Monday, July 25, 2011

Updates: Cinnamon Apple Oatmeal and Broccoli Soup

This week I'm visiting my sister in the DC area (and I should note here that both my brother and my sister own crock pots, thanks to gifts from me) so I don't have any of my blogging stuff with me to write a full post.  So, I thought I'd take this opportunity to write an update on two of the recipes I posted about earlier, but tried again.

Now, if you remember from my recent Cinnamon Apple Oatmeal post, I said that the oatmeal cooks overnight on low.  However, there is an alternate way to make it and because I had been out at a concert the night before I wanted to make it, I had to try this alternate way earlier this week.  Instead of cooking it on low overnight, I cooked it on high for just two hours (the recipe says 2-3 hours).  As you can see from the image on the left, the oatmeal came out much less mushy than the overnight version.  The apples tasted fresher.  Overall, I liked it this way too.  However, the water that got absorbed in the overnight version was still very liquidy in this version.

Now, because the water wasn't absorbed completely, the oatmeal, when served, was a little bit watery.  It was still tasty, however, and ultimately I'd recommend either way, depending on what texture you want your oatmeal to be.  Ultimately, I think I'm going to stick with the overnight version when I make this in the future.

The other recipe I "tried" again was the Broccoli Soup with Garlic and Olive Oil.  If you recall from that post, I made the soup twice, once with chicken broth and once with vegetable broth.  Because I was going out of town after I made the version with vegetable broth, I ended up freezing some of the soup so it wouldn't go bad... and then I forgot about it until I moved into my new apartment and moved all my frozen food from one freezer to the next.  You may also recall from that post that I said that you could either mash up the soup or use an immersion blender and I commented that I wanted to try it with the immersion blender.  So, one day for lunch I pulled the soup out of the freezer and heated it up, using the immersion blender while reheating it.

Honestly, I liked the soup much better as a pureed soup than just the broccoli chunks in the broth.  So, my recommendation on this one is: buy an immersion blender.  You can get one from Cuisinart on Amazon for under $30 or splurge and get the one with the whisk and chopper attachments, which is the one that we received as a gift.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Vegetarian Split Pea Soup

So, back in February, when I posted about the French Split Pea Soup, one of my colleagues commented to me, "What about American split pea soup?"  I took this as a challenge and looked through my cookbooks to find what could be considered an American split pea soup.  In the Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook, I found Vegetarian Split Pea Soup and made it on March 1.  Now, the reason I considered this "American," is that according to the description in the cookbook, this recipe is similar to that of Pea Soup Andersen's, a restaurant in the middle of California which does have really good pea soup!

As you can see from the above image, the good thing about this recipe for the grad student is that you can do a lot of the prep work the night before.  I chopped the shallots, carrots, and celery the night before and so only had to throw in the split peas and the spices in the morning before heading off to school.  As you can (somewhat) see from the image on the right, the spices include a bay leaf, thyme, sage, and salt (which I probably didn't put in, but it was a long time ago so it's hard to remember!).  The good thing about this recipe as well for the grad student is that you just use water so you don't have to spend any extra money on chicken or vegetable broth.  You then just stir everything together and cook it for 12-15 hours, which is really good if you're going to have a long day at school.

This is what the soup looked like before I turned it on.

And this is what it looked like after cooking on low for 12-15 hours.

After the soup is done cooking, you remove the bay leaf and puree the soup.  I used my roommate's food processor at the time, but it was awkward and messy to switch the soup from the crock pot to the food processor and back.  I highly recommend an immersion blender (which I do have now, so future pureed soups will be done that way).  You serve the soup with a little bit of cayenne pepper on top.  The cookbook suggests serving it with warm bread or croutons, but I opted not to do this.  Now, I didn't really like this recipe.  It was too watery and there wasn't enough flavor, not thick like split pea soup should be.  So, sorry Kyle, but the French win on this one.

