Amy’s Hearty Bean Soup

Amy’s Hearty Bean SoupSo, How’ve You Bean?
I have had an Instant pot for a little over a year now. And, while I love it, I really hadn’t been using it more than one or two times a month. (I have friends who say they use theirs constantly. But, I always wondered what they were making because I always seemed to be making the same recipes over and over, mainly pulled pork or some sort of stew.) During the summer months, I didn’t use it at all figuring it was just as fast to grill and the whole point of the Instant Pot is to make stuff faster.

Lately, I have been leaving my Instant Pot out on my counter because I feel like I am using it every other night. Probably because I AM using it every other night…

My daughter gave me a couple of Instant Pot cookbooks for Christmas and I have been having a great time going through them and making all of the recipes that appeal to me. It is a testament to the power of a good cookbook because I have a number of Instant Pot cookbooks and none of them have lit a fire under me like these two. They have even inspired me to do my own experimenting. You can find them here is you are interested:

Most of my experiments have involved dried beans. I love cooking with dried beans but I really haven’t done much in the past because the old fashioned way is kind of a pain. First, you have to soak ‘em overnight then you have to cook them for long periods of time. That’s time I don’t always have and can be a roadblock when you’re craving a good bean soup for dinner. But, by playing around with new recipes, I have figured out how to make my own bean-filled creations happen in the span of an hour. Until recently, I was a bit intimidated by cooking beans in a pot because I didn’t have a recipe with beans intriguing enough to try it. I found one for a barley side dish with mushrooms that was great and that was all it took to get me going crazy with beans.

For example, I had a bag of the Zürsun Paris Bistro Beans that we sell here in the store in my pantry and I had been wanting to use them for a while. So, I got a ham shank from our Meat Department and threw it in the Instant pot with the dried beans, some sautéed onions, diced carrots, and fresh thyme along with a few cups of chicken stock. After about 30 minutes of cooking using the Multigrain setting, I had a very hearty hot bean soup that was fantastic. The meat on the shank fell off the bone and added some protein to the mix as well as great flavor. Served with some crusty French bread, it was exactly what I wanted for dinner on a chilly night.

I didn’t really follow a recipe but if you are interested in trying it out here’s the rough idea of what I did…

Amy’s Hearty Bean Soup
Yields 6 Servings Read more…

Refrigerator Soup

Refrigerator SoupI don’t know what it looks like in your fridge after the holidays—but I can tell you there are a lot of leftovers in mine. Some are starting to show signs of becoming a science experiment and are ready to be thrown out. But, others are the remnants of a very tasty week-and-a-half. This is when I need to get creative.

At the end of the holidays, I always have a lot of random leftovers. A carrot or two here, a parmesan rind there, or that last handful of Blue Lake beans that we didn’t use. Occasionally, there are bones left over which I use for making stock. Sometimes it’s beef, sometimes it’s chicken, and if I am really lucky there’s a ham bone. And always there are leftover herbs because inevitably you only needed half of the bunch of parsley that you bought.

These are the days for what I call “refrigerator soup”. There is no set recipe. The only requirement is that you use up what you have. If you are lucky enough to have beef or chicken bones, make some stock. If you don’t have bones, the second carton of chicken or beef stock that you bought and didn’t use would be perfect right now. If you have a leftover ham bone, I would throw it directly in the pot with the veggies and then add water.

As for what goes in the stock, I generally start with onions that I always have on hand. I dice them up and sweat them in some olive oil. After that, it’s whatever strikes your fancy. Got carrots? Chop ’em up and throw them in. Same with any other veggies like potatoes and celery or green beans. Bell Peppers work well here too. Add some chopped garlic if you like and any fresh or dried herbs you think would taste good. Found can of diced tomatoes? Why not drain it and throw them in too?

Add your stock, bring it to a boil, and let it simmer for an hour or so. At this point, you can add a can of beans, or some cooked pasta, or rice. Alternatively, you could put it all together in a blender and make a blended soup. It’s totally up to you, but in the end, you have a warming bowl of goodness for lunch or dinner. And, you used up what was left in your fridge. Probably the best part is you didn’t have to leave the comfort of your home…

Pumpkin Chickpea Stew

Pumpkin Chickpea Stew

Something Different
I don’t know about you, but for me, the hardest thing to around Thanksgiving is to figure out what to eat. I know that sounds strange…but let me explain. This time of year I spend a lot of time looking at seasonal and Thanksgiving-related recipes and talking about new possibilities. As you might expect the seasonal recipes are dishes that could easily be appropriate for the Thanksgiving table. So, it can be difficult to try recipes for Thanksgiving without getting Turkey Day burnout. Obviously, I am not cooking a turkey every night but the side dishes are a different story.

