Beef Stew

Beef Stew This has been a pretty tough winter so far, here in Michigan… lots of snow; high temps struggling but often failing to get into double digits; low temps dropping below zero. Right this minute– Sunday, 3:30 pm, it’s 12 degrees out, with snow that’s been steadily falling all day long. So this is