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!

Smitten Saturdays: Rosemary Gruyere Sea Salt crisps

You guys, these crackers are RIDIC. And by “ridic,” I mean, “STOP ME BEFORE I CRAM ANOTHER 50 OF THESE IN MY MOUTH ALREADY!”


One of the things I really love about this cookbook are the little easter eggs of wit scattered throughout. In this recipe, a note in the sidebar says “Dough can be made a day in advance. It will keep longer in the freezer. Baked crisps keep for up to 2 days at room temperature in an airtight container, and up to a month in the freezer. They will not last 5 minutes at a party.” This is some serious truth. I popped two of these puppies in my mouth without thinking before they’d even had time to cool on the baking sheet. The crackers are light and airy and super-flavorful and waaaay too easy to eat like popcorn.

This is, hands down, my favorite recipe from the cookbook so far. I chose them for this week’s entry because I thought they’d be perfect to serve at a party  or take to a potluck, but it also occurred to me while making them that they would also make a nice foodie gift. This recipe is super-simple (unless you do what I do and use a tiny star-shaped cookie cutter instead of just slicing up the dough; tiny cookie cutters, in my experience, generally add an unnecessary layer of complication to any foodstuff), and in the right packaging, these crackers would serve as a very sophisticated alternative to traditional Christmas cheese straws. (I have grand plans to convert some frozen berries into gift jams, make gift loaves of cranberry tea bread, and already have several dozen cookies stashed in the freezer to pop into tins next week and give as teacher gifts, so why not add these to the list?)

One tiny note on the recipe: the instructions say to combine all the ingredients in a food processor and “pulse until the mixture resembles coarse, craggy crumbs.” Perelman does not specify which blade to use in the food processor; I used my dough blade because I’ve found that the big, supersharp standard one turns any sort of dough into sawdust. Also, I pulsed past the “coarse, craggy crumbs” stage because I thought it looked too dry and pushed on through to the Dippin’ Dots stage because it seemed like the mixture would hold together much better when it came time to roll it out.

I only baked off about a third of the dough this morning because we had a long to-do list, and I am very glad that I still have enough dough left for about another 60 crackers, which would make one generous holiday gift and one generous snack!

Smitten Saturdays: Wild Mushroom Tart

This week’s Smitten Saturday recipe is the Wild Mushroom Tart, chosen because I’ve only ever made one tart before and why not try a savory one this time? I knew that, at the very least, my husband and I would eat it, even though it’s pretty much guaranteed that the children will cry if I attempt to feed it to them.

I worry about crust. So much so that I was well into my 30s before I attempted to make a pie crust from scratch. I don’t know why I’m so intimidated by it, even when by now I have made some very delicious crusts (my favorite is Martha Stewart’s pate brisee). So, naturally, I worried about this crust. I worried that it wasn’t coming together right in the food processor. I worried about whether it was going to roll out successfully (rolling is my bete noir of crustmaking).

Not bad.

Not bad.

And when I followed the instructions about transferring the crust (with a sheet of plastic wrap underneath; I highly recommend the use of a bench scraper to aid in this maneuver), I kind of stopped breathing because this is one fragile crust, y’all. It WANTS to fall apart on you. And once you wriggle the plastic wrap out from underneath the crust after you’ve centered it in the tart pan (I really couldn’t see a way to follow the placement instructions as written without sprouting a third arm), a technique mastered by shy girls everywhere who remove their bathing suits in the locker room while fully clothed, you are good to go. The rest is gravy. Unless, of course, you get so busy with PTA stuff while you are parbaking the crust that you forget about it and quite possibly overcook it in the process.


My version of the tart isn’t as pretty as the one in the book, but it is quite tasty. I realized as I was eating a small wedge of it (beats the Honey Nut Cheerios I had for breakfast!) that I forgot to add the salt and pepper, but it absolutely is not missing the salt. Mushroom is the dominant flavor here (obv), rounded out nicely by the thyme and shallots. I would prefer a bit more garlic, and next time I won’t forget the pepper. I can’t wait to hear what my husband thinks of it! This would make for a really lovely vegetarian dinner with some roasted beets or some lovely balsamic braised green beans on the side. Or even a simple green salad.

Be sure to check out my writeup of Deb Perelman’s appearance at BookPeople last night! It was kind of an ideal night for me: I listened to Perelman answer questions (she is quite funny and dry), sit in a comfy chair reading a compelling book, then got to meet Perelman and talk to her about picky eaters (i.e., our small children).

