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.

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Rosemary, Sage & Shiraz Beef Tips w/Herbed Goat Cheese Dumplings


The secret to cooking with wine, especially red wine, is to use one that you think tastes good when drinking it by the glass. Many people make the mistake of cooking with a wine that’s been open too long and has become a little bitter. I appreciate not wanting to waste it.. but if it tastes bad in the glass… it’s going to taste bad in your food. So, please – toss that sour stuff out.  You don’t have to buy anything super expensive… the little Shiraz I used for this stew was only $7.99 a bottle!

INGREDIENTS

For the Stew
(serves 4-6)

2 pounds beef, cubed (I use locally-grown grass-fed beef from Whole Foods – Stew cut)
1-2 cups flour
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1/2 cup butter or olive oil
2 cups wine – I used a Shiraz (wait, make it 3 cups – 1 for drinking while cooking)
5 cups beef stock
5 stalks celery, sliced
1 medium fennel bulb – cored & sliced
1 medium sweet onion, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
5 medium red potatoes, cubed
2 bay leaves – whole
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, minced
1 sprig fresh rosemary – whole
4-5 fresh sage leaves – whole
pepper – a pinch to taste

For the Dumplings:
2.5 cups flour
1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup soft goat cheese
2 teaspoons each of fresh parsley, sage and thyme – finely chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
3-4 cups chicken stock (you can use beef stock if you have leftover, but chicken is lighter and doesn’t discolor the dumplings).

Preparation
There is a lot of chopping and mixing required to prepare this dish. So it’s a perfect example of when Mise en Place would be a necessary discipline. 

Ready To Cook?

Dumplings
In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and salt and mix well. In a small bowl, beat the eggs. Add the milk to the eggs. Add the egg/milk mixture to the dry ingredients and mix well. Stir in the goat cheese and the herbs. Season with freshly ground black pepper. Have the stock boiling in a small saucepan. Make sure the sauce pan is small enough that the dumplings will have room to float. Using 2 tablespoons, drop the dumpling batter into the boiling stock. Cook for about 5 minutes, or until the dumplings float to the surface. Remove the dumplings from the stock and place on a plate. To finish: Place the dumplings into the stew.

*Note: This is a fairly messy process. Do not be discouraged if your chicken stock is full of goo and looks disgusting. It will. The key is to leave the dumplings alone for 5 minutes so they can cook. The more you mess with them the more they’ll fall apart. I suggest reserving some of the stock to add after each batch. It’s probably best not to cook more than 3 at a time. Give them room in the pot.

Stew
In a large frying pan, heat 1/2 the butter or olive oil and sauté the celery, onion, potatoes and garlic until slightly browned. Set aside.

Combine flour, paprika, parsley and some pepper in a shallow bowl –  roll the beef in it until well coated on all sides. (TIP: Pat the beef dry with a paper towel and the flour mixture will stick better and your meat will brown. Meat will not brown if it is too wet. Julia Child was right!). Melt remaining butter or pour oil into in a large stew pot, and then add meat.

Sauté the meat until well browned. Make sure to have your pan well-heated – the key to a good sear is high heat. You only want the outside browned… not cooked all the way through. Add the previously prepared vegetables and sauté for about two minutes with the beef in the stew pot.

Add the wine, and sauté another three or four minutes.*

*This is when you would transfer the contents of your pot to a slow cooker if that is the method you’re using to make this stew. Otherwise, leave everything in your soup pot.

While the pot is hot, pour in the beef stock and the Bay Leaves, rosemary and sage and allow to simmer covered for about 2-3 hours in a preheated 300 degree oven. After this time the vegetables and beef should be very tender. You should be able to easily cut the meat using only a fork when it’s ready. TIP: I always thought I was cooking the meat too long which is why it was coming out tough – but actually I wasn’t cooking it long enough! It needs time for all those connective tissues to break down… so be patient!

At this point remove the lid, sift in any additional flour required to thicken to a desired consistency (use fresh flour – not from bowl), and allow the liquid to simmer roughly 30 minutes.

You may add pepper and salt to taste. But you shouldn’t have to if seasoned well. ;o) Serve with one dumpling per bowl of stew.

The Perfect Bite
The perfect bite for this stew consists of stacking your fork (yes, your fork… it’s thick enough to for-go the spoon if you’d like) with a piece of juicy meat, rich red potato, a bit of tangy celery and of course, be sure to include a chunk of the dumpling… so you can swirl it all around in the gravied-juices. I’m just sayin’… this may change your life a little.

