Monday, October 31, 2011

A Farewell to Crocktober

Hello readers!

How quickly Crocktober seems to have flown by - at least for me. It's been a lot of fun, and I hope some of my recipes will bring you some cozy crock pot joy this fall and winter.

And speaking of winter...

Some of you may remember that I promised you all a crock pot recipe for spiced apple cider before the end of the month. Well, nature had a different plan, and while I was visiting Brady in MA this weekend we got nearly a foot of snow overnight and lost power for over 24 hours. Clearly we survived, but the storm put a pretty big wrench in my cooking plans for the weekend, so the cider will have to wait. I'm also working on a fig preserve, goat cheese and caramelized onion pizza that will be popping up on GK around the time of my next visit to MA, less than two weeks from now. So good things come to those who wait.

This post is also a bit of a disclaimer. As many of you know, I am THISCLOSE to finishing my Master's Degree at Drexel University. The last month or two will be fully hectic while meeting all my thesis requirements, so while I hope to provide the occasionally entertaining-and-possibly-enlightening post, they will surely be much less frequent until after the New Year. So bear with me, keep your ideas coming, and keep your fingers crossed for me!


Monday, October 24, 2011

Crocktober: Mediterranean Chickpeas with Roasted Beets from the Crock Pot

I cooked two different things! At once! In the same crock pot! And since its the start of cold and flu season, one of those things is perfect for your daily dose (overdose?) of antioxidants and other healthy things. Enjoy it with crumbled feta and fresh parsley on top.
Beet juices will stain like no other, so don't make this dish when wearing.. I don't know.. a wedding dress?
Even I am getting a bit tired of stew, which is why I adapted a chickpea stew recipe involving balsamic onions and black olives to cook with as little liquid as possible, so it's more of a bean dish than a soupy one. The beets cooked on top of the chickpeas, just sliced in half and laid on top. This wasn't my original plan. I was going to do little Hersey's-kiss-type packets for the beets, but guess who forgot to get aluminum foil? I still think that the packet plan would work out great - a theory that I will test another day.

1 bunch beets (usually 4 bulbs), trimmed and thoroughly washed
1 cup dry chickpeas (or about 2 cups canned or prepared chickpeas)
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 tsp brown sugar
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
A couple tablespoons coarsely chopped black or kalamata olives
2 tsp dried oregano
Feta cheese and fresh parsley for serving
Salt and pepper
Olive oil

Aluminum foil (optional)

[PREP: If you're using dry chickpeas, sort and rinse them thoroughly, then soak in plenty of water in the fridge overnight or for up to 24 hours, changing the water at least twice in this time. If you're using canned or prepared beans, just rinse and drain before adding them to the crock.]
1. Heat about 1 tbsp of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat, add onions and cook until softened, about 10 minutes. Stir in brown sugar, cover and cook until golden brown, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
2. Add oregano and a couple tablespoons of water, and cover again until onions are deep golden brown (about another 15 minutes). Stir in balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper, and an additional couple tablespoons water. Cover the pan and cook until the liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat. Stir in tomatoes and olives. 
3. Spray your crock insert and pour in chickpeas, adding the onion mixture on top.
4. Thoroughly wash your beets. (You can peel yours if you want to, but I didn't).

Option 1: Cut pieces of aluminum foil that are large enough to completely wrap up each beet without much excess, taking care to be sure that they (probably) won't let any liquid in. Plop the packets on top of the chickpeas. 
Option 2: Slice your beets in half vertically, and rest them cut-side-down on top of the onion mixture.

Cook on high for about 4-6 hours, or until your chickpeas are tender and your beets are done. (Your beets are done when you can insert a knife into the top through the thickest part of the bulb with no resistance).
5. Remove beet packets or halved beets, and stir chickpeas in with onion mixture. Transfer chickpeas to a covered serving dish or individual bowls, (if you did packets, cut beets into wedges and) serve on top or alongside of the chickpeas. Garnish with feta and fresh parsley.

I am sure that my instructions about cooking with dry beans versus canned are probably tiresome for some readers, but every once in a while I get the mental image of somebody soaking canned beans (and ending up with hopeless mush) or trying to cook dry black beans (famous for their slow cooking) and ending up with tiny little rocks even after a full day of cooking. I hope that the dry-to-cooked measuring conversions are workable. Maybe I'm secretly trying to get you all to switch to dry beans. It's a conspiracy to save you money. Spoooky!

