All posts by Brian Gray

Super-Light Chili Con Carne

I am quickly becoming a convert on eBooks, especially cookbooks. I love buying cookbooks, but when it comes to that post-lunch surfing to decide what to make for dinner, I always resort to websites because I can’t flip through my cookbooks. eBooks are that nice compromise to be able to flip through recipes, make shopping lists and not worry that a recipe site or blog has left anything out.

In conjunction with our attempts to eat lighter, I’ve been reading Rocco DiSpirito‘s "Now Eat This!" and many of the recipes are pretty simple and fast though the creative ingredients substitutions for some recipes may give one pause. Last night I made his version of light–make that super-light–chili con carne with surprisingly delicious results!

The secret, though it’s hardly a secret, is that it doesn’t use any oil and hardly any fat. Ground turkey breast meat is 99% lean and the recipe didn’t call for any butter or oil, just vegetables, their juice, turkey and beans. We were wary, I caught my spouse readying himself for disappointment, but it turned out to be a flavorful chili with good texture and plenty of heat. See nutritional details after the recipe, but I’ll confirm that when he titled it Super-Light, that was referring to calories, not taste.

Super-Light Mexican Chili con Carne with Beans

Recipe from Rocco DiSpirito‘s "Now Eat This!"

Ingredients

  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 medium yellow onion, cut into fine dice
  • 1 green bell pepper, seeded and cut into fine dice
  • One 35-ounce can whole plum tomatoes, roughly chopped, juices reserved (a)
  • 3 tablespoons chili powder (b)
  • 2 tablespoons ground cumin
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 12 ounces ground turkey breast (c)
  • One 14-ounce can black beans, drained (d)
  • Shredded 75% reduced-fat cheddar cheese, such as Cabot
  • Reduced-fat sour cream (e)

Substitutions/Notes

I usually place this section last, but when shopping for the specified ingredients, I noticed that the sizes in my local grocery store didn’t quite match up, something that can happen a lot when cooking from a book, especially a healthy recipe cookbook. My substitutions and other notes follow.

  1. I was unable to find a 35-ounce can of whole plum tomatoes in my local shop, so I compromised with a 28-ounce can + an 8-ounce can of tomato sauce.
  2. As mentioned before, I’m a heat wuss, so I used 2 tablespoons Chipotle chili powder with 1 tablespoon chili powder.
  3. At the local shop, ground turkey breast only came in a 20-ounce package, so I used the entire thing.
  4. Again, this size couldn’t be found, so I used a 15.5-ounce can of black beans.
  5. This is my own addition. It helps temper the significant heat produced by all the chili powder & cumin!

Instructions

  1. In a Dutch oven, combine the garlic, onion, bell pepper, tomatoes and their juices, chili powder, and cumin. Bring to a boil over high heat. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 8 minutes.
  2. Raise the heat to high and add the ground turkey, stirring to break it up. Add the black beans and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover, and bring to a boil. Then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until turkey is cooked through, about 8 minutes.
  3. Serve the chili in bowls, with the cheese sprinkled on top.

The recipe is very simple with only a few steps, so I had time to do a little bit extra. I “browned” the ground turkey–using non-stick cooking spray and a few spoonfuls of the simmering chili liquid–in another pot first before adding it to the chili. And I let the chili cook for longer than 8 minutes each step since this wasn’t a classic long-cooking recipe, I wanted as much flavor to develop as possible.

DiSpirito’s original recipe serves 4 at 287 calories per serving. My modified recipe (with more ground turkey and beans) serves 6 at 245 calories per 11.5-ounce serving. (Per Lose It! — Total Fat: 2.2g, Cholesterol: 60.4mg, Sodium: 544.5mg, Carbs: 22g, Fiber: 6.7g, Sugars: 3.1g, Protein: 29g) Sprinkle 18-cup reduced fat cheddar and top with 2 teaspoons light sour cream to add another 55 calories bringing each bowl to a nice even 300 calories per serving.

Having a kitchen scale is great for portion control/serving size. Admittedly to figure out the above, I had to find a large enough bowl/pot, tare its weight on the scale, then pour the chili from the Dutch oven into it, but after a little weighing and a little math, it wasn’t too bad. And even though this chili had me sweating from the heat, I packed up a serving to bring into the office for lunch today–with cheese and sour cream, of course.

