With the holidays approaching, Husband and I decided that it would be fun to get out of town for a week; try and relax a little during this busy season. We hooked up our travel trailer and headed for Abilene State Park, 225 miles to our north.
We have a very well equipped kitchen on our trailer, but when we go camping I like to take some prepared foods so that meal time is quicker and easier. What better than a refrigerator stocked with precooked beans and grains?
We were heading out on Sunday and planned to be away until Friday. In preparation I made a pot of Six Bean soup, a pot of wheat berries and a pot of steel cut oats to take with.
I keep a pint-size Mason jar in my pantry and whenever I open a new bag of beans I put about a quarter cup of the beans in my jar. After a few weeks, I have a jar of multi-bean soup. I always put a quarter cup of pearled barley in my jar as well. The barley provides a nice thickener so that the soup is really soupy. You have probably seen bags of multi-bean soup at the store, and they are generally pretty pricey. This is my cheap version. And it is every bit as good.
My Bean Soup in a Jar
You can season the bean soup any way you like. I used a bay leaf, garlic and smoky paprika.
I had never cooked wheat berries before. I had a package of Earthly Choice Wheat Berries. I followed the package directions which called for one cup of wheat berries and two and a half cups of water. The package suggested that it is good to use a rice cooker. So I tried that. It was a little messy, but otherwise worked fine. The wheat berry grains were separate, surprisingly large and surprisingly chewy.
Last but not least, I made a pot of steel cut oats using the Bob’s Red Mill brand. I prepared the oatmeal following Martha Stewart’s overnight recipe but this time I didn’t wait overnight. I brought the oats and water to a boil, let it sit for a couple of hours and then completed the cooking process. That worked fine. I should mention that you may want to thin out the oatmeal when you are ready to eat it, depending on the consistency that you like. You can thin the oatmeal with water, milk or milk substitutes (such as almond milk).
Wheat Berries and Oatmeal, ready to go
With a well stocked bean and grain refrigerator, we headed for points north.
Let me tell you a little bit about Abilene State Park. It is a beautiful place. It boasts a gorgeous swimming pool that was built by the CCC after the Great Depression. The park has huge, beautiful trees. And this is the really neat thing… they have yurts. You can rent a yurt. Each yurt had a tag on it that said “Colorado Yurt Company“. Check out their website. You are going to want a yurt!
Yurts at Abilene State Park
Here’s the catch. It was cold. It was really cold. We had checked the weather before we went, but it was colder than that. And it snowed. And there was a bitter wind. And the sun would not shine.
Camping Trip with Snow
We were warm and comfortable inside our trailer, but it was not so nice to go outside. And Beloved Family Dog frequently demands a trip outside!
Beloved Family Dog - back at home and warm
Boy was I glad I had a pot of bean soup on hand. So here is how the week went down:
Day One – Bean Soup. Husband loves bean soup. He loves to have bean soup with a couple of grilled sausages, some good bread and a salad. This is one of his favorite meals. Tucked into our little trailer, had a delicious hearty meal with all the things husband enjoys. The bean soup reappeared the following day for lunch, and the we were out of beans!
Bean Soup on a cold day!
Day Two – Oatmeal for breakfast, Wheat Berry Pilaf (and leftover bean soup) for lunch. Heated up some oatmeal for breakfast. Topped it with bananas and pecans.
Hot Oatmeal for breakfast
For lunch, using the precooked wheat berries, I made a quick pilaf. I roasted some broccoli and cauliflower in my tiny little trailer oven. I heated the wheat berries in the microwave. Tossed together wheat berries, broccoli, cauliflower, sun-dried tomatoes, olive oil and a big squeeze of lemon.
Wheat Berry Pilaf
Day Three – Oatmeal for breakfast, Wheat Berry Casserole for dinner. Shortly after the oatmeal breakfast, Husband and I decided to throw in the towel. It was just too cold! We packed up our stuff and headed home. It was 24 degrees outside, the wind howled, the Sun refused to show his face. But don’t despair, we can still eat those beans and grains at home.
Husband's Artsy Photo of Snow on Cactus
By the time we got home, unpacked and warmed up, we were ready for some comfort food. I did a quick recipe search and came up with an idea for a sort of baked wheat berry casserole. I wanted something cheesy, fluffy, hot, comforting. That’s not exactly how things turned out. I rarely bake things so this is not my expertise. You will do better! I mixed together 4 eggs, a cup of wheat berries, a ton of cheese, some cooked spinach and sauteed mushrooms. I baked that for 20 minutes or so. Then topped it with cheesy breadcrumbs. It tasted good but it was just too dense. Husband thought that the wheat berries, with their chewiness, were overpowering. It was OK, but I am sure it could be much better in the hands of someone more qualified!
Wheat Berry Casserole - not as fluffy as we would have liked!
Day Four – Oatmeal and Wheatberry Breakfast; Butter Beans for Dinner. I was trying to incorporate those wheat berries into my meals. Breakfast seemed like a good place to do just that. I mixed half oatmeal and half wheat berries. I heated that up. Stirred in a bit of Almond Milk. Topped it with banana and some agave syrup. Good. Nice chewy texture.
Half Oatmeal, Half Wheat Berries
We had been out of bean soup for a while, so I cooked a pot of butter beans (a.k.a. Lima Beans!). When the beans were almost tender, I added chopped carrots, celery and minced garlic and cooked until beans and vegetables were soft. On a cold night, nothing is better than butter beans!
Butter Beans - delicious!
Day Five – Butter Bean Soup. This is one of my favorite things in the world. I love butter bean soup. I used all of the remaining beans and their broth. To that I added more carrots, celery and garlic. Also added about a cup of canned, crushed tomatoes, chopped green cabbage, a healthy splash of red wine. I cooked that in my slow cooker for 4 or 5 hours. At the very end I added the remaining wheat berries. The wheat berries were a great chewy addition. Unlike pasta…wheat berries don’t get mushy!
Butter Bean and Wheat Berry Soup
The Recap – Let me start by saying that wheat berries are perhaps one of the more challenging grains. They are big and chewy. Their flavor is pleasant but distinct and nutty. Husband gave up on the wheat berries pretty quickly. He would have preferred rice! I think that until you develop a taste for wheat berries, it might be best to use them as additions to other things, like soups or casseroles.
The bean soup is always a hit at my house. We ate that up in the first two days. Meat eaters would probabaly enjoy this soup with meat cooked in it, bacon, ham bone or sausage. Bean soup is very hearty and warming. It was perfect for our first real cold snap.
I did make a second pot beans…the butter beans. The cold weather really made that seem appealing. And I did enjoy that oatmeal on the cold mornings. Don’t feel that you have to limit yourself to one pot of beans or grains each week!