Thursday, February 26, 2015

Beef and Pasta Soup

It's the final night of our Trifecta* and I'm looking forward to another winning ticket. Nothing beats soup on a cold, wintry night and we've been having plenty of those lately.

*this recipe uses leftover Merlot Pot Roast (recipe here)

Yield:  about 8 cups

1 cup chopped onion
1 tbs canola oil
1 cup chopped carrots
1 (8 oz) package sliced mushrooms
2 cups chopped Merlot pot roast
1 cup vegetable mixture from Merlot pot roast sauce
1/2 cup uncooked acini di pepe (or other small pasta)
32 oz beef broth (this is what the recipe called for; I used strained leftover gravy from night 1 and enough beef broth to make the 32 oz and I highly recommend this as the flavor is so much better)

Saute onion in hot oil in a Dutch oven over medium high heat  (about 5 minutes). Add carrots and mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, 8 - 10 minutes longer, until mushrooms are tender.
Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, and simmer, stirring occasionally, 5-6 minutes or until acini di pepi is al dente and soup is thoroughly heated.

Served with a homemade seasoned croutons.
I loved the pot roast. I loved the shepherd's pie pot pies. BUT, this soup got first place in my book. It was so rich and flavorful because I strained the leftover gravy and used that with beef broth to equal 32 ounces instead of just using beef broth. It had fresh vegetables as well as vegetables that had cooked along with the roast. It had pasta and that wonderful shredded beef. It reminded me of that elusive beef soup my mom used to make and which I've tried many times to replicate. I do think she may have used boneless chuck. I will make all 3 of these dishes again, but this soup will always be the clear winner.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Shepherd's Pot Roast Pies

It's Night 2 of our Trifecta*, time to turn that delectable pot roast into an entirely new meal. This meal will take less than 20 minutes to get into the oven. I added some sauce to the original recipe, though you can omit it or serve some sauce on the side.

*this recipe uses leftover Merlot pot roast (recipe here)

Serves 6 (bake both and freeze one for another night)

1 (14.1 oz) package refrigerated piecrusts
2 cups prepared mashed potatoes (you can make your own or buy them already made)
2 cups chopped Merlot pot roast
1/2 cup cooked carrots (I saved some of my glazed carrots from the night before)
1 cup frozen baby peas, thawed
1/2 - 3/4 cup sauce from the Merlot pot roast
1 large egg

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Unroll the first piecrust onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Spread 1 cup potatoes over half the crust, leaving a one inch border all around.

Toss together the pot roast, carrots, peas, and sauce. Spoon half the mixture over the potatoes.

Whisk together the egg and 1 tsp water and brush a small amount of the egg mixture around the edge of the piecrust. Fold dough over filling, pressing and folding edges to seal.

Repeat with remaining crust and mixture.

Brush tops of pies with remaining egg mixture. Cut small slits in top of each pie for steam to escape.

Bake at 400 degrees for 25 - 30 minutes or until crusts are golden brown and crisp.
Easy peasy and delicious! There was the perfect ratio of crust to filling and the addition of the sauce was a good one. I had hoped to freeze the second pie, but tried to move it before it had cooled and it broke in half. It made a yummy lunch the next day.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Trifecta of Slow Cooker Dinners

I may be a diehard New Yorker, but I have a soft spot for the South. I've probably seen Gone with the Wind a few dozen times. Flannery O'Connor is one of my favorite authors. And, I've never met a plate of fried chicken I didn't like. It isn't surprising, then, that one of my favorite magazines is Southern Living.

I recently bought one of their special collection magazine cookbooks:  Slow Cooker Suppers. There are many dishes waiting to be made, but what caught my eye was the Merlot pot roast which is then repurposed as Shepherd's pot roast pies and, finally, as beef and orzo soup. I love the idea of a master recipe that can be repurposed easily. Most recipes for 2 servings are rather pedestrian, yet I don't enjoy eating the same meal 3 nights in a row. The little bit of effort expended for the master recipe was time well spent as all 3 dinners were encore worthy.

I'm going to post the master recipe here and will follow up in the next 2 days with the leftover meals. I've made a few small changes based on my experience with this preparation that will streamline it and improve it.

Merlot Pot Roast

1 (3.5 - 4.5 lb) boneless chuck roast
4 tbs olive oil, divided
2 tbs smoked paprika
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp Kosher salt
4 carrots, minced*
1 cup celery (3-4 stalks), minced*
1 medium onion, minced*
4 garlic cloves, minced*
2 cups Merlot (or your favorite red wine)
4 sprigs fresh oregano
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 (28 oz) can diced tomatoes, undrained

A mince is finer than a chop. Minced vegetables are added to flavor the sauce, not to be a principal ingredient in a dish. I suggest judicious use of the food processor to save time. Just be sure not to pulverize the veggies.

Coat the roast with 1 tbs olive oil. Combine paprika, salt, pepper, and rub mixture all over roast. Let stand for 10 minutes.