Processing (Chocolate Cobbler in the Crock Pot)

I’ve been quiet. I haven’t really had much to say, really. I put up my most recent entry two months ago and since then, I have survived another incredibly busy SXSW, started a temp proofreading/copyediting job, applied for jobs and fellowships, traveled to Boston for a conference, finished out the semester (probably my last at this Large Southern University), written a ton of freelance stuff, started a bunch of really cool projects, and done a bit of walking the black dog, if you will.

The completed PhD candidate with no academic job prospects is a curious creature, especially when that dearth of prospects is a bit self-created (say, you’ve got a husband with a really good non-portable job and retirement and kids in school and aging parents nearby and deep community ties; in that situation, you’re not really in the position to go chasing far-flung one-year postdocs or visiting jobs or other contingent employment with shit pay). Some people are supportive, some people think they’re being supportive but are actually twisting the knife with their words, and some won’t make eye contact when they pass you in the halls or at parties.

So, I’ve been doing a lot of processing. I hit a rather low point a week or so ago; the last day of classes, actually. It had been a pretty melancholy week. My husband’s elderly grandmother had passed away and he was about to leave for four days to go pay his respects. MCA died, a loss that truly felt like a bit of goodness had just left the world. And, it was the last day of classes. That was it, done, goodbye, no more teaching (maybe). I went to a party at the house of one of my committee members and I just … broke. The combination of wine and pity and avoidance just did me in.

And then my husband left for the weekend and the kids and I had a (mostly) perfectly lovely time together and something shifted. I was happy and content. I realized that have everything I ever wanted: a loving husband, two adorable (and maddening) children, a nice house, a pretty solid writing career, and I’ve achieved the one major goal I’ve ever set for myself, which was to get the PhD. I have a lot of friends and a supportive family.

I have a bright future. I just have to choose to see it that way.

I hope I’m not coming across as complaining or having a pity party. That is not the intent. I’m just trying to communicate my mental and emotional process over the past couple of months.

Sometimes the process isn’t pretty.

But things start to come together.

And then you have dessert.

I first saw this chocolate cobbler recipe on Tasty Kitchen (sorry, no link; it’s my policy not to send any traffic to Ree Drummond) a couple of years ago and thought, “Oh, that could do nicely.” And then I forgot about it. Then I found this crockpot-friendly adaptation while idly perusing Pinterest, and since I am home sick(ish) with a sick(ish) kiddo and it’s been raining, I decided to give it a whack.

Once upon a time, the Alamo Drafthouse had a molten chocolate cake that I ordered pretty much every time I went to see a movie there (pause for reflection on the closet full of pants that don’t fit…). They’ve since done away with it and have something called “brownie cookies” in its stead. They’re close, but no cigar. This chocolate cobbler comes close. Dangerously close. 

I won’t replicate the recipe here because I followed it as written. I will note, however, that the cook time as written might be a bit long, based on your slow cooker. My Crock Pot runs hot and the cobbler was sizzling after 2.5 hours. Served warm, it is a spongy cake interspersed with a chocolate sauce evocative of warm pudding. Top it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and you’ve got a perfectly satisfying dessert, the result of a long and sometimes-ugly process.

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.

Slow Cooker Spinach and Black Bean Enchiladas

Oh, this life as a food writer (and as someone who is surrounded by other food writers/bloggers and lovers of food) is wearing on me. And by “wearing on me,” I mean “I have to log 15-20 miles per week running or on the elliptical in order to fit into what few items of clothing I have that still fit me.” Sometimes you just have to clean that mess up. And with the weekend ahead of me — lunch tomorrow at Lucky J’s and dinner at Lucy’s, plus a baby shower here and a Super Bowl potluck on Sunday — I suspect I will be on an all-juice diet at least one day next week!

But tonight was all about vegetables, getting some fiber down the hatch in a pleasurable way. I had planned to make these for a vegetarian mommy meal, but a casserole presented itself for that family and we wound up having these all to ourselves. I like these because they are not super heavy in cheese (although they could be if you wanted them to) and they are mostly vegetables. I found these via Pinterest, and tweaked the recipe to suit what I had on hand (primarily a large bundle of spinach I’d bought at the farmers market and needed to use up). Once they’re cooked, they more closely resemble chilaquiles than enchiladas, but what is really important is that they are really, really delicious with the bonus of being incredibly easy.

(And we shall not speak of the peanut butter brownies and lemon sponge cake in the fridge.)

