Creamy Minnesota Wild Rice Soup slow-cooked in the Crock-Pot

For the past month or two, I have been preparing a meal every Sunday that cooks all day in the Crock-Pot on Monday and welcomes us home for an easy, satisfying supper.  Earlier this week I made a delicious Wild Rice soup in our Crock-Pot.*  I bought Wild Rice that was raised on the Red Lake Reservation, a community about 40 miles from where my parents live in northern Minnesota.  When I buy Wild Rice, I seek out rice raised on a reservation from that region, White Earth, Red Lake and Leech Lake Bands all harvest and sell wild rice.  It is the very best wild rice, and I like knowing where it comes from, and supporting the local economy in these communities with the purchase. Before establishing a weekly Crock-Pot routine, we often arrived home on a Monday night tired, a little worn down from stress of the new work week and in no mood to cook.  Nights like that, we often end up going out to eat.  Sure, it is nice to be able to give ourselves a night off, but neither of us are thrilled about using part of our “dining” budget on a last-minute meal that we haven’t anticipated as a nice evening out.  As much as I have been resistant to planning meals ahead in the past, I am tentatively starting to use forethought to my advantage.  I am glad I didn’t know I would start doing this 6 years ago though.  I think I would have been scared by the prospect of becoming a crazed Crock-Pot enthusiast, or at least would have hoped that the meal was served with a touch of irony.  It turns out, at this point in my life, the routine is the opposite of scary, and there isn’t a hint of irony involved.  Making a small effort to have a meal ready when I come home is breathing new life into Mondays!  I leave for work in the morning feeling organized and like a real, functioning grown up.  When the evening ahead crosses my mind throughout the day I look forward to being welcomed home by the scent of simmering soup seeping from the cracks of my old house as I approach the door.  As I cross the threshold, I have little to do to enjoy a satisfying supper and a relaxing evening.

To make this week’s soup, I chopped and measured all of the ingredients into the liner of our Crock-Pot on Sunday night, covered it, and placed it in the fridge.

Minnesota Wild Rice Soup Ingredients:

  • 1 Medium Onion, Chopped
  • 2 Stalks of Celery, Diced
  • 1 large Handful of Julienned Carrots, or about 2 Medium Carrots, Chopped
  • 2 Yukon Gold Potatoes, Washed and Chopped
  • 5 to 8 Button or Cremini Mushrooms, Wiped Clean and Sliced
  • 2 Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts optional
  • 1 Cup of Minnesota-Grown Wild Rice
  • ½ Cup Brown Rice – not necessary, but it is cheaper, and adds additional texture to the soup.
  • 1 Teaspoon Dried Tarragon Leaves
  • 1 Teaspoon Poultry Seasoning
  • 2 Bay Leaves – remove before serving.
  • 2 – 32 Ounce Carton of Vegetable, Chicken or Turkey Broth
  • A Splash of Skim Milk, Half and Half or Heavy Cream optional. 
  • Salt and Pepper, to taste.

You might notice that there is no oil or butter in my recipe.  Some soup recipes call for sautéing the onion before putting it in the crock.  I find that step to be unnecessary.  With the long, slow cooking process, everything cooks thoroughly and all of the flavors blend well.  As an added bonus, without sautéing any of the vegetables in butter or oil, calories are spared.  Monday morning, I added the carton of broth, gave it a stir, and set the crock to cook on low heat for 8 hours.  I am not sure if all slow cookers have this feature, but my crock switches to “Warm” when the programmed cooking time is done.  It works wonderfully to keep the soup warm, but not to continue to cook it longer than needed.  This recipe made a nice amount of soup for us for supper and leftovers for lunch.  We don’t need more than two meals of soup, but there would be plenty of room in the crock to double the recipe to feed a larger group, or to freeze extra soup for a later date.  If the entire crock of soup will be devoured the night it is first served, I might add just a touch more Tarragon and Poultry Seasoning, because seasoning was a bit faint on first night.  We thought that the seasoning in the soup came together nicely when we reheated it for our lunches at work.  This is great soup to make in advance and reheat.

