Crock pot black beans – total pain, but ultimate success

Our family eats black beans. A lot. Black bean chili, black bean and rice burritos, black bean veggie burgers, refried black beans. You get the picture. We like them. But I’ve been sick of the same old same old and wanted to try something new. I remembered that my girls love the black beans at a local place called Victors 1959 Cafe. If you live in MSP and haven’t ever been there – do it soon! It’s fantastic Cuban food. So, I went on a hunt for a recipe for Cuban black beans, especially something that could be made in my crock pot for my after crazy Monday dinner. I found a recipe on a blog called Sage Trifle for Crock Pot Black Beans – Cuban Style and used this as my template. However, I messed with the recipe a bit so I’ll post what I did. What should have been a easy, throw-together crock pot meal turned into a 3 day adventure but it was ultimately a huge success with all four of us thoroughly enjoying Monday’s dinner – on Tuesday (that I started on Sunday). So what follows is my version of this recipe and my suggestions on how to make it a little less time consuming.

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I have a bad attitude

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My fitness and activity level are good. I’m doing well with the cross training and investing in other exercise options like spin, yoga or plain old walking my dog (a LOT). Alas, this neverending hell of a winter is just killing all desire I have to run much more than 4-5 miles. I haven’t run outside more than 3-4 times since Christmas. I’m tired of being cold. I’m sick of the treadmill. I have some ongoing pain in the outside of my right foot. I’m in a running funk. Blech… 

I’m sincerely hoping the change in the weather, IF it ever actually happens, will spur my interest in running again. Because I love running and I hate that I’m not enjoying it right now. I had every intention of doing a half marathon in early May. I’m not sure how that’s going to happen at this point. Well, it could happen, but might be very ugly and ugly racing is not something I need to get me out of the funk.

Basically, I need some motivation. Anyone have any to share?

Sincerely,

Bad attitude Beth

I have been a cooking fool this afternoon

ImageThis is what my tiny countertop looks like after cooking for the past several hours. And I’ve washed and dried dishes and emptied it several times. Some day I’ll have a kitchen with more counter space. A girl can dream, right? Oh, and don’t judge the boxed wine. Some times you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do (I’m drinking a glass right now as I type this post). Anyhoo…

I haven’t been cooking much lately. My sister in law was in town from Israel so we had several family get-together/dinners and we had a big dinner out with some friends to celebrate a 40th birthday. It’s been almost a week of heavy, meat-intensive meals or quick on the go dinners. So, today I decided I need to do some cooking.

First on my agenda was Double Chocolate Banana Bread from one of my very favorite food blogs Smitten Kitchen. This recipe is featured in Deb’s most recent post and I knew I had to make it the moment I saw it. I love me some quick breads and this one sounded fabulous. I whipped it up for my girls to have for an after school snack and I can attest it is absolutely wonderful. Best of all, it doesn’t even require a mixer! One bowl and in the oven. I love that easy kind of baking, especially with such delicious results.

My guess is that you likely have most of these ingredients on hand, so do yourself a favor and make this for breakfast tomorrow. I followed Deb’s advice and left out the cinnamon. I baked it for 55 minutes and it came out just pefect!

Double Chocolate Banana Bread from Smitten Kitchen

3 medium-to-large very ripe bananas
1/2 cup (115 grams) butter, melted
3/4 cup (145 grams) brown sugar (I use dark here; either light or dark work)
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional; I skip it)
1 cup (125 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 cup (about 6 ounces or 170 grams) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chunks or chips

Heat your oven to 350°F. Butter a 9×5-inch loaf pan, or spray it with a nonstick baking spray.

Mash bananas in the bottom of a large bowl. (You’ll have a little over 1 cup mashed banana total.) Whisk in melted butter, then brown sugar, egg, and vanilla. Place baking soda, salt, cinnamon (if using), flour and cocoa powder in a sifter or fine-mesh strainer and sift over wet ingredients. (My cocoa is almost always lumpy, so this is essential for me.) Stir dry and wet ingredients with a spoon until just combined. Stir in chocolate chunks or chips.

Pour into prepared pan and bake 55 to 65 minutes, until a tester or toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out batter-free. (A melted chocolate chip smear is expected, however.) Cool in pan for 10 to 15 minutes, then run a knife around the edge and invert it out onto a cooling rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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Next on my cooking agenda was a salad I’d spied on Pinterest recently and was dying to try. It combines a few of my favorite things – lemon, arugula and sweet potatoes and adds in the very Minnesotan component of wild rice. How can I not give it a go? I have it all made and ready for lunch tomorrow and for the rest of the week. I can’t wait to try this Roasted Sweet Potato, Wild Rice and Arugula  Salad from A Pinch of Yum!

