Category Archives: Cooking

A Perfect Day for Stew

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Much of the country is dealing with temperatures lower than we’ve seen in a couple decades.  It’s no different here.  As I write this it’s –8 degrees with a wind chill of –33.  Ridiculous!

Today was one of the days I was thankful I worked from home.  Other than some trips to take the dog out, I stayed inside all day.  There will be more of the same tomorrow. Another reason I love working from home is if (and that’s a big IF) I have the ingredients for dinner, I can get a head start on it and continue to work while it cooks.

I love a classic beef stew.  It’s the perfect cold weather comfort food.  I make it only about once a year since my husband isn’t much of a fan.  It’s too much to eat myself.  I freeze the leftovers in one or two serving portions and eat them throughout the winter months.  I’ve tried a few recipes in the slow cooker and they were…fine.  This one, however, had my non-stew-eating husband go back for seconds.  Everyone should have a foolproof stew recipe. I think I found mine.

Of course it’s from my always-the-first-stop cookbook, America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook.  I also found another highly reviewed stew recipe of theirs online but it requires some ingredients that I didn’t have (I was not going out in the cold to grocery shop!)and had a couple more steps. Sounds really good – maybe next time.  Doesn’t matter – I thought this was delicious.  It absolutely hit the spot and will be fantastic warmed up tomorrow.

The recipe is below. A couple notes:

  • This takes about 3 hours.  It’s only about 45 minutes of hands on work but it’s not something you can whip up when you get home from work unless you eat really late.
  • Make sure you really brown the meat.  Here’s a link where ATK talks about browning the meat and gives the other stew recipe I mentioned above.
  • I used more potatoes and peas.  No reason, I like them.  Just FYI as you look at the pictures.

Beef Stew from The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook

  • 1 3lb boneless beef chuck roast (mine was called a chuck eye roast), trimmed and cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes
  • salt and pepper
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil ( I definitely used more)
  • 2 onions, minced
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 2 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 1/2 pounds red potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1 1/2 inch chunks (I probably used a little over 2 pounds)
  • 4 carrots, sliced thin
  • 1 cup frozen peas (I used 1 1/2 cups)

Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and pre-heat oven to 300 degrees.  Pat the beef dry with paper towels, then season with salt and pepper.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until just smoking.  Brown half of the meat (see link above), about 10 minutes, then transfer to a plate.  Add 1 more tablespoon of oil and brown the rest of the meat and transfer to a plate.

Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the empty pot and turn to medium heat.  When oil is shimmering, add the onions and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.  Stir in the tomato paste and garlic and cook for 30 seconds.  Add the flour and cook for 1 minute.

Slowly stir in the wine, scraping up the browned bits.  Stir in the broth, thyme, bay leaves, and browned beef, along with accumulated juices.

Bring to a simmer, cover and transfer the pot to the pre-heated oven.  Cook for 1 hour.

Stir in the potatoes and carrots.  Cover and continue to cook in the oven until the beef is tender, about 1 hour. Since I added extra potatoes and they were cut pretty big, I added another 10 mins.

Remove from the oven and stir in the frozen peas.  Remove bay leaves.  Let stand off the heat for 5 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

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We ate it with crusty bread and it was perfect for this cold winter evening.

Look at these two yahoos.  I was trying to get a couple shots before eating.  No matter the angle, one of them is there to photobomb.

stew photobomb

Rocky Road Fudge Brownies

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Ok, so these won’t help with your New Year’s resolution to eat better.  But, if you’re stuck inside due to the bitter cold like we are in the Midwest, they’re super easy to make and you likely already have the ingredients in your pantry.

They start with boxed brownie mix which makes them a great option when you don’t have time to make something from scratch.  The whole process probably takes 40 minutes, including baking time.  I made these after work to take to dinner at our friends’ home that evening.  The icing elevates the boring box mix and adds homemade taste.  It also adds a lot of sweetness – cut these in small pieces!

My mom has been making these brownies forever but I think it’s my first time.  I don’t know where the recipe originally came from since it’s one that was copied and in my recipe book for years.

Here’s the recipe:

  • 1 package of brownie mix (one that is large enough for a 13 x 9 pan)
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 3 cups miniature marshmallows
  • 2 (1 ounce) squares unsweetened chocolate
  • 1/3 cup milk (I used a little more to thin frosting)
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 package (16 oz) confectioners sugar, sifted.  (I just realized I was supposed to sift the sugar – oops – it turned out fine.)
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar

Prepare brownie mix according to box.  Pour in 13 x 9 pan.  Bake according to directions (about 25 minutes).

