Not My Mama’s Gringo Chili


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My mother, God bless her, was not much of a cook. She only had a couple of tried and true recipes in her “go to” list. The rest, in the era that was introduced to convenience foods, was boxed, canned and highly processed. I didn’t like food much as a kid… thanks to meals like Chun King canned Chinese food and powdered potatoes and canned meatloaf (yes, I said canned. It even had the can rings imprinted in the meat when you pushed it out.). Fortunately, during college I dated a guy whose mom was a gourmet Italian cook and I discovered a whole new world!

But one meal Mom used to make, that I absolutely loved, was what she called her “Gringo Chili”… and though the beans were canned, she did brown some hamburger and warm some flour tortillas… and that was HUGE for her! Mom grew up in New Mexico where you eat your chili with tortillas, not cornbread, so that’s how she served it to us. And we couldn’t have been hapataks_hot_curry_pasteppier!

My palate has improved over the years, so I needed to spice it up a little.  This recipe is a tribute her her.  I love the nostalgia this chili brings… but of course I had to make it my own. I made a huge crock pot of it and took it to work today and it literally disappeared in 10 minutes. What was the magical ingredient that everyone loved and kept trying to guess? That’s right… red hot curry paste!  It gives it heat and a depth of flavor that’s a little unexpected.  My boss even had sweat beads on his forehead – but he ate every last bit of it!

Ingredients (This serves about 10 people – adjust according to size you’re feeding… but you’ll definitely want leftovers)
1 pound ground turkey (feel free to use beef)
2 cans chili beans (use liquid)
2 cans red kidney beans (drained)
2 cans light red kidney beans (drained)
2 cans pinto beans (drained)
2 cans stewed tomatoes (drained)
1 small can diced jalapenos (optional if you need it tamer – us substitute with diced green chilies)
1/2 medium Vidalia onion )or any sweet onion) – diced finally
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon Hot red curry paste
Salt & pepper to taste

OPTIONAL for garnishing:
Sour cream
Monterey Jack cheese
Flour tortillas (warmed)

Ready to Cook?
Brown the meat in a large skillet, adding the onion, cumin, curry paste and salt & pepper. If using a fatty meat that will need draining, cook meat separately and saute the onion with the seasonings in another pan. Drain meat and then combine. This is the main reason I use lean ground turkey – no draining necessary!

Add all the ingredients to a large stock pot or slow cooker.  If using a slow cooker, leave it on low for 6-8 hours. Or on high for 2-3 hours. If cooking stove top then cook over medium heat for 30-40 minutes or until you see all the juices rising to the top.

The Perfect Bite
As a kid, I used to roll my tortilla up like an empty burrito and use it to scoop the chili up instead of a spoon. I may or may not still do that. :)

The Perfect Pairing
The heat in this chili goes perfectly with an ice cold beer. My favorite is Negra Medelo.

The Perfect Health
The main component in chillies is a chemical called Capsaicin, which is responsible for the intense heat sensation. Capsaicin lowers blood sugar levels, improves heart health, boost circulation and protects against strokes. Eating chillies can have a very positive impact on people who are overweight or suffer from diabetes because they reduce the insulin levels. Known as circulation boosters, chillies can have a major impact on your health by boosting circulation and also act as a blood thinner to help protect against strokes.

Important! Frequent consumption of fresh chillies may cause stomach problems. Dry chillies don’t have the same effect. They still do contain Capsaicin but don’t harm your stomach.chili

The regular intake of chillies can help to minimize the effects inflammatory diseases have on the body. Capsaicin also provides effective pain relief if applied on skin and also has antibacterial properties..

The Great Benefits of Eating Chili – Chillies Help to Burn Fat
Capsaicin is also a thermogenic compound and increases the metabolic rate, which aids in the fat burning process. Chilli oil is used in anti-cellulite creams and it was proven to be very effective. I actually tried it myself and I was amazed. You can prepare chilli oil at home. Choose a base oil (preferably cold pressed – I used olive oil) and add a couple of chopped dry chillies. Pour the content in a small bottle and place it in a cool, dry place. Leave it there for about 2 weeks then start using it.

Red Anjou Pear, Walnut and Goat Cheese Galette


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For some reason I am just discovering the beauty of pears. I mean, I’ve always been aware of pears. They were just never really my first choice of fruit. And what I’m now (finally) discovering is that they are a wonderful Autumn fruit! Bosc pears, Bartlett pears, Concord pears and the ones I used in this galette – Red Anjou pears. Red Anjou pears are sweet and less acidic than their green counterparts. I also liked using the Red Anjous because I like the contrast of the color of the skin peeking out of the galette. And like Bosc pears, they hold up well when cooked. Bosc pears are probably my favorite as they are more woodsy and their sweetness is more like honey than sugar. Each has a distinct aroma and taste – so buy one of each and do your own taste-test!