Roasted Sweet Potato, Wild Rice and Arugula Salad from A Pinch of Yum

  • 2 cups cooked wild rice (about ½ cup raw)
  • 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and diced (about 3-4 cups)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 cups arugula
  • ½ cup cashew pieces
For the dressing
  • ¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 2 lemons – more to taste)
  • zest of the lemons
  • ⅓ cup good quality olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons agave nectar
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Cook the wild rice according to package directions. Meanwhile, make the dressing by pureeing all the dressing ingredients in a food processor. When the rice is done, toss it with a little bit of the dressing and refrigerate. Let it rest for a little while so it takes on the flavors of the dressing (I let it chill completely, but you wouldn’t have to do that).
  2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the sweet potato pieces directly on a baking sheet. Drizzle with the oil and sprinkle with the chili powder, salt, and pepper. Stir directly on the pan to get everything mixed. Roast for 20-25 minutes, stirring every so often to keep from burning. When the sweet potatoes are golden brown on the outside, remove from the oven and set aside.
  3. Toss the arugula, wild rice, sweet potatoes, cashews, and the remaining dressing together. Serve warm or cold. YUM.

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Last but not least, I made tonight’s actual dinner, which is currently simmering and smelling fantastic on my range. As soon as I finish writing this, I’m going to put together some grilled cheese sandwiches and we’re going to have Lentil Soup from Dinner Was Delicious and grilled cheese. Notes – I browned three strips of thick cut bacon in my dutch oven before adding the veggies vs using olive oil. I’ve made lentil soup before without bacon, ham or sausage and I think it’s pretty bland. I am also kind of a dumbass and I only bought one box of vegetable broth so I thawed some homemade chicken stock on the fly and added that to the soup. I know it will make at least three members of my family happy tonight!

Lentil Soup from Dinner Was Delicious

Lentil Soup

  • 4 cloves Garlic
  • 1 Yellow Onion
  • 4 Carrots
  • 4 stalks Celery
  • 3 tbsp Olive Oil
  • 2 Cups Lentils
  • 1 tbsp Cumin
  • 2 qt Vegetable Broth
  • 1 Bay Leaf
  • 2 whole sprigs Thyme
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Serves: 6-8

Set a large, dry dutch oven over medium heat and drop in the Garlic cloves with their peels still on. Let them toast for a few minutes on each side, until the skins are browned and fragrant, and set aside.
Roughly chop the Onion, Carrots, and Celery. Add the Olive Oil to the dutch oven and saute until browned and tender.
Peel and smash up the Garlic and add it back to the pot, along with the Lentils and Cumin. Cook for a few seconds, until the lentils are nicely coated in oil. Empty the Broth into the pot and add the Bay Leaf and whole sprigs of Thyme. Simmer until the lentils are tender, about 30 minutes. Fish out the Bay Leaf and Thyme.

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*** All photos courtesy of the original blog (0ther than my terribly messy countertop photo – I own that disaster)

Okay, the soup is ready, the husband is home, and the kids are hungry. Time to relax and enjoy.

What is your inspiration?

Through my years of running, I have found inspiration in many things, from watching elite runners blaze the trail at marathons I’ve spectated to seeing the pride in my daughters’ eyes after I finish a race to watching movies like The Spirit of the Marathon. Lately my inspiration has been my girlfriends. I have several friends who are new to running, who are not quite sure if they have the time or drive to make it a part of their lives and they have been looking to me for support and guidance as they tackle beginning running. It means so much to me that my friends would believe in me enough to look to me for help down their own fitness path.

Along these lines, I had a fantastic race experience this weekend. No, I didn’t win. Heck, I didn’t even PR, but I had a BLAST and it was all because of my friend. A group of my new to running running friends and I signed up to do a St. Patrick’s Day themed 7k race. Let’s be honest, the goal of the race is really to get to the beer at the end but it’s a race nonetheless and 4.35 miles isn’t a cake walk for everyone. My dear friend, Megan, started the race with me thinking she’d hang tough with me for the first 3-4k. Now keep in mind, I am no speed demon, but Megan is a single working mother of 4 kids and she doesn’t have a lot of time to train. She told me she hadn’t run more than 2 – 2.5 miles in months so this was going to be a challenge for her. I didn’t wear my Garmin so I just ran, not worrying about pace, but knowing I wasn’t going my slowest. We hit the 4k mark talking and having a great time together and she didn’t fall off! She kept going! We kept chatting, running, enjoying ourselves (sometimes we all forget that part) and  we finished together in 41:11 at a 9:28 average pace. Megan was thrilled! So was I…

Yes, I maybe could have run the race faster. Yes, I could have pushed myself more. But, at the end of the day, finishing with a friend and helping her get to place she wasn’t sure she could get to was better than any great time or PR. Megan inspired me. Really. To see other women push to better themselves and to let me be a part of that with them, that inspires me.