I look forward to flipping through more recipes in this book and slowly making the switch–or in some cases, doubling up–from paper to eBooks when it comes to my cookbook library at home.

The Black Pearl

So, it’s been a while, how’ve you been? I took a much-needed hiatus from food blogging for a bit while I sorted a few things out, but there will be more about that later.

I also had to take a bit of a break from… calories. The boy and I have been doing our best to watch what we eat, get a bit more exercise and try to shed a few pounds. Unfortunately, this meant that I would have to cut back on something I love: booze. No more pitchers of martinis for me! Instead enjoying one or two drinks every few nights is a more conducive habit to good fitness goals. I wouldn’t cut drinking out completely, but applying a bit of moderation didn’t hurt.

Still, it had been a while since I’d come up with anything new on the bar and I decided that the result of my next set of cocktail experiments should reflect my “mourning period” and be colored an appropriate shade of black. Thing is, it is amazingly difficult to find “black” cocktails using Google without coming up with a lot of unhelpful results. I found a lot that have the word black in the name, but not too many that are the color black after being mixed. Or worse, recipes that didn’t “cheat” by using either Blavod Black Vodka which I wasn’t in the mood to hunt down, or Black Raspberry or Cherry liqueurs, neither of which I’m a fan of.

The Black Pearl

The flavors of peach, pear, orange and pomegranate come together for a cocktail on the sweet side with a gothic black tint.

Ingredients

  • 1 12 oz vodka, pear infused
  • 34 oz 100% pomegranate juice
  • 12 oz peachtree schapps
  • 12 oz blue curacao

Instructions

  1. Shake ingredients with ice, strain into a cocktail glass, and serve.

This recipe produced the visual result that I was looking for with that “just a hint of sweet” undercurrent that I enjoy. I have no problem with pink drinks, but when it comes to my bar, the “girlier” the cocktail, the faster you’re hitting the floor… I tried adding spirits of other colors, but the flavors didn’t help the drink at all and while it isn’t “true” black, with the right lighting, it does the trick. The fun of it is that the longer the drink sits–as if you’d let this cocktail settle?!–the purple of the pomegranate separates from the blue curacao to create a BIV (as in ROY G.) spectrum of color flowing from the top to the bottom.

With my usual boldness and panache, I’ll go out on a limb and call The Black Pearl–named by a good friend–my signature cocktail for the season. I’m not likely to be creating too many more drinks this summer as that might be too much temptation to break the drinking limits, it’s a safe call.

Sweet Potato Cheesecake

I am not a fan of pumpkin. There, I said it. I like pumpkins for decoration, like seeing them growing in patches, maybe painting one for Halloween, but in terms of pumpkin bread, pumpkin pies, pumpkin spice lattes? Not my thing. Growing up, we were a sweet potato pie family and that’s always stuck with me. Now the experienced foodies out there probably know by now that with most dishes, whether you use sweet potato or pumpkin, the spices are often the same and there’s probably only a slight difference in taste depending on how much sugar is used… but you still won’t see pumpkin “delicacies” coming out of my kitchen.

This sweet potato cheesecake recipe was a result of the combination of my love for cheesecake and the rapidly dwindling supplies of frozen homemade sweet potato pies that my aunt would send us each year. I’ve made sweet potato pies before, but somehow they don’t seem to impress and/or entice as much as cheesecake. I admit it, sometimes I make a dessert to bring to an event that will impress. I’m only human!

Sweet Potato Cheesecake

Crust*:

  • 14-ounce bag of gingersnap cookies, finely ground
  • 6 tablespoons butter, melted

Cheesecake:

