Heya! I’ve missed you! Yep, you! I’ve missed blogging, I’ve missed reading blogs, and I’ve missed all my readers, even if there are probably only twelve of you at this point.
This past year was a year of ups and downs. In July, my grandmother passed away. She was ninety-nine, and while I’m grateful for all the years I had her in my life, I miss her so much. She was a huge role model in my life, especially when I was in elementary school. She was a school teacher for most of her life and a natural at it. She taught third grade and her special talent was teaching kids to read. I credit my lifelong love of reading to her. Growing up during the depressing, Grandmother naturally learned to be quite frugal, but she was always generous where it mattered. She might’ve torn paper towels in fourths and saved tiny tablespoons of leftovers, but she’d never deny a loved one something they needed. I’m pretty frugal, too, and I learned most of my money-saving skills from her.
Jim and I went to Europe in September to celebrate our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. It was amazing. We traveled from Paris, to rural France, the Swiss alps, Munich, Venice, the Italian Riviera, and Rome. We are definitely going back. I especially loved Italy, and I want to visit Greece too. I have some family in the north of England I haven’t seen in decades, and Jim has been wanting to see where his ancestors came from in Scotland – apparently there is a family castle – so that gives us another reason to go back.
A feral cat that had been hanging around my yard last spring had kittens before we could trap her and have her fixed. We thought we were in the clear when we fixed her, but discovered kittens a month later – which she promptly hid from us and the neighborhood dogs. By the time we caught the kittens, they were extremely wary around humans. I trapped them and brought them inside to try to socialize them. We were lucky with one, but the other two were too aloof or aggressive. As of today, the mamma Hazel and two of her kittens, Basil and Java, are neutered, ear-tipped, have had a rabies shot, and live outside. We feed them and let them in the garage when it’s cold or raining. Kitten Bean is inside with our five-year-old boys, Nutmeg and Nilla. Pics to come.
Also, if I may whine for a moment, in April my camera shutter fatally seized up while I was working on a blog post, in June I sprained my foot, and in August, Jim’s job got suddenly stressful and extra-time consuming, which has had me stressed in sympathy. (Obviously it’s ten times worse for him.)
One last whine and then I’ll shut up – my blog has been getting slammed so hard with spam. I made it to the big leagues, I guess? It’s better now, but if you don’t see your comment after a short while or it’s there and disappears, email me (email’s on the contact page) and I’ll rescue it from the spam folder.
As you can imagine, I didn’t cook a lot of new recipes last year. Instead I relied on old favorites. Nearly all of the recipes that end up on my regular rotation are either quick and easy, or they freeze well so that I have a ready-made meal for another night. Some, like these sloppy joes, hit both points.
This recipe is a lifesaver when times are busy. Since it makes eight servings, you can put lots away in the freezer, and it reheats beautifully. With a stash of burger buns, you can thaw some sloppy joe filling out, make some baked sweet potato fries, and dinner is done. (Or serve it with tater tots from a bag – I won’t tell.) With this in the slow cooker on the first day or thawing on the kitchen counter later, you have more time to try to get scared kittens to come see you, or to plan trips of a lifetime, or talk to your family on the phone when they need you – all of which are more important than spending a lot of time in the kitchen.
Before I get to the recipe, I want to note something I’ve learned about flavors from slow-cookers. As you can probably guess from the recipes here, I adore big, bold flavors. In the past, I never enjoyed Crockpot dishes as much as their quicker-cooking counterparts. I figured out that it’s because so much of the spice flavor dissipates during cooking. It makes your house smell wonderful, but dinner – not so much. As a result, I’ve taken to measuring out the spices when I’m prepping the dish, but keeping them aside in a spice jar or a small, covered bowl, and then adding them sometime during the last thirty minutes of cooking. At last, big flavor from a slow cooker!
I've also included stovetop cooking instructions, in case that works for you better.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil (for stovetop version)
- 1 cup finely diced onion
- 1 carrot, peeled and diced (optional)
- 1 poblano or green bell pepper, diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 (8-ounce) package tempeh, crumbled
- 3/4 cup brown lentils, rinsed and picked over for stones
- 1 (14.5-ounce) can fire-roasted tomatoes
- 1/3 cup BBQ sauce (I like Stubbs original flavor)
- 2 teaspoons prepared mustard
- 1-1/4 cups water
- 1 tablespoon mild chili powder, such as ancho
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne
Combine onion, garlic, carrots, pepper, tempeh, lentils, tomatoes, BBQ sauce, mustard and water in a slow cooker. Combine chili powder, salt, cumin, paprika, and cayenne in a spice jar or small bowl and set aside.
Cook for 4 hours on high, or 6-8 hours on low. Thirty minutes before serving, stir in the seasonings. If the mixture is too soupy to pile on buns, remove the lid and stir occasionally until thick. Cover and turn heat to low until ready to serve.
Heat olive oil in a 4-quart or larger pot. Sauté onion, carrot, and pepper until onion is translucent, about 3 minutes. Add garlic, and sauté for a minute.
Add tempeh, lentils, tomatoes, mustard, BBQ sauce, and water. Bring to a boil. Reduce to low, cover, and cook for 45 minutes, or until lentils are tender. Remove lid and add chili powder, salt, cumin, smoked paprika, and cayenne. If mixture is too soupy to serve on buns, remove lid and cook, stirring frequently, until thick.