Tag Archives: cheap recipes

Slow-Cooker Pot Roast

While we’re starting to feel the effects of spring around here, there are still some chilly, rainy, dreary days hanging around. Now is the time to squeeze in all those wintery comfort foods before it gets too warm around here to truly enjoy them. I think I need to whip up a few more soups, one last pot of chili, and get to roasting as many winter vegetables as I can, before I wake up and realize it’s too late! But first, one key “winter” dish must be executed: pot roast.

I’m sure there are way too many pot roast recipes already, so I hope you’ll bear with me as I share my version. You see, as much as I can grill a steak with ease or whip up a pumpkin soup in no time, my pot roasts, in my opinion, have always left something to be desired. Too dry, too bland, too mushy…you name it, I’ve done it to a pot roast. So over the years, I’ve tweaked my techniques and recipes, making notes along the way. And now, I think I finally have it.

What did I discover that improved my pot roast? Here are a few tips/tricks:

- Some fat=flavor here. I have tried to make a pot roast with a really lean cut before, and it just wasn’t the same. Dry and uninteresting. Chuck roast is my preferred cut. I make a point to skim off the fat before I serve, both to balance flavors and to cut back the fat content in the finished dish.

- Don’t skimp on the salt. While I don’t heavily salt any of my dishes, I’ve found that proper amounts of salt really brighten the flavor of the meat. I salt in two stages – once before I brown the meat, and again once I’m finishing the dish and checking for seasoning balance. What’s the right amount of salt? That varies, depending on whether you’re using a store-bought stock or homemade. (I don’t salt my homemade stocks) It also depends on personal preference. What tastes salty to me might be bland to you. (I’m actually rather salt-sensitive – I have used such a light hand on salt at home for so long, that when I eat in restaurants, many dishes taste very salty to me!)

- Browning the meat before braising is essential. It’s an extra step, and so therefore takes some time, but the flavors are so much deeper when the meat is browned.

- Remove the potatoes from the pot roast, and instead serve mashed potatoes on the side. I just dislike the mushy texture of the soggy potatoes after they’ve cooked in the pot roast all day.

- Using alcohol as a flavor booster. You’ll see in this recipe that there are two kinds of alcohol. While this is not a requirement, I found that the combination of red wine and brandy added a depth to the dish that I couldn’t replicate otherwise. And with 6-8 hours in the slow cooker, I can’t imagine a smidgen of alcohol content remains.

- Taking advantage of that no-fuss, hands-off kitchen appliance: the slow cooker! When I compared the slow cooker to using my dutch oven, the slow cooker created a more tender, moister pot roast. The added benefit of reduced energy consumption (when comparing the slow cooker to the oven) definitely helps too.

So while this is a bit more involved than most of my slow cooker recipes (which are more of a “dump-and-go” routine), it’s worth it. And as with any slow cooker dish, the aroma that permeates throughout the house is wonderful. It definitely brightens any dreary, rainy day!

What makes a good pot roast, in your opinion? Do you have any secret ingredients in your recipe?

Slow-Cooker Pot Roast

1 3 lb chuck roast

salt and pepper

1 large onion, sliced

1 celery stalk, sliced

5 carrots, peeled and cut into 3-inch lengths

2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed

1/2 c mixed mushrooms (or button mushrooms), sliced

3-4 sprigs fresh thyme

2 bay leaves

2 c homemade chicken or beef stock

2 c full-bodied red wine (I used a dolcetto)

1/3 c brandy

1-2 T cornstarch

1/4 c chopped fresh parsley

Pat the roast dry and season with salt and pepper. In a skillet at medium-high heat, brown the roast on all sides. Place the onion, celery, carrots, garlic, mushrooms, thyme, and bay leaves in the slow cooker, and lay the roast on top. Pour the stock, wine, and brandy over the roast. Set the slow cooker to low and allow to cook for 6-8 hours.

Remove the roast and vegetables with a slotted spoon and set aside. Strain the leftover juices, and skim the fat off the top (or use a gravy separator). Place the juices in a small saucepan. Spoon about 1/2 c of the juices in a small bowl, and whisk in the cornstarch. Pour this slurry back in the saucepan and bring the juices to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and stir until juices thicken into a gravy. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary. Place the roast and vegetables back in the slow cooker, and pour the gravy over. Turn on high and rewarm for about 15-20 minutes.