This will likely be my last post until next weekend, but I'll be back with a crock pot spiced apple cider recipe before Crocktober is out. This theme thing has been working for me. Hm, what rhymes with November...

Quote of the Day: Beets are the most intense of vegetables. The radish, admittedly, is more feverish, but the fire of the radish is a cold fire, the fire of discontent, not of passion. Tomatoes are lusty enough, yet there runs through tomatoes an undercurrent of frivolity. Beets are deadly serious. ~ Tom Robbins

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Crocktober: Vegan Sweet Potato and Pinto Bean Chili

After an unexpectedly long shift at my retail job this evening, I'm feeling a little short on poetic banter, but that doesn't mean that this recipe isn't a good one. The spice factor is totally up to you, but personally I'm a bit heavy-handed with them, so my three teaspoons of chili powder were probably more like "heaping teaspoons." Do whatever makes you happy.
1 cup dry pinto beans (2 1/2 cups prepared)
1 large sweet potato or yam, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch-ish cubed 
1 cup water
1/2 onion, chopped
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes with jalapenos
2 tsp orange or tangerine zest
3 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
Pinch ground allspice (optional)
Fresh cilantro leaves, torn, for serving 
Salt and pepper, to taste (I used about 1/2 tsp seasoned salt)
Cooking spray

1. If you're using dry beans, sort, rinse, and soak them in the refrigerator overnight (or for up to 24 hours) in plenty of water. Change the water at least twice in this time. If you are using canned or pre-cooked beans, just skip this step and rinse them well just before you add them to the crock.
2. Combine everything but the cilantro in a sprayed crock, and cook on low for 7-9 hours or high for 4-5. Serve with some fresh cilantro on top.

Easy peasy. I don't have a zester (or a grater, for that matter) so I used a vegetable peeler to peel off just the outer skin of my tangerine (no white stuff!) and minced it, which I think worked just fine.
 The only significant thing I would change about this is to alter the bean-to-potato ratio by adding another sweet potato. In my 2 qt machine another sweet potato wouldn't have fit, but in a larger crock it would. As a technical thing, I might add the sweet potatoes a couple of hours into the cooking time, in the future. Even with dry beans that had been soaking for about 20 hours, the sweet potato was done well before the beans were. I also think this would be yummy with butternut squash instead of the sweet potato.

If you're not bound to the "vegan" thing, this would be yummy with some grated cheese on top.

Quote of the Day: Said Aristotle unto Plato, "Have another sweet potato?,"Said Plato unto Aristotle, "Thank you, I prefer the bottle." ~ Owen Wister (1860-1938), American novelist

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Crocktober: Idiot-Proof Crock Pot Beef Stew

A hot bowl of stew is one of the things I look forward to the most about cold weather. And I hope I'm not the only one - I've got a post about sweet potato and pinto bean chili coming up at the end of the week, so stay tuned for that.
 I know that this looks like a long list of ingredients, but most of these things are seasonings or staples that you probably have sitting in a cabinet already. Obviously this logic is flawed, but I always consider these things freebies. And anyway, if you asked 50 different people what they put in their beef stew, they would probably all give you a different combination of ingredients, so it's totally up to you.

3-4 carrots, peeled and sliced
3/4 lb. stew beef, cut into 1-inch-ish cubes
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
1 14.5 oz can beef broth or stock, or water
1/2 onion, diced (I would have used a whole one but realized that it probably wouldn't fit)
1 medium-sized potato, chopped
1 clove garlic, smashed
1 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp dry Italian herbs, or dry oregano
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp paprika
Pinch ground allspice or ground clove
A couple teaspoons of flour, or 1 tsp of cornstarch
Salt (to your taste)

10 3/4 oz can reduced sodium condensed cream of mushroom soup (optional; you could also use another flavor, like cream of tomato)

1. In a medium mixing bowl, combine flour, paprika, allspice, salt, and pepper. Add beef and toss to coat.
2. In a skillet over medium-high heat, brown beef on the outside and drain off any excess fat.
3. In your sprayed crock pot combine beef, broth, onions, carrots, tomatoes, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, dry herbs and potato. Cook on low for about 8-10 hours, or high for about 4-5, or until your veggies are tender.
Note: If you want to, add a 10 3/4 oz can of condensed cream of mushroom soup about 20 minutes before serving. This is totally optional, but I would recommend it if you like a creamier stew broth. I added half a can that I needed to use up, and I recommend it.

