Crock-Pot Beef Stew

 

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Now that summer is beginning to wind down I am eagerly looking ahead to the crisp, cool days of fall and I am excited to break out all of my recipes for cozy, warm, comfort food. Stew happens to be one of my favorites and there is nothing like a hot bowl of stew on a cold fall night. I don’t recall where I first came across this recipe as I’ve been making it for over 20 years!…………long before Pinterest, Facebook, and the zillions of internet cooking sites that exist today. It’s super easy to pull together and you can even prep everything the night before and just place the bowl in the Crock-Pot in the morning. Within a few hours your house will smell amazing and you will have a hot meal to put on the table. I like to serve this stew with a nice crusty loaf of bread and a glass of red wine.

There is a lot of leeway with this recipe in terms of what goes into it so don’t be afraid to play around with the ingredients. If you prefer the flavor of an Irish Beef Stew, just substitute the red wine with a good Guinness beer instead. If you want to be “fancy” you can try out different vegetables such as parsnips or daikon in place of the carrots or potatoes. No matter what flavor profile you’re going for you will end up with a delicious, hearty stew. Be sure to taste your stew right before serving and adjust the seasonings as needed. Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 2.5 to 3  lbs stew meat cut into 1″ chunks
  • 1 lb bag of baby carrots
  • 3-4 large potatoes, cubed
  • 2 onions, quartered 
  • 2 garlic gloves, minced
  • 1 envelope Lipton Beefy Onion soup 
  • 3/4 c ketchup 
  • 1 tbs Worcestershire sauce 
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup good red wine (or Guinness
  • 1 tbs parsley
  • Kosher salt and pepper, to taste 

Instructions

Place the meat in the bottom of the Crock-Pot and cover with the vegetables. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and parsley.

Mix the soup packet, ketchup, and Worcestershire sauce with the water and wine until well combined. Pour the liquid over the vegetables and meat. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hrs, or until beef is fork tender.

To thicken the sauce, remove the vegetables and meat with a slotted spoon and increase the Crock-Pot to high. Stir in a slurry of 2 tbs of flour combined with a 1/4 cup of water and cook for 3-5 minutes or until sauce thickens. Alternatively, you can leave everything in the pot and add a few shakes of Wondra thickening flour to the pot towards the end of cooking.

 

“How-To” Baking – Simple Syrup

Simple syrup is just granulated sugar and water that is combined together over heat until the sugar melts and becomes syrupy. It is used to flavor cocktails, lemonade, sorbets, frosting, candies and more. 

To make a simple syrup, combine equal parts granulated sugar and water in a saucepan over low heat. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil and cook for 1 minute without stirring. Let cool and either use immediately or store in a glass jar in the refrigerator. Simple syrup will keep indefinitely. 

Chicken Breasts Pierre

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What’s better than a one pan chicken dish? Ummmm……………….nothing. I love a meal that comes together quickly and easily with minimal mess. This dish fits the bill perfectly and it was also rich and delicious. Even my picky kids ate it so you know it’s good!

I came across this recipe on Facebook however, the original recipe is from the Allrecipes website, you can find it here . I made a few adjustments to this dish which I think resulted in a much better tasting meal. I cut down on the amount of chili powder it called for to only 1 teaspoon. Chili powder can be an overpowering flavor and I think 2 teaspoons would have been entirely too much. I also replaced the 1/2 cup of water with red wine and increased the amount to 3/4 cup. This was the BEST substitution and the red wine really made this dish! I used Bogle Merlot but you can use whatever red wine you like or have on hand.

I served this chicken alongside roasted Yukon Gold potatoes and fresh string beans. To season the string beans I used a little salt and pepper and then tossed them with some of the sauce from the chicken, they were absolutely delicious.

Ingredients

  • 6 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 pinch ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 (14.5 ounce) can stewed tomatoes, with liquid
  • 3/4 red wine
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon mustard powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon celery seed
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/8 teaspoon hot pepper sauce

Instructions

In a shallow dish or bowl, combine flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt and ground black pepper. Coat chicken breasts with flour mixture and set aside.

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Brown chicken on all sides. Remove from skillet, set aside.

In the same skillet, combine the tomatoes, red wine, brown sugar, vinegar and Worcestershire sauce. Season with salt, chili powder, mustard, celery seed, garlic and hot pepper sauce. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and return chicken to skillet. Cover and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, or until chicken is tender, no longer pink and juices run clear. 

