Black Bean, Sweet Potato, Turkey Chili

I’ve always used my Mom’s chili recipe. It’s Tex-Mex all the way. My allergy kid is off tomatoes right now however, so that recipe is out. Recently, I’ve been experimenting with alternatives and honestly, we haven’t like any of them….until this one.
It’s a keeper. A Facebook friend posted this recipe for a black bean, sweet potato vegetarian chili. It sounded appealing because it used many of the same spices that I typically use in chili, so I tweaked it a bit and made it my own. 

The first change was to add meat. Sorry to my vegetarian friends. I added ground turkey, omitted the tomatoes and changed a few other ingredients based on what I had on hand and what sounded good.

Black Bean, Sweet Potato, Turkey Chili:

1.5 lbs ground turkey

1 yellow onion, diced

6 cloves of garlic, pressed or minced 

1 tbl chili powder

3 tbls cumin

1 Jalepeno, seeded and diced

Salt and pepper

Brown the turkey meat adding the chopped items and then the spices.

Next add…

1 can each black and pinto beans (or 8 oz. dried and soaked beans)

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped

1 cup chopped red pepper

2 cups chopped red Swiss chard

3 cups vegetable broth

If needed, add enough water to cover all the ingredients. Simmer until heated through or until the beans are tender if using dried.

This would also make a great crock pot meal if you cooked the meat ahead and tossed all the rest in the crock pot the day of.

I like this recipe because it tastes similar to my standard chili and has a good enough base with the sauce, peppers and sweet potatoes that none of us missed the tomatoes. Eat well everyone!

Make Ahead Chicken Pot Pie

We had dinner guests planned for a Sunday afternoon a couple of months ago and I needed a make ahead meal. Chicken pot pie wouldn’t normally fall into that category but I’m pleased that I came up with a version that my whole family loved! I even liked it and I’ve never been a huge chicken pot pie fan.

This would be a great meal for holiday gatherings or when you are planning to have house guests as you can do all the prep in advance.

Here’s how I implemented my make ahead plan:

(Note: This made three 9-inch pies. So these proportions will feed a crowd. I even had some filling leftover that served as leftovers on top of egg noodles.)

Two Days Ahead: I cooked up a bunch of chicken leg quarters in my crockpot overnight so that I would have plenty of good meat and broth.

The Day before: I deboned my chicken and strained my broth. Then I assembled my veggies – garlic, onions, celery, carrots, potatoes, corn and peas. I prepared the filling by sautéing the onions and celery in olive oil with salt and pepper. Then I added 4-5 minced cloves of garlic along with the carrots and potatoes. After those had sautéed for a few minutes I sprinkled on about 2-3 tbls of flour and stirred until the vegetable mix was coated and all the flour was absorbed. Then I poured my chicken broth over the mix and added 3 cups of heavy cream. I let it simmer for a few minutes until the sauce began to thicken. Then I turned off the heat and let it cool. The veggies don’t need to be cooked all the way through at this point as it will finish cooking the day of. Once cooled I poured it all in my big crockpot and stirred in my shredded chicken meat. Then it went in the fridge overnight.

Next I prepared the crust. I used a recipe for freezer biscuits that I modified to use as a pie crust topping instead. Mix 6 cups of flour, 2 tbls baking soda, 1 tsp salt, 1 tbls sugar and stir in 4 cups of heavy cream. Let the dough rest for about 10 minutes after you’ve mixed it together. Then divide it in thirds and pat it out into three rough 10-inch circles about 1/2 inch thick. Be sure that the circles are big enough to go over the edges of your pie plate. Lay the dough out on cookie sheets and cover with wax paper or greased plastic wrap and freeze overnight.

The Day of: Pull the crock pot out of the fridge and set it to cook on high for about four hours. The veggies will finish cooking and then you’ll only need about 20 more minutes in the oven to cook the dough.

About a half our before you want to eat, fill your pie pans about 2/3 full with your hot, steamy filling from your crockpot. Add your frozen dough topper and cook each pie separately on 400 for 20 minutes. It’s not a bad idea to put a jelly roll pan under your pie plate just in case you accidentally overfill the pie plate and the sauce spills over like mine did. Your chicken out pie should cook up beautiful and tasty.

Now eat up and enjoy your guests! Your work is done.