I used "extra lean" stew beef, whatever that means, but you could use any cut of beef that you feel like, cut into pieces. Obviously you wouldn't want to use an expensive cut since it will be cooking all day. And for crock pots, cheap cuts are just fine. It'll still come out juicy and yummy. I used carrot and potato, but you could also use celery.
 Normally I am not a big fan of "fat free" this and that, mainly because I always wonder what they put in there instead of fat, but I'll be real. Fat free broth was on sale this week, so that's what I used, and though I can't really crunch the numbers, between the "extra lean" beef, veggies, and low-sodium-fat-free beef broth, I have to think that there are much less healthy beef stews out there. Most recipes that I've read also call for higher beef-to-veggie ratio.

This stew is incredibly easy, and after 9 hours, it was REALLY yummy. I think that little bit of the cream of mushroom soup went a long way toward giving the broth more body and substance. And now I have beef stew for days. Maybe a lot of days. Fine with me. My only regret is that all of my bread-baking accoutrement are in another state. If you're the baking type, this is a golden opportunity.

Quote of the Day: "Talk of joy: there may be things better than beef stew and baked potatoes and home-made bread --- there may be."  ~ David Grayson, "Adventures in Contentment" (1907)

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Crocktober: Crock Pot Tuna Noodle Casserole

To me, the word "casserole" loosely translates to "food you eat after a funeral." I can't fully explain this. I've only been to two funerals ever, and there were no casseroles at either. (Italians prefer Bloody Marys). I think it might have something to do with a rather hilarious book I read sometime in junior high entitled "Being Dead is No Excuse: The Official Southern Ladies' Guide to Hosting the Perfect Funeral," by Gayden Metcalfe and Charlotte Hays. (Keep in mind, this book is also full of recipes that perfectly fit the title.) I guess that's quite appropriate, since casseroles are a rather comforting food. But just to be clear, nobody died. I just felt like making casserole.
It seems to me that a lot of tuna noodle casserole recipes call for something crunchy - crumbled chips, or crackers, or crispy fried onions - but I went with melty Swiss cheese instead. But you could always crumble something crunchy on top right before you serve it.

This recipe is perfect for a 2-quart crock, and makes about 3 entree-sized servings. I layered my ingredients in the order below, but I think as long as you've got half of the noodles on top and half on the bottom, it will work out fine. You could also mix everything together, but I think layers are kind of fun. Of course, the layers turned out to be a total bust in the serving process, but anybody who has ever made a casserole in their lives probably could have told me that they would be. Oh well.

Compared to many of the recipes I've shared with you all this Crocktober, this one cooks in no time at all, and would make a yummy lunch on a cold day.

3 cups egg noodles, uncooked
2 cans tuna, drained
1 10 3/4 oz. can condensed cream of mushroom soup (reduced sodium)
3/4 cup frozen peas, thawed
1/4 large onion, chopped
2 tablespoons milk

Grated Swiss cheese (optional)

1. Cook noodles according to package directions and drain, reserving a couple tablespoons of the water. Add the milk and condensed soup and mix in with the noodles.
2. Spray your crock, and spoon in about half of the noodle mixture, covering the bottom of the crock as evenly as possible. Layer in half of the onion, then the tuna, then the other half of the onion and the peas. Add the rest of the noodle mixture on top.
3. Cook on low for about 2-3 hours or high for about 2. (This is really just to heat it through. As soon as it's hot and you're hungry, it's time to eat). If you're using Swiss, add it about 20 minutes before serving.

So, I'm not really sure how I feel about this. Overall it was yummy, and with the peas I at least felt like I was pretending to have a green vegetable with dinner, but the onions were a little "fresh" for my taste. In the future I think I might quickly sautee them for just a couple of minutes before adding them to the crock. I can't complain about the flavor though. That part gets high points. I don't think this is going to go into my menu rotation, really, but I feel it's a classic, and I'm sure I'll be making it again someday. Hopefully not for a funeral.

Quote of the Day: I refuse to believe that trading recipes is silly. Tuna fish casserole is at least as real as corporate stock. ~ Barbara Grizzuti Harrison

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Crocktober: Vegan French Market Soup and a Holiday Shopping Hint

 I might have lied when I said that crock pot marinara was the easiest crock pot recipe I would be sharing with you this Crocktober. The only real effort involved with this soup is remembering to rinse and soak the beans ahead of time. (And no, this post doesn't end with a list of things I want for Christmas).