Ingredients
Filling:
5-6 medium ripe (but not mushy) pears of your choice.
3/4 cup organic pear juice
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons corn starch
a pinch of salt

Crust:
You can either buy store-bought crust (no shame in that game) or you can make one from scratch. Check out this crust recipe. It’s from the Pioneer Woman… or I guess I should say it’s from my new BFF, Ree. Now that we’re tight twitter friends and all. :)  As you’ll see…it’s a lot of work.  And since I no longer own a KitchenAid stand mixer (moment of silence) I would have had to make it completely by hand. So yea, I bought my crust at Publix.
1/3 cup goat cheese crumbles
1/4 cup non-dairy vanilla creamer
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar

Preparation
Preheat over to 425 degrees F. If using store bought pie dough let it sit out and get to room temperature. Wash and core pears, removing tops and bottoms. No need to peel. Cut pears into thin slices (about 1/4″ thick). You should be prepared to use the pear slices right away or they will brown. If not using them immediately, put in bowl of water with lemon to stave off browning.

Have your pie crusts rolled out and ready on parchment paper on a cookie sheet (or use non-stick spray). It’s important to fill your crusts while on the cookie sheet because they will probably fall apart if you try to move them once they’re filled. Note: If using store-bought this will be enough filling for two galettes that will each be 8″-10″ in diameter. I actually combined the two sheets of dough and re-rolled it out to make 3 smaller ones that I needed for 3 separate events. They were about 6″-7″ in diameter.

Ready to Cook?
Toss pear slices, pear juice, brown sugar, cinnamon, corn starch and salt into a non-reactive pot and cook on stove top over pear4medium heat, gently stirring until sauce thickens and pears are all covered. Do not cook the pears – just heat long enough to become thick and jammy.  Remove from heat and let cool. Once filling is cool to the touch (this is important – if too hot it will melt  your dough and tear it), spoon into the center of your crusts piled about 2.5″ high and leaving about 2″ of room around the edge to fold over. Fold crust up and over filling and circle around pinching and overlapping the edges until circle is complete. The filling should be visible (see photo). Now brush vanilla creamer on the dough and sprinkle with the turbinado sugar.

Place on middle rack and bake for 20-25 minutes (depending on size).  TIP: To keep your crust from getting too dark lay a piece of tin foil flat on top of galettes to shield them. Then remove the last 5 minutes for perfect browning. Do not wrap tin foil tightly or your dough will steam. Just simply lay it on top.

Once out of the oven, sprinkle with chopped walnuts and goat cheese crumbles. Lavender sprig optional. :)

The Perfect Bite
Slice the gallette like you would a pie.  Though it is best served warm, do let it cool and set once it’s out of the oven as it tends to fall apart if too hot.  My perfect bite is to make sure I get walnuts and goat cheese on each fork-full. I kept a few of each on the side just in case.

The Perfect Pairing
I personally did not want to add anything to my little slice of pear gallete, but surely a nice dollop of homemade whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream would be lovely with this! And a perfect beverage to pair with these red pears? Try it with my Red-Headed Martini. Unless you’re having it for breakfast (ah go ahead… no judgment here).

The Perfect Health
Pears provide a very good source of fiber and are also a good source of vitamin B2, C, E, copper, and potassium. They also contain a significant amount of pectin, which is a water soluble fiber. Pears are actually higher in pectin than apples. This makes them effective in helping to lower cholesterol levels and in toning the intestines. They are often recommended by health care practitioners as a hypoallergenic fruit that is high in fiber. Read more about the health benefits of pears here.

The “Blushing Dutch” Martini


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I love a summer cocktail. I also love experimenting with different flavors combinations. The good news about these ingredients is that you can change them up. Try lemons and raspberries. Cilantro and cucumber. Blueberries and mint. The Vling mixer comes in cranberry pomegranate, citrus and regular tonic. So have fun with it!

Ingredientsphoto
New Amsterdam Berry infused vodka – 1 part
Vling cranberry pomegranate mixer – 3 parts
Sweetened lime juice – a splash or so to taste
Fresh lime – 2 slices per glass

Preparation
Slice limes. Chill glasses in freezer.
Fill cocktail shaker halfway with ice  and fill with first three ingredients. Shake lightly (the Vling mixer is fizzy!). Poor into chilled glasses and enjoy!

The Perfect Bite
Of course there’s no “bite” in a cocktail unless you’re chomping on the vodka-soaked fruit – which is amazing! But also, a good tip is to keep vodka (and gin) in the freezer – makes for a perfectly chilled drink on a hot summer day.

The Perfect Health
Let’s be honest. It’s a cocktail. But using the Vling is helpful. It’s lower in calories and sodium then other tonics and is filled with electrolytes to help offset the dehydration that happens form alcohol. So there’s that!

