Going to pot…slowly

The slow-cooker is back, judging from the number of new-wave books out there using the appliance. I’m IMG_2920always surprised to meet people who don’t have one, because mine has saved many busy, stressed-out days. Toss things into it, add some seasoning and turn it on. Six to eight hours later, with no further involvement on your part, you have dinner. It’s like your mother snuck into the kitchen, made dinner, and left without commenting on the state of your house, your children or your job prospects.

Even minimalist cooks can bring something tasty out of a slow cooker – it turns sliced potatoes, chuck roast, generous shakes of chili powder and a coating of bottled barbecue sauce into a quite acceptable dinner. One thing to remember when using a slow cooker is that, because of the long cooking time, you will need more seasoning for flavor. And vegetables like potatoes take longer to get tender than meat, so put them on the bottom of the pot, where it’s hotter.

Author Kendra Bailey Morris draws on her childhood in West Virginia and her years in Richmond, Va. for her new book, “The Southern Slow-Cooker: Big-Flavor, Low-Fuss Recipes for Comfort Food Classics” (Ten Speed Press, $19.99).  One interesting twist in this book is that several of the recipes come with cocktail pairings – now that’s something you never saw in your Mama’s slow-cooker cookbook.

The recipes range from simple combinations to ones that require a little prep work before hitting the pot. But those show that a little effort pays off in raising the level of flavor above what you’d expect from a slow-cooker meal. Dr. Pepper Sorghum Roasted Ham rings so many Southern holiday bells: it has ham, uses a soft drink for cooking and includes sorghum. Until recently, sorghum wasn’t widely available, but now it’s regaining its place in today’s Southern cooking. Sorghum is made from sorghum cane, not sugar cane, and is lighter in flavor than its cousin molasses. Sorghum shows up again in Orange Sorghum Sweet Potatoes with Cornflake Topping, which would be a great new dish for Thanksgiving (and a low-effort dish, thanks to the slow-cooker).

Recipes range from breakfast to dessert. There’s corn pudding, buttermilk chocolate cake and even the slow-cooker apple butter recipe that I’ve heard tell of and long wanted to try. There’s a lot in this book for fans of Southern flavors to love…slowly.

IMG_2921Kathy Hester’s “Vegan Slow Cooking For Two or Just For You” (Fair Winds Press, $19.99) aims at one drawback of slow cookers: they prepare enough food for a horde. No matter how much you like your spouse’s bean chili, you don’t enjoy eating it five days in a row. Hester, who lives in Durham, created recipes using 1 1/2- to 2-quart slow cookers, because with the larger cookers, the cooking quality changes if you don’t fill them up enough.

Hester’s earlier book, “The Vegan Slow Cooker,” used the large-size cookers, but most recipes in “Vegan Slow Cooking for Two or Just for You” are new. As with the previous book, each recipe includes options to make them gluten-free, oil-free or soy-free.

Recipes go from breakfast to dessert and snack time (including a decadent hot chocolate). Hester has a great way of making vegan dishes exotic and intriguing. I will say upfront that there is no chance of me becoming vegan anytime soon, but the Creamy Veggie Curry, using a plethora of Indian spices, is tempting no matter what one’s dietary philosophy. And Corn and Basil Risotto might tempt the most ardent carnivore.

Using the old bean

IMG_2778I’m certainly a carnivore (and seafood-a-vore) – no threat of veganism here. But like many, I’m trying to include more meatless dishes in my menus for the sake of health and checkbook. I have a couple of problems, though. Cheese is out as a protein source due to The Hub’s dairy allergy. And he dislikes most beans.

So, what am I doing with a cookbook called “The Great Vegan Bean Book”? I’m always in search of good dairy substitutes, and I hoped to find some dishes to add to the occasional-meatless rotation that did not always involve tofu. I have a love-hate relationship with the bean curd.

If you love beans of all kinds, this second cookbook by Durham writer Kathy Hester, published by Fair Winds Press,  will fill your bowl abundantly. Even if you’re working with a limited repertoire, as I am, there’s plenty to like. She begins with useful information on selecting and preparing beans of all sorts, then launches into recipes from breakfast and snacks to dessert. Most recipes include gluten-free, oil-free and soy-free adaptations.

I went looking for recipes using the four Hub-tolerant beans: black beans, chickpeas, lentils, green beans. There are several, including Pineapple Rum Beans over Coconut Lime Sweet Potatoes (using black beans) and Chickpea and Vegetable Lo Mein. The Creamy Chickpea and Rice Casserole intrigued me because casseroles have been off the menu – they’re usually laden with dairy products.

The casserole was easy to make and filling, with the creaminess of the faux sour cream. Hester’s aromatic poultry seasoning mix used in the dish would be good with, yes, actual poultry. I cheated a little – since vegan wasn’t my goal, I used chicken broth instead of water.

The only caution I would make about using this book is to be aware of can and package sizes given. I didn’t notice that the package of silken tofu specified for the sour cream substitute was a different size from the common brand in the supermarket I frequent, causing my sour cream to be not as thick as desired.

Here’s the recipe, which I would definitely make again.