If I was making this strictly for meat-eaters,** I would add a few boneless, skinless chicken breasts to the crock when I added the broth.  The chicken breasts can be chopped and mixed back into the soup right before serving

If there are vegetarians in your house who are not strict about meat juices in their food,*** you could even cook the chicken breasts in the soup, take them out and then add chopped chicken to the bowls of only those who want it.  If you want your soup to be strictly vegetarian, chicken can be cooked separately, and added to the bowls of those who want it, or not cooked at all, if no one is eating meat.  There is a continuum upon which every vegetarian places themselves that ranges from unoffended by some exposure of their food to meat at the one end, to completely avoiding meat coming into contact with their food or having meat juices in their food at the other end of the continuum.  You need to do what works for you and yours, and this recipe is easily adapted to accommodate varied diets.  The only remaining step is optional.  About ten minutes before serving you can stir in a splash of warmed milk, half and half or cream.  The soup would be fine without it, but I really like having a little milk or cream in my soup.

Tonight, we didn’t top our soup with anything, but some sliced almonds or sunflower seeds would be nice.  I also like a little shredded cheddar on my wild rice soup upon occasion.  Some people wouldn’t go near soup without a shot of spicy Rooster Sauce, or Sriracha for those who are less familiar with what has become the most popular condiment in the world.  The soup is very hearty and satisfying on its own, so you don’t need much to round out the meal.  A chunk of warm, crusty bread, with or without butter and cheese would be perfect.  Tonight I pulled out a few crackers from the pantry, which I served with some sliced white cheddar and Asiago cheese.

Growing up, my Mom always served egg salad along with soup or chili, so it is what I crave when we’re having soup for dinner, so of course, I made some.  The egg salad was mostly made before I realized that we had no mayonnaise.  I used Dijonnaise instead, and it turned out to be a surprisingly good substitution for regular mayo.  Dijonnaise has the creaminess of mayo, and with the kick of Dijon mustard flavor, I swear that you cannot tell that it is fat-free.

When life is busy and stressful, there are little things you can do for yourself and your family to provide warmth and calm.  Coming home to delicious soup for supper that has simmered slowly in the Crock-Pot all day feeds the body and soul.  We loved this creamy, comforting soup full of vegetables and wild rice.  I will make it again soon.

*I apologize if trademark dilution offends you.  My slow cooker just so happens to be a Crock-Pot.  Words like Crock-Pot, Kleenex and Kraft Dinner are far too deeply embedded in my vocabulary to use their proper generic terminology, especially since I actually use these brands.

**I can’t think of why I would make this soup solely for meat eaters.  It is so good!  I would want a bowl.  Maybe if I made a separate crock of the meat-free version for a party.

***In my reference to vegetarians who are not strict about being meat-free, I might be politely referring to households with picky children.

Lentil and Chickpea Soup in the Crock Pot

It took me a while to recognize the pattern, but so many Mondays I come home and don’t feel motivated to cook.  I realized that I should figure out how to do something easy that is prepared in advance.  I have finally started to use and appreciate our pretty red crock pot.  On a Monday when I’m adjusting to the transition between weekend life and work life, it helps me to know that when I come home, while I fumble for my keys outside of the kitchen door, I will smell something warming and well-seasoned wafting out of the cracks in my house that has been cooking all day in the crock pot.  A meal slowly simmering at home gives me an all-day attitude adjustment, a sense of impending peace, calm and well-being ahead of me.  It makes the day and the evening better.  Much, much better.  Tonight, we came home to a simmering crock of Red Lentil and Chickpea Soup.
  • 3 cloves of garlic – crushed in the garlic press, or smashed and finely minced;
  • 2-3 inches of fresh ginger – peeled and grated;
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped into “chickpea size” chunks;
  • 2 stalks of celery, rinsed, peeled and chopped into “chickpea size” chunks;
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced;
  • 1 cup of red lentils – picked over;
  • 1 14 ounce tin can of Eden Organic garbanzo beans- rinsed and drained;
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric;
  • 1 teaspoon Garam Masala;
  • 1 pinch saffron threads – chopped,  or crushed and rolled between index finger and thumb;
  • 1 teaspoon cumin;
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper;
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom;
  • 4-5 cups Vegetable Broth;
  • Optional additions:  One 14 ounce can of diced tomatoes or 2 Tablespoons of Tomato Paste– we are both needing a rest from acidic canned tomatoes in every soup and sauce we make, so I left them out, no matter how ill-advised that was;  1 diced winter squash or a couple of Yukon Gold potatoes chopped into “chickpea sized” chunks.
  • Toppings, optional, but highly recommended– a squeeze of lime juice 5 minutes before serving and one handful of chopped flat leaf parsley or cilantro.  More optional–a dollop of Greek Yogurt, Sour Cream or a tiny dash of saffron-infused heavy cream.  I have never tried saffron-infused cream, but it sounds good, doesn’t it?
  • For serving – cooked rice, or a slice of grainy bread with butter, also optional.

