Thursday, February 24, 2011

Taco Soup, version 2

I have gradually been converting our canned bean recipes to dried beans.  There are several reasons for this.  First, dried beans are cheaper than canned.  Canned beans are a great for the budget, but considering you can get the equivalent of 4 cans of beans from one pound of dried beans for less than the cost of 2 cans of beans, dried beans are even better for the budget.  Personally, I use the savings to buy organic dried beans from the bulk section of our local Whole Foods (it doesn't have to be expensive to shop there).  Secondly, by using dried beans, I control the amount of salt that goes into our food.  Thirdly, we avoid cans coated with BPA.

My goal was to convert the previous version of Taco Soup, but have inadvertently ended up with a whole new version that has received thumbs up from around our table.  So, I'm inclined to not mess with it too much more.  It's taken me a while to post this recipe because I kept mental notes of what I was doing, got caught up with life around here and didn't write it down, and then I had to make it again to refresh my memory.  This happened several times over a few months.  However, I think I have it down now, committed to memory.  At the encouragement of my sister, I made it again this week just to be sure so that I could post it.  I had to laugh late last week when she e-mailed me and asked me to convert the previous version to dried beans - I hadn't mentioned this project to her.  So, Karen, this is especially for you!

This does take a while to cook.  I cook it on low for about 16 hours.  You could also cook it on high for 8 hours.  This gives the beans plenty of time to soften.  Also, you can add the additional ingredients whenever you'd like once you start cooking the beans.  However, I've read that adding the salt too soon lengthens the amount of time it takes for the beans to soften, so I would at least save the salt for later.  Speaking of salt, please adjust as necessary for your palate.  We have gradually been reducing our intake of processed foods (even canned) and have become used to less salt in our food.  Therefore, my recipes tend to not be as salty as most are used to.  I am not the least bit offended by someone who picks up the salt grinder to adjust for this.

Taco Soup

2 lbs Dried Beans (combo of pinto, black, and kidney)
2 Portabella Mushroom, finely chopped
1/2 Onion, chopped
1 clove Garlic, minced
1 28oz can Diced Tomatoes
1 Tbsp. Chili Powder
1 Tbsp. Cumin
Taco or Southwestern Seasoning mix, equivalent to what you would use for 2 lbs ground meat for tacos
1-2 tsp Kosher Salt

Sort, rinse, and soak dried beans in water all day (I do this in my 7 qt crockpot.  I put the rinsed beans in the crockpot and fill it nearly full with water).

Drain and rinse beans and put them in crockpot.  Fill crockpot 3/4 full with water and cook overnight on low.

Cook onion, mushrooms, and garlic on stove until cooked through and crumbly.  Pour mixture into crockpot with the beans.

In the morning, add meat mixture and all other ingredients to the crockpot and continue to cook on low all day.  Soup will be ready for dinner.

Serving ideas:
  1. Top with shredded cheese and/or crushed tortilla chips (great for crumbs at the bottom of the bag).
  2. Serve over brown rice and topped with shredded cheese.
  3. Use as taco and/or burrito filling.
  4. Use as a topping for nachos.
This makes plenty of soup for a large crowd or to put away for future meals.  Our family had it for dinner the other night, my husband and I are having it for lunch today, and I put a couple of lunch servings away in the freezer for future use (it's so easy to grab a cup of soup from the freezer and put it in a lunch box for work - saves money and it's healthier than eating out).

Powercooking Tip:  When cooking the meat, I used 2 lbs ground bison, 2-3 large portabello caps, 2 onions, and 4 cloves garlic.  I used one quarter of the mix for the soup and put away 2-3 containers in the freezer for future use in soups or pasta sauces.  Cook once, use several times.  Love the time savings!