Creamy Chickpea and Rice Casserole

1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 small onion, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 cups chopped mushrooms

1 cup diced carrots

1 cup chopped green beans or green peas (fresh or frozen)

1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas or 1 (15-ounce) can, rinsed and drained

1 tablespoon DIY Poultry Seasoning (recipe follows)

1 cup long-grain brown rice

2 1/2 cups water

2 tablespoons nutritional yeast

1/2 cup vegan yogurt or Extra-Thick Silken Tofu Sour Cream (recipe follows)

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a Dutch oven or oven-safe pot. Add the onion and saute until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and mushrooms and saute for 5 minutes more.

Add the carrots, green beans, chickpeas, poultry seasoning, brown rice and water. Mix well, cover with an oven-safe lid, transfer to the oven and bake for 1 hour.

Remove from the oven, add the nutritional yeast and yogurt or sour cream, and mix well. Taste and add salt and pepper and more poultry seasoning, if needed.

DIY Poultry Seasoning

2 tablespoons ground sage

2 tablespoons thyme

1 tablespoon marjoram

2 teaspoons celery seed

Mix everything together and store in an airtight container.

Extra-Thick Tofu Sour Cream

1 (12.3-ounce) package silken tofu

1-3 tablespoons water

Juice of 1 lemon

Add the tofu, 1 tablespoon water and the lemon juice to a food processor of blender and blend until smooth, scraping down the sides as you go. Add the remaining 1 to 2 tablespoons water if you need to thin the mixture or if you have a less powerful blender.


Change is good

Welcome to January, or as it’s called at my house, National Carrot Sticks Month. Now is when we feel we should pay for the indulgences of December, but I don’t think that means we should suffer.

In Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, the always interesting Mark Bittman proposes having a vegan day each week. Well, I don’t know if I’d go that far, but his recipes intrigue me. They are far more interesting than the usual roots and berries I see in vegan cookbooks. See what you think here.

I’ve been looking at vegan options due to The Hub’s dairy allergy. And, no, it doesn’t mean he can’t eat eggs, as countless people have asked me. The last time I checked, eggs didn’t come from cows. This Christmas, I began to miss the creamy mashed potatoes I used to make with our standing rib roast. In a new cookbook, I found an alternative. Barbara Kafka’s “The Intolerant Gourmet: Glorious Food Without Gluten and Lactose” (Artisan, 2011) includes a number of interesting options, such as risotto, which is usually packed with butter and cheese. But she doesn’t expect you to look for vegan cheese and such. I’ve had very back luck with faux cheese and would rather just avoid it. I was also interested in the book because Kafka’s books are excellent – I’ve used her “Soup: A Way of Life” for years.

I tried Kafka’s recipe for mashed potatoes using olive oil, and it was great. She advises starting with potatoes that don’t have too much starch, such as red or fingerling potatoes and avoiding the traditional high-starch mashing potatoes, such as russets and Idahos. I think pressing the potatoes through the food mill helped with the texture. I did not make the garlic oil because one of my guests was sensitive to garlic, but it could only make them better (I added the olive oil straight to the potatoes). They were even pretty good the next day.

Garlic-Olive Oil Mashed Potatoes from Barbara Kafka

12 cloves garlic, smashed, peeled and cut into 1/8-inch slices

1/2 cup olive oil

2 pounds red or fingerling potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks (about 4 cups)

Kosher salt

Place the garlic and oil in a small saucepan over very low heat. In a medium saucepan, bring 2 quarts water to a boil. Add the potatoes and reduce the heat to simmer. Cook for 10 to 12 minutes or until the tip of a sharp knife easily pierces a potato. Drain. Place the potatoes back in the pot to dry out for 2 minutes. Pass the potatoes thorugh a food mill fitted with the fine disc into a large bowl. Strain the garlic oil into the potatoes. mix with a whisk and season with salt to taste.

Serves 4 to 6

What’s a bacon lover to do…

…when Bubba goes vegan?

Read about it here.

Food news roundup

You’d expect a certain level of elegance at picnics held before North Carolina Symphony outdoor concerts. Food matched to concert themes, shrimp with horseradish, silver candelabras. Read about it in The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) here. If the concertgoers tried a little harder, they might reach the level of an Ole Miss football tailgate.

Corn strippers. No, not entertainers who peel off their husks. They’re essential for serious corn-from-the-cob removers. Read more in the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer here.

You’ve heard of eat local, now you can sauce local. The Independent Weekly has a colorful collection of local barbecue sauce makers. The pineapple and garlic in The Shizzle Jerk Marinade is quite intriguing. Read more here.

OK, I want to know why, in every grilling article, the main subject is a guy grinning in a baseball cap. Like the photo with the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal article here. Women grill, too, y’all. We do not wear baseball caps because they spoil our coiffures. I do happen to own two grills (one charcoal, one portable gas) and a turkey fryer. I’d like to have a Big Green Egg, like the baseball-cap guy, but have not yet put my pennies together for one. As that founding griller Abigail Adams admonished, “remember the ladies.”

Vegan food in a slow-cooker? How crazy is that? Well, not very if you read HealthySlowCooking. Since I’m scanning the skies for dairy-free desserts for The Hub, who is allergic to dairy, this is a good find.

Ever wonder what happens to coupons after they accomplish their mission to save you money? The Post and Courier (Charleston, S.C.) has the interesting answer here.

Boil before grilling? If you’re thinking about brats, the answer is yes, according to Bill Daley in the Chicago Tribune. Read the reasoning here.

Until someone manages to produce a bacon plant, we’ll have to make do with NCTomatoandGardenBlog by tomatomaniac Craig LeHoullier. Read through the list of plantings and drool.