Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Slow Cooker Pinto Bean & Veggie Chili (Dark Days 3)

I'm a little behind with the Dark Days Challenge - I think everyone else is on their 4th or 5th post or so?  But anyway, I'm doing my best, and I managed to squeeze in one more local meal in between finals (my last ever!) and Christmas.  This dish was a chili, entirely local (except for the chili powder and cumin, which if I remember correctly are organic, so there you go) and mostly organic.  After my last Dark Days disaster, I was really excited just to have had this idea (which also uses my slow cooker!), and even more so when it came out so good!

Here's the "recipe" along with my specific sources.  All frozen things were defrosted in the refrigerator overnight.  It made a little over 3 quarts.

Beef, Pinto and Veggie Slow-Cooker Chili

THE NIGHT BEFORE: In a skillet, saute 1 lb ground beef (Cherry Grove Farm) until browned.  Set aside.  In the same skillet, cook 2 chopped medium onions (Whole Foods), stirring occasionally, about 2 minutes.  Add 3 diced small carrots (CSA) and 4 chopped giant garlic cloves (Cherry Grove Organic Farm - a different farm than the ground beef) and cook for about 5 minutes, until the mixture begins to soften.  Add 1 diced red bell pepper (CSA, frozen) and cook for 1-2 minutes.  Add 1 1/4 tsp cumin and 1 Tbsp + 1 tsp mild chili powder, stirring evenly to distribute it.  Turn off the heat and stir in the ground beef.  Let it cool for a few minutes, then put it in a container (ideally glass) and refrigerate overnight.  Pick through, rinse, and soak overnight 2 cups pinto beans (Cayuga Pure Organics).

THE NEXT DAY: In your slow cooker, spread the beef mixture to cover the bottom.  Drain your pinto beans and layer those on top of the beef.  Next, layer ~2 cups corn kernels, from 3 ears of corn (Princeton farmers' market, frozen, probably not organic), ~2 cups 1/2-inch cubes kabocha or other winter squash (CSA, frozen), and ~2 cups zucchini, cut in quarter circles about 1/2 inch thick (CSA, from frozen).  On top of this, pour 2 undrained pint jars fire-roasted tomato pieces (CSA, home canned) and 1 drained pint jar tomatillos (CSA, home canned).  Fill each of the tomato jars with water once, and pour over the pile in the slow cooker (about 4 cups).  Cook on HIGH for 8 hours.  When ready to eat, taste and add ~1 1/2 tsp fine grain sea salt, ~1 Tbsp + 2 tsp chili powder, and/or as much/whatever spices you want, to taste.  Top with grated Garlic Peppercorn Jack cheese (Cherry Grove Farm) to serve.  You can also top with cilantro, which I did have from a local source (Terhune Orchards), but when I finally got to eat at 9pm I just didn't feel like washing and chopping it.

The final product was just slightly more watery than I am used to having in chili - but I really liked that!  The cheese made it even that much better.  And I usually make vegetarian chilis, so the ground beef was a great touch too.  I think this is a great way to eat meat - a small amount of local, grass fed beef surrounded by a ton of local and mostly organic beans and vegetables.  The meat adds a lot to the texture and flavor for such a small input.  After this recipe, I feel a little more confident in my ability to cook without a recipe.  Maybe my best Dark Days meals in the future will be ones that I make up myself.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Fig and Walnut Biscotti

For our annual Cookie Exchange, I chose to make Fig and Walnut Biscotti.  They are super easy, aside from that you have to bake them twice, and addicting.  The flavor combination packs a big punch with orange zest, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg.  They have a pleasant crunch level with figgy soft spots.  I made a quadruple batch (based on the linked recipe - technically it was double the original recipe) and I had to make a second batch before Christmas, because I ate them all!  I can see this becoming one of those recipes that I always make and become somewhat "known for."

