Ham & bean soup

A delicious, hearty bean and ham soup. Perfect for a fall or winter night!

A delicious, hearty bean and ham soup. Perfect for a fall or winter night!

After a long hiatus, I am back! But don’t worry – I HAVE been cooking..and baking. Definitely baking.

You know how it goes: you start making something, get caught up in dishes/doing other things around the place, and you suddenly realize you are starving. Before you know it, your entire dish is gone. Vanished. Done.

‘Well, there goes any pictures I was going to take for the blog.’

Between that happening way too often and having some late workout nights, I guess I got too caught up in other things.

But enough about all of that. Tonight it’s all about this amazing new soup we decided to try a couple of hours ago: bean soup.

A great base recipe on AllRecipes started us off, and in a really, really good way. It’s simple enough: some dried navy beans, chicken broth, water, ham, veggies, and seasonings. That’s really it.

We spruced it up a bit by using a new technique and from some extra special seasonings that you may be surprised about. Now, I must give credit where it is due: my husband had the idea of adding the special ingredients of paprika and cayenne pepper. :-)

We’ll share these secrets with you so that this will be your favorite bean soup.

We promise. Enjoy!

[TOTAL COOKING TIME: 1 HOUR, 15 MINUTES to 2 HOURS]

Ingredients:

  • 1 (16 oz) package dried navy beans — or a combination of your favorite dry beans
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 5 cups water
  • 1 ham steak, diced, and any part of bone you may have
  • 3/4 TSP onion powder
  • Salt to taste (I think we maybe added a quarter of a TSP. It did not need much w/ham & broth)
  • About 10-15 turns from pepper grinder
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cup carrots, sliced
  • 1 cup celery, sliced
  • 1/4 TSP paprika
  • 1/8 TSP cayenne pepper
  • 1/8 TSP garlic powder

Directions:

  • Sort, rinse, and quick soak your beans. We did the quick soak method and the beans turned out just fine. (quick soak = add 8 cups of hot water to your 1 lb of dry beans in a pot, boil for 2 minutes, remove from heat, cover, and let stand 1 hour. Drain and rinse beans once more before using in recipe).
  • Place carrots and celery in a new pot with 1 or 2 TBSPs of fat. We used olive oil. Heat them on medium-low heat, stirring frequently, for about 5-7 minutes. This technique is called ‘sweating’ vegetables, making them very aromatic.
  • Add to the pot: rinsed beans, cubed ham (and bones if you have them), chicken broth, water, bay leaf, and rest of seasonings except salt.
  • Bring to a boil; reduce heat, cover and simmer for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until beans are soft.
  • Remove any ham bones and scrape any meat from them to place back in soup. Taste and adjust for salt to taste, if needed.
  • Serve and enjoy!

Notes:

  • Sweating the vegetables is not required, but we think it made a nice difference. It really brought out the flavors of the carrots and celery. Highly recommended.
  • If you don’t sweat the vegetables beforehand, keep in mind that you probably do not want to add them until halfway though cooking. They were a bit mushy for us since we sweated them and kept them in the whole cooking time. But they tasted great.
  • If you have a ham bone/hock, this would be highly recommended, as well. We did not use a hock but only used the small bone that came with our ham steak. But I can say with confidence that a hock or bigger bone would NOT ruin it. ;-)
  • While cooking, occasionally skim soup’s surface to remove some foam buildup.
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Crockpot beans & ham

Crockpot beans & ham

Sometimes, there is nothing better than coming home to the aroma of whatever happens to have been in the crockpot all day. This time, it happened to be beans, ham and onion.

Since the crockpot practically did most of the work for me (aside from the dirty bean prep!) the least I could do was make some cornbread to go with it.

And together, it was one amazing meal. And cheap–I’d guess that this whole meal (which could easily serve two people 2-3 dinners) cost around $7. Amazingly simple, amazingly economical. And super tasty.

The one thing I DO recommend: soaking the beans overnight. This is instead of doing the ‘quick soak’ method where you boil the dry beans and then let them sit out for an hour. While the overnight soak takes longer (package says 6-8 hours minimum), it’s worth it.

Here is what the long soak does, among other things:

  • Cuts cooking time down significantly WHILE preserving nutrients beans provide
  • Great way to ensure beans are clean (make sure to RINSE them after soaking, too!)
  • Allows beans to cook more evenly

Aside from soaking/rinsing beans appropriately, the second important part of this recipe involves seasoning. And the only seasoning here we’re talking about is good ol’ salt and pepper.

