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Stew-tastic

October 1, 2010

It’s been raining here in NY for 48 straight hours now. Not nearly as dramatic as the Rainageddon the weather puppets predicted, but still dark, dank, and damp.

On days like this, there’s nothing like a house full of rich, savory smells and knowing that there’s a crock pot full of stew at the end of the rainbow.

So, without further ado…

Rosemary and Red Wine Beef Stew

2 lbs beef chunks (I used sirloin tips, but regular stew meat would work)
1/2 cup flour, seasoned with s&p
1-2 cups mirepoix (carrots, celery, onions chopped really fine)
3/4 cup good red wine (I used Pinot Noir)
Fresh rosemary stalks, fresh thyme stalks
1/2-1 cup beef stock (it really depends; I’ll explain in the directions)
1 lb fingerling potatoes (baby red or yukon gold would work, too), cut into chunks
3 parsnips, cut into chunks

Directions

  1. Throw the beef in a ziploc with the flour. Shake to coat lightly. Take the beef pieces out and brown in olive oil over high heat. DO NOT THROW OUT THE EXTRA FLOUR!!!
  2. Remove the beef from the skillet (or crock pot, if you’ve got a stovetop safe model) and set aside. Add mirepoix to the pan and saute until onions are translucent.
  3. Add leftover flour and 1/2 cup red wine. Simmer until wine thickens. You can add the beef stock now, if this mixture is very sludgy. Start with 1/2 cup, and take it from there.
  4. Dump the mirepoix/wine mix in the crock, then top with potatoes and parsnips. Lay 3 stalks of fresh rosemary and 2 stalks of thyme on top. Add the beef, then the rest of the wine. You can also add the beef stock (or more beef stock, up to 1 cup) here, if the liquid part of the mix isn’t so liquidy.
  5. Add another 2 stalks of rosemary and 1 of thyme. If you have some demi glace, add 1 tbsp now. S& P this, then put the lid on and cook 5 hours on high or 8-9 on low.
  6. 1 hour before serving, add 1 tbsp worcestershire sauce and 2-3 tbsp balsamic vinegar. Stir the whole thing and let finish cooking.
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The Crock Pot Returns

September 22, 2010

You may have noticed that there’s been a big, empty echo around this place for a while. Yep, I haven’t posted in a dinosaur’s age. Chalk it up to life, liberty, and the pursuit of the outside world. But hey, it’s not like I charge you for these recipes 🙂

But, at long last, the weather is turning cooler (OK, not today; it’s 80°; but I swear it was almost fall-like earlier in the week). And I’ve excavated the crockpot from the depths of my basement. And this is the first dish I made…

Crock Pot Beef Braciole

2 lbs of round steak, pounded thin (or, if you’re as lucky as I am, your market will have the meat prepped and packaged for braciole)

1/4 cup mixed, pitted olives (I used something called “Mediterranean blend”)

2-3 tbsps. capers

2-3 tbsps. white raisins (it’s not weird; it’s a Sicilian thing)

3 tbsps pine nuts (you can toast them, but I was in too big a rush)

1 bunch of flat leaf parsley, stems removed and thrown out

2-3 tbsps. grated cheese (I like Romano)

A stream of olive oil (I’ll explain this later)

1/4 cup, more or less, of Italian seasoned breadcrumbs

1 12-oz. can of diced tomatoes

1 12ish-oz can of tomato paste (I prefer San Marzano paste)

