Friday, January 31, 2014

Slow cooker sausage and potatoes, and January.

Last week, in the check-out line at Trader Joe's, the guy bagging my groceries said casually, "Kind of cold out there, huh?"

"It's a little bit chilly," I joked.

"What's your favorite hot beverage?" the cashier asked.

"Whiskey," I replied. "Warms you from the inside out." We all laughed, and they finished ringing up my order and packaging my items, and I smiled as I wheeled my cart out of the store and into the cold, gray, slushy, frigid parking lot.

Typically, small talk about the weather is just that -- small talk about the weather. A surface conversation that gets us through those awkward silences. Something to chat about while we wait for the elevator to reach the top floor, or wait for other coworkers to arrive at the meeting, or wait for our groceries to be bagged. But when you're in the Chicagoland area, and it's January 2014, small talk about the weather becomes something much more. It's a small connection that tells the other person, "Hey. This sucks. And we're all fighting through it together."

Because it's really easy to feel sad and alone and frustrated when you're shoveling snow in the dark, in the freezing wind, and Tom Skilling keeps telling you that there's no end in sight. When you have to pull on three layers of clothes and heavy-duty boots just to get a few chicken thighs from the garage freezer. And when your 9-5 makes it so that enjoying natural light is only a weekend thing, and only when the sun actually decides to shine.

Knowing there's an entire city and its surrounding suburbs of people that are feeling exactly the same way makes it not as bad. Don't get me wrong, it's still really bad. But at this point, I'll take what I can get.

So this arctic chill we're experiencing in my neck of the woods explains why all my photos from January feature dark corners of my home, daily routines, familiar foods like eggs and tacos that keep us chugging along. That's what my January has been about, mostly -- taking one day at a time, and trying to find comfort in everything, even things as simple as humming along to happy music while cooking dinner or joking about the weather with strangers in the check-out line.

I hope you're staying warm, wherever you are!

Slow Cooker Sausage and Potatoes (adapted from Real Simple)
The original recipe is called a sausage and kale stew, but Murdo's not into kale, so I subbed those greens for green peppers. The spinach you see in that photo is some frozen spinach I heated in the microwave and added to my bowl. I also skipped the mashed potatoes from the original recipe and used small gold potatoes, served whole. 

This is my favorite kind of slow cooker recipe, because everything can be prepped the night before and thrown into the slow cooker the next morning.

1 lb Italian sausage links (sweet or spicy), casings removed and broken into large chunks
1 large onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, sliced
3 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
1 28-oz can of diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
6-8 small Yukon Gold or red potatoes
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper
dried oregano
crushed red pepper flakes

Combine all of the ingredients in the slow cooker with 1 cup of water (less if you don't want it too thin), making sure to nestle the potatoes as deep as possible so they're not just sitting on the top.

Cook on low for 8 hours. Serve with cooked spinach or kale.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Asian-style Ground Beef with Vegetables.

I've been thinking about this dish for a while, ever since a craving for lumpia hit but I didn't want to go to the trouble of rolling and frying the eggrolls. I wanted to make something that had the flavor and filling of Filipino eggrolls, but also similar to a spicy ground beef dish that Murdo once ordered at a Thai restaurant.

I'm calling it Asian-style ground beef with veggies. Original name, I know. It's not really Filipino, and it's not really Thai, but it's got the flavors of both cuisines so there you have it.

I don't know what else to say about this dish except that I made it this morning after breakfast -- I laid out the ingredients on the counter, turned on the Bright Eyes station on Pandora, and cooked just to cook. It wasn't just about getting dinner on the table quickly, which is what cooking has become to me lately. A chore, almost, as much as I hate to admit it. It was nice to be reminded today that it's not always just a chore. That I still find enjoyment in slowing down in the kitchen. Chopping vegetables. The sounds and smells of garlic and onions hitting the hot pan, stirring and tasting and making it up as I go along. A simple meal created from a simple idea.

And speaking of Asian-style, here are some photos of my nephew, Charlie. He loves trains.

Have a great week, friends!