But, as Chef Ann on Worst Cooks in America said the other night, “season like you mean it!” This dish is simple, so be sure salt and pepper help bring out the flavors.

Oh, and this is the first recipe I used for dry beans. What is your favorite recipe that involves dry beans? Which kind are they?

Crockpot beans & ham

[TOTAL COOKING TIME: 10-11 HOURS]

Ingredients:

  • 4-5 cups water
  • 2 cups dry Great Northern beans
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 ham steak, cubed, bone-in or boneless
  • 1 – 1/2 TSP salt, or to taste
  • 1/2 TSP pepper, or to taste

Directions:

  • Prepare dry beans for the long soak (sort, rinse, soak). Let soak for minimum 8 hours, or overnight
  • Discard soak water, rinse beans again, and put into crockpot.
  • Place the rest of the ingredients into crockpot: ham cubes, diced onion, salt & pepper. Cover everything with 2-3 inches of fresh water.
  • Place cover on crockpot; set on “low” for 10-11 hours or whenever beans are soft.
  • Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.

Notes:

  • Allow for longer cooking time if choose the ‘quick soak’ method (these methods can be found in a pinch on the back of dried bean bags)
  • Be sure to taste and adjust seasonings right before serving.
  • Using ham hock, shank, or other bones add flavor. If using them, pull meat off bones and add to dish. Discard bones or freeze to save.
  • Can make this dish on ‘high,’ as well, if cut cooking time about in half–5-6 hours maximum, I’d guess). I have not tried this method, though, so I’d keep an eye on them the firs time going at it this way.

 

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‘Sweet’ Sloppy Joe and BBQ baked beans

Sloppy Joe and BBQ baked beansThis was one of the very first meals I remember making for Justin and myself. It was also around the time when I was just starting to learn how to cook, so I admittedly didn’t really know how to make my own barbecue sauce. Even if it was something simple for a Sloppy Joe sandwich.

After making it a few times, I quickly learned it all comes down to balancing the sweetness and sourness to your liking. What tastes sour to some may taste sweet enough to others.

Or, if you’re like me, what may taste sweet to others really tastes just right to you. Don’t judge. I love (mostly) all things sweet.

Except for tea. That’s all kinds of awful with sweetness added to it. But that’s for another day.

Even though I listed ingredient amounts below, just keep in mind this type of meal is really about that phrase you hear all the time: taste and adjust seasonings. I usually don’t measure at all simply because I know how I want it taste.

Oh, and if you do plan on making this, whip up some barbecue baked beans as a side. I’ve provided a recipe for that, too, below the Sloppy Joe one.

[COOKING TIME: 40 MINUTES]

Adapted from AllRecipes Sloppy Joe II

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 lbs ground beef
  • 1 green or red bell pepper (use red if you’d like to add sweetness this way; green are more bitter)
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 3 1/2 cups ketchup, plus more if needed
  • 1/8-1/4 teaspoons mustard
  • 5 tablespoons brown sugar, plus more if desired
  • Salt and pepper to taste, if desired (*I’ve never once added this as I felt it wasn’t needed)

Directions:

  • In a medium skillet over medium high heat, brown the beef with onion powder and bell pepper; drain off liquids.
  • Stir in the ketchup, mustard, garlic powder, and brown sugar. Mix thoroughly.
  • Reduce heat and simmer for about 20-30 minutes.
  • Add ketchup throughout the cooking process if it starts to dry out.
  • Season with salt and pepper to taste, if desired.

Barbecue baked beans

[COOKING TIME: 15 MINUTES]

A few notes about the below simple recipe:

1. If you’re an onion fan, go ahead and throw some chopped onions in here. I’m sure it wouldn’t hurt. We happen to not be onion fans, though! Sometimes I use onion powder, but normally I do not.

2. While bacon is not necessary to get these delicious beans in minutes, it does help enhance the flavor. If you’ve got bacon on hand, I’d recommend using it.

3. If you want to use more than one can of beans, just remember this rule: use equal amounts of ketchup and brown sugar. And, of course, a LOT less mustard. We usually make two cans at a time and double the amounts below.

