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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Date Shake

Recently Smitten Kitchen wrote about the Palm Springs Date Shake. I’d never heard of a date shake before, but I have a bag of dates in my pantry that I never use, and I (suppose I’ll admit that I) always have two or three kinds of ice cream in the freezer. There was no good reason for me not to try a date shake, and the recipe required minimal effort, which is how much I want to exert on my cooking nowadays.

I don’t usually make milkshakes. They require an obscene amount of ice cream in them, and it’s easier to just eat the ice cream. However, this milkshake was surprisingly good. I always forget how delicious dates are; when I eat them, I wonder why I don’t eat them more often. The dates made the milkshake taste honeyed to me, even though there’s no honey included. The nutmeg was subtle but delicious.

The recipe is incredibly simple. Only thing to remember is to chop and soak the dates in boiling water for at least 15 minutes, and that can be done well in advance (which is best, in my opinion, so you can chill them and have the coldest milkshake possible).

I don’t know if this is healthier than normal milkshakes, but I’m going to pretend that it is since it contains fruit. It’s definitely worth making more than once.

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Slab Pie

At some point in July, I recalled that I’d read once about a flat pie. Not a galette or a free-form, open-pie. A large, flat, double-crusted pie that was perfect for sharing with a large group of people, without a high ridge of crust along the edge that I can never get through since there’s never enough filling to go along with it.

The internet confirmed what I remembered. Slab pies do indeed exist! I’d bought blackberries on a whim, since they were at a great price, but eating a few reminded me that I still don’t like blackberries that much on their own, even if I do have relatively good fruit. They were definitely destined for pie.

I settled on the Slab Pie recipe from Smitten Kitchen. I’ve made 2 versions of it – one with blackberries, cherries, and blueberries, and the other with peaches and blueberries. The berry one was fine, but peach-blueberry won by a large margin in my book. I also made a margarine crust (pictured below), and a butter crust. Definitely go with a butter crust.

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Alton Brown Asian Slaw

Can you believe it’s already September? With the continued hot weather, I have trouble believing it’s almost the season to make chili and pick apples and bake.

I made quite a few recipes this summer that I haven’t had a chance to tell you about. During warm spells this summer, I made a point of making salads. One of the salads I made a few times was Alton Brown’s Asian Slaw. I don’t like traditional cole slaw, so this is one of the few slaw recipes I’ve tried – and it’s a great one. Deliciousness aside, it yielded a perfect amount for leftovers, and was very easy to make with the food processor.

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Dried Apricot-Pistachio Ice Cream

Warm weather continues to call for ice cream. When I was on an ice cream buying kick last summer, one of my favorite flavors was pistachio-almond ice cream. I had an evening routine that consisted of a jog, followed by dinner, reading, and that ice cream. Pistachios are one of my favorite foods that I only discovered as an adult, and I love any opportunity to enjoy them, such as in that ice cream. And in baklava. And in granola.

Thus, you know that I was excited to make Dried Apricot-Pistachio Ice Cream last week. It should also be no surprise that we finished off the ice cream last night.

Dried Apricot-Pistachio Ice Cream
Dried Apricot-Pistachio Ice Cream

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Cherry-Peach Sangria

Cooking Light had a series of recipes using cherries recently, and I couldn’t resist adding the recipes to my to-make list. I had some great peaches last week, so I decided I would buy more so that the first thing I made would be Cherry-Peach Sangria.

Recipe was simple to make. I dissolved granulated sugar in some brandy; the recipe didn’t say to heat it, but the sugar and brandy was easier to combine when I did. I added pitted sweet cherries and a bottle of Riesling, and chilled the mixture overnight. Right before serving, I added a sliced peach, a little seltzer water, and a few basil leaves; I’m not a fan of thyme with fruit so I left it out.

The sangria was pretty good. It was sweet but not too sweet. It was balanced and easy to drink. It was fruity but not overwhelmingly so. The cherries were a little alcoholic since they soaked in the brandy and wine, but they were definitely delicious. It was a refreshing drink (and snack) for the summer. This wouldn’t serve 8, as the recipe suggests, but it would provide a nice glass of wine and fruit for 4.

I really enjoyed this drink. It was delicious and not too sweet or heavy. I would make it again.

Thai-Style Vegetable Rice Noodles

Summer in St. Louis is the pits. For those of you who say “summer doesn’t start until Wednesday,” I present you with St. Louis weather. Our high today was 96; drought conditions are spreading, yet humidity is high; and the next cold front that moves through here will knock the temperatures down to a cool 89 degrees.

Which, incidentally, is the temperature in my kitchen. Seriously. Every now and then, for kicks, I put the battery in my probe thermometer and measure the air temperature instead of the temperature of a roast or a chicken. After it told me that the air in the kitchen today, while I wasn’t cooking, was 88.5, I carried the thermometer into the office, where it tells me the top of my desk is 87.9.

Oh, and we have “central air.” Right now I’d rather have a single good window unit.

Now that I’m done complaining, I can tell you about what I’m cooking to cope. I barely turn on my oven. Nothing I cook uses the stove for more than a few minutes at a time. Tonight I made Rice Krispies treats (using the microwave, naturally). I made ice cream the other day.

Tonight’s dinner was Thai-Style Vegetable Rice Noodles. It used my stove minimally, and is supposed to be served cool or cold. I’ve had noodle bowls similar to this when I’ve got to Vietnamese restaurants and enjoyed them, so I was excited to try this. It was a great meal for today.