Method:  chop the vegetables and measure the spices on Sunday, or whatever day is right before your most tiring and hectic day of the week, and put everything into the liner of the crock pot, cover it, and placed it in the fridge.

Next morning, add the vegetable broth, give it a gentle stir and place the liner in the crock with the heat on low.  This should cook 8-10 hours on low.  If you want to give the broth a little body, you can blend a few cups of the finished soup with an immersion blender.  Or you can use my trick, and mash some of the soup solids with a potato masher.*  The soup goes well with a nice chunk of bread and butter or a little scoop of rice.  It reheats beautifully.  It is Monday.  This is all I have to offer.

*Still haven’t gotten an immersion blender… it is at the top of my kitchen wish list.  Accepting trade offers.

Principles of a Satisfying Snack

I’ve been thinking about snacks.  If you say the word “snack” I associate it with the small plate containing Triscuit crackers with peanut butter and jam or slices of cheddar cheese that greeted me after school when I was a child.  I recall the semester that I studied abroad in England the break between morning lectures was an occasion for friends meeting in a  dorm room for cups of instant coffee and McVitie’s Biscuits.  It also calls to mind taking part in the ritual of afternoon noshes — a tiny bowl of salty-crunchy bits and nuts served with a cocktail and a crossword at my great Aunt Margaret’s home Victoria, British Columbia — très sophistiqué.  In these moments, snacking served a dual purpose — it was a time to pause and enjoy a simple and comforting luxury, and to stave off hunger for a few hours more until mealtime arrived.

If you don’t happen to be in the midst of childhood or your college years, or making precious memories with elderly relatives, snacking can have a dark side.  This would be most snacks that come in 100 calorie servings sealed in shiny wrapping, or anything mindlessly inhaled while standing fridge-side.  I don’t find those snacks to be satisfying.  For me, a snack composed according to a few simple principles fits into the romantic episodes in my life as well as the real world.  Take this tasty morsel — a tiny slice of rye bread topped with a little leftover egg salad and a sprig of fresh dill from my garden.  It is well worth  saving a few leftover spoonfuls of egg salad so I can have a snack like this one in the middle of a summer afternoon.

The first principle of a good snack is that it should be quick.  It should take less than 5 minutes, or preferably less than 3 minutes to prepare.  I start each day with only so much energy to devote to food preparation, and I don’t want to devote very much of that to snacks.  I like to keep a small bowl of hard-boiled eggs in the fridge so we can grab one for a snack at work.  It only takes a moment to crack the shell and eat it with a little salt and pepper.  The protein and small amount of fat that an egg contains can sustain me through the afternoon.

The second principle of a good snack is that it should either be light, or very very small.  I usually opt for light.  For this snack that I prepared for myself and for Bjorn, I spread a wedge of light Laughing Cow cheese on two Wasa Crispbread Crackers.  I sliced a radish and some cucumber very thin.  I sprinkled a little smoked paprika on the cucumber and a dash of salt and pepper on the radish.  The whole snack contains less than 150 calories, and also healthy things like fiber.  You can enjoy the crunch of the crackers and veggie slices, the creaminess of the cheese, and take in the brightly colored veggies with a punch of paprika with your nose and your eyes.

The final principle of good snacking is to pause.  While eating, it is so important to take a moment to pay attention, so you know you’ve eaten something, and to appreciate the nourishment.  I also try to pause when I’m done. If it was a tasty snack, I might think that I want a little more, but if I give my mind and stomach ten minutes to catch up with each other, I usually find that I’m satisfied.

White Bean, Corn and Potato Chowder

It is a good indication that we are getting pretty low on groceries and fresh produce when I decide what is for dinner by googling the few ingredients we have left to find an idea.  Tonight, I poked around the kitchen and found a can of white beans, a potato, and a half a bag of frozen corn to work with.  Those three ingredients sounded like a good base for a soup.  I wasn’t feeling like a chunky Tuscan White Bean Stew, or a creamy Rosemary White Bean Soup even though they looked tasty. We didn’t have half the ingredients for this luscious looking Corn Chowder with Chilies by Pioneer Woman and we wanted something lighter.  As far as I can remember, I don’t think I’ve ever combined white beans, corn and potato in one pot, but it seemed like these 3 pale, starchy comforters had to go together.  I thought “there must be a recipe for this white bean, corn and potato chowder!”  I immediately found two, fairly similar recipes that sounded tasty, [here and here].  I took cues from both recipes, made a few adjustments of my own and ended up with a soup that was healthy and warming that we both enjoyed.  First, I assembled my ingredients.

