Smitten Saturdays: Slow Cooker Black Bean Ragout

This will be a very quick post because I am in the thick of finalizing (read: writing practically from scratch) four course syllabi for the spring semester, which starts on Monday.

(Side note: I am terrified by how much preparation a couple of these courses I’m teaching will require. I will definitely not be getting paid enough for my services this semester.)


This week’s recipe is the Slow Cooker Black Bean Ragout (p. 137). I didn’t make the spaghetti squash and black bean tacos as anticipated because I just couldn’t do that to my family. But I loved this recipe (beans in a slow cooker? What’s not to love?). The spices were perfectly balanced and the beans tender and not at all mushy. Maybe an entire large onion was unnecessary; I’d probably go with a smaller one next time.

I served these beans with taco fixings, even though my husband and I were the only ones who ate them (when the Big Kid complained about the beans having onions, my husband said, “well, I don’t even like beans,” which was news to me). This means that I’ve got several servings of black bean ragout for my lunches this upcoming week (I’ll freeze them and space them out over the next few weeks for everyone’s sake), and that’s totally okay. I’ve got a heap of corn tortillas (and a neglected spaghetti squash) and a busy schedule ripe for a grab-and-go lunch. Some lettuce, a little dab of guac and sour cream, plus some sliced olives and jalapenos added to the beans make for a healthed-up (read: no fried, edible bowl) taco salad. Or you can just heat up the beans and eat them with a hunk of multigrain bread for a wholesome peasant’s meal. Black bean ragout: Versatile!


Next time: Baked Potato Crisps with the Works (p. 296), which will a dry run for a potential contribution to Sally and Chad’s annual Super Bowl commercial-watching potluck!

Austin City Guide: Best Non-Alcoholic Drinks

This post is the third in a series of entries dedicated to the Austin Food Blogger Alliance City Guide 2012, aimed at helping visitors and newcomers sort out the city’s most notable food establishments. Over the course of the next week, I’ll be covering a broad array of topics dedicated to the best places to eat and drink and socialize in Austin.

Today’s topic is non-alcoholic drinks. When you think of Austin, you probably think of Shiner Bock or margaritas (rightly so, in truth). But did you know that Austin also has a vibrant coffee culture, as well as some really solid local sodas?

But there’s also a growing conversation about juice these days. While fruit juices get a bad rap for being chock full of sugar and contributing to the global obesity problem, there’s something to be said for a foamy concoction of freshly compressed fruits and veg to help fill you up when you need a snack or as a bit of a refresher after some vigorous exercise.

To that end, here are three options for yummy, freshly squeezed juices, whether you want to reboot your digestive system with a brief juice fast or just have a tasty (and fairly nutritious) alternative to water when you’re feeling parched.


Deep Eddy Juiceland

I like to go to Juiceland after a run for a “Moderator” (I would link to the menu, but that website is a nightmare), as I find the bracing bite of the ginger and lemon mixed with the sweet finish of the apple and beet to be completely energizing. Juiceland also has a selection of ready-to-eat meals and packaged living-foods snacks on hand to grab and go with your juice or smoothie.

Daily Juice

Daily Juice

Daily Juice is a raw foods cafe at the corner of 45th and Duval streets, smack in the middle of the Hyde Park neighborhood. While parking is a hassle, I really like this spot because not only can you get things like raw durian truffles to go with your juice or smoothie, you can get raw nachos and even vegan ice cream.

Snap Kitchen

Snap Kitchen juices, photo courtesy of Jodi Bart,

Snap Kitchen, which has two brick-and-mortar locations in Austin, as well as a downtown popup, is one-stop shopping for pret a manger meals that are portion controlled and customized to your particular dietary needs. Vegetarian? Yup. Gluten free? You betcha. Diabetic? But of course!!! Dairy free? Lower sodium? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! Snap Kitchen recently rolled out a series of juices meant to comprise a Day 0 “cleanse” as part of their 21-day Snap Commit program, but you can also just walk into the shop and grab something light and nutrient-rich, like the Energy Boost (with papaya, lime, and coconut water, among other things) or a decadent cashew protein shake after you’re done pumping iron. I definitely see myself grabbing a juice from the cooler for some relief from the heat when I go to the Triangle Market on Wednesday afternoons this summer.

Meal Plan: 2/12-2/18 (with recipe!)

