Friday, May 27, 2011

Curse you, little turkey balls!

I’m just going to cut to the chase. This week’s recipe? More work and less payoff than any crock pot recipe so far.

We tried another off the Weight Watchers site and were hoping for the rousing successes of the past two weeks to be repeated. Sadly, this was not the case.

It’s called Greek Meatballs and Artichokes. Sounded interesting enough to me to give it a shot.

My first clue that it wasn’t going to be all I’d hoped for should have been the fact that it called for ground turkey breast. And the only thing to season the meatballs was salt and sage.

And then there was all the extra work before you put the whole thing together in the crock pot.

First you had to form the little one-inch meatballs. Then you had to brown them. Then you put them in the crock pot with new potatoes, frozen artichoke hearts, chicken broth, oregano, salt and pepper and let it cook for 5-6 hours.

This time it didn’t have the opportunity to drastically overcook because Nancy was home sick that day and could turn the pot to ‘keep warm’. Still the meatballs came out dry. Saharan, even.

But before I go any further, let me share the recipe.

1 pound ground turkey breast
¼ tsp ground sage (or more to taste)
½ tsp salt (or more to taste)
8 small new potatoes, scrubbed, unpeeled
9 oz frozen artichoke hearts
½ tsp dried oregano
¼ tsp black pepper
1 cup canned chicken broth
1 tbsp cornstarch
1 tbsp lemon juice

Combine turkey, sage and salt. Shape into 1-inch balls. Add meatballs to skillet and brown on all sides, about 3-5 minutes. Remove and place in a 4-5 quart slow cooker.

Add potatoes, frozen artichoke hearts, oregano, pepper and chicken broth. Cover and cook on high heat 5-6 hours.
About 15 minutes before serving, spoon cornstarch into a cup. Add 1 tbsp of the slow cooker liquid and the lemon juice; stir well. Stir into slow cooker, cover and cook on low heat 15 minutes more. Yields about 1 2/3 cups per serving.

Got that? Cook the meatballs, then put them into the slow cooker and cook them again. Oh, and cook them on HIGH for 5-6 hours. HIGH??? I actually missed that when I read the recipe at the time of execution. I cooked them on LOW for 5-6 hours. AND THE MEATBALLS WERE STILL DRY!!!! I shudder to think what would have happened if I’d cooked them on high.

I’m sure you’re wondering why I even attempted this when it goes against one of my basic rules for perfect crock pot recipes. I had to cook something before I put it in the pot.

Well, I thought it sounded interesting. And a little different. I was feeling a little energetic. I still didn’t have to chop anything. :o)

I can’t say it was a complete failure. It definitely has promise. The potatoes were rather tasty, having cooked in herbed broth for several hours. They were Nancy’s favorite part of the dish. The meatballs were decently flavored as well, even if they were dry. Oh, and did I mention they were dry?

But the lemon and cornstarch? I can only assume that it was meant to approximate an avgolemono sauce. But it didn’t thicken at all. I’m uncertain whether it was from the lack of sufficient temperature or if it was the acid in the lemon juice. But it couldn’t have been the acid…you use cornstarch to thicken the filling for lemon meringue pie. Right?

What would I change next time? Because, yes, after all that bitching, I still might try it again.

Firstly, ground turkey with dark meat in it, so the meat would be moister. Secondly, I probably wouldn’t make it in the crock pot. I’d pan-fry the meatballs, boil the potatoes and artichokes in the broth, put them all together in a pot and try thickening the sauce then. Or take all the solids out of the pot and thicken the sauce on its own.

I’d probably add some sundried tomatoes, too. Nancy suggested chopping them finely and putting them in the meatball, which sounds very yummy indeed. We got crazy and started talking about adding some chopped kalamata olives and stuffing each meatball with a tiny bit if feta. Now that sounds like it would be much more satisfying to the tastebuds. Though not quite as friendly on the points value.

I’m not done trying recipes from the WW site. So far it’s 2-1, which is still a winning record. But next time I think I’ll read a little more carefully before I try one.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Another winner...from Weight Watchers?!

Remember when Weight Watchers recipes were like this?

For those of you who haven’t busted a gut over the recipe cards from the mid-1970s, you must follow the link above and look at all of them. And then go buy the woman’s book. The pictures are scary and the commentary is some of the most hilarious stuff on the internet.

But now back to the recipes.

I remember when ‘diet food’ was scary. It was nothing to look forward to; it was something to endure until you reached your goal weight. Then when you did reach your goal, you went back to real food with real flavor and gained it all back.

