Welcome to September. It doesn’t feel like fall yet, but after all of the running around we did this summer I’m ready to settle back into a routine. Being busy all summer and not wanting to cook in the heat has led to an unused kitchen and a vegetable deficient diet. I want to get back to cooking and eating healthy again. I’ve decided that September will be Souptember in our house. I’m committed to making soup at least once a week. I love soup. No one else in my family does. At the end of this month they will either be converted or I will have had soup for lunch every day. I’m OK with either outcome.
I made one of my favorite soups today: Pumpkin and Black Bean Soup. This spicy soup is filling and reheats well. It does not look pretty, but it tastes pretty great.
The recipe is from Rachel Ray’s Veggie Meals. It takes less than a half hour to put together, which means I can throw it together even when I’m in a time crunch.
Pumpkin and Black Bean Soup
1 T vegetable oil
1 T butter
1 chopped onion
1 can vegetable broth
1 can diced tomatoes (undrained)
1 can black beans
1 can pumpkin puree
1/2 c heavy cream (I use half and half)
1 1/2 t curry powder
2 t ground cumin
pinch of cayenne pepper
Melt butter into oil over medium heat. Sautee onion until soft. Add broth, black beans, tomatoes, and pumpkin. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, add cream and spices. Simmer 5 minutes, or until you can convince your kids to come to the table.
Once a month we have my friend Tim over for dinner. Tim is really easy to cook for. He doesn’t cook, so everything I make impresses him. He is recently divorced and his wife didn’t cook either. I once made crock pot white chicken chili for him and he was impressed (the hardest thing about making that dish is chopping the onion). I love that the bar is low.
Today I decided to really wow him. I made Cook’s Illustrated’s version of Juicy Lucys. A juicy lucy is a cheeseburger with the cheese on the inside. You bite into the burger and cheese oozes out. It’s delicious. It’s also something so bad for us that I only make it once or twice a summer.
At 5 o’clock, as I was getting the kids their dinner I realized I had been so excited about the burgers I didn’t think about the sides. I had nothing planned. I was worried I was going to have to pull a vegetable out of the freezer and pretend it worked with burgers.
Amazingly, my refrigerator provided me with two sides! I had a salad in a bag forgotten in a drawer that somehow wasn’t spoiled (I buy a bagged salad almost every week, I also throw out a spoiled bagged salad almost every week. Will I ever learn?).
I decided to throw together some Baja bean and cilantro salad. I have been living off of this all summer. In a shocking turn of events I had cilantro in my produce drawer. I also had 1/4 of a red onion in my fridge, the perfect amount for the salad (also the first time I’ve ever used all of a leftover onion instead of throwing it away a week later).
This salad is easy to throw together, and a great side to bring to a pot luck. It couldn’t be easier to make:
1 can chickpeas (rinsed and drained)
1 can red beans (rinsed and drained)
1 can black beans (rinsed and drained)
1/4 chopped red onion
2 T chopped pickled jalapeno peppers
1/4 c chopped cilantro
Mix that stuff all up. In a measuring cup mix together 1/3 c red wine vinegar and 3 T sugar. Pour it all over the salad. Put it in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to meld.
It is good for a week.
The sides were well received by Tim and John, but if I was really being honest I think they would have been fine with a big burger and a few glasses of wine.
Do you ever get so excited about a main dish you forget about the rest of the dinner?
I’m kind of a food snob. I think it’s because John and I spent so many years in our 30s with good jobs before kids. We went out to eat a lot. When I cooked I had the luxury of quality (expensive) ingredients and time. The things I loved as a kid I no longer like. Things like cool whip and boxed pudding don’t appeal to me at all.
I believe pudding should be homemade. It should involve egg yolks, whole milk, half and half, sugar, and corn starch. It should be a project. I also believe in having the kids help me in the kitchen (well, mostly Audrey because Elliot can be a challenge in the kitchen). Fancy shmancy pudding and kids don’t mix, so for the sake of kitchen help I occasionally reach for things I don’t particularly like. Like boxed pudding.
Do you remember back when Bill Cosby wasn’t a sexual predator? I do. We watched him every week on the Cosby show and we ate pudding pops. They were delicious. They still are, and they are also really easy to make (Step 1: make pudding. Step 2: freeze it).