Asian-style Ground Beef with Vegetables
I originally wanted to make this with ground pork, but ground beef was all I had. Either will work. Even ground chicken or ground turkey would be fine. 

2 tbsp canola oil
3 garlic cloves, smashed and minced
1 tablespoon minced ginger root
1 medium onion, diced
1/2 lb ground beef
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp sriracha sauce
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 medium carrots, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
2 small heads baby bok choy, sliced
black pepper
cooked brown rice

Heat canola oil in a skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add garlic, ginger and onion, cook a few minutes until fragrant and translucent. Add ground beef, crumbling with a wooden spoon. Season with black pepper. Brown the beef, then add fish sauce, sriracha, soy sauce. Stir well to combine. Add carrots and celery, cook a few minutes until vegetables are slightly softened. Add bok choy and cook until wilted. 

Serve over brown rice with more sriracha to taste.

Makes 3-4 servings.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A new year, and cabbage and ginger soup.

Happy new year! I know it's been over three months since I've written here, but since it's a new year and all, I'm hoping to be able to just jump back in and start fresh. And I brought soup! A soup that is perfect for if you a) have nothing in your fridge but leftover lasagna and five-day-old appetizers; b) refuse to leave the house because it hasn't stopped snowing since last night; c) are craving something light and healthy because the holidays, aka the Fat Weeks, are finally over; d) had a new year's party last night and don't have the energy to cook anything that requires more than chop, simmer, eat; e) started off 2014 with the chills, a headache and a temperature of 101; or, if you're like me: f) all of the above.

Lying in bed this morning (OK, this afternoon), all I wanted was my mom and dad's tinola -- a Filipino chicken soup that is loaded with chicken and ginger and green vegetables and tastes like home. But who has the time or energy to thaw out chicken and go to the store when all you want is soup, right now, on the couch, preferably with a cat on your lap and your phone and Kindle an arm's reach away so that there is absolutely no reason for you to get up again, ever.

Here is what I had in my fridge: carrots, onions, half of a small head of cabbage. There was a good chunk of ginger root in my freezer, which saved me today, no joke, and from now on there shall always be ginger root in my freezer, I promise. I chopped everything up, with a few cloves of garlic, and threw it into a pot with chicken broth. In an attempt to make the soup taste more like something Mom and Dad would make, I added a small splash of fish sauce, which I highly recommend if you have any on hand (my friend Leslie texted me the other day to let me know that according to Bon Appetit, 2014 will be inspired by Filipino foods and flavors, so now would be the time to grab a bottle at your local Asian grocery. Get the kind with an image of three crabs on the label.). The fish sauce gives the broth a deeper flavor and the ginger, a feeling of healing power that you just can't overlook.

I had two bowls of soup today, with plans for more. Now I'm comfortably planted on the couch. The Christmas tree is lit, and a fire crackling. I believe it's still snowing outside, but I can't be sure, and I'm not getting up anytime soon to find out. And even though I started off this new year with a fever, and was inconveniently in the bathroom when midnight struck (I said something like, "I don't want to start 2014 peeing in my pants!" after I poured the last glass of champagne and hustled to the toilet with three minutes left on the clock), I know this year is going to be a good one. I am hopeful and excited and grateful. Here's to another one, friends.

Cabbage and Ginger Soup
Like most of the foods I share here, this is more of a guide than a recipe. Use whatever vegetables you have on hand. Broccoli, bok choy, any kinds of greens will work. I find the ginger here is really key -- especially if you're sick. If you don't have fish sauce or don't want to use it, just add salt, or maybe soy sauce, or nothing at all.

3 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
1/2 small onion, roughly chopped
1 heaping tablespoon ginger, minced
2-3 small carrots, chopped
2-3 tablespoons fish sauce
2 cups of cabbage, shredded
6 cups of chicken broth

In your favorite soup pot, boil a small amount of the chicken broth, about an inch. Add the garlic, onion, ginger and carrots, cover and let simmer until the vegetables have softened. Add the rest of the chicken broth and the fish sauce, bring to a boil. Add the cabbage and let simmer about 20 minutes, or until the cabbage is softened to your liking. Makes enough for one sick person to eat about 4-6 bowlfuls.