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Actually, they say that if you soak the beans, dump that water, and then cook them in new water, you'll avoid a lot of the...side effects.

They also say that if red kidney beans aren't cooked really well, there's a toxin in them that can make you pretty sick. (I don't actually care for the red beans as much, so I don't cook them on anything like a regular basis.)

So for me, "beans" means either black or white, and if white, usually Great Northern because they're easier to find than cannellinis. (Cannelinis are yummy, though.)  One of my ways to try not to generate so much throwaway packaging (not to mention the cost to transport beans in metal cans full of a lot of liquid that's going to be drained away anyway) is to mass-cook dried beans in my crockpot periodically.

I have a big 6-quart cooker, so I can do 4 cups of dried beans at a go. (Not really more than that, though. I think that's about 2 lbs.)

I usually start in an ordinary stockpot, though, just for speed, to get the beans soaked.  To do this, put the beans in a big pot, covered with at least 2-3 inches of water.  I use my pot with the pasta insert because it makes draining them really easy.  Bring it t a boil on the stove and let it boil for a few minutes (some sources say 2 minutes, some say 10, I figure it's a pretty inexact science!), then turn the heat off, cover the pot, and let it sit for at least an hour untouched. (Again, some sources say an hour, others say 5, others say you can leave it up to 24.)   Basically, in the soaking process you're just shortening the amount of time actual cooking will take, although some say it also affects how soft your beans can actually get after cooking...My MO is to start the process when I get home from work, boil the beans and then let them sit in their water for a few hours.

Then  (usually after the kids have gone to bed) I drain the soaked beans and drop them in the crockpot. At this point, there's a lot more than 4 cups of beans because of all the water they've picked up, so they probably fill the crockpot 2/3 or 3/4 of the way full.   Fill it the rest of the way with water (it's honestly at this point about as full as I can get it!)  Put it on low overnight, or for 8-10 hours, or sometimes more, depending on how old the beans were and how long you soaked them.  The only way to really tell is to test them and see if they taste right.

At that point, I drain them again.  At this point I have two choices: either I can put larger quantities in quart ziploc bags in the freezer (they stack very nicely and take up not much space), or if I have more time to futz I put half cup quantities into my muffin tins, and freeze the tins for a day or so.  Then I can take the nicely pre-measured "bean muffins" out of the muffin tins and put them back in the freezer in ziplocs, and I have nice, easily thaw-able, pre-measured cooked beans.  They are easier to get out of the muffin tins if you plunge the cup parts into hot water for a couple of seconds until the "muffin" loosens.  From the original 4 cups of dried beans I ended up with 24 "muffins," i.e. about 12 cups of beans.)   I will have to again do the cost-benefit analysis of doing it this way, but in terms of greening my footprint, it's a fairly easy no-brainer.

So now I have a freezerful of black and white beans, waiting for salads and chilies and all that good stuff...

greenmama: (Default)

Those who read my blog with any regularity are probably sick of hearing me sing the praises of Stephanie the Crockpot Lady ----I don't know if I've ranted much about her here on dreamwidth yet, but there ya go. (crockpot365.blogspot.com )

A month or two ago I became intrigued by her method of making yogurt in the crockpot: crockpot365.blogspot.com/2008/10/you-can-make-yogurt-in-your-crockpot.html 

The first time I tried it, it worked well, although it was very runny and didn't strain well. (That was the time I followed her directions pretty much to a T.)  The end result was better suited to "kefir" (that yogurt drink you pay an arm and a leg for at Whole Foods) than any more traditional yogurt.