  • 14-ounce can of canned yams in light syrup*, mashed with fork until it makes 34 cup
  • 24 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 8 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons apple cider
  • 34 teaspoon ginger
  • 34 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 34 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons cream
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Butter a 10 1 12-inch springform pan. (Optional) Line the bottom and sides of the pan with buttered parchment paper to make for an easier removal.
  2. If you’re a kitchen gadget person–like me–grind the cookies up in a food processor, if not, place the cookies in a large zip-top bag and crush them to your desired fineness with a rolling pin or empty wine bottle.
  3. In a mixing bowl, combine the gingersnap crumbs and melted butter and stir well. Pour the crumbs into the bottom of the springform pan, pressing out from the center and up against the sides to roughly an inch. A thicker base crust will mean less height on the sides. Use any round smooth-bottomed glass, measuring cup or kitchen tool to tamp down the crumbs, forming an even crust.
  4. Bake for about 10-15 minutes, the edges of the crust should pick up a bit of color but the crust will not be set. Remove from oven to cool slightly while completing the cake batter.
  5. In a mixer with paddle attachment, combine cream cheese, butter and sugar. Mix until smooth and combined. You may need to pause to scrape down the bowl once or twice.
  6. Add the reserved sweet potato puree and mix to blend. Add apple cider, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and cream and mix well. Add eggs, two at a time, scraping down the bowl between additions and mix just until incorporated and the batter is smooth. (With most mixers, paddle attachments are pretty good at collecting "potato strings" for easy removal.)
  7. Pour batter into the prepared crust and bake at 350° F for an hour. It should be just set around the edges, and slightly jiggly in the center.
    • Employ your own "cheesecake baking/cooling method" here. I prefer an hour at constant temperature, then turning the heat off and leaving it in the oven another hour or two until it’s cooled down to help avoid cracking.
    • Some cheesecake recipes call for a slow reducing of temperature over time. Ex: 20 minutes at 350, then 20 at 325, 20 at 300, etc. That’s too much bother for me, but your miles may vary and you know your oven better than I.
  8. Once the cake has cooled, refrigerate it for a few hours or overnight before serving.

* Notes: My default crust for cheesecakes is now ginger snaps as opposed to graham crackers. It generally adds something extra and I’ve had friends that wanted to nibble on the crust more than the cake. I think the cookie better complements this cheesecake, but feel free to substitute your preferred crust.

I drain the yams and reserve the syrup, adding it back in as needed to make a smooth puree. It’s ok to mash together everything in the can, but be mindful of the level of sweetness.

As I note in the recipe, everyone has their particular cheesecake baking quirks, usually based on their oven or aversion to cracked cheesecakes. Sometimes I use a water bath or just a baking pan filled with water for steam, but the addition of the sweet potato puree to this one seems to ward off cracking, but if you have a standard baking method, there’s no need to deviate just for this recipe.

And before the purists get on my case, I know, the recipe says “sweet potato” and I’m using canned yams. I consider that a result of my upbringing as well since we didn’t really know the difference and more often than not bought cans labeled “yams” for the pie. I have made this with actual sweet potatoes–but not actual yams–before, and when it comes to the supermarket aisle, you’ll often see cans with both “yams” and “sweet potatoes” on the label. From what I can tell, what’s in the cans are sweet potatoes, but the cake will still taste great.

Obviously this cheesecake would be a hit at Thanksgiving and Christmas, but don’t be afraid to serve it anytime. Enjoy!

How to Quickly Peel a Head of Garlic

SAVEUR Executive Food Editor Todd Coleman has a great technique for peeling an entire head of garlic in less than 10 seconds, no knife required.

I’ve seen tricks for quickly peeling a clove at a time, but never for peeling an entire head of garlic at once. When I’ve made Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic, I follow Ina Garten’s suggestion of quickly placing the cloves into boiling water to loosen up the skins, which works, but unless you have asbestos hands, you’re still dealing with a lot of work. I may have to try this method next time… after I find two appropriate bowls, that is.

Better than The “Best” Sangria

I know, I know, I already posted a recipe for “The Best” Sangria a year ago that remains one of my most visited pages on this site. Well, no disrespect to America’s Test Kitchen, but while their recipe is good, I think I’ve improved upon the original. As much as I see Sangria as a make-ahead recipe, I wanted to change it up a little bit that would allow it to only have to sit for a short time but release the “bite” that wine can sometimes have. Also, I wanted it to really taste more like the drink that you’ve made when you have a few bottles left open the morning after a big meal with friends.

