Crockpot Corner — Turkey Quinoa Meatballs

I’ve decided to start a new feature now that the cooler weather has arrived here in Chicago. It’s called Crockpot Corner and the first recipe to be featured are these wonderful Turkey Quinoa Meatballs.

The name Crockpot Corner sounds like it should be in a 1980s women’s magazine, I know, and if anybody has any better suggestions, I would appreciate it.

Anyway, who doesn’t love meatballs? They are so veratile. You can serve them over pasta, offer them as an appetizer, or — my favorite — put them on a hinged roll and melt some cheese over them for a meatball grinder.

When I was growing up, my older brother, Michael, introduced me to many of the more counter-cultural happenings that were going on in the mid-1970s, one of which was the “underground comics” of R. Crumb.

The one I remember most clearly was called “Meatball” and as far as I can recall it comprised mostly of ordinary people getting hit in the head with meatballs that were thrown at them from somewhere off-panel.

Ever since then, meatballs have always struck me as funny and I can’t eat them without remembering that R. Crumb comic.

Like all crockpot recipes, this delicious meatball recipe is simple to make and cooks all day at low temperature, filling the house with a rich, lush aroma.

It’s based on one I found it at the amazing blog How Sweet It Is, which is written by a wonderfully fearless madwoman named Jessica who consistently provides great recipes and generously shares details of her life with her readers.

Most weeks, I find at least one or two recipes on Jessica’s blog that I end up making  (I’m planning to make one tonight, in fact). And her incredible food photography always inspires me to improve my own.

Turkey Quinoa Meatballs

2 lb Ground Turkey

2/3 cup Cooked Quinoa

3 Garlic Cloves, crushed

1 Egg, lightly beaten

2 TBS Extra Virgin Olive Oil

2 TBS Grated Parmesan

2 tsp Dried Basil

1 tsp Dried Oregano

1/2 tsp Onion Powder

1/2 tsp Sea Salt

1/2 tsp Freshly Cracked Black Pepper

1 White Onion, cut into thin rings

28 oz can Crushed Tomatoes

10 oz can  Whole Peeled Tomatoes

6 oz can Tomato Paste

1. In a mixing bowl, combine turkey, quinoa, egg, olive oil, parmesan, basil, oregano, salt and pepper. Mix together just until all the ingredients are combined, but be careful not to overmix because this can make the meatballs tough. With your hands, roll into meatballs about the size of golf ball. This should make about 24 meatballs.

2. In a crockpot, pour the crushed tomatoes and tomato paste and stir around until blended. Then lay the sliced onion on top.

3. Put a cast iron pan over a medium heat. When hot, drizzle in a little EVOO and wait until it starts to smoke. Then place about half the meatballs in the pan, being careful not to splash yourself with hot oil. Turn until all sides are browned, then place in the crock pot on top of the onions. Cook the remaining meatballs the same way and add them to the crockpot.

4. Pour the juice from the whole peeled tomatoes on top of the meatballs, then hand crush the tomatoes. I enjoy the tactile experience of hand-crushing my tomatoes, but it also allows the tomatoes to maintain some of their shape the sauce cooks down, adding texture. Cover and cook on low for 6 hours or on high for 3 hours.

I served these on hinged rolls smothered in tomato sauce and then covered with a slice of provalone cheese. Then I put it under the broiler for just a minute to melt the cheese a little.

This makes a lot of meatballs, so I ended up having these for lunch for a few days afterwards. I eventually sliced up the remaining meatballs and put them on a homemade pizza.

I hope you like the new feature and watch out for flying meatballs!

Crock Pot Spaghetti Sauce

The weather is officially cooler here in Chicago, so it’s time for one of the most exciting times of the year in our house: The beginning of crock pot season! I decided to start this season with something basic — Crock Pot Spaghetti Sauce.

Last crock pot season ended on a sad note. My crock pot broke! It was only about a year old, but I suppose I must have worn it out. During the colder months, we use our crock pot A LOT.

One day, it just died in the middle of making a batch of chili. Rescucitation efforts were unsuccessful. I was able to save the chili, however.

The good news is that I bought a brand new crock pot to kick off this season. While the last one had all the bells and whistles — including a digital readout, the ability to shift temperatures automatically, a temperature probe I never used — this time I decided to go back to basics.

I bought it at our local Kohl’s. I love that store because of all the discounts and special offers you get there. In this case, I was able to get my brand new, back-to-basics crock pot for a whopping … $13!!! That made my day, especially when you consider the last one that broke after only about a year cost more than $60.

It seems like I find new recipes I want to make from only a handful of blogs. That was the case with this Crock Pot Spaghetti Sauce recipe which I found on the wonderful Mom Makes … blog. Probably about 90 percent of the internet recipes I try come from either there or How Sweet It Is.