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Miso Soup with Soba Noodles and Chicken


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If you’re like me soba noodle always sound a little intimidating. Do they require special handling? Are they high maintenance? The answer is yes… and no.  Super simple to cook – 3 to 4 minutes tops. And the only special handling is to remember that they continue soaking up liquid… so best to store leftovers dry.  Honestly, they are best freshly made but they cook so quickly it will just take minutes to prepare next time you need them! And since they’re lower in carbs and calories than regular pasta noodles… these buckwheat gems are worth it!

Ingredients (serves 2)
1 quart chicken stock or low-sodium broth (I actually used my garlic broth for this)
4 ounces of organic soba noodles
1/4 cup fresh miso paste (found in Asian or specialty stores)
1 tablespoon Meyer lemon juice (or any fresh lemon)
1 cup roasted or rotisserie chicken breast (or other cooked chicken breast), warm or at room temperature
Thinly sliced scallion greens, for garnish

Ready to Cook?
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. In a medium pot, bring the broth to a simmer. Do not use salt or oil like you do for white pasta.

Add the noodles to the boiling water and cook until al dente, 3 to 4 minutes. Drain the noodles, and using tongs, transfer them to bowls.

Meanwhile, ladle 1 cup of the broth into a heatproof bowl and whisk in the miso. Return the miso-broth to the pot and cook until hot, but not boiling. Add the lemon juice. DO not omit the lemon juice – you need the acidic to cut through the saltiness of the miso.

Top the noodles with the chicken. Ladle the hot broth on top of the noodles, garnish with the scallions and serve.photo 1

The Perfect Bite
I love to use chopsticks to scoop out the noodles and chicken… then slurp the broth from the side of the bowl… just as they do in Japan. But no shame in using a spoon if you prefer. Just get every last drop!

The Perfect Pairing
Try 2012 Terres Dorées Beaujolais l’Ancien Vieilles Vignes or 2012 Tissot Arbois Poulsard Vieilles Vignes each pairs beautifully with the salty richness of this soup.

The Perfect Health
Soba (buckwheat) Pasta: Due to their buckwheat content, soba noodles are a slow-releasing carbohydrate, meaning they’re a source of good long-lasting energy. In addition, you can cut calories virtually in half when you switch from regular white pasta to soba noodles. Buckwheat contains the vitamin B compound choline. Health Hokkaido lists that buckwheat, specifically the choline compound, assists with increasing metabolism and decreasing fat accumulation. Read more here.

Homemade Dill Pickles


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I love pickles.

Always have…  but it was never something I thought I could make myself. I imagined the process was complicated and required all kinds of equipment – who knew?! You really just need some canning jars – wide mouth are the best – and a few essential ingredients. Kirby cucumbers are the classic pickling cucumber. Be sure to pick ones that are firm and not overly ripe. English cucumbers don’t hold up well and get mushy – and waxed cucumbers are bitter and won’t pickle well. So go to Pubix (where I get mine) or your local Farmer’s Market and grab a bunch. I used about 6 pickles to make one quart, cut in coins.

Ingredients (makes 2 pints or 1 quart)
1 1/2 pounds Kirby or Persian cucumbers
4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
2 teaspoons dill seed (don’t be tempted to use dill weed – it makes a huge mess!)
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, optional
3/4 cup cider vinegar
1 and 1/4 cup water
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
1/2 tsp of sugar

Preparation

  1. Prepare the jars: If you are planning to can your pickles for long-term storage, bring a large pot of water to a boil and sterilize the jars and their lids. If you are planning to make refrigerator pickles, simply washing the jars and lids is fine.
  2. Prepare the cucumbers: Wash and dry the cucumbers. Trim away the blossom end of the cucumber, which contains enzymes that can lead to limp pickles. Leave the pickles whole, cut them into spears, or slice them into coins, as preferred.
  3. Add the spices to the jars: Divide the garlic, dill seed, and red pepper flakes (if using) between the pint jars: 2 smashed cloves, 1 teaspoon dill seed, and 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes per jar.
  4. Pack the pickles into the jars: If making spears, trim the ends if they stand more than 1/2 inch below the top of the jar. Pack them in as tightly as you can without smashing the cucumbers. If making coins, try to pack them in tight up to an inch from the top.
  5. Bring the pickling brine to a boil: Combine the vinegar, water, sugar and salt in a small sauce pan over high heat. Bring to a rolling boil. Pour the brine over the pickles, filling each jar to within 1/2-inch of the top. You may not use all the brine.
  6. Remove air bubbles: Gently tap the jars against the counter a few times to remove all the air bubbles. Top off with more pickling brine if necessary.
  7. Tighten the lids: Place the lids over the jars and screw on the rings until tight.
  8. Optional — Process the pickles for longer storage: For longer storage, place the jars in a boiling pot of water. When the water comes back to a boil, set the timer for 5 minutes and remove the jars immediately. Make sure the lids pop down; if they do not, refrigerate those pickles and eat them first. NOTE: this method will make your pickles softer… so if you like more of a crunch… skip this process.
  9. Cool and refrigerate: Let the jars cool to room temperature. If you processed the jars, they can be stored on the shelf. If unprocessed, store the pickles in the fridge. The pickles will improve with flavor as they age — try to wait at least 48 hours before cracking them open. They will start looking like pickles in a few hours… but will taste best after a couple of days.