Winter Shepherd’s Pie

This is an alternate take on Shepherd’s Pie. I used a mix of chicken, chard and cauliflower with sweet potatoes on the top.

I wasn’t sure how it would turn out but it was quite good and flavorful. It’s a good way to use up meat from a leftover roasted chicken.

If you want to give it a try, here’s what I did….

Start by boiling 4 medium sweet potatoes in their skin (I like to cook mine ahead in the crock pot ). Next sauté a small chopped onion in light olive oil. When the onions are slightly translucent add six cloves of minced garlic and salt and pepper to taste. Cook for 1-2 minutes more. Add finely chopped chard and cook until wilted. Then add chopped cauliflower. Add 3 cups pre-cooked shredded chicken. Sprinkle with 2 tbls of flour and stir until the flour has been absorbed by the oil. Then add 2 cups of chicken broth. Cook about 4-5 minutes or until thickened. Transfer the meat mixture to a casserole dish. Remove the skins of your cooked sweet potatoes and mash a fork adding 1/2 tsp of salt and 1 1/2-2 cups heavy cream. Spoon on top of your meat mixture and heat at 350 until heated through.

Eat up! Even my one year old loved it.

Dinner is done! Hearty beef stew and homemade bread. 

Dinner is done. And the best thing is that it’s only 10:00 in the morning. 

Homemade bread is thawing on the counter just waiting to be devoured this evening. The beef stew is simmering in the crock pot full of chunks of beef, red potatoes, carrots, onions, broccoli, celery, 8 cloves of garlic, and my home made beef stock and vegetable broth

I can’t wait to eat tonight. The meat, veggies and broth are going to make for a delicious and flavorful dinner full of good nutrition, vitamins and minerals. Mmmmm. 

What’s for dinner at your house tonight?

Homemade veggie stock

Homemade bone broth

Bone and Veggie Broth


Break out your crock pots everyone! Whoever invented the crock pot has my eternal thanks. It makes what I’m about to tell you so EASY. I had a great time at the grocery store today. In part because I only had two of my four children with me which made shopping much easier. 🙂 But, otherwise, I was gathering all the fixins for some DELICIOUS broth. Ahhhh. Mmmmm.

I’m making two kinds – beef and vegetable. Let me tell you how to make your own.


Beef stock with beef bones, beef marrow, garlic, onions and leeks.

Beef Stock:
Buy about 5 pounds of various beef bones from your butcher. Many stores will have packages set out labeled as soup bones. I bought one package of “soup bones,” two packages of neck bones, and two packages of marrow bones. If they don’t have any out, ring the bell at the meat department and tell them what you want. They can cut it up for you in minutes. When you get home dump all the bones all in the crock pot and add one head of garlic unpeeled and chopped in half, one leek, 1 cup onion quartered, 1.5 tsp sea salt, 1/4 tsp. pepper. Pour cold water over it all and cook on low for 12-18 hours. When cool either strain and freeze or follow my instructions for my favorite way to preserve broth – make your own bullion cubes.


Veggie stock – beet greens, potato peels, onions with peels, garlic with peels, carrot and potato peelings, and leeks.

Vegetable Stock:
I don’t know why I’ve never thought to do this before but I recently saw an idea online to save all your vegetable scraps in the freezer and when you have a full bag use them to make veggie broth. That’s what I did and it is currently simmering away. Couldn’t be easier. Dump in all your scraps, cover with water, add 1 tsp. sea salt, 1/4 tsp. pepper. In this batch I added potato peelings, carrot peelings and ends, celery tops and bottoms, beet greens, leeks, onion tops and peelings, and one head of garlic with peels. You could really add anything. If you add peelings just be sure that you wash the vegetables before you peel them. I used the bag of veggie scraps from my freezer and just from putting these batches of broth together this afternoon I almost have another full bag in the freezer waiting for next time. I would say that the essentials to veggie broth that make it great are celery, leeks and garlic. Don’t skip the leeks. I buy them just for broth. They make it that much better.

I’m going to be spooning this into my meals and the mouth of my kids when they are sick. My allergy kid is struggling right now from some recent food reactions so I’m hoping the extra vitamins and minerals will give him the boost he needs and help his gut heal and get back to normal. The healing properties of this broth can’t be equaled. Plus they are sooooo delicious. Enjoy.