My new bare bones crock pot

I haven’t gotten on to Pinterest yet because I tend to be a bit obsessive. I’m afraid if I start looking around on that site, it would be days before I got off of it. That’s the same reason I don’t allow myself to play video games, incidentally. There are entire months of my life in the late ’80s that were wasted playing Super Mario Brothers.

Anyway, I modified this recipe slightly. I used ground turkey instead of ground beef. And I didn’t add the can of tomato sauce until close to the end of the cooking time because I discovered I didn’t have any and had to go out and buy some.

Still, it turned out very delicious. Both Sandi and I agreed that it was far superior to store bought pasta sauces, which tend not to taste much like anything. The tomato paste gave this sauce a distinctive bite to it, which I enjoyed.

Also, I substituted 1-1/2 TBS of Italian seasoning for the dried basil, thyme oregano because it is basically the same thing anyway.

Crock Pot Spaghetti Sauce

1 lb Ground Beef (or Ground Turkey)

Sea Salt

Fresh Ground Black Pepper

1 White Onion, diced

28 oz can of Crushed Tomatoes

8 oz can of Tomato Paste

6 oz can of Tomato Sauce

1 TBS Brown Sugar

1 Bay Leaf

3 Garlic Cloves, crushed

2 tsp Dried Oregano

2 tsp Dried Basil

3/4 tsp Sea Salt

1/2 tsp Dried Thyme

1/4 tsp Red Chili Pepper Flakes (optional)

2 TBS Butter (I actually forgot to add this)

1. Put a cast iron pan over a medium heat. When hot, add 1 TBS olive oil. When smoking, add the onions and cook until translucent, about 2 minutes, then add ground turkey. Season with salt and pepper and cook until liquid evaporates and meat begins to brown, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

2. Meanwhile, in the crock pot, add the crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce, garlic and all the herbs and spices. When meat is ready, add to the crock pot and stir together. Cook on low for 4 to 6 hours, stirring once or twice. Add the butter just before serving.

Crock pot season is off to a great start with this delicious recipe. What sort of meals do you like to make in your crock pot? Share your ideas in the comments section below. And thanks for looking at my blog!

Crock Pot Cooking – Italian Sausage in Tomato Sauce

First, an apology: It’s been far too long since I’ve written a new blog. No excuses, but my only explanation is that my freelance writing career has demanded all of my time and I’ve been swimming in work since approximately mid-April. Hurray!

One project I was working on was a book on crock pot cooking. The project eventually collapsed due to, ahem, creative differences with the client but I suddenly find myself with more than 100 crock pot recipes, some of which I’ve already photographyed.

Hence, a new feature at Budget Cooking Blog: Crock Pot Cooking.

I’ve written many times about the convenience of using a crock pot, such as this blog, this blog and, oh yes, this blog. The best thing about the crock pot is that you just set it and forget it, and at the end of the day you not only have a delicious meal that will feed your family for days, but your entire home is filled with a lush, mouth-watering aroma.

This particular recipe is one of my favorites: Italian Sauasage in Tomato Sauce. The combination of slow-cooking the sauce and the addition of roasted garlic-flavored tomato paste really brings out the acidity in this sauce, but it is nicely balanced with the sweetness of the sugar and is given complexity by the oregano and fennel.

While enjoying this classic appetier, it’s easy to imagine yourself dining al fresco along Mulberry Street in New York’s Little Italy neighborhood, watching as the parade of people pass by.

While this would be wonderful as an entree served over pasta, I like to serve it as an appetizer over hard polenta. The primary difference between hard polenta and soft polenta is that the former is made with water and the latter with dairy, such as milk, cream or whatever you happen to have on hand.

Hard polenta — which is not actually hard but is poured out onto a sheet pan and allowed to set up — can be cut into any shape you like, which gives you a lot of versatility for plating. It also can be pan fried or even grilled if you would like some additional color and flavor.

Italian Sausage in Tomato Sauce

1 lb Spicy Italian Sausage, either bulk or casings removed

1 small Red Onion, small dice

1 Carrot, peeled, small dice

1 Red Bell Pepper, ribs and seeds removed, small dice

28 oz can Crushed Tomatoes with Italian Seasonings

6 oz can Tomato Paste with Roasted Garlic

1 tsp Dried Oregano, or 1/2 tsp fresh

1 tsp Fennel Seeds

1 tsp Granulated Sugar

1/4 tsp Fresh Cracked Black Pepper

6 oz Hard Polenta (recipe follows), cut into any shape you like

1. Put cast iron skillet over a medium heat. When hot, add sausage, onion, carrot and bell pepper. Cook until sausage is browned, about 7 to 8 minutes, breaking up the sausage as it cooks.

