Saturday, May 26, 2012

Turkey and Spinach Loaf

I recently found out that I received a scholarship to go to France to take a language class and do research for my dissertation, so I'm not exactly sure what will happen with my blog while I'm there.  I may take a break from posting in July because of my trip -- but I might try to write the posts in advance and schedule them to post every two weeks because I recently discovered that blogger has that feature. The only reason I worry about taking a break is because I have such a back log of posts to make and it's really difficult to post about recipes that you made almost a year ago.  I do note in my cookbooks whether or not we liked the recipe and any tips I would want to remind myself abotu if/when I make it again, but as you've seen in my recent posts, I don't always remember how many servings we got out of it.  Also, in the case of the post I'm making for today, I had to look through all of my cookbooks until I finally figured out what the name of the recipe was that I had pictures for.

So, I made this recipe, the Turkey and Spinach Loaf, last August 4. (Part of the reason I couldn't find it is because I kept looking for "meatloaf" in the index of each book and it's not called a meatloaf even though that's exactly what it is.) This is from the Italian Slow Cooker cookbook and it's actually the first recipe that I made out of that cookbook.  And I know that because I just went through and re-tagged all of my posts based on what cookbook I got them out of, so if you want to read all of my reviews from one cookbook, you can now do that.

This recipe asks for either fresh or frozen spinach. In both cases you have to cook the spinach before you start, and I found it easy to use frozen and just cook it in the microwave. The recipe says that you should add salt, but I left that out.  The spinach is supposed to be chopped finely after you cook and drain it. Another benefit in this case to using frozen spinach is that you can get it already chopped.  So using frozen spinach cuts off time in both the cooking and the chopping, which is especially good for the busy grad student.

Then you take some Italian bread and soak it in water until it is soft and you can easily crumble it into a bowl.  You add chopped mushrooms, pancetta, and garlic and freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, as you can see in the image above.

You also add ground turkey, spinach, eggs, nutmeg, salt, and pepper.  I did not add the salt.  Then you moisten your hands and mix everything together.  Watch out -- the mixing will make your hands quite cold if you just took the turkey out of the fridge!

This recipe also calls for you to make the foil cradle, like I did before with the salsa meatloaf (and as you can see in the picture below). Unlike the salsa meatloaf, however, this recipe also calls for the meatloaf to be cooked in chicken broth.  Now, when I went shopping for this recipe, I saw that I had enough leftover chicken broth in the freezer, so I didn't bother buying any.  Of course, I completely forgot to take the broth out of the freezer in advance so I had to melt it in the microwave, as you can see from the image to the right.  So, after mixing everything together, you shape the mixture into a loaf in the crock pot and add the chicken broth and chopped fresh or canned tomatoes. (I used canned tomatoes.)

The image to the left is what the meatloaf looks like before it is cooked on low for 3 hours.  Now, generally I trust these cookbooks, but I was really paranoid about the meat not being completely cooked after only 3 hours so I left it on longer than that.

The image to the right shows you what the meatloaf looked like after I took it out of the crock pot.  The cookbook recommends that you serve it with mashed potatoes with a little olive oil and I think that would be very delicious, but we just served it with some frozen mixed veggies that we had in the freezer, as you can see from the image below. I really liked this meatloaf.  The only complaint I have was that it all came out a little too mushy.  The recipe calls for a 1/2 cup chicken broth and some liquid was also added with the canned tomatoes.  I think if I were to make this again I would add less liquid in hopes that would make the loaf more solid (and in that way, easier to take out of the crock pot and serve).

Now this is a healthy meatloaf.  Using the 8 servings that the cookbook says you'll get, it's only 279 calories per slice. Even if you added a generous serving of the garlic mashed potatoes that I made with the Swiss steak, you'd still end up under 500 calories.   And obviously you could get more servings out of this depending on how thick you slice it. In terms of cost, this is stipend-friendly as well.  As I cooked it, I only paid $2.58 per serving.  If you had to buy everything, it'd be a little bit more, but not much: $3.31 per serving.  If you're trying to be healthy, I really recommend this as an alternative to beef meatloaf.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Rigatoni and Sausage

Some of you might be wondering why I'm posting so much recently and it's because although I've been trying to update every other week, I got a bit behind when I was finishing up my dissertation prospectus and so I'm trying to make up for those missed posts.  But by June I should be back on the every other week pattern.