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Thai Soba Noodle Bowl

This delicious Thai-inspired noodle bowl came to my attention through this list of "favorites." I had most of the ingredients on hand, needing to pick up only tofu and ginger (and a new bottle of soy sauce/tamari, because we had gotten regular-sodium last time and it was terribly overpowering).  A base of garlic, ginger, lemongrass, shallot, and chile is sauteed, then simmered with coconut milk and water.  To this broth, add mushrooms and cooked soba noodles.  Bake the tofu while this cooks, and top the bowl with the tofu cubes, cilantro, and (my delicious addition) chopped peanuts.  One note of caution: you will splash this on yourself while you eat.  Leftovers are great too.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Quinoa with Roasted Chanterelles, Apples, and Squash

I have never tried chanterelle mushrooms before, so I thought this pretty quinoa bowl would be a great time to have them.  (Let's please ignore the price tag on these mushrooms - I don't even want to talk about it.)  All the ingredients appealed to me - I don't eat quinoa often enough, and winter squash, apples, and red onions are all super tasty.  Unfortunately, I found this to be just a little bit bland.  I used what I felt was a ton of thyme and just a splash more sherry vinegar than instructed, but it could have used a strong flavor that ties it all together.  If I make (something similar to but less pricey than) this again, I think I'll include some sherry vinegar when roasting the squash and apples.  A squeeze of lemon juice might also elevate the dish a bit.  This has inspired me to try to make up my own quinoa bowls to get more of that protein-packed "grain" into my diet.  If I feel the urge to buy chanterelles again, I want to try the Chanterelle Tacos from Super Natural Every Day.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Herbed Bean and Sausage Stew (Dark Days 2)

On Thursday, I took a little shopping trip.  I went to Whole Earth Center, the Princeton farmers market (indoors!), and Whole Foods.  The primary goal of this excursion was to supply myself with local foods for the Dark Days challenge.  I was surprised to see so many vegetables at the farmers' market, and one farmer I spoke with said she hopes to have veggies all winter, since she is growing some cold-weather treats in an unheated greenhouse.  I stocked up on pretty much everything, and my refrigerator is stuffed.  I even got a few pounds of potatoes.  I'm looking forward to taking advantage of this local stash for the challenge.  I even got a bottle of wine from Terhune Orchards - I'm looking forward to basically just drinking it because it tastes SO GOOD!  I think it's a bit too sweet to cook with though.

I also stopped at Whole Earth Center, specifically to get whatever beans and grains they carry from Cayuga Pure Organics.  This farm is in New York State - Google says about 212 miles from my house.  I consider this local enough and having beans and grains certainly expands my options for local meals (like today's).  I ended up going home with Jacob's Cattle beans, pinto beans, and hard red winter wheat berries.  I'm sure Whole Earth Center has other local products as well, which I intend to investigate further when I have a little more free time.  I believe I saw some local flour there so maybe we can add some bread or baked goods to the menu.  At Whole Foods, I was able to get some staples like onions and white sweet potatoes.  This will require some exploring as well.

As I get into this challenge and think about it more and more, I'm thinking about what I care about most in this challenge.  I'm trying to do the local thing - but I'm NOT trying to eat bland or unsalted food.  I'm not giving up salt - sorry.  I also believe that globalization has brought us some pretty neat things, like spices from other parts of the world.  So I'm going to aim to make my meals as local as is reasonably possible without sacrificing the taste.  I'll try to choose organic (or sustainable) when local isn't an option.  I'll try to pay more attention to ethics (like fair trade and all that stuff which I don't know much about).  And most importantly I'll learn how I can set myself up to have an easier time next year (dry/freeze herbs, can more, etc.  I'm willing to make a few sacrifices, but enjoying the food I make isn't going to be one of them.

That being said, I chose to tackle this stew for my second Dark Days meal.  The bulk of the elements are local - the sausage are from Cherry Grove and the Jacob's Cattle beans are from Cayuga Pure Organics.  The carrots are from our CSA, the onions were labeled as local at Whole Foods, the garlic came from a farmer at the Princeton market, the rosemary from a pot in my house, the thyme considered local by Whole Foods (it came from Virginia, and I'm OK with that).  The celery isn't local, but it is organic (I think, it's been in the crisper for a while now).  The rest of the ingredients (teaspoons or less of each) are not local.  I got most of them at Whole Foods so I can have a bit more confidence in the ethics than I would from the market around the corner or Shop Rite.  I know this isn't good enough for some people, but I'm just taking it as an opportunity for improvement.

After all this - how did the soup turn out?

Well, I wasn't watching too closely, and so my beans were cooked a bit more than I would have liked.  Some split and released their starchiness into the soup, thickening it up into a goopy mess.  (This is what it's supposed to look like.)  Frankly, the beans I used (which I used because they're local) were the absolute worst type of beans I could have used for this dish - way too starchy, not really intended for soups and stews.  I had a few bites and I don't think I'm going to be able to eat much more of it.  The lesson learned here today is not to make swaps in recipes when you don't know what you're doing, and not all dishes are going to work with the ingredients available to you locally.  I intend to try this recipe again with the originally suggested beans and no regard for local ingredients!

