Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Adventures in Cookin - White Bean and Spinach Soup

OK, a few things of note, one.. while I am a very qualified eater - I have eating thousands of dishes in my lifetime.. Ive cooked maybe.. at most.. dozens.  And of those dozen, most involved microwaving chicken in a can and Frank's Red Hot.  However, I also love the concept of a Crock Pot, the whole idea of blending herbs and spices, and a hunk of meat, and letting it simmer and cook together is very appealing to me.  The end of the year allowed me to take a few days of time off to spend time with family, read, play some video games (which ate up most of my reading time, to be honest), and relax.    I thought it would be fun to make some grub for me and the family as well, and so here's one such adventure!

Square One

Several instances of holiday gathering's allowed me to meet my caloric and red meat intake for all of 2013, before the new year even hit.  I needed to make something healthy, and since it was wintertime, soup felt like a good idea.  I did some research (aka Googling) and settled upon this recipe:

Looks good, healthy, and easy.. all in my wheelhouse!  I went to the store to pick up all the necessary ingredients...  store brand vegetable stock?  Please, only the finest healthy veggie stock will hit this palate.  Pureed Tomato's?  I prefer my tomato's hand picked by African monkeys of which I will pay a premium for.  Canned white beans?  I scoff at your request to use canned beans.. dried is the way to go!

So, I went home and threw everything in the crock pot, giving the occasional stir.  Proud of my achievement, I started to dream about how fun it would be to be on a show like "Top Chef".  Would my soups rival the competition?  Would I ever fail to season my foods like so many other chef-testants failed to do properly? What would be the name of my first restaurant, which would surely open with critical acclaim?  Who knows, maybe I would start my own chain of soups and take down the Campbell's empire!  Well.. suffice to say, Mr. Campbell knew much more about soup than I do.

My mistakes were many, I spent more money than I had to on vegetable stock, as there was no discernable difference in the taste.  I completely forgot to add the spinach, which.. yes.. is a "rookie" mistake.. fitting as I am a rookie.  But the coup de grace.. apparently you don't just throw dried beans into a crock pot with the other ingredients..  I learned this, of course, as I tasted my soup after 3 hours of cooking, only to find that the beans we're still hard and chewy.  About 3 hours later, the beans were just about cooked, but soaked up any remaining liquid they could, making more of a white bean "paste" than soup. 

Still proud of my accomplishment to throw stuff in a big bowl and let it heat without burning down my house, I grabbed a ladel, scooped the sludge that is meant to be soup into a bowl, and dug in.  The beans were cooked, I cant say much beyond that.  The tomato's tasted like the tin can they were transported in, and I added a lot.. I mean A LOT.. of salt and pepper.  Out of spite to myself, I made sure to eat all of this mess I created (over the next few days, not in one sitting.. Im not that chunky).  Oddly enough, I wanted to make this dish tasty.  Im sure the fine folks at Fitness Magazine didn't just post a recipe and think "this is garbage, but nobody will eat it".  No, they surely tasted it, or knew enough that it would be a good, hearty, tasty soup that even Eric in Northeastern Pennsylvania can manage to not screw up (which for the record, I did).

Square Two

So what did I learn?  One, you have to soak the beans.  Two, seasoning is really key (duh).  Three, that Im not a good judge at what food will turn out as, until it's complete.  I didn't know what to expect, texturally, on how the soup would, should or could appear when it's all cooked through.
With a clean crock pot, and a few days to stew over the recipe (pun intended!), I went back to the store and picked up more items.  I wanted some fresh green and red peppers, to not only add some flavor, but some COLOR too!  Looking at bland food really does affect its taste.  I also wanted a different type of tomato puree for a base, so I found some Goya sauce in a jar with some added onion, cilantro and garlic.  I'm sure that added stuff will help with the flavor, but I really wanted to avoid that tin can taste more than anything.  However, I grabbed another package of dried white beans, and made sure to soak them this time.

After a full soak of beans, I added all the ingredients again, making sure to add a little extra salt and pepper, and much more concetrated on giving the occasional stir.  I still didn't add the spinach, don't ask me why, but the end result was well.. better!  Would it win me a spot on Top Chef?  Of course not, but it's one step away from the gruel I attempted to serve my family.

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