Thai-Style Vegetable Rice Noodles
Thai-Style Vegetable Rice Noodles

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Strawberry Summer Cake

While I visited my family for Memorial Day, I made a few things that I’d originally planned to blog about but just wasn’t that impressed with. Pies that didn’t set, or were really just too simple to mention. Bacon-wrapped hamburgers with hot dogs, shaped like turtles – which was really just too much effort to make. There was nothing that I really feel like passing along.

Now that I’m back at home, it’s incredibly hot and all I can think about is buying some fresh produce and making refreshingly healthy and cool meals. Naturally, I bought a pint of strawberries when I went to the store on Saturday night. So of course, instead of making a cold smoothie or a fruit salad, I bake a cake. One that takes over an hour to bake.

I came across the Strawberry Summer Cake from Smitten Kitchen as I went through my Google Reader yesterday morning. Alex hasn’t started up his low-carb diet again yet after being gone for a week, so I decided to make it while I had someone to help me eat it. It wasn’t as if I had other specific plans for the strawberries, anyway.

This cake was incredibly easy to make. The cake batter is more or less a coffee cake batter. Deb uses half barley flour, which amazingly is something I do not have, but I did swap in a quarter cup white whole wheat flour for a quarter cup AP flour. I used my hand mixer to cream 6 tablespoons margarine and a scant cup of sugar (for 3 minutes), and then added an egg, a half cup of milk, and a little vanilla. I mixed together flours, baking powder, and salt, and gradually added that to the wet ingredients. I spread the batter in a greased, standard size, 9-inch glass pie pan. I pressed halved and hulled strawberries into the batter, and some of mine were large so I had to crowd them in. I may have pressed them in a little far. I forgot to add sugar until the pie had been in the oven for a minute, but I just pulled it out and sprinkled 2 tablespoons sugar over the the entire top of the pie (not just the strawberries – oops!).

This baked at 350F for 10 minutes, and for another 60 at 325F.

Strawberry Summer Cake

This cake smelled great as it baked. This cake was pretty tasty. The edges were golden and crispy. Some of the berries cooked down better than others, and the larger/less done berries had a little soggy cake underneath them. The smaller ones just became jammy and delicious. The cake itself is moist and sweet, but not too sweet. This is an excellent coffee cake, and one of the few baking recipes that I’ve ever seen call for strawberries. Strawberries aren’t used in baking that often because they leach so much of their juice. I’m pretty happy with this cake, and I’ll probably make it again sometime.

256: Fruit and Yogurt Pops

One of the things I wanted to do over the summer was buy Popsicle molds. They were surprisingly hard to find in the stores! I kept putting off ordering them online, but I finally did – in September! Unfortunately, the weather was forecast to be in the 90s – and for the first day of autumn! Record highs! It’s a good thing I bought some pop molds.

I remembered that a magazine had a recipe for Fruit and Yogurt Pops in it. I found it in the July 2010 Cooking Light magazine, but it’s not available online. I knew it would have to work, though, because the illustration showed the same molds that I have!

First you make a simple syrup of 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water (boil briefly and dissolve). Next, you blend 1 1/2 cups strawberries with 1/3 cup of the syrup. My strawberries were still pretty frozen, this was pretty slushy on its own. I had trouble measuring it, so I dumped just about all of the fruit that I had in. This yielded about 1 1/2 cups fruit puree, which I think was more than I should have had. I put 2 tablespoons of this in the bottom of each mold, and stuck them in the freezer for 30 minutes. Next I divided a 6 ounce cup of yogurt between the molds (about 1 1/3 tablespoons in each). I froze them again for a little longer, and then added the rest of the strawberry puree, since it was enough to finish them off. The third layer was supposed to be a blackberry layer, made by pureeing 1 1/2 cups blackberries and a teaspoon lemon juice with the remaining syrup and straining out the seeds and skin.

At this point, I put the sticks in the pops and put them in the freezer until we decided to eat them.

I don’t have a picture of these yet, but I still have some of these in the freezer so maybe I’ll take a picture and post it later. These were pretty tasty. The frozen strawberry puree was fantastic, and I only used half of the syrup in these that the recipe called for. I recommend it. I do not recommend using fat-free yogurt, because that part became very icy rather than creamy; I’ll try low-fat or regular yogurt in it in the future. I’ll make a variation on these next summer.

187: Lemony Orzo-Veggie Salad with Chicken

One Friday, I knew there wouldn’t be enough time for me and Alex to go home and eat before we had to be at a game. I decided to make Lemony Orzo-Veggie Salad with Chicken since it seemed like a good, light, take-along meal for hot weather.

I was rushed when I made this. I eyeballed the amount of lemon zest that I put in the dressing, and I think that I actually just mixed all of the ingredients together, without making the dressing first. I omitted dill and feta.

I enjoyed this. We were a little rushed when we ate this too, so I’m trying to remember specifics about it. It was refreshing, and is actually one of those rare pasta salads, since it has no mayo or dairy in it. I wish I could remember just how lemony it was. It didn’t seem particularly vegetable-heavy, but then again, it was a pasta salad. I’m not sure that the chicken added much to it for me.

I would definitely try this again. It was pretty good on its own, and it has room for adaptation and improvement as well.