Slow-Cooker Barley & Lentil Soup

[Barley and Lentil Soup]The new year always brings an onslaught of “healthy eating” recipes. I suppose I’m not different as this soup is fairly healthy. Lentils and barley both provide a decent amount of fiber and carrots are good for you, right. I use a reduced sodium broth base and then add salt at the end via sriracha and/or a bit of Parmesan cheese.

As an aside, I like the concept of a slow cooker however in practice most of the recipes finish too quickly for them to be practical for me on a weeknight. When I work from home though I can take 10 minutes mid-morning, toss some ingredients together and then have dinner ready when I want to eat.
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Shrimp Scampi

[shrimp, head-on, skillet]
My husband tells me that early in our relationship I made shrimp scampi for him for dinner and he thought it was very sexy. 🙂 I, of course, have no memory of this because my memory is a bit like a sieve. Still his recollection gave me reason enough to make this simple dish once again.

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Achiote Grilled Chicken Thighs

We were introduced to achiote via chef Daisy Martinez‘s cooking show, Daisy Cooks!. Achiote (also called annatto) seeds provide an earthy flavor. One of the more common ways to use them is to make a flavored oil that will impart a yellow-orange color to the dishes it is used in (think yellow rice).

Achiote Grilled Chicken Thighs
Servings: 8-10
Prep time: 2 hours
Total time: 2 hours 30 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 5 Tbsp. achiote (annatto) seeds
  • 1 Tbsp. black peppercorns
  • 2 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tsp. whole cloves
  • 8 whole allspice berries
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • 8 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 2 Tbsp. fine salt
  • 5 lemons, juiced
  • 4 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken thighs

Directions:

  1. Combine the annatto, peppercorns, cumin seeds, cloves and allspice berries in a spice grinder or clean coffee grinder. Grind to a fine powder.
  2. In a blender jar combine the spice blend you just ground with all the other ingredients except the lemon and chicken. Blend until smooth.
  3. Add the lemon juice; pulse to combine. This is your marinade. Set aside.
  4. Trim the excess fat off of your chicken thighs. Transfer thighs to a large resealable plastic bag. Add the marinade. Squeeze out as much air as possible and seal. Refrigerate for 2-4 hours.
  5. About 45 minutes before you want to eat light your gas grill, setting all burners on high and close the lid. Allow to heat for 15 minutes.
  6. Scrape any residue from past grilling off the grill and lubricate with 4 or 5 passes of vegetable oil on a paper towel.
  7. Place chicken thighs on the grill, skin(less) side down. Close the lid and cook for 5 minutes.
  8. Flip the chicken and cook for an additional 4-5 minutes. Remove when the internal temperature of a thigh is 160°F. An instant read thermometer is very helpful here.
  9. Serve as is or cut into pieces to use for chicken tacos.

Notes:
Throw out the marinade after putting the chicken on the grill. It’s tainted with raw chicken nastiness.

If the marinade is a bit grainy you can brush off the excess spice mix before grilling. We didn’t bother and it didn’t affect the results as best we can tell.

I found achiote (annatto) seeds in my grocery store in the baking aisle along with the other spices. We’ve also purchased them in the past from Penzeys.

I combined the ideas from a couple of online recipes to come up with this one. Check out this one or this one for inspiration.

Nutty Parsley Pesto

Don’t get hung up on the word pesto. While it traditionally made with basil and pine nuts the word can refer to any “sauce” made from a similar blending or pounding process. Words evolve, just as we now make pesto in a food processor instead of a mortar and pestle.

[Nutty Parsley Pesto]

The original recipe called for a cup of walnuts. We have a friend who is allergic to black walnuts so we don’t risk it even though supermarket walnuts rarely contain black walnuts. A mix of nuts works perfectly well, just give them a nice toasting before you add them to the food processor.

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Sofrito

Sofrito is a cooking base used in Latin American, Spanish, and Portuguese cuisine. Each cuisine has it’s own take on the ingredient list however the result is always a flavorful mixture that brings a depth of flavor to whatever dish it is used in.

My recipe is based on a couple I’ve used over the years. Due to a friend with a ‘cilantro tastes like soap’ sensitivity we use a lot of parsley with only a bit of cilantro when making this.

Sofrito
Servings: about 4 cups
Prep time: 5 minutes
Total time: 10 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 Spanish onion, peeled and cut 6 pieces
  • 4 Cubanelle peppers, seeded and cut into 2-3″ pieces
  • 1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and cut into 2-3″ pieces
  • 2 lg. cloves of garlic, peeled and cut into pieces (about 1/8 cup total)
  • 1 lg. bunch Italian parsley, stems trimmed
  • 1 handful cilantro leaves (a loose 1/2 cup or so)
  • 2 plum tomatoes, cored and cut into chunks

Directions:

  1. Place onions and peppers in the bowl of a food processor. Process in 10 1-second pulses. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients. Process until you have a fairly smooth and well-blended mixture.
  3. Use immediately or store in the fridge for 3-4 days.

