food

Food Prep – Beans: Soaking, Cooking, & Freezing

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I tend to use a lot of beans in my recipes, whether it’s chili, soups, or a side dish! I’ve used cans, but there is something about seeing that viscous liquid coating the beans that always makes my stomach turn. No matter how much I rinse my beans, I can’t get that vision out of my mind! Some years ago, when I was single, I’d soak and cook and freeze my beans in 2 cup portions for use whenever a recipe called for beans. I got out of that habit due to convenience, but now I’m back at it!

On my last grocery trip, I purchased four 1-pound bags of dried beans – pinto, black, great northern white, and kidney. I rinsed then soaked the pinto, white, and kidney beans for about 20 hours, changing the water and rinsing the beans once throughout to ensure that those nasty gas causing agents were being eliminated. Once they were done soaking, I cooked all 3 varieties on the stove-top, adding a little kosher salt, onion powder, and a bay leaf to each pot. Once they were done cooking, I measured 2 cups into each pint sized freezer bag, which gave me approximately 3 cans per pound of beans. Each 1-pound bag of beans cost me about $1 while a can of beans can is just under that most times (& sometimes more, depending on the variety!)

Beans, beans!
Beans, beans!

I labeled each one and stuck them in the freezer for use. No thawing is required if adding them to a soup or chili. They will thaw while cooking.

Next up is chickpeas and black beans! For my chickpeas, I’ve always cooked those using Alton Brown’s method and they always come out perfectly! I use those chickpeas to make my own hummus as well as for use in Budget Bytes’ quick curried chickpeas! Soaking and cooking your own beans can be a little time consuming, but it can save you so much money over a year’s time (if you use beans like I do!) and it is so much better for you. Canned items contain so much in the way of sodium and preservatives which can mean bad things for your overall health.

Note: If cooking kidney beans, make sure that you cook them completely through! They contain phytohaemagglutinin which is a toxin that causes severe gastric distress resulting in nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea!

Here are some helpful links if you’re interested in cooking and storing your own beans:

Kitchen Treaty | How to Cook Dried Beans & Freeze Them for Later
Whole Foods | All About Beans
Lifehacker | Cheat Sheet: Soaking & Cooking Dried Beans

Have you ever tried cooking and freezing your own beans? What have you used them for? What’s your favorite bean to cook with?

Budget Bytes – Ground Turkey and Kale Soup

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One of my favorite recipe sites is Budget Bytes. It is a great site that contains tons of recipes that can easily be made on a budget. Whether you’re looking for soups, sandwiches, seafood, poultry, Mediterranean, gluten free, vegetarian – whatever you’re in need of, you can find it at Budget Bytes. I have discovered some favorites and new staples over the past several months such as:

Unstuffed bell peppers
Homemade chicken noodle soup
Tandoori chicken dinner
Yellow rice chicken skillet
Easy oven fajitas

Every time I create my 2 week meal plan, you can bet that there will be at least 3 or 4 recipes from Budget Bytes. The latest recipe I tried was the sausage & kale soup. However, since I am not a fan of cooking with pork (or Italian sausage, in general), I decided to sub a pound of ground turkey which I browned with a little cracked red pepper and kosher salt. Yum!

A side note on prep – on my last grocery trip, I purchased spinach, spring mix, and kale for use in green smoothies. I’d rinsed them and stored them in our freezer for easy use in the mornings (and to prevent it from going to waste!) My kale was already rinsed and ready and frozen. In addition, I’d spent part of my Saturday and part of my Sunday soaking, cooking, and storing beans in 2 cup portions (approximately the size of a can). I’ll post more on that in the near future. In the recipe, Beth at Budget Bytes also suggested chopping and freezing carrots and celery which I did as well!

Now here I must admit – I really enjoy hand chopping my veggies. I don’t always love it, but most times, I do. I just got a new food processor back in December, but sometimes I just want larger, more uniform pieces. I chopped my carrots, celery, onion, and minced my garlic and I was ready to rock.

Minced garlic, chopped garlic, onion, & celery
Minced garlic, chopped garlic, onion, & celery
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Ground turkey and veggies sauteeing in olive oil
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Frozen kale and my cooked & frozen great northern beans
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Adding that delicious frozen kale!
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Adding the white beans

Now, she does note in the recipe that you can use vegetable or chicken base, and I opted for vegetable since it’s predominantly veggies & there was no chicken in the recipe. I love using Better than Bouillon’s bases and I have their vegetable, chicken, and beef bases.

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Better than Bouillon organic vegetable base

They are so flavorful and really save me money! Instead of paying for cans of broth, or sodium & MSG laden cubes, I have these organic bases! Good for the wallet and the body!

Now, I didn’t get a picture of the soup when it was done, but it was pretty good. I had to adjust the seasonings by adding kosher salt, white pepper, and some onion powder. I would not put it in my frequent rotation, but I can see myself making it again & would definitely play with the seasonings more! However, I do like that it was very quick & easy to put together, naturally gluten free (watch your broth ingredients always to make sure!), very nutritious and chock full of delicious vegetables. Our bodies appreciated it and our budget did too.

 

Chocolate Chip Cookies (Gluten Free & Delicious!)

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DSC06165One of my favorite go-to recipes for my husband, for friends, and for events is Tollhouse’s chocolate chip cookie recipe. I cannot tell you how many batches upon batches of cookies I have made in the past several years with that recipe! It always gets rave reviews and I always have to confess that it is no recipe concoction of my own! After I decided to bid gluten adieu, I tried the recipe using King Arthur’s GF multi purpose flour (& no xanthan gum, mind you) and ended up making some flat cookie patties! Ha! They tasted great, but sorely lacked dimension.

