Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Slow Cooker Black Beans

I've mentioned the Wellfed network in a previous post--it's a network of blogs that covers all aspects of food. They're launching four new blogs this month and I'll be writing for two of them. For one, I'll be writing cookbook reviews, so I'll be testing new recipes. I figured I'd post my results here.

The first book I'm testing from is a slow-cooker book. I've always been intrigued by the idea of throwing everything into one pot in the morning, turning it on, and leaving it alone to do its thing for the rest of the day. Now that I'm home most of the time it's a little ironic that I'm finally getting around to testing these recipes, but there you go.

The first recipe I tried is called Lucky Chili. I was intrigued because it looked like a different spice combination than I'm used to seeing for black beans, and I'm always eager to find new ways to spice up familiar dishes. That being said, I had some problems.

First off, I'm not sure why this recipe has two cups of coffee in it. I know coffee is often used for flavoring, but usually it's maybe one spoonful of instant, or the equivalent of one cup. I could definitely taste it in the finished product, but it overpowered the overall flavor, rather than subtly enhancing it. The other problem was the clove. I didn't have whole cloves, so I used just a pinch of ground, and that also was an overriding flavor. There was the flavor of the beans (which was pretty good), and then there was the hmmm? of the coffee and the huh? of the cloves.

And there was something about the combination of those two flavors that kept bringing to my mind the episode of The Simpsons where Homer creates tomacco--tomatoes crossed with tobacco. I couldn't get rid of the feeling that there was tobacco in there. Maybe it was the caffeine from the coffee mixed with the taste of the cloves, I dunno.

It was most prevalent when I ate it with brown rice. Then it occurred to me it might be good with cornbread so I mixed me up a batch. That was actually better--I think the corn helped neutralize the odd combination of coffee and cloves.

So what will I do differently next time (if there is a next time--I'm still on the fence about this recipe)? For starters, I'd omit the coffee and cloves. I might try to think of some other spice to replace the clove.

There was also a subtle undertone to the tenderness of the rest of the vegetables cooked so slowly for such a long period of time. I seem to remember it from a slow cooker beef stew recipe I made years ago, and I'm wondering if it's how anything tastes that's been slow cooked. I'll be interested to find out with the other recipes I test. Not sure if I like it, or if it's even real, for that matter.

Anyhoo, here's the recipe:

Home Cookin 4.9 Chapter: Slow Cooker

Lucky Chili

2 c. freshly brewed coffee
2 c. vegetable broth
2 28-oz. cans crushed tomatoes
1 med. onion, diced
4 cloves chopped garlic
4 15-oz. cans black beans, or 6-8 c. cooked
1/4 c. firmly packed brown sugar
2 Tbsp. chili powder, or to taste
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
3-4 cloves, to taste
1/2 c. chopped fresh cilantro
Salt to taste

Large round or oval slow cooker.

Combine all ingredients in slow cooker except cilantro and salt. Cover and cook on Low for 8-12 hours, stirring occasionally, if possible. During the last hour, stir in cilantro and season with salt.

Serve in bowls with chunky mango and tomato salsa, cubed avocado, sour cream, and shredded cheddar cheese on top.

Serves 6 to 8

from Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook, by Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufmann (Harvard Common, 2005)

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