Notes:
The mixture will be quite wet. You can drain the amount you need in a sieve for 30 minutes before cooking it. Or just use it as is and cook off the moisture.

Notes I find online suggest it freezes well however it gets used before any makes it too the freezer.

Chimichurri

Chimichurri is a bright green sauce with a heavy punch of garlic. It originates from Argentina and is great along side grilled meats of all varieties. The garlic, and small amount of red pepper flakes, give it a bit of heat on the tongue as well.

This is best if you make it about 30 minutes ahead so that the flavors can meld. Don’t bother refrigerating if you plan to use it within an hour.

Chimichurri
Servings: a generous cup of sauce
Prep time: less than 5 minutes
Total time: ~10 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 2 lg. cloves garlic, peeled and quartered (about 1/8 cup of garlic)
  • 2 bunches fresh parsley, washed and dried, rough cut (stems and leaves)
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp. water
  • 1 tsp. sea salt
  • 20 grinds coarse black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • juice from 1/4 lime

Directions:

  1. Add garlic and parsley to the bowl of a food processor. Process in 10 1-second pulses and scrape down the bowl.
  2. Add oil, vinegar and water to the bowl, process for an additional 5 1-second pulses. Scrape down the bowl.
  3. Add salt, peppers, and lime juice. Process for 5 seconds. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired.

Notes:
The bunches of parsley at my grocery store are kind of puny so I used 2. If you find (or grow) generous bunches of parsley then you’ll need less. Given that this is made in the food processor I used the stems as well as leaves. After cutting into about 3 sections each the 2 bunches totaled maybe 4 loose cups.

You could substitute a bunch of cilantro for one of the bunches of parsley.

We had leftover grilled chicken breast, chimichurri and sour dough left over. I think a chimichurri chicken salad might be in our future.

Based on this recipe from Cook’s Illustrated (May ’01). I’ve modified it for what I had on hand, and general laziness.

Shrimp Stir-Fry II

It takes longer to cook a pot of white rice than it does to make this dish. So start your rice and then take your time prepping your ingredients. Once the rice is cooked throw a clean towel between the pot and cover to absorb steam. Then spend 3-5 minutes cooking the shrimp.

Shrimp Stir-Fry II
Servings: 2
Prep time: 10 minutes
Total time: 13 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 2 tsp. dry sherry
  • 1 tsp. soy sauce
  • 3 Tbsp. coarsely chopped chives
  • 1 clove garlic, minced (about 1 tsp.)
  • 1 Tbsp. minced fresh ginger
  • 1 tsp. plus 1 Tbsp. peanut oil, divided
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tsp. cornstarch
  • 2 tsp. toasted sesame oil
  • 2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 tsp. granulated sugar
  • kosher salt & black pepper

Directions:

  1. Combine the sherry and soy sauce in a bowl; add shrimp and toss until coated with the liquid. Set aside for 10 minutes to marinate. Combine the chives, garlic, ginger and 1 tsp. peanut oil in a bowl; set aside. Mix water, sesame oil, Worcestershire, sugar and cornstarch together; set aside.
  2. Put the remaining 1 Tbsp. peanut oil in a non-skillet and heat over high heat, 3-4 minutes. Add the shrimp in a single layer and sprinkle with a pinch of kosher salt. Cook, tossing frequently, for about 1 minute. Move the shrimp to the edge of the pan.
  3. Add the chive mixture and press into a flat disk; cook until fragrant then toss/stir into shrimp.
  4. Quickly remix the cornstarch mixture and add to the skillet. Mix in with the shrimp and cook until it thickens, 30-40 seconds.
  5. Remove the pan from the heat and serve over rice. Add freshly ground black pepper and/or Sriracha sauce to taste.

Notes:
I try to buy already deveined shrimp because deveining shrimp is one of my least favorite kitchen tasks. Just remember that you are removing the vein on the outside curve of the shrimp, not the one that is on the inside curve. The outside one is the intestine, the inside one is just a regular blood vessel. For a nice visual on how to devein shrimp visit SimpleRecipes.com

Sauteed Cauliflower with Pancetta

Growing up there were always 3 side dishes on the table for ‘holiday’ dinners. One was mashed potatoes; the other two were something green and then something not green. Two green side veggies was just not done. Salad didn’t count by the way. Don’t ask me why, it just didn’t.

As an adult I try not to have two green veggies as side dishes. Witness the traumas inflicted upon our childhood psyche without effort or intent. 🙂 Carrots get boring, yellow summer squash is for summer time and pureed butternut squash leaves me wanting something more. Today I turned to cauliflower; which I would normally roast. We were roasting asparagus though and I didn’t want all matchy-matchy side dishes. I never claimed my psyche was undamaged.