Traditional French Market Soup involves a ham hock, but I made it once with the hock, and didn't feel like it added all that much, so this time I skipped it. But, you can add a smoked hock if you want to, or even thick-cut bacon. The traditional method also tells you to soak your beans overnight in a dutch oven, which sounds like a very bad idea for those of us with cast-iron dutch ovens, but if you want to do it by the book you can find a recipe here.

...But you're here to read my version (right?) so here it is:

about 8 oz. canned tomatoes (I used diced, without any added herbs or garlic)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Salt, and a hefty pinch ground black pepper
Fresh thyme, for garnish (optional)
1 cup mixed dried beans (1/2 of 1 lb "16 bean soup" package; mine also had a little barley in it)
1/2 clove garlic, minced (I know 1/2 seems weird, but 1 is too much)
1/2 large onion, chopped
1 dried chili pepper or fresh pepper, diced
1 quart water

1. Sort and thoroughly rinse the beans. Soak in plenty of water in the fridge overnight or for up to 24 hours, changing the water at least once in this time. When you're setting up your crock pot, rinse them one more time before they go in.
2. Place everything but the thyme in a crock pot, and cook on low for 8-10 hours. Turn to high to cook for another 3 hours or so, or as needed until beans are tender. (Mine cooked for 8 hours on low, plus about four hours on high. Basically forever. Plan accordingly). Garnish with thyme, and serve with butter and a crusty bread, if you want.

I am grateful for the timing of Crocktober. I just started an internship on Wednesdays at a museum in Center City, which involves kind of a weird commute and often draining days, but being in crocking mode has made it so easy to come up with yummy dinners that I can have basically ready by the time I get home.
Making your own bean mix is easy, inexpensive, and actually makes a super-cute gift. Just combine 1  lb. of each of the following (or your own variation):

dried navy beans
dried pinto beans
dried great northern beans
dried green split peas
dried yellow split peas
dried black-eyed peas
dried brown lentils
dried baby lima beans
dried large lima beans
dried black beans
dried red beans
dried soybeans
pearled barley

                    ... Yep, that will make you about 13 pounds of bean soup mix.

BUT! Packaged in ball mason jars with a recipe printed on a pretty card or tag, its quite visually pleasing. This mix will fill 14 2-cup jars, which around the holidays is nice to have on hand for coworkers, family friends, or teachers, and according to my math comes out under $1.10 worth of beans per jar. If you want to go all out - maybe for a housewarming gift, joint holiday present, or even a wedding gift for a special couple in your life - you could make a nice gift package with the jar of beans, printed recipe, bag of dried chilies and a crock pot. Perhaps with a gift card to a bakery? Voila!

Crock pots vary widely in size and in price, but from all of my internet sleuthing it seems that the only real difference between the cheap ones and the pricey ones is the option to pre-set cooking times rather than relying on a switch. This recipe fits perfectly in a 2-quart crock, which you can easily get for $20 or less. (I know because I got mine from the Home Depot website for $18.) And don't get all nervous if your intended recipient isn't much of a cook. This recipe is so stupidly-easy-yet-delicious-in-its-simplicity that it will appeal to cooks and non-cooks alike. Also my mantra for holiday shopping this year is "thoughtful but cheap," so this idea is definitely appealing!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Crocktober: Chicken Breast with Swiss Cheese & Cranberry Stuffing

For a lot of people, when they think of crock pots, they think of a variety of weird canned goods bubbling away mysteriously in some big clunky ceramic jobber. Hopefully if you read this blog you already know that there is a huge variety of things you can cook in a crock pot. But sometimes the best solution to the question of "what sort of sauce will I cook this chicken in?" is one of those old-timey canned products. I did use low-sodium cream of celery, so I only feel slightly goofy about it. And can I just say, I had no idea that there were so many "condensed cream of xfood" options. The soup aisle was like one epiphany after another. Some were better than others. Cream of mushroom! Useful! Cream of... Shrimp? As a fan of seafood and an even bigger fan of any food that is not disgusting, I want to die.
This came out golden and juicy and deeelicious.
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast, trimmed
2 tablespoons milk
1-2 tablespoon(s) butter, melted
1 10 3/4 oz. can condensed cream of celery soup (reduced sodium if possible; you could also use cream of chicken or mushroom)
1 cup whole wheat croutons (I made mine; if you make your own, you'll need about three slices of bread)
1/4 cup dried cranberries (I used Craisins infused with 100% pomegranate juice) 
1/4 cup chicken or veggie broth
1/4 cup Swiss cheese, shredded (or to your taste)
Salt and pepper
Cooking spray