Serve on top of mashed potatoes, garnished with parsley. Serves 6.

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Filed under Beef, Budget-Friendly, Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free, Main Dishes

Turkey Congee (Jook) with Brown Rice

I love a good deal. I clip coupons. I shop clearance bins. I buy clothes at the end of the season so that I can take advantage of reduced prices. I even subscribe to blogs that alert me of great deals. So when I can make meals that are so cheap, they’re almost free, I feel virtuous.

Free? Well, not entirely. But with a few frugal actions, a few inexpensive pantry ingredients, and a bit of mostly unattended time, a meal (or several) for the family is served. While it’s not the most elegant of meals, to be sure, it’s certainly not lacking in flavor or nutrition. As far as I’m concerned, it ranks right up there in terms of most craveable comfort meals. And it feeds the family easily for well under $10.

What is this magical meal? Congee. Or jook, as it is sometimes called. Congee is a rice porridge eaten in many Asian countries, many times, for breakfast. (A practice of which I am quite fond.) At its simplest, congee is rice simmered with water until the rice breaks down and the porridge becomes thick. Of course, there are a lot of variations – including adding meat, fish, salted eggs, spring onions, or soy sauce. Regardless of how it’s eaten, it’s a humble, comforting meal, and a great way to stretch a dollar.

I first learned of congee from Jaden at Steamy Kitchen. She posted congee as a great way to use up the leftover turkey bones from Thanksgiving. Following her example, I made congee for the first time after this past Thanksgiving, loosely following her steps, and improvising a bit on my own. I was in love. I ate the congee for several days, and froze the rest to bring for lunch during the week. It was such a delicious, belly-warming delight to eat.

A few weeks back, after I found some free-range, naturally-raised turkey on sale for $0.99/lb, I immediately knew I would be making congee again. After I’d roasted the turkey, (I used the meat to fill enchiladas, top salads, and fill sandwich wraps) I placed the bones in a few large ziploc bags and froze them. (I do this with chicken carcasses as well to use later for stock.) This weekend, I pulled out the turkey carcass, threw it along with some veggies in a large stockpot, and walked away to do other things. You see, while congee takes some time to prepare, most of that time is hands-off. It’s great for a weekend when you have other tasks around the house – it just sits there, happily simmering away, while you go about your business.

Just how is this dish nearly free? First of all, most of us simply throw away turkey (or chicken) bones when we’ve finished roasting and eating. This makes these bones almost like they’re a free ingredient, as you’ve put something that was previously “garbage” to use! As for the remaining ingredients, the rice used in this dish might cost $0.75, and the onion, carrots, and celery, another $2-3. (If you also save carrot ends, peelings, and celery tops for stock – you can simply throw these all together in a ziploc whenever you have them, and place in the freezer – then these can be considered “free” too and can be used here.) The dried shrimp might be an additional cost, but they’re relatively inexpensive, as are the rest of the pantry ingredients. For me, these are all items that I keep on hand, so I spent next to nothing to throw this dish together. I’d estimate the cost for the ingredients at around $6 for the entire recipe, which means each serving is less than $1. Definitely a good deal!

This time around, I opted to include dried shrimp, which enhanced the “umami” flavor of the porridge, and I used brown rice to boost the nutritional value of the dish, allowing me to enjoy it for breakfast guilt-free. You certainly can change up or omit these types of ingredients as you see fit – congee is a dish that begs to be personalized. After my congee simmered for a good long while, a taste test confirmed my hopes – this porridge, while humble, was viscous, creamy, and warmly satisfying. After eating a few more spoonfuls (I had to double and triple-check the flavor, after all!), I packed the rest away for breakfast and/or lunches. I can imagine it already, with a squirt of Sriracha and a preserved duck egg. Yum. It’s gonna be a good week!

You don’t have to wait until turkey “season” to make this – if you roast chickens (or even if you buy rotisserie chickens), simply save up a few of the carcasses. I would imagine 3 leftover chicken carcasses would work perfectly here.

