The best black bean soup recipe I’ve tried – and with what’s left it’s easy to create a second meal using black beans as a topping along with melted cheese and green onions in twice-baked potatoes.

The soup is a hearty meal in itself and will satisfy both the meat lovers in your life and vegetarians alike. Chipotle chill powder adds a lovely smoky heat but don’t be put off from making this if you don’t like spicy foods, just reduce the amount you use.

Spicy, Painted, Black-Bean Soup

Spicy, Painted, Black-Bean Soup

Spicy, Painted, Black-Bean Soup

You will need:

• Chicken broth, 30% sodium reduced, 6 cups

• Bay leaf, 1 large

• Black beans, 3 x 19oz cans, drained & rinsed

• Olive oil

• Sweet Vidalia onion

• Garlic, 3-4 cloves

• Chipotle Chili Powder, ½ to 1 teaspoon

• Ground Cumin, 1 teaspoon

• Coriander, 1 teaspoon

• Dried oregano, 1 teaspoon

• Red wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon

• Crushed tomatoes, half of a 28oz can

• Sugar

Garnish

• Plain Greek yogurt

• Avocado

• Green onions (scallions)

• Grape tomatoes

• Fresh lime

This is an easy soup to put together if you just do a bit of prep. beforehand: drain and rinse the black beans, peel and finely chop the onion and garlic; set out the containers of dried spices and red wine vinegar along with ½ teaspoon, teaspoon and tablespoon measures.

Pour the chicken broth into a large pot set over medium-high heat; add the bay leaf and the black beans. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes, uncovered (the soup will have thickened). After 30 minutes, remove the bay leaf.

Meantime, heat about a tablespoon of oil in a large skillet and cook the onion gently for 10 minutes but do not allow to brown. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or two.

Then add each spice in turn, stirring each time to combine and continue to cook over low-to-medium heat until the onion mixture has softened completely.

Pour in the red wine vinegar to deglaze the skillet then stir in the crushed tomato (reserve the other half for use later) and a pinch of sugar. Add the onion/spice mixture to the beans, stir to combine then cook for about another ten minutes or so to allow the flavours to meld.

Make an easy salsa by combining chopped avocado, chopped green onions (scallions) and chopped grape tomatoes in roughly equal amounts then season to taste with sea-salt and a generous amount of freshly-squeezed lime juice.

Remove the soup from the heat and when it has cooled slightly, carefully puree half of it using an immersion blender (or, if you prefer a smoother texture continue pureeing the soup). Re-heat and serve.

Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with Greek yogurt (use chopsticks if you have them to swirl it into a pattern) and top with avocado salsa. Some corn bread on the side and a beer or two would complete the meal. Enjoy!

Twice-Baked Potatoes

Twice-Baked Potatoes

Twice-Baked Potatoes with Black Beans

After it sits, the black bean soup gets thicker and looks and tastes more like chill so it is perfect alongside stuffed, baked potatoes on a cold winter’s night. You will need:

• Baking potatoes, one per person

• Butter

• Shredded cheese (I used a tex-mex combination)

• Green onions (scallions), chopped

• Leftover black bean soup

Pre-heat the oven to 400F.

Rinse and dry the potatoes, pierce the skin a few times with the tip of a sharp knife and place in the pre-heated oven. Bake for about an hour or until squeezing them gently on the sides reveals they are soft.

Remove the potatoes from the oven but leave the heat on.

Make cuts in each potato lengthwise then carefully squeeze the sides to open up the cut and push up some of the potato. Using a spoon, carefully remove as much potato as you can and put it into a large bowl.

When all the potato flesh is in the bowl, add butter, salt and pepper, grated cheese and chopped green onions (scallions) to taste.  An exact recipe is not necessary here but do taste as you go along – once it tastes the way you want, you’re done.

Now carefully refill each potato skin with the mashed potato mixture, top with grated cheese and return to the oven for about 20 minutes or until the cheese is bubbling and the potato is piping hot.

Meantime, heat up the soup in a pot on the stove.

I usually place a potato on each plate then pour over the soup and top it with extra shredded cheese and/or chopped onions; it tastes great but is not quite as pretty to look at. Alternatively, as in the photo, you could set the potato on top of the soup and garnish with extra toppings.

This originally started as an easier and dare I say it healthier way of making beef stew.  Firstly, because I dislike what’s sold as “stewing” beef which is often tough and tasteless and secondly – and if I’m honest perhaps more importantly, because it’s a lot less work.  

Chuck or blade roast is gently simmered with root vegetables, red wine and herbs and the meat is cut up once it’s cooked – no individually browning little cubes of meat.