1. Spray or lightly oil your crock pot insert, and place chicken inside. Pour in broth, season with salt and pepper, and sprinkle with Swiss cheese.
2. In a mixing bowl, combine soup and milk, and pour mixture over chicken as evenly as possible.
3. Mix breadcrumbs with dried cranberries and add to crock.
4. Pour melted butter over everything, cover, and cook on low for 6-8 hours or on high for 4ish. (Check the temperature of the chicken to be sure). An hour or so before it is expected to finish, stir stuffing and leave lid off for last hour of cooking to reduce, on high heat. (In my 2-quart crock pot, mine cooked for 2 hours covered, and one hour uncovered, on high the whole time).

This isn't too much to look at, but it's super yummy.
 I have to admit, I messed this up a little. Not a lot, but I did. I forgot about the Swiss until the stuffing was in the crock, so I mixed it in with the breadcrumbs and cranberries instead of cheesing the chicken. This definitely changed things a bit, since I meant for the chicken to be cheesy rather than the stuffing, but I'm definitely not arguing with cheesy stuffing. It melted so completely that you just got sort of the "essence" of it without it be actually cheesy, which I consider a happy accident. 

This dish is definitely not the healthiest thing I've ever made, but it's super yummy and has a lot of homemade appeal. The recipe I've shared will definitely make more than one serving of stuffing. I seem to keep doing that. Oh well. 

Quote of the Day: Stupidity is the devil. Look in the eye of a chicken and you'll know. It's the most horrifying, nightmarish and cannibalistic creature in the world. ~ Werner Herzog (German film producer, director)

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Crocktober: Crock Pot Zucchini Boats with White Bean, Swiss, Tomato and Herb Stuffing

I hear tell of fabled round zucchinis that one can buy at certain places, but since I was unable to find the round variety I just hollowed out your average medium-size zucchini and made a stuffing with white beans, tomato, and parsley. The advantage of using your typical zucchini is that if you cut these into smallish pieces, they would made super cute appetizers.

I don't know what my fascination lately is with stuffing food into other food. Maybe it's just that it's fun to do, cute to look at, or simply convenient. Whatever the motivation may be, stuffing food into other food works marvelously well in the crock pot. Also I (obviously) enjoy crocking things that most people might not think were crockable. This dish cooks much faster than your all-day crock-potters - about 3 hours on low - so it might be better suited as a weekend meal. Of course, like most crock pot recipes, you could also make this in the oven, but that would not be in keeping with the Crocktober theme and therefore I could not tell you about it until potentially much, much later. So I made in a crock pot, and so should you.

This recipe will be easier if you are using a larger crock than my 2-quarter, just in terms of surface area. If you have a bigger one, use that. I stacked mine, which was okay too.
 Obviously a can of beans, plus tomato and onion and pine nuts and all of this can't fit in the shell of one zucchini, but the leftover payout of this recipe - or really, the stuffing that doesn't fit - is a yummy bean salad. Things could be worse. But if you're not into that, I'd halve the stuffing recipe. And if you're making these to be cut up as appetizers, I'd cut down the bean-to-other-stuff ratio, upping the veggies and herbs. If you're serving them this way you might skip the cooking altogether, since of course cooking makes the shells softer.

I zucchini, sliced in half lengthwise, scooped out to leave about a 1/4 inch shell
1 tomato, chopped and seeded
1 15.5 oz. can white beans, thoroughly rinsed and drained (I literally used "white beans," but you could use cannellini beans or chickpeas, roughly chopped since they're big)
2 tablespoons fresh parsley or basil, finely chopped, packed (I used parsley)
2 tablespoons onion, minced
1 (small) clove garlic, minced or pressed
1/2 cup shredded Swiss cheese (optional)
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted (about 2 oz.)
Salt and pepper
Nonstick cooking spray
Balsamic vinegar (optional)
Olive oil

1. In a large bowl, combine tomato, beans, onion, pine nuts, parsley, about a tablespoon of olive oil, plenty of salt and pepper, and Swiss cheese, if you're using it.
2. Spray or lightly oil your crock pot insert. Be sure that your zucchini will fit in the crock. If the boats need to be shortened, it is much simpler to do so at this point than to do it after stuffing.
3. Spoon stuffing into the zucchini "boats," packing slightly, and rest them inside the crock. Cook on low for 2-3 hours.
4. Carefully remove from crock and serve. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar if desired.