I think it is a good sign about a recipe when the ingredient list is short.  For one thing, in a simple recipe each ingredient plays a vital role in the dish as a whole.  There is also a better chance that your pantry and fridge will contain what you need so you don’t have to run to the store.  Most importantly you won’t have to pull out your hair trying to follow a complicated recipe or spend your evening chopping and measuring a zillion ingredients.  My White Bean, Corn and Potato Chowder contained:

  • One cup of Frozen Corn.
  • 1 16 ounce can of Cannellini Beans.  — I happened to have a large can of beans so I used it, but you’d be fine with a 14 ounce can.  If you are up for preparing dry beans, which sadly, I am not, you should use about 1 cup of dry beans, soaked and cooked in water until tender.
  • 1 Yukon Gold Potato washed and chopped.
  • 1/2 of a yellow onion, diced.
  • 1 carrot, peeled and diced — I ended up using only one carrot, even though my photo contains two.
  • 1 stalk of celery, chopped.  –I didn’t have any celery, but normally, I would include it.  Diced Onions, Carrots and Celery, or a mirepoix if you are cooking in French, makes a solid aromatic base for almost any soup or sauce.
  • 1 four cup carton of Reduced Sodium Chicken Broth or Vegetable Broth.
  • For Garnish:  1 thinly sliced green onion and coarsely chopped flat leaf Italian parsley  are both optional, but good.
  • About 1/2 a teaspoon each of crushed dried Rosemary, and dry Thyme.
  • A splash of skim milk, or half and half, or heavy cream, depending what fits into your diet.
  • A small amount of Olive Oil for sautéing the veggies.
  • Salt and Pepper to taste.

We have 2 people eating in our house most nights, so I try to cut soup recipes down to 4 portions, so that we each get to have a hearty bowl for supper and a smaller bowl for lunch the next day.  It took me two years to figure out that I need to cut down most recipes.  Having a few frozen portions is great for lunches at work or an easy supper, but a freezer can fill up fast in the winter when I feel like making a new pot of soup a few times per week.  If you have a bigger head count, or feel like stockpiling soup for lunches and lazy days, you can easily double or triple this recipe.

Once I had all of the veggies for the chowder chopped, I began by sautéing the onion and carrots.  I rinsed the cannellini beans, and mashed about half of them on a cutting board with a potato masher.  I did this for several reasons.  Since I wanted the chowder to be light and healthy I decided not to use half and half or cream in my chowder which are traditional chowder ingredients.  Mashed white beans added velvety texture to the soup liquid that it would otherwise lack without cream.  I used a potato masher because I don’t have an immersion blender* and lugging out the blender or food processor to puree half of the soup is far too much effort for me on a Tuesday night.  The potato masher works quite well to create a rustic creaminess and it cuts down on dish washing which is also a plus.  When the carrots and onions began to get soft in my enamel dutch oven, I added the rest of the ingredients except the milk and garnishes.  I let the soup simmer for a good half hour to 40 minutes.  This gave me time to set the table, check Facebook and chop up some grape tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and leaves of romaine lettuce for a small salad, along the lines of a caprese, minus basil.  I dressed the salad with balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper and Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salut herb mixture.  Once the chowder was hot and all the flavors combined, I removed the pot from the heat.  I mashed the entire mixture of veggies little a more with the potato masher right in the soup pot to allow the carrots, corn and potatoes to add body to the liquid in the chowder.  Right before serving the chowder I stirred in a splash of milk.  I served the chowder in a small bowl with the salad on the side of the plate.

On top of Bjorn’s salad I added a few this slices of Sopprasetta, a dried, cured Italian salami.

We loved this chowder.  It was warm and satisfying, but still light and healthy.  It will reheat well for our lunch, and we will able to eat the whole pot in two meals.  This meal made good use of the last few vegetables in the house.  Even if my fridge is fully stocked, I’d make it again.

* An immersion blender might be a good gift idea, hint, hint.