The second time I tried it, I made a gallon instead of a half gallon and threw in some powdered milk as well--the basic method I used:

  • heat a gallon (Stephanie did 1/2 gallon, so I'm adjusting) milk in crockpot on low for 2.5 hours
  • unplug crockpot and let sit another 3 hours
  • whisk a cup of plain yogurt in a bowl; whisk in a cup or three of the warm milk till it's nicely mixed, then pour back into the crock. (Here I added a cup of powdered nonfat milk.)
  • Cover the crock, drape a couple of heavy towels over it for insulation, and let sit unplugged overnight.
This second time I let the yogurt incubate a lot longer--10-12 hours rather than the initially suggested 8. (Perhaps longer than safe...the greenmama is not responsible for your kids' stomach upsets if you follow any bad advice I give on this blog.  I tried it, I felt fine, it tasted perfectly good, my kids ate it, all was okay.) This time it strained like a dream.  Turns out (thank you, internet) that once the yogurt incubates past a certain point, the whey and curd naturally separate, so the gelatinous fragility of lots of store-bought yogurt actually intensifies, and it just starts to "leak".  (This happens with bigger containers of store-bought yogurt too, after you've cut into them with a spoon, you've probably noticed.)

This time I immediately strained it, putting a piece of natural muslin (from my fabric stash, prewashed of course and dampened before dumping the yogurt in) into a vegetable strainer over a big pyrex measuring container--I used a measuring container because I was curious about how much whey would actually drain out.  Also, every 10 minutes or so I scraped the muslin with a spoon, to clear away the already strained stuff and make room for more; not sure how big a difference this made.

The strainer held about a quart of unstrained yogurt and over about half an hour abandoned about a cup of clear whey, leaving a nice thick creamy yogurt in the muslin.  I did this three times, transferring the finished strained yogurt into old saved yogurt containers.  The kids took this to lunch and ate it for snacks, and we went through 2+ quarts in maybe a week.  I would put some of the yogurt into one of those little cup tupperware things and drizzle some honey or maple syrup or even chocolate sauce over it.  I bet apple butter would be yummy too. 

The last of the unstrained yogurt (1 gallon=4 quarts) I put in the muslin/strainer over the pyrex again, but this time since it was time to go to work I put it all into the fridge and let it drain for 6 hours or so.  By the time I got home it had given up just over 2 cups of whey, and  was honestly "yogurt cheese," a thick stuff about the consistency of cream cheese.  I've made dip with it, or used it as a mayonnaise substitute on sandwiches.  Good stuff.

Cost Analysis: Okay, a quart of organic yogurt at Trader Joe's costs about $3.  To make this, I needed a gallon of organic milk ($6--obviously WAY cheaper if you get conventional), a cup of regular plain yogurt ($1-ish, but once you've made it once you can keep using the starter for subsequent batches), and the powdered milk (hard to gauge, since I bought a giant box ages ago that I just keep around).  So, assuming I'd've gotten about 3 quarts of plain yogurt out of this, that comes to about $2 savings, which isn't much.  Again, using conventional milk and yogurt starter would drop the cost of making my own dramatically.  Plus...well, it's sort of fun.

I'm told that one can use instant gelatin in the milk to help it set a bit more, though I haven't tried it.  And apparently when the fruit-on-the-bottom yogurts get made, they actually put the fruit in first, then the infected milk, and let it incubate right there over the fruit, so that's how it keeps its nice still gelatin texture in the commercial brands.  That's also, I presume, why the "yogurt makers" you buy use all the little cups instead of doing one big Vat of yogurt like the crockpot does. 

So...bon appetit!  It's fun! And healthy! And reduces your footprint by not going through (as I do) 2 plastic quart containers every week!

peace,
J



greenmama: (Default)

A couple of weeks ago I made a huge mess of pasta sauce.

A lot of my green efforts come from an increasing p.o.'d-ness at how many pasta sauce jars and yogurt containers and applesauce jars I find myself throwing into the recycling bin.  It's a a lot of refuse.  Makes me mad.