6ish oz. of decent red wine

S&P to taste

Directions

  1. Break out the food processor, and drop the olives, capers, raisins and parsley in it. Whir until this is all chopped up fine.
  2. Add the grated cheese, and with the processor running, start streaming in the olive oil. Stop when you have something resembling a thin pesto.
  3. Scrape the parsley-olive pesto into a bowl and add the breadcrumbs. Add enough to turn the mixture into a thick paste.
  4. Get ready to get messy.
  5. Lay your prepped beef out on a flat work surface covered in wax paper, parchment, or something else that you don’t care about getting gloopy.
  6. Spread a thin (but not cheap) layer of parsley-olive pesto on the beef–you don’t need to go all the way to the ends, but cover most of the surface.
  7. Roll up the beef, jelly roll style, starting from the short end.  Try to keep as much of the pesto in the roll as you can, but don’t despair if a bunch of it oozes out. We’ll use it.
  8. Either tie up the beef rolls to keep them closed, or use toothpicks or wooden skewers to keep them in shape. About 3 pieces of skewer should do it.
  9. Stack the finished beef rolls (I got 4 from close to 2 lbs of braciole) in the crock pot.
  10. Throw any pesto that you didn’t use, or that escaped during the rolling process, into the crock pot, alongside the beef.
  11. Pour the diced tomatoes with all their liquid around the beef. Add the red wine the same way.
  12. Spread the tomato paste over the top of the beef rolls, making sure each roll is covered.
  13. Cook on low for 5 hours. Flip the beef after about 4 hours, so the paste mixes with the rest of the liquid in the pot.
  14. Slice the beef, and keep warm. Taste the sauce and add s&p, if needed. At this point, if the sauce seems thin, leave the lid off the crock pot and let it simmer another 15ish minutes.
  15. Serve the sauce and sliced beef over pasta, smashed potatoes, or rice.

Easy, Cheesy, Chickeny Good

March 23, 2010

I had big plans for dinner last night. Big plans. I started a batch of ratatouille in the crock pot earlier in the day, and it was smelling mmmmm, good. (Let me know if you’re interested, and I’ll post that recipe.) I cut up some fingerling potatoes and onions, tossed them with olive oil, s&p, and threw them in the oven to roast. And then I got everything ready to prep the chicken.

And every smoke detector, carbon monoxide detector, and Bengal cat in the house started screaming. I changed batteries in every one I could reach, and then gave up. They kept screaming, off and on for about an hour. And I prepped the chicken while trying not to lose my mind.  If the quantities are a little off, you’ll understand why.

I was just about to take a baseball bat to each and every detector in the house (the cat ran and hid, or she was next), when Mr. Alfa came home and started yanking the bleating bastards off the ceiling. After about the third one, he found the defective unit (yes, I said unit), and it got quiet.

He deserved a really good dinner for saving my sanity and The Lilikoi. Thank heavens, he got one. The chicken rocked. And it was easy, cheesy, crispy good.

Pesto-Parmesan Crusted Chicken

5 chicken drumsticks (or whatever pieces you want)

3 tbps. pesto sauce (the stuff in the jar will work; or just run a handful of basil leaves and a few glugs of olive oil through the blender to make a paste)

1/3 cup grated parmesan (parmigiano reggiano, pecorino romano, locatelli, or whatever you shake on your pasta, as long as it doesn’t come in a green can)

2/3 cup panko breadcrumbs

Assorted Italian dried herbs of your choice (I used oregano and parsley)

Salt & pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Line a sheet pan with a baking rack (or a cooling rack, or some kind of rack that will let air circulate around the chicken).
  2. Pull the skin off the chicken legs. Or not, if you’re a skin eater. Personally, I’d rather go through the ick of pulling it off than eating it, but you make the call.
  3. Put the pesto in a shallow dish; if it’s really thick, add a glug of olive oil to thin it.
  4. In another dish (or a big ziploc bag), mix the grated parm cheese, the panko, whatever dried herbs you’re using, and the salt & pepper.
  5. Drag the chicken through the pesto (you’re going to need to get physical with it to get the pesto piled on the chicken), then coat the chicken with the dry mix.
  6. Put the breaded chicken on the racks in the sheet pan. Let it rest about 10 minutes, so the coating will stick.
  7. Bake the chicken for 20ish minutes, turn over, then cook for another 20ish minutes. It’ll get brown and crispy.

That’s it. Really. I told you it was easy.