It’s RETURN OF THE MEAL PLAN!!! After a week of WAY TOO MANY meals out, I put together and shopped for a meal plan that has us eating home every single night this week. My goals for this week’s meals were to have at least two vegetarian dinners, keep waste at a minimum, and be weight-loss friendly. (I’ve also written a meal plan for myself that has each day’s meals/calories/snacks planned out in advance because, dammit, I really want to be able to fit into all the cute clothes in my closet!) Of course, it didn’t help that after tonight’s pretty darn virtuous dinner, I had half an individual black- and blueberry pie from Pie Fixes Everything topped with a slightly unreasonable dollop of vanilla ice cream. Baby steps.

I’ve listed the mains here, but I also have a bunch of veggies from Johnson’s on hand: Brussels sprouts, carrots, bok choy, beets, and purple cauliflower. I’ve also got some salad fixings from the grocery. I just need to get some fruit that isn’t clementines, tangelos, or oranges. I’m not really a huge fan of summer, but I am ready for some fruit that isn’t citrus.

Sunday: Taco ‘Tater Skins (pictured above, recipe below)
Monday: Inner Peace Brown Rice and Cashews
Tuesday: Chicken with Pepperoni-Marinara sauce
Wednesday: leftovers
Thursday:Vegetable and Tofu Pad Thai (with a side of shrimp for the boy)
Friday: Pork and Potato meatloaf
Saturday: Leftovers/freezer surprise

The meal I made tonight was quite delicious and satisfying. I found it on Gina’s Skinny Recipes and, because I am lazy and skipped over certain parts of the recipe, I am going to post my cheater’s version here. I have renamed them Taco ‘Tater Skins because I refuse to call something “Santa Fe” just because it has black beans and corn in it.

Taco Tater Skins
adapted from Gina’s Skinny Recipes
(I don’t have a Points+ value for these, but I reckon they’re about a 5? Or a 7? I really have no idea.)

4 large Russet potatoes, cleaned and pierced with a fork
3/4 lb. ground turkey breast
1/2 white onion
cumin to taste
salt to taste
1 cup jarred salsa
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup frozen corn
shredded cheese (I used a cheddar-monterey jack blend)

Preheat the oven to 450. After washing and piercing the potatoes, wrap them individually in foil and place them in the oven. Bake for 1 hour.

While the potatoes are baking, dice the onion. Warm about a tablespoon or so of olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and saute until soft. Add the turkey and saute until cooked through. Add the cumin, salt, and salsa and stir until combined. Add the beans and corn, mix thoroughly, then cover and let simmer for about 10 minutes.

After the potatoes are done, remove them from the oven (leave the oven on). Cut them in half and scoop out the insides, leaving about a quarter-inch of flesh on the inside of the potato. (I put the potato innards in the freezer to use when I need mashed potatoes.) Once the innards have been scooped, arrange the potatoes on a baking sheet (cover it with foil if you want easier cleanup). Place 1/2 cup of filling into each potato half (you may have excess filling; divide it evenly among your potato halves or just save it for later). Sprinkle some cheese on top of each half, then put the baking sheet in the oven. Bake until cheese is melted.

Serve with sour cream, if you like, or more salsa, or jalapeno slices, or guacamole, whatever.

Baked Sunday Mornings: Speculoos Buckeyes

It’s been several weeks since I participated in Baked Sunday Mornings, but I couldn’t pass this one up.

I’ve baked thousands of Christmas cookies and experimented with various candies of a December, but have but have never attempted buckeyes despite how much I like them. I have some friends who make buckeyes every Christmas, and when I had some of theirs last year, I sort of bullied them into giving me more than my share because I loved them so much. That said, they are so rich and sweet that I can’t ever eat more than two before I’m pretty well satisfied.

This was one of the recipes I flagged when I first purchased this book a little over a year ago, but this is my first crack at them. And because I have been feeling extra ambitious and creative this year, I decided to do something a little different and use speculoos (well, okay, I used Biscoff, which is a knockoff, but whatever) instead of peanut butter in these bad boys. I thought maybe using the ginger-caramel spread might cut down on the intense sweetness of the traditional buckeye, but these are still pretty sweet.

I followed the Baked Explorations recipe pretty closely; in addition to the speculoos substitution, I also used cinnamon graham crackers and a 50-50 mixture of dark and semi-sweet chocolate chips instead of the chopped dark chocolate.

And I know that speculoos is popular among The Vegans, so here’s a veganized version of buckeyes.

