Crock-Pot Beef Soup

Easy recipe for a winter day.

I love Crock-Pot® — or, more generically, slow-cooker — cooking. There’s nothing like throwing a bunch of ingredients in an appliance, covering it, turning it on, and coming back 6 to 10 hours later for a delicious meal. Best of all, the aroma of that slow-cooked meal permeates your home, greeting you quite pleasantly when you get back from a long day at work or play.

True story: a few weeks ago, I had to make a trip down to Goldendale for some business. it’s a 3-1/2 hour drive — each way. I set up a slow-cooker before I left at 7 AM and completely forgot about it. On my way home that afternoon, I thought about what I could cook for dinner without having to stop at the supermarket. When I turned the key in the door and pushed it open, I smelled the lovely aroma of the chicken soup that had been cooking all day and actually thought to myself, “What did I make yesterday that smells so good today?” I was actually stepping into the house when I remembered the slow cooker-meal waiting for me. What a reward at the end of a very long day!

Anyway, I was in the supermarket Sunday and found some very meaty “soup bones” in the meat department. Remembering the excellent beef soup I’d made last winter in Arizona from similar “soup bones” in my chest freezer from a half cow we’d bought the previous year, I decided to whip up a batch here. But rather than put it on the stove, I pulled out the slow-cooker. Here’s the recipe I used.

Ingredients

  • 3-4 pounds of very meaty beef soup bones
  • 3 carrots, cut into 2-3 inch lengths
  • 2 stalks celery, cut into 2-3 inch lengths
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
  • 1 teaspoon salt. You might want to put more; I’m trying to limit my salt intake. Remember; you can always add it later.
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper. Is there any other kind?
  • 1 tablespoon Herbs from Provence. The prepared blend I used includes chervil, basil, rosemary, tarragon, garlic, lavender, marjoram, savory, thyme, and parsley.
  • 3-4 cups water

Root vegetables also work well in this recipe, although I never use potatoes because I’m trying to avoid starches.

Instructions

  1. Place beef bones at the bottom of a slow-cooker.
  2. Spread vegetables on top of beef.
  3. Sprinkle salt, pepper, and herbs on vegetables.
  4. Beef SoupPour enough water over slow-cooker contents to barely cover them. In the slow-cooker I’m using, that was just over 3 cups.
  5. Cover the cooker and set to high.
  6. When the cooker contents start to boil or simmer, set to low. If it never starts to boil, that’s okay. It really depends on the slow-cooker. If you need to go out for the day, just set it to low before you leave.
  7. Cook all day. I’m thinking at least 6 hours to tenderize the beef and bring out the flavors of the meat and vegetables.
  8. Remove the beef bones from the soup and allow to cool enough to remove meat pieces from them.
  9. Cut the meat as necessary and return it to the soup.

Serve piping hot with crusty bread.

Again, I’m watching my carb intake so I’ll be skipping the bread. I’m also avoiding pasta. But noodles or orzo would be really good in this recipe. Cook it separately and add right before serving.

This should make enough soup for at least 4 people. I use plastic containers to freeze leftover soup in single-serving portions. I can then pull out a container and heat up a nice hearty meal any time.

One more note: If you expect to be pressed for time on the morning of the day that you’ll be making this, you can put all ingredients except the water into the slow-cooker insert the night before and store it, covered, in the fridge. Then put the insert into the slow-cooker first thing in the morning, add warm or hot water, and turn it on high. Be sure to set it down to low before you leave for the day.

Julia’s Thanksgiving Cranberry Recipe

The real recipe; not the lazy-cook knockoff circulating among her family and friends.

My mother-in-law Julia may not have been the best all-around cook, but there were a few things that she made extraordinarily well. One of them was her Thanksgiving cranberries. For a kid who grew up with cranberries served out of a can — still shaped like the can, mind you — this was an amazing revelation that cured me of canned cranberries for good.

Thanksgiving 1996I first made Julia’s cranberry recipe for Thanksgiving dinner in 1996. This was an amazing meal served in my New Jersey home. Our Salvation Army-acquired dining table, expanded to its full length with the help of a homemade leaf fully five feet wide, made it possible for all 15 of us to sit together. Amazing timing with the help of a standard sized oven and the microwave I still own made it possible to serve the entire meal at the same time, fresh and hot. If there is such a thing as miracles, this was one of them. I’ll never be able to top that feat again.

Anyway, Julia gave me her cranberry recipe for that meal and I prepared the cranberries a day or two in advance to her specifications. It came out perfectly.

Recently, I obtained a copy of the recipe that was distributed to family and friends on the back of a card handed out at her funeral. I was shocked to see that it included canned cranberries. The recipe Julia shared with me didn’t have cranberries out of a can. It had fresh cranberries prepared on the stove — the way a real cook would prepare them.

Here, then, is the recipe Julia shared with me back in 1996. I’ll be making this for my friends to enjoy at Thanksgiving this year.

Ingredients:

  • Cranberries
    Julia’s real cranberry recipe started with fresh whole cranberries.