The Perfect Pairing
There’s a fun little wine I recently came across called Luna Di Luna… it’s fun because none of their dual varietals are too overpowering or too weak. It’s kind of a wine you don’t have to worry about. Be sure to click on the link to their site and enjoy some groovy tunes.  Each varietal blend comes in solid colored bottles that take people by surprise and look great on the table. I paired this stew with the Merlot/Cab blend… which went perfectly with the hearty roasted beef and tangy goat cheese dumplings. Here in East Nashville I can find it for about $8.99 a bottle.

The Perfect Health
Did you know that a 6-ounce steak from a grass-fed steer can have 100 fewer calories than a 6-ounce steak from a grain-fed steer?  If you eat a typical amount of beef (66.5 pounds a year), switching to lean grass-fed beef will save you 17,733 calories a year! Read more here about the health benefits of eating grass-fed livestock. Also, I highly recommend seeing the movie Food, Inc. I can no longer just buy a hamburger at the drive-thru or pick up the cheapest chicken at WalMart or Kroger. It may be more expensive to get the grass-fed beef but it’s worth it and you can actually taste the difference!   Keep in mind that when buying free range chicken this is not what you think it means in the U.S. The only way to know how the chicken was raised is to buy from local farmers that you can get to know and trust.  That may not be an option for you… but just don’t be fooled into paying more by misleading labels and claims.

Red Potato Leek Soup


This was my first attempt at Potato Leek Soup and I must say I’m rather pleased. It is comfort food at its best and on a cold December day… this did not disappoint.

Many Potato Leek soup recipes tend to be bland and I wanted to find a way to make this soup rich and flavorful (no, I did not put curry in it this time) without radically changing the delicious and earthy flavor profile. All it took were a couple of ingredients and voila! It was exactly what I was looking for… once again, I used my garlic broth and the final touch was adding just a pinch of smoked paprika… and perfection!

First, you want to determine what stock you’re going to use as a base. I prefer my homemade garlic broth (see Did You Know? at the bottom to learn the difference between stock and broth) over chicken stock or plain vegetable stock. Chicken stock will definitely add more flavor but then your soup is no longer vegetarian-friendly. Below is my recipe for the garlic broth. Start there and have this handy before beginning the soup.

Start Here: *Vegetable Garlic Broth
you can make as much or as little as you like… I prefer to make the largest batch I can manage so I can freeze small containers worth and have this ready to add to any soup, any time. This recipe is based off of 2.5 quarts.(More recipes to come using this tasty broth!)

2.5 qts vegetable stock preferably from scratch but try to use organic if purchasing cans or boxes of broth (it’s roughly six 14oz cans).
4-5 tablespoons (heaping) coarsely diced garlic (roughly 2 bulbs)
2 bay leaves
3 tbsp olive oil
3 pinches dried sage
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried oregano
1 pinch salt

Ingredients
2-3 medium leeks (about 1.5 lb)
2-2.5 lbs red potatoes (leave skins on)
1/2 of a medium sweet onion, diced.
2 bay leaves
20 peppercorns
4 sprigs fresh thyme
2 tablespoons Vegan margarine
1/2 cup dry white wine
5 cups *garlic broth
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/4 teaspoon of white pepper
1 teaspoon of smoked paprika divided
1/2 – 3/4 cup of almond or soy milk

Soup Preparation
Cut two 6×6 inch squares of cheesecloth and layer together. In the center, place the bay leaves, peppercorns and thyme. Trim 2 of the green portions of the leek leaves, cut in half and place in center of cheesecloth, as well. Tie into a package-shaped bundle with kitchen twine and set aside.

Using a knife, halve the white part of the leeks lengthwise and rinse well under cold running water to rid the leek of any sand and dirt. TIP: I fill a large bowl with water and soak them for a few minutes, to really get the grit out of the thin layers. Then pat dry. Slice thinly crosswise and set aside. Wash and dice potatoes into 1/4 inch cubes and set aside.

Ready To Cook?
In a large soup pot over medium heat, melt the margarine and add the sweet onion. Cook for 5 to 6 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft. Add the chopped leeks and cook until wilted, about 5 minutes. Add the wine and bring to a boil. Add the reserved cheesecloth bundle, garlic broth, potatoes, salt and white pepper, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes, or until the potatoes are falling apart and the soup is very flavorful. It will be a brownish/auburn color at this point, due to the skins of the red potatoes.