Since mentioning Sangria as a good go-to Summertime party drink, many people would tell me how they used to make Sangria in college–always college–and it generally involved adding vodka, brandy or grain alcohol to wine, fruit optional. And while there’s nothing wrong with boozing up some wine, I didn’t think that would create a smooth and sip’able drink. Still, there was some wisdom to be had in adding either more or diverse liquor to my original recipe. I also figured, if this was a next day drink/punch, one wouldn’t necessarily have all the same type of wine lying around, right?

Thankfully, I had a party to attend, so tripling the amount of Sangria–using three different wines–wasn’t a bad thing and it’s a lot easier to transport 3 liters of Sangria in a bucket than trying to funnel it back into bottles. It vanished rapidly, clearly a big hit and I was told by a friend that it was better than my usual, so the recipe is a keeper!

Better than The "Best" Sangria

  • 3 (inexpensive or leftover) 750mL bottles of red wine
    • Cabernet Sauvignon
    • Shiraz
    • Shiraz-Grenache
  • 34 cup sugar
  • 3 oz. triple sec
  • 3 oz. peach schnapps
  • 1 oz. St. Germain (elderflower liqueur)
  • 4 sliced lemons
  • 4 sliced medium oranges
  • 4 juiced medium oranges*
  1. Add sliced oranges, lemons and sugar to large pitcher (or bucket) and muddle–not crush–with a spoon until the fruit releases some of its juice and the sugar dissolves a bit.
  2. Add orange juice, triple sec, peach schnapps and St. Germaine; stir.
  3. Pour in wine, stir to combine and refrigerate for at least 2–and up to 8–hours. Overnight is best.
    • If making a day ahead, remove the fruit with a slotted spoon after about 8 hours. The fruit’s oils will have been imparted into the Sangria and after that point it starts to become bitter from the peel & pith.
    • Reserve the fruit to add back in before serving.
  4. Stir briskly to distribute fruit and pulp; serve immediately over ice.

* If you’re not in the mood to pick over oranges in the produce aisle, pick up a 3 lb. bag of oranges that don’t look too bad. It should contain 8 or 9 oranges and you’re all set. Juice the ugly ones and slice the pretty ones.

The type of wines and liqueur you use is up to you, obviously, but the above combo is a winner. It makes a sweet enough drink to have right away and a smooth enough drink to have the next day. If you really want a “quick” batch, I’d use all Grenache blends as they have less acid and tannins so already come with less of a bite, even when blended with stronger reds. Removing the fruit helps the Sangria keep longer–without added bitterness–and makes for a boozy snack that still lets you say you’re getting a daily requirement of fruit… right?

After my last party experience, I’m tempted to suggest that you double the above recipe so long as you don’t throw out your back trying to move it from the counter to the fridge. If there are other libations available, it should last the evening for a party of 10 or so, but don’t count on there being any left over to take home with you. The summer may be almost over, but consider this recipe–whether served in a bucket or tastefully appointed punchbowl–for those “last hurrah” and Labor Day parties.

Brunch at Petits Plats

Since Saturday turned out to be extremely pleasant, after hitting the 14th & U Farmers Market, we decided to venture over to Woodley Park and find a bit of brunch. I hadn’t been to any of the restaurants along the row for brunch–or any meal in quite some time–but we decided to give French a try.

Petits Plats bills itself as, “The best French Restaurant in the heart of Woodley Park with very distinguished cuisine and variety selection of wine.”

As we’ve only been there the once, I can attest to the French part, as they seem to be the only restaurant for that on that strip and our brunch was definitely a pleasant experience. They have patio seating but they also have a porch which allowed us to sit well away from the sidewalk/street while still being able to watch people and enjoy the fresh air.

Croque Monsieur at Petits Plats

Their brunch menu was pretty extensive, but we focused on the egg options–wisely deciding to skip the snail dishes. Pictured above is their Croque Monsieur which I’ve never had before, but reading the words: ham, cheese, butter & brioche pretty much sold me on it and I wasn’t disappointed.

This is less of a review and more the writeup of an experience. We try to switch it up for brunch, but the next time there’s an early Saturday with temps in the low 70s… in July, we might just head back to Petits Plats for champagne cocktails and a little bon vivant vibe to get the weekend off to a good start.