Some of us have discovered over the years of our adulthood that changing the way you eat in order to lose weight can be exciting and flavorful. Like the crock pot recipe we tried this week.

Since we loved last week’s effort so much, we went back to the Weight Watchers site for more. This time I found Jerk Turkey Soup. Looking at the list of spices, I thought we might have another winner here. And this soup was indeed full of win.

I throw caution to the wind this week. If I’m not supposed to share, they’ll send me a cease and desist. Until they do, I’m sharing. :o)

Jerk Turkey Slow Cooker Soup (from Weight Watchers)
¼ tsp allspice
¼ tsp cayenne
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp garlic powder
½ tsp black pepper, divided
½ tsp salt
1 lb turkey breast, cut into 1 inch chunks
1 clove fresh garlic, minced
1 medium onion, chopped
14.5 oz can diced tomatoes with green chiles
15 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups canned chicken broth
1 tbsp fresh lime juice
2 tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped

In medium bowl, combine allspice, cayenne, ginger, garlic powder, ¼ tsp black pepper and salt. Add turkey and toss to coat. Let stand for 15 minutes. (since I usually do all my prep the night before, I tossed the turkey in the spices and let it sit in the refrigerator overnight. The result was worth it.)
Place turkey in crock pot, then add garlic, onion, tomatoes, beans, broth and remaining ¼ tsp pepper. Cook on low setting for 6 to 7 hours. Stir in lime and cilantro, let sit for 5 minutes. Yields about 1 ½ cups per serving. 6 servings.

Sounds yummy, yes? It really was delicious. And for you who know the WW points system, it is only 4 points per serving on the new system! Plenty of room for a nice slice of crusty, Mille Grane bread from Essential Bakery to go with it.

I was so thankful for this soup, not only because it was both light and delicious, but also because the cayenne in it made my throat feel so much better while I was sick this week.

We liked it so much that we’re going to try the spice mixture in our easy chicken soup (meat from one grocery store rotisserie chicken, one bag of frozen mixed veggies, one 32 oz. box of chicken broth…dump in a pot and let simmer for about 30 minutes. Could use some spicing up, right?).

The only real disappointment was that, even though I measured the servings according to the recipe, we only ended up with 5 servings. Maybe there was more evaporation that expected because the soup ended up cooking for 10 hours instead of seven.

So yeah…Weight Watchers has changed. And we’re going back for more. Next week, Greek-style turkey meatballs and artichokes.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Plump thighs and flavorful fungi

If you read here because you’re my friend on Facebook, then you know Nancy and I started Weight Watchers a little over a week ago. So you may be wondering what this has done to our little crock pot venture.

Let me tell you…we got a great recipe from none other than the Weight Watchers site.

So as not to violate any copyright laws, since you actually have to be a member of their online tools to get to the recipe, I won’t post it here, but I will describe it. If you want the actual recipe, you can email me and we’ll talk.

It was highlighted as a recipe of the week, so I clicked. The title sounded yummy: Chicken, mushroom and brown rice.

The base of the recipe was chicken thighs (which, I have found over the weeks, fare far better than breast meat for all day cooking), leeks, carrots, celery, cremini mushrooms, and brown Arborio rice.

BROWN Arborio rice??? Yes, folks, it exists. I’ve never had it, but I’ve seen it in stores. Sadly, I did not get it for this recipe. We used our rice cooker, cooked the rice in that and added the cooked rice to the crock pot about 30 minutes before we ate. But next time I will be prepared with the requested ingredient because I’m curious about this strange-sounding product.

The seasonings…well, they didn’t get to join the party until late. I was so excited that I’d done all my veggie chopping prep the night before (with my beautiful new knife) that I forgot I needed to measure out the Worcestershire, mustard, sage and salt. So the seasonings only went in about 45 minutes before dinner was ready. Whoops.

Still and all, it was a very tasty dish. The rice cooked in chicken broth, so it was nicely flavored all on its own. And the chicken had a modified mirepoix to help flavor it. The only thing in the recipe that I deliberately didn’t do is brown the chicken before it went into the pot. It’s not necessary for the cooking of the dish, only to help add some flavor. Maybe next time.

The flavors were subtle, but well rounded. I could taste all of the flavors I’d put in to create the end product. It was eight servings, so it lasted the whole week and we didn’t get tired of it. And since it was only 5 points per serving, we got to have a bite of chocolate for dessert every night. :o)

I might add a little extra mustard and Worcestershire next time, just to experiment. It certainly wasn’t bland, but I thought it could use a little more oomph. Perhaps next time I’ll add what the recipe calls for at the beginning of the cooking process and then taste and add a little more if I think it needs it.