Turkey Congee, adapted from Steamy Kitchen

Turkey bones from a 15-20 lb turkey, with 95% of the meat removed (or the bones from 3 roasted chickens)

3 celery stalks, sliced

2 carrots, sliced (don’t even bother peeling)

1 large chopped onion (don’t even bother peeling)

5 quarter-inch slices of fresh ginger (don’t even bother peeling)

3 cloves garlic, smashed

9-10 cups water

½ c dried shitake mushrooms

¼ c dried scallops or shrimp (optional)

½ c shaoxing wine or dry sherry

2 c short-grain brown rice

1 T fish sauce

1 T sesame oil

2-3 T gluten-free soy sauce

2 carrots, peeled and sliced

Cilantro, for garnish

Put the carcass in a large stockpot. (You may have to break it up a little to make it fit) Add the next 6 ingredients and bring to a boil. (It’s okay if the water doesn’t completely cover everything.) Reduce to a simmer and allow to cook, covered with a tight-fitting lid, for 2 hours. Strain into a bowl to remove bones and solids, and pick the meat from the bones. Add meat back into the strained stock, along with the mushrooms, dried scallops/shrimp, wine, rice, fish sauce, sesame oil, soy sauce, and carrots. Bring to a boil again and reduce to a simmer, partially covered. Allow to cook for 2 hours or more, until the rice breaks down and the entire dish becomes thick. Adjust fish sauce and soy sauce to taste, and garnish with cilantro as desired. Serves 8.

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Filed under Budget-Friendly, Chicken, Turkey, and other Poultry, Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free, Healthy Meals, Main Dishes, Rice, Soups

Simple Cabbage Soup (and winner of the giveaway!)

I have a confession to make. It might come as a surprise to some of you. After all, there are many flashier, sexier, and more impressive foods out there in the world.

You ready?

Here goes.

 I love cabbage.

I really do. Many times, I forget that I love it, casting it aside for more colorful, fancier, more elegant vegetables. But when cabbage and I reunite, it’s like reconnecting with a long lost friend. There’s no small talk. There’s no false airs, and there’s no subtext. It’s just cabbage and me. And besides. Cabbage goes great with butter. How could you go wrong?

Of course, today’s recipe does not use butter. (I know what you’re thinking – Why are you teasing me? You mention butter, and now you’re withholding?) Honestly, you won’t miss it. This vegetarian (vegan if you omit the cheese) soup packs such flavor, such comfort, that it needs no buttery adornment. I love the somewhat-generous helping of Parmesan on top, but that’s it. This soup is happy just being its simple self, filling my belly.

Want to know another secret? Okay, this one’s not such a secret. This soup is cheap. Really cheap. Cabbage usually sells for 50 cents a pound (sometimes 33 cents a pound!) at the grocery. A bit more if you go organic, but still…it’s one of the cheapest vegetables out there. Same goes for potatoes, carrots, and onions. I opted for a can of white beans out of convenience, but if you really want to be economical, buy dried. I used homemade stock, so it was essentially “free”, but stock (or buillion) can be purchased for little. Even with premium Parmesan, this whole meal can be made for under $5. (It cost about $3 for me.) Take that, KFC Family Meal Challenge!

Now, to the giveaway! I am excited about this giveaway, honestly. The Where Delicious Meets Nutritious cookbook is a treat. I already use agave nectar in some recipes, but I was excited to learn more. I love to bake, and have been wanting to learn to bake using agave. The Xagave nectar is really great for baking – and this book pointed me in the right direction (with their delectable recipes!). I can’t wait to continue baking from it – and I hope the winner enjoys it as much as I have.

And the winner is… Kristen of Flexy Fare! If that’s you, please contact me with your mailing info. Congratulations!

 

Simple Cabbage Soup, adapted from 101 Cookbooks

1 T olive oil

1 medium Yukon Gold potato (or other white potato), skin on, diced

1/2 large yellow onion, sliced

1 large carrot, peeled and sliced thinly

4 cloves garlic, chopped finely

1/2 t fresh thyme leaves, chopped

6 cups vegetable stock

1 15-0z can white beans, drained and rinsed (or 1 1/2 cups cooked white beans, such as navy)

1/2 medium cabbage, cored and sliced into 1/4 inch ribbons

Salt and pepper to taste

1/2 c Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

Place a large, heavy stockpot over medium heat. Add the olive oil and swirl around to heat. Once oil is shimmering, add potatoes. Cover and cook until they are a bit tender, and starting to brown a bit, about 5 minutes, stirring a few times during cooking. Stir in the onions and carrots and cook for another minute, and add in the garlic. Cook for an additional minute, and add the stock and the beans. Bring the stock to a simmer and stir in the cabbage. Cook for 4-5 minutes or until cabbage starts to become soft. Taste and add seasoning as needed. (This will vary depending on what kind of stock you used.) Serve with a good amount of Parmesan sprinkled on top.