I ended up adding a piece of the pork from my French Split Pea Soup adventure to this and cooking it overnight.  This cooked off the water a bit and the pork added more flavor.  Now, it is very true that perhaps if I had added the salt originally, my results would have been different.  But honestly, I think my evaluation is that I prefer the non-vegetarian version better.  Apologies to all my vegetarian friends.  However, if anyone would like to try the recipe with the salt added, let me know and I'll send it to you and you can either comment with your results or let me know and I'll do an "update" post (or, if you want to write a guest post, I'll be happy to include it here).

So, ultimately, I think that because I recooked the soup, it messed up how many servings I should have gotten out of it.  The recipe says that it makes four to six servings, but I think I only got 4 out of it: one which I ate as the vegetarian  version and then three more that I ate after adding the pork.  But, look at that picture to the left: doesn't that look more thick and yummy than the watery version that I added the ham to above (sorry that the color is a little off in the picture, I was using my cell phone)?  Well, I think so.  I guess my final analysis is that this recipe wasn't that great and I probably won't bother trying to make it again, especially since I have several other split pea soup recipes that I can try.

So, for the sake of recipe analysis, let's pretend like I didn't add the pork so I'll estimate that you'd get about five servings out of this.  Each serving is less than 175 calories (so to make it a meal, you might actually want to have some bread with it, and a salad).  In terms of cost per serving, we already had bay leaves, sage, and cayenne pepper, so my cost per serving, had I followed the recipe in the end, would have only been about $1.72 per serving.  If you had to get all the spices, your costs would increase dramatically (to about $3.50 per serving), but in theory these are spices that you have on hand from previous recipes and such so it's not that expensive to make at all.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Cinnamon Apple Oatmeal

My Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook has a whole chapter titled "From the Porridge Pot."  Back in February, I thought it'd be fun to try out one of the recipes for oatmeal.  Although this is a breakfast item, so different from the other things I review (in that, you won't get a week's worth of dinners out of it), but I actually loved this so much that I was thinking about making it again this week!  I wanted to make this oatmeal, the "Cinnamon Apple Oatmeal," because I had an apple that needed to be used.  The recipe actually says that you can use either an apple or a pear so I actually ended up making this twice because my roommate had a pear that needed to be used.  (All of the pictures in this post, however, are from my initial attempt.)

I used one side of the dual crock pot to make this one because it says that you should use a "small round" slow cooker.  Plus, the recipe says that it only serves 2, so I figured that it would cook better in the smaller pot.  The recipe is pretty easy.  It calls for "old-fashioned rolled oats" or "think-cut rolled oats."  Instead, I found "oven toasted, old fashioned oats" in the grocery store.  You add some brown sugar and cinnamon.  The recipe calls for a "pinch of salt" and then some unsalted butter, but when do I ever buy unsalted butter?  Instead, I just ignored the salt and used salted butter.

Finally, you add the chopped apple or pear.  For the liquid, the recipe says that you should use either water or a combination of water and apple juice.  I'm not sure what the difference in taste with the apple juice-water combo would be because I just used water.  But, what do you expect?  I'm a grad student.  And I know that apple juice is pretty cheap, but what am I going to then do with a whole thing of apple juice?  Ultimately, I decided to save money and just use water.

Now, all of this preparation was done at night before I went to bed and I woke up in the morning to piping hot oatmeal!  (It cooks on low for 7 to 9 hours, so... overnight.)  Now, when I told my fiance that I wanted to make this again, he noted that it might actually be quicker to just make oatmeal in the morning.  And sure, the oats only take about 5 minutes to cook on the stove.  But, it wouldn't be the same.  Sure, you can add brown sugar and cinnamon to your oatmeal after its cooked, but you won't get the fresh fruit blended in in the same way as you do with the crock pot (though the recipe does give you the option to add the fruit in the last 30 minutes of cooking if you prefer it to be fresher and less blended... I liked it blended).