A note about hollowing out the squash: It may seem like the best way to do this is to just take a spoon and scoop straight down the length of it, but it seems to me that there's a more effective way that is less likely to lead to dreaded Squash Breakage. Take a large spoon - like a soup spoon, not like a "Little Dipper" spoon - and take off just a thin strip from all the way down the pulpy section. Then, using the same spoon or a teaspoon, position the scooper parallel to the edge of the "boat" and scoop starting at the edge and moving toward the center. You can smooth it out afterward, but trying to take it all out at once will probably not work out very well.

Making this stuffing would have been a lot faster if I had my food processor here rather than in Western Massachusetts. If you've got one, mince the garlic and onion with the parsley, salt and pepper and oil, then add the tomato (halved and guts scooped out), and finally the nuts and beans, which you can chop or not chop.

About 2 hours in, I realized that these were not as cheesy as I would have liked, so I sprinkled more on top to melt in the remaining cooking time, which worked out fine. Obviously it didn't take a whole hour for the cheese to melt, so you could do this at the last minute if you wanted to. It's not pictured, but I did end up adding Balsamic, which I think was a good call.

These were tasty! Just the right amount of richness, with the Swiss cheese and pine nuts, and very satisfying. Next spring and summer I think I'll be making the no-cook version on the regular.

Quote of the Day: Vulgarity is the garlic in the salad of life. ~ Cyril Connolly

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Crocktober: Bell Peppers Stuffed with Rice, Italian Sausage and Broccoli Rabe from the Crock Pot

This dish is a great use for leftover rice and/or sausage, and besides maybe a side salad, it can be a complete meal in itself. I used white rice and sweet Italian turkey sausage, but you could use any kind that you like. I think wild rice with hot sausage would also be a good combination. You could also use leftover ground turkey, chicken, or beef. There is probably no reason that you couldn't use pork sausage or ground pork, I just wouldn't tell you to because personally I think it's gross. Couldn't tell you why.

I purposefully made extra stuffing, which cooked outside the pepper in the crock pot, for lunch the next day. (My expensive education at work, people!) Also in hindsight, I might add a tablespoon or so of lemon juice just to brighten up the bitterness of the greens. Still, yummy.
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
1 large bell pepper, any color
1 small carrot, diced (optional)
1 tablespoon butter, softened or diced
2 cups cooked rice (2/3 cup before cooking)
1/2 bunch broccoli rabe (leaves, broccoli bits and thin stems only - toss the thick ones), coarsely chopped
1/3 cup chicken or vegetable broth or stock
2-3 cooked sausages, sliced into 1/4 inch thick rounds and casings removed
1/2 onion, diced
Salt and pepper
Cooking spray

1. If you haven't cooked your rice, do so according to package directions. Ditto on the sausage.
2. Spray the inside of your crock pot insert with nonstick spray. In a large bowl, combine rice, sausage, broccoli rabe, garlic, salt and pepper, carrot, butter, broth and onion. (You might want to use your hands).
3. Cut the top out of the bell pepper, like you would a pumpkin. Discard seeds and pale inner membranes. If necessary, cut a thin slice off of the bottom so that the pepper stands up on its own. Spoon rice mixture into the pepper, pack until it's stuffed, and rest the lid on top. (I snapped my lid, by accident. Don't do that).
4. Place the pepper (or peppers) in the crock pot, and spoon remaining stuffing (or as much as possible) into the space around the pepper. Cook on low for 4-6 hours or on high for 2-3. Dinner is ready when the pepper (and optional carrot) are tender.
5. Carefully remove the pepper from the crock, and serve with extra stuffing on the side.