GetLucky

DST Monday blues – time to rely on an old dinner stand-bye

It’s Monday. My least favorite day of the week. I’ve discussed this before. And today, the first weekday of DST, I hate Monday more than usual. Yet, I still have to feed my family and after a weekend of eating out and less than healthy choices, I need to give them something good to start the week. So, today I turned to a family favorite – Black Bean Chili. I threw this together before I headed off to work, tossed it in the crock pot, and we came home after a long day to a yummy smelling house and meal we all enjoy. I’ve shared this recipe with friends time and time again and I’ve yet to find anyone who doesn’t love it!

If you like chili and you’re looking for a great alternative to beef and kidney bean chili, give this a try!

Adapted from Fantastic Black Bean Chili at Allrecipes.com

Makes 6 servings

Black Bean Chili

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 
2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 
1 pound ground turkey
  • 3 (15 ounce) cans black beans, undrained
  • 1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 large can mild diced green chiles
  • 3 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil leaves
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • salt and pepper to taste

Combine seasonings in a small bowl. Heat oil over medium heat in dutch oven. Add onion and garlic and sautee until translucent. Add turkey and cook until brown. Add spices and cook for another 1-2 minutes. Add beans, tomatoes and chiles and heat through. Cover and simmer for at least an hour before serving.

*** you can also cook onion, garlic and turkey in a skillet and add to crock pot with other ingredients. Cook on low until ready to eat. To make this a vegetarian meal, replace the turkey with 1 lb. sweet potato, peeled and diced into 1/2 inch cubes. Delicious!

Serve chili with grated colby jack cheese, sour cream or greek yogurt and cornbread.

Cornbread! A must for eating with chili. I used to be a cheap, lazy Jiffy Corn Muffin mix type of gal. That is, until I realized how easy, and delicious it is to make your own homemade cornbread. I also found this quick and fantastic cornbread recipe on Allrecipes.com. If you like your cornbread sweet and cake-like, this is the recipe for you (and it’s fantastic reheated and drizzled with honey or maple syrup for breakfast!).

Adapted from Grandmother’s Buttermilk Cornbread on Allrecipes.com

Makes 9 servings

Cornbread

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 
1/2 cup white sugar
  • 
2 eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup white cornmeal
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 375. Melt butter in a medium saucepan. Once melted, remove from heat and stir in sugar. Quickly add eggs and beat until well mixed. Combine buttermilk and baking soda and stir into mixture in saucepan. Add cornmeal, flour and salt and stir until just combined. Pour into 8 inch greased square or circular pan. Bake for 30-40 minutes until bread is golden and toothpick comes out clean.

Chili and cornbread! Cornbread and chili! What an easy, delicious way to make a grumpy Monday end well. Here’s to a better Tuesday!

I’m a lazy long distance runner (tales of a non-cross trainer)

This is a joke that I make to people all of the time, but it’s really kind of true. I am lazy – lazy about cross training or even things like speed training. I hate hill repeats and fartleks and the like. Hate them. I also have this irrational fear of injuring myself in some non running related activity. So generally, I just run. I’m good at just running and I enjoy it. But I also realize as I close in on 42 years old that in order to improve in my running, and my general fitness, I need to revamp my training a bit. So I’ve been trying…

This god-awful winter has actually been a good opportunity to pursue cross training and activities other than running. I’ve done a few body pump classes at the gym and taken my first few spin classes in like 13 years. I’ve even accepted taking my dog on walks as a legitimate form of exercise. It’s been FUN! I’ve had such a one track mind. I worry that time away from the road or the treadmill is time away from my weekly mileage/training goals. Since I’m not intently training for anything soon, I am realizing it’s time to focus more on fitness and on incorporating other things into my routine. (yes, I know none of this is breaking news and it’s all common sense, but sometimes it takes some work for us to come to these conclusions ourselves).