Full of Beery, Stewy Goodness

September 25, 2009

Why is it that whenever anyone talks about a pairing of a food and an alcoholic beverage, they only talk about wine? Sure, once in a great while you get a pairing of a flight of crazyass tropical cocktails with your pseudo Polynesian cuisine (“Suffering Bastard” anyone?). But what about beer? For my money, nothing pairs better with beef, Mexican food, and pizza than a good, cold beer (Heineken and Corona need not apply).

There are certainly enough varieties/flavors/styles/countries of origin to make it possible to find a pairing that creates a whole that’s greater than its parts. It’s the perfect pairing when the food and the beverage taste so perfect together that you can’t imagine having one without the other.

Beyond the eating-drinking pairings, there’s the opportunity to create cooking pairings. And that’s what piques my interest.  I want to find the right pairing of food ingredients and beer, and keep it true to the region. So, if I’m cooking Mexican, use a Mexican beer. Or, in this case, make something inspired by the ingredients and tastes of Ireland–but not with lamb, because I don’t like lamb.

And so, I give you….

Crock Pot Guinness Stout Beef Stew

(Serves 6-8)

2 lbs beef stew meat (chuck is fine), cut into chunks

1/2 cup flour (divided in half)

1 tsp salt

1 tsp fresh ground black pepper

1/4 cup olive oil (divided in half)

1 lg. yellow onion, rough chopped

1 bottle Guinness Stout

1.5 cups beef stock (broth works too)

2 tbsps Demi-glace Gold (optional)

2 bay leaves (fresh or dried)

1 tsp dried thyme (or 2 sprigs fresh)

1 tbsp worcesterhire sauce

2 tbsp semi-sweet chocolate chips (don’t ewww at me)

1.5 lbs boiling potatoes , cut into chunks (red, white, Yukon Gold, fingerling…I used whatever I found in the bin)

3 small turnips, peeled and cubed

1/2 small sack baby carrots, left whole

Chopped fresh parsley (optional)

Directions

  1. Mix 1/4 cup of the flour with the salt & pepper in a big Ziploc bag. Add the beef chunks and shake to coat evenly.
  2. Heat 1/2 the olive oil in a large skillet over high heat. If you have the fancy kind of crock pot that can go on the stove, use that.
  3. When the oil is shimmering, drop the heat to medium and add the beef chunks. Work in batches, with the beef in a single, uncrowded layer. You want it to brown evenly (about 1 minute per side), not steam. Remove the meat as it browns and set aside.
  4. When all the beef is browned, add the rest of the oil and the flour to the skillet. Stir to combine, and cook for a couple of minutes to get rid of the raw flour flavor. Now, add 1/2 the Guinness, and stir to pull up any delicious stuck brown bits. You’re going to wind up with a caramel colored sludge. This is a good thing — it’s your roux.
  5. Add all the veggies to the crock pot. Add the roux you made in step 4, and stir to coat the veggies thoroughly.
  6. Throw the browned meat on top of the veggies. Do not stir.
  7. Add the rest of the Guinness, the beef stock, the demi-glace (if you’re using it), the herbs, worcestershire, and the chocolate chips. Yes, you really do need the chocolate–you won’t taste them; they just balance out the bitterness of the Guinness.
  8. Slap the lid on this thing, and cook all day on low (8-10 hours would be fine) or 4-5 hours on high.
  9. If your sauce isn’t thick enough (mine was almost too thick), leave the lid off the last 20ish minutes.
  10. Serve topped with the parsley, with some kind of good bread for mopping up the gravy.

Notes

I hate pre-browning meat for crock pot recipes, but you really do need to do it for this one, or you’ll have a thin, runny stew. You can brown the beef and make the roux ahead of time, and hold in the fridge over night.  See? Not so bad.

Your stew will be fine without the demi-glace. I use it in most stews and soups to really boost the beefy-ness. But, if you’ve never used it, you won’t miss it.

Secret Ingredient: Molasses

September 1, 2009

I have a confession to make….I sometimes get bored with food. Cooking it. Eating it. Thinking about it.

