slow cooker beef stew

It’s that time again.  Time to bust my slow cooker out of the high-up shelf where I put things I don’t use super often.  (I should use it more often though as it’s a great way to cook in the summer without heating up your kitchen the way turning your oven tends to do.)  This time I decided to make one of my all-time favorite fall comfort foods: beef stew.

My grandma used to make a really good beef stew when I was growing up and this recipe reminded me a lot of hers.  I’m pretty sure my grandma didn’t drop a garlic/ginger skewer into her stew, but it really did add nice flavor to it, so much so that I am thinking I might start dropping garlic/ginger skewers into all soups and stews going forward!

As with many slow cooker recipes the most time-consuming part is chopping up vegetables and meat but the beauty here is that if you use baby carrots and pearl onions there isn’t a whole lot left for you to chop up.  Genius!  I froze a couple of single-serve containers full of the stew so that I can heat up comfort-in-food-form deeper into fall/winter when I don’t feel like cooking.  I’m a big fan of freezing in single servings as evidenced by my very full freezer… gotta get myself a larger freezer one of these days…

Baby Vegetable Beef Stew (from Slow Cooker magazine)

  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 piece fresh ginger (about 1 inch)
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 ½ lb lean boneless beef stew meat or chuck, cut into 1” chunks and patted dry
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 package (1 lb) frozen whole pearl onions, thawed
  • 1 bag (1 lb) baby carrots
  • 1 ¾ cups low-sodium beef broth
  • ¾ cup dry red wine
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 8 oz white or cremini mushrooms, chopped

Coat 4-quart or larger slow cooker with cooking spray.  Place garlic and ginger on skewer or wooden pick.  Set aside.

Combine flour, salt, paprika, and pepper in large ziplock bag.  Shake well.  Toss half of the beef gently in bag to coat.  Remove meat, shaking off excess, and then repeat with remaining beef.

Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat.  Brown beef on all sides, 5 to 7 minutes.  Transfer to cooker and top with onions and carrots.  Mix broth, wine, and tomato paste in bowl and pour into cooker.  Drop in bay leaf and ginger-garlic skewer.

Cover.  Cook on low 4 to 6 hours.  Add mushrooms and cook 1 to 2 more hours, or until meat is tender.  Discard skewer and bay leaf before serving.

early spring pizza

Even though we’ve had some unseasonably warm temps over the past month, last Saturday marked the true beginning of spring for me: it was the first outdoor farmer’s market of the year in Madison.  The farmer’s market is my favorite thing about Madison and while it still takes place during the colder months it is moved indoors and is smaller and just not the same experience.  So you can imagine my excitement at this rite of yearly passage.

I foolishly decided to sleep in on Saturday and did not get to the market until peak time and then had to deal with the crowds.  I had to suppress my New York instincts when people would abruptly stop in front of me to admire some produce while I was trying my best to manuever around the square and get what I needed before the time on my parking meter ran out.  However, I managed to not yell at any of the sweet old ladies or adorable young families leisurely enjoying their day before me.  (But they really shouldn’t lollygag so much.  I’m just saying.)

There wasn’t a ton of variety at the market yet but I did manage to pick up some of early spring’s finest: ramps, green garlic, and rhubarb (more on that later in the week).  I have never worked with ramps or green garlic before but upon returning home with my bit of nature’s finery I promptly did some Googling and found a recipe for spring pizzas that involved ramps.  The green garlic part was inspired by a pizza I had eaten the previous weekend at a great local bakery/pizza place.  Done and done.

I added some soppressatta because I like cured meat and think it should be a part of most pizzas.  I just do.  But you could certainly make your version sans meat if you like and that is in fact how the original recipe had it.

The base for this pizza is ricotta mixed with a bit of lemon peel.  Super simple.  Separately you sautee the ramps and green garlic with olive oil and a bit of salt and then layer that over the ricotta mixture.  Then add the meat if you like and finish baking.  Once out of the oven add some fresh basil and parmesan and a drizzle of olive oil and there you have it.  Spring in pizza form.