2. Transfer sausage mixture into crock pot. Add crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, oregano, fennel seeds, sugar and black pepper. Cook and cover until mixture simmers and thickens, about 4 to 6 hours on low or 2 to 3 hours on high.

To plate, arrange polenta on an appetizer plate then use a kitchen spoon to ladle a generous portion of the sausage mixture over half the polenta, leaving the other half exposed. Garnish with some freshly grated parmesan cheese and a sprig of parsley.

Hard Polenta

4 cups Water

1 cup Polenta (coarsely ground corn meal)

1 TBS Whole Unsalted Butter

3 TBS Grated Parmesan Cheese

1/2 tsp Freshly Cracked Black Pepper

1. Bring water to a boil then slowly whisk in polenta, stirring constantly so that it doesnt clump. Reduce heat and cook until polenta thickens to the point where it pulls away from the walls of the pot, about 12 to 15 minutes, stirring frequently so it doesn’t burn.

2. When thick, turn off heat and fold in butter and parmesan. Season with pepper. You don’t need to add any salt because the parmesan already is quite salty.

Let the polenta cool for a few minutes, then pour it out onto a greased baking sheet smoothing it with a spatula to create an even level. Let it cool completetly at least an hour. You can then use a knife to cut the polenta into triangles, stars, circles or whatever shape you want. These polenta peices can be grilled or sauteed, or stored in your refrigerator or freezer for another time.

For creamy polenta, substitute dairy such as milk, half and half or heavy cream for the water and kick up the butter to 1-1/2 TBS or more, depending on how rich you like it.

My apologies once again for my absence. I have missed writing this blog and am looking forward to sharing more easy, delicious and inexpensive recipes in the coming weeks and months.

Ham, White Bean and Escarole Soup

As the weather begins to get warmer, I begin a desperate effort to make just a few more crock pot recipes before it’s time to put it away for the season.

There’s really nothing preventing me from using the crock pot during the summer months, but it just doesn’t feel right. It would be like buying a snow shovel in July.

My crock pot is great for the winter, but it’s even better during these in between times, when the temperature is warming, yet still crisp enough to send a chill down your neck.

It’s precisely these kinds of days when a warm soup slowly stewing in the crock pot brings the most comfort. Mix up a batch of jalapeno cornbread just before dinner is served and you have the perfect dinner for a cool mid-Spring evening.

Like most crock pot recipes, this soup is extremely economical. Of course, beans and the produce cost next to nothing, but in this soup I used ham scraps leftover from a long ago meal that have been waiting patiently in the freezer for precisely this moment.

You also could use a leftover ham bone or a smoked ham hock. Or simply leave the ham out altogether for a delightful vegetarian dinner soup.

I used Cannellini beans because they are a little larger than Great Northerns and I think they give the soup a little more substance.

If you haven’t used it before, escarole is a type of rough lettuce, kind of like a mix between green leaf lettuce and kale. I don’t generally make a salad out of it on its own because it has a little too much texture, but it is perfect for fortifying other salad greens or throwing into a soup like this one.

Escarole adds an iron-rich flavor that is similar to spinach but not as strong.

Ham, White Bean and Escarole Soup

1 TBS Extra virgin olive oil

1 Medium white onion, diced

2 Carrots, peeled and diced

2 Celery stalks, leaves included, diced

8 oz Ham, small dice

2  cans Cannellini beans, drained

1/2 head Escarole lettuce, rough chop

16 oz Low-fat, low-sodium chicken stock (or vegetable stock)

1 tsp Dried thyme

1 tsp Dried basil

1 clove Garlic, crushed

Sea salt

Fresh cracked black pepper

1. Place cast iron pan over a medium heat. When hot, add EVOO. When smoking, add onions, carrot and celery. This combination of vegetables is called a mirepoix (MEER-eh-pwah) and is the basis for many soup recipes. Saute until onions are translucent, about five minutes, then add ham and saute another two minutes. Add garlic, saute another minute, then add to crock pot.

2. Add to crock pot the beans, thyme, basil and stock. Set dial to low and cook for about seven hours. During the final hour of cooking, stir in the escarole. Continue cooking on low for another hour. Season to taste with salt and black pepper.

This very basic soup recipe can be transformed into any number of variations by adding or substituting different types of beans, proteins, seasonings and even greens.

You can even add pastas, such as elbow macaroni or orzo, and a little crushed tomato if you want to make a  more traditional Italian soup.

 

Texas Black Bean Chili

Here in Chicago, we had been enjoying a mild winter up until this week. But the Arctic blast that has settled over the city is making us forget all about those warm temperatures and sunny days.

At least cold weather means it’s time for chili!