**Tip** – If the sauce is too thin after the chicken is done cooking just remove the chicken and set aside, increase the heat to high, and mix in a little Wondra™ powder to thicken it up. If you don’t have Wondra™, combine a 1/4 water and 2 tbs flour and then slowly mix in just enough to thicken the sauce.

 

French Onion Soup Gratinee

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French Onion Soup is one of my favorites and I’ve tried it out at countless restaurants over the years. Some have been delicious, some have been just okay and others have tasted like dish water. But this recipe right here is top-notch! I am heads over heels in love with this version and it’s the only one I make in my kitchen. This soup is rich, beefy, and has such a nice complex flavor. It’s an amazing dish to have on a cold winters night, just add a crusty loaf of bread and a nice glass of wine and you have a perfect evening meal!

When making this dish, make sure you take the time to fully caramelize the onions. It’s the “hardest” step of this soup but it will yield an incredible flavor when it’s finished. Wine is also called for in this recipe, I almost always use Bogle Merlot but by all means, use whatever red wine is your favorite or that you have on hand. Lastly, don’t feel obligated to stick to only mozzarella cheese on top. I am always changing up what cheese I use and sometimes I use a blend. My favorites are Gruyère, Asiago, Parmesan, and of course, mozzarella. You can’t go wrong with any of these!

Ingredients

  • 5 tbs unsalted butter
  • 2 lg red onions, sliced thin
  • 2 lg vidalia onions, sliced thin 
  • 48 oz chicken stock (I prefer the Kitchen Basics brand
  • 14 oz beef broth
  • 3/4 cup good red wine
  • 1 tbs Worcestershire sauce 
  • 2 sprigs fresh parsley 
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme 
  • 1-2 bay leaves 
  • Kosher salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 tbs balsamic vinegar
  • 4 thick slices of rustic, crusty bread
  • 8 slices of Gruyère
  • 8 slices of mozzarella
  • Parmesan, for sprinkling

Instructions

Melt butter in a large pot over medium heat. Stir in salt, pepper, and onions. Cook 35 minutes, stirring frequently, until caramelized and almost syrupy. If the onions start to stick to the pan too much, lower the heat and add a little extra butter.

Add the wine and deglaze the pan. Add in the Worcestershire, chicken stock and beef broth. Bundle the herbs in a tea strainer or cheesecloth and add them to the pot. Bring to a boil and then simmer over medium heat for about 25-30 minutes.

Remove the herb bundle, add the vinegar and adjust seasonings. Cover and keep on low while you prepare the bowls.

Preheat broiler. Place 4 oven safe bowls on a sturdy cookie sheet. Place one slice of bread in each bowl and then ladle in the soup. Top with cheese. Broil until brown and bubbly. Serve hot.

 

 

Fresh Mango Salsa

Mango Salsa

This mango salsa is deliciously light and refreshing and a cinch to make! I used it to top my pulled pork tacos but it’s also great with chips or as a topping for grilled chicken. I found the original recipe on the Cookie and Kate blog site, click here to check it out. I made just a few slight changes to the original recipe to suit my own tastes. I completely took out the cilantro as I do not like the flavor and instead I used a little bit of fresh parsley. Also, instead of using 3 mangoes I used just one but also added in a diced English cucumber for extra crunch. Feel free to follow the original recipe or be as creative as you wish with this salsa. Some other great additions are diced fresh pineapple, diced tomatoes, scallions, fresh corn, or different types of sweet and hot peppers. Play around and find a combination that you love.

Ingredients

  • 1 ripe mango, diced 
  • 1 English cucumber, diced with skin on
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, diced
  • 1/2 – 3/4 cup diced red onion
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley
  • 1 jalapeño, seeded and minced
  • 1 large lime, juiced (about ¼ cup lime juice)
  • Kosher salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions

In a serving bowl, combine the mango, bell pepper, onion, parsley and jalapeño. Drizzle with the juice of one lime and mix well. Season to taste with salt and pepper. For best flavor, let the salsa rest for 10 minutes or longer. Serve cold.