A close friend of mine, Enrica, sends me a lot of great gluten-free dessert pins, for which I am so thankful! One of the recipe pins she recommended a while ago was a recipe for chewy gluten-free chocolate chip cookies. What!? I was hesitant for a moment, breaking away from my tried & true Tollhouse recipe (I am still determined to make it work!), but I’d decided to try it. I purchased some gluten free oats, put them in my Ninja blender, and decided to try these out.

Note: Bob’s Red Mill does make a gluten free oat flour, but once I found out that oat flour is just oats ground into a powder, I decided to do it myself. It ended up being much less expensive & more economical for me to purchase a 2 pound bag of oats versus a 1 pound bag of oat flour. Tip: Bob’s Red Mill offers a $1 off coupon. Click here to access it!

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The recipe was certainly easy, didn’t call for other flours, and required no xanthan gum. And the taste of the cookies – outstanding! The texture was assuredly different from the Tollhouse cookies due to the oats, but I didn’t care – they were delicious! They passed the husband test too! I brought some to our church for our staff and they enjoyed them as well. I have made them a few of times since the first, sending some to my family and they were a hit with them too. These cookies are not ‘good for gluten-free’; they’re just good!

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The only thing I would do different is refrigerate the dough, but that’s it! Even without chilling the dough, they came out wonderfully!

Sunday Night Beef and Broccoli

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Whenever I go grocery shopping (which is every other week), I start by meal planning. I plan out my meals for the next two weeks and base my grocery list on that, trying not to deviate too much when I actually go to the store! Wanting to try some new recipes, I reviewed my Pinterest page as well as one of my favorite recipe sites, Brown Eyed Baker. I was so excited to find some new recipes that did not require me to buy TOO many ingredients! One of those was beef & broccoli. Now, my beloved and I enjoy Chinese food occasionally so I thought this would be a great addition to our meal rotation. I hit the store, grabbed some oyster sauce along with some rice vinegar, flank steak, sesame oil, and a few other necessities for the meal, and I was set! So yesterday, after Sunday evening service, I got ready to prepare it, excited about trying something new!

I’d never done a recipe with sesame oil or oyster sauce so I got small quantities of each item. I really enjoy shopping on the ethnic / international aisle at our local HEB. I always see so many things that I am unfamiliar with and it always reminds me that there is a whole world of cooking that I am just not familiar with!

It's beef & broccoli time!
It’s beef & broccoli time!

I got all my ingredients together (dark brown sugar, vegetable oil, ginger, garlic, corn starch, oyster sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar, broccoli florets, and flank steak) and started by cutting up my flank steak.

Getting it ready to marinate
Getting it ready to marinate

Making the marinade was super quick and easy!

Marinade all whisked away! :-)
Marinade all whisked away! :-)

I placed the steak in a bag to marinate, got my florets steamed, & made my sauce. As I opened the oyster sauce, I noticed it had MSG (monosodium glutamate). I thought, It will be okay. How often do I have MSG anyway? Not often! I checked with my husband and he let me know he had no sensitivity to it so I proceeded! I cooked my beef, adding in the fresh garlic and ginger, removed it, then added my sauce to the pan so that it could thicken. Our home smelled like an Asian cuisine restaurant! I added the beef and broccoli to my thickened sauce, stirred it, and served it up over white rice.

Beef & broccoli up!
Beef & broccoli up!

The taste was magnificent! It tasted authentic! We loved it! And then an hour later came…

The Headache

Yes, I got an MSG headache! I couldn’t believe it! I went to bed with a headache and woke up with one. My husband was affected as well. Needless to say, the MSG laden oyster sauce went into the trash and so did the leftovers. As delicious as it was, as great of a recipe as it was, it wasn’t worth the side effects.

This dish is definitely a winner, but next time, an MSG free oyster sauce will be used! I look forward to making this and serving it to friends! It was quick, it was delicious, and it tasted authentic! Win!

A Sweet Treat: Pecan Bars

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I discovered this recipe a few years ago on a show I used to watch on Food Network – 5 Ingredient Fix, a show hosted by Claire Robinson. Her show caught my attention because, as the title states, she makes various recipes (appetizers, drinks, entrees, snacks, etc.) just using 5 ingredients! The bars are so easy to make and have always been a hit every time I have made them. It’s like a pecan pie in bite sized pieces! I usually cut mine afterward with a pizza cutter. It makes it a lot easier versus using a knife to cut the individual bars.

Pecan bars
Pecan bars

With that said, here is the recipe, no modifications needed! You can view the recipe on the Food Network website as well – Pecan Bars Recipe.
Crust:

1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) cold unsalted butter, cubed, plus more for dish
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2/3 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Filling:

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup light brown sugar
Pinch salt
1/3 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
3 cups coarsely chopped pecans

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Line a 13 by 9-inch baking dish with foil allowing an overhang about 2 inches off the sides. Butter the foil. (Jenn’s notes: very important step!)

In a food processor, blend together flour, sugar, butter and salt until the mixture resembles coarse sand. Add 2 tablespoons cold water and mix until the dough just holds together. Press dough into bottom of buttered baking dish and bake in oven until golden in color, about 20 to 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the filling. In a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, add the butter, brown sugar and a pinch of salt and mix on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the corn syrup, flour and pecans and mix until just combined. Spread the filling over the baked crust and bake until golden brown, about 30 to 35 minutes. Remove the dish from the oven and allow it to cool completely in the pan.

Remove from pan by pulling up the foil sides and putting it on a cutting board. Cut bars in desired size with a sharp knife and arrange them on a serving tray. Can be stored in an airtight container up to 2 days.

Recipe courtesy Claire Robinson, 2010

Behold!
Behold!