  Remove wing tips.  Dredge chicken pieces in the flour mixture until thoroughly coated; pat off the excess flour and reserve the flour  mixture

Heat half the oil in a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat.  Brown the chicken on both sides, working in batches, about 4 minutes a side.  Transfer to a plate and set aside.

Add the remaining oil to the skillet.  Add the onion, carrot, and celery and saute until lightly browned, about 5 minutes.  Add the reserved seasoned flour and stir until vegetables are coated.  Add the wine and bring to a boil.  Add the chicken broth and simmer until slightly thickened.  Pour into the cooker.  Arrange first dark meat pieces, then white meat on top of the vegetables.  Cover and cook for 3 to 4 hours on high, or 5 to 6 hours on low.

Remove chicken to a serving platter and surround with the vegetables.  Turn the cooker up to high, stir in the instant mashed potato flakes, and continue stirring until gravy thickens.  Stir in the parsley and spoon over the chicken.

I served it over polenta.  Very reminiscent of my mother’s baked chicken with polenta from my childhood.  Awesome fall fare.

It just doesn’t look good…

If you want my Gravy, Pepper my Ragu….

“If you want my gravy, pepper my ragu.

Spice it up for Mama….she’ll get hot for you.”

–Matron “Mama” Morton, from Chicago, Kander & Ebb

So Frank is doing well and on the mend and, frankly, she is amazing.  So was her refrigerator the first week after her surgery.  You opened the door and the Hallelujia chorus played.  But of course:  when someone we love is in need of comfort or sustenance, or in the midst of healing, what do we do?  We bring food.

When I miscarried a baby in 2002, my parents were there in an hour with a pot of chicken soup.  Frank came a day later with hot chicken sandwiches from Boston Market.  Chicken is a no-brainer for comfort.  Someone in trouble?  Broken heart?  Troubled soul?  Stuffy nose?   I must roast a chicken.

When I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2003 (it was a bad couple of years, don’t ask) my friend Becky showed up at my kitchen door with pyrex containers filled with barbecued chicken, potato salad and brownies.   This combination of foods might mean “picnic” to most people, but to me, they will always be Becky and her firm, clear loyalty and love, at my kitchen door in my time of need.

For healing properties, however, you must go with slightly heartier stuff.  I made my turkey meatballs for Frank, two ways: medium-sized ones plain, and tiny ones in wedding soup.  I brought that over with some grilled vegetables and a loaf of ciabatta.  This all paled in comparison to what her neighbor had bestowed earlier in the day:  mozzarella-stuffed meatballs in gravy.

Gravy.

Now when I say gravy, I don’t mean the sauce for roast chicken or pot roast.  I mean gravy like the Italians mean it on Sundays.  Ragù if you want to get technical, but it’s gravy.

GRAVY!!!

Frank, her husband (I need a name and I’m caught between spouse-of-Frank and Frankenstein) and I have been talking about and trying to dissect this completely amazing gravy for ten days now.  And no, the recipe is not simply given out to the mere mortals.  I’ve been scouring recipes in the slow-cooker books I own and searching online to try and replicate the holy and wholly secret gravy of Frank’s neighbor.  It had layers of meat in it: chicken and short ribs and possibly sausage, suspended in rich tomato sauce.  Possibly it had crack in it as well, I’m just saying.

So what I ended up with is a mongrel recipe that picked and chose between recipes I found online, and a ragù from my slow-cooker book.  It’s still open to interpretation and tweaking, and I don’t know if you could call it authentic.  But it tasted pretty damn good, therefore I will call it mine.

Mongrel Ragù 

(And you must sing “ragù” in the style of old Yahoo commercials:  Ragùuuuuuuuuuuuuu-hù!!)

  • 1 pound sweet Italian sausage
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 1 pound steak tips cut into 1/2″ pieces (or short ribs, trimmed, which I didn’t have but would have used)
  • 2 onions , chopped medium
  • 2 carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 2 celery ribs, sliced
  • 12 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 6-oz can tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 1 28-oz can diced tomatoes, with juice
  • 1 15-oz can tomato sauce
  • 2 cups chicken or beef broth or tomato juice
  • 2 tablespoons each chopped fresh basil and parsley

Heat 2 tsp olive oil in heavy skillet over medium-high heat.  Squeeze sausage out of its casings and brown well in skillet, breaking up with the side of a wooden spoon.  I don’t know why, but I find breaking up sausage with the side of my wooden spoon to be an extremely tedious chore.  Remove sausage to paper-towels to drain, then place in slow cooker.

In the rendered sausage fat, brown the chicken thighs 3-4 minutes each side.  Add to slow cooker.

Season steak tips with salt and pepper, then brown in the skillet in batches.  Don’t crowd the pan or it will steam the meat, not brown it.  Put  meat in slow cooker.

Deglaze the pan with the red wine, scraping up bits from the bottom with the wooden spoon (which I never find to be a tedious chore).  Pour wine over meat in cooker.

Add another tablespooon olive oil to skillet and heat.  Saute onion, garlic, celery, carrot, oregano, and rosemary until vegetables lose their raw look, about 3-4 minutes.  Add can of tomato paste and stir until vegetables are coated well.  Cook another 2-3 minutes and then add to slow cooker on top of the meat.

Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, and broth (or tomato juice) to cooker.

Cover and set to Low for 8 to 10 hours.  Then walk away.  Just walk away.  You want the longest cooking time you can: mine went from 1PM to 10PM and it was a beautiful thing.

Before serving, skim fat off surface, and stir in chopped parsley and basil.  Serve over pasta or polenta, or just eat a bowlful by itself.  That’s what I did for lunch.

Yum.  Oh very very yum.  Yes indeed.  Can we get in closer, please?

Thank you.