Ingredients:

  • 1 can (15 oz.) Van Camp’s pork and beans in tomato sauce
  • 3 tablespoons ketchup
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon mustard
  • Chopped onion or onion powder, to taste
  • 1 bacon slice

Directions:

  • Combine all ingredients in medium sauce pan. Place bacon slice on top of beans.
  • Cook on ‘low’ and simmer until warm, stirring occasionally.
  • Discard bacon. Serve and enjoy.
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Beef Stew

Beef Stew

“Holy crap, it smells good in here!”

Those were my husband’s words he texted me while I was at work one day. He was referring to how the condo smelled after I made this beef stew for the first time.

The secret to this entrancing smell? Herbs. Using LOTS of herbs. In fact, at least double what the recipe wanted.

Needless to say, we’ve gone on to have this meal once every couple of weeks or so. Or more often if it’s colder outside–like how it is now.

As I type this, it’s officially 4 degrees out here in Beavercreek, Ohio. This means it probably was around a balmy 8 degrees when I made dinner earlier, if I could guess.

Brutal cold temperatures like these put me in the mood for one thing: yep, it’s homemade beef stew. And, of course, cornbread.

So that’s what I stirred up tonight. My husband happened to work really late tonight and still is not home, so I know he will especially be thankful when he walks in and smells the beef stew and buttery corn bread!

This meal probably goes down as his favorite that I’ve made. And it all started with a recipe I found online, tweaked, and ended up loving.

Aside from throwing in more dried herbs, the other changes I make include seasoning the beef before browning, thickening the stew more, and making sure to use red potatoes. Red potatoes hold together better–something that definitely helps in a soup/stew.

I hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

Beef Stew

[TOTAL COOKING TIME: JUST OVER 2 HOURS]

Adapted from AllRecipe’s version:

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2-2 lbs beef stew meat, cubed
  • 2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 4 cubes beef bouillon, crumbled (*I’ve also used a 32 oz. Swanson beef broth carton)
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons dried rosemary
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons dried parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 3 large red potatoes, peeled and cubed (*I prefer red, though you can use any kind)
  • 4 carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 4 stalks celery, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 large onion, chopped (*I use 1 1/2 tablespoons onion powder, instead)
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons cold water

Directions:

  • Season beef with salt and pepper. Add garlic powder, if you’d like.
  • In a large pot or dutch oven, cook beef in oil over medium-high heat until browned. Drain and return to pot.
  • Dissolve bouillon into boiling water and pour into pot. Stir in rosemary, parsley, and pepper.
  • Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for half hour.
  • Add carrots and celery. Cover and cook additional half hour.
  • Stir onion or onion powder and potatoes into pot. Cover and simmer 1 hour longer.
  • Remove lid; taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Turn heat up so stew starts to boil.
  • Dissolve cornstarch in 2 tablespoons cold water. Stir until the mixture is smooth. Pour cornstarch/water mixture into stew and stir constantly, about 30 seconds to a minute, until thickened to your likening.
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Kickin’ Taco Seasoning

Kickin' Taco Seasoning

Looking for a new way to spice up your beef tacos with a burst of flavor? So were we.

That’s why I decided to go out on a limb and attempt to make my own taco seasoning.

Thanks to a recipe I found on AllRecipes, I was able to make sure we’d always have some delicious–and healthier than packets!–taco seasoning on hand.

The result was us deciding “we pretty much don’t want taco seasoning packets…again.” Granted, I do have a couple of packets in the pantry. But that’s really a “just in case” purchase. They’re cheap and if for some odd reason we can’t make it ourselves, the packets come in handy.

But if you can avoid using those ever-so-tempting-and-convenient-but-still-cheap seasoning packets, more power to you. In fact, just do it. We highly recommend it.

Oh, and about the name I gave it: Yeah, it is a bit ‘kickin.’ And for some crazy reason, my husband and I made it even more so with some extra red pepper flakes. We also add a little bit more salt than the recipe dictates.

Make these couple of tweaks and your life will suddenly be fabulous whenever you eat tacos.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
  • **1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (heaping)
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • **1 teaspoon sea salt (heaping)
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper

Directions:

Mix all ingredients in a small bowl. Store in an airtight container. Use approximately 3-4 TBSP per pound of meat.

**NOTE: When adding seasoning to browned meat on stove, add 2/3 cup of water or just enough to mix seasonings with beef. Let simmer for a few minutes or until everything is heated through.