Now, one of the things that you can do with the crock pot that I haven't done nearly enough is to make casseroles and pastas.  I did make the mac and cheese that I posted about back in 2010, but I haven't done much else with pasta since.  Of course, since I now have the Italian Slow Cooker cookbook, there are many more pasta dishes in there that I'll have to try.  But almost every non-specialized crock pot cookbook that I have has a recipe for some sort of pasta casserole. At the beginning of last July, I tried one of these recipes from the Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook: Rigatoni and Sausage.

The best thing about this recipe is that there are only four ingredients so it's perfect for the grad student on a budget.  It calls for Italian turkey sausage, a jar of pasta sauce, rigatoni, and "freshly grated or shredded" Parmesan cheese.  And, for the latter, I normally have one of those store-brand shakers of Parmesan cheese in the fridge so I just used that.  Would it have been nicer with freshly shredded cheese?  Probably.  But if you're on your graduate-student-stipend budget, you've got to cut some corners (in terms of both time and money)  when necessary.

For this recipe, coat the crock pot with nonstick cooking spray first.  Then, and this was possibly the step that took the longest, you have to take the sausage out of the casings and crumble it up.  Now I couldn't find Italian-style turkey sausage at my local grocery store, so I used Italian-style pork sausage instead.  The sausage gets browned on the stove and while that is going on, you pour the pasta sauce, plus one extra jar full of water into the crock pot.  Add pasta and sausage, then stir.  The image below shows what it looked like right before I turned it on to cook.

This recipe cooks only for three and a half to four hours on low, but you have to be around to stir it once half way through (to make sure that all the pasta gets cooked), so it's not the best recipe to make on a day when you have to be out of the house all day.  It's definitely made for the weekend or a work-from-home day.  This is especially true because this is one of the only recipes I've seen that comes with a "do not overcook" warning: "Do not cook more than 4 hours because the sides will dry out and burn."

The dish is served sprinkled with the Parmesan cheese.  As you can see from the image below, it's not a casserole, just a way to cook pasta in the crock pot and to be completely honest, it might be just as easy to do this one on the stove.  However, the description of the recipe reports that the chef that invented it said that "the pasta and sauce cook up slightly dry as a casserole in the cooker," so you do get a different texture, at least, in making it with the crock pot.

This dish was amazing and it's so easy to make so it's one that I'd definitely recommend to the busy grad student.  The recipe says that it serves six and let me tell you, those six servings went really fast in our house.  It was so good that I think both my husband and I went up for seconds and I made a point of packing it for my lunch the next day.  As you can see in the picture below, garnishing the dish with fresh basil gives it a great added touch.

This recipe isn't too unhealthy for a pasta dish if you keep yourself to one serving unlike how we ate it.  It's about 557 calories per serving (so, yikes, the two servings made it over 1000 calories!).  You could be really strategic about this, actually, and make a giant salad for yourself and then serve yourself even smaller portions of pasta.  This recipe takes a whole box of rigatoni and the box (at least according to Barilla) has eight servings in it.  It you drag this recipe out into eight servings it's a not that different but slightly more manageable 424 calories per serving.  Of course, if I had been able to find the turkey sausage, it would have been 500 calories per serving for six servings and only 381 calories per serving for eight servings -- much better. In terms of cost, this recipe is perfect for the grad student budget because if you normally have Parmesan cheese on hand, it only costs about $1.50 per serving!  If you had to get the cheese too I'd calculate it at about $2.00 per serving, or a bit more if you get fresh Parmesan and shred it yourself.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Split Pea Soup with Corn and Carrots

In July I apparently was on a soup kick, because not only did I make the Chicken and Chile Pepper Stew that I posted about last week, but I used a soup mix that my mother had gotten for me and made that in the crock pot as well.  (I think that my mom got this mix at the store at the Wayside Inn actually.) The soup mix was for Split Pea Soup with Corn and Carrots.  Now, for a while I saved the bag from this because the directions and ingredients were on the back, but eventually I think I threw it out because I just looked everywhere I thought I might have put it and I cannot find it anywhere.  The soup mix, as you can kind of see from this image, has the split peas and spices already.

Even without the ingredient list, however, you can see what went into it from my pictures.  It's pretty easy, just the soup mix, chicken broth (or you could use vegetable broth), chopped up carrots, chopped up onion, and frozen corn.  Now, the Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook has a recipe for making soup from a mix, suggesting certain additions, but I borrowed the cooking time from that.  That recipe actually says to cook it on high for one hour to quick soak the bean mix, then cook it low for eight to ten hours.  In all honesty, I probably just turned the crock pot on low before I left for the day and let it cook while I was at school (or, more likely, while my husband was at school and while I was sitting around the house reading for exams).

