Make It: Slow Cooker Bean Soup

 

Sometimes, at the end of the month like most families, funds can get tight. Many people try to make simple recipes or end up settling for sandwiches or canned soup for dinner until they get the next paycheck, but I’m here to tell you that healthy eating doesn’t have to be expensive or time consuming.

I am a firm believer in the power of the slow cooker. When using canned vegetables and subtle flavors, cooking your dishes “low and slow” (i.e. at lower to medium heat for longer periods of time) is really the way to go to ensure deep, engrained flavors and thicker broths with more tender meat and veggies.

That said, I started making this soup a few years ago when I was tight on funds but wanted to make sure I stayed on the healthy track. Stocking up in advance on canned veggies, beans, dry pasta, and grains when there are sales is one of the key pilars to keeping a stocked and healthy kitchen. That way, when life gets hectic and you have to stretch a bit to make ends meet, a yummy dinner is only a few minutes away and really all you need is some creativity to make things work.

This soup is delicious, and only gets better with the longer it stays cooking slowing in the slow cooker. It also has affectionately gained the name of “garbage” or “pantry” stew because its very forgiving and you can add basically any veggies you have into it, along with any meat you prefer.

Slow Cooker Bean Soup:

  • 2 cans of kidney beans, undrained
  • 1 can of cannellini beans, undrained
  • 2 cans of sweet corn kernels, undrained
  • 2 cans of seasoned chopped stewed tomatoes (can use unseasoned, its up to you.)
  • 1 fresh chopped yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 fresh chopped sweet red pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 fresh chopped sweet yellow pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 cup of quinoa, dried and uncooked (can also use rice here, if you don’t have quinoa)
  • 1 cup of water, to help plump the quinoa
  • 1 tablespoon of dried basil
  • 1 tablespoon of dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon of dried thyme
  • 1 tablespoon of garlic salt
  • salt and pepper

Combine all ingredients in your slow cooker and place it on low heat, letting it cook anywhere from 4 to 12 hours. Add as much of the dried seasoning as you see fit, as that the flavor will be subtle with all the veggies. You can also add hot sauce or any assortment of peppers if you need to kick up the heat. ( My mom hates hot spices, so I kept mine mild, letting people individually season their bowls as they saw fit.) The soup ends up with the thickness of a light chili, due to letting the veggie juices from the beans stay in the mix.

Serve it by itself, with cheese sprinkled over it, with sour cream, with hot sauce, or my favorite: poured over freshly baked cornbread!

Thanks and happy eats,

Lisa

Where in the World is The Hearty Serving: New Orleans 2013

 

In desperate need of a good getaway, two of my good friends and I decided to take a a ladies trip to New Orleans. While seeing the sights and nightlife of Bourbon and Frenchmen Street, we collected some great stories and met some fun people along the way. Absolutely jetlagged, but the trip was worth it!

(Sorry to disappoint – not much food or recipes to go with this post – just wanted to update with why I’ve been so silent. A recipe to come soon!)

Thanks and happy (southern) eats,

Lisa

Make It: Vermicelli Noodle Bowl

In an effort to reuse some of the noodles and veggies that I used yesterday for my Thai Fresh Spring Rolls, I chose to make another favorite and a close relative of what I made yesterday: a Vermicelli Noodle Bowl.

Vermicelli Noodle Bowl:

Sauce:

  • 1/4 cup white vinegar
  • 1/4 cup fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Shrimp and Noodles:

  • 1/2 teaspoon canola oil
  • 2 tablespoons chopped shallots
  • 2 skewers
  • 8 medium shrimp, with shells
  • 1 (8 ounce) package rice vermicelli noodles
  • 1 cup finely chopped lettuce
  • 1 cup bean sprouts
  • 1 English cucumber, cut into 2-inch matchsticks
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped pickled carrots
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped diakon radish
  • 3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped Thai basil
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
  • 1/4 cup crushed peanuts

Whisk together vinegar, fish sauce, sugar, lime juice, garlic, and red pepper flakes in small bowl. Set the sauce aside.