Captain Morgan Long Island Iced Tea

One of the latest entries in the pre-mixed cocktail world, Captain Morgan Long Island Iced Tea1 is posing itself as the company’s summer drink for 2011 along with its usual fare of “strike a pose”-inducing rums. I’m typically not a fan of pre-mixed bottled drinks, but given the LIIT’s gateway drink status, I figured I would give it a chance.

Considering what it takes to make a Long Island Iced Tea (recipe below), I wouldn’t be inclined to make one on the fly and it certainly wouldn’t be my party drink of choice unless I was making a pitcher–or bucket–ahead of time and letting guests ladle it out themselves. I do this with sangria and it works just fine. About the only fun of making a LIIT, or any other similar concoction is that you feel like a mad scientist pouring various fluids together to make a seemingly innocent mixture that will knock you on your ass. But beyond that, it’s sort of a pain, especially to make just one. I understand why companies make the pre-mixed versions.

Long Island Iced Tea

  • 12 oz. gin
  • 12 oz. rum
  • 12 oz. tequila
  • 12 oz. vodka
  • 12 oz. triple sec
  • 12 oz. lemon juice*
  • 12 oz. simple syrup
  • Coke (or similarly cola-like soda)
  1. Add ingredients to a Highball or Collins glass with 3-4 ice cubes and stir.
  2. Top off with Coke, from a “splash” to 2 oz. or so, to taste and color.

For such a “simple” drink, there are many variations on this recipe, the above is my take on it and produced a well-mixed, nicely sweet result.

* Many recipes call for sweet & sour mix, which I can’t stand. You can usually substitute lemon juice or a 50/50 mix of lemon and lime juice to your liking.

How does the Captain Morgan mix compare to the original recipe? It’s comparable, definitely has the right color, but the taste is a little strong on citrus and caramel to emulate the cola. If you’ve ever gone to a bar offering a special on LIITs, it tastes a bit better than the ones you’d get there. It makes for a prettier drink as mine was a bit murky from the type of juice I used and a blind taste test didn’t help since the original recipe has the slight carbonation that the Captain Morgan mix doesn’t. I’ve never heard of using flat cola to make a LIIT, but after two or three servings of either version, I doubt you’d miss it… or notice… or notice much else at that point except the location of the nearest comfy seat.

We found the 1.75 liter bottles at Calvert Woodley for about $20, so from a cost perspective, if your party theme demanded LIITs and your guests weren’t of terribly discriminating taste2, go with the Captain. The cost is a lot better than trying to grab even rail versions of the required liquors and the taste is smoother than making it with really cheap booze.

A Long Island Iced Tea is known as a “sipping cocktail” rather than one that should be slammed, so with proper serving sizes and moderation/discretion, it goes a long way. Given that everyone’s take on the LIIT is a bit different, I’d say that the Captain Morgan version is more likely to be easier on the alcohol percentages than one made by hand, but your mileage may vary.

For my money, I’d stick to keeping a classically stocked bar and not trying to bog down host or bartender duties mixing up tedious cocktails3 on the fly… unless that’s your thing, of course. I don’t judge.

1 Full disclosure: I was sent a gift card and rebate for purchase and reimbursement of the beverage in addition to promotional swag… or booty, one might say.

2 I’m talking the flavored malt beverage crowd, here.

3 I realize many “craft cocktails” are also falling into the tedious category, but I think most people planning a party around cocktails have done their prep well enough so they don’t get stuck behind the bar… I hope.

The English Garden

While I love the start of Farmers Market season in DC for access to great fresh goods, I admit that one of the first things I make a beeline for is strawberries. Whether I just eat them straight, make ice cream or sorbet with them or find a way to introduce them into my cocktails, I’m generally coming home with at least 2 pints.

English Garden Just over a year ago, I got together with Stephanie of Adventures in Shaw (and now Whisked!) to come up with a seasonal cocktail using strawberries, and I figured why not stick with what works for 2011.

I first tried my strawberry puree with St. Germain Elderflower liqueur, lemon and gin and it was “good” but not great. It had the essence of fruit and floral notes, but was missing something. I recall that one of our favorite drinks at Againn was the Lady MacBethrecipe here–which uses an egg white to lighten up the drink and give it a lovely foamy head that feels like a pillow on the tongue.