(Side note: I should have photographed the cooked pizza before cutting into it.  It was not so pretty once a pizza cutter dug in and severed the basil leaves into smithereens so thus, no after picture.  My apologies.  This is real life though and sometimes these things happen.)

Pizza with Ricotta, Ramps, Green Garlic, and Soppressatta (adapted from Spring Pizzas recipe by Alex Guarnaschelli found at www.foodnetwork.com)

  • 1 pound pizza dough (I used the whole wheat pre-made dough at Trader Joe’s, good stuff)
  • All-purpose flour, for dusting
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing and drizzling
  • 6 ounces ramps, trimmed
  • 2 tablespoons chopped green garlic
  • Kosher salt
  • 10 slices soppressata or other cured meat, if desired
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • Coarse sea salt
  • Coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
  • Grated parmesan cheese, for topping

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. Brush a baking sheet or pizza stone with olive oil. Stretch the dough into 12-inch round and place on the baking sheet or pizza stone and bake until golden, about 12 minutes.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Toss the ramps and green garlic with 1 tablespoon olive oil and season with kosher salt. Saute until ramps are just wilted, about 1 minute. Transfer to a cutting board and cut into pieces.

Mix the ricotta, lemon zest, the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and some sea salt and pepper in a bowl. Brush the crusts with olive oil (this will protect them from getting soggy), then spread with the ricotta mixture and season with sea salt. Top with the ramps, green garlic, and soppressata. Return to the oven until warmed through, about 2 minutes.

Top the pizzas with basil, parmesan and a drizzle of olive oil.

brussels sprouts and bacon, oh my

It’s no secret that I love Brussels sprouts.  So last weekend when I found a new recipe for them in the March issue of Bon Apetit and said recipe involved bacon?  Well, it was a no-brainer what I’d be fixing that evening.

In addition to loving this particular vegetable I am also a huge fan of one-pot cooking.  The components for this dish are all done in the same skillet so there is less clean-up afterwards.  Awesomeness.

The pungency of the Brussels sprouts mixed with the saltiness of the bacon, the sweetness of the raisins and shallots, and the kick of apple cider vinegar at the end results in a beautiful marriage.  It was the perfect accompaniment to the parsnips and meatloaf for last Sunday’s meal.  I hope that you will enjoy them too!

Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Raisins (from March 2012 issue of Bon Appetit)

  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 2 thick slices bacon
  • 4 cups Brussels sprouts (about 1 lb), trimmed, halved
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup golden raisins
  • 1 medium shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup low-salt chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

Heat oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat.  Add bacon and cook, turning occasionally, until crisp, about 5 minutes.  Using tongs, transfer bacon to paper towels to drain.  Let cool.  Coarsely crumble.

While bacon cools, add Brussels sprouts to drippings in skillet; season with salt and pepper.  Cook, stirring often, until well browned in spots and beginning to soften, 5-7 minutes.  Reduce heat to low and add raisins, shallot, and butter; cook, stirring often, until shallot is soft, about 3 minutes.  Add broth to skillet; increase heat and bring to a boil, scraping up browned bits from bottom of pan.  Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until broth has evaporated, 1-2 minutes.  Stir in vinegar and crumbled bacon.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

not your mom’s meatloaf

Last night I was not feeling super motivated to cook supper.  (PS- it’s only called supper on Sundays.  The rest of the week it’s just referred to as dinner.)  I wound up leafing through the most recent issue of Bon Appetit looking for some inspiration and found recipes for parsnip and Brussels sprouts side dishes and since I happened to have both on hand (and also love both) the meal was starting to take shape.  (Check back later in the week for the side dishes.)  But what to do for a main course?

A few weeks ago when I was home my dad sent me back with a cooler full of beef from his farm.  Grass-fed goodness right there in my freezer.  I’m not even a big meat-eater but this is definitely the way forward if you’re going to partake.