Not the Pits Granola Bars

I’m always looking for new and exciting things to put in the Big Kid’s lunch box. Having a full-time summer job this year has meant that BK goes to day camp, one that doesn’t serve lunches. So, summer break has not translated into a break from packing his lunch. I will admit to having fallen a bit into the pb&j-Pirate’s Booty-sliced strawberries rut a few times over the past 6 weeks or so.

So, naturally, when Whole Foods announced its kid-friendly cherry recipe contest, I immediately started thinking inside the lunchbox.

This recipe, as written, is not very sweet, but it is also very versatile. You could add in a half-cup of brown sugar, maybe some dark chocolate chips if your family has a sweet tooth (and we all know that dark chocolate goes beautifully with these luscious cherries!). You could use honey as an alternative sweetener, or agave nectar for a lighter taste that’s still suitable for vegans (the golden syrup used here adds a deep, almost nutty flavor, so other sweeteners will change the flavor profile a bit). I see this being a great portable snack for athletic kids to turn to after a rigorous soccer or track practice, or a wholesome power-up before a test or a dance recital.

Not the Pits Granola Bars

makes about 12 bars

1/2 cup fresh cherries
1/2 cup fresh blueberries
1 fresh apricot
3 cups rolled oats (NOT quick oats)
1 cup whole almonds
2/3 cup golden syrup
2 T olive oil
1 t cinnamon
1 t sea salt
1.5 t vanilla

1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Pit and halve cherries, and place on a cookie sheet with blueberries and pitted, sliced apricot. Dry in the oven until shrivelly but not burnt. Remove and cool.
2. Bump oven up to 350. Spray or oil an 8×12 baking pan (I used Pam) and line with parchment paper.
3. Place oats and almonds in pan and toast for 15 minutes, stirring once.
4. While toasting, whisk together in a large bowl the golden syrup, olive oil, cinnamon, salt, and vanilla.
5. After you remove the oats/almonds from oven, bump temperature down to 300. Mix the oats and almonds in with the wet ingredients and stir to coat. Add in the dried fruit and mix thoroughly.
6. Press mixture into pan. Bake for 25 minutes.
7. When completely cool, lift the mixture out of the pan using the parchment paper and transfer onto a large cutting board. Slice into bars. Eat and enjoy!

Aloo gobi in the crockpot

This week has been hectic. Between trying to maintain what fragile traction I have on my fourth dissertation chapter, jumping “once more into the breach” of the Spring semester, and dealing with Week 2 of the toddler’s virus(es), I haven’t had much time for blogging (or exercise or knitting or reading or doing much other than staring slack-jawed at the TV after the kids go to bed). But I did want to share this recipe for Aloo gobi, which was on the menu this week for Meatless Monday.

I really love Indian food, but have had middling luck making it at home. A couple of years ago, I made a full Indian meal for some friends, including biryani, saag paneer, and kheer (plus premade samosas and naan). I roasted and ground the spices and refused to cut any corners in assembling the food. (Which is probably why I haven’t done such a stunt since.) A few months back, I made chicken tikka masala and it was pretty good. And a while back, I made palaak tofu in the crockpot and it was blandy bland blanderson. But yummy.

So, I approached this recipe with measured expectations, hoping it would be good, but fully cognizant of the fact that it may well be awful. Surprise! It wasn’t! The only problem was that I needed to either cook it longer or cut the potatoes smaller because they weren’t done after three hours. But the leftovers are delicious and next time I’ll add tofu for a bit of protein.

Crockpot Aloo Gobi
adapted from The Indian Slow Cooker

1 large cauliflower, washed and cut into bite-sized pieces
1 large Russet potato, peeled and diced
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and diced
1 medium tomato, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced (I used a garlic press)
1 largeish serrano (the original calls for 3-4 green Thai peppers or serranos, but I’ve got to mind the Scovilles with the small ones around.) (Not that they ate any of it.)
1 T cumin seeds
1 T red chili powder
1 T garam masala
1 T salt (I was so relieved to see this much salt in the recipe! I am so sick of underseasoned recipes!)
1 t turmeric powder
3 T canola oil (make sure you’re using non-GMO canola oil; I use Spectrum. I reckon if you’re anti-canola in general, you could use butter instead or regular old vegetable oil)

(The cookbook also calls for a heaping T of chopped cilantro, but I don’t know why you’d want to ruin your dish with that foul herb.)