I’d never used an egg white in any of my cocktails before, but after a little research I felt confident enough that it would work and had a very small chance of making me sick. I don’t have egg allergies and the risk of salmonella is small. Plus, as I use raw eggs in my cooking all the time, clearly I have no fear. So I modified the recipe, added in an egg white, shook until I thought my arms would fall off and ended up with a definite winner.

English Garden

English Garden, instagram style

  • 1 12 oz. gin
  • 12 oz. strawberry puree*
  • 12 oz. St. Germain Elderflower liqueur
  • 12 oz. simple syrup
  • splash lemon juice
  • 1 large egg white (about 2 tbsp?)**
  1. Pour gin, strawberry puree, St. Germain, simple syrup and lemon juice into cocktail shaker and give a good stir to blend ingredients.
  2. Add egg white, stir, then give a good shake (no ice, yet) to mix ingredients and prepare yourself for what’s about to come. I was also advised that removing the spring from a cocktail strainer, balling it up and adding it to the shaker in this step would help. The insert from a ball whisk would likely also do.
  3. Add ice, I usually fill 2/3 of the way, and shake like your life depended on it. I found that a clear shaker was the most fun for this because you can see the mixture get really frothy. But seriously, give it a good hard shake. You aren’t trying to create a mousse or meringue, but you are trying to get that quality from the egg white to lighten the drink.
  4. Using a mesh strainer, strain into cocktail glass. As you’ve likely pulverized the ice into shards and pellets, this will keep the drink ice-free, it should also keep strawberry bits out of the drink depending on how smooth your puree is. You may find that you need to tap or shake the strainer to get everything through.

* Strawberry puree is made by chopping and hulling strawberries, add sugar to taste and stir. Let sit for at least 15 minutes, then puree in blender, food processor or with immersion/stick blender. Strain and keep in fridge. (If solely for cocktails, adding a tablespoon vodka will help it last longer)

** If you have an egg allergy or just fear raw eggs, you can also use pasteurized or powdered egg whites. No promises that it will have the same effect, but may be easier if making a lot at once.

I call it an English Garden because it has the feel of having afternoon tea, with cakes and biscuits, out on a patio or in the garden… while getting nicely hammered. Unfortunately there’s already a drink called English Garden that is similar but tries to be more English than Garden. Still, I should probably find a new name for mine.

Any ideas? Let me know in the comments!

Starbucks Frappucino Happy Hour

I think we should stop worrying about what the calendar says when Starbucks is more than happy to decide for us when the seasons change. You know it’s Fall when the Pumpkin Spice latte comes around, you know Winter has started when they change to the red cups and when they start offering specials on iced/blended drinks, it’s clearly Spring… or Summer, I’m not sure which.

Starbucks Frappucino® Happy Hour

Starting today through May 15, if you hit Starbucks during “happy hour” between the hours and 3-5pm, you can get yourself a Frappuccino® for half off:

Frappuccino® blended beverages are completely customizable – you call all the shots, so you can create the perfect drink for your perfect summer day. And what could make a warm, sunny day better than strolling around with one of our NEW Mocha Coconut Frappuccino® blended beverages? Just tell us how you like it and we’ll do the rest.

Ah, from their text, I believe that they’re saying it’s Summer. Apparently Starbucks doesn’t really do Spring. Let’s hope that in a month or two, they’ll also offer their afternoon $2 iced drink special as they’ve done in past years.

Depending on how adept your local barista is, you may be better off heading elsewhere for a milkshake, but if you want a cheap afternoon pick me up, it’s a good way to save a few bucks. Just be sure to check out the nutritional stats on your favorite Frapp. It’s a good treat, but perhaps not something to make a habit of.

Slow-Cooker Red Beans and Rice

Loyal readers–all 3 of you–of this blog should know that I love my slow-cooker, crock pot, whatever you want to call it. Whether it’s making barbecue or mulling cider, it’s a nice and easy “no fuss” method of cooking that you can prepare well in advance and cook mostly unattended. It’s a bit like those old films of “Life in the Future” mixed with modern film techniques. I dump ingredients into the device in the morning, turn a dial, press a button and go to work. Jump-cut to 8 hours later when I come home, lift the lid and deliciousness ensues. Ah the convenience of technology!