IMG_3957_edited-1web Remove from oven. Sprinkle miniature marshmallows over hot brownies.  (They will retain their shape but some will get soft and melty.  Mmm….)

Combine chocolate, milk, butter in a heavy saucepan.  Cook over low heat until chocolate and butter melt, stirring often. (I started this while the brownies were baking to save time.)

IMG_3960_edited-1web Remove from heat. Transfer to a medium mixing bowl.  Add confectioner’s sugar and vanilla. Beat at low speed until smooth.  If frosting is too stiff to spread, add milk, 1 tablespoon at a time, stirring until smooth.

IMG_3972_edited-1web Spread over brownies.  Sprinkle nuts over frosting.  Cool in pan on wire rack and cut into bars.

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Enjoy!

Summer Berry Pie

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Don’t you just love all the berries that are in season during the summer?

This pie is great because the fresh berries are truly the star, not a sickeningly sweet glaze or fruit baked down to nothing.  Of course it comes from my favorite cookbook, America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook.  I found the recipe already published online.  You can find it here: Summer Berry Pie.

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You have to really love berries to enjoy this – the most dominant flavor is the fresh, raw berries.  The sweetness comes from a filling made of a berry puree combined with sugar and cornstarch which is reduced and thickened on the stove. Another neat touch is coating the berries with melted currant jelly so they stay glossy.

You can see the delicious filling in the photo below. The filling is spread over the crust and berries are (gently) pressed into it.

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A couple notes:

– My berries were a bit tart so I added extra sugar to the filling. It’s worth tasting them first.

– This takes a lot of berries – 6 Cups – so it’s ideal for summer when it won’t cost a fortune to make just one pie.

– My cooking time for the puree was at least double, maybe more.

– I’m sure the recipe for the graham cracker crust is fine.  Mine tasted good but was a little hard in areas and crumbly in others.  Likely user error – I had the same problem with my key lime pie.

-The recipe online calls for apple jelly.  The cookbook says either apple or red currant.  I used red currant and it was tasty.

There’s not much else to say except it is delicious and fresh tasting and you should try it!

I turn my back for a second…IMG_3477_edited-1web

Carrot Cake

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Let me just say that I love carrot cake.  I’ll admit the cream cheese icing is most of the reason I order it but am always bummed when the cake itself is bland or dry. This recipe will certainly not disappoint. I needed a dessert to take to dinner with friends last night so I thought I’d give it a try since I’ve never made a carrot cake from scratch.  It was good timing – my husband who is not a fan was out of town so I would hear no grumbling about making a dessert he didn’t like!

You all know this is certainly not a food blog (what kind is it really?) but I do like to share recipes I stumble across that are easy and delicious.  I struggle, though, because I do a lot of my cooking out of cookbooks. It feels wrong to just reprint someone’s recipe unless I adapt it in some way (and would note that) which is infrequent. This recipe is from my go-to cookbook, The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook.   This cookbook is my first stop for any recipe and is pretty much foolproof.

Sometimes, however, recipes are posted on line which is the best because then I feel better about sharing with you and can just link to it and save typing! So, here’s the link:

Carrot Cake

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Couple notes:

-The color in real life is deeper and more orange – the photos are a bit overexposed.

– I grated my carrots more thinly than probably necessary (oh, my arms!) because I don’t like chunky pieces.

– Cooking time – The picture above is a piece from the dead center of the cake.  You can see it may be a smidge undercooked in that spot.  The texture was fine -I didn’t notice when I ate it and only saw it on my computer screen. I checked the cake at 3o and 35 minutes and removed it at 40 minutes when an inserted toothpick still had a couple crumbs.  Any longer would have made the rest of the cake dry.

– The icing is delicious but just barely enough to cover the 13×9 cake if you ice the sides.  I’ll probably increase the amount by a quarter or half next time.  It’s very soft so wouldn’t be suitable for a layer cake.

– Nuts would be a great here.  I wanted to try out the basic cake first and then play with the spices (might need some more nutmeg and cinnamon) and other additions in the future.

Give it a try!