I started researching meatloaf recipes because that is always a great way to stretch out a small amount of meat into a proper dish.  Problem is now that I am off the wheat I was having a hard time finding a recipe that didn’t involve breadcrumbs and then I found not one but two recipes where oatmeal was substituted for breadcrumbs.  Eureka!  Better yet the recipe I landed on had lots going on in it including prunes and bacon.  Sold!

This loaf is moist and a little salty with a touch of sweet and I dare say it’s the best meatloaf I’ve ever had in my life and my dining companion (who doesn’t hand out compliments freely) agreed completely.  The perfect main dish for a Sunday supper.

Meatloaf (adapted loosely from Gourmet magazine recipe from 2008 found at www.epicurious.com)

  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • ½ cup whole milk
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 medium celery rib, finely chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
  • ¼ pound bacon (about 4 slices), chopped
  • ½ cup pitted prunes, chopped
  • 1 ½ pounds ground beef chuck
  • ½ pound ground pork (not lean)
  • 2 large eggs

Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle.

Soak oats in milk in a large bowl.

Meanwhile, cook onion, garlic, celery, and carrot in butter in a large heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes. Cover skillet and reduce heat to low, then cook until carrot is tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in Worcestershire sauce, vinegar, allspice, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper. Add to oat mixture.

Finely chop bacon and prunes in a food processor, then add to onion mixture along with beef, pork, and eggs and mix together with your hands.

Pack mixture into a 9- by 5-inch oval loaf in a 13- by 9-inch shallow baking dish or pan.

Bake until an instant-read thermometer inserted into center of meatloaf registers 155°F, 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Cooks’ note:
Cooked meatloaf keeps, chilled, 3 days.

recipe exchange: dijon pork loin

The recipe I am sharing with you tonight is one of the simplest you’ll ever make.  It only involves five ingredients.  That’s it, just five.  Pork tenderloin.  Dijon mustard.  Herbs de Provence.  Salt.  Freshly ground black pepper.

This is the meat you make when you are planning more complicated or time-consuming side dishes.  The only steps are 1) combine the herbs and salt and pepper, 2) brush the tenderloin with Dijon mustard, 3) roll the brushed tenderloin in the herb/salt/pepper mixture, and 4) place in 400 degree oven for approximately 30 to 40 minutes or until meat thermometer placed in thickest part of tenderloin reads 160 degrees.

Have many of you received numerous emails asking you to be part of a recipe exchange like I have?  The one that says the best recipes are the ones you know by heart?  Well this is the recipe I know by heart.  And sorry for not responding to those emails… I got like a thousand!  I’ll just email everyone a link to this post instead.

You will surely impress your dining guests with this dish, I guarantee it.  The pork is flavorful and moist and really what more can you ask of meat?  (Note to my non-meat-eating readers: I will balance this out with a vegetarian recipe in the near future.  Another note to my non-meat-eating readers: if you ever decide to take up meat again I highly recommend starting with pork.  Bacon, in particular.)

Above, Dijon Pork Loin served with DuMac and Cheese.

Dijon Pork Loin

  • 1 lb pork tenderloin
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 3 tablespoons herbs de Provence
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Brush pork with mustard.  Combine seasonings in separate bowl and then rub into pork until entire tenderloin is covered with herb mixture.  Place in roasting pan on rack.  Roast until meat thermometer reads 160 degrees (approximately 30 to 40 minutes).  Remove from oven and let rest for five minutes before serving.

sunday night curry

I like to cook a proper meal on Sundays.  It’s the one day a week I’m not running around like a crazy person trying to get things done so I take advantage by preparing a full-on feast.

My favorite kind of feast is one that involves just one pot.  You can do a lot in one pot.  A roast with veggies, a soup or stew, or in this case a curry.

I’ve made Indian and Thai curries in the past so when I found a recipe for a South African curry I was intrigued.