To end on a more positive note, my sister actually loved this soup.  And I think if cooked properly, the beans I used today could be used to make this, which would make it a great option for a Dark Days meal.  I'll have to try cooking them again and give it a shot.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Black Bean Enchiladas

These Black Bean Enchiladas were on the roster for the Deborah Madison feature months on 101 Cookbooks Library.  I was a day late in making them, but since I already had the Black Bean Chili made and this exact quantity set aside in the freezer, as well as some tomatillo sauce that I had frozen from a canning session a few months ago, it was just a matter of assembly and a brief baking time.  Who can say no to a quick and easy dinner?  I ended up trying this with both the black bean chili and the black bean and butternut squash chili as fillings - I liked Deborah Madison's black bean chili better in the enchiladas.  The cotija cheese was oozy and gooey but I felt I went a little overboard with the amount.  The tomatillo sauce was an interesting sauce, but it didn't really envelop the enchiladas, even though I used more than the amount called for in the recipe.  Ultimately, this was an OK dish - A+ for ease and speed, but not so interesting to eat.  Ken had some leftovers for lunch and seemed to like it.  I would like to try enchiladas again, maybe with the red sauce that Deborah Madison recommends as a substitute for the tomatillo sauce, but I'm not in a rush to have them anytime soon.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Black Bean & Butternut Chili

The chili recipe below was adapted from another blogger's recipe, which was adapted from a Cooking Light recipe.  I didn't want to change much, except for omitting the meat and making it in the slow cooker instead of on the stove.  I looked for instructions on how to adapt a recipe for the slow cooker and then modified the directions so that I could just toss it in the slow cooker.  It came out great - I think one of the reasons I really liked it was the red wine, which gave it a really unique flavor compared to other chili recipes I have made.   I stashed a bit of this in the freezer, but I'll probably make it again.  By the way - you can use any winter squash, and I'm sure different types of beans would work well too.  I'd like to try the original version with meat and red kidney beans sometime this winter.  (Note: do NOT cook dried red kidney beans in the slow cooker or you might die.)


  • A splash of olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped onion
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic 
  • 1 small chipotle pepper in adobo, finely minced
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ancho chile pepper 
  • 1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2/3 cup dry red wine
  • (28-ounce) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes, undrained
  • (28-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained 
  • 2 cups (1/2-inch) cubed peeled butternut squash or other winter squash 
  • 1/2 cup water


1. Add 2 teaspoons oil to pan. Add onion; sauté 8 minutes until the onions are a deep golden brown. Add tomato paste, garlic, chipotle and spices; sauté 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add wine; bring to a boil, scraping pan. Cook until wine has reduced a little, a few minutes. 

2. Add onion mixture to slow cooker.  Stir in tomatoes, beans, butternut squash, and water.  Cook on high for 4 hours.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Turkey Soup with Lime and Chile

I made this soup with the turkey stock I made from our leftover turkey.  Before we made stock, we salvaged the meat from the bones to include in the soup and got a surprising amount out of it.  The long and short of it is that this soup was awesome - turkey broth flavored with mirepoix and a bit of chile, used to make a soup with turkey, cilantro, scallions, lime, avocado, and some crispy tortilla strips.  (I made these in the oven instead of frying them on the stove.)  Ken brought some to work for lunch and sent me a text saying how amazing it was that turkey soup could be this good - and it wasn't the first time he was eating it.  We froze some turkey and broth to have this soup again later in the winter.  I can get the toppings anytime.  I'm looking forward to it already.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Sausage and Cheese Omelette (Dark Days 1)

The Dark Days Challenge is a challenge to use sustainable, organic, local, and ethically produced ingredients in your meals in the "dark days" of winter, when fruits and veggies are not widely available.  (That's why it's a challenge!)  Since this is my first year participating, I'm using an approximately 200 mile radius and will probably be making plenty of exceptions as I go along.  For now, I'm counting as exceptions: olive oil, salt and pepper, spices, chocolate.

For my first meal, I went for an easy "breakfast for dinner" option.  I used eggs, breakfast sausage, and Herdsman cheese, all from Cherry Grove Farm in Lawrenceville.  I added in a bit of cilantro - it's surprisingly still good from our last CSA pickup in mid-November.  We went a little overboard on the sausage, as you can see from the picture.  It was pretty tasty and it actually gave me a few ideas for future meals.  As you can see, I'm set with meat, eggs, and cheese... it's the veggies that will be a challenge.