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Chicken and dumplings

Chicken and dumplings

What’s possibly better than chicken pot pie? Chicken and dumplings.

I did say possibly.

After all, chicken pot pie is hands down my favorite food. The difference between this recipe and my pot pie recipe pretty much comes down to this: simplicity.

While the pot pie recipe on my blog is still relatively easy (for a pot pie), the chicken and dumplings is about foolproof. Unless, of course, you decide to under-season like I tend to do every once in a while.

But who’s asking about me?

All right, fine. I may have not added nearly enough salt to the first batch I made earlier this year. Or to the one I made tonight.

But that’s where practice come in. And I apparently need to remember that in THIS recipe, a teaspoon of salt does not nearly do this recipe justice. Try tripling that.

My husband can attest to this! I told him earlier tonight that, if he wanted, he could season his bowl with salt and pepper if he felt it needed more.

“Did you taste it?” he asked. “Yes,” I said. He had a puzzled look on his face after trying his bowl. When I tasted it during cooking, I thought it needed more salt.

But after a couple of times in the kitchen of recently OVER seasoning, I now tend to take it a bit more easy. I figure you can always add more later to your own serving, if needed.

The lesson here, folks: trust your instincts. Chance are, you’re right.

So, here it is: a simple yet delicious it-tastes-like-it’s-been-cooking-much-longer-than 50 minutes chicken and dumplings.

**Keep in mind that you can add different vegetables (frozen or fresh) to add some color. If adding frozen veggies, just remember to add them toward the end of cooking. Also, some people like creating a roux to thicken everything up. I feel this version does not need any thickening, so that is why I did not include flour, cornstarch, etc.**

**Serves: 6-8

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 lbs. chicken (I use boneless, skinless chicken breasts)
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 medium onion
  • 3 carrots, diced
  • 2 stalks celery. diced
  • 1/4 cup frozen peas
  • 2 cups Bisquick
  • 2/3 cup milk (fat free works fine for me!)
  • 1 tablespoon salt, pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

  • Place chicken in large enough pot to fit comfortably on the bottom. Cover with water.
  • Boil chicken: Turn heat to medium-high and, when boiling, lower heat, cover, and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until no longer pink inside. (Temp needs to reach 165 degrees)
  • Remove chicken and set aside. It needs to cool for a little while before shredding.
  • Add diced vegetables to hot water and cook for about 10 minutes or until tender.
  • While vegetables cook, stir Bisquick and milk together in a large bowl. Once vegetables are tender, drop spoonfuls of Bisquick mixture into pot. Make sure the dumplings are submerged in the water by gently pressing them with the back of a large spoon.
  • Follow Bisquick dumpling directions: Cook uncovered for 10 minutes; covered for another 10 minutes.
  • Uncover lid; taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
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Basic and savory cornbread

Mmmm. Simple and delicious cornbread.

This is definitely one of my favorite sides to pair with soup, stew or chili. It’s a great way to use pantry staples in no time at all.

And, I’ll be honest: it’s something I can make that I KNOW my husband will enjoy. ;-). It also doesn’t hurt that I am slightly obsessed with it. Once you make this recipe, I can guarantee that you will not want to buy boxed cornbread again.

I started with a base recipe from my husband’s mom and tweaked the ingredient amounts a bit to our liking. What resulted was a moist, fluffy, not-too-sweet and not-too-crumbly cornbread.

The key, as I’ve discovered, is to NOT overmix the batter when you are adding the wet ingredients to the dry or else the bread will be tough.  Another important part is to get it in the oven quickly so that it will rise appropriately.

Try it out for yourself and tell me what you think! I do want to know: what do you do to your cornbread that suits your fancy? Do you add a special ingredient or top it with something special?

[BAKING TIME: 25 MINUTES]

Ingredients: 

  • 3/4 cup cornmeal
  • 1 1/4 cup flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 stick butter, melted
  • 1 tablespoon butter to grease pan

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  • Grease your pan: Melt a tablespoon of butter into an 8x8x2 pan. I simply microwave it for about 20 seconds or so.
  • Mix dry ingredients thoroughly. Combine milk and beaten egg; add to dry ingredients.
  • Stir in melted butter by hand but ONLY enough to mix in the dry ingredients.
  • Pour batter into the greased pan and put into oven. Bake for 25 minutes or until toothpick inserted into center of bread comes out clean and edges of bread begin to separate from pan.
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