Salt-soaking the kidney beans Admittedly most slow-cooker recipes aren’t so simple, but when America’s Test Kitchen came out with their Slow Cooker Revolution, I prodded them on Twitter to ask just how much pre-prep was required for their recipes. I was happy to hear that “most” of them don’t require a lot of work and once I got the book, it was nice to see many of the recipes marked as “Easy Prep.”

After finding their barbecue style chicken to be a huge improvement over my usual method, I was ready to give their Red Beans and Rice Stew a try. The dish is a household favorite, my other half naming it as one of his comfort foods. So I was definitely encouraged to see if I could skip the box mix and make it myself for a change. The ingredient list is simple enough for anyone with even a lightly stocked spice rack and a nearby grocery store. The only stumbling block is time. Slow-cooker recipes take a while–by virtue of the name, naturally–but this one needed 9-11 hours to cook on low and I always prefer to cook on low when I can. It also says 5-7 hours on high, but I prefer low. Also, they recommend salt-soaking the kidney beans overnight, though they also offer a method for quick soaking (as do most pre-bagged beans).

Since this was my first time making it, I didn’t want to let it cook overnight since some slow-cooker recipes need more attention than others. Believe me, now I know better! I did all the prep on the meat and veggies the night before, had everything staged and ready to go… for waking up at 6 the following morning to get things cooking. Pretty easy though, soften veggies, rinse beans, dump everything into the pot and back to sleep!

Red Beans and Rice Stew (serves 6)

Simmering the stew after adding all ingredients

  • 2 onions, minced
  • 1 celery rib, minced
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme (or 12 teaspoon dried)
  • 2 teaspoons sweet paprika
  • 14 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth, plus extra as needed
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 pound dried red kidney beans (2 12 cups), picked over, salt-soaked, and rinsed
  • 1 pound andouille sausage. sliced 12 inch thick
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 green bell peppers, stemmed, seeded, and chopped medium
  • 12 cup long-grain white rice
  • salt and pepper
  • red wine vinegar
  • 3 scallions, sliced thin
  1. Microwave onions, celery, garlic, oil, thyme, paprika, and cayenne in bowl, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes; transfer to slow cooker.
  2. Stir broth, water, beans, sausage, and bay leaves into slow cooker. Cover and cook until beans are tender, 9 to 11 hours on low or 5 to 7 hours on high.
  3. Let stew settle for 5 minutes, then remove fat from surface using large spoon. Discard bay leaves.
  4. Stir bell peppers and rice into stew, cover, and cook on high until tender, 30 to 40 minutes. (Adjust stew consistency with additional hot broth as needed.) Season with salt, pepper, and vinegar to taste. Sprinkle with scallions and serve.

Aside from the overwhelming compulsion to lift the lid and stir it, this stew really doesn’t need a lot of babysitting. It’s also not very exciting to photograph, until you have a finished product.

Red Beans and Rice

I used Wild Boar Andouille sausage from Red Apron Butchery and it’s excellent though next time I think I might put an extra half-pound of sausage in the mix, or grill it separately to serve on top. I also bumped up the amount of rice to 34 cups and still didn’t feel like it was enough, so prepared another 12 cup (before cooking) rice separately and stirred it in. The Test Kitchen recipe is designed to make more of a stew, but I like my red beans and rice thicker. I’m always skeptical of adding dry rice to any meal, but giving it over 30 minutes to cook in was about the right time and it didn’t get too mushy. Next time I’ll try serving it over rice, but I admit that fast food and box mix versions have gotten me used to having it all mixed together.

The splash of red wine vinegar is definitely a must, but I usually skip garnishes so didn’t bother with the scallions. I might also replace the cayenne with chipotle in future as I like things spicy, but this dish makes me sweat when I eat it. Some might want that, but until I get the proper ingredients and glasses for hurricane cocktails at home, I need to take it easy! Once I figure out how to better hack the needed cook/prep time, I could see making this recipe a lot, especially in colder seasons.

I’m really impressed with Slow Cooker Revolution and am already planning my next slow cooker experiment. The lasagna recipe is tempting, but I think I’d like to try a dessert… or wings!