Remove the cheesecloth bundle of spices and, working in batches, puree the soup in a food processor or blender. If using a blender, be sure to remove the center locking cap from the lid to allow steam to escape from the hole or you will blow the lid off your blender and you may get scalded with soup. Not that I’ve ever done that. 🙂  If you own an immersion blender, puree the soup directly in the pot. Pour in the milk and 3/4 tsp of smoked paprika and stir until blended. Add salt or pepper, if necessary. Serve immediately, with a pinch of smoked paprika and tiny sprig of fresh thyme to garnish the top of each bowl of soup.

The Perfect Bite
Be sure to swirl the paprika garnish into your bowl for added flavor. A crusty toasted slice of baguette is perfect for scooping up the thick potatoey goodness.

The Perfect Pairing
Try Yalumba’s Viognier. Slightly sweet, citrus-y and nicely balanced. This fruity full-flavored varietal shows more complexity with food.

Did You Know?
Many people are confused by the soup terms of broth, stock and bouillon. They are all very similar but with slight differences. Stock has no salt added, Broth has salt added for preserving and for serving as soup on its own, or clarifying for a consommé.

For instance… my Garlic Broth starts as a vegetable stock, which does not taste good on its own. But when infused with garlic and the additional spices… it becomes a broth… and can be consumed as a soup or used as a base for a more complex soup. Confused? Read more here.

Warm Red Potato Salad with Horseradish-Dijon Sauce


One of my favorite summer side dishes… is this Warm Red Potato Salad. Usually, potato salad calls for the standard mayo & mustard mix. But while playing with an idea for a spread for a German burger idea I’m also working on… I thought this might be quite tasty mixed into a red potato salad, as well. And… I was right!

Ingredients
(serves 10 people)
Salad:
3-4 lbs Red Potatoes
5 hard-boiled eggs
1 bunch green onions
5-6 stalks of celery
Salt & Pepper to taste
Sauce:
2 tablespoons Horseradish
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/4 cup Mayonnaise (for a healthier option, I use Hellman’s With Extra Virgin Olive Oil)
1/4 cup low-fat sour cream
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 pinch powdered Cayenne pepper

Preparation
Wash & dice potatoes into small 1/2 inch pieces. Do not peel. Red potato skins are not as grainy as russet and you’re adding about 2 grams of fiber per serving if you leave the skins on. Plus, they add color and texture to your dish.
Dice potatoes into 1/4″-1/2″ pieces. Boil until tender and drain. Roughly 15-20 minutes on medium heat.
Wash green onions, chop off ends and discard. Slice remaining stalks finely.
Wash and trim celery stalks. Save leafy pieces for garnishing later. Slice each stalk length-wise into 3-4 strips, then dice.
Chop boiled eggs (including yolks) into 1/2 inch pieces.
While potatoes and eggs are still warm, add all above ingredients to a large mixing bowl.

To make sauce get a small mixing bowl and add the mayo, horseradish, sour cream, mustard, salt & pepper. Mix well until completely blended.

Pour about half the sauce over your bowl of potato mixture and stir until well covered. Continue to add sauce until completely covered. If you have any remaining sauce, be sure to save it! You’ll be amazed at all the things it can be used for…

Final step: Use leafy pieces from celery to garnish edge of bowl or plate. The leftover ends from scallions work well, too. Enjoy!

The Perfect Bite
Of course, you know what I’m going to say… stack your fork with a bite of potato, egg, and a little onion. And there you have it… the Perfect Bite.

The Perfect Pairing
Since this is a side dish… I want to suggest a perfect main dish pairing, as well as a beverage pairing. The subtle tangy-ness of this salad beautifully compliments a hearty meat course like polska kilbasa or bratwurst on the grill. You can even the sausages to the salad and turn it into a main course. Just butterfly the links and throw them on the grill.

The perfect beverage to go with this salad is a wheaty summer brew like Yazoo’s Hefeweizen. Yazoo is a local Nashville Brewery with some of my favorite beers (and one of my favorite photography sites). If you’re in the Nashville area, be sure to stop by for a tasting and pick up a half-gallon “growler” of your favorite ale!

Did You Know?
Horseradish contains significant amounts of glucosinolates, compounds that have been shown to increase the liver’s ability to detoxify carcinogens and may suppress the growth of cancerous tumors. Horseradish is also said to aid digestion and it also contains compounds known to fight against pathogens in food, such as listeria, E. coli and Staphylococcus aureus.