Sauteed Cauliflower with Pancetta
Servings: 8-10
Prep time: 10 minutes
Total time: 25 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 head cauliflower, core and leaves removed, cut into 1″ pieces
  • 6 oz. pancetta, 1/8″ dice
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • kosher salt & cracked black pepper

Directions:

  1. Place in a steamer basket set in a pot and fill with water to just below the basket. Bring water to a boil. Spread cauliflower around basket, sprinkle with salt and steam for 5 minutes. Cauliflower will still have a bit of give to it.
  2. While the cauliflower steams heat a non-stick skillet over medium heat with the diced pancetta in it. Cook for ~5 minutes until fat is rendered from the pancetta; the pancetta should be crispy. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the pancetta to a paper towel lined dish and set aside.
  3. Add olive oil to the skillet to increase total fat to about 3 tablespoons. Add garlic and red pepper flakes. Heat over low heat until garlic is fragrant, 1-2 minutes.
  4. Add steamed cauliflower to the skillet. Toss to coat with oil. Cover and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring every minute or two.
  5. Check cauliflower for doneness. When done to your liking add the crisped pancetta, toss to combine and taste; add salt & pepper as desired.
  6. Transfer to a warmed bowl and serve.

Notes:
I used an orange hued cauliflower. Purple, green or even the original off-white would work just as well. Of course if you use green then you might end up with 2 green veggie side dishes. The horrors.

Bacon can be substituted for pancetta; just cut it into thin strips. You’ll likely get more fat from the bacon. Drain off all but 3 tablespoons before adding the cauliflower.

If the skillet becomes a bit dry while cooking the cauliflower you can add a tablespoon of water after stirring.

Slow-Cooker Pork, White Bean and Fennel Soup

I love a lazy Sunday however most of them are packed with to-dos and running around. It’s nice to be able to spend 10 or 15 minutes prepping something with the sure knowledge that you’ll have a taste meal at the end of the day.

Slow Cooker Pork, White Bean and Fennel Soup
Servings: 6-8
Prep time: 10 minutes
Total time: 7 hours

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 small fennel bulbs, trimmed and sliced into 1″ pieces
  • 1 medium onion, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 lb. country-style pork ribs, excess fat removed
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 pkg. frozen chopped spinach, thawed
  • 1 can diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 can canned small white beans, undrained
  • 2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

Directions:

  1. Combine broth, fennel, onion, garlic, pork and bay leaves in the slow cooker. Cover and cook, on low, for 6 hours.
  2. Bump the slow cooker up to high. Add the spinach, tomatoes and beans to the cooker. Recover and cook for an hour.
  3. Remove the pork (and bones) from the pot. Chop or shred into smaller pieces and return to the cooker. Add the vinegar, stir to incorporate. Taste and adjust salt/pepper as desired.

Notes:
This soup is based on one from Campbell’s. I added a few things to bump up the flavor and reworked the instructions a bit as well.

My frozen spinach didn’t thaw much after 6 hours in the fridge. I took a chance and added the mostly solid spinach brick to the slow cooker. It heated up fine and the soup seemed no worse for wear.

Ground Lamb with Swiss Chard

I am blessed to have access to a Winter Farmer’s Market between January and March. I am further blessed that I can get not only hearty root veggies but fresh, locally grown, greens like kale and salad mix. This recipe is inspired by the ground lamb and Swiss chard I picked up last weekend.

Ground Lamb with Swiss Chard
Servings: 4
Prep time: 15 minutes
Total time: 35 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 lb. ground lamb
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1 tsp. Penzey’s Mural of Flavor spice blend
  • 1 tsp. sweet paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. cumin
  • 8 oz. Swiss chard, stemmed and cut into 1″x2″ pieces
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • plain white rice
  • kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper

Directions:

  1. Add oil to a non-stick skillet and heat on high until the oil shimmers. Add the ground lamb, breaking up in to smaller chunks. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook for 5 minutes, breaking the chunks down into smaller pieces as the meat warms up and becomes more manageable.
  2. When the meat is mostly cooked through drain excess oil so that you have about a tablespoon left in the pan. Add the onions, sprinkle with salt and stir to incorporate. Reduce heat to medium and continue cooking for 5 minutes. Onions should soften but not brown.
  3. Add the garlic, stir and cook until fragrant; about 30 seconds.
  4. Add the tomato paste and spices. Stir until combined with the meat and cook for about 1 minute.
  5. Add the Swiss chard, sprinkle with salt and cover the skillet. Cook for 5 minutes. Uncover, stir to combine with the meat and cook for another 5 minutes. Taste the chard for doneness. Continue cooking if needed; if ready add the lemon zest/juice and toss together to coat. Adjust the seasoning as desired.
  6. Serve over plain white rice.

Notes:
You don’t really need the oil as ground lamb tends to be a bit fatty however you need something in the non-stick skillet while you preheat it.

Be sure to rinse your Swiss chard well and spin it dry. Since we want to wilt the chard it doesn’t need to be bone dry; a little dampness on the leaves will help them cook faster.

If the skillet seems a little dry when checking the chard half way through cooking add a tablespoon or two of water before slapping the skillet back on the pan. The steam will help the chard cook.