Thursday, January 30, 2014

Slow Cooker BBQ Baked Beans

In the same meal that I served the caramel pecan bars, we had BBQ baked beans.  Baked beans may just be this dude's favorite food ever.  The rest of us aren't too keen on the strangely sweet, mushy canned beans. I decided to make my own and combine several styles of baked beans into one masterpiece.  They are a little sweet, a little tangy, and tiny bit spicy.  And this recipe is literally a crowd-pleaser for everyone.  Leave out the bacon and it becomes vegan!  If you are serving a mixed-diet group of people, just have the bacon on the side as a topper.

Slow Cooker BBQ Baked Beans
1 1/2 C pinto beans, soaked overnight (or 2 14oz cans, drained and rinsed)
3 slices thick cut bacon, chopped, cooked, drained
1/2 C chopped onion
1/2 C chopped green bell pepper
1/4 C barbecue sauce
1/4 C ketchup
1/4 C brown mustard
1/4 C water
1/4 C loosely packed brown sugar
2 Tbsp maple syrup (optional)
2 Tbsp cider vinegar
1/2 tsp hot sauce, more or less to taste
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp salt

   Combine all the ingredients in a slow cooker.  Cook on high 4-5 hours or low 7-8 hours, until beans are tender.  Adjust seasoning to taste
   If you are using canned beans: combine ingredients and cook on high for 1 1/2-2 hours.  I also suggest sauteing the onion and bell pepper for about 5 minutes first; they may still be on the crunchy side if you don't.
   Serves 4-6

Note:  I used a little crock pot (like 2 or 1.5 qt) that doesn't have an temp control.  It is literally, plugged in=on, not plugged in=off.  So the cooking time for the dried bean version may not be totally accurate.  But it's a slow cooker... they are very forgiving in cooking times.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Caramel Pecan Bars

If you like pecan pie, you will love these!  Think pecan pie cookie... with caramel.  After the holidays, I didn't want to make pie.  Also, I hate making pie crust.  But it was a friend's birthday dinner and he loves pecan pie.  I had just watched an episode of Barefoot Contessa where she made these raspberry streusel bars that looked delicious.  The shortbread-esque cookie base was really easy; you could top it with just about anything.  These are also great because you can easily cut them into any size you want: giant, indulgent squares or petite, bite-sized treats.  You can easily make these the day before (insert event).

Caramel Pecan Bars
1 stick softened unsalted butter
1/3 C sugar
1 1/4 C AP flour
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 C (heaping) chopped pecans
1 egg
2 Tbsp corn syrup
1 Tbsp maple syrup (can be subbed with another Tbsp of corn syrup)
2 Tbsp loosely packed brown sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
2 Tbsp caramel, mine were probably generous Tbsp (plus more for after it is baked, optional)
Streusel (optional):
2 Tbsp quick oats
2 Tbsp flour
2 Tbsp loosely packed brown sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt (I suggest sea salt)
1 Tbsp melted butter or vegetable oil

   Beat the butter and sugar together.  Add vanilla and salt, combine.  Add flour, incorporate.  It probably will not form a solid mass of dough., but it will stick together when pressed.
   Line a 9x9 baking dish with foil or parchment paper.  Lightly spray.  Press dough into pan and form a very small lip around the edge to keep in the filling.
   Combine all the filling ingredients, except caramel.  Spread over dough, but don't go all the way to the edge.  Drizzle caramel over the filling.
   Combine streusel ingredients.  Sprinkle evenly over the top.
   Bake at 350 deg F for 40-45 minutes.  Allow to cool in pan.  Remove from pan and cut.  Drizzle with more caramel right before serving.
   Serves 9-16.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Venison Pierogies

A couple weeks ago, my mom and I went on a pierogi making spree.  We made 4 different kinds and more than 150: dill havarti, pork and sauerkraut, bacon and cheddar, and venison.  They were all definite winners.  It's hard to pick a favorite because they are all unique.  If I had a food truck, it might be a pierogi truck.  Nashville would benefit from it.
5 C flour
16 oz sour cream*
2 whole eggs
1 egg yolk
3 Tbsp butter, melted 
1 tsp salt

   Combine everything except flour.  Add 4 1/2 C flour.  Incorporate.  (The dough probably will not form a ball on its own.)  Sprinkle 1/4 C flour on surface.  Turn out dough.  Sprinkle the last 1/4 C over the dough.  Knead dough until it comes together and is smooth (~3 minutes).  Add more flour if needed.  Divide dough into easily managed pieces (2-4).  Let rest at least 10 min. in refrigerator.
   On floured surface.  Carefully roll out dough to 1/4 inch thick.  Cut into 3 inch circles.  
   *Reduced fat sour cream works, but do not use fat free.

