Slow Cooker Baked Beans

I’ve tried a few different recipes for baked beans in the past. They were all disappointing – mainly, they had no flavor. Another gripe that I had – so many traditional recipes for baked beans go in the oven. Sure, they are baked beans, and that’s fine and all, but baked beans are almost always made in the summer, the absolute last time when you want to run the oven for several hours.

Two years ago I looked for a recipe that went in a slow cooker instead of the oven, to make it friendlier for summer cooking. Since it went into a slow cooker, it didn’t make sense to start with precooked cans of beans (another thing that irked me – why cook something precooked for 2-3 hours?!), so I tried to find one that took dried.

Dear reader, I finally found a good recipe. It used dried beans, in a slow cooker. Still, I am a lazy cook most days these days, so I’ve simplified it. The original recipe has you soak the beans overnight before cooking them; I don’t, in favor of cooking the beans a little longer. (My slow cooker cooks beans well even without soaking, so soak yours in advance if you’re concerned that yours won’t.) The recipe takes bacon, which if I use, I make a point to cook some for breakfast a few days in advance and make extra. Original preparation has you cook onion and celery in the bacon grease before making the beans; this is definitely tasty, but I now eschew this extra preparation in favor of tossing all the ingredients into the slow cooker and letting it cook without any extra intervention. I’ve also cut the recipe in half, which still yields 10 servings.

These beans taste mostly of… baked beans, a nicely classic flavor. Too often previous recipes have promised flavors that they don’t provide or that are too subtle. These baked beans are pretty balanced but tend toward sweet, so I may cut back on the brown sugar when I make it next. I can’t promise I won’t tinker with it, but I am pretty satisfied with it and have made it several times as it is.

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Lentil Soup with Lemon

Although I’ve tried a lot of lentil soups, there’s only one that I’m a big fan of. I come back to this recipe time and time again. It’s healthy and delicious, and incredibly simple to make. It also happens to be vegetarian/vegan. It has simple spices (cumin and mustard seeds) and lots and lots of lemon juice. Don’t skimp on it.

I originally got the recipe from 101 Cookbooks years ago. It was tasty, but took a few more steps than I liked. Here’s my simplified version. It’s originally a red lentil soup, but I always use plain brown lentils I find in the grocery store. (That said, the soup in these pictures used red lentils since they were the same price at the store. I also forgot cilantro.) I usually use bottled lemon juice rather than juicing lemons. Often I use frozen spinach (I usually microwave it first) in the soup rather than fresh greens. Since it’s a pureed soup, we always serve it over brown rice. We usually get 4+ generous bowls of soup from this recipe.

To demonstrate how much I like this soup, and how forgiving it is: Once I didn’t have enough lentils, and used chickpeas instead. It reminded me a little of hummus, and it was still tasty. Sometimes I’m out of turmeric, and it turns out okay (although it is better with it). Sometimes I use kale in the soup instead of spinach, and sometimes I forget about leafy greens entirely; the soup still turns out delicious. Sometimes I forget it takes cilantro. Even when I have to make substitutions, I love this soup.

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Chickpeas with Spinach

This recipe, Chickpeas with Spinach, has been one of my favorite quick meals to make recently.

Originally an appetizer, I decided it looked substantial enough for a meal. I felt the same way about the version of it I made several years ago, too. That version had more liquid than this, and took more time to make. Smitten Kitchen’s version as well had a few extra steps that I didn’t feel like doing. So I simplified it so it’s a one-pot dish, that involves no cutting (unless you slice your bread), that takes no more than 20 minutes to make from the time you begin to measure your ingredients to the time you place it on the table. This adaptation of Smitten Kitchen’s version omits the bread that you blend into it, uses tomato paste instead of sauce (which the bread used to soak up), and wilts the spinach in the pot at the end instead of cooking it first. (I tried frozen cooked spinach, but it wasn’t as good.) Oh, and this version uses much less olive oil.

The sauce is balanced with a dash of vinegar (I’ve used balsamic instead of red wine vinegar since that’s what I have), and there’s not so much sauce that it turns your toast to mush, which I can’t stand. It has negligible heat from the dash of red pepper, though you could boost that if you wanted to. You could probably omit the smoked paprika in a pinch, and the dish would come out fine. And you’re eating chickpeas and spinach, on toast – very healthy. This likely isn’t as rich as the tapas-version of Chickpeas with Spinach should be, but it’s very satisfying as a meal.

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Carrot Soup with Sesame and Chickpeas

One of the soups that I’ve made a few times recently(ish) is the Carrot Soup with Tahini and Chickpeas from Smitten Kitchen. It’s a healthy and delicious soup, and is pretty quick and easy to make.

carrotsoupsesamechickpea

The soup itself is lightly spiced. Do not skip the sesame-lemon drizzle! It provides a definite punch of flavor, making the soup anything but boring.  The addition of chickpeas also makes this more interesting than your usual blended veggie soup. In some ways, it’s like eating a soup version of hummus. As a meal, this soup is light but filling. It’s also vegetarian and vegan!

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Slow Cooker Chicken Chili

Cooking is much easier with a one-year old than it was with a baby. It got better when she was able to sit upright and play with toys or watch me from her high chair. Now that she can toddle into and out of the kitchen, I can get much more done!

