Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Time to Get Out the Slow Cooker!

That's one of the great things about fall, isn't it? Cozy flavours, long cooking meals. Actually wanting warmth in your foods. And we can get re-acquainted with our slow cookers.

50 Simple Soups for the Slow Cooker is a veggie cookbook, actually my favourite kind of veggie cookbook in that you don't even realize that it is veggie. It has a broad selection of soups with great flavour and variety.

Lynn Alley is a veteran cookbook writer, with titles such as The Gourmet Slow Cooker (Vols 1&2), The Gourmet Vegetarian Slow Cooker, The Gourmet Toaster Oven and Lost Arts: A Celebration of Culinary Traditions. She presents 50 Simple Soups for the Slow Cooker as Easy on the Planet, the Palate, and the Pocketbook. What could be better than that?

We tried these delicious fall soups this month, a Spiced Apple Pie Soup that tasted like autumn itself, and a deep and earthy Black Bean Chili with Corn Bread Crust - with all the fixings of course!

Go ahead and break out your slow cooker, and give these recipes a try!

50 Simple Soups for the Slow Cooker
by Lynn Alley

6½ x 6½ in.
Hardcover, 104 pages, 15 full-sized photos

Spiced Apple Pie Soup
From 50 Simple Soups for the Slow Cooker

If you’ve got a burning desire to keep ’em down on the farm during the fall or winter holiday season, here’s the perfect way to do it. Fill the house with the smell of spiced apples. I recommend using Granny Smith apples, as most other apple varieties are likely to produce a weaker version of this soup. You need acid and flavor, and the Granny Smith delivers both.

Try to find organic apples, then leave the skins intact as most of the flavor and nutrients are found in or just under the skins of the fruit. Use your imagination when it comes to garnishes: perhaps some chopped, toasted walnuts, grated sharp cheddar cheese, or a dollop of sour cream or yogurt.

Serves 4 to 6

1 stick cinnamon
6 cloves
6 allspice berries
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
5 large Granny Smith apples, quartered, cored, and sliced
5 cups water
2/3 cup raisins
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice (optional)
3 to 4 tablespoons honey (optional)
1/2 cup Greek-style yogurt or sour cream

Using a spice grinder or mortar and pestle, grind the cinnamon, cloves, and allspice to a fine powder.

Place the butter and apples in a 7-quart slow cooker. Cover and cook on LOW for 2 to 3 hours, until the apples are soft and the juice nice and browned. Mash any large pieces of apple, then add the water, spices, and raisins and continue cooking for 2 hours longer.

Just before serving, stir in the lemon juice and honey. To serve, ladle the soup into bowls and top with the yogurt.

Indispensable Tools of the Trade: The Spice Grinder
Spices will taste brighter and fresher if ground just before using, just like the pepper that is ground fresh over your salad at table. This may sound like a lot of work at first, but once you’ve got a system, the rest is easy. It is generally simplest to buy spices in bulk, keep them in the freezer, and pull whatever spice out of the freezer and grind it as you need it. Spices can be ground with an electric mill or by hand with a mortar and pestle. If you are truly pressed for time, feel free to substitute commercially ground spices for the whole spices recommended in the recipes. Substituting 1 teaspoon of whole spice for 1 teaspoon of ground spice should get you close enough!

Delicious! Tastes like autumn!
Black Bean Chili with Cornbread Crust
From 50 Simple Soups for the Slow Cooker 

Ahhh . . . I love this stuff. This is not your ordinary chili but reflects the rich combinations of ingredients found in real Mexican cuisine. You might even think of it as a bean mole, since it combines many of the spices and ingredients, including both chile powder and cocoa powder, usually found in mole poblano. It’s got guts and flavor, and I love it with or without the cornbread crust. It’s best sprinkled with lots of cheese, sliced olives, scallions, and cilantro.

Serves 6 to 8

1 pound (2 cups) dried black beans
6 cups water
6 allspice berries
1 stick cinnamon
1 teaspoon cumin seed
1 teaspoon coriander seed
1/4 teaspoon aniseed
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/4 cup diced red bell pepper
1/4 cup diced green bell pepper
1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
1 to 2 tablespoons chile powder
1/4 cup cocoa powder

Cornbread crust
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup buttermilk

1/2 cup sour cream or nonfat yogurt
1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions
1/2 cup sliced black olives
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Rinse the beans thoroughly and place them, along with the water, in a 7-quart slow cooker. In a spice mill or mortar and pestle, grind the allspice, cinnamon, cumin, coriander, and aniseed. Add the spices, along with the tomatoes, onion, garlic, bell peppers, oregano, chile powder, and cocoa powder to the beans. Cover and cook on LOW for 6 to 8 hours, until the beans are tender. Turn the slow cooker up to HIGH.

To make the crust, in a food processor pulse the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt until thoroughly mixed. Add the eggs, vegetable oil, and buttermilk and pulse until the liquid ingredients are thoroughly mixed in with the dry. Spread the cornbread mixture over the top of the chili, or drop large spoonfuls around the surface of the chili, and continue cooking on HIGH with the lid slightly ajar for 1 hour longer, or until a toothpick inserted into the crust comes out clean. Ladle the soup into bowls. Top each bowl with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of scallions, olives, and cilantro.

A Word About Beans

Bean cooking times may vary, sometimes greatly, in accordance with the condition of the beans themselves. Beans that have recently been harvested are likely to be in good condition; beans that have been sitting on the shelf for a long time may take a very long time to cook. Try to purchase beans from a source with a rapid turnover rate, and check the package. If the beans look chipped or there are “crumbs” in the package, chances are the beans have been sitting around for a long time.

The crust bakes right in the slow cooker!