Heat vegetable oil a small skillet over medium heat. Add shallots; cook and stir and softened and lightly caramelized, about 8 minutes. Preheat an outdoor grill for medium heat and lightly oil the grate. Skewer 4 shrimp on each skewer and grill until they turn pink and are charred on the outside, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Set aside.

Note: I used the precooked shrimp that you can buy at the fish and poultry counter at the market, saves time and you don’t have to worry about extra fat since all they do is boil it. I also used some of the noodles that I already had prepared, so it can be thrown together in a matter of minutes.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add vermicelli noodles and cook until softened, 12 minutes. Drain noodles and rinse with cold water, stirring to separate the noodles.

Assemble the vermicelli bowl by placing the cooked noodles in one half of each serving bowl and the lettuce and bean sprouts in the other half. Top each bowl with cucumbers, carrots, daikon, cilantro, Thai basil, mint, peanuts, and the caramelized shallots. Serve with shrimp skewers on top and sauce on the side. Pour sauce over the top and toss thoroughly to coat before eating. (I microwaved my sauce for about 40 seconds to make it warm before tossing it in with my noodles, makes all the difference.)

Thanks and happy eats,

Lisa

 

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Make It: Thai Fresh Spring Rolls

In trying to be healthier, I wanted to eat clean while trying other types of ethnic cooking (thus making lentils a few weeks ago.)

So, this week, I thought I would try making one of my Thai favorites: Fresh Spring Rolls with tofu and shrimp, complete with Soy Ginger dipping sauce. Really not too hard to do, it just takes patience and finess when dealing with the sticky rice paper wrappers. Safeway surprisingly had everything I was looking for, but most of these ingredients can be found at your local Asian market or online.

Thai Fresh Spring Rolls:

  • 5 ounces thin rice stick noodles
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce, divided
  • 1/2 pound unpeeled small shrimp, cleaned and cooked
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 large cucumber, unpeeled, seeded, and cut into matchsticks
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and grated
  • 3/4 cup fresh cilantro
  • 3/4 cup fresh mint
  • 3/4 cup fresh basil
  • 12 (8 1/2-inch) round rice paper wrappers

Note: If you like your rolls spicier, you can also add some chili paste to the inside of the wrapper. These rolls are pretty forgiving so if you want to add any other veggies like lettuce, sliced peppers, or sliced mushrooms, feel free. DO NOT overstuff your rolls; the paper is a fragile creature and can easily rip if the stuffing is too intense. This recipe was adapted and modified from Alton Brown’s recipe for spring rolls, but feel free to add your own spin on it as well.

Soy Ginger Dipping Sauce:

  • 1/2 cup low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons finely grated ginger
  • 2 tablespoons chopped green onion
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil

 

 

Soak the rice sticks in enough hot water to cover by 1 inch for 10 – 15 minutes, until soft and pliable but not overly mushy.

Bring 1/2 gallon of water to a boil in a large pot set over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon soy sauce. Add the shrimp and cook until just firm, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove the cooked shrimp to a cutting board and cool for 3 minutes. When cool enough to handle, peel, devein, and coarsely chop. Set aside.

Return the water-soy sauce to a boil. Drain the rice stick noodles and add to the hot soy-water. Cook until tender, approximately 3 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk the lime juice, remaining 1 tablespoon soy sauce, chili paste, and sugar together in a medium mixing bowl.

Drain the noodles in a colander. Add the noodles to the lime juice mixture, toss, and set aside while preparing the vegetables.

Toss the cucumber, carrot, cilantro, and mint together in a small bowl.

Fill a pie dish with warm water. Dip 1 rice paper wrapper into the water for 10 seconds, then transfer to a cutting board until the wrapper is pliable and slightly tacky, approximately 1 minute. Best to do it one at a time, to make sure that the wrappers don’t stick to each other.

Place 1/4 cup of the vegetable mixture on the bottom 1/3 of the wrapper nearest to you. Spoon 2 tablespoons chopped shrimp on top of the vegetables. Top with 1/4 cup noodles. Bring the bottom edge of the wrap tightly over the filling, and then fold in the 2 sides. Finish rolling from bottom to top until the entire wrapper is rolled. Be careful not to tear the rice paper. Place on a parchment-lined half sheet pan and cover with a damp tea towel. Repeat with the remaining wrappers until the filling is gone. Serve with Soy Ginger Dipping Sauce or your favorite Peanut Sauce.

