Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Slow Cooker Ham and Bean Soup with Kale

Well, the snow just keeps piling up and I am OVER IT. I'm officially going on record as anti-snow. It may be pretty when it's falling, but once you've dealt with it for weeks on end, it loses its charm.

Since winter won't quit, neither will my winter comfort recipes. It was time to break out the slow cooker again for some soup.

Notes: The slow cooker is a winner again! This soup is hearty and exactly what you need on a cold winter night.

I used canned beans, but you could used dried beans as long as you soak them the night before. You can add those to the slow cooker with the other ingredients. Canned beans will fall apart if you cook them for 8 hours.

On ham hocks: you'll find them in the meat section of grocery store with the large hams and ham steaks. I would have liked a smoked one, but I couldn't find one. The one I got was a "country" ham hock, so it was salted. If you get one of these, DON'T add more salt to the soup. I used 1 tablespoon of cajun seasoning and my soup was a bit on the salty side. I'd err on the side of caution and use your favorite salt-free seasoning. A nice mix of cumin, paprika, and garlic powder would be a good. Use some red pepper flakes if you want some spice. You can always add salt if you need to.

2 15 oz. cans of cranberry beans or pinto beans
1 ham hock
5-6 celery stalks
5-6 carrots
3-4 cups of unsalted chicken stock
1 onion
1 small bunch of kale (I used Lacinato)
Seasonings of choice (easy on the salt, see note)


Peel and slice the carrots. Slice the celery. Dice the onion. Put the onion in the bottom of the slow cooker and place the ham hock on top of them. Add in carrots, celery, and stock. Season to taste. Set the slow cooker for 8-10 hours on low.

When there is an hour left of cooking time, rinse and drain the beans and add them to the slow cooker. Remove the bones from the ham hock and break up the pieces of meat, discarding the fat and skin. Once the time is up, thinly slice the kale and stir it in. Let sit for 5 minutes and serve.

The slow cooker: the number one chill killer! Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

King Cake

See this beautiful creation? It is a king cake. A king cake is a traditional dessert made and eaten during the Mardi Gras season. When Scott and I lived in Louisiana, we would get one (or two) every year. They are just so delicious.

I have wanted to make my own from scratch for a long time and I decided this year was the year. I planned to make it for the Super Bowl and I set aside a whole day for baking. And what you see above is the result.

The recipe I used was an older one originally posted in the Times Picayune. You can find it here. I won't bother retyping it, since I didn't change a thing. There's a "cheat" at the end of the article using pre-made refrigerated crescent dough. But try the from-scratch version first. It's just more fun!

The only thing I did differently was the decorations. Instead of using food coloring, I found colored sugar and just sprinkled it on the icing.


Saturday, February 1, 2014

Sausage Gumbo

Scott and I have been very lucky to live may different places. We often play a game that you might call "Dream Town." Our "Dream Town" would be made up of all of our favorite businesses and restaurants from all the places we've lived. For example, Dream Town would have our vet from Louisiana, it would have our favorite breakfast joint (The Courier) from Illinois, and it would have the pizza parlor (Hillside Pizza) from Massachusetts.

One place that would definitely be on that list is Nina P's from Lake Charles. One of the reasons it would be on that list is because of the gumbo on their menu. Their gumbo was probably one of the most comforting foods I've ever had--it made you feel better on a chilly gray day in the bayou.

Since Mardi Gras is coming up, Scott and I are missing our favorite things from Louisiana, so I decided to make some gumbo this weekend. And since it's going to snow on Monday (again), I can't think of a better way to stay warm.

Notes: I have Tony Chachere's cookbook. It doesn't contain a recipe for sausage gumbo, so I read through all the different gumbo recipes and constructed a kind of hybrid from all of them.

It's likely that my roux was not dark enough. I was afraid of burning it. The gumbo we used to get in Lake Charles was much darker than mine. Also, I substituted carrots for the more traditional bell pepper because Scott isn't crazy about peppers. It still tasted great even though it's not 100% correct.

This is not a quick meal, but boy is it worth it. Make it on a chilly weekend and you'll have plenty of leftovers for the week!

If you wanted to make a vegetarian version, you could use red kidney beans or sliced fresh mushrooms in place of sausage. Just add them to the broth about 30-40 minutes before the 2 hours is up. If you add them at the beginning, they'll just fall apart.

1 pound kielbasa
5-6 carrots
5-6 celery stalks
1 onion
1 small bunch parsley
2-3 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 heaping tablespoons of Tony's Original
1 quart of water plus 3 cups
1 stick of butter
4 tablespoons of flour
3 cups minute rice


Start by prepping all your veggies. Peel and dice the carrots. Dice the celery and onion. Mince the parley and garlic. Slice the kielbasa

Melt the butter in a large stock pot over medium-high heat. Whisk in the flour. Let the roux cook until it's the color of milk chocolate (not dark chocolate). Remove the pot from the heat. Stir in the veggies until they stop sizzling. Season with Tony's. Return the pot to the heat and add 1 quart of water.

Stir in the garlic, sausage, and parsley. Bring everything to a boil and then turn the heat back to a simmer. Allow the gumbo to simmer for 2 hours.

When the gumbo is almost done, bring 3 cups of water to a boil in a smaller pot. Stir in the minute rice, turn off the heat, cover, and let sit for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork when it's done.

To serve, put the gumbo into a wide-mouthed bowl. Use an ice cream scoop to make ball of rice and plop it right in the middle. Top with parsley or serve with file (if you can find it in your grocery store!)

Bon appetit, mais cher!