Sadie was a fan of the icing.  When I got home last night I found the spatula from sink in the middle of my rug.  That’ll teach me not to fill the dishwasher before I leave.  Here she wants some of my piece too!IMG_3413_edited-1web

World’s Easiest Pasta Salad

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Do you need a quick side for your Memorial Day picnic today?  I’ve been making this salad for years and can’t remember where I first saw the recipe.  I think it was in a magazine but I’m not sure.  Anyway, it’s my favorite pasta salad especially the second day when the dressing has been absorbed.

It only has four ingredients:

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  • One pound of pasta
  • 1 Pint of cherry tomatoes
  • 1 Package of crumbled tomato and basil feta cheese
  • Balsamic vinaigrette – about 1.5 to 2 cups

Cut tomatoes in half. Cook the pasta according to the directions.  I usually rinse in cold water after draining.  I know that means the dressing doesn’t stick as well but it turns out fine and I want to cool it off before mixing with the tomatoes and cheese.    Combine pasta, tomatoes and feta.  Mix with 1 Cup of dressing. Refrigerate.  Done!

If it seems a bit dry, add additional dressing at serving time (I usually need to).

Red, White, and Blueberry Trifle

IMG_2486_edited-1webHappy Memorial Day, my friends!  As part of this weekend to celebrate those that have served our country, many of us gather with friends and family.  It’s a wonderful time for community and the unofficial start to summer.

Over this week I’ll share a few recipes I tried that worked well for a cookout we had last night.  Of course I had to post this first since it’s red, white, and blue!  I found it on a blog I follow, Skinnytaste.com

I like this recipe because it’s delicious, pretty, super easy, and a healthier option than a cake or pie (ignoring that I also had Texas Sheet Cake for dessert too).

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Here’s the recipe:  Red, White and Blueberry Trifle

The recipe calls for fat free condensed milk and non fat cool whip.  I used the regular version of the sweetened condensed milk, not for any reason – I just forgot to buy the other kind. I used the lite cool whip because that’s what I had in my freezer.  I’m assuming the recipe version would taste just as good.  The white chocolate flavor pudding wasn’t carried in the first store I stopped in but found it at Kroger. I used a store bought angel food cake.

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This recipe is no more difficult than slicing strawberries and a couple minutes of whisking. It definitely tastes better than the effort it takes.  Love those recipes.  It’s a delicious way to take advantage of all the berries in season right now.

Enjoy!

Double Layer Ice Cream Pie

IMG_2451_edited-1webEveryone likes ice cream, right?  How about two flavors and hot fudge? Yum!

We celebrated Mother’s Day a week late on my side of the family.  We had everyone over to our house and I made lasagna (btw, don’t use Barilla oven ready pasta – blech. I’ve used Mueller no-boil pasta many times before which turns out great) and dessert.  My brother was nice enough to bring the sides.

I made two ice cream pies for dessert.  The 9” pie shell looked just a smidge too small for eight people.  And, it’s not like extra ice cream pie would go to waste in our house.

Each pie has two flavors of ice cream with a layer of hot fudge in between. I made one with vanilla and English toffee caramel and one with chocolate and black raspberry dark chocolate chip.

They turned out great and couldn’t be easier to make.  Forgive the photos.  I was either simultaneously making lasagna and fruit salad or had hungry people waiting for their pie!

Ingredients:

  • Pre-made chocolate cookie crust pie shell
  • 2 pints of ice cream – any two flavors you think will work well together
  • Jar of hot fudge sauce- a 12 oz. jar is more than enough.  I used one jar for two pies.
  • Tub of Cool Whip – I always use the light version and notice no difference. One tub covered two pies.

Set out your first flavor on the counter for about 5 minutes.  I put it in a bowl and stirred it a bit so it was soft but not melted. 

 

IMG_2432_edited-1webPour into pie shell and spread into the first layer.  My pie shell was pretty shallow so I only used just over three quarters of the the pint.

 

IMG_2434_edited-1webFreeze for about a half hour or until solid. I’m not sure exactly how long it was in the freezer since I was doing other things in the kitchen.

 

IMG_2437_edited-1webLayer half the jar of hot fudge on the ice cream. 

 

IMG_2436_edited-1webDon’t let the ice cream get soft – this is what happens when you try to spread the fudge on even slightly soft ice cream.  Still tastes fine and no one will know so no big deal…  Place in freezer for half hour.

 

IMG_2438_edited-1webSpread second flavor of slightly softened ice cream on fudge layer.  Freeze.

 

IMG_2444_edited-1webTop with layer of Cool Whip.

 

IMG_2445_edited-1webAdd sprinkles if you want! Place in freezer until ready to serve.

 

 

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Enjoy!