Still, I prefer to cook things that require minimal effort and time, things that I don’t have to focus on. This usually means using my slow cooker. Deb at Smitten Kitchen posted the perfect recipe earlier this year – a chicken chili made entirely in the slow cooker. No soaking beans. No browning meat.

I love this recipe. I just throw all the ingredients in the crockpot and let it cook until dinner. I only have to cut up an onion and a jalapeno (if I use a whole pepper instead of chili or pepper flakes, which I usually don’t). I don’t cut up my chicken first; after 10 hours in the slow cooker, I easily break it up with a sturdy serving spoon. And this chili even turns out if I forget that I’m out of onions when I make it (oops).

This was a great chili and a perfect slow cooker meal. It was delicious and not too spicy (as long as I added the amount of jalapeno I wanted). As a chili, it’s hearty and healthy. This is way, way better any of my attempts to make a chili with ground turkey. This recipe is not as tomatoey as when I make a chili on the stove, but that’s not a big deal. Leftovers are great. And my one-year-old absolutely devours it, meal after meal.

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Sweet Potato and Peanut Stew

Now that fall is decidedly here (and winter too, it nearly seems), I can’t put off the urge to bake and make other autumn recipes. I regrettably haven’t had much time to cook within the past couple of months. I decided to take a class on nutrition, and while I’m enjoying learning (and will hopefully be able to apply it to my cooking, in some form or fashion), it sure takes up more time than I thought it would. Add to that a busy few months at work, a regular running schedule, friends’ weddings, concerts, and other fun things, and you can see why I haven’t cooked or written! I hope that I’ll have more time soon, since it’s getting too dark and cold to run in the evenings, and my race is this Sunday.

I made the time this evening to try a recipe I just found yesterday, and I’m glad I did. Sweet Potato and Peanut Stew sounded wholesome and warm, a nice contrast to the cool rainy weather we had today. This recipe is delicious, satisfying, and vegan. It came together easily, and was hands-off while it simmered, meaning I could do other things while it cooked. It was tasty enough that I put off my class reading for a change – I couldn’t wait to share this!

Sweet Potato and Peanut Stew
Sweet Potato and Peanut Stew

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Lentil Soup with Sausage and Kale

Within the past few weeks, I made Lentil Soup with Sausage and Kale. The soup sounded hearty and warming during our recent cold snap when winter told St. Louis that spring was farther away than we hoped.

I only made a few changes to the recipe. I used a pound of bulk sweet Italian sausage that grocery stores in St. Louis (or maybe it’s just Schnucks) sell. I cut out the oil added to the soup – after all, sausage renders plenty of fat – and hardly used the garlic oil I made. (It’s going to be added to focaccia whenever I make it again.) I added all of the kale that I bought to go in the soup, rather than restricting it to 3-4 cups.

The soup was pretty easy to make. Brown sausage; add diced vegetables until softened; add lentils, tomatoes, bay leaves, water, salt, and pepper; cover and simmer until lentils are done; and add kale to wilt. It takes a little time for the lentils to cook (about 40 minutes), but it’s hands-off time – I took the time to sit down and read for a little while.

I forgot to take a picture of the soup when we ate it – every single time. But I can tell you that it looked like Deb’s pictures of the soup did – rich and red and earthy.

I’m not always a huge fan of sausage, but I was pleasantly surprised by this soup. It was warming and hearty. Alex and I thought that about a pound of sausage was the right amount for this soup – it flavored the soup well. The flavor was strong enough that the kale wasn’t too bitter for it. This is one of the few lentil soups that I’ve actually enjoyed, and I think that’s due to the flavor the sausage gave the broth.

All in all, this was a great soup to make. The ingredients are inexpensive; the recipe, easy to make; and the soup itself, satisfying. It’s definitely a recipe worth trying.

Curried Lentil-Stuffed Squash

Now that the weather has convinced me that it’s fall, I’ve begun making seasonally-appropriate recipes.

I’m not generally one for dishes that require presentation. I don’t put effort into how my food looks, as long as it looks tasty, and I’m more likely to make rustic-looking food than pretty, decorative food. I thought that Curried Lentil-Stuffed Squash sounded good, though, so I decided to try it, presentation and all.

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Poblano-Jalapeño Chili

Cooking with peppers is fun. It feels so… exotic and dangerous. I didn’t grow up with particularly spicy food, so I didn’t buy chili peppers to cook with until the past several years. I like spicy food, but just a little bit of spice will keep my face warm for a while.

I decided to make Poblano-Jalapeño Chili last month. I know that poblanos are decidedly not hot and jalapeños can range in how hot they are, so this is nothing too adventurous. That said, I like my usual hamburger+tomatoes+beans+chili powder version of chili, so I usually don’t try chili recipes. I think it was the inclusion of the beer and the peppers that drew me to this recipe and convinced me to give it a try.

Poblano-Jalapeño Chili
Poblano-Jalapeño Chili

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Black Bean Soup

My friend Theresa had a favorite recipe for black bean soup to share with me before I left my job last October. In an effort to eat healthily (and inexpensively – beans are cheap!), I decided I would go ahead and try it!

Black Bean Soup

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