 

pickle jars

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before…

 

after

after…

 

 

Enjoy!

Kale and Quinoa Salad


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This salad is loosely based off of my kale and walnut pesto recipe. But with a few revisions, I’ve come up with a salad that’s light, yet hearty enough for a main course! And as always, there’s room for plenty of versions – substitute your favorite nuts and dried fruits to make it your own. You can swap out the quinoa for bulger wheat or another of your favorite grains or seeds. Just remember, the key is in the blanching of the kale which brightens up the leaf and softens its texture.

The best thing about this is it combines several “super” foods:  kale, quinoa, cranberries and walnut oil which has 1.77g of Omega 3’s per serving! So feel free to indulge!

Ingredients
6-8 cups kale leaves (roughly 2 bundles), ribs removed
2 large fresh garlic cloves, smashed and coarsely chopped (or 2 tablespoons minced)
3/4 cup grated Parmesan
1/3 cup olive oil (for extra walnut taste (blend olive oil with roasted walnut oil – I found some at Home Goods for $8.99!)
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon lemon juice (roughly 1/2 of a large lemon – squeezed)
1/2 teaspoon course sea salt (to taste)
1 cup coarsely chopped, toasted walnuts (raw is fine but toasting brings out their nuttiness)
1 cup uncooked quinoa
1 cup dried cranberries (I use Craisens Pomegranate cranberries)

Preparation
Remove ribs from kale and give it a rough chop. In a large pot, bring water to a boil with a couple of pinches of salt. Prepare a large boil of ice water and set aside. Once water in boiling, add kale for about 1 minute. Your kale will start to turn a brighter green. Remove kale from pot and immediately put in ice water. This is called blanching and is what helps give (and keep) your kale a bright green. Remove kale from ice water after 1 minute and squeeze dry.

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This is how your quinoa should look when it’s done.

Peel and roughly chop two large bulbs of garlic. If you are using pre-minced garlic, this is roughly 2 tablespoons.

If you are roasting your walnuts, place then in a dry saute pan over medium heat. Continue moving them in the pan until you begin to smell their nuttiness. It should take about 2 minutes.  Keep an eye on them – they burn

easily (which is why I don’t put them in the oven anymore – I always forget them!).

Using the water from blanching your kale, bring 1 cup to a boil. Add 1 cup quinoa and continue cooking over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Once you see that the quinoa seeds are beginning to burst open you know they are about done. Once the water is absorbed turn off heat and fluff with a fork. The cooking process for this is similar to couscous. Add a pinch of salt and let completely cool. NOTE: Do not add quinoa to salad until cooled or it will wilt the kale.

Ready to Make?
In a food processor, add the blanched kale, garlic and Parmesan. Pulse 6-7  times while slowly, through the feed tube, drizzling the oil(s) until mixture is moistened and is well-combined. NOTE: It’s important to use the pulse feature and not let your processor run… you want to retain some of the leafy texture of the kale – you do not want it as fine as the pesto.   Remove lid and spoon into serving bowl. Zest a whole lemon directly into mixture and squeeze half of the lemon into the mixture.  Add DSC_0015dried cranberries, walnuts and cooled quinoa. Gently toss until thoroughly mixed. Add salt to taste.

The Perfect Bite
This is the perfect opportunity for the perfect bite – be sure to stack your fork with a little bit of everything! Sweet, salty, crunchy, chewy, refreshing and hearty… it’s got everything!

The Perfect Pairing
One of my new favorite wines is the Cline 2012 Mourvèdre Rosé. It is crisp and refreshing, not overly sweet, and has hints of pomegranate, cherry and plum… which will pair wonderfully with the dried pomegranate cranberries and walnuts in this salad. Mourvèdre is a rare grape in California and has beautiful mouth-feel on this rosé.

The Perfect Health
Though quinoa is considered a whole grain – it is technically a seed. The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has officially declared that the year 2013 be recognized as “The International Year of the Quinoa.” Quinoa is gluten-free and an excellent source of protein. For more health benefits read HERE.

