Tag Archives: slow cooker

The Best Laid Plains: Unexpected Chicken Goulash

IMG_8421On Sunday, at our local Hannaford, I came across a deal that I couldn’t resist: Nature’s Place whole chicken for 99 cents per pound. I bought two, thinking I would get more later during the week. However, when I went back, they were sold out. Moral of story: When there is a good sale, stock up then and there. Don’t wait.

Ah, well. At least I got two, and this week, I was able to get three meals out of a five pound chicken that cost, of course, $5. The first day, I cooked the chicken our favorite way in the slow cooker, with the chicken on top of potatoes and carrots and spiced with sage, thyme, salt, pepper, and garlic. I always add 1/2 cup of water to the vegetables so that I have more drippings for later use, often in a soup for added flavor, and that was my plan for this chicken.

However, you know what Robert Burns had to say about the best laid plans of mice and men. Mine certainly went awry. I put the chicken, vegetables, water, and spices in the slow cooker, set it on high, and left for the afternoon to visit friends and do errands. Clif was working at home that day, but I forgot to tell him to turn the slow cooker to low by midafternoon.

When I came home late afternoon, the chicken was what you might call well cooked. Very well cooked. In fact, the carcass more or less collapsed when I removed the chicken from the slow cooker, and there would be no using those bones for a soup. Fortunately, whole chicken cooked in a slow cooker is forgiving, and the meat was still moist.

But what to do with the leftover chicken, vegetables, and drippings? A goulash, I decided the next day, served over noodles and topped with roasted almonds.

I measured the drippings—I had a cup and a half—and added enough milk to make two cups. (The night before, I had put the drippings in a bowl in the refrigerator. The next day, I scraped off the fat, heated the drippings, and measured how much I had.) I made a roux using four tablespoons of butter, four tablespoons of flour, and some salt and pepper. Into the roux I whisked the milk and drippings mixture. I stirred until the mixtures thickened, and it made a line on the back of my wooden spoon. I added the vegetables and potatoes, stirring frequently until the mixture was hot.

While the goulash was heating, I cooked some egg noodles. Then in a frying pan I dry roasted some sliced almonds to go on top of the goulash. Clif was on salad detail. Somehow, a green salad was the perfect accompaniment to this hearty meal.

The results? Pretty good, my Yankee husband pronounced, and he went back for seconds.

Now, this meal is not what you would call elegant, and I probably wouldn’t serve it to guests, but it was tasty and filling and economical. With that $5 chicken, I got three meals for two people, and Clif always has seconds. It’s one of his weaknesses. The goulash also went together pretty quickly, an added bonus during the spring when so much of my time is spent outside.

Even though my best laid plans went awry, the resulting second plans were not too bad. Good enough so that sometime in May, when I’m in full gardening frenzy, I will do exactly the same thing with the second chicken I bought for 99 cents a pound—a chicken dinner one night and goulash the next two nights.

Let’s hear it for mice and men. And women, too.

 

Southwestern White Bean Soup to Make on a Reluctant Spring Day

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Farmer Kev’s vegetables, frozen then thawed

Clif and I love soup, and living in Maine gives us the opportunity to eat soup nine months of the year. (I’m counting June, which is often rainy and cool.)  Soup has so many things in its favor. A bowl of soup is warm and filling and comforting. It is forgiving and lends itself well to improvisation. Soup is often low in calories and usually can be made in a slow cooker. As if all this weren’t enough, most soups are very economical to make. Yes, indeed. There is a lot to like about soup.

Thanks to Farmer Kev and his winter CSA share, I have packets and packets of frozen vegetables in my freezer. Soups are the perfect way to use frozen peppers, beans, and zucchini, and over the winter, I’ve made quite a dent in those packets.

Last week, I was in the mood for a Southwestern soup. I had everything I needed—dried white beans, Farmer Kev’s frozen vegetables, onion, garlic, spices, tomato paste, and soy sauce, which I put in many soups to give them more of that coveted umami flavor. I also had some chicken sausage and chicken broth.

I seldom use canned beans, which always taste tinny to me. I much prefer the flavor of beans I cook myself, and since I am home all day, I have ample time to soak the beans overnight and then simmer them the next morning. For this recipe, I soaked two cups of white beans, which gave me about six cups of cooked beans. ( If time is of the essence, then by all means use canned beans. The soup will still be good.)

Basically, I chopped the vegetables into small bits, browned the sausage, and threw everything, including beans and spices, into the slow cooker. By the time Clif came home from work, the house was fragrant with the smell of bubbling soup—-another point in soup’s favor that I forget to mention in my opening paragraph.