Put all the ingredients in the crockpot. Cook on low for three hours (or more, if necessary). Stir occasionally. Don’t worry if the cauliflower seems crunchy; it will eventually soften and release liquid. (Here’s where you add cilantro, if you want to ruin your meal.) Serve with rice or naan, or if you’re me, both. Yay, carbs!

Menu plan: January 17-23

It’s cookbook week! I’ve decided to plan this week’s menu from my cookbook archives, especially since I have some that I’ve barely used! However, tragedy has struck! I just got back from this week’s shop (done a day late because I was out of town) and left my menu plan at the grocery store. D’oh! So, I’m cobbling this together from memory.

Monday: Meatless night! Aloo gobi from my new copy of The Indian Slow Cooker, a Christmas gift from my brother and sister-in-law.

Tuesday: Tilapia fish tacos, beans, salad

Wednesday: leftovers/fend for yourself

Thursday: Quiche Savoyarde a la Tomme from Joan Nathan’s Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous, which was sent to me via the inimitable Jodi Bart. I tragically missed out on the opportunity to see Ms. Nathan at the Jewish Book Festival back in October because of my stupid email filters. I’m still kicking myself over it. Salad and crusty bread.

Friday: Soup and sandwiches. I’ve got a ton of soup in the freezer from a soup swap I attended back in December. Probably veggie minestrone for the kids and a curried groundnut for me and Matt. Also, Matt bought a new panini press at the Macy’s closing sale down the street, so we’ll probably give that a whirl.

Saturday: I just picked up some center-cut pork chops at the grocery, so we’ll have those along with some couscous and maybe some salad or veggies from the farmer’s market.

Sunday: Roasted chicken with potatoes and onions from The Lee Bros. Simple, Fresh, Southern, which Matt gave to me last Christmas. I’ve not cooked much from it apart from the pimiento and cheese gratin, but I’ve got my eye on the radish butter to take to my friend’s Super Bowl party. (Because nothing says SUPER BOWL like radish butter!)

(Pausing to say here: You may be scoffing at the idea of radish butter, but I say that you have not lived until you’ve had a thick piece of multigrain bread with a generous shmear of good butter and sliced radishes. HEAVENLY.)

There you have it! What’s for dinner at your house this week?

Chocolate Pirate’s Booty

So, the other day I was browsing the Whole Story blog, looking for school-lunch ideas, when I came upon this post. Not only did the Naanwiches catch my eye, but so did the “exclusive to Whole Foods” Chocolate Pirate’s Booty. So, when I went to the Flagship store this afternoon to take advantage of the $4.99/pound tilapia sale, I went on the hunt for the Chocolate Booty (uh, that’s the last time I’ll call it that). While they had a pretty good sale on regular Pirate’s Booty (2/$7), there was no chocolate to be found. So, after scouring the store, I went to the customer service desk and asked about it. They had no idea what I was talking about.

So, those nice ladies called “DOWNSTAIRS” and talked to a guy who reported that he had one box of it that he had just opened and hadn’t even had a chance to sample. They also reported that he’d be happy to sample out a bag to me, so after I waited a few minutes, munching on grapefruit samples, I got a free bag of chocolate Pirate’s Booty! SCORE. “It’s weird, but good,” the dude reported.

Being me, I opened the bag in the car before I even got out of the parking garage. He was right, it was weird, but tasty. It has the same texture as other Booties (*snerk*), but the chocolate dusting (which is quite heavy in parts) is maybe more subtle than I expected. It’s a pleasant, very light chocolate fix and the weirdness wears off pretty quickly.

The kids also really liked it, and I think it’ll make for a nice afternoon snack or lunchbox treat every now and again.

Sweet Potato and Black Bean chili

Okay, due to popular demand, I’m blogging about the Sweet Potato and Black Bean chili I mentioned on Sunday.

I’m not one to make resolutions (and I realize that we’re at the point in our cultural evolution that it’s totally cliche to say you don’t make resolutions), but I read this a couple of weeks ago and, after I stopped shuddering, I resolved to feed my family better food. I banned Goldfish from the house (although a box of Cheez-Its snuck in when my husband and son went to the grocery the other day; it’s at the very back-est of the pantry) and now offer fruit or Magic Pop for snacks when they kids say they’re hungry. My new mantra is, “If you’re not hungry for an apple, you’re not hungry.” The same applies to me. And my husband is slowly coming around. We had a very terrible car accident the week before Christmas and Matt was transported to the hospital (he’s fine; he has a broken rib and a banged up foot). He told me later that he felt keenly aware for the first time how heavy he’s gotten and he’s been researching his ideal weight and talking about cutting back on his extra beer calories. Who knows, I may get him to the Y here one of these days!