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Low and Slow Winter Country Ribs


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Country ribs. Big slabs of porky goodness cut from the shoulder of the hog. But boneless or bone-in, these are nothing like a rack of ribs. They are chunky logs of pork, trimmed with a small amount of fat, and they require slow, low-temperature cooking to become delicious. That’s the downside: You can’t do a fast country rib. The upside is that they are all meat, so you’re quick to fill up.

The best way to cook country ribs is over a wood fire, but you can cook them on a charcoal or gas grill. I did these in the oven because it’s winter and I didn’t want to brave going outdoors to the grill. Any of these methods work – but just repeat after me: Low and slow… low and slow…

You’ll want to sauce these ribs with something. It can be as simple as cider vinegar, or you could use your favorite barbecue sauce. I used my favorite bottled version and added a few things to give it an extra punch.

Ingredients
6-8 country ribs, about 3 pounds (quantity will vary depending on size of individual ribs – I got ribs from Porter Road Butcher and they were very large so I cut them in half.)
Kosher salt
pepper
Dark amber beer (I used Negra Madelo)
The barbeque sauce of your choice
I also added to my BBQ sauce (to taste):
Garlic paste
Worcestershire sauce
Bourbon

DSC_0014The Fab Four that made my BBQ sauce

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Soak ribs in beer for at least 8 hours, overnight is best. I did mine for almost 24 hours.
That should be the max you soak them or they will start to shrivel.

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Remove from beer and sprinkle both sides generously with salt and pepper.

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Now coat ribs in your sauce and put on a rack on a foil-lined pan.

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Make sure your ribs are about 2 inches apart so they have room to breath.
Which is why you have them on the rack so the heat can circulate all around.

Now put your pan of ribs in a 250 degree oven (middle rack). You’re going to cook these for 4-5 hours… however, leave them alone for the first 90 minutes… then you will pull them out, turn them over and brush more sauce on them every 30 minutes until done.

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Be sure to get all four sides of the ribs!

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And don’t skimp on the sauce!

You will know they are ready when the meat starts to fall apart a little when you turn them. This means the fat has rendered into the meat and the connective tissues have broken down. When you finally get to this step, it’s time to brush them with sauce one last time and then move the ribs up to the top (or broiler) rack and finish them off at 350 degrees for 5 minutes… to get those yummy, crunchy, charred edges you would normally get on a fire grill. But be careful – no more than 5 minutes or you will undo all your hard work and dry out your ribs!

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Voila! A plate of succulent goodness. Bon apetit!

The Perfect Bite
For me the “money bite” is right in the center of the rib, it’s the juiciest! But you also may love a fatty-end… it will literally melt in your mouth.

The Perfect Pairing
I normally list a wine for pairing but since these are filled with bourbon and beer goodness… I’d stay on theme. Try them with the beer you marinated them in, in my case Negra Madelo. Or try them with my infamous Red-Headed Martini (made of bourbon and beer!). These will also go really well with my Spicy Mac & Cheese as a side dish.

The Perfect Health
It’s true: Pork really is the other white meat. Ounce for ounce, pork tenderloin has less fat than a chicken breast. And food scientists are finding ways to make it leaner and leaner every year. Cured pork such as ham, bacon and pancetta are treated with salt, nitrates and sugar for preservation and are where all the bad health properties come from… but fresh pork, on the other hand, receives minimal processing, if any, and includes chops, ribs and roast. For more information read HERE.

Fall-apart Pot Roast


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Who doesn’t love pot roast? Well, I suppose some of my vegetarian friends are not fans, but most everyone else I know deems pot roast as the ultimate comfort food. However, I have heard many friends complain that they have not been successful… that often the meat comes out tough!

Contrary to belief, tough pot roast is not a result of over-cooking… but of UNDER-cooking! And the science of that is not always consistent. For example, the rule of thumb is to cook low and slow, about 1 hour per pound of meat. But temperatures in ovens vary and sometimes the weather can throw everything off… so shoot for an hour per pound, but if it’s not falling apart tender then put it back in and check it every 20 minutes. I had a small 2lb roast this time, yet it took 3 hours. You just never know. But the longer in the oven the more the connective tissues break down and turn into succulent deliciousness.

Because of the intimidation factor so many feel when facing The Pot Roast… I took a lot of extra photos for some step-by-step assurance of what things should look like. Scroll through the photos with my comments and then read all of the directions before beginning… so you will feel confident as you go along. This is actually a very simple and inexpensive meal – so relax! And in 3-5 hours your patience will pay off and you’ll have an amazing meal to serve your family and friends.

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I chose a bottom round tender cut – but you can use a chuck roast as well. Look for good marbling.

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GENEROUSLY salt and pepper both sides!

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The other side had a layer of fat – don’t be tempted to remove this – you will need this for browning and it will render away! Put this side in the pan first.