I made a huge slow cooker full of the soup, thinking I would freeze some if we grew tired of eating it. However, this didn’t happen. We gladly ate the soup for three nights—Clif always has seconds—and didn’t mind one bit.

Soup, soup, soup!

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Southwestern White Bean and Sausage Soup

Makes 9 generous servings

2 cups of water
1 (32-ounce) box of chicken broth
1 cup of diced carrots
1 cup of green beans, chopped small
1 cup of zucchini, chopped small
1 cup of chopped green peppers
1 medium onion, chopped small
4 cloves of minced garlic
1 1/2 tablespoons of chili powder
1 teaspoon of oregano
1 1/2 teaspoons of cumin
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/4 teaspoon of red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon of salt
6 cups of white beans ( I mashed two cups to give the soup a thicker texture.)
3 tablespoons of tomato paste
Several shakes of soy sauce (Or more depending on taste)

This soup couldn’t be easier. Basically, when everything is chopped and browned, put the ingredients in a slow cooker and let them come to a simmer. On high, this soup takes about four hours. On low, seven or eight hours. When the soup has bubbled for a while, taste it to see if more spices need to be added. Serve with dollops of sour cream, or eat it plain. As you like it.

Biscuits or cornbread make a mighty good accompaniment. If I were serving this to company, I would add chopped cilantro as a garnish.

A “Baked Bean” Lentil Dish

IMG_6746One of my favorite cooking and food websites is Food52, where the emphasis is on unfussy food made with inexpensive ingredients that most home cooks have in their kitchens. There are also many vegan and vegetarian dishes, and this goes in the direction in which Clif and I are heading with food. We are both very much concerned with overpopulation, limited resources on our finite planet, and living lightly. (I plan to explore the living lightly concept in future posts, and I am currently reading a book with the apt title Living Lightly.)

Lately, I have become enamoured with red lentils, which are not as, ahem, earthy as the brown lentils. (I have uncharitably referred to the flavor of brown lentils as “muddy,” and Clif is not a fan of them, either.) For our Labor Day get together, I made curried red lentils in my slow cooker—thanks, Susan Poulin, for the terrific recipe!—and they were a big hit. It was the first time I had used red lentils, rather than brown, and I was hooked by their smooth, subtle flavor. Red lentils, I knew, would become a staple at the little house in the big woods as we turn to a plant-based diet.

Therefore when Joe Beef’s Lentils Like Baked Beans recipe was featured on Food52, and I saw the primary ingredient was red lentils, I decided to try it.  I did make some changes. I did not use bacon. No explanation needed, I think. Rather than cooking the lentils on the stove, I cooked them in a slow cooker, which thanks to Shari Burke’s encouragement has become my favorite little appliance. I just tossed everything into the slow cooker, let it come to boil on high, and then turned it down to low so that it could simmer until supper time. I also added more cider vinegar, maple syrup, and ketchup.

Finally, I served it over rice, which is the way I prefer most bean and lentil dishes. While I like lentils and beans, they can set heavy, especially at night, and I find rice lightens the dish. I also sprinkled ground peanuts on top, because, well, nuts and lentils go together like apple and pie.

The results? The lentils did taste a little baked beans, although nobody would ever confuse the two. “Pretty good,” Clif said, going back for seconds. Perhaps not company good—somehow the dish lacked the pizazz I look for when cooking for a gathering—but certainly good enough for a Tuesday night supper. And good enough to make again.

Then there is the price. I figured I used about $2.50 worth of lentils, which were organic. The other ingredients—maple syrup, cider vinegar, dried mustard, oil, onion, garlic, and ketchup—I had on hand, and the small amounts I used certainly didn’t come to more than a dollar or two. There were rice and ground peanuts—again, no more than a dollar or two, and I expect I am estimating on the high side. Even erring on the high side, say, $6 or $7 dollars for the whole meal, which would easily feed six, makes this an extremely economical dish that would fit in with most people’s budgets, even when they are tiny, like ours.

Among foodies, nutritionists, and activists, there has been much talk about the cost of healthy eating in the U.S. , and rightly so. According to the American Institute for Economic Research, food prices have risen 44 percent over the past fourteen years. And salaries? Well, not so much. Nevertheless, in comparison with beef and pork, lentils and other legumes are a great bargain.

For confirmed carnivores, making the transition from meat to legumes is probably not an easy one. However, for those of us with more flexible palates, eating more beans and lentils is a tasty way to eat lower on the food chain. Right now, I have a good supply of black beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, and lentils. I will be adding other beans to my stockpile, and I’ll be experimenting with various meatless recipes so that our diet is varied and satisfying.

Stay tuned!