Last night I had a big, new and pretty awesome experience. I did my first bikram yoga class. I honestly had no idea what to expect. I haven’t really done yoga in over a decade and I was afraid I’d feel faint, sick to my stomach, all sorts of things people had warned me about. However, I LOVED it! Really loved the experience from start to finish. I actually can’t wait to go back. I felt that calmness I feel on a long run, when you know you’re in it for the long haul so you might as well relax and enjoy being in the zone. I felt challenged. I felt engaged and not distracted (a challenge for my constantly spinning brain). I felt super sweaty and happily really warm. I felt good! I went to bed last night as tired as I have in a very long time. I went to bed content.

I think, just maybe, I’m learning to accept and enjoy the idea of cross training and what it can offer to improve my running, and to improve me. Let’s see if I can stick with it as outdoor running season returns and my days at the gym diminish. I hope!

What are your favorite cross training activities and how do you incorporate them regularly into your routine?

(Kind of) meal planning for a busy week

We have a crazy busy week coming up at our house – regular kid activities on Monday & Tuesday, meetings Monday, Tuesday & Thursday nights & a big high school hockey game to go watch Thursday evening at Xcel in St. Paul. You know, the usual… Dinners might be a little bit of a crazy mess because of this so I thought I’d at least get some breakfasts (remember my attempt to curb breakfast apathy per my younger housemates?) and lunches together. Oh yeah, and I’m throwing a dessert/treat in there also, to bribe the same youngins to deal with their crazy parents. Yes, I attempt to win their love with food. I own it.

So, this is what I have on my cooking/baking agenda for the next 24 hours. I braved Target this afternoon for groceries and already have the cake in the oven! My house is starting to smell fabulous…

Breakfast

Apple Cinnamon Raisin Baked Oatmeal from Sweet Tooth Sweet Life

Oatmeal

Morning update on the oatmeal: The husband liked it. He heated it up, poured a little milk on it and was happy. One child chose a bagel, the other child tried it and was NOT a fan. I’m fairly confident her hatred had more to do with her grumpy Monday demeanor than the oatmeal though. I thought the flavor was fantastic. The texture was my issue. That said, I am not a huge fan of old fashioned oats. If I try a baked oatmeal again, I’ll find one made with steel cut oats.

Lunch

Mother’s Pasties Recipe from A Taste of Home

Pasties

If you’re not from these parts, you may not know what a pasty is – basically a meat and veggie pie you can hold in your hand. Yum!

20 Minute Sriracha Lime and Creamy Cashew Fettuccine from Half Baked Harvest

Dinner

Easier Healthy Crock Pot Butter Chicken from Half Baked Harvest

Homemade Naan from Half Baked Harvest

Easy-Healthier-Crockpot-Butter-Chicken-6

I just had a friend give me feedback on the butter chicken – she made it the other night – and she warned against overcooking in the crock pot or the chicken gets to gummy and weird. This is one of my complaints about crock pot cooking, so I may actually just cook it stove top. She gave the flavor rave reviews thought! Very excited to try it. 

UPDATE: I made this today and did make it in the crockpot – on high for 4 hours. I thought the chicken was perfect, actually! Not gummy at all cooked at that length. I think I agree with Tieghan (the blogger) to hold back on the turmeric but it was really great and easy! It will be a repeat! It was a hit with the 10 year old who, much to this mama’s delight, is developing a love of Indian food. The uber picky 8 year old was less enthusiastic with the chicken, but devoured the naan and rice. 

Dessert

The World’s Best Chocolate Oatmeal Cake from Pinch of Yum

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From the time I began writing this post until now I managed to bake, frost and taste this cake and, well, I might agree that is indeed the world’s best. You must try it. Trust me. MUST.

For the rest of this week, we’re gonna have to wing it. There is likely some Chipotle in my future. I won’t complain about that. I am, however, greatly looking forward to indulging in these fantastic homemade meals as well! As long as I plan ahead, at least a little, it makes a crazy week a little less intense and more enjoyable. Do you have any go-to busy week meals or recipes that save the crazy day?

***All photos courtesy of original blog/site authors

Home fries, anyone?

I only had one kid home this morning, which is a rarity at my house. My youngest had a date and sleepover with her grandparents last night so it was just the hubs, my 10 year old, and me this morning. We all slept in a little so we got a slow, late start. I asked Z what she wanted for breakfast and she asked for potatoes or hash browns. As luck would have it, I had a few big russets in my house so I started looking for recipes. Most of the recipes I initially found called for par boiling potatoes, which doesn’t fit into to getting breakfast on the table semi quickly plan. Finally, I was saved/inspired by Deb over at Smitten Kitchen once again. If you’re not familiar with her blog, you must go visit it. Now. DO IT!