    2 12-oz bags fresh, whole cranberries

  • 2 cups water
  • 1-1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 12-oz can crushed pineapple (packed in natural juice; do not drain)
  • 1 10-oz can Mandarin orange pieces (drained), crushed or chopped
  • 3 or 4 figs, fresh or dried, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, diced (optional for crunchiness; I usually omit it)
  • 1 small apple, peeled, cored, and chopped
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
  • 1/4 cup Grand Marnier, Cointreau, or orange juice

Instructions:

  1. Rinse the cranberries and place them in a pot.
  2. Add the water and one cup of the sugar and stir.
  3. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to simmer, stirring occasionally.
  4. Listen for the cranberries to “pop.” When about two thirds of them have popped, remove them from the heat and allow to cool for at least 10 minutes.
  5. Drain away the cooking water and place the cranberries in a large bowl.
  6. Add the remaining half cup of sugar and still well. Sugar should dissolve.
  7. Cool thoroughly.
  8. Add remaining ingredients and stir well.
  9. Cover and store in the refrigerator at least overnight so the flavors will meld.

Finished Cranberries
Here’s what my cranberries look like this year.

Serve with turkey (for Thanksgiving!) or pork (any time of the year).

If you’re looking for something different with your turkey this year, try homemade mango chutney. That’s also good with pork.

By the way, the other thing Julia made so perfectly was a New York style cheesecake. I dreaded when she made it in my kitchen because she made an enormous mess. But it was worth it: creamy, delicious, and just sweet enough — if you could convince her not to top it off with something silly like cherry pie filling.

I miss you more than I thought I would, Julia. Rest in peace.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Fresh, tasty pumpkin seedy goodness.

I bought a bunch of pumpkins in October — all kinds of pumpkins — from a local pumpkin farm. I bought them mostly because I could pick them myself and it was fun. I liked the seasonality of having pumpkins around. And I figured I might carve them and put candles in them and do the whole Jack ‘O Lantern thing, even though I knew damn well I wasn’t going to get any trick or treaters.

Penny with Pumpkins
Penny posed with the pumpkins the day we brought them home.

But then my godfather got sick and died and I went to New York. When I got back, right before Halloween, I didn’t really feel like carving pumpkins.

So they sat outside. Halloween came and went. We had a warm spell and then it turned cold. Very cold. “Frost on the pumpkin,” as my stepdad would say, cold.

I got the idea that I wanted to pull seeds from the pumpkins to plant them in my own garden next year. (Don’t tell Monsanto.) So one-by-one I bought them in, cut them open, and scooped out the seeds. I cleaned them and dried them and put them in labeled plastic bags.

Of course, I don’t need that many seeds to plant and the orange pumpkin had plenty of them. So I decided to roast them — just as I did most years that I carved pumpkins in Arizona and New Jersey.

Here’s how.

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Using oil or spray oil, lightly grease the bottom of a large pan. (I used olive oil because that’s the way I roll.)
  3. Cut open the pumpkin and remove the seeds and loose pulpy stuff around them from the inside.
  4. Separate the pulpy stuff from the seeds. This could take some time. Be patient. Drinking wine or chatting with a friend or loved one is a good multi-tasking activity.
  5. Put the seeds in a colander and rinse them. Don’t rinse them too well; they’re better with just a little bit of pumpkin on them.
  6. Put the pumpkin seeds in the prepared pan and spread them evenly.
  7. Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
    Roasted pumpkin seeds, straight from my oven.

    Sprinkle the seeds with a generous helping of salt. (I used Kosher salt because I had some. Regular salt works, too.)

  8. Put the pan in the oven and roast for at least 10 minutes. If necessary, stir the seeds to prevent uneven browning, spread them out again, and continue to roast. You might have to do this more than once, depending on how many seeds there are and how big the pan is. The seeds should be light brown and kind of crispy when they’re done.
  9. Remove from oven.
  10. Enjoy as soon as they’re cool enough to eat without burning your mouth.

And yes, you do eat the entire seed.

Enjoy!

Apple Crisp for One (or Two)

Very easy, very tasty.

One of the great things about living near Wenatchee, Washington’s “Apple Capital,” is the wide availability of fresh-picked apples each autumn. Not only am I able to buy local apples direct from packing companies like Stemilt’s Bountiful Fruit store in North Wenatchee (which ships, by the way), but I can often get out in an orchard and pick the less marketable fruit left behind. Indeed, just last week, after dropping off some passengers for a meeting at an orchard, I walked through an organic gala apple block and picked a half dozen apples that were just too small to pick. (I get cherries and pears like this, too.)

I was invited to dinner at a friend’s house the other day and told my host I’d bring apple crisp. I wanted to make just enough for him and his three guests. So I found a recipe that was easily scalable. It came out great with those galas. So good that I made myself a single serving of hot apple crisp the next day for breakfast.

Here’s my scalable recipe. This will serve one or two.