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Start by lightly browning your vegetables in a teaspoon of oil. Then remove from the pan.

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Then put the meat in the same pan (fat side down). Add a touch more oil if needed. Brown on each side – I stand it on the ends to get every side, Only a few minutes per side is needed. You want a good caramelized browning.

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Now return everything to the pot! Add beef stock until it’s about half way up the meat.

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Isn’t it lovely?

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You know your meat is done when it easily pulls apart with forks.

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Voila! Great over mashed potatoes or rice or even egg noodles.

Ingredients

  • 1 whole (4 To 5 Pounds) Bottom Round Roast or Chuck Roast
  • 2 Tablespoons Grapeseed Oil (or an oil that has a high smoke point)
  • 2 whole Onions or one bag of frozen pearl onions (which I used)
  • 6 whole Carrots (cut in 1″ pieces) or 1/2 bag of baby carrots
  • 3 stalks celery (cut in 1″ pieces)
  • Salt To Taste
  • Pepper To Taste
  • 1 cup Your favorite Red Wine (optional, you can just use beef broth if you prefer)
  • 2 cups To 3 Cups Beef Stock
  • 3 sprigs Fresh Thyme (or dried if that’s all you have)
  • 3 sprigs Fresh Rosemary (or dried if that’s all you have)

Ready to Cook?

First and foremost, choose a nicely marbled piece of meat. This will enhance the flavor of your pot roast. I chose the bottom round because it’s a little bit leaner. But make sure you do see a decent amount of marbling. Generously salt and pepper your meat.

Heat a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Then add 2 to 3 tablespoons of oil (or you can do a butter/ oil split). I use a ceramic-covered cast iron pot. It needs to a heavy, stove-to-oven pot.

Peel and cut two onions in half and cut 6 to 8 carrots into 2-inch slices (you can peel them, but you don’t have to). When the oil in the pot is very hot (but not smoking), add in the halved onions, browning them on one side and then the other. Remove the onions to a plate.

Throw the carrots and celery into the same very hot pan and toss them around a bit until slightly browned, about a minute or so. Remove and repeat process with the mushrooms, though for less than a minute (do not cook thoroughly).

If needed, add a bit more oil to the very hot pan. Place the meat in the pan (fat side down) and sear it for about a minute on all sides until it is nice and brown all over. Remove the roast to a plate.

With the burner still on high, use either red wine or beef broth (about 1 cup) to de-glaze the pan, scraping the bottom with a whisk or wooden spoon to get all of that wonderful flavor up.

When the bottom of the pan is sufficiently de-glazed, place the roast back into the pan and add enough beef stock to cover the meat halfway (about 2 to 3 cups). Add in the vegetables, as well as 3 or 4 sprigs of fresh rosemary and about 3 sprigs of fresh thyme (a teaspoon of each if using dried).

Put the lid on, then roast in a 275F oven for 2-3 hours (for a 2lb roast). For a 4 to 5lb roast, plan on 4-5 hours.

Transfer meat to a cutting board. Test it using two forks to pull meat apart. Is it easy? Then you did it! A little tough? Put it back in and test every 20 minutes. Once done, cut meat into chunks and serve with the vegetables over mashed potatoes (or other favorite starch). Be sure to pour the juices over the top.  Uh-Mazing!

The Perfect Bite
This is a perfect opportunity to stack your fork with a little bit of everything… swirl it in the juices and let it all melt in your mouth.

The Perfect Pairing
I used the Rex Goliath Pinot Noir to cook with as well as paired it with the meal. This is a very heavy, rich plate and needs a lighter touch to accompany it. It’s smooth and velvety dry with a harmonic blend of black cherry with a touch of vanilla that stays on the tongue to produce a pleasant finish.

The Perfect Health
This dish is packed with vegetables and if you did like I did and your veg ratio to meat is much greater… then scoop up a few ladles full of veg and some broth and throw it all on the blender. Puree until smooth and use this instead of making a gravy with flour. Much healthier and incredibly tasty! Keep adding broth until you reach your desired consistency.

Cheesecake with Cranberry Port Compote


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I am generally not a dessert person. Often, when out to dinner, I opt for a second glass of wine over ordering dessert. If I’m going to spend the calories, I’d rather it be on wine. :) But cheesecake has long been a weakness of mine. And this just may be the most perfect cheesecake I’ve ever tasted. Adapted from a couple of recipes I’ve researched, below is the final product after much trial and error.

Also, I’m dedicating this post to my sister Brenda… who two days before Christmas was madly searching stores for a cheesecake without toppings. When I said, “It’s too bad you don’t live closer, I’m making cheesecakes tomorrow.”  She replied, “Wait. You can make a cheesecake?”

Sometimes it’s hard to believe we come from the same womb.