Here's the thing. This recipe probably makes enough stuffing for at least 3 peppers, and even with filling in the space around mine, I still had some left over. Not that I'm complaining, since I am the queen of the Leftover Lunch, but... full disclosure, if you're dining solo, have some Tupperware handy. I used chicken broth, so the stuffing was a lot like solid chicken soup (plus sausage), which was definitely not unwelcome.
 I feel like if you're using white rice, or another kind that cooks fairly quickly, you might be able to just cook it with the stuffing and not beforehand, with the addition of more broth or water. But I didn't try that soooo I can't promise you that that will work. As a matter of preference, when I use cooked sausages in dishes like this I like to remove the casing before adding them, just because I think sometimes they interfere with the texture, but that's totally up to you. 

You could make this deliciously Mexicaney using corn, black beans (canned or previously cooked), tomato, and some chorizo if you felt like it in with the rice, served with shredded cheese. Or you could use mushroom & barley risotto and pine nuts on top. Or big, soft garlic-bread croutons and shelled fava beans. Or shredded cheddar and broccoli. And now I'm giving myself a headache. You get the idea.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Crocktober: Marinara Sauce from the Crock Pot

Even though this is only the second recipe of Crocktober, I'm gonna go ahead and declare this the absolute easiest crock pot recipe on the planet. Okay, there is that extra thing where you have to boil pasta, but you can make a very yummy home-made sauce while you're not even at home. I think that's pretty cool.

Sometime last winter, I called my (Italian-American) Dad to brag about having made my very first meat sauce. He was mildly impressed, but I was super impressed, because to me pasta sauce is a basic necessity vital for the survival of the human race. Perhaps this is a slight exaggeration, but I defy you to find a person who does not, or has never enjoyed spaghetti in a red sauce. You can't. They don't exist.

I used fresh parsley and basil with dried oregano, but you could use all dried herbs or all fresh. With the fresh herbs, add them just before serving. Subject them to all-day cooking and they will lose their oomph, and possibly disintegrate. Also, if you're anything like me, it might seem like a good idea to chop the herbs ahead of time so you can just toss them in the crock when you get home, but resist the urge. The flavor will be much more fresh if you wait, and premature chopping generally leads to browned leaves, which is just sad.

This recipe makes about 3-4 servings. (I'm a hungry person, generally, so I never know for sure what other people consider a serving to be).

1 1-lb., 12 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 6 oz. can tomato paste
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves (lightly packed), chopped
1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves (lightly packed), chopped
1 tsp dried Italian herbs (using the fresh ones above, this is optional but recommended)
1/2 cup vegetable broth or stock
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, smashed 
1 cup onion, diced
Grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese for serving (optional)

1. Combine all ingredients except for the fresh herbs and cheese in a 2-5 qt crock pot. Cover and cook on low 8-10 hours or high for 4-6 hours.
2. Add the fresh basil and parsley.
3. Serve (generously) over fresh, hot pasta (avoiding the garlic) and sprinkle with Parmesan or grated Pecorino Romano cheese.
4. Gleefully slurp your spaghetti.

My lens got a little steamy there on the left
This recipe is a good base for an arrabbiata sauce. Just add red pepper flakes, cayenne pepper, a whole dried chile, Sriracha or whatever you like to use to heat things up. 

While I don't know the "rules" of marinara, I do know that you could add celery, carrots, or mushrooms to this sauce if you felt compelled. Celery and carrots are hearty enough to withstand all-day cooking, so it's one-step and you'll get lots of delicious flavor mingling. (Mushrooms are a little more delicate and should probably only cook about half that long). The only rule I do know is that since marinara is relatively thin in texture (compared to, say, a lamb ragu) it should be enjoyed with spaghetti, so save the tube-and-trumped-shaped pasta for the trapping of thick sauce, meat and veggies.

 P.s. If you're in a pinch and don't have the time to make your sauce, Bon Appetit recently did a blind taste test of store-bought tomato sauces, and Barilla Traditional Marinara came out on top.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Crocktober is Here!

Ciao readers! Sadly I don't have plans to share a recipe for today, but I would like to announce that it is officially Crocktober in the Guerilla Kitchen. Naturally I didn't decide this before yesterday's crock-potted stuffed acorn squash story went up, but now it's for real. Look forward to all-crock-pot-all-the-time posts from GK this month. Soups, stew, spiced cider, hot cereal and more stuffed squash are on the way, but I can appreciate a challenge and welcome any recommendations!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Crocktober: Acorn Squash Stuffed With Walnuts & Dried Fruit

Happy October, everybody! Welcome to my most favorite month. (December is more fun, but I look forward to Autumn weather all year round).

