January 14, 2013

Warm, hearty noms for the winter

This picture of my sucked-dry dutch oven is the only evidence I have of the awesomeness of this soup. And really, do I need any more?

I made a rather thrown together Black Bean and Sausage soup for the small group I'm in at my church. I say thrown together because it was one of those amazing times when you open your cabinets, start reaching for stuff, put it all together and it turns out fabulous. I based it on a Taco Soup recipe from my new favorite cookbook, Dinner: a Love Story by Jenny Rosenstrach. The Taco Soup calls for chicken and white hominy (interesting, right?) and I've made it so many times that I sort of just knew what seasonings to use in the Black Bean and Sausage version. I didn't do any measuring, so I'll just list the ingredients and approximate how much to use, but please season to taste. This soup could be made very spicy with a lot of heat, or only mildly spicy and plenty flavorful, which is how I like to make it. Here goes:

Black Bean and Sausage Soup

Cooking oil spray
1 lb. bulk italian sausage (or turkey sausage)
2 T. olive oil or canola oil
1 medium white onion, diced
1 jalapeno, diced and seeded (Note: if you want more heat leave some or all of the seeds in)
2 - 15 oz. cans of black beans, drained and rinsed
1 - 14 oz. can of crushed tomatoes
6 cups of chicken stock
2 dried red chili peppers (these mostly just add flavor and no heat as long as you don't cut them open)

The following spices are approximations, please taste while seasoning.

1 T. chili powder
1 T. cumin
2 t. tumeric
2 t. garlic powder
1 t. dried oregano
2 T. chopped fresh cilantro
salt and pepper to taste

Optional, but why would you opt out?
Shredded cheddar
Fresh limes

1. In a large stew pot or dutch oven, spray with cooking oil and completely brown the sausage, crumbling it as you cook.

2. Transfer the sausage and any juices to another plate and reheat the pot (make sure it's relatively dry with no juice in the bottom of the pot).

3. Add the olive oil and caramelize the onions and jalapeno. Really take the time to caramelize the onions, this is crucial to the flavor of the stock. Cook slowly until nice and brown.

4. Add the sausage back to the pot along with the beans, tomatoes, chili peppers, and stock.

5. Add all the spices and herbs, being sure to taste and adjust as needed. Note for people who hate cilantro: When you add it to the pot before simmering it sort of mellows and loses its sharp flavor. Everyone who ate it said the cilantro didn't bother them at all, so don't leave it out. If you love the taste of cilantro, you can always add a fresh sprinkle to the bowl when you serve it.

6. Bring the soup to a boil and turn down and simmer for about 20 minutes.

7. Ladle into bowls and top with a little shredded cheddar. A squeeze of fresh lime juice would also be fab.

The longer the soup sits the better the flavor. This is a good one to make early and reheat later to eat.  Let me know in the comments if you try it and how it turns out. This one's a definite winner in my opinion.

A word about chili peppers:

There's no need to worry about chili peppers adding too much heat to your dishes. I serve these "central american" style soups to my kids with no trouble. The key is to not cut the dried ones open, or to make sure you remove all the seeds from the fresh ones. And of course, I know you know, to be sure to wash you hands thoroughly after handling them. A forgetful rub of the eye after touching chilis can be excruciating. Trust me, folks. The dried red chilis are usually sold in plastic bags like hard candy, and found in the produce section of the grocery store. If your store doesn't have them, try a Mexican market or one with a fairly extensive international offering, like Butera or Meier. Good luck!

November 14, 2012

Want a really nice Christmas? D.I.Y.

The CUTEST Christmas decor ever.


Nothing warms my heart more than a home draped in piney boughs with splashes of red mixed in: velvet, bows, berries. Stockings hanging from the mantlepiece. A douglas fir covered in tinsel, rainbow-colored blinkies, popcorn garland, and ornaments the kids made out of popsicle sticks. I'm definitely not one of these "modern" holiday decorators. A "tree" made of white aluminum sparingly covered with holographic balls? What is that, anyway? Gimme tradition. Gimme the smell of egg nog laced with nutmeg. Gimme thick hand-knit socks and mittens. This, to me, is Christmas. And in my opinion, Christmas is the time of year when handmade goodies should definitely abound. There's so many good ideas circulating on Pinterest right now. Here's a few of my favorites.

Woodland Wrapping from Odessa May Society
Woodland Wrapping by Odessa May Society

simple diy wreaths #decor
Skinny Boxwood Wreaths by Under the Sycamore

christmas kissing ball craft
Kissing ball by Good Housekeeping

green triangle fabric trees on pillow
Kid-crafted Holiday Pillow via Parentables

November 2, 2012

Happy holidays

1. High school geography. 2. Studiousness. 3. Garden of Eden artwork. 4. Storming the neighborhood. 5. A princess and a movie star.

Halloween is over and you know what that means: the stores will be decorated for Christmas from now until January 2nd, and mini candy bars that were manufactured in the early 2000's are now 75% off. Butterballs will jam freezer cases all across America. Tinsel and eggnog will emerge from the nether regions of Target, where they are spun from gold by faery folk who design for D-squared2. The holiday season is upon us, whether we are ready or not.

Our school day was spent furiously working in anticipation of the afternoon's plunder. The most curious thing about the whole thing? The fact that the kids didn't seem to want to shout "trick or treat"! When I was a kid, that was the thing. That was everything. That phrase was not a request, it was an order, and we kids were prepared to bring down repercussions on any adult who tried to stiff us. I personally have never t.p.'ed anyone's hedges, but I've seen it done. It's not pretty. Kids in the late 70's, early 80's were serious -- dead serious -- about Halloween candy. Not so these days. I guess the whole "trick" thing has fallen by the wayside as society clamps down on any perceived harassment, discrimination, judgement, or bullying activity. Halloween tricks have fallen into the melee with the rest. Oh well, I guess it's for the best. But come on kids, what's with the timidity? Next I want to hear it, loud and clear, "TRICK OR TREAT"! Even if it is only a hollow threat.
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