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium or large apple. I used gala.
  • 2 tablespoons raisins (optional). I didn’t use them. I really don’t care much for raisins, but they do go good in apple crisp.
  • 2 teaspoons sugar. I use raw cane sugar.
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Pinch of salt (optional).
  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar. Packed, of course.
  • 2 tablespoons oatmeal. Do not use instant oatmeal. Ever. (Ick.)
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 tablespoon cold butter. I used frozen butter cut into small pieces.
  • Additional butter to butter pan.

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Butter a small baking dish and set aside.
  3. Cut up the apple and place it in a small bowl. You can cut it however you like; keep in mind that the smaller the pieces, the faster they’ll cook.
  4. Add raisins (if you’re including them), sugar, cinnamon, and salt (if you’re including it). Toss to coat apples with sugar and cinnamon.
  5. Place apple mixture in the prepared baking dish.
  6. Mix together brown sugar, oatmeal, flour, and butter pieces. Using your fingers, blend until the butter is in very small pieces and well mixed in. This could take about 2 minutes.
  7. Apple Crisp for OneSprinkle the topping over the apples.
  8. Bake until apple is tender, 30 to 40 minutes, depending on the size of the apple pieces. (If you used a glass baking dish, you should see the apples bubbling in their juices.)
  9. Cool for at least 15 minutes before eating.

This is amazingly delicious with coffee for breakfast or with vanilla ice cream for dessert.

The Life, Death, and Life of the O-Grill

A portable BBQ grill I really like.

_images_ogrill_open.jpgThe Iroda O-Grill.

Back in May 2010, the first season I drove my “mobile mansion” north for my summer job, I stopped along the way to pick up a portable gas grill. I stopped at the Camping World in Junction City, OR — now apparently closed — for the night and shopped before they closed for the day. I wound up with an Iroda O-Grill: a small clamshell style grill with 225 square inches of grilling space that used a propane cylinder for fuel.

I soon grew to love the grill. It was easy to set up and store, easy to clean, easy to use, and easy to find fuel for. I’d fire it up, let it run on highest temperature for 5 minutes, and clean it with a wire brush. Then I’d turn it down to its lowest setting and grill whatever I liked: steak, fish, vegetables — even tofu. You had to cook on its lowest setting; the darn thing put out so much heat with the lid closed that anything higher than that would cook much too quickly.

I used it all that summer and the next. When I brought the RV back to Arizona for the winter of 2010/11, I even brought the grill home to my house. It was a hell of a lot easier to use than the big Jennaire grill my wasband had bought for the patio — a grill I never seemed to be able to light properly. The darn thing always started on the first button push. Always.

The summer of 2013 was summer #4 for the grill. Although it was just starting to show its age — mostly from the time spent outdoors at the Quincy golf course RV park where it was sprinkled on every night by the irrigation system — but was running perfectly well. That is until it caught fire while grilling up some brats.

The fire was hot and fierce. Water from my poor man’s hot tub nearby extinguished it. With a few twists, the gas can was removed and the danger was over.

Burned Grill   Burned Table
Death of the O-Grill (and the table it sat on).

But my O-Gill had so obviously grilled its last brat. The back of the grill surface was melted off and one of the legs was melted sideways so it didn’t even sit level anymore. Even the folding table it had been sitting on was pretty much destroyed.

I immediately looked for a replacement. Yeah, I know it had caught fire, but it had given me four solid seasons of grilling before that. I liked it. It was worth replacing.

A search online brought up more than just shopping results. It brought up the recall notice. From the notice:

Hazard: The regulator on the grill can leak gas which can ignite, posing a fire and burn hazard to consumers.
Incidents/Injuries: Uni-O has received 10 reports of grills catching fire. No injuries or property damage have been reported.
Description: This recall involves Iroda O-Grill models 1000 and 3000 produced before 2010. Some were also sold under the Tailgate Gear brand. Both models are lightweight, portable, clamshell-type propane grills with steel bodies, cast iron cooking surfaces, retractable legs and a handle. They can be used with either 1-pound propane cylinders or 20-pound propane tanks. The grills come in orange, red, green, blue, silver and black and have the words “O-Grill” stamped on the metal grill cover. Recalled O-Grills do not have ventilation slots in the regulator cover where the propane bottle screws in. Grills with ventilation slots in the regulator cover are not subject to the recall.

Oops.

The notice was more than 18 months old, but I figured that a replacement would be a heck of a lot cheaper than a new grill (which was now selling for $40 more). So I made the necessary phone calls. Eventually, I spoke with a very nice man who asked me some questions about the grill and promised to send me a new one. He even asked what color I wanted. (I picked red.) All he asked is that I send back the old grill in the new grill’s shipping box.

Done and done.

My New O-GrillMy new O-Grill looks a lot like my old one, but it’s red instead of orange.

The new grill, which arrived just yesterday, looks a lot like the old one, although there is a difference in the grill design. This one has a sort of barrier between the grill and the area behind it, near the cover hinge. It works pretty much the same, although I have to admit it doesn’t fire up on the first button push every time. (Not yet, anyway.)

I do recommend this grill. It’s great for camping or tailgating. Very portable and very easy to use. It makes a good complement to my Traeger by providing a quick and efficient way to sear the BBQ sauce on the ribs I’m always smoking.