Ingredients
Crust
2 cups of Graham cracker crumbs
2 Tbsp sugar
Pinch salt
5 Tbsp unsalted butter (if using salted butter, omit the pinch of salt), melted

Filling
2 pounds cream cheese, room temperature (I use the 1/3 less fat)
1 1/3 cup granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 large eggs
2/3 cup sour cream (I use lite)
2/3 cup heavy whipping cream

Topping spread
1 cups sour cream (I use lite)
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
Compote
1 12oz bag cranberries
1 cup granulated sugar
2-3 cinnamon sticks
2 cups good port wine (I used Graham’s 6 Grapes Porto)

Special equipment needed
9-inch, 2 3/4-inch high spring-form pan
A large, high-sided roasting pan

Preparation
Preheat oven to 350°F, with rack in lower third of oven. Leave room for a second rack below that to place water pan. Pulse the graham crackers in a food processor or blender until finely ground. Put in a large bowl, and stir in the sugar and salt. Use your (clean) hands to stir in the melted butter.

Put all but 1/4 cup of the graham cracker crumbs in the bottom of the spring-form pan. (Save the remaining 1/4 cup for garnish later). Gently press down on the crumbs using your fingers, until the crumbs are a nice even layer at the bottom of the pan, with maybe just a slight rise along the inside edges of the pan. Place in the oven for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool. Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F.

Cut the room temperature cream cheese into chunks and place in the bowl of an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed for 4 minutes until smooth, soft and creamy. Add the sugar, beat for 4 minutes more. Add the salt and vanilla, beating after each addition. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating for one minute after each addition. Add the sour cream, beat until incorporated. Add the heavy cream, beat until incorporated. Remember to scrape down the sides of the mixer bowl, and scrape up any thicker bits of cream cheese that have stuck to the bottom of the mixer that paddle attachment has failed to incorporate.

Place a large, high-sided roasting pan on the bottom rack of over. Prepare 2 quarts of boiling water and fill roasting pan 3/4 full. This will help steam the cheese cake as it’s cooking which will keep it moist and prevent it from cracking.

Pour the cream cheese filling into the spring-form pan, over the graham cracker bottom layer. Smooth the top with a rubber spatula. Place it on the rack right above the pan of water. It should be a little below the middle of the oven. Cook at 325°F for 1 1/2 hours. Do not put the spring-form on a separate cookie sheet – you want to steam to rise up up and around the cake… and a cookie sheet will block the steam.

All ovens cook differently, so check your cheesecake at about an hour to an hour and ten minutes. Carefully insert  a meat thermometer, check the temperature in the very center of the cake. It should be between 160 to 165 degrees. Don’t worry making a small hole in your cake – it’s going to have a topping.

Turn off the heat of the oven. Crack open the oven door 1-inch, and let the cake cool in the oven, as the oven cools, for another hour. This gentle cooling will help prevent the cheesecake surface from cracking.

Cover the top of the cheesecake with foil, so that it doesn’t actually touch the cheesecake. Chill in the refrigerator for a minimum of 4 hours, or overnight.DSC_0036

Preparing sour cream topping
Place sour cream in a medium sized bowl, stir in the powdered sugar and vanilla, until smooth. Chill until you are ready to serve the cake.

Preparing the cranberry port compote
Place cranberries, sugar, and port in a sauce pan. Bring to a full boil, then reduce to simmer and throw in cinnamon sticks. Stir occasionally and enjoy the smell of your house for the next 20-30 minutes. Continue simmering until all the cranberries have popped (you can hear them pop!) and the port is reduced to a thick syrup. When done, use a potato masher to gently mash down some of the cranberries – but not all of them, leave some chunky and whole!

Ready to Serve?
Remove from the refrigerator and place the cake on your cake serving dish. Run the side of a blunt knife between the edge of the cake and the pan.  Open the spring-form latch and gently open the pan and lift up the sides. Spread the top with the sour cream mixture and sprinkle with remaining graham cracker crumbs. Serve plain (here you go Bren!) or heap with the cranberry port sauce.

TIP: If you are taking this cheesecake to a party or outside your house, you may want to line the bottom of the spring-form with parchment paper, so that it can easily slide off of the pan’s bottom disk (so you don’t lose it). Otherwise, you can just serve it straight off the disk.

The Perfect Bite
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that any bite of the delicious cheesecake is the perfect bite! However, I will tell you that even though you need to store your cheesecake in the refrigerator, it is best serveDSC_0038d at room temperature. And the compote is best served warm. So keep that in mind and leave time before serving.

The Perfect Pairing
One of the mistakes people make when pairing a wine with dessert is getting something classified as a dessert wine. However, dessert wines are tricky and pairing a sweet with a sweet can be, well… too sweet if not done right. And cheesecake is one of the trickiest desserts to pair. Cream and fat are hard for wines to break through. So, this a perfect storm for a bad pairing, if you ask me.