So I saved a few jars from purchased pasta sauce, and I made sauce in the crockpot.  A whole lot.  Again, the basic easy ridiculous recipe involves a lot of non-measuring and throwing of handfuls of stuff into the pot.  Something like this:

Vegetarian Crockpot Pasta Sauce:
  • Fill the crock about 2/3 full of various raw veggies: mushrooms (not more than half a pound unless you brown them first), cut up bell peppers, chopped onion, zucchini, whatever else you can think of.
  • Add maybe 3-4 (or more, if you're me) spoonfuls of crushed garlic from a jar, or the real stuff if you're up for it, in with the veggies.
  • Ditto a few teaspoonsful of Italian dried (or 3 times as much of fresh) herbs and spices.
  • Pour 4 big cans of diced tomatoes with juice into the pot.  Add 1 can of tomato paste.  Stir if you want to, or don't bother.
  • Cook on low all day.  Give it a good stir when you get home from work.
  • About half an hour before serving, start some pasta to go under it, toss in a couple of glubs of cheap red wine, 1-2 tsp. salt, and more Italian herbs.
  • If you live with kids who won't eat recognizable veggies, attack it (gently!) with an immersion blender to obliterate/disguise the veggie pieces.  (And as careful as you're being, don't wear your white tank top while you do it, because if you're wearing a white tank top you're guaranteed to splatter.  Murphy's law.)
Got a total of 4-5 jars of pasta sauce this way, with very little work and not much cost either.  And it's pretty darn healthy.

Think that's what we're having for dinner tonight...
--J
greenmama: (Default)

No time. Today or tonight. Early dinner needed.

Time for the crockpot (and can I just link once again to crockpot563.blogspot.com, Stephanie the Crazy Crockpot Lady's site full of a gajillion really good recipes that also give one a whole helluva lot of basic learning about what one can and can't get away with?)...

Crockpot Green Chili:
--Throw in a few pounds of boneless skinless Chicken Parts (in my case, breasts, because I ran out of thighs.  Why does that happen in my freezer but never on my body?)
--Throw in whatever assortment of veggies pleases you. In my case, that's half a bag of Trader Joe cut up bell peppers and a medium sized diced onion.
--Throw over this 2 cans or so white beans, drained. (Or not. I always drain the beans, because someone once told me that most of the fart-producing things are in the juice)
--Throw over ALL of it a big jar of green salsa.

Put the crockpot on low until you get home from work. Make some rice or something to serve under it.

Now natch, this will work with lots of different meats, salsas, and/or beans.  Beef you have to be careful of unless you get the absolutely totally lean no fat in it kind, or else your chili will be swimming in grease.  I've never been one to bother with browning the meat first; why use the crockpot if you have to mess up another pot first? That's not of the speedymama gestalt.  

This is one of my standby "what the hell are we eating tonight" recipes.  Frozen chicken, veggies, a jar of Something from the pantry. Italian veggies and spaghetti sauce? Chicken Cacciatore. Shrooms and marsala sauce? Chicken Marsala.  Beans and salsa? Chili. The possibilities never end.

Which reminds me:
Crockpot Veggie Chili
Disclaimer: I haven't actually ever tried this one.  But it's in my brain for when (I hope) my garden explodes and I have to find something to do with all the veggies.

This is easier still: chop up a bunch of vegetables into bite-sized pieces: onion, peppers, summer squash, whatever. Fill the crockpot about half full with them. Throw a couple of cans of beans (or a bag of ones I pre-cooked in my crockpot last fall that have been sitting calmly in the freezer waiting for this happy day) in; if they are still frozen, no problem.  A bunch of cut up peeled tomatoes too, preferably de-seeded, or a big can of pre-diced, with juice. (Remember that a crockpot is happiest when it's 2/3-3/4 full.)

Throw a jar or two of salsa over this.  How hot would depend on how hot you want your chili and how hot the peppers you put in are--remember it'll dilute a LOT, but also remember that if you included habaneros in the "bunch of vegetables" category you'll want to be prepared!

Put the crockpot on low for a long time. I have no idea how long, honestly, but I'll report back later--a workday's worth of simmerage would probably be plenty. 

If anyone tries this before my garden does its thing, let me know how it goes!
--J

ETA on the green chili:  needed more veggies and less chicken, actually.  A second jar of salsa, a third can of beans.  More onions, more peppers, and actually more liquid. I also threw in about 2 tsp of ground cumin, which gave it a nice flavor...

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