Don’t get me wrong: the first few rolls were definitely not pretty. Once you get the rhythm down, your rolls should start to look more like the rolls you see at your local Thai restaurant. Work in progress but I think for the first time making them from scratch, it was definitely a win!

Thanks and happy eats,

Lisa

Make It: English Vanilla Sugar Scones

Most people don’t know this but making scones is about the easiest baking thing in the world, and the recipe is generally very forgiving. You can add basically any small or dried fruit to the mixture to give it your own special twist, but I chose to go classic. A few weeks ago, my boyfriend and I went to a wine tasting event where we stumbled upon a local business called 2 English Ladies and picked up some legit lime curd and clotted cream. Best way to be british in a jiff!

English Vanilla Sugar Scones:

  • 2 cups self raising flour
  • ½ stick cold butter ( feel free to add a whole stick if you want fluffier scones.)
  • 1 level tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp sal
  • ½ cup of milk, any kind (higher the dairy fat, the creamier the scone.)
  • 1 egg beaten with a little milk
  • ½ tablespoon vanilla

Preparation:

Heat the oven to 400°F. Grease and flour a baking sheet. Sieve the flour into a roomy baking bowl then add the butter, baking powder and salt. Quickly rub the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Make a well in the center and using a dinner knife, stir in enough milk to make a soft, pliable dough. Turn the mixture on to a floured board and knead very lightly until just smooth. Roll out small-medium balls and place them on your baking sheet. If you have parchment paper, I recommend using that. If not, greasing a tray the regular way with your favorite type of butter, cooking spray, or olive oil spray would work too. Place on the baking tray and brush with the beaten egg and milk mixture, sprinkle the tops with a little sugar to add a little baked sweetness and crunch. Bake near the top of the hot oven for 15 minutes or until golden brown and well risen. (It might take as long as 25 minutes, depending on the density of your scones.)
Cool on a wire rack before eating. Serve with butter, or lashings of jam and cream. (Or with your favorite fruit curd and clotted cream!)

Worth the baking, makes a great snack, tea time treat, or breakfast.

 

Thanks and happy eats,

Lisa

Local Shoutout: La Penca Azul (Formerly La Pinata #3)

Throughout the Bay Area, Mexican restaurants old and new are a dime a dozen. But finding a good one with quality ingredients, culinary expertise, and old family recipes with new inspiration that come through on every plate is a much rarer find. Enter here: La Penca Azul.

Formerly part of the La Pinata chain, the owners decided to split off and make their main Alameda location into it’s own thing. La Penca Azul, which means The Blue Petal referring to the tequila making process, has a fantastic, rather lengthy menu and a full service tequila bar with a great selection of tequilas local and from all over the latin world.

One of my favorites, pictured above, is the “Joyce special:” fresh sautéed shrimp, a filet of tilapia, and lots of fresh veggies. Perfect away to enjoy the mexican flavors without all the carbs. If you’re around the area and need a quality margarita and street style tacos, I highly recommend a visit.

Thanks and happy eats,

Lisa

Local Shoutout: Bar Dogwood

Hear ye, hear ye: looking for quality cured meats, delicious cocktails and spirits, and gourmet cheeses? Surprisingly, I found all three hidden in a little gem in Oakland: Bar Dogwood.

Right off of the busy streets Broadway and Telegraph, this little spot is worth the visit. Luckily, my friend and I made it over for a visit earlier in the evening so we managed to chat a bit with the bartender, but Yelp has it for a record that it gets pretty slammed as evenings go on and even worse to standing-room-only-sardine-squished-status on weekends. The Oaklanders like their cured meats!

We tried their combined meat and cheese plate, and although I’d wish the portions were bigger, it was enough to split nicely between two people. Next time you’re looking for a nice change of scene with a downtown, gourmet vibe, try this place out. You and your meat-enjoying tastebuds won’t regret it.

Thanks and happy eats,

Lisa