Sometimes I’m able to get out of my food rut by going out to a new restaurant and eating something new and different. A truly transcendent meal will snap me right out of a food funk. But meals like that are hard to come by. It seems that a whole lot of chefs put more creativity in the menu descriptions of their dishes than they do in actually cooking them.

So, more frequently, I’m forced to break the funk by challenging myself to try a new ingredient or a new way of using a familiar ingredient. This time, molasses won out. I’d always been a little leery of  molasses–it’s so thick and black and sticky. What the heck do you do with it?  Turns out, you use it to make some pretty kickass “baked” beans. I put the word “baked” in quotes because these beans don’t ever see the inside of an oven. They’re simmered in the crock pot all day, and if the smell doesn’t make you start drooling, your sniffer must be broken.

A couple of notes on this recipe: First, you’re not getting a picture. The camera battery was dead and these beans just aren’t that photogenic. They’re baked beans, not a supermodel. Second, don’t add salt. The smoked turkey legs tend to be salty enough to compensate for all the sweetnesss in the dish. Third, this makes a TON of food. We ate it the first night as a main course, grabbing up most of the turkey, with a salad and some corn bread on the side. We got about 3 more nights of side dishes out of this batch. Your mileage may vary.

Sweet and Smoky Crock Pot Baked Beans

1 package dry navy beans

2 onions, chopped

1/4 cup brown sugar (doesn’t matter what kind)

1/4 cup molasses

6 whole allspice berries (or about 2 tsp ground allspice)

5 whole cloves

2 fresh bay leaves (dry would work, if you must)

2 tsp worcestershire sauce

1 tsp dry mustard powder

Black pepper, to taste

1/4 cup good bourbon (optional)

2 smoked turkey legs

Directions

  1. Rinse and pick over the beans to remove anything obviously not a bean or that’s not a bean you really want to eat.  Dump into a big pot and cover with water. Soak overnight.
  2. First thing in the morning, drain the soaked beans. Cover with water again, and boil for about 10 minutes. Skim the nasty stuff that rises to the top. Drain the beans at the end of the 10ish minutes.
  3. Add the onion to the crock pot, then pour the beans over that.
  4. Dissolve the molasses in about 1 cup of hot tap water. Add this to the crock pot.
  5. Now add everything else–the brown sugar, the spices, the worcestershire, dry mustard, and the black pepper.
  6. Add enough hot water to just cover the beans. Now drop in the smoked turkey legs.
  7. Cook on low about 10 hours, or on high for about 6 hours.
  8. When the beans are soft, remove the whole spices (if you can find them), and the turkey legs. Shred the turkey meat (it’ll take just your fingers) and add that back into the pot.
  9. Try not to eat so much you make yourself sick.

When Elsie Met Porky

August 20, 2009
 


Maple-bacon ice cream

Originally uploaded by alfagee

I’ve always had a thing for flavor combos: Hot-sweet; sweet-sour; salty-sweet. I knew I wasn’t alone in this fixation when I saw a piece on Voodoo Donuts on some foodie show or other.

Voodoo Donuts has maple-bacon donuts, among other deep-fried treasures. And I wanted them. Now, Mr. Alfa and I have driven to Philly just for a cheesesteak, but a cross-country trip just for a donut is a bit out of the question.

So, I had to come up with my own take on fatty, sweet, salty goodness. I introduced the pig to the cow, and the angels sang.

(And I submitted it to the BSI: Bacon challenge. Let’s see how it plays.)