Heat 1 tbs olive oil in a large Dutch oven. Add the roast and cook 5-7 minutes over medium heat, turning it to brown on all sides. Place the roast in the slow cooker.

Heat remaining 3 tbs olive oil in Dutch oven. Add onion, carrots, celery, and garlic and saute for 10 minutes until tender. Remove from Dutch oven with slotted spoon and place on top of roast.

Wrap the sprigs of oregano and rosemary in cheesecloth and tie. I added this step because they will cook apart and will be impossible to remove from your sauce.

Add wine and your wrapped sprigs of herbs to the Dutch oven and bring to a boil. Cook 10 minutes to reduce the wine by half. Be sure to stir the bottom of the pot to loosen browned bits from bottom of the pan. Stir in tomatoes; pour mixture over roast.

Cover and cook on low for 7 hours or until tender.

Remove roast to a cutting board and discard the herb sack. Pour the juices into a 2 quart bowl. Let stand 10 minutes, then skim fat from top. Slice 1/3 roast. Pour juices and vegetables over the roast when you serve it. Serve with creamy polenta or mashed potatoes. If I didn't watch my weight, I'd have had a loaf of buttered Italian bread to soak up the incredible sauce.

Shred the remainder of the roast. You will need 2 cups of the beef to make the pot pies and 2 cups to make the soup. If there is more left over, it makes great sandwiches, particularly with some BBQ sauce. Be sure to save the leftover gravy with vegetables for the soup.
The preparation for this master recipe takes between 30 and 40 minutes, but is well worth it. The house smelled incredible while the beef cooked and the beef literally fell apart. The sauce is so flavorful, I wish there were another use for all that will be left over (you will use some for the soup). I served the pot roast with creamy polenta and glazed carrots. It was sublime!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Classic Scalloped Potatoes

Who doesn't love scalloped potatoes, a comfort food if ever there was one. Many people give up after trying to make them and having them come out uncooked. The secret to perfect scalloped potatoes lies in using a mandoline to slice the potatoes paper thin. No matter how good your knife skills, you just can't slice them thinly enough without this simple kitchen tool.

This recipe lightens up the dish by eliminating any fat in the roux (substituting fat free chicken broth for butter) and using nonfat (or, if you choose, 1%) milk in place of cream. No taste is sacrificed by making these substitutions.

Serves 8  ( 5 PP per serving)

2 lbs Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and sliced on a mandoline
1/2 cup fat free, low sodium chicken broth
1 tbs all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
2 cups nonfat milk
1 cup shredded Gruyere cheese
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Spray a 2 quart baking dish or shallow casserole with nonstick spray.

Whisk together broth and flour in medium saucepan over low heat until smooth. Add milk, salt, pepper, and nutmeg and raise heat to medium-high. Bring sauce to a boil, whisking constantly until slightly thickened. Remove sauce from heat.

Arrange half the potatoes in prepared baking dish, slightly overlapping slices. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and half the Gruyere. Arrange remaining potato slices on top. Pour white sauce evenly over potatoes. Set aside the rest of the cheese.

Bake uncovered for 25  minutes. Press down on potatoes with a spatula to completely submerge potatoes in sauce. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup of cheese. Bake until potatoes are tender and top is browned, about 25 minutes longer.

Let stand for 20 minutes before serving.

NOTE:  These potatoes can be baked up to 2 hours ahead. Cover with foil and set aside until about 30 minutes before serving time. Bake the gratin at 350 until heated through, about 25 minutes.
Because  scalloped potatoes are so rich, a mere 1/8 of the dish is a perfect portion size. Gruyere cheese is pricey, but you can freeze leftovers (wrapped well) or eat it out of hand. It has a wonderfully nutty flavor that really can't be achieved with any substitution. I served these with pork chops and glazed carrots tonight and they'll make an encore appearance with meatloaf tomorrow night. They would probably be wonderful topped with a fried egg, too.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Chocolate Chess Pie (Fudge Pie)

Just in time for Valentine's Day, this classic southern dessert has all the ingredients of chess pie with the addition of chocolate. It's a cinch to whip this up, particularly if you use ready made pie crust rolls (I won't tell, if you don't ).


9 inch pie crust (homemade or ready made)

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3 T Dutch processed cocoa powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 large eggs plus 3 large egg yolks, beaten
1 tsp vanilla
4 tbs unsalted butter, melted

whipped cream for serving
OPTIONAL: chocolate shavings


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place pie crust (ready made sheets work fine) into 9 inch glass pie plate, pressing into bottom and sides. Crimp crust, then bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and make filling.

In the bowl of an electric mixer place sugar, cocoa powder, salt, beaten eggs, vanilla, and butter. Use the paddle attachment to blend until creamy and smooth.

Pour into baked shell and bake for 45 minutes or until filling is set around the edges and still a little "jiggly" in the middle. Remove from the oven and place on a rack to cool.