Kitchen DIY: Lard

IMG_0438I got 10 pounds of pork fat from the farm we buy meat from last month with the intent of rendering my own lard. When I ordered I had an idea of what I would need to do, but knew I would need to look up the directions again before I proceeded. It was surprisingly easy. It took me three days to do all 10 lbs. as my crock pot is small, but I now have 1 gallon of lard (pictured) on my counter. I’d say it was well worth the $7 I paid for the fat. All I did was cube the fat, toss it in the crock pot with about a cup of water. Cover. Turn on low. Cook either overnight or all day stirring occasionally if possible. Strain out the leftover fat pieces with a cheesecloth and collander, pour in a heat safe container (mason jar, casserole dish, crock, etc.), cool and chill in the fridge. All done and not much to it.

The rendered lard should keep in the fridge for quite some time. I find that fat stores better in the fridge if it’s not tightly covered. I’d suggest covering with a tea towel and rubberband. If covered tightly with a lid moisture can accumulates in the jar and it can get moldy. If this happens, scrape off the mold from the top and use what is underneath. You can also store lard at room temperature. But, I would suggest that if you make a big batch like I did, to store one jar at a time on the counter top and to store the remainder in a cool place.

Pork fat in crock pot - ready to cook. Pork fat in crock pot – ready to cook.



10 Minute Jambalaya Rice and Sausage

4.3.14 104So, at 3:30 this afternoon we got home from being out all day and I realized that I had forgotten to thaw out the meat I had planned for dinner. Oops.

Thankfully, we were just returning from Costco so I had some bulk Italian sausage in my cart. Enter my rescue meal plan.

So, I carried all the groceries up 2 flights of steps, quickly put them away, sent the big kids off to “quiet time,” got the baby to sleep and threw dinner together while I could. It turned out quite good and was very easy and quick. 10 minutes of prep, and 40 minutes simmering on the stove and dinner was done. A great one pot meal.

Here’s what I did….

In a large saucepan (I used my 5 quart cast iron Dutch Oven – affiliate link – Disclosures here) add about 2 tbls. of fat (use whatever you have on hand – I use some bacon grease) and measure in 3 cups of brown rice. Saute the rice for about 3-4 minutes until it’s starting to get toasty and all the kernels are coated with oil. Add 7-8 homemade chicken bullion cubes (3-4 if using store bought bullion cubes). Next, use your kitchen shears and remove the casings on 1 pound of sweet Italian sausage cut the sausage up into 1-inch chunks with the shears directly into the pan. Throw in about 2-3 cups of frozen veggies (I used mixed vegetables). Toss in some salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder and cajun seasoning if you have it. Pour 8 cups of water over the mix. Stir. Cover the pot with the lid and 40 minutes later you’ll have dinner.

Note: Be sure to turn the heat off while there is still a little liquid left in the pan. Let it sit covered for 10 or 15 minutes and the rice will absorb the rest of the water. This will keep the rice on the bottom of the pan from burning.


Everything in the pot.

Everything in the pot.


Pour 8 cups of water over and simmer for 40 minutes.

Pour 8 cups of water and simmer for 40 minutes.


All done and delicious.

All done and delicious.

It was good. We ate it up.

And this could easily be modified to be a crock pot meal by reducing the amount of water by one cup and cooking on low about 6 hours. Happy eating!

Crock Pot Cooking: Tips and techniques for creating one-pot meals

Rival Crock Pot

Rival Crock Pot

The convenience of crock pots for me is that it’s a one-pot dish. You throw it all in to cook in the morning and by dinnertime (when everyone is melting down and you’re exhausted) dinner is ready.

However, this means that I have a hard time finding crock pot recipes that I will actually make. Most recipes that I come across require cooking the meat beforehand. Frankly, I’ve never understood that. If I wanted to cook the meat in the skillet, then I would cook the meat in the skillet and not cook it first so that then it could cook in the crock pot all day. So, if it requires cooking meat or sauteing beforehand then it’s pretty likely that it’s not going to make it to my dinner table. I do have a few recipes that I’ve used and liked (click here and scroll down to see a recommendation for my favorite little crock pot book). But, most of the time I end up modifying a recipe that I’ve used before or just making one up as I go along  based on what I have on hand.

So, here are some tips on coming up with your own crock pot meals.

