Here I was thinking that spring had spring and warmer weather was finally on the way in the Pacific Northwest. Oh how mistaken I was.
Rain has been pounding the area this week, leaving me with a bit of cabin fever. Luckily, I like to play in my kitchen and a soup in the slow cooker is perfect for a dreary, wet day such as we’ve been having.
For this soup, I decided to use boneless pork tenderloin because it plays so well with the juxtaposition of sweet and spicy flavors. Slow cooked in the crockpot, the tenderloin becomes amazingly tender and juicy. Coupled with tiny hearty navy beans and fresh baby spinach, it’s a soup that you’ll want to make again and again.
I like to pair this soup with a side salad of baby spinach, pears, red onion and a light vinaigrette, along with some warm, crusty bread. I think fresh, warm baguette with a dab of butter is a pre-requisite for just about any soup. Is there anything better than sopping up the broth with a piece of fresh baked bread? Delicious!
What are you making in your kitchen today?
Slow Cooker Sweet and Spicy Tenderloin and Bean Soup
Place pork tenderloin in the bottom of a slow cooker.
Add in the cooked beans, onion, molasses, honey, worcestershire sauce, red chile pepper flakes, and garlic. Stir in the broth, salt, and sage. Cover and cook for at least 8 and up to 10 hours.
Remove tenderloin from crockpot and use 2 forks to shred to a fine pulp. If desired, do a rough chop to create even smaller pieces.
Mix the shredded tenderloin back into the soup. Add in the baby spinach leaves and stir well. Cover and let sit for 15 minutes then serve.
I like to use dry beans because the sodium content is so much lower and it is so much less expensive than their canned counterparts. To reconstitute or cook the dried navy beans, bring the dry beans to a boil in 4 cups of water. Continue cooking at a very gentle boil for 45-60 minutes. Drain, place in a container and cover with fresh water. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Believe me when I say that I try really hard not to feature the same wine twice on my blog. After all, there are so many great wines out there, why not explore them all?
But I had to break my rule with this one.
As I experimented with my recipe for Roasted Asparagus and Quinoa Salad with 2 Kinds of Lemon, I knew that a Sauvignon Blanc would be perfect with this dish. Sauvignon Blancs tend to have nice citrus notes, which is a perfect partner for an entree salad featuring the complex flavors of both preserved and fresh lemons. When I went to sample the various wineries available, though, I kept coming back to the Matua Sauvignon Blanc.
At about $10 or less per bottle, this wine is a serious steal. It’s crisp, clean, and bright with citrus flavors. And it’s absolutely perfect with this salad and so fitting to welcome the return of spring sunshine in the Pacific Northwest. So why not feature it again?
Spring has finally sprung in the Pacific Northwest!
The sun is shining, temperatures have risen into the high 60’s, daffodils are flashing their sunny faces, and the pear trees in my yard are starting to bloom. In the food world, this is the time of year when we finally start moving away from squash and root vegetables and over to tender spring vegetables like asparagus.
Asparagus can be prepared so many ways. When I was a kid, my mom almost always steamed it al dente and served it with her homemade mayonnaise. Delish! Today, I prefer my asparagus roasted. Roasting these tender, green shoots brings out a sweet, caramelized flavor that is so scrumptious I could eat them like candy.
Asparagus and lemon go exceedingly well together. In fact, I often roast my asparagus with lemon juice, zest, or even lemon slices to really boost up the flavor. For this dish, though, I wanted to make the lemon flavor a little more complex and unusual, so I decided to incorporate preserved lemons.
Preserved lemons are very common in Moroccan and Mediterranean cooking. You can find jars of preserved lemons at very reasonable prices in ethnic grocery stores. Basically, these are just whole lemons that are preserved in a solution of salt and lemon juice. For this recipe, I chopped up an entire preserved lemon – peel, pulp and all – and roasted it with the asparagus. Then I used fresh lemon juice and olive oil to dress the salad. The result is an easy, filling salad that reminds me of everything I love about spring.
What do you love about spring?
Roasted Asparagus and Quinoa Salad with 2 Kinds of Lemon
Vegetarian and gluten free, this easy salad makes great use of tender spring asparagus with the addition of complex lemon flavor from both fresh lemon juice and preserved lemons.