Now, the recipe says that it serves two, but I honestly don't know what kind of appetite they think these two people have in the morning.  I got four servings out of it and although I was initially worried about leftovers (which is why I shared it with my roommate each time), I just zapped them in the microwave and added some skim milk and it was quick and tasty.  A fresher take on instant oatmeal perhaps?  And it's pretty decent for a breakfast.  The serving size I used is about 155 calories, whether you use the pear or the apple.  With half a cup of skim milk, that puts it around 200 calories... a decent start to the morning.  And since the oatmeal was mushy and sticks together, adding the skim milk really made it a bit nicer in my mind.  In terms of cost, I can't image that this would cost much more than $1.00 per serving for anyone.  Most of the items, brown sugar, cinnamon, and butter, are things that you have around the house already (at least I did, though since we just moved, I will have to go out and get brown sugar to make it again).  I just bought the oats, which were only around $3.00 and apples are especially cheap, normally around $1.99/lb or less for the various kinds at my grocery store.

Overall: yummy and cheap.  I'd recommend oatmeal in the crock pot to anyone, especially seeing as I'm planning to make this one again.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Southern-Style Barbecue Green Beans with Bacon

Seriously.  "Southern-Style Barbecue Green Beans with Bacon."  Doesn't that sound like an appropriate side dish for the Fourth of July weekend?  My fiance decided that he wanted to have some of his friends from his nursing program over for a barbecue, so I volunteered to make a side dish.  I thought that I might give baked beans in the crock pot another try, but ultimately decided that green beans + bacon, cooked in barbecue sauce sounded like a good dish to feed nursing students.

This was from the Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook, which is quickly becoming one of my favorites (though thanks to bridal shower gifts and such, I now have Italian and Indian slow cooker cookbooks to try... also: how excited am I about this French slow cooker cookbook, due to be released in January 2012).  Since I was planning to go into school to the gym and to work at the library on the day of my fiance's barbecue, we were smart and prepped some of the ingredients the night before.  This recipe is actually set perfectly for a grad student: there's only four steps and if you prep it the night before, and thus eliminate one of the steps, all you have to do the day of is throw everything together in the crock pot.

As you can see from the images, the first step is to cook the bacon and then cook a chopped onion in the remnants of bacon grease.  The step that we skipped is actually the one in between those: "Grease the inside of the slow cooker with some of the bacon drippings."  I thought that it wouldn't be sanitary to leave the grease out in the slow cooker overnight and it wouldn't be smart to refrigerate the slow cooker insert itself, so I decided that since the bacon was going in and we cooked the onion in bacon grease, that would be sufficient.  I also washed all the green beans and snapped off the ends the night before, to make my life easier in the morning.

So, all I had to do when I got up in the morning was to throw the green beans and the onion/bacon mixture (I stored those in the same Tupperware container) and cover it all with barbecue sauce.  In terms of timing, this one is pretty good for an all-day, out-of-the-house cooking, though I think the beans might have been better if they hadn't cooked for as long as they did.  The recipe says to cook them on low for six to seven hours and I found the beans to be a little too limp in the end.

This is what the beans looked like after they were done cooking.

And this is what they looked like after I stirred them... much better, no?

Now, I couldn't even begin to tell you how many servings we got out of this because people just were helping themselves at the barbecue.  I made a double recipe, but a single recipe says that it serves four to six.  So, for the sake of this, let's assume that I got twelve servings total, though I'm sure we got more than that.  So, in terms of cost, I'd estimate this dish to be anywhere from $1.05-$1.25 per serving according to the number of servings estimated by the cookbook.  The range, of course, depends on how cheap certain things are, especially the bacon and the barbecue sauce.  In terms of calories, the big ticket item here is actually the barbecue sauce, making the per serving calorie count about 128.  In reality, it's probably less than that because (a) you don't eat all the barbecue sauce, just the stuff that sticks to the beans and (b) we probably ate smaller servings that the estimated.

So, how was this recipe?  Not bad.  My fiance's assessment is probably what I'm going with: this dish is more barbecue sauce than green beans in terms of taste.  I think that if I ever make it again, I may try diluting the barbecue sauce with some water, going half barbecue sauce and half just water, which may make the taste of the beans stand out a bit more.  I think I'd also probably cook it for less time, so the beans would be crisper and taste more fresh.