Crock Pot Cooking Tips and Techniques:

  • Meat: If cooking meat with the bones in season with basic spices – salt, pepper and garlic (whole cloves with the skins on, read more about that here), cover with liquid so that you can use all the yummy bone broth. Visit the Pantry for directions on how to turn your homemade broth into bullion cubes.
  • Veggies: If cooking only veggies (like baked potatoes, mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes – read my other crock pot cooking article – click the Crock Pot Cooking category in the sidebar – for directions on how to cook these in your crock pot), then only add enough water to just cover the bottom of your crock pot by about one inch. You don’t want then to turn to mush. Since a crock pot is a sealed cooking system the veggies will cook with their own liquid and so it needs very little liquid added.
  • One-Pot Meals: These are my favorite meals to cook in my crock pot. If cooking meat and vegetables together put the meat on the bottom, especially if it contains bones. Add water, but just enough to barely come to the top of the meat. If adding veggies, add whole vegetables (i.e. whole potatoes) or large chunks if possible so that they are easy to remove whole. If adding rice, add extra liquid but only about half as much as what is the package directions say. And add a little bit of oil/fat to keep the rice from sticking to itself and the sides of the crock pot as it cooks. Always cook meals with rice on the low setting otherwise it can burn or stick on the sides of the crock pot.
  • Sauces and Stews: These are usually the chop it all up, toss it all in, stir and put the lid on kind of meals. However, I recently found a easy way to convert those “cook the meat first” recipes so that you can avoid cooking the meat first in a separate pan. Recently as I was in a make-it-up-as-I-go mode, I turned my crock pot on high, drizzled a little olive oil in the bottom and put my chopped meat in (Italian sausage in this case). This allowed the meat to start browning for about a half hour or so until I got all my veggies washed and chopped. So, I started washing and chopping and would occasionally give the meat a little stir. Just before I added all my veggies, I added a heaping tablespoon of flour which then absorbed all the fat from the meat and olive oil. This became my roux and will automatically thicken your sauce or stew as it cooks. I was very excited about this method as I’ve always hated having to thicken crock pot dishes at the end of cooking. If you can’t start with a roux as I did, then you can also dissolve a little corn starch in cold water and pour that in your crock pot at the end of the cooking period, stir and let it cook about five minutes longer to thicken.
  • Beverages/Desserts: These can be very yummy in the crockpot. Cobblers, bread pudding, apple butter, hot cider or hot chocolate. Usually they only need a few hours too cook at the most. If you’ve never cooked these in the crock pot I think it’s best to follow a recipe the first time and then improvise after that if you want to. For recipes that use milk or cream always cook on low or add during the last hour of cooking to avoid scalding the milk.

Crock Pot Meal: Sausage Stew

I invented a yummy sausage stew this week. Here’s the recipe.

Note: This recipe is for an 8-quart crock pot or two 4-quart crock pots. Adjust for your crock pot size.

7.29.13 048drizzle of olive oil
2 lbs. Italian sausage (sweet or spicy)
4 potatoes, peeled and cubed
6-8 carrots peeled and sliced
1/2 lb. fresh green beans, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
half of a large yellow onion, chopped
one head of garlic, minced
one can tomato paste
heaping tbls. flour
salt and pepper to taste
water (fill halfway up the crock pot)

Turn the crock pot on high and let it begin to warm.  Drizzle some olive oil in the bottom of the crock pot. Add your sausage removing the casings and cutting into chunks with kitchen shears. Let the meat begin to brown while you chop your veggies.

When you are done chopping your vegetables, sprinkle salt, pepper and a tablespoon of flour in the sausage. Stir until the flour has disappeared by absorbing the oil. This is a roux and will thicken the stew for you.

Now throw in all your chopped veggies, and fill the crock pot half way up with water. Put the lid on. Cook on high for four hours or low for 6-8 hours.

Enjoy! Mmmm.

Crock Pot Cooking: baked and mashed potatoes

I love my little red crock pots.

I love my little red crock pots.

I’ve been cooking my baked potatoes in my crock pot for the last year. It was a great discovery for me as I can throw them in early in the afternoon while the kids are napping and know that they will get done in time for dinner. And I don’t have to heat up the house by turning the oven on. And my latest discovery is mashed potatoes. Sounds strange for crock pot cooking I know, but it works great and I find it more convenient than using the stove. Tips and directions are on the Cookstove. Click on the link and then scroll down.