Top with whipped cream and garnish with chocolate shavings before serving.
Rich, decadent, creamy, chocolate--this pie has everything I need in a dessert plus whipped cream. It was absolutely delicious, but I know it would be even better with homemade pie crust because I find the ready made ones a bit skimpy. However, I needed a dessert to bring to dinner and this fit the bill quite nicely. Oh, and if you read or saw the movie version of The Help, this is the basis of Minnie's infamous pie. Nuff said.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Old-fashioned Tamale Pie (slow cooker recipe)

While many recipes for the slow cooker can be categorized as the "dump it and leave it" variety, with a small investment of time, you can make meals whose flavors are really developed and that taste as though they took much more preparation. This old-fashioned tamale pie is a case in point.

You can streamline the preparation time by using a rotisserie chicken, or, you can take advantage of a sale on boneless, skinless chicken breasts and prepare your own. For years I poached chicken in water or chicken broth. While it's a perfectly good way to prepare chicken for a recipe that calls for cooked chicken, a few years ago I began roasting it as suggested in one of Ina Garten's cookbooks. I've now replaced that methods with a combination approach of dry heat and moist heat cooking that yields the most flavorful chicken (see method below).

Serves 6 to 8 (13 PP for 6 servings; 10 PP for 8 servings)

2 1/4 cups water
3/4 cup instant polenta
salt and pepper
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (I use 2%)
1 tbs unsalted butter
1 medium onion, minced
1 tbs vegetable oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbs chili powder
2 tsp cumin
4 cups shredded, cooked chicken
1 (15 oz) canned black beans, rinsed and drained
1 (15 oz) can creamed corn
1 (10 oz) can red enchilada sauce
2 tbs Minute tapioca

Combine the water and the instant polenta and 1 tsp salt in a microwave safe bowl. Cover and microwave until most of the water is absorbed, 6-8 minutes. Stir polenta thoroughly, then continue to microwave, uncovered, for another 2 minutes. Stir in cheddar and butter, season with salt and pepper to taste, and cover to keep warm.

Microwave the onion, garlic, chili powder, and cumin in a microwave safe bowl, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, about 5 minutes. Transfer to slow cooker.

Stir chicken, beans, corn, enchilada sauce, and tapioca into slow cooker. Spoon cooked polenta over the filling, smoothing into an even layer with a spatula.

Cover and cook on low for 4 hours, until casserole is heated through. Let casserole cool for 15-20 minutes, then serve.

Easy Poached Chicken

Pat 2 lbs of boneless, skinless chicken breasts dry with paper towels. Season with salt and pepper on both sides. Heat 1 tbs vegetable oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Carefully lay breasts in skillet and cook until well-browned on the first side, 6-8 minutes. Flip breasts, add 1/2 cup water, and cover. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to cook until thickest part of breasts registers 165 on an instant-read thermometer, about 5-7 minutes longer. Transfer chicken to a cutting board, let cool slightly, then use the tines of two forks to shred into bite-sized pieces.
I've been making a lot of Mexican food lately and I've been very happy with the results. If you like Mexican food and eat it out, you might have noticed that many dishes contain the same ingredients and tend to have very similar flavor profiles. I haven't run into that same issue with the dishes I've been making at home. Yes, chicken is my go-to protein and enchilada sauce and black beans are frequent guest stars. Despite the repetition of key ingredients, I've found the dishes to be unique and don't feel as though I'm eating the same thing. This casserole has bright flavors, a good variety of textures, and can be seasoned more aggressively, if that's your fancy. I could also see this recipe working well with shredded beef. I'm looking forward to the leftovers. I have to confess--I wish I'd doubled the polenta!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Silver Palate Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

One of the first serious cookbooks I ever bought was The Silver Palate Cookbook. I still have it and occasionally pull it out to make an old favorite. So I was happy to find a new "thick and rough" oatmeal by The Silver Palate in Shoprite a few weeks ago. While it won't replace Irish oatmeal as my favorite, these cookies, a bit thinner and chewier than the ones I usually bake, are definitely worthy of an encore.

Makes 4 dozen cookies (I've made a few minor tweaks)

1 cup unsalted butter
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 1/4 cups brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups uncooked Silver Palate Thick and Rough Oatmeal
1 cup raisins

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer), beat the butter on medium to high speed for 30 seconds.  In a smaller bowl, stir together 1 cup flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.

Add mixture to the butter, then add brown sugar, white sugar, eggs, and vanilla to mix. Blend 1 - 2 minutes, or until all ingredients are thoroughly mixed.

Stir in the oats and the remaining flour. Fold in the raisins.

Drop by rounded teaspoons 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. I use silicone mats on my cookie sheets and highly recommend them. Bake for 10 - 12 minutes or until the edges are lightly browned.

Cool on a wire rack.
WARNING:  These cookies are highly addictive. I do think I overbeat the cookies because they spread more than they should have. Despite that, they were so good, chewy and rich with the taste of cinnamon and brown sugar.