Sunday, February 20, 2011

French Split Pea Soup

Recently I've been trying to catch up on posts about crock pot meals that I made at the end of last semester, but never had an opportunity to actually post about.  I've already mentioned in several posts the birthday gift that I received from my future mother-in-law, The Gourmet Slow Cooker: Simple and Sophisticated Meals from Around the World.  Well, the first meal that I made in that was back in the beginning of November, French Split Pea Soup.  The difficult thing about this cookbook, that I've mentioned before, is that it often requires either several steps to prepare the ingredients, or asks you to add additinal ingredients part-way through the recipe.  Now, in some ways this could be considered good for the graduate student lifestyle--when you have the ability to work from home, you can easily be at home to add additional ingredients, or take longer to prepare the crock pot in the morning.  For those who spend all day at school, like me, however, such recipes are more difficult.

So, this French Split Pea Soup is probably the easiest recipe to put together in the whole cookbook.  All of the preparatory work, rinsing and sorting through the split peas and chopping the onion, carrots, and celery, can be done the night before, making the actual prep work in the morning a piece of cake.  (As you can see from the image above, I did the prep work the night before to make it much easier for me to throw everything together in the morning.)

So, in the morning when you get up, you just need to mix all the ingredients you prepped the night before in the crock pot.  Another thing that is good about this recipe is that it doesn't necessarily require any broth.  The recipe asks for water or chicken stock.  I did use chicken stock, but that was only because it was on sale and I had a coupon.  If I hadn't had that coupon, I would have definitely just used water in this recipe.

The last ingredient, which unfortunately makes this a not-vegitarian-friendly recipe, is a smoked pork chop, which you can see me adding to the right.

I cannot emphasize enough throughout this post how easy this recipe is.  After mixing all the ingredients together, as I've illustrated here, you just cook the soup on low for 8-10 hours.  That timing is perfect if you have to be out of the house all day at school (or work) and the house will smell amazing when you get home.  After letting it cook for that long, you just remove the bone from the pork chop (which will come off easy because the meat at this point is literally falling off the bone) and then break up any large chunks of meat so it's mixed throughout.

To the left, you'll see a picture of what the soup looked like when it was all done.  The cookbook recommends adding salt to taste, but I didn't add any (surprise, surprise) and I really enjoyed it exactly as it was.  In fact, the note that I left for myself in my cookbook so I remember I liked it was "Amazing!"

The recipe says that it serves 4 to 6 and I got exactly 6 servings out of it.  In terms of cost, the two big items to purchase are the pork chops and the chicken stock--but the latter isn't really necessary because you can just use water.  Either way, it's not an expensive meal.  With the chicken stock included, it comes to about $2.48 per serving.  Using water instead, it ends up only being about $1.65 per serving.  Either way, add a big salad and maybe some bread and you have an affordable meal that will help stretch your stipend.  In terms of calories, the soup isn't a big-calorie meal, so adding the salad and bread will give you a good dinner that won't pack on the pounds as you sit at your desk all day.  With the chicken stock, it comes out to about 134 calories per serving; without, it's about 114 calories per serving.  Not much either way and this is a recipe that I'd definitely make again!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Asian Barbecue Skewers

I apologize for missing posting last weekend.  I meant to actually write this post while I was watching the Superbowl, but unfortunately my camera ran out of batteries so I couldn't upload my pictures and because my weeks are so busy, it just had to wait.

Anyway, last week my roommate and I had our own Superbowl party.  She told me that for the game, she was going to make stuffed mushrooms, Philly cheese steaks, and veggies with hummus.  As she was getting ready to go to the grocery store, I thought: my crock pot cookbooks have some appetizers in them so I should take this opportunity to make one of them!  We looked through the options and picked the Asian Barbecue Skewers from the Crock-Pot Incredibly Easy Recipes cookbook.

Luckily, we had most of the ingredients, so I asked my roommate to pick up boneless skinless chicken breasts, scallions, and wooden skewers.  Now, the recipe actually calls for boneless skinless chicken thighs, but, as I've mentioned in previous posts dealing with chicken, I've realize that the chicken breast is the cut of meat that I prefer so generally, I just get that regardless of what the recipe actually calls for.  My roommate suggested that I pound out the breasts a bit before cutting them into strips, because the breasts were thicker than chicken thighs would have been.