Serves 4-6.

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Filed under Budget-Friendly, Gluten-Free, Healthy Meals, Main Dishes, Quick and Easy, Soups, Vegetarian

Ham and Red Bean Soup

Growing up, I wasn’t fond of ham. I wasn’t a picky eater, but ham seemed so salty to me (So did bacon. Honestly, I wasn’t much of a pork eater back then). Now I understand that one ham is not necessarily like the other, and some can be quite delicious – not too salty, just a tad sweet, and full of that wonderful porkiness. This year, for Christmas dinner, I chose a spiral-sliced ham. It made Christmas dinner much easier to prepare, so I could focus on other dishes and relax. On purpose, I chose a ham that was twice as large as we needed to feed our small group, just so there would be plenty of leftovers. Leftovers for my parents and my brother to take home, leftovers for my husband to happily snack on (okay, I snacked a bit too!), and leftovers for soup. Because if there is a ham bone, there must be soup.

I opted to make this soup entirely out of what I had left over in my fridge and pantry. I had small African red beans, (Really, that’s what they’re called. I bought them at an African grocery, asked the lady at the counter if they were called something other than “African Red Beans” – as this was what was on the package. They looked like Adzuki beans, which I realize are not African – but she said “They’re red beans.” I’m going with it.) so I opted to use them instead of a more traditional Navy bean or split pea. With the addition of some leeks, celery, carrots, garlic, and herbs, we were in business. After softening the vegetables in some olive oil and allowing the soup to simmer for 2 1/2 – 3 hours, the house filled with the aroma of savory, beany, hammy soup.

I felt that this was one of the best bean soups to grace my kitchen. The ham gave the broth a big meaty boost, and the beans were creamy and released a silky texture to the soup. It was deliciously rustic, perfect for this long stretch of cold days we’ve had lately. And like any good bean soup, it reheated beautifully for my lunch the next day. Am I venturing into the “too many soups” category yet? I hope not. I plan to crank out a few more before the winter is over.

This soup is hearty enough to serve as a main course. I paired it with gluten-free crackers, but you could always opt for gluten-free biscuits, or a nice winter salad.

 

Ham and Red Bean Soup

3 medium leeks, green tops and ends cut off and discarded, washed well and sliced thinly (reserve one green top)

3-4 sprigs thyme

1 bay leaf

1 t coriander seeds

1/2 t black peppercorns

1 t cumin seeds

1 T olive oil

3 carrots, peeled and diced

2 stalks celery, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 T tomato paste

1 lb small red beans, soaked overnight and rinsed

Bone leftover from ham (or you can substitute smoked ham hocks)

Water (approximately 10 cups)

3 c diced cooked ham

1 t ground chipotle chile powder

Salt and pepper to taste

Take the thyme sprigs and bay leaf, and wrap the reserved green leek top around. Tie with butcher’s twine to secure. Place the coriander seeds, peppercorns, and cumin seeds in the middle of a coffee filter or small piece of cheesecloth, and tie into a bundle using butcher’s twine. Set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add leeks, carrots, and celery. Saute for 5 minutes or until softened. Add garlic and saute for another minute. Add tomato paste and saute for another minute. Add the beans, ham bone, the herb bundle and the spice bundle, and enough water to cover. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer, partially covering. Allow to simmer for 1 hour.

Add the diced ham and chipotle chile powder and stir in. Allow to simmer until beans are soft and are just beginning to break open, another 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Adjust seasoning to taste. Remove ham bone and pull any remaining ham from the bone and return to pot. Remove herb bundle and spice bundle, and serve.

Serves 4-6.

 

28 Comments

Filed under Beans, Budget-Friendly, Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free, Healthy Meals, Main Dishes, Pork, Soups