1030 Beef Barley Soup

Despite my previous enthusiasm, I’ve decided that I’m done with this recipe.  It’s just – boring. And it makes WAY TOO MUCH. And those two things are a bad combination in my book.  Let me back up.

Beef, barley, and leek soup from Smitten Kitchen
Photo by citymama

The weather was brisk today, and I anticipated spending most of the day helping my friend Olivia move into her new house. I knew I wouldn’t want to have to think about dinner when I got home – and that Shane wouldn’t be home until later either. In hopes of avoiding a fast food dinner and also stocking the fridge for a week of solo eating, I took half an hour to prep dinner and get it in the crockpot before leaving for the day.

After a morning of heavy lifting and maneuvering, a fair amount of pizza, and an invigorating moped blast around town, I arrived home not particularly hungry despite the wonderful smells coming out of the crockpot. I turned the temperature down and took a long hot bath. I read for a while. I pulled the short ribs out of the crockpot, coarsely chopped the meat, and added it back into the soup. And then I measured out THREE QUARTS, ONE PINT, AND ONE SMALL BOWL of beef barley soup.

Make that boring beef barley soup. I’m finding that it’s really difficult to accurately season large quantities of liquid destined to be in the crockpot for several hours. I’m not shy with seasoning, but I am concerned about over seasoning when the cooking is going to take place when I’m not around. As a result, this soup was a total snooze. I’m going to pick up some sherry to see if it will improve the flavor profile – but even if it does, we are going to be eating this soup all winter. How boring.

Beef, Leek, and Barley Soup from Smitten Kitchen


1026 Old Reliable Pound Stew

After the mixed bag that was our last batch of crock pot stew, I was craving an old standard.  I wanted Grandma’s stew, not some fancy concoction from Bon Appetit.  The sort of thing that you could trust would appear at a tailgate back when I was small and they still had season tickets near the 50 yard line at Kinnick.

Grandma's Tailgate Stew

I didn’t quite make Grandma’s stew today – thus avoiding the 1 1/2 shakes mystery.  What went into the crock pot was closer to “pound stew”, a recipe almost as easy to remember as pound cake: a pound of meat, a pound each of several vegetables, and a bit of gravy to pull it all together.  Shane’s only complaint was that it could use more seasoning, which I’m sure we’ll work out in the long winter ahead of us.

Pound Stew
Adapted from Kay Fesenmeyer’s recipe and from the Complete Slow Cooker Cookbook
1 lb beef stew meat, cut into 1″ cubes
1 lb carrots, peeled, and chopped into 1″ pieces
1 lb potatoes, chopped into 1″ cubes
1 lb tomatoes, diced
1 lb boiling onions, or quartered yellow onions
1 lb mushrooms (didn’t use this time but really want to next time)
1 tbsp oil or bacon fat (we used the latter)
1/4 cup flour
1-2 cups chicken or beef stock
2 tbsp corn starch
salt and freshly ground pepper

Dredge the beef cubes in flour, shaking off the excess. In a medium non-stick pan, warm the fat over medium-high heat, then add the beef and brown on all sides, ~5 minutes. Don’t worry about getting it cooked through, as it’s going to be in the crock pot all day.

Add everything but the corn starch to the crock pot, give it a good stir, and turn the heat to low. Go about your business for 8-10 hours. When you get home, whisk the corn starch in a bowl with a small amount of water, then stir into the liquid in the crock pot. At this point you have two options: turn the crock pot up to high, or carefully pour the liquid into a saucepan to reduce. I’d recommend the latter, as it is faster and also easier to whisk, thereby reducing the likelihood of getting a big blob of cornstarch in your bowl. Don’t worry if a few chunks of food end up in the saucepan – a few extra minutes on the heat isn’t going to hurt them. When the liquid has reduced to a gravy-like consistency, add it back to the pot, and serve with crusty bread to the hungry masses. As presented, this should make about 8 generous portions.

1013 25 Cloves of Garlic in the Crockpot

It doesn’t happen often, but occasionally I’ll make a dish that that Shane enjoys more with nearly every bite. Tonight’s chicken was one of those dishes.

This recipe was adapted from one I found on A Year of Slow Cooking and modified based on recipes in the same vein. The original recipe called for paprika and no extra liquid, while the Barefoot Contessa called for wine, Cognac, heavy cream, and fresh herbs for a luxurious sauce. Alton Brown‘s version called for 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil, making it sound more like fried and then baked chicken. I skipped the excess fat in both alternate versions, but did riff on their spicing, subbing ras el hanout for the paprika and adding fresh herbs from the garden. All of that plus the chicken, garlic, and onion went into the crockpot before I left for work at 7.

We came home to a house that smelled amazing. The onions and garlic had charred a bit – 8 hours in the crockpot was a bit too long, so I recommend 7 hours – but the chicken was terrifically moist and flavorful.  I served it with crusty bread and sauteed mushrooms and wee summer squash.  Totally simple, totally delicious, and with every bite, Shane made more noises of happiness, finally proclaiming that next time we have to make the full chicken because two legs and thighs definitely wasn’t enough.  That’s what I like to hear!

