Monday, 19 January 2015

Old El Paso Creamy Poblano Pepper Casserole - A 'Quick' Meal...?

I'm not above grabbing the odd sauce mix to knock up a quick meal and I picked up a packet of Old El Paso Creamy Poblano Pepper casserole mix from the bargain bin at Sainsbury's last week. (I never can resist a yellow reduced sticker and it sounded a bit different.)  The packet instructions call for chicken, but obviously that was not an option, so I had a think about what to use instead.

Recently I came across a blog called Chelsea's Messy Apron, (I love that title) which has lots of recipes (not all veggie) that I'd like to try. She raves about quinoa cooked in the slow cooker and I thought that might work with this sauce mix and some vegetables. Another blogger made the dish with Quorn in their slow cooker. I also wondered about using some butter beans and butternut squash. As it happened, I had been looking in vain for soybeans to revive an old recipe I used to make as a student, more of that in a later post. So I popped into Holland and Barrett and although they didn't have soybeans, they did have dried soya chunks which I thought might be a handy thing to have in the larder, even though it does bear a strong resemblance to dog kibble. 

That was what I used. But reluctant to discard the butter bean idea, I also cooked up a 300g batch of those to bulk it out a bit. Perhaps the quinoa was overkill, but the Messy Apron blog had put me in mind to try cooking it in the slow cooker, so 50g of well-rinsed quinoa went in too.

The soya chunks have to be soaked in water to reconstitute them before cooking, although the package instructions don't give a time. I found that the water did not all get absorbed, even after an hour or so, but the 'kibble' did soften up.

As for the butter beans, well that's a story in itself. I have an old pressure cooker instruction manual that smugly extols the virtues and ease of cooking dried beans and pulses in the pressure cooker. So simple and quick, everyone would be whipping up batches of beans all the time if only they knew! Right. I followed the instructions to cover them in boiling water and leave to soak for an hour. True, it is quicker than soaking overnight and then using a traditional saucepan and the high temperatures in the pressure cooker kill the toxins found in dried beans. BUT the beans froth up and spurt thick beany liquid all over the hob, in the process clogging up the numerous little valves and rings in the pressure cooker lid and leading to a major cleaning fest later on involving poking toothpicks into said valves and rings to get the gunge out. And yes I did make sure to avoid filling the pressure cooker more than half full as per the instructions. So much for a quick meal. 

With hindsight I should have just boiled the beans for long enough to kill off the toxins (about 5 minutes at full pressure) or better still used a can, but I let them cook the full amount of time (about 15 minutes) . Therefore they were already mushy when they went into the slow cooker with the soya chunks, the quinoa, the sauce mix and the green pepper and onion, as well as a glug of olive oil. I also added a de-seeded chili pepper, but I think it was quite a mild one.

 I added a lot more liquid (I used the stock from the butter beans) than the 50ml recommended on the packet, so that the quinoa would have enough liquid to cook in. I even had to add more of the stock several times through the cooking process as the casserole was starting to stick to the slow cooker.  I cooked it for about 3 and a half hours on high and I added single cream instead of the double cream about 10 minutes before serving the casserole. 

The verdict? It was nice and creamy and the flavour was good, but very mild - I would have liked more of a kick. It was a bit on the mushy side too. I'm not sure whether I would cook quinoa like that again, but I do plan to try the  Slow Cooker Mexican Quinoa from Chelsea's Messy Apron at some point. The soya chunks weren't bad, kind of like soft chicken pieces. We ate it with tortillas, spring onions, guacamole, sour cream and lettuce.

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