Venison Filling
~3/4 lb ground venison, cooked and seasoned with salt and pepper
8 oz porcini or button mushrooms, chopped
1/2 C diced onion
2 tsp minced garlic
~1 1/4 C stiff mashed potatoes
6 oz crumbled blue cheese

   Saute onion and mushrooms until onions are translucent, 5-7 minutes.  Combine all the filling ingredients.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.
   Fill pierogies with about 2 Tbsp of mixture.  Seal into half moons.
   Boil until they float.  (At this point, you can freeze them.)
   Makes about 4 dozen.  (Serving size=4)
Finishing (for every 2 servings):
   1 medium onion, sliced.  Saute in butter or oil until soft and sweet, about 10-12 minutes.  Add pierogies, lightly brown on both sides and heat through.  Add about 1/4 C water and 2 Tbsp sour cream to make a sauce.  Sprinkle with parsley.   

Use this post as a more detailed reference. 

Monday, January 20, 2014


Hey Guys!

I'm not even sure if I ever mentioned this.... you should follow me on Instagram!  If you like pictures of food, animals, and other super important things like costumes, concerts, and my hair, it would be worth a couple seconds of your day to add me to your feed.  @passiondiver

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Beet Hummus w/ Ras El Hanout

Last weekend, I saw Jeff Mauro make mint and beet hummus on The Sandwich King.  At first it seemed odd, then it seemed like a really good idea!  I have a huge jar of beets from my aunt's garden, and I am always on the lookout for different ways to use them.  Well, the grocery store was out of mint, which forced me to redirect 3 of my planned recipes.  While staring at my overly crowded spice/condiment cabinet, I realized I had ras el hanout.  The earthy blend sounded like the perfect compliment to beets.  I was right, beets and ras el hanout are an utterly dreamy pairing!

Beet Hummus w/ Ras el Hanout
1 14oz can drained and rinsed chick peas
1/2 14oz can drained and rinsed white beans (optional, I added them for extra creaminess)
1 C roughly chopped roasted (and peeled) beets (~2 med beets)
1/3 C extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp tahini
2 tsp ras el hanout
zest of 1/2 a large lemon
juice of 1 large lemon (~2 Tbsp)
1 large clove garlic
salt to taste

   Blend everything together:  food processor, good blender, immersion blender.  Salt to taste, the amount will you need to add with vary depending on your spice blend.  I need about 1/4 tsp.  (Add extra olive oil if you prefer a thinner hummus.)
   Makes about 3 C.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Spicy Thai Winter Squash Soup

I'm going start by saying I'm extremely self conscious about calling anything "Thai".  (Bruce, I know this isn't authentic in any way what so ever, but it is delicious!)

Since I now have several good friends that are vegan, I think about the dishes I make that are animal-free a lot more frequently.  It is more often than not completely unintentional.  When I realize something is vegan, I get this strange elated feeling.  It's hard to describe, but basically my brain screams, "EVERYONE CAN EAT THIS!"  And yeah, this is even *shudder* grain free.  I'm not a fan of that fad, but whatever.  So unless you are on some absolutely crazy diet, you can eat this.

The ingredients may seem a bit odd, but I had to use what was in the house.  The decision to put an Asian spin on my go-to squash soup was spur of the moment.  (You can expect another variation in a few months.)  This soup is really thick, creamy (but naturally creamy), and hearty.  A bowl of this, maybe a hunk of bread or a salad is all you need.  And there is no need to feel guilty about serving up seconds.

Spicy Thai Winter Squash Soup
1 med acorn squash, quartered and guts removed
2 med sweet potatoes, peeled and halved
1 tsp coconut oil (or any kind of oil)
1/2 C diced onion
2 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp minced or grated ginger
2 Tbsp coconut vinegar (sub w/ white wine vinegar)
1 1/2 Tbsp coconut Thai blend*
1 T red curry paste
2 tsp sriracha (more or less to taste)
4-6 C low sodium vegetable broth (it will depend on the actual size of squash/sweet potatoes and how thick you want the soup to be)

   Salt and pepper squash and sweet potatoes (you can brush them with oil if you would like).  Roast at 350 deg F for 45-60 min, until very soft.  When cool enough to handle, remove skin from squash.  Roughly chop the squash and sweet potatoes so they are easier to blend.
   Heat coconut oil over medium heat.  Saute onion until translucent, about 5 min.  Add garlic and ginger.  Cook 1 min.  Deglaze with vinegar.
   Add squash, potatoes, seasoning blend, curry paste, sriracha, and 4 C veg broth.  Use and immersion blender to puree (or carefully puree in batches in a blender.)  Add more broth as necessary.
   Salt and pepper to taste.  Heat, serve.
   Serves 6.

