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!

Advertisement

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.

 

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!

Football Chili

The weather turned sharply cooler in Chicago this week, and that made me think of one thing.

Football.

And that made me think of another thing.

Chili.

Football Chili

Football Chili

To me, chili and football go hand-in-hand. Whether you prefer Saturday’s college games, or Sunday’s pro spectacles, or both, having a pot of chili brewing in the crock pot makes your football experience complete. It’s hot, it’s spicy, it’s filling, and you can return to the pot for refills all day long.

You can tell a lot about somebody by the way they make their chili. In high school, the family of a friend of mine owned a meat packing company. They used beef tenderloin in their chili. I’ve seen downtown chefs make minimalist chili with crystal clear tomato consumee and perfectly shaped diced vegetables. That ain’t right, either.

I was recently in Cincinnati and they put spaghetti in their chili. Wait, what?!

Self-Serve Chili Bar

Self-Serve Chili Bar

Professionally and personally, I’ve made dozens of different kinds of chili – white chili and green chili; black beans, red beans or white beans; five alarm chili (super hot) to old lady chili (spiceless). But for football chili, I always go back to the same basic recipe: Red beans, ground meat and vegetables in a spicy tomato-based sauce.

I love to let people personalize their chili by choosing their own favorites from an array of toppings. I usually offer sour cream, shredded cheese, macaroni, scallions, diced white onion, and at least two kinds of hot sauce.

A bowl of chili is great by itself, but it’s even better with a slice of homemade jalapeno cornbread. That alone almost makes a Chicago winter worthwhile.

Jalapeno Cornbread

Jalapeno Cornbread

Cornbread is a quick bread, meaning it’s leavened with baking power instead of yeast and you don’t have to knead it. Even if you never baked before, it’s almost foolproof and absolutely delicious. Serve it right out of the oven with a little butter softened to room temperature. Yum.

So here’s the recipe for my standard football chili and jalapeno cornbread. I hope it makes you feel as warm on the inside as it does me.

Football Chili

2  15 oz cans cans dark red kidney beans

14 oz can diced tomatoes

13-1/2 oz can of Mexican diced tomatoes w/ chiles

2 cups spicy V-8

1 lb. ground turkey (or ground beef, or beef and pork mixture, whatever you want)

1 TBS cumin

1/2 TBS chili powder

1 medium white onion, diced

1 green pepper, seeds and ribs removed, diced

2 jalapenos, seeds and ribs removed, diced

1 clove garlic, minced

TBS EVOO

S&P to taste

Heat cast iron pan then add EVOO. When smoking, add ½ the chopped onion and sauté until translucent, about five minutes. Add the ground meat and cook until browned, about another 10 minutes (If using ground beef, pork or a combination, you’ll want to drain the fat at this point). Stir in cumin and chili powder and cook an additional 2-3 minutes and remove from heat.

Drain beans and add to crock pot, along with remaining onion, green pepper, jalapeno, garlic, diced tomatoes and tomatoes w/ chiles. Add the cooked meat, then cover all with spicy V-8. Stir it all together, then cook on the low setting for 4-7 hours. Season with S&P to taste just before service.

If you don’t have a crock pot, stop reading this and immediately go get one. They are a critical piece of autumn and winter cooking equipment. But seriously, if you don’t have one, you can make this recipe on the stovetop. Just cook it over a low flame for about an hour, stirring occasionally.

Jalapeno Cornbread

1 cup All Purpose Flour

2 TBS sugar

TBS baking powder

½ tsp salt

1 cup yellow cornmeal

1 cup milk

2 eggs, beaten

¼ cup vegetable oil

3-4 jalapenos, ribs and seeds removed, diced

Preheat oven to 425F. Grease your cast iron skillet — I use pan spray — and throw it in the oven.

1. While the oven is warming, combine milk, eggs and oil in a bowl. In another bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and cornmeal. Slowly stir liquid mixture into powder mixture just until batter is wet. Fold in jalapenos, then use potholders to remove skillet from oven and pour batter into skillet.

2. Cook for about 25 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.

This recipe can also be made in a 9”x9” baking dish that has been sprayed with cooking spray.

A note on jalapenos: These green Mexican chile peppers are only hot if you leave the ribs and seeds in. Once they are removed, jalapenos are not much hotter than a green bell pepper, but add a nice zesty flavor to whatever you add them to. They are also rich in Vitamin C, among other nutrients. You will, however, want to wash your hands after handling jalapenos to avoid getting burning eyes or other areas.

So this weekend, set up a little self-service chili bar, stock plenty of ice cold beer and invite a few friends over and you’ve got yourself a party. Go Irish! Go Bears!

Do you have any special recipes you make for football  weekends? What kind of chili do you prefer? Let us know in the comments section below.