Alongside, I make a lighter version of scalloped potatoes using chicken broth in place of milk or cream. It’s an easy meal for a weeknight but also elegant enough to serve for company. 

Stove-Top Pot Roast

Stove-Top Pot Roast

Stove-Top Pot Roast

You will need:

• Olive oil

• Chuck or Blade roast, 5lbs

• Sweet Vidalia onion, 1 large, peeled & chopped

• Garlic, 3 large cloves, peeled & sliced

• Carrots, 3 large, peeled & cut into pieces

• Parsnips, 3 large, peeled & cut into pieces

• Fresh rosemary

• Fresh thyme

• Dry red wine, 1 cup (or an extra cup of broth)

• Beef broth, 2 cups

• Butter

• All-purpose flour

I used (and recommend using) an oval Le Creuset pot that is slightly larger than the roast.  Of course you can use a large saucepan but you may need to slightly increase the cooking time.

Heat a tablespoon or two of oil in the pot and brown the meat well on all sides then set aside (this is sooo much easier than browning stewing meat).

Add the chopped onions and garlic and sauté gently until they start to soften (don’t allow to burn), about 10 minutes. Add the carrots and parsnips, toss to combine and cook for another 5 minutes. Add a sprig or two of rosemary (if they are large, just use one) and 3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme; if you have kitchen string, you can tie the herbs into bundles making it easier to fish them out later.

Turn up the heat, add in the red wine and cook for about 2 minutes to thicken slightly. Add in the beef broth. Return the meat to the pot, bring back to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer gently, covered, for about 90 minutes or until the meat is tender and the vegetables are cooked but still holding their shape.

Remove what’s left of the stalks of rosemary and thyme and throw them away. Remove the meat to a chopping board and slice thickly then arrange on a serving platter. Remove the vegetables with a slotted spoon and arrange them on the same platter. Turn up the heat under the broth left in the pot. Make a paste combining an ounce of butter with a large tablespoon of flour then add it to the pot. Stir and continue to cook for a few minutes until the broth has thickened slightly.  Pour some of the gravy over the meat & vegetables and reserve the remainder.

Set aside leftover meat and gravy (not the vegetables) until cool then cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days.

A Lighter Version of Scalloped Potatoes

A Lighter Version of Scalloped Potatoes

A Lighter Version of Scalloped Potatoes

You will need:

• Yukon Gold potatoes, 6 large

• Chicken Broth (I used Campbell’s)

• Butter

• Fresh thyme

Wash but don’t peel the potatoes then slice them thinly; you can use a mandolin but it’s also easy enough to just use a sharp knife.

Place the potatoes in an ovenproof dish in overlapping slices (you’ll end up with about three layers in a 9×13 dish), season with salt and pepper, sprinkle over the leaves from 1-2 sprigs of thyme, pour over about a cup of chicken broth, enough to come halfway up the sides of the dish, dot with butter then cover with foil and bake in the oven for 30 minutes. Carefully remove the foil and continue to bake for another 5-10 minutes or so or until the top is golden. Serve immediately.

Individual Beef & Mushroom Pot Pies

Individual Beef & Mushroom Pot Pies

Individual Beef & Mushroom Pot Pies (2)

You will need:

• Leftover meat and gravy, 2 cups or more

• Olive oil

• Crimini or baby portabella mushrooms, 8oz

• Fresh thyme

• Butter

• All purpose flour

• Frozen puff pastry, thawed overnight in the refrigerator

• Egg, 1, lightly beaten

Pre-heat oven to 400F

Wipe (don’t wash) then thinly slice the mushrooms. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over high heat then add the mushroom slices; season with freshly ground black pepper and the leaves from 2-3 sprigs of fresh thyme. Cook for about 10 minutes or until all the moisture has been absorbed and the mushrooms are starting to caramelize. Add a knob of butter, swirl it around in the skillet to coat the mushrooms then remove from the heat.

While the mushrooms are cooking, tear or cut the meat into small pieces, removing any fat or gristle. Re-heat the leftover meat and sauce in a pan. Add the sautéed mushroom mixture and stir together; this now becomes the filling for your pies. Leave the filling over low heat while you make the pastry toppings.

Lay each sheet of pastry on a surface that’s lightly dusted with flour (I used my granite counter-top). Place the ovenproof bowl on the pastry upside down and cut around it, leaving about a half inch of extra pastry. Repeat. (I used both slices of pastry).