Audrey helped me pour the milk and stir. She took the job very seriously. At one point she stopped stirring because she forgot to put her apron on.Elliot taste tested the pudding. He took his job seriously too.
I poured the pudding into the molds. I think I waited too long, as the pudding had started to set up and it was a very gloppy job.
When we were done we ran to the store. Audrey was so excited about cooking she wanted to wear her apron. She was very proud of herself.
I hope that having the kids involved in cooking now will keep them interested in cooking. Elliot really wants to help, but he destroys so many things. I need to find something easier than pudding for him to help with. Do you have any ideas?
Are you a baker? Have you noticed how expensive vanilla extract has gotten? The vanilla crop in Madagascar failed causing a shortage of vanilla beans. The price of vanilla is now ten times what it was a few years ago.
I recently ran out of vanilla and picked some up at my local spice shop. An ingredient that I never considered the cost of now makes me gasp. I used over half of this bottle in two batches of cookies this morning.
I am not going to switch to intimation vanilla extract. You can tell the difference in the final product. I was planning to buy the now $40 bottle of vanilla the next time I’m at Costco. It is a large bottle and should get me through a year of baking. I may still buy a bottle, but it is no longer immediately needed.
I remembered I had vanilla beans from Costco that I bought last fall. I also have vodka. Those two items are all you need to make your own vanilla extract.
It couldn’t be easier. Slice some vanilla beans open (I also cut them in half so they would fit in a jelly jar). Put the open beans in a jar.
Cover the beans with vodka.
Put a lid on the jar. Put it in your cupboard. Shake it a couple of times a day for two weeks. after that it should be ready to use. I’ll add vodka a few times, as there will be enough vanilla to infuse two or three times the amount of vodka in the jar.
After a few hours you can already see the change in the vodka.
Hopefully the vanilla crop recovers soon. Until then, I hope you find some forgotten vanilla beans in a drawer and vodka in your freezer and make some of your own extract.
I love to cook, but I hate turning on my oven in the summer. I find myself cooking in the crock pot because it doesn’t heat up the whole house. Last night I decided to try something new in the crock pot – eggs.
I browned half of a pound of breakfast sausage in a skillet and transferred it to my crockpot (which I sprayed with oil). I then used the same skillet, with a bit of vegetable oil (I wasn’t planning on needing that, but the sausage was very lean), to saute a green pepper, orange pepper, and half of a red onion.
Once that was soft I added it to the crock pot. I cracked a dozen eggs into a bowl and whisked them until they were mostly scrambled. I added salt, pepper, and a cup of shredded cheese. I then poured the eggs over the meat and vegetables and cooked it on low for about 2 hours. Once a knife stuck in the middle came out clean I cut it into 8 wedges and called it dinner.
We both like this, so I’ll be making it again. I will be making a few changes. I’ll probably use soy chorizo instead of breakfast sausage. I used pork sausage from our egg lady. She has great eggs, but her sausage is pretty bland. I will probably make this without cheese next time, as it isn’t needed. I think a pinch of good cheese on top would be better than supermarket cheddar mixed in.
One of my favorite things about eggs for dinner is the leftovers the next day. I had this for breakfast covered in siracha. The kids had it for breakfast and ate it once it was called eggy pie. I microwaved slices for a minute. They reheated well and didn’t seem to dry out.
What do you cook when you don’t want to turn the oven on?
I haven’t been meal planning lunches for the kids lately. I haven’t needed to. I think it just took three weeks of planning and trying new things to help me come up with creative menu ideas on the fly. We haven’t been eating chicken nuggets or fish sticks lately, which was my goal. The kids still aren’t eating many vegetables, but I’m trying.
Oh, I’m trying.
I have two meals that the kids will eat consistently. The easiest is English muffin pizzas. Toast an English muffin, top it with sauce and cheese, then broil it until the cheese melts. Add a vegetable and a fruit. Easy peasy.
The meal that is most often requested is “cocktail party” dinner. Audrey asks for this for almost every meal. It is small bits on a plate, like you would eat at a cocktail party. Karen gave me the idea to put meat and cheese on a pretzel skewer, and it has been a huge hit. I try to do something fun to the plate every time, today it was mustard sunglasses for dipping the turkey.
I am pleased that the kids are not eating as many chicken nuggets. Now that we’ve discovered cocktail party lunches I’m having fun changing them up. I’m always looking for new things to add to the rotation, so if you have any ideas send them my way.