The two pounds of chicken breast that the recipe calls for actually makes quite a few strips, which I then had to put on the skewers.  I will note especially at this point that the cookbook says that when you layer the skewered chicken into the crock pot, you should do it as flat as possible.  Of course, I thought this was kind of silly.  It can only be so flat when the crock pot is of the size that it is.

Then you make the sauce, made out of soy sauce, brown sugar, sesame oil, and garlic.  We already had all of those ingredients (the soy sauce I bought when I made the Soy-Sake Asparagus back in December), though I had *just* purchased the sesame oil the day before when I had gone grocery shopping.  Now, the picture on the left is of the sauce after I put all the ingredients in.  I had wanted to take a picture that showed all of the individual ingredients, but while I was looking for my sesame oil, the soy sauce ate the brown sugar, so alas.

But here's where it gets important, leading to how I'd make this recipe differently were I to do it again.  The directions say, "Reserve 1/3 cup sauce; set aside.  Pour remaining sauce over skewers."  The picture on the right is what the dish looked like right after I followed this direction.  As you can see, the chicken is not covered by the sauce.  The dish cooks for three hours on low: that's two hours initially and then an additional hour after you turn the chicken over.  After it's done cooking, you put the chicken skewers on a plate and pour the remaining sauce over them.  The recipe says to garnish the chicken with sliced scallions and, optionally, toasted sesame seeds.  I started the recipe around 3:30 p.m., so it was already mid-way into the game when it was finished.  Unfortunately, I forgot about the scallions.

So this is what the skewers looked like when I served them.

And this is what it was supposed to look like according to the cookbook.

Now, the skewers weren't that bad, but the problem is that they cook unevenly in the sauce.  Even with turning them over before the last hour of cooking, as the directions say, the sauce is not evenly absorbed into all the chicken.  So, my recommendation?  Make more sauce.  If I were to make this again, I'd probably double or triple the amount of sauce that I make so that the chicken skewers would be completely covered in the sauce while cooking.

Now, we had a ton of leftovers (as you could probably have guessed, seeing as it was only two of us and my roommate had already made a massive amount of food), but I didn't really want to eat them as they were both because of the lack of flavor on some pieces and because they're a distinctly appetizer food.  To remedy this, I decided to make stir-fry.  I took all the chicken off the skewers and cut it into bite-sized pieces.

Then, I added it to some fresh stir-fry mixed vegetables from Trader Joe's (pricier than frozen mixed vegetables for stir-fry, but the price was well worth it for both the freshness and the variety in there).  This was all being cooked from the very beginning in the tiny bit of the sauce that I had saved from the original skewer recipe and sesame oil.

I also added some stir-fry sauce, just the standard type that you get in the grocery store and voila!  Just add rice and you have a quick meal... one that I really enjoyed!

Now, because I made stir fry out of this recipe, it's difficult to figure out exactly how many servings it came out to be, but the cookbook says four to six, so let's say that this came out to be six: two that we ate as skewers and four that I'm having as stir fry.  That comes out to be about 163 calories per serving of the chicken alone (or 165 had I remembered the scallions).  But honestly, as an appetizer, each person might have only one or two skewers, so the calorie count in actual practice might be half of what it is for a "serving."  Making it into a stir-fry upped the calorie count to about 260 calories per serving, not bad for a meal (of course, note that this doesn't count the basmati rice which can be up to 320 calories per serving depending on how much you serve yourself).

I am not going to try to figure out the cost per serving for this dish because I already had many of the ingredients, but the only items that tend to be a little more expensive (and not often on sale at the grocery store) are the sesame oil (used in the original recipe and the stir fry) and the stir-fry sauce.  So, this would be a good appetizer for the grad student to make to bring to the potluck department get-together at the beginning or end of the semester.

This was my dinner tonight (plus a salad that I had already finished when I took this picture).