But here’s a couple of tips: If you are getting a Port or a Madeira, they are intended to be drunk after dinner, as dessert, not with dessert.  Although Port does go well with dark chocolate – oh wow, now I want some! Anyway,  with this creamy cheesecake and bold cranberry-port compote, your best bet is a sparkling wine. Try a Prosecco, This Italian wine is crisp, fruity, and bubbly with a hint of almond and citrus flavor and plays well with others. Dolce Vita is a great little inexpensive Prosecco. Give it a try!

The Perfect Health
Recent scientific research shows that cranberries and cranberry products contain significant amounts of antioxidants and other phytonutrients that may help protect against heart disease, cancer and other diseases. Read more here.

Nine Hour Burgundy Mushrooms


Beautiful Burgundy Mushrooms

The irony of this post is that I generally don’t like mushrooms. But I read about these on the Pioneer Woman’s site and her description alone made me want to spend the 9 hours it takes to make them! These are definitely for a special occasion because who typically has an entire 9 waking hours at home? But maybe this winter if you’re snowed in or just want to spend that chilly Saturday in your pj’s and have a legitimate excuse not to leave the house… then that’s the perfect occasion!

You can get a lot of miles out of these beauties. And whatever you do – save the cooking liquid! It’s to die for…. dip bread in it, use it as a soup broth or my favorite – make mushroom risotto with it! Be sure to read The Perfect Bite below for additional ideas.

Ingredients (Serves 6-8 people as a side dish.)
4 pounds White Button Mushrooms
2 sticks Butter
1-1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire Sauce
1 quarts Burgundy Wine (other Reds Will Work)
1 teaspoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper
2 cups Boiling Water
4 whole Chicken Bouillon Cubes
4 whole Beef Bouillon Cubes
1 teaspoon Dill Seed
5 cloves Garlic, Peeled
2 teaspoons Salt (to be added at the end)

Preparation
Thoroughly wash the mushrooms and throw them into a large stockpot. Add all the remaining ingredients except the salt. Stir to combine.Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for six hours.

Remove the lid, then continue cooking, uncovered, for three more hours.

Yes, you read that right. It takes nine hours to make these taste this divine!

Add salt to taste at the end if desired. The mushrooms will be very dark in color. Simmer until needed. Be sure to add cooking liquid to your serving dish with some crusty bread for dipping – delish!

The mushrooms keep for days in the fridge and get better and better.

Throw all ingredients (minus salt) into the pot

Throw garlic, butter, seasoning cubes and dill into the pot.

Add wine and boiling water then turn heat to medium.

Now add the wine and boiling water – then turn heat up to medium.

Rinse mushrooms thoroughly. Normally you should dry-wipe mushrooms to clean - but you're about to soak these in liquid for 9 hours - so don't worry.

Rinse mushrooms thoroughly. Normally you should dry-wipe mushrooms when cleaning – but you’re about to soak these in liquid for 9 hours – so don’t worry and just give them a good rinse (don’t soak).

Mushrooms are just so cute!

Mushrooms are just so cute!

Throw mushrooms into the pot and stir to get covered with ingredients. It will look like a lot but they will reduce quickly.

Throw mushrooms into the pot and stir to get covered with ingredients. It will look like a lot but they will reduce quickly.

Bring pot to a boil. See - after just a few minutes the mushrooms reduce and are covered by the liquid!

Bring pot to a boil. See – after just a few minutes the mushrooms reduce and are covered by the liquid!

Once pot comes to boil, reduce to simmer and cover. Then get comfy for the next 6 hours...

Once pot comes to boil, reduce to simmer and cover. Then get comfy for the next 6 hours…

The finished product! They are almost black from soaking up the wine and butter for 9 hours.

The finished product! They are almost black from soaking up the wine and butter for 9 hours.

The Perfect Bite
The MOST perfect bite is to just pop one of these babies in your mouth. But also try slicing them and piling high on a steak; or making risotto with the broth and slicing the mushrooms to mix in; or dicing them to top crustinis; or make a soup with the broth and the mushrooms. Plan to make all four pounds so you can spend all week trying them different ways. Enjoy!

The Perfect Pairing
Since these are made with a burgundy wine… continue pairing with your favorite red. Try a peppery grape like Bogle’s Merlot – rich and smooth and a wonderful compliment to the steak-like texture of these nine-hour buttons.

The Perfect Health
White Mushroom aid in weight loss and prostate cancer prevention. This category includes the familiar button mushroom, cremini and the Portobello. The white mushroom has a special carbohydrate that stokes the metabolic fire and maintains blood sugar levels. Read more about the health benefits of mushrooms HERE.