25 Clove Garlic Chicken
Adapted from Slow Cooker 20 to 40 Clove Garlic Chicken

3-4 pound chicken, cut up (2 legs and thighs served 3 people)
2 yellow onions, sliced
25+ cloves garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon ras el hanout
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon fresh oregano or thyme
2 teaspoons kosher salt (believe it or not, I measured this out)
1 teaspoon pepper

Place onions in the bottom of a large crockpot, then top with garlic cloves. Place the chicken pieces on top, then dust with half of the spices. Flip the chicken over and dust with the rest of the spices. Cover your crockpot and cook on low for 7 hours – less if you’re using chicken off the bone.

0929 This and That

I’ll return to our regularly scheduled programming tomorrow, but for today, I thought I’d touch on a few things outside the normal scope of this project.  Oh, and we had macaroni and cheese tonight – Annie’s, the stuff with the “sharp cheddar” cheese powder.  Shane also sauteed a couple of sausages, which were the best thing about the meal.  Neither of us liked the “cheese”, despite normally liking Annie’s.

First: Crock Pots.  It seems to be the season to buy one, inherit one, or remember that you have one and wonder what to do with it.  We each brought a crock pot to the relationship, though neither of us used ours all that regularly.  We now have one, and it is brought out very infrequently, but when we do use it, it’s awesome.  I’ve previously blogged about using ours for chili and pulled pork – I also use it to soak and then cook garbanzo beans for hummus.  Whenever I’m asked what to do with a crockpot (or slow cooker – same thing), I point people to A Year of Slow Cooking, which is exactly what it sounds like: one family’s attempt to use their slow cooker(s) every day for a year.  That project ended a year or two ago, but she hasn’t stopped posting recipes, and has also written a slow cooker cookbook.  If you have a crockpot or are considering getting one, I highly recommend her site.

Second: Kitchen Aspirations.  Not Derby Pie posted a list of her New Year’s Resolutions – food and other cooking-related aspirations that she wants to tackle in the next year.  I think this is a great idea, and I’m kicking around my own list.  Among other things, it will include learning to bake other kinds of bread – I can make a mean sandwich loaf, but I dream of baguettes and sourdoughs.  Perhaps a 12 months, 24 loaves project is in order for next year?  Stay tuned!  I’d also love to hear your kitchen or food aspirations in the comments!

Third: This Blog.  Nine months down, three to go on my Kitchen Diaries project.  There are many things I’ve enjoyed about it, not the least of which has been all the great conversations I’ve had with you about what you’re cooking, including the very random encounter at the Homegrown Festival with someone who recognized me from this site (hello!).  I’m sure I won’t stop blogging about what we’re cooking and eating after December 31, but it certainly won’t be as often.

0913 Vegan Chili

I had a damned good cup of chili at Monk’s Kettle, and that, along with Tina’s enthusiasm for her new slow cooker, inspired me to make chili tonight. Well, last night and today, really, as I did all of the prepwork in advance and just dumped a bunch of stuff in the crockpot this morning, leaving a VERY BIG NOTE for Shane to please please pretty please turn the crockpot on when he left for work.

We came home to the hearty aromas of chili. You’ve gotta love walking in the door after a long day and having dinner already done, right? Much less a dinner that smelled and tasted as good as this one. I don’t have a precise recipe, but what I did went something like this:

1 cup dried kidney beans
2-3 medium carrots, sliced into coins
1 bell pepper, diced
2 medium onions, diced
2 cups crimini (or white button) mushrooms, washed and halved
2 cups diced tomato (1 14 oz can or 2 medium tomatoes)
A hearty spoonful each of: tomato paste, cumin, and coriander.
2 dried chilies, chopped, or 2 tsp red pepper flakes
A generous amount of salt and freshly ground pepper

Prep your vegetables the night before. Put your beans in the crockpot and cover them with water. Do NOT turn the crockpot on. Go to bed and get a decent night’s sleep. In the morning, drain and rinse your beans, then put them back in the crockpot and add the rest of the ingredients. Add enough water to barely cover everything. Turn your crockpot on LOW and go to work or otherwise pass 7-8 hours.

We didn’t have any cheese or sour cream or yogurt on hand, but all of these things would be good over your chili. I would recommend cornbread or white rice under your chili, or spaghetti if you’re from Cincinnati. Again, none of these on hand, but we made it work.

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Chili
Photo by flyzipper, whose chili recipe looks damned good as well!

0410 Make Along Bake Along

For some reason, I decided it would be a good idea to participate in a 24 Hour Make-Along just one week before our wedding.  Don’t ask me why.  Shane had a bunch of projects on his slate as well, so today turned into a full day of puttering, baking, bottling, moped-ing, and knitting.  I didn’t finish everything I intended to do – but I did make a few damned good treats!