This recipe is definitely a keeper. We will be making it again. Soon.

On a related note, I experienced something today that I’ve never experienced before.

Crock pot envy.

One of the gals in my office had made chicken the night before for a pot luck and brought it in her crock pot just to warm it up.

This thing had a timer on it and four temperature settings. You could set the timer for it to cook at one temp, then tell it to switch temps to low or keep warm or whatever for another amount of time.

I mean, I knew they existed, but I’d never actually seen one before with my own eyes.

And when I set eyes on it, I was envious.

That isn’t to say I’m going to go out and buy one tomorrow. We have two perfectly good crock pots here. We’re not going to need one for a long time.

But when we do? We’re getting one with a timer.

Thanks for reading. Have a great week and I’ll see you again next Friday!

Saturday, May 7, 2011


A few weeks ago I mentioned a recipe I grew up eating. Something my mom loved to make in the crock pot for dinners as well as potlucks at work. It’s called Tijuana Sandwiches.

In this frenzy of slow cooking, I finally had a craving for them. So I offered to finally make them for Nancy last weekend.

We went out and did our shopping Sunday morning, getting everything we needed for the recipe. I would get everything prepped and cook it that day because it only takes a couple of hours. It’s not a leave-it-all-day kind of crock pot recipe.

Well, the day kind of got away from me and by the time I got around to prepping, it was too late for them to cook in the crock pot.

So I did a daring thing. I made the recipe in a regular pot on the stove!!

I know…scary, huh?

Since I didn’t actually have the recipe, I had to go looking for it on the internet. Thank goodness for this wealth of information! I found it!!

The Tijuana Sandwich recipe does not fall into my category of perfect crock pot recipes. It requires meat to be cooked beforehand. It requires vegetable chopping. And then it’s pretty easy from there.

Here’s the recipe from the Better Homes and Gardens Crockery Cookbook (c. mid-1970s)

3 C chopped cooked beef
1 can (16 oz) refried beans
½ c chopped onion
½ c chopped green pepper
1 small can chopped ripe olives
1 can (8 oz) tomato sauce
¾ c water
1 tsp salt
2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
¼ tsp garlic powder
¼ tsp pepper
¼ tsp paprika
1 dash celery salt
1 dash nutmeg
1 cup crushed corn chips

Put all ingredients except corn chips into crock pot. Cook on high for two hours. Add the crushed corn chips immediately before serving.
Serve with taco shells, lettuce, chopped tomato and shredded cheese. Pass hot pepper sauce.

That’s it. Easy, right?

Of course, if you don’t happen to have three cups of cooked beef hanging around, you have to cook some. My mom always used ground beef. I used ground turkey this time and didn’t notice the difference.

Reading the recipe for the first time in years, it struck me how odd the combination of seasonings always seemed to me. Especially the Worcestershire sauce. And then I saw a bottle of Jarritos tamarind soda and thought it probably wasn’t all that weird. I don’t particularly associate tamarind with south of the border fare; I think of it more in Asian food. But then this isn’t exactly anywhere near authentic Mexican food anyway. :o)

It’s a very middle-American approximation of Mexican food. Especially with the addition of the crushed Fritos.

And you know what? It’s delicious.

It worked very well on the stove top. Instead of cooking for 2 hours in the crock pot, I let it simmer, covered for about 30 minutes or so. Just until the veggies are tender. I let it cook uncovered for about another 15 minutes to let some of the liquid evaporate.

We enjoyed it for four nights, which was awesome! When we ran out of taco shells, we ate it from a bowl with tortilla chips. We think we’ll try it with rice next time we make it.

It’s probably partly a trick of memory that makes me love it so. It’s something I associate very closely with my mom. But then love and memory are sometimes the best seasonings.

In other news, it was my birthday this past Tuesday and I got a culinary related gift from my lovely Nancy. It is the most gorgeous, well-balanced knife I have ever had the privilege to cut with, a Shun Ken Onion 8-inch chef’s knife.

I made stir-fry for dinner tonight so I could use it. That thing sliced through the middle of a head of cabbage like it was a baked potato. It allowed me to slice my still partially frozen boneless pork chops so thin that the meat took maybe two minutes to cook in a hot skillet. I thought I was going to weep, and not because I was chopping onions! It is a thing of beauty.
If you ever want a good knife, consider investing in this one. You really only need a good chef’s knife, a paring knife and a pair of kitchen scissors to do most things. If that’s all you’re buying, you might as well invest in good equipment. You’ll thank yourself or a loved one later.