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Easy Beer Bread

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Everyone loves beer bread but few realize just how easy it is to make completely from scratch. There are so many boxed versions available and while they are good nothing beats making something completely homemade. It’s fresher tasting and you know exactly what goes into it. The great thing about beer bread is it takes less than five minutes to pull together and it requires NO rising so within an hour you can have a nice, hot loaf of bread ready to serve.

Beer bread is also very versatile so feel free to use this recipe as a base and then change up the flavor profile. Try making a Cheddar Jalapeno, Cheesy Green Onion, or even a Savory herb bread. Click here for a few other great variations that you can try! I prefer to use red ales for this recipe, in particular I like Killians Irish Red, but you can use any beer that you like. The beer bread will have a stronger or milder beer flavor depending on which brand and type that you choose. Serve this bread alongside chili, stew, or any hearty meat dish. It also makes a great, simple appetizer! Cut the loaf into chunks and serve with an herb or spinach dip.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups flour, sifted
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1 (12 oz) can of beer
  • 1/2 stick (4 tbs) of salted butter, melted

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Lightly grease a 9X5 loaf pan and set aside.

Sift all of the dry ingredients together in a medium bowl. Slowly add the beer and stir until well combined.

Place the dough into the greased pan. Pour the melted butter all over the top. Bake for 50 minutes to an hour or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve warm or at room temperature.

“How-To” Baking – Blind Baking

Blind baking means to partially or completely bake a pie or tart shell/crust before filling it. This technique is particularly useful when making pies that have very juicy fillings like a fruit pie, as they will cause the bottom of the pie to become soggy. Blind baking the crust prevents the crust from absorbing too much liquid. Other pie and tart fillings, such as a custard, require no baking so the crust will need to be fully baked prior to adding any filling.

To blind bake a crust, carefully roll out the pie dough then place it into a pie pan. Once the dough is fitted into the pan lay a sheet of tin foil or parchment paper on top and weigh it down with pie weights, dried beans, or raw rice. Bake according to the recipe instructions. If partially blind baking the crust, remove from the oven when the sides are just set but the crust is still pale. If completely blind baking the crust, remove from the oven when the crust is a deep golden brown. If the filling is not being baked in the crust, cool completely to prevent any sogginess.

Potato, Leek and Bacon Pizza

Potato and Leek Pizza

This is seriously the BEST. PIZZA. EVER. It is SO ridiculously good! The leeks add such a nice, mild onion flavor and the bacon, ricotta, and potatoes taste absolutely amazing together. This is truly one of the most unique and delicious pizzas I’ve ever tried and it was quickly added to my recipe binder. This recipe is another gem from The Pioneer Woman  and you can find the original recipe here .

I made just a few adjustments to the original recipe and it came out great but feel free to leave it as is if you prefer. She calls for using frozen bread dough for the crust however, the first time I made this I found that to be too dense and dry, the texture just wasn’t right for pizza crust. So the next time I made it I used the same dough recipe from my Pizza Margherita and it was SO much better. If you’re pressed for time or don’t feel comfortable making a homemade crust you can easily pick up a ball of pizza dough in your local pizzeria or even the supermarket. Also, I do not like goat cheese so instead I used large dollops of whole milk ricotta all over the pizza and it was excellent, a perfect substitution! Lastly, feel free to use whatever potatoes you have on hand for this. The recipe calls for red potatoes but I used Yukon Gold because they are my favorite and I always have them in the house.

If you have a pizza stone, use it, as it makes for a nicely baked crust, If you do not have one a plain oiled baking sheet will also work fine. When you take the pizza out of the oven, give it a few minutes to rest so that the cheese sets and doesn’t run all over the place when you slice it. Make extra because it’s THAT good. You can thank me later.

Ingredients

  • Extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
  • 6 slices thick-cut bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 3 leeks, rinsed well to remove grit and thinly sliced 
  • 1 ball of pizza dough, homemade or store-bought
  • 2-3 Yukon Gold potatoes, sliced paper thin with a mandoline or sharp knife
  • 1 pound fresh mozzarella, sliced thin 
  • 6-8 ounces whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan
  • Freshly ground black pepper and salt, to taste

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 475ºF. Drizzle a baking sheet with olive oil or heat up a pizza stone in the hot oven.