My Great Aunt Lois lived in upstate New York. As a kid that seemed like light years away from Cape Cod, but fortunately we saw her at least every 4th of July at my grandparents' house, about an hour from where my sister and I grew up. We didn't get to New York to visit her very often - only a couple of times that I can clearly recall - but I remember a few things about those visits quite well. For one, she was as sweet-yet-sassy a person as you could ever hope to meet, and she made a stuffed acorn squash that tasted practically like candy, stuffed with nuts, raisins and brown sugar. As a kid, they were the best-case-scenario of vegetables, and pretty fun to eat besides.

My Aunt Lois passed away about two and a half years ago, and while my Mother tells me that there is a written recipe for her acorn squash around, she told me that about ten minutes before I took mine out of the crock pot. Anyway, I'm certain that I didn't make these quite the way she would have. Still, I like to think she would be happy that I tried. For one thing, I'm sure hers were baked instead of cooked in a crock pot, but I'm still pretty sure that just about anything can be cooked in a crock pot. Sure and also fairly determined, to be fair. So bust out the crock pot already, it's Fall.

I cooked one acorn squash in my 2 quart crock pot. In a bigger machine you could do two or three at a time. You'll want to be sure that your squash stays upright, so you probably wouldn't want to do one little squash in a big 5-quarter or anything, though you could probably do it "open-faced," so to speak. The good news (for people with a big slow cooker but maybe not a lot of people to feed that day) is that this stuffing would also be super yummy in a butternut squash.

For an extra flavor boost, toast the walnuts first. Toasted walnuts are a great thing to have on hand for fall and winter recipes, anyway, so you might as well toast a bunch at once. I found out a bit late (ahem, MOM) that hers also had diced apple in there, which sounds fantastic and I will definitely do next time.

Since I made this for myself as a main dish, I added about 1 tablespoon of ground flax to the stuffing for extra protein, but this is totally optional. A little bulgur wheat, pearl barley, or soft whole-wheat breadcrumbs would also lend it more substance - just keep in mind that bulgur and barley will both expand significantly once cooked!

1 acorn squash
2 tablespoons butter, softened
2 tablespoon brown sugar (I used dark brown, but I'm sure light is fine too)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (I used walnuts)
1/3 cup raisins, dried cranberries, cherries, chopped apricots, or a combination (I used mostly raisins with a Trader Joe's mix of some dried cranberries and dried pomegranate seeds)
Apple juice or cider, about a cup and a half (I used 100% juice)
1 tsp cinnamon (I also sprinkled a little on while I was eating it...)
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper

1. Cut the lid off the squash, starting about an inch below the crown (the widest part, near the top) and save the lid. Scoop out the seeds and stringy guts. (The skins can be super tough. If yours is resistant, microwave the squash for a couple of minutes before cutting into it. And if you start the cut a little too high on the squash like I did, you might have to cut away a little of the flesh to get to the chamber). Cut the point off of the bottom so that it will stand up; just enough to create a flat spot.
2. In a mixing bowl, combine spices, butter and sugar, then add in nuts, fruit and a teaspoon or two of the cider or juice and spoon the mixture into the squash, packing slightly. Rest the lid on top. (Don't worry if you have a little extra stuffing. Put it in your oatmeal tomorrow. Voila!)
3. Spray the inside of the crock insert with nonstick cooking spray. Place squash inside, and pour in about a cup of juice or cider around (not in) the squash.
4. Cover and cook on low for 5-7 hours or on high for 2-3 hours. When the flesh is fork-tender, carefully remove the squash and serve. (Mine was perfect after 6 hours on low).

This is so, SO good. I can say that because it wasn't my idea. SO delicious. Definitely sweet though - you've got to be in the mood for it. But it's so tasty, so seasonal, and so freakin' adorable in its little acorn-shaped package. And obviously, you can cut back on the sugar and make up for it with spice.

There are probably a zillion different ways you could go with this idea, if you weren't so into the sugar-and-spice route. Rice with a little sage would also be a great base for a stuffing, or browned ground turkey, and with a little goat cheese sprinkled on top... Yum. So many possibilities. Why do I suspect that I'll be eating a lot of squash this year?

Quote of the Day: "Autumn is a second spring where every leaf is a flower." ~ Albert Camus