Maple-Bacon Ice Cream

3/4 cup dark, real maple syrup (not some corn syrup dyed brown)

2 cups heavy cream

2 cups half-and-half (don’t even think about using that fat free crap)

6 large egg yolks

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 tbsp. cornstarch

1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Pinch of salt

6 slices center cut bacon, cooked and pulverized in a food processor

Directions

  1. In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, bring the cream to a simmer.
  2. In a bowl, whisk together the maple syrup, cornstarch, egg yolks, sugar, and salt.
  3. Pour about one-third of the hot cream into the egg yolk mixture, whisking constantly. Then stir the egg yolk mixture into the remaining cream in the saucepan. Stir to blend well.
  4. Lower the heat to medium-low, and simmer stirring constantly, until the mixture is hot and slightly thickened. DO NOT BOIL–or I will slap the whisk right out of your hand!!!!!
  5. Pour this through a fine mesh strainer (trust me, you don’t want to skip this step) into a clean bowl.
  6. Stir in the milk and vanilla extract.  Cover the bowl and pop this into the fridge to chill completely
  7. Freeze in whatever ice cream maker you have, following the directions that came with the machine. I’m not a mind reader. I can’t tell you how to turn it into ice cream.
  8. Add the pulverized bacon when your ice cream maker directions tell you to. With my machine, you add the bacon about 10 minutes before the ice cream is fully churned.
  9. Think of me when you eat this little bowl of salty sweet deliciousness.

Caribbean Crocking and A Special Offer

August 12, 2009


Caribbean Chicken Curry

Originally uploaded by alfagee

A long, long time ago, on a sailing trip with a company that no longer exists, I found myself: ravenous, doped up on codeine, on the island of Tortola, and dining among chickens. There’s something very surreal about eating curry chicken while chickens peck at your toes. Thus began my love of Caribbean-style curries and my mistrust of living chickens.

Caribbean curries are similar to traditional Indian curries, but different. They tend to be a little brighter in flavor, use spices native to the islands, and are brothy, rather than thick and creamy. You can make them using standard Madras curry powder, but the flavor won’t be quite the same. So, I make my own Caribbean Curry Powder, based on a recipe told to me by the cook on that long-gone sailboat and my own experimentation. It’s not difficult, but it requires 10 different spices, time, and patience. Which brings me to the VERY SPECIAL OFFER….

The first 5 people who donate $10 to my team for Komen Austin using this link will receive enough of my special Caribbean Curry Powder to make this dish twice. Donate $20, and I’ll give you the recipe for the spice blend, too. Just donate and then post a comment here to let me know, and I’ll get you your blend.

If you’re too late to get my special blend, you can still make this dish. It’ll work out OK with Madras curry powder. It won’t taste the same, but since you’ve never tasted it, you won’t notice the difference.

Caribbean Chicken Curry in De Crock Pot, Mon

2 lbs boneless chicken (breasts, thighs, a mix…), cut into 2-in. pieces

2 lbs baby red potatoes, cut into 2-in. pieces

3 lg. yellow onions, quartered and cut into 2-in. pieces

3 red bell peppers, cut into…yep, 2-in. pieces

4 tbsp. Caribbean Curry Powder (or the curry powder of your choice)

2 whole cinnamon sticks

2 bay leaves (fresh, preferably)

2 tbsp grated fresh ginger

1 tbsp minced garlic

3 cups chicken broth

Salt & pepper, to taste

4 tbsp rum (I prefer the dark, Cruzan rum) mixed with 2 tbsp corn starch

Directions

  1. Toss the chicken with half the curry powder.
  2. Layer the potatoes, onions, peppers, then chicken in the crock pot.
  3. Tuck in the cinnamon sticks and the bay leaves. Sprinkle the ginger and garlic over everything.
  4. Pour the chicken broth in over the whole mess. Sprinkle in the other half of the curry powder.
  5. Close the crock, and cook on high 4-5 hours.  Go fix yourself a banana daiquiri, and put on some steel drum music.
  6. About 30 minutes before it’s done, add in the rum-cornstarch slurry. Cover and drink some more

Notes: This isn’t going to be thick. It’s meant to be a really brothy kind of curry. In the Caribbean, they’ll serve it over rice and peas (yay, more starch), or in a bread wrapper called roti. I like it with some Naan for dipping.

Also, the picture shows the curry topped with banana relish. Just don’t. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but it was just weird.