Anyhoo… breakfast potatoes. This recipe called for microwaving the potatoes to save time. Brilliant! It still wasn’t instabreakfast, but I whipped them up pretty quickly, added some scrambled eggs made with a little heavy cream (another lucky to have in the house treat!) and some hot sauce and we had a fab breakfast that would not have been appreciated by the absent kiddo. I agree with the recipe that yukon gold potatoes would have been better but I went with what I had on hand. Oh, and if you just happened to have some bacon grease in the fridge, I’d highly suggest using that in place of the butter. But what isn’t made better by bacon?

If you’re looking for a nice weekend breakfast side, give these a shot!

Home Fries via Smitten Kitchen

1 1/2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1/2-inch to 3/4-inch cubes
4 tablespoons salted butter
1 onions, finely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Seasoning of your choice: Garlic powder or salt work great, as does smoky Spanish paprika or chopped chives

1. Arrange potatoes in large microwave-safe bowl, top with 1 tablespoon butter, and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Microwave on high until edges of potatoes begin to soften, 5 to 7 minutes, shaking bowl (without removing plastic) to redistribute potatoes halfway through cooking.

2. Meanwhile, melt 1 tablespoon butter in large regular or nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook until softened and golden brown, about 6 minutes. Transfer to small bowl.

3. Melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter in now-empty skillet over medium heat. Add potatoes and pack down with spatula. Cook, without moving, until underside of potatoes is brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Turn potatoes, pack down again, and continue to cook until well browned and crisp, 5 to 7 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue cooking, stirring potatoes every few minutes, until crusty and golden on all sides, 9 to 12 minutes. Stir in onion, seasonings of your choice and salt and pepper to taste.

I’ve got the treadmill blues

I love running when it’s cold. I really do! Bundling up and heading out on a brisk sunny day makes me super happy. Ask my husband – I’ll take a day of 15 and sunny over 85 and muggy for a long run any time. What I don’t love is running on ice and snow. I hate it. Truth be told, I’m really afraid of it, of hurting myself. Case in point – two winters ago, this happened:

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I was trail running with a friend during my early training for Grandma’s Marathon and I slipped on some ice and fell. I literally almost poked my eye out with a stick. I still have a scar there. Go ahead and call me a wimp all you want but this sucked. Not only was my face a mess but my whole body was out of whack for a while. Since this little adventure I’ve done most of my winter running, when the streets and paths aren’t clear, on a treadmill. Sadly, this has been the case this entire winter. 

After not running outside since being in Florida over Christmas, I have a significant case of the treadmill blues. I’m bored. I’m uninspired. I’m dreading it. Basically, I need to find ways to perk up my indoor running and training until I can venture outside again. Given this winter, who knows when that will be?

If you have any go-to tricks for dealing with treadmillitis, I’d love to hear them. Please?

Breakfast – the most annoying meal of the day

Lately, breakfast time around my house is a constant struggle. My girls just don’t want to eat. They’re not hungry, nothing sounds good. I think this winter is just getting to us all and making it difficult to get up and running in the morning. Regardless of their whining, they have to eat something. Going to school, and they have a long school day, without food in their bellies, is not an option. That said, my husband and I are just too busy getting our own selves together to constantly be short order cooks just go get something in front of them that they’ll eat. I also don’t want to constantly placate them with sugar cereal or toaster waffles. Therefore I’m going to attempt to get back on a kick of making things that might actually pique their interest at 7:00 in the morning and get them fueled up for their day.

Today I am going to make them breakfast cookies!!! What 8 and 10 year old can say no to cookies for breakfast, right? Right?!?! Work with me here… Thanks. I searched Pinterest and the web for some healthy yet yummy options that might satisfy my savage beasts. I think I’ve found a great option at a baking blog I’ve visited now and again called Sallys Baking Addiction. Sally’s Breakfast Cookies are gluten free (not an issue in our house, but in case it is in yours) and made without refined sugar. With a healthy dose of oats, maple syrup, apple butter, and bananas they sound hearty and filling.

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It looks like a great base recipe that you can tailor to your own likes and needs. My kids won’t go for pumpkin seeds so I may use some pecans. Heck I may even throw in a few chocolate chips just to trick them. Works (almost) every time.

I’ll report back on the breakfast cookie experiment. I’m feeling optimistic that tomorrow morning will be a little less annoying than today. Cautiously optimistic.

***UPDATE***

I had these made in time for the girls to try them for an after school snack. They were a hit! I used almond butter, craisins, dried blueberries, ground flax seed and threw in about 1/4 cup of mini chocolate chips. Fingers crossed that they are as enthusiastic about them in the morning.