Ladle the beef and mushroom filling into each bowl then top with the puff pastry, pressing the pastry around the rims to seal, then brush with beaten egg. Score a vent in the top of each pie then set the bowls on a baking sheet. Place in the oven and cook for about 30 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown and the juices are bubbling. Let sit for a few minutes before serving.

This week, two sets of very simple recipes that can easily be doubled for a crowd. 

Easiest Oven-Baked, Barbecued Pork Ribs

Easiest Oven-Baked, Barbecued Pork Ribs

Easiest, Oven-Baked, Barbecued Pork Ribs

Technically these are not barbecued at all but just slowly simmered in a tangy, sweet barbecue sauce in the oven.  It’s a taste of summer even when the outside temperatures have started to drop.  

The success of this recipe has more to do with technique than ingredients. Meaning that you don’t have to make homemade sauce unless you want to – in Canada, Bullseye brand has the right ingredients to ensure a caramelized top to the melt-in-your-mouth ribs which is exactly how I like them (in the States I use Stubbs brand). You will need:

• Baby back pork ribs, 2 whole racks

• Barbecue sauce, 1 bottle

• Large roasting pan

• Heavy duty aluminum foil

Pre-heat the oven to 350F (start several hours ahead of when you want to eat the ribs).

Lay the ribs in the roasting pan (I use a disposable foil one) and cover tightly with foil.  Place in the oven and cook for about 90 minutes.  (If you’re doubling the recipe and have two pans of ribs, rotate them halfway through cooking so each pan has time at the top of the oven.)

Carefully remove the pan from the oven (don’t turn it off), remove the foil and transfer the ribs to a large chopping board. Pour away any fat that has collected and wipe out the pan. Return the ribs to the roasting pan and pour over the barbecue sauce; cover tightly with foil and return to the oven for about another 90 minutes.

Turn off the oven and let the ribs sit for up to 3 hours. The ribs will still be hot and the meat literally falling off the bone and can be eaten right away.

Or, if you prefer a caramelized finish, remove the ribs from the oven and pre-heat the broiler.  Carefully transfer the ribs to a chopping board, pour the sauce into a jug, replace the ribs in the pan and baste with some of the sauce.  Place the pan under the broiler for about 5 minutes or so until the top is sizzling.

Cut up the ribs and serve alongside colourful Black Bean Salad.

Reserve leftover ribs and sauce, covered, in the ‘fridge for up to 3 days.

Black Bean & Corn Salad

Black Bean & Corn Salad

Black Bean & Corn Salad

You will need:

• Canned Black beans, 1 large can (I use Eden brand)

• Canned corn niblets, 1 small can (I use Green Giant)

• Red bell pepper

• Green onions (scallions), 1 bunch

• Vegetable oil e.g. Canola

• Chipotle chili powder (optional)

• Fresh cilantro (coriander), optional

Rinse and drain the canned beans, drain the canned corn and pour the contents into a large bowl.  Finely chop the red pepper and cut the green onions on the diagonal and add to the bowl. Add about a tablespoon of vegetable oil and toss to combine; season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. For an extra kick, add up to about a teaspoonful of chipotle chili powder (regular chill powder doesn’t work). Cover and let sit for an hour or so; toss again just before serving and garnish with fresh cilantro (optional).

Pulled Pork Sandwiches with Apple Slaw

Pulled Pork Sandwiches with Apple Slaw

Pulled Pork Sandwiches with Apple Slaw

You will need:

• Leftover barbecued ribs

• Leftover barbecue sauce

• Crusty buns

• Packet of your favourite brand of cole-slaw *

• Mayonnaise (I use Hellman’s)

• Apple Cider Vinegar

• Vidalia sweet onion, peeled and chopped

• Granny Smith Apple, skin on, chopped

• Raisins

Pre-heat oven to 350F.

Remove the meat from the bones of the leftover ribs and place into a saucepan with any leftover sauce; add extra sauce if necessary. Cook at a simmer, covered, until heated through.

Meantime, make Apple Slaw:

Apple Slaw

Pour the cole slaw into a large bowl, add 2-3 heaped spoonfuls of mayonnaise, a splash of apple-cider vinegar, the chopped onion and apple and a handful of raisins.  Stir to combine.  Cover and set aside in the ‘fridge for about an hour or so. Uncover and taste; add extra mayonnaise if it needs it – I like it lightly dressed not goopy but ultimately it’s your choice.

Pile the heated pork and sauce onto crusty buns, add a generous heaped spoonful of apple slaw and enjoy!  A beer or a few would be a great accompaniment.

* If you own a food processor and have the time or inclination, shred fresh white and red cabbages and carrots to make your own slaw.