The recipe called for a combination of foods I had never seen before: green peppers and… dried apricots.  I was totally skeptical but it worked.  And the two colors looked nice together on my cutting board.  Bonus.

The prep time for this dish takes about a half hour and then you just let it stew for an hour and change and it’s good to go.  Serve it over rice, noodles, or mashed potatoes and enjoy.  And enjoy having fewer dishes to clean afterward!

Cape Malay Curry (from Cooking Light magazine)

  • 1 ½ teaspoons ground turmeric
  • 1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 ½ teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1 ½ teaspoons chili powder
  • ¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons canola oil
  • 2 cups chopped onion
  • 1 ½ tablespoons minced peeled fresh ginger
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 pound beef stew meat, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 cup less-sodium beef broth
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup chopped green bell pepper (about 1 medium)
  • 1/3 cup chopped dried apricots
  • 1/3 cup apricot spread
  • 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
  • ¼ cup low-fat buttermilk

Combine turmeric, cumin, coriander, chili powder, cinnamon, and salt in a small bowl, stirring well.

Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add spice mixture; cook 15 seconds, stirring constantly. Add onion; sauté 2 minutes. Add ginger, bay leaves, and garlic; sauté 15 seconds. Add beef; sauté 3 minutes. Add broth and next 5 ingredients (through vinegar); bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 1 1/2 hours. Uncover; discard bay leaves. Simmer 30 minutes or until beef is very tender. Remove from heat; stir in buttermilk.

Serve over rice, mashed potatoes, or egg noodles.

frozen meals vs. good old home-cooking

Tonight I ate a frozen burrito for dinner.  It’s true.  The fact of the matter is that during the week I eat like a total bachelor most nights, heating up something from my freezer or piecing together a meal out of whatever I can scrape together from the fridge and pantry which usually means hard-boiled eggs on toast or crackers and smoked salmon spread.  Lately I’ve been juicing a lot of produce up and calling that dinner, but tonight I had no fresh fruit or juice-worthy vegetables (the thought of juiced Brussels sprouts is just not even remotely appetizing…) so that is where the frozen burrito came in.  At least it was of the spinach and tofu variety so I managed to get vegetables into my day somehow.

On the weekends, however, I eat like a queen.  (Most of the time.)  A few weeks ago I made a lovely pot roast with potatoes, carrots and onions.  The rub for the roast consisted of cumin, coriander, ginger, fresh black pepper, salt and a hint of cayenne.  That paired with thinly sliced garlic inserted into the roast made for a mighty tasty hunk of meat.  And you gotta love the way the meat flavors the vegetables when you cook them all together in one big pan…

The memory of it almost makes up for tonight’s microwaved meal… almost.

Roast Beef with Root Vegetables (from “Bon Appetit: Keep it Simple, Easy Techniques for Great Home Cooking”)

  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • ½ teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  • ¾ salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 ½ pounds russet potatoes, peeled, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 8 medium carrots, peeled, cut diagonally into 2-inch lengths
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1  3- to 3 ¼-pound beef eye of round roast
  • 1 garlic clove, thinly sliced

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Place first 3 ingredients in heavy small plastic bag.  Using meat mallet or rolling pin, crush spices.  Transfer crushed spices to small bowl; mix in salt, ginger and cayenne.

Toss potatoes, carrots and 3 tablespoons olive oil in large bowl.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Arrange vegetables in single layer in large roasting pan.  Roast about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, using tip of knife, make several slits in roast; insert garlic slices into slits.  Brush roast with remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil.  Rub spice mixture over roast.

Push vegetables sides of pan, leaving space in center.  Place roast in center of pan.  Cook until meat thermometer inserted into
center of roast registers 125 degrees for medium-rare, about 1 hour.  Transfer roast to platter.  Foil to keep warm.  Increase oven temperature to 450 degrees.  Spread vegetables in pan; continue roasting until vegetables are tender and brown, about 10 minutes.

Surround roast with vegetables.  Cut roast into thin slices and serve.