Of all the holidays we celebrate during the year, Thanksgiving, for the majority of my immediate family, is the favorite. (I’m still a Christmas hold out.) So, while I am trying out new recipes, I have to make sure I don’t wreck the anticipation for the big day. If you’re eating sweet potatoes and stuffing for the days leading up to the meal you could see why excitement for the main event could wane. This is why, while I’m looking for new stuff, I am also on the lookout for different things to do with the same ingredients. Pumpkins are a perfect example.

Pumpkins can be used for more than just pies. They can be filled with cheese and other buttery goodness and roasted. They can be tossed into fresh pasta or spicy curries. Pumpkins are the taste of fall but, during the month of November, I look outside the traditional flavors and look towards other cuisines where pumpkins are year-round—which, for me, means North Africa.

It is no secret that I love Moroccan food and, thankfully, Morocco loves their pumpkins and squashes. If you find yourself with a leftover Cinderella pumpkin from Halloween or if you just can’t bring yourself to make a pie yet, give this recipe a try for a little something different.

Pumpkin and Chickpea Stew
Adapted from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden
Yields 6 servings Read more…

Chicken and Buttermilk-Chive Dumplings

Chicken and Buttermilk-Chive DumplingsFalling Ill
Fall is here! You know how I know? I’ve already had two kids stay home from school sick. There is something about the transition from hot to cool that plays havoc with the immune system. Since our weather has been a bit non-committal with one week being chilly and the next week climbing back up to 90, it’s no wonder the two of them went down without much fight. And don’t get me started about flu season…

With the possibility of more colds to come, I bought a bunch of chickens and got to making stock. Perhaps it’s a myth, or an old wife’s tale, or even just plain witchcraft but something about chicken soup helps people recover from colds quicker. Really. I think they even did a study on it. Check Google.

While I love a good chicken noodle or, even better, a matzo ball soup, I almost always head in the direction of comfort food when I am not feeling well. My “older son” is the same way. (He’s a twin. He’s only older by a minute but to him, it’s an important minute.) Which is why I found myself making him some chicken and dumplings Saturday night to get some of the magical chicken qualities in him and to make him feel better. I like to tell myself it was just for him but I know better.

Anytime is a good time for chicken and dumplings and I haven’t made anything like this since last fall. I love chicken and dumplings but this is the same son who can finish an entire large pizza by himself and still want dessert so I made a big pot. It was marvelous but there were no leftovers. Sigh.

The good news is he was back in school the following Monday. Whether that was because of the soup or sheer boredom from being at home remains a mystery. I choose to believe it was the chicken stock. The recipe is below if you would like to try your own experiment….

Chicken and Buttermilk-Chive Dumplings
Adapted from Tyler Florence and the Food Network
Yields 6 to 8 servings Read more…

Oktoberfest Sausage Stew

Oktoberfest Sausage StewOcto-beer-Fest
Oktoberfest is wrapping up over in Munich, but for those of us here on the other side of the pond the party is just beginning. Given the number of 19th-century German immigrants who came to our country, you would think that we would have a better idea as to the proper time to partake in Oktoberfest but Americans, it seems, have decided that October is the time.

For the next month, you will easily be able to find any number of Oktoberfest celebrations and Beer Gardens that will quench any thirst for a good quality ale—as well as tasty fare to go along with it. For the beer aficionados out there, October can be a little like Christmas. For others who drink a beer once every two years or so, like myself, Oktoberfest isn’t that big of a deal. If we’re talking about cooking with beer, that’s a different story. If that’s the case, I’m all in…

Here’s the thing. I don’t like the way beer tastes when you drink it by the pint or from a bottle BUT I do like the way it smells. (I know. It’s weird.) This is why I like to use beer when I cook. It adds the flavor of the beer without making the recipe taste like beer. The best example of this is a recipe for Beef Short Ribs Braised in Dark Beer with Bacon and Red Onion that is a fall staple in my family. Of course, in my opinion, you can’t make decent fish and chips without using beer in your batter. Same goes for chili and let’s not forget that the only proper way to eat a Bratwurst is to boil it in beer first.

So for my Oktoberfest, I am going to search out all of the beer recipes I can find to test them out starting with this recipe for Oktoberfest Sausage Stew…it sounds like the perfect meal for a cool-weather dinner.

Oktoberfest Sausage Stew 
Adapted from Food and Wine Magazine
Yields 6 Servings

This recipe is based on a traditional Hungarian sausage, tomato and bell pepper stew called lecsó (LEH-tcho). The beer adds a rich, dark flavor. Read more…