Slow Cooker Spinach and Black Bean Enchiladas

adapted from The Kitchn

1/2 white onion, diced
2 cups fresh spinach, chopped
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup light sour cream
2 t chili powder
1 t cumin
1 t salt
1 1/2 cups shredded cheese (I used a blend of cheddar and monterey jack)
3 cups salsa (I used Mrs. Renfro’s)
12 small corn tortillas

Mix together the onion, spinach, beans, spices, sour cream, and 1/2 cup cheese in a bowl.
Pour 1 cup salsa into the slow cooker and cover the surface of the crock.
Make a single layer of six enchiladas by filling each tortilla with about 1/4 cup of filling, then rolling it and placing it on top of the salsa.
Spread a cup of salsa on top of your first layer, then sprinkle it evenly with 1/2 cup of cheese.
Make the second layer of enchiladas with the remaining filling and six tortillas.
Top with the final cup of salsa, but do not top with cheese.
Cover the crock pot and cook on high for about 3 hours.
15 minutes before serving, top with the remaining cheese and allow to melt.

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.

A milkshake for lunch

Today I had a milkshake for lunch. Partly because I’d worked myself up into such a froth of anxiety about my imminent Big Day that I couldn’t conceive of eating solid food and partly because I had seen these folks the first night of Fun Fun Fun Fest and was intrigued.

Handshakes is a new trailer in east Austin. They just opened up about a month ago, but the owner tells me that they are having their grand opening on November 12 and hope to soon serve “upscale grilled cheese.” The milkshake pictured here is called the Good Morning, and it contains oatmeal, vanilla ice cream, milk, and cinnamon. I paid a bit extra to have strawberries mixed in (the whole thing cost $6.50; not sure what the price was before the mix-in).

Handshakes’ signature milkshake is the Panshake; it’s got a pancake in it! Weird! Their other flavors include Banana Pudding, Corn, and the Grave Digger (cookies & cream). It’s got me thinking about all the different weirdo milkshake combinations out there. Peanut butter & Jelly (with bread!)!! Bacon and eggs! Donuts! Bagels and lox!

The possibilities, they are endless.

Apple crisp

It’s October. Technically fall. Apples and pears are in abundance at the grocery stores and farmers’ markets. And yet it’s still 90 degrees outside in my town. Oy vey, times a thousand. It’s supposed to drop down into the 70s this week, so we’ll be able to think about soup and hearty meals for about fifteen minutes, but this terrifyingly hot and dry summer has got my sense of the seasons all out of whack.

That didn’t stop me from making an apple crisp, though. Sure, apples and oats and cinnamon and brown sugar scream sweater weather, but these were organic fujis (ENORMOUS) on sale at the grocery store (kind of ironic that just this morning I got up on my high horse about cheap food; on one hand, I think it devalues food in our minds, but on the other hand, I like the idea of affordable organics for people who have less money to spend on food). I got a little over three pounds (about five apples) and let them sit on the counter for a few days before deciding what to do with them. I was thinking about apple butter for Christmas gifts because I really want to emphasize handmade gifts this year (that and books). But I am really, really busy right now and decided to go with something that would take an hour and would require as few dishes as possible.

I would also like to point out that the dish of apple crisp in this picture rests on top of my completed (!!!!!) dissertation. That doesn’t mean that I will stop talking about my project here, because its roots run deep and the ideas within it reach to many corners of food culture. But for now, I am enjoying the sense of pride and liberation at having reached this particular milestone. I hope to get my defense on the calendar for sometime before Thanksgiving.

Apple Crisp
(adapted from Simply Recipes)

5 large Fuji apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
juice of two lemons
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup dark brown sugar (I like the deeper, earthier taste of dark brown sugar)
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (I used McCormick’s roasted Saigon cinnamon, but they did not sponsor this post)
1/2 cup chopped roasted almonds
1/2 cup unsalted butter (that’s one stick, y’all)

    Preheat oven to 375 F.
    In a large bowl, toss the apple slices with the lemon juice and vanilla (be aware of any lemon seeds that splurch into the bowl).
    In a separate bowl, mix together the brown sugar, oats, cinnamon, and almonds. Use a pastry cutter to cut in the butter and mix until blended.
    Place the apples in a casserole dish (I used a gigantic 11×15 dish, but a 9×13 would work here, too) and sprinkle the oat mixture evenly on top.
    Bake for 45 minutes. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream (or go crazy and top it with one of those seasonal flavors, like pumpkin. I bet a chai-spiced ice cream would be good with this, too).

(I hesitate to designate this recipe as gluten-free, since rolled oats are a controversial ingredient when it comes to gluten contamination, but if you’ve got certified GF oats, you are good to go with this recipe.)