In a skillet, fry the bacon over medium heat until cooked but not crisp, remove and set aside. Pour off most of the grease but do not clean the skillet. Return the skillet to the stove and turn the heat to medium low. Add the leeks and saute until soft, about 3 minutes.

Roll out the pizza dough and place on the oiled baking sheet or a pizza peel dusted with cornmeal to be transferred to the hot stone. Drizzle the dough with olive oil. Arrange the potatoes in a single layer all over the crust, slightly overlapping the edges. Sprinkle the potatoes lightly with salt, then lay the mozzarella slices in a single layer on top of the potatoes. Arrange the leeks on top of the cheese. Drop large dollops of ricotta all over the pizza then sprinkle the fried bacon pieces over the top. Add the grated Parmesan and freshly ground black pepper.

Transfer the pizza to the hot stone or place the oiled pan in the oven. Bake until the edges of the crust are golden brown and the cheese is melted and bubbly, 11 to 13 minutes. Rest the pizza for 5-10 minutes and then cut into squares and serve immediately.

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Meal Planning Made Easy

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For most, meal planning is the trickiest part of cooking and understandably so. It’s hard to think about what your want for lunch tomorrow let alone for dinner a week from now. Even I have found myself staring into the abyss of my fridge and freezer wondering what I can pull together at the last minute for dinner. But then I discovered meal planning and my life got a whole lot easier real fast! If you take the time to meal plan you eliminate that 5:00 panic where you’re scrambling to find something to get on the table for your family. I love knowing that I have a diner plan every day and more importantly, that I have all of the ingredients that I need on hand as well. Whether you’re a stay-at-home mom like me or a working mama having a meal plan will absolutely make your life so much easier.

It might take a little work to get your meal planning going but once you build up a base of “go-to” recipes it’ll be easy peasy going forward. Go through your cookbooks, Pinterest pins, bookmarked online recipes, and magazine clippings and pull together a handful of recipes that you love or want to try. They can be quick and easy meals or even fancy schmancy dishes, whatever works for you. Next, put those recipes into a simple binder so they are all in one place and easily accessible. Then take a handful of index cards and on the front write down the name of one dish and on the back list the ingredients needed to prepare it. Do this for at least 15-20 recipes in order to get you started. Once you have a nice little handful of cards place them into an index box and now you have a collection of recipes you can access quickly when planning your meals for the week. If you’re feeling ambitious, throw a few index dividers in there too and make sections – chicken/poultry, beef, fish/seafood, pasta, side dishes, quick meals, Crock-Pot, etc.

I like to do my meal planning on the weekend but choose whatever day works best for you. Before I decide what to make for the week I like to look ahead and see what my schedule looks like and I make notations on my menu to indicate if we’ll be eating out on a certain day or if we have activities scheduled where I might need a quick meal on the table or nothing at all for that matter. I just grab a small sheet of paper, label Sunday through Saturday, fill in my meals for the week and then I hang my menu on the inside of my cabinet so I know exactly where to look to see what’s for dinner. My menu usually looks like this:

Menu List

To get your menu planned for the week simply pull a few cards from your recipe box, put the cards in order of when you plan on cooking them and then flip them over to write a quick shopping list based on the ingredients needed for each recipe. A good tip is to base your menu around what ingredients you already have in the house OR plan around what is on sale in the supermarket. Once you have your menu planned out and your shopping list in hand the rest of the week will be smooth sailing. Every week try to add at least one new recipe to your collection in order to build it up so that you have more choices from week to week. Rotate your recipes and menus as often as you like.

A few other great tips for meal planning are:

  • Stretch your ingredients – Try to choose meals where you will need to use the same ingredient more than once in a week, this cuts down on waste and trims your grocery budget too.
  • Incorporate Crock-Pot meals into your menu – They are quick and easy to pull together and when it’s time to eat dinner your meal is hot and ready to go. These types of meals are especially good on days where you’re running around all day, working late, or just pressed for time when it come to dinner prep. Crock-Pots are great for making sauces, stews, soups, roasts, and more!
  • Use up your stash – Check what you have on hand and use what you have before buying more. If you have a lot of chicken in your freezer, make a few chicken meals one week. Heavy on beef? Focus more on beef dishes.
  • Cook once, eat twice! – Try and make a few meals where you’ll have leftovers that can be used to create a whole new dish for another night. For example: A pork shoulder will make a ton of shredded pork, use some for sandwiches one night and use the leftovers on another night for shredded pork tacos.
  • Make big batches of dinner staples – Soups and sauces are great to make in big batches as they freeze well for later use. When you want pasta once night it’ll be as easy as defrosting some homemade sauce and boiling the pasta. For soups, just defrost and heat up. It doesn’t get more simple than that.
  • Designate an all day cooking day – Spend an afternoon prepping meals that you can use throughout the week OR freeze for later use. A vacuum sealer is a great thing to have in your kitchen because it’ll keep your frozen food fresh and freezer burn free. Check out my blog post, Kitchen Must Have – Vacuum Sealer , for more information on vacuum sealers.
  • Theme Nights –  This keeps meal planning fun and allows you to narrow down and focus your cooking. Try things like Meatball Monday, Taco Tuesday, or Breakfast for Dinner Wednesday.
  • Make the first meal of your week the easiest – Everyone is tired on a Monday, you don’t want to be standing in the kitchen stressing over a complicated meal. Make a quick pasta dish or a Crock-Pot meal and keep your Monday a little less hectic.
  • Prep basic ingredients the day you food shop – Portion out meats and prep veggies and fruits so that when you go to cook throughout the week everything will already be chopped, diced, portioned, and ready to go!
  • Keep a well stocked pantry – Having a few staples always on hand makes cooking and baking a breeze. Check out my blog post about Pantry and Fridge Essentials to help you stock your house.
  • Shop the sales – Plan your meals around what is on sale that week to save money. Also, take advantage of great sales to stock up on pantry and fridge staples.
  • Getting dinner on the table isn’t about starting from “zero” every night  – Use any time that you might have throughout the day to get things ready for dinner later. For example – Prep and shape your meatloaf in the morning so at dinner it’s just a matter of putting it in the oven, peel and cut up potatoes in the afternoon and leave them in a pot covered with water so at dinner you just have to turn on the stove.
  • Not every dinner has to be a from scratch meal – Take advantage of shortcuts and store-bought items to help make things easier. There are some really great ready-made foods available that will cut down on your time in the kitchen but still allow you to serve a delicious dinner for your family. Some things to try are frozen veggies and fruits, ready-made pie crust and pizza dough, and pre-cut veggies in the produce section.
  • Get to know your grill……………year round! – A BBQ grill is a great way to cook because it’s quick and there is no cleanup. No pots and pans and no mess in the kitchen. You can make everything from burgers to quick pizzas on your grill and have a hot meal on the table in minutes.
  • Stuck on what to make? – Try out the Allrecipes “Dinner Spinner” app! Just plug in the ingredients that you have on hand, what type of meal you’re looking to make, and how much time you have to cook and it’ll shoot back a few meals ideas for you. It’s a fabulous app to make use of because aside from the Dinner Spinner you can also access hundreds of recipes, tag your favorites, and even create a custom shopping list!

There are so many benefits to thinking about your meals and planning ahead of time and once you get in the habit of meal planning it will be come second nature to you. You’ll have less stress at meal time, you won’t overspend on groceries you might not use, you’ll eat healthier, you’ll reduce food waste, and you will save yourself valuable time in the kitchen. All good things! Once you get the hang of meal planning you can even try to plan other weekly meals such as lunch. If you work, planning out what to bring from home for lunch every day is a great way to eat better and save a ton of money in the process. Use these tips and tricks to help guide your meal planning but feel free to implement a system that works best for you and your family.

“How-To” Cooking – Making a Mirepoix

The French term, mirepoix (pronounced “meer pwah”) is a group of aromatics that are used to season and flavor sauces, stocks, soups, and other foods. Mirepoix is also referred to as the “Holy Trinity” by many chefs around the world and it consists of finely diced carrots, onions, and celery that are sautéed in butter.

Typically the ratio for a mirepoix is 2 parts onion to 1 part celery and 1 part carrot according to weight. (Example: 1 pound of mirepoix would be 8 oz of onion, 4 oz of celery, and 4 oz of carrot) Since a mirepoix does not have to be exact down to the last ounce it can also be measured by volume to make it easier for the home cook. (Example: 2 cups onions, 1 cup celery, 1 cup carrot)

To make a mirepoix, brown the onions and carrots together over medium heat until nice and brown, then add in the celery and cook until soft.