Now, the problem with making this soup recipe in the crock pot instead of on the stove is that the beans absorb all of the liquid while cooking for that long so I had to add some more broth after it had finished cooking.  Here's what I would recommend, after going through this experience: pour in enough broth -- from one of the cartons that has about four cups in it -- to just cover the soup mix and the added vegetables.  Then, after the soup cooks, pour the rest of the broth into a microwave-safe bowl, zap it in the microwave, and add it to the soup before serving.

This is what the soup looked like after I added some more broth.

Now, the unfortunate thing about having thrown away the bag is that I don't have the nutrition information that was on the mix or the number of servings that the recipe is supposed to make.  But to finish this post I will note that you can always use soup mixes in your crock pot.  And, yes, some of the soup mixes are easy enough to make on the stove, but if you don't even have the 30-40 minutes that it would take you to make one of these on the stove because you have your exams coming up as I did at the time, the crock pot is a good alternative that makes things easier.

Soup, salad, and a loaf of French bread.  Perfect.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Chicken and Chile Pepper Stew

I've been unintentionally updating several times in a row of recipes from the Crock Pot Incredibly Easy Recipes cookbook... and here's one more.  Last July 12, I tried a recipe in the cookbook for a "Chicken and Chile Pepper Stew." It's another really simple recipe, illustrating that the cookbook lives up to its name.

Now, as the cookbook instructs -- so how I made it originally -- is you begin by chopping the chicken and all the vegetables (potatoes, onion, poblano peppers, a jalapeno pepper, and garlic) into chunks and then you put them all in the crock pot.  Now, if I make this again, I'd probably start instead by mixing the broth in the crock pot and then adding the vegetables to save the extra bowl that I needed to use in this case to mix the broth. Also, I should note that the recipe calls for boneless skinless chicken thighs but, as usual, I substituted chicken breasts for the thighs because I prefer that cut.

The broth is made of chicken broth, diced tomatoes, chili powder, and oregano.  The cookbook even specifies to get low sodium chicken broth and no-salt-added diced tomatoes, but I normally get those anyway.  So, as I noted above, I recommend if you make this recipe that you mix the broth in the crock pot first, then add all the vegetables instead of mixing the broth and pouring it over the vegetables.  In both cases  you mix it all together after adding the broth, so there's really no reason to use the extra dish (which you then have to take the time to wash).

This is what the dish looks like before turning it on.

And this is what it looks like after cooking on low for eight to nine hours.

I served this stew with a salad, as you can see in the image to the left.  The stew itself is good, but I felt like the recipe ended up being too "potato-y".  The recipe calls for 1 pound of small potatoes, but I'd probably use less in a future attempt.  In terms of servings, this recipe says that it makes six servings, but I find in general that the soups and stews generally provide more servings than the recipe estimates.  However, because I don't remember how many servings we got, I'm going to have to use six to calculate cost and calories.

This is really healthy in terms of calories.  I calculated approximately 225 calories per serving, so the soup plus the salad come out under 500 calories total.  You could even add some French bread or rolls to the meal and still be within a reasonable amount of calories for dinner.  As for price, this is still really good, but not as cheap as some of the other dishes I've posted about.  If you had to buy everything for this dish, it would come out to about $5.33 per serving.  So, pretty good if you can cover one meal each day for six days at less than $10 a day!  As I made it, I paid about $4.58 per serving, but if I had all the staples I normally have on hand (onion, garlic, chili powder, and oregano) it would be a much more reasonable $3.68 per serving.  Since we had only moved into our new place the month before, this was the first dish that I made that called for chili powder so I had to buy that and it added almost a dollar to the price per serving!

Now, as you can see in comparing the picture on the left with the one above, this dish comes somewhat close to the image provided in the cookbook.  The one in the cookbook ends up more red, but otherwise it's not all that different.  Interestingly, the image above before I turned the crock pot on actually looks more like the image from the cookbook than it does after it was cooked.  Overall: this was a good and easy dish to make and I'd recommend it.  It's great for the grad student because it's one of those dishes that you can put together in the morning quickly (especially if you cut everything the night before) and then just leave it cooking all day while you're at school.