*My blend packet does not mention anything about milk products, but the website does.  If you are vegan, I suggest contacting Spice and Tea Exchange customer service before purchasing.
Notes:  You can use any winter squash.  Though, I suggest staying away from spaghetti squash for this one. OR use 3 more med sweet potatoes instead of a squash.  I don't actually use vegetable broth.  I use water then add vegetable base or bouillon because it is much cheaper and I can regulate the sodium and flavor strength better.  Use any combination of broth/bouillon/water you like.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Venison Stew over Barley

Stew wasn't something I ate much growing up.  (Or now, really.)  However, it got cold here in Tennessee.  Very cold.  "Stupid cold," as many of us have taken to calling it.  I realize that it may not seem that frigid to people who spend most of their time north of the Mason-Dixon line, but we are not used to single digit temperatures in the South.  Stew was the obvious choice for an evening that threatened 1 degree.  And we had received an unexpected gift of venison from my sister-in-law.  We had just used up the last of our stash, and the deer have gone into hiding this year it seems.

I took a very, very simple approach to this.  I wavered on the edge of making a fancy French braised roast with rosemary and herbs de provence, but extreme simplicity won.  Sometimes I forget how delicious simple things can be.

This is also kind of surprisingly healthy.  I personally think of stews as fatty, gravy laden things.  Using venison (or bison, which is often more readily available) cuts out tons of fat!  I did use a little bit of butter at the end, but that could easily be cut out.  Then putting it over a whole grain instead of cream-heavy mashed potatoes or empty-calorie egg noodles boosts the nutrition and adds a really nice texture.

Venison Stew over Barley
~2 lb bone-in venison roast (or ~1.5 lb stew meat)
2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
3 med carrots, cut into large chunks
2 stalks celery, sliced
1 pkt onion soup mix
1 tsp minced, dehydrated garlic
~4 C water
1 Tbsp butter
2 tsp flour
~1/3 sweet vermouth (can be replaced with water or stock)
salt, pepper, oil

   Salt and pepper the roast.  Over medium heat, sear the roast on all sides in a little bit of oil (~2 tsp).  Deglaze the pan with sweet vermouth, scrap up all the stuck on bits.
   Place roast in slow cooker, add the deglazed pan drippings.  Add vegetables, soup mix, garlic, and water to the slow cooker. (There should be enough water to not quite cover everything in the slow cooker).
   Cook on low for 10-12 hours.  (If you are using stew meat, it will probably only take 6-8 hours.)
   An hour before serving, sprinkle in flour and add butter.  Stir so there are no lumps of flour.  (I take the meat off the bone and remove the bone at this point.)
   Barley:  Bring 1 3/4 C water to a boil.  Add 1 C barley and 1/2 tsp salt.  Return water to a boil.  Stir, cover, and reduce heat to med-low/low.  Cook for ~40 minutes.
   Serves 4-6

Monday, January 6, 2014

Super Simple Coconut Pie

I hope everyone's holidays were lovely!  Mine were.  It was pretty hectic, yet relaxing.  I felt like we were all over the place but none of it was stressful.  The Saturday before Christmas we threw a Ludachristmas party (I'm a big of 30 Rock.)  We had an incredible spread of food:  beer cheese & mac, salted caramel dark chocolate cookies, bourbon pecan cookies, buffalo chicken dip, candied kielbasa (so damn delicious), collard green gratin, and coconut pie.  There was probably some other stuff too, but I don't remember.  And there weren't any left overs to remind me the next day.

The hubs had been wanting a coconut pie for awhile.  I feel no shame in saying that I basically followed Betty Crocker's "Impossibly Easy Coconut Pie" recipe.  It is crust free, you just combine everything in a bowl, dump and bake.  I had to modify it a bit, using what I had on hand.  It ended up a little healthier, but still seriously delicious because I bumped up the coconut flavor.  And it used my favorite shortcut cooking ingredient--pancake mix.  Follow my recipe or the original, if you like coconut pie, you will not be disappointed.
Super Simple Coconut Pie
1 1/4 C shredded coconut*
3/4 C sugar
1/2 C Bisquick Heart Smart Mix
1/4 C coconut oil
2 C unsweetened coconut almond milk
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp cardamon
4 eggs

   Combine all the ingredients in a bowl.  Pour mixture into a greased deep dish 9-inch pie plate (or an 8x8 square pan would work for bars.)
   Bake at 350 deg F for 45-50 minutes.
   Serves 8

*I used unsweetened coconut because I prefer things less sweet.  If you like sweeter desserts, use sweetened coconut.  You may need to bake it for ~5 minutes longer if you use sweetened coconut because it is has more moisture than unsweetened.