Meatless Mondays:  Replace the meat, but use the onion, garlic, and portabella to make it a vegetarian dish.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Family Meal Time

While catching up on current events today, I found this blog series about the importance of eating together as a family.  Eating as a family is something we strive for at our home.  It is rare when we don't sit down together for dinner and then it's usually because either my husband or I (not both) are working that evening.  I know we have a challenging (brief) period coming up when I will have to put more effort into coordinating our family dinners, but I know it's coming and I'm already putting mental notes together - thinking, as I cook, about what comes together easily and what "picnics" well.   Robin Shreeves does an excellent job in her series of addressing the obstacles of the family dinner, how to overcome those obstacles, and why eating as a family is important.  I hope the information she provides is helpful to those of you who would like to bring your families to the dinner table more and encouraging for those of you who do, but constantly struggle with the obstacles.

Getting dinner on the table, part 1: The obstacles
Getting dinner on the table, part 2: Overcoming the obstacles
Getting dinner on the table, part 3: Why do it anyway?

Friday, February 11, 2011

Lentil Soup

I have tried working with lentils several times in the past. When I first started, lentils were the one food my not-too-picky-eater (at the time) would not eat. It didn't matter how I fixed them. They were off the list, especially lentil soup. So, when we finally started to reintroduce them, we called them by a different name - split peas (split peas were loved - go figure). We started with red "split peas" for dahl. Then we took a favorite recipe, Cincinnati Chili, and made it with lentils instead of meat. At first we didn't say anything, but it went over well and we quickly confessed. Next we tried Taco Style Lentils and Rice, another hit. We are finally over our issues with lentils. Yesterday I decided it was time to reintroduce lentil soup. This time I consulted several cookbooks and came up with my own version using what I had on hand. The soup went over very well, especially paired with rice. As an added bonus, I have enough leftover to put away for future lunches, saving money and providing a healthier option at noontime.

Lentil Soup

2 cups (1 lb.) Lentils
8 cups Broth
3/4 cup Onion, chopped
1 Carrot, thinly sliced
3 Cloves Garlic, minced
1 can (14 oz) Diced Tomatoes

Sort and rinse lentils. Put all ingredients in a stockpot or crockpot and simmer for 2 hrs. Serve with rice (optional).

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

What I Love About Winter

Last week, on Ground Hog's day, I heard a conversation on NPR about mid-winter traditions that were started to spur us through the last six weeks of the season. Ground Hog's Day whether we should dig in our heels for six more weeks of cold or if we should start looking forward to warmer days. Some cultures have proverbs about making sure you have half of your wood and food left to get you through the rest of the season. I thought it would be fun to make a list of all the things I love about winter, things I think about in the middle of a run of upper 90-degree days in the summer.
  • Christmas! - the holiday, not the consumerism
  • Playing in the snow - sledding, snow angels, snow forts, snowball fights, etc. We usually don't get much around here, so if there's enough to play in, I'm happy.
  • Hot chocolate
  • Hot tea
  • Soup cooking in the crockpot all day
  • Sweaters
  • Wool blankets
  • Wool socks
  • Heavy coats, scarves, and hats
  • Snow days (it doesn't take much for things to shut down around here)
  • Winter squash
  • Fires in the fireplace
  • Baking (too hot to do in the summer - I didn't turn my oven on for 2 1/2 months last year)
  • Ice cycles
  • Seeing cardinals in the snow
  • Animal tracks in the snow
  • Garden planning
  • Curling up on the couch with a good book and a mug of hot chocolate or tea (although I'll do this in the summer with a glass of iced tea or water)
  • Bare trees with the winter sun shining through
  • Cold groceries staying cold in my car as I run all my errands
Food for thought, in the middle of a long, hot summer, I look forward to all the things I love about winter. However, as much as I may love many things about summer, even in the long cold of winter, I do not look forward to the possibility of a long, HOT summer (i.e. too hot, meaning dangerous, to go out and enjoy ourselves: upper 90s, low 100s). Last summer was way too hot for too long. Interestingly, it has been followed by the coldest and snowiest winter I think we've experienced here.

Seeing as how we had two ground hogs make opposing predictions last week, I think I'll look to the robins playing in my backyard. Then again, we're about to get hit with more snow.