Our crock pot has been working overtime this month, with nearly four out of five meals being slow-cooked. It’s not only convenient — everything seems to be busier right now — but the enticing aroma wafting through the house all day makes the frigid weather easier to tolerate.

This time I decided to try something a little different. Texas black bean chili is similar to my standard chili recipe, but with a few twists. Besides using black beans instead of kidney beans, of course.

For this recipe, I substituted my barbeque dry rub for the standard chili powder/cumin flavoring. The barbeque dry rub contains a wide variety of different spices, but no cumin or chili powder. So the chili ends up tasting radically different, both sweeter and spicier.

If you have store-bought barbeque rub or dried barbeque seasoning, that works fine, too.

Texas black bean chili is also mas caliente than standard chili because of the addition of canned diced chile peppers. You can spice it up even more by including the seeds and ribs from the jalapeno, if you want. But be careful, once you add the heat, you can’t take it out. Another option would be to just let people add their own hot sauce if they prefer flaming hot chili.

Hope you’re staying warm where you are!

Texas Black Bean Chili

1 medium white onion, diced

1 green pepper, seeds and ribs removed, diced

2 jalapenos, seeds and ribs removed, diced

1 small can diced green chiles

2 cans black beans, drained

1 large can of whole peeled tomatoes

2 TBS EVOO

1 lb ground turkey (or ground beef)

2 TBS Barbeque Dry Rub

1/2 cup water

Sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste

1 12-ounce can spicy V-8

1. Put cast iron pan on fire. When hot, add oil. When smoking, add half of the onions. Saute until soft, about five minutes, then add the turkey and cook until brown, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Add barbeque dry rub and water and cook an additional minute.

2. In crock pot, combine beans, the other half of the diced onion, green pepper, jalapeno and chiles. Add the turkey and stir together. Add the juice from the whole peeled tomatoes, then hand crush the tomatoes into the pot. This is important to get the right texture for the tomatoes. Pour in spicy V-8 and stir.

3. Cook on low for 8 hours, stirring once or twice. When fully cooked, adjust the flavor by seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.

I usually serve my chili with oyster crackers, shredded Mexican cheese, cooked macaroni noodles, diced onions and fat free sour cream, but you can just use whatever condiments you like best.

What sort of meals do you like to make when the temperatures start to fall? Share your ideas in the comments section below. And thanks for looking at my blog.

Crock Pot Italian Meatballs

One of the few things I actually look forward to during Chicago winters is using my crock pot more frequently.

I’ve written before about how the crock pot is a central element of winter cooking in my house, but usually by this point in the winter I’ve already cycled through most of my slow cooking repertoire: chili, pulled pork, red beans and rice, chicken stew, etc.

So I’m always excited when I find a new recipe to try in my crock pot. In this case, it’s a very old recipe cooked in a new way: Italian meatballs cooked all day in the crock pot!

I was pleasantly surprised with how flavorful they turned out. Not only did they not fall apart — something I was worried about given the seven hours they cooked — but the flavors of the meatballs leached into the sauce, giving it a complexity and depth of flavor it ordinarily wouldn’t have.

Plus the sauce naturally reduced over time, concentrating the tomato flavor in a very interesting and delicious way. It started to have that intensity that tomato paste has, without the over the top acidity.

I served it over whole wheat spaghetti, but you could use any pasta you like. A quick note: A few years ago when whole wheat pasta first started to appear on the shelves, a lot of it tasted like wet cardboard when it was cooked. Recently, however, the manufacturers must have figured out how to make it more appealing because it now tastes every bit as good as pasta made with white flour, but with much more nutritional value.

Crock Pot Italian Meatballs

3/4 lb ground beef

3/4 lb ground pork

1 small white onion, diced small

2 cloves garlic, crushed

2 tsp Italian seasoning

1/4 cup Italian-style dry bread crumbs

1 egg, slightly beaten

1 28-oz jar marinara sauce

1 box whole wheat spaghetti

1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

1. Preheat oven to 375F. Line sheet pan with foil and spray foil with pan spray. In large mixing bowl, combine the beef, pork, onion, garlic, Italian seasoning, bread crumbs and egg and mix well with your hands. Shape into 24 1-1/2 inch balls. Place on sheet pan and bake 35 minutes.

2. Place meatballs in crock pot. Cover with marinara sauce and cook on low for 6 to 7 hours, stirring occasionally.

3. Cook pasta according to package instructions, drain and return to pot with a little EVOO. To plate, place a heaping pile of pasta in the center of a pasta bowl, then use a kitchen spoon to arrange meatballs and sauce on top. Garnish with parmesan cheese.

Do you make any unusual recipes in your crock pot? Why not share your ideas in the comments section below? And thanks for looking at my blog!