Friday, March 4, 2011

GRAB THAT SLOW COOKER - THERE'S SOUP FOR DINNER!

One challenge I hear most of my single friends dealing with is making soup for themselves. We all love soup, and cold weather definitely cranks up the comfort factor of a warming bowl for dinner, but "too much work to make soup for one serving" is what I hear constantly.   So, what are you gonna do?  Reach for a can of high sodium soup off the shelf?   Hmmmmm....not for me! With my trusty slow cooker standing ready and a few minutes of slicing and dicing the night before, the heady aromas of fresh soup greet me as I stumble through the back door on a cold evening.

After a foray to Al's Market a couple of weeks ago (click here to see what bounty I brought home to squirrel away for days like today), I've been contemplating the bones I removed from the smoked pork chops.

For me, the logical use for these bones is in bean soup. Last night, I rescued one of the bones from the freezer and grabbed a cup of navy beans and a box of chicken stock from the pantry and set up my dinner for tonight. The following prep work took all of 10 minutes. With a stop at the fridge in the morning to toss everything into the slow cooker, total prep time was about 15 minutes.

I love fresh bread with soup and it seems as though some soup and bread combinations simply go together. Such is this bean soup and cornbread. Slightly sweet and crumbly, you can either eat this out of hand with a bit of butter on it as it emerges from the hot oven, or crumble it into your soup bowl as is tradition in our home.

I bake my cornbread in a 6-inch cast iron skillet that I purchased specifically for baking this bread. I use it for other things as well, but it is the perfect size for this amount of cornbread batter and fits neatly into my toaster oven to bake.
Bean Soup and Cornbread just like Grandma used to make. 
OLD FASHIONED BEAN SOUP
There are many versions of bean soup - bean and bacon, black bean, italian bean, to name a few, but this version is what I grew up eating. In our house it was always served with corn bread which usually ends up being crumbled into the soup bowl over the beans. Yum!

And by the way, this makes enough for two servings, soups of all kinds are good left over for lunch another day so I do not fret over the extra serving here. And if there are two of you in the house, well...this is perfect then, huh?

1 cup dried navy pea beans, rinsed and checked to remove bad beans or stones
2 cups chicken stock
1 small smoked ham or pork bone
1 bay leaf
1 medium carrot, peeled and grated
1/3 cup finely diced red onion
1 garlic clove, whole but slightly crushed
1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper

Notice that little pork bone I had
saved from the pork chops?
Perfect for this!
Prep time:
The night before, rinse and sort through the dried beans. In a medium sized bowl, put in the beans and about double enough water to cover them completely. Add in 2 teaspoons salt and stir to dissolve the salt. Let beans sit overnight.

Gather up the remaining ingredients, except the stock, and put in the crock of the slow cooker and store in the refrigerator overnight.

The next morning:
Remove the crock from the fridge and put in the cooker. Turn to low heat. Rinse your beans thoroughly and add them to the pot along with the 2 cups of stock. Stir around to ensure everything is covered in stock. Leave the pot to cook on low for 8-10 hours.

Test to see that the beans are cooked through. Remove the bone, garlic and bay leaf. Pull off any meat left on the bone and add it back to the pot. Add salt and pepper to taste.

CORNBREAD
makes 4 servings or enough for two meals if you do as I do and eat one for dessert with apple butter on top...YUM!

This recipe is the one my Mom used forever and is best baked in a cast iron skillet to form a deep golden crust. The other family trick is to use bacon drippings as the fat and to melt it in the skillet on the stovetop in order to pre-heat the skillet as well as the fat. Pour out the grease into the batter but make sure you leave a little in the hot pan - when the cool batter hits it, it will begin to form that crust immediately, even before it gets to the oven. Mmmm, mmmmm, good old fashioned magic!

My favorite little skillet and some
golden cornbread!
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup yellow corn meal
1 Tbls. sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 egg
1/2 cup milk (more or less)
2 Tbls. corn oil or bacon grease, melted*

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Put your skillet (with an ovenproof handle) on the stove and heat, adding the oil or grease (be careful if you use oil, it will burn very quickly if left too long). The idea here is to heat the pan so be careful, the handle will get hot.

In a small bowl, combine all dry ingredients. Add the egg and enough milk to make a loose batter (it will resemble cake batter). Add the melted oil or butter and stir to combine. Immediately pour into the hot skillet and transfer to the oven to bake for 15-20 minutes until the top is puffy and golden brown.

My little pot of gold goodness...
Bacon grease stored in the fridge.
*A note about bacon drippings - as the granddaughter of a farm wife, my refrigerator is always home to a jar of bacon drippings. Every time I make bacon, the grease is poured into the container for future use. Although I know my Grandmother used this as her main source of fat for many dishes, in my house it's used as both a fat and a seasoning. It's main use in my kitchen is in cornbread as I've described above.

When I was younger and not as wise, I substituted oil or shortening but the bread never tasted the same. Now, I'm older and somewhat wiser and the little jar of grease is a constant in the fridge. Add a spoonful to things like green beans when they're cooking, use it as the grease for frying potatoes in a skillet, pan fry your eggs in it....use it anywhere that you would use a pat of butter and a hint of bacon flavor would be acceptable.
 And don't say eeeuuuwwww...your great-grandparents were cooking with pork fat long before a can of Crisco or margarine showed up on their pantry shelves. If used sparingly as a seasoning, this still has a place in today's modern kitchen.

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