½ cup dry quinoa, rinsed and cooked according to package directions
1 lb. asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2" lengths
1 whole preserved lemon, chopped
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, divided
¼ tsp coarse sea salt, divided
juice of ½ lemon
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 oz. crumbled light feta cheese
4 oz. fresh baby spinach leaves
Preheat oven to 425F.
Combine the asparagus and preserved lemon with 1 tbsp of the olive oil and a pinch of the salt. Spread on a baking sheet in a single layer.
Bake for 15 minutes or until golden.
Whisk together the lemon juice, remaining 1 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil, remaining pinch of salt, and thyme. Toss the dressing with the cooked, cooled quinoa.
Add in the cherry tomatoes, feta cheese, and the roasted asparagus and lemon. Toss to combine.
Place the baby spinach in a salad bowl. Top with the asparagus - quinoa mixture and serve.
Look for preserved lemons in an ethnic grocery store, they are very common in Mediterranean and Moroccan cooking. You can also find preserved lemons in the condiments aisle of most New Seasons, for a higher price of course.
I was at a local grocery store today and upon entering the store I was greeted with a large sign that said:
“Irish Soul Food: This weekend get a taste of St. Patrick’s Day with corned beef from the hills of the Northwest.”
Really? Corned beef is Irish soul food?
I don’t how this corned beef and cabbage nonsense started, but here is a revelation for you: there is absolutely nothing Irish about it. That’s right! Nothing!
When you go to Ireland, you will not find corned beef and cabbage on any menu. In fact, most of the Irish people I met didn’t even know what corned beef is. This “Irish soul food” is actually an American invention.
What you will find in Ireland is Guinness Beef Stew. This is a staple in just about every Irish pub. It’s stuffed full of potatoes and traditionally also topped with a mash of potatoes. Sometimes, the pub will also serve it with a plate of chips (aka fries) on the side. That’s right – potatoes are typically in, on and around this stew.
My Guinness Beef Stew is different from other recipes in that (1) I braise the meat in the oven instead of cooking it on the stovetop, and (2) I have a secret ingredient – molasses. That’s right, I use just a wee bit of molasses to enhance the dark smokiness of the Guinness while adding a touch of sweetness. It’s absolutely perfect.
So if you’re looking for some authentic Irish soul food this St. Patrick’s Day, for the love of God put aside that corned beef and cabbage. Try this stew instead, your tummy will thank you for it.
This St Patrick's Day skip that American invention of corned beef and cabbage and try this rich, hearty beef stew slowly braised in dark and smoky Guinness Extra Stout, a pub staple in the fair emerald isle of Ireland.
1 lb. beef chuck roast, trimmed of all visible fat
1 - 22 oz. bottle Guinness extra stout
1 tbsp olive oil
3 medium carrots, trimmed and chopped
2 large stalks celery, trimmed and chopped
1 medium sweet onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
1½ tbsp fresh rosemary, minced
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
generous pinch of salt
12 oz. (1½ cups) Guinness extra stout
3 cups beef broth
2 tbsp black strap molasses
2 parsnips, peeled and chopped
1 lb. yukon gold potatoes, chopped
Place the beef roast in a bowl or container and cover with the contents of the 22 oz. bottle of Guinness extra stout. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Preheat oven to 300F. Heat olive oil in cast iron dutch oven on medium high heat.
Remove the meat from the Guinness and pat dry with paper toweling. Discard the Guinness.
Sear the meat in the oil for 1 minute on each side, making sure to get all sides. Remove from pan and set aside.
Reduce heat to medium then add in carrots, celery, onion, garlic, rosemary, thyme, and salt. Cook until the onion is transparent.
Stir in the 12 oz. of Guinness Extra Stout, using the back of a wooden spoon to scrape up all of the stuck on bits at the bottom of the pan. Increase heat to medium-high and cook for 5 minutes to let the mixture reduce a bit.
Turn burner off and add beef broth and molasses, stirring to combine.
Stir in parsnips and potatoes. Place seared beef roast back into the pan, covering it almost to the top with liquid. Cover the pan and bake in the oven at 300F for 1½ hours.
Remove roast from stew and cut or shred into pieces. Stir the meat back into the stew, season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve immediately.
I love it when I find a wine that so perfectly pairs with a meal. In searching for a wine to pair with my Spicy Baked Avocado Mac & Cheese, I wanted something that would capture the smoky quality of the spicy roasted jalapeno and poblano peppers, while also complementing the smooth creaminess of the cheese and avocado. This 2008 Carmenère from Montes Alpha fits the bill perfectly.
This lovely wine originates from the very west end of Chile’s Colchagua Valley, situated just 11 miles from the Pacific Ocean. Benefiting from the cool air of the ocean, the grapes ripen late allowing a slow maturity for full ripeness.
Established by four founding partners in 1987, Aurelio Montes, Douglas Murray, Alfredo Vidaurre, and Pedro Grand have grown Montes wines from nothing to being found in more than 100 countries worldwide. Montes is known for their consistency in making ‘first growth’ wines that are both respected and admired by the world’s critics and trade.
This 2008 Carmenère is no exception. A deep, beautiful ruby color, the wine is rich and full-bodied with an alcohol content of 14.8%. The red fruit, spicy black pepper, and hints of chocolate and vanilla play perfectly against my Spicy Baked Avocado Mac & Cheese. And the long, smooth finish leaves you smacking your lips and wanting more.
I have studiously avoided making dishes like this. I mean, a classic macaroni and cheese is supposed to be decadent and creamy. It is difficult to lower the fat and calorie content while still maintaining that moist, creamy, cheesy flavor.
But I have changed that.
It took me several attempts to get this recipe just right. My first idea was to use nonfat, plain Greek yogurt instead of the cream that is found in traditional macaroni and cheese. This was perfect, except that when I tried to omit the butter of traditional macaroni and cheese, the result was a dish that was too dry.
In my early iterations I substituted pureed, roasted butternut squash for the butter to add some creaminess to the dish without the fat. This just didn’t do the trick, though, the macaroni still came out too dry. Then inspiration hit.
Avocados are creamy and higher in fat, albeit healthy fats, and it was the perfect substitute for butter. Plus it added an unexpected twist of flavor, perfect with the roasted poblano and jalapeno peppers. The result is an oven baked macaroni and cheese that feels decadent yet isn’t. Winner!
What’s your favorite trick to “healthify” a recipe?
In searching for a pairing for my Slow Cooker Red Lentil, Sausage and Kale Stew, I wanted a wine that would complement the earthy, spiciness of the stew without overpowering it like some big reds tend to do. This 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon from St. Bartholomew is perfect for that. It’s a very easy drinking wine, good on its own or with a dish such as this.
The St Bartholomew Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 is a perfect partner to my Slow Cooker Red Lentil, Sausage and Kale Stew.
St. Bartholomew is actually a label produced by Reininger winery exclusively for their distributor. Reininger is arguably currently one of the hottest wineries in Washington state’s Walla Walla Valley wine region.
Rated an average of 88 points, the St. Bartholomew Cabernet Sauvignon is an excellent budget buy at under $14/bottle. The bouquet is light but on the palate flavors of red fruit and dark chocolate come through. What’s not to like about that?
Click here to buy a bottle. (For those of you local to Portland, check New Seasons, Vinopolis or Avalon Wine)
Click here for the recipe for my Slow Cooker Red Lentil, Sausage and Kale Stew.
As with any part of a healthy lifestyle, always enjoy alcohol responsibly and in moderation.
I know, I know, I too am dreaming of backyard barbecues and fresh garden veggies. But mother nature has other ideas, she likes to take her time in returning the sunshine to my neck of the woods. The temperatures are still chilly, the rain is still falling, and the wind is still blowing. So why not continue putting my slow cooker to work?
I especially love a slow cooker dish that requires almost no prep work, like this creamy, hearty Red Lentil, Sausage and Kale Stew. Literally, all I do is throw some ingredients in the pot, set it to cook, and it’s done. Does cooking get any easier than that?
Are you still using your slow cooker? What is your favorite dish?