First, I took on yogurt.  Why would I make yogurt when it’s comparably in/expensive to buy in the store?  Because Olivia makes it look so damned easy!  And also because I like the idea of making my own dairy products – I’ve made cheese in a couple of forms, so yogurt seemed like a good next step.  The process started with some science up in the kitchen:

Making yogurt

The milk took FOREVER to get to the appropriate temperature, but eventually it hit the mark and was ladled into Ball jars and tucked first into an ice water bath, then into the Crock pot-cum-incubation chamber, where it hung out for the rest of the day.  It’s not the best yogurt I’ve ever had, but it definitely is yogurt, and I’m looking forward to eating it with preserves or peaches that I canned last summer.

THEN – actually simultaneously – I made crackers.  My friends and I had these really delicious house-made curry crackers with a warm goat cheese dip at Schlafly Bottleworks last weekend, and I’m determined to crack the recipe.  I figured it best to start with a regular cracker, however, so I tried this recipe from a basic baking cookbook given to me a couple of years ago by my aunt.  This was seriously so easy, even though it did require buying a giant tub of vegetable shortening.  (Apparently the stuff only comes in giant tubs?  Or so it appeared.)  The cracker dough is pulsed together in the food processor, then rests in a big lump for an hour before getting rolled out thin and baked for about 12 minutes.  My crackers went into the oven looking like this:

Crackers before

And came out looking like crackers:

Crackers after

Real crackers!  Like from a box!  Now all I have to do is figure out the right seasoning for the curry crackers – oh, and avoid eating every cracker in the house.

Finally, I took on pita bread again, this time using a recipe from Smitten Kitchen.  Right now it’s hanging out in the fridge, waiting to be baked tomorrow morning for A Very Smitten Kitchen Breakfast.  Fingers crossed for a good result!

Seeded Crackers from Williams Sonoma Essentials of Baking
Yogurt from The Kitchen of Olivia
Pita Bread from Smitten Kitchen

0325 Pulled Pork OMG

I’m not sure how long ago I bookmarked this recipe, but The Time Had Come for pulled pork.  As with the last time I made a crock pot meal, though, I didn’t factor in that The Time would be 6am.

That’s right, if you’d been at our house this morning, you would’ve seen me browning a pork shoulder at 6am in order to get it into the crock pot and me onto the bus on time for a weirdly scheduled day.  It went something like this: start the oil, open cat food cats, put pork shoulder in hot oil, spoon cat food into dishes and distribute, turn pork shoulder, take soaked oats out of the fridge and warm in microwave, turn pork shoulder, chop vegetables between bites of oatmeal, turn pork shoulder, add veg to crock pot, add pork shoulder to crock pot.

Pop open beer.

Do not drink beer.

Use beer to deglaze pan while using hot water to deglaze oatmeal bowl.  Add rest of beer and pan drippings but NOT oatmeal water to crock pot.  Realize that 8 hours from 6:30 is 2:30, which is 2 hours before I’ll be home.  Wake up Shane to tell him to turn the crock pot on when he gets up.  Stick reminder note on bathroom mirror.

Run out the door in time to catch the bus, pick up some coffee, and roll into work at 7:30.  Return after 10 hours to a house resplendent with smells of pulled pork.  Commence drooling.

Amy, Adam, and their two girls – including tiny baby Erica! – joined us for dinner, and we shared the pulled pork, along with crusty Rustic Italian bread from Zingerman’s, a green salad, and my carrot jam, thinned with vinegar to make a slaw (just like I thought it would!).  We also ate cookies and read stories, but I’ll save that for another post.

Pulled Pork from Dinner with Julie

0224 Crock Pot Azorean Spiced Beef Stew

I got smart this time and did the prep for this stew when we got home from the movies Tuesday night – as if the workday’s worth of anticipation wasn’t enough to drive us mad with hunger.  This stew was amazingly flavorful – savory, with a subtle sweetness from the cinnamon sticks that spent all day in a delicious bath of beef stock.  I like eating from this part of the world – the heartiness and subtlety of Iberian food appeal to me in ways that the richness of French cooking or the wide range of Italian cuisine don’t.  Maybe it’s the Camino.  Maybe it’s chorizo.  Maybe I’m just a pork-and-potatoes kind of girl.  Either way, we’ll be making this stew again.

Crock Pot Azorean Spiced Beef Stew from A Year of Slow Cooking

0107 Crock Pot Chicken Makhani

The thing about crock pot meals is that they’re super convenient when you get home on a snowy day and just want to eat. They’re not so convenient when it’s 6:45am and you have to drag your ass out of bed to bone three pounds of chicken thighs and make substitutions for spices that you didn’t realize had run out.  I’m not sure who was the hero of this situation – I did get up to make dinner at 6:45am, but Shane got up to make the coffee and feed the cats so that I could make my 7:30am bus on time.

The recipe called for 8 hours in the pot on low; by the time we made it home in all the snow, it had been going for 9, so the house smelled amazing and but the sauce had caramelized a bit.  I stirred in a cup of yogurt and made a quick bag of brown rice while Shane finished shoveling the sidewalk.  If I were to make this again, I think I’d prefer to have it with basmati rice or naan, and I might leave the bones in the chicken.  I would also add more salt.  A lot more salt.

CrockPot Chicken Makhani from A Year of Slow Cooking