So, to that end, I’m incorporating at least one disgustingly healthy (but still delicious, I hope) meal into the weekly menu. This week, it was this chili (well, we’re having poached fish tonight, too, but I think the peoples will respond more positively to it).

(It was hard to get a good picture of this chili. Bad light + amateur photographer = crappy pictures)

I followed the recipe (linked above) to a T, omitting the chipotle and extending the cook time. (UPDATE: actually, as I look back at the recipe on the website, I see that I transposed the 2T chili powder and 4t cumin, which was why, to me, the dominant note of the stew was CHILI POWDER WOAH; Matt disagreed and said that the dominant flavor was sweet potato, but I think he was just being a brat.) This recipe could not be simpler. And, bonus, it’s totally delicious. I really, really liked it. Unfortunately, I’d had my cheat meal for the week at lunch (bacon pizza at the Alamo Drafthouse while watching The King’s Speech) and was still stuffed at dinner, so I just had a very small helping. But, as predicted, my family hated it. My husband said I’d cut the garlic too large (true, but I don’t mind large pieces of garlic, and hey, I’m the cook) and that this wasn’t chili, period (“Chili has meat in it, not sweet potatoes, and certainly not beans!”). My kids, well, they were happy with the tortilla chips, yogurt, and applesauce.

Pasta e fagioli

This one comes from the current issue of Everyday Food; it jumped out at me as I was planning this week’s menu with an eye toward alternating meatless dinners (this week we’ve had white bean and kale soup, parmesan-crusted chicken tenders, spinach frittata, and turkey meatballs with pasta).

Pasta e fagioli is a traditional meatless Italian dish; the translation is “pasta and beans.” This version is a pretty rustic tomato-based vegetable stew. I calculated the Weight Watchers PointsPlus for this dish and was shocked that it’s 5 points for approximately one cup, being that it’s mostly vegetables and there’s one cup of pasta for eight servings. But whatevs. Weight Watchers knows best. It’s a pretty light dish, I have to say. While I thought it was quite tasty, I felt compelled to have a piece of cheese toast with it to bring it up to “hearty” status.

Matt is not a huge fan of light/healthy dinners. Last night was no exception. He ate his entire dish, making yummy noises to set a good example for the children, while also giving me a facetious thumbs-up and making pointed comments like, “Mmmm… HEALTHY.”

“And crunchy.” (Yes, some of the veges were a bit al dente.)

Finally, as he scraped his dish clean, he said, “You know what this needs? Some heavy cream.”

“Or a Bechamel.”

“Some Fontina.”

“And some shaved prosciutto.”

Har dee har har. I try to feed my family healthy food and this is the thanks I get! Harrison finally ate a few bites and claimed that it was really yummy, but did not eat more than three or four spoonfuls. I showed him, though, and put some in his lunch today! HA!

The recipe as printed calls for an optional Parmesan rind (which you remove after cooking) and a garnish of freshly shaved Parmesan, a neither of which I had on hand. But let me tell you, this stew SCREAMS for the Parmesan. Don’t skip it, unless you’re trying to be virtuous. Or vegan.

I don’t mean to sound like I’m damning this dish with faint praise. I really, really liked it and will have leftovers for lunch. I just wish it had been appealing to the other 75% of my family. But that’s not the recipe’s fault.

Pasta e fagioli
adapted slightly from Everyday Food

3 celery stalks, diced medium
2 carrots, diced medium
1 small red onion, diced medium
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 sprig oregano
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
2.5 c vegetable broth
1 c mini penne
1 can cannelini beans, drained and rinsed

Heat oil over medium in a soup pot. Add celery, carrots, onion, and garlic. Cook until veges are soft, about 12 minutes. Add oregano, tomatoes, and broth. Increase heat to high (unless you’re using something like a Le Creuset, then adjust heat according to the pot’s care instructions) and simmer until the liquid thickens a bit, about 5 minutes. Add pasta and cook until tender, about 12-15 minutes. Add beans and cook until warmed through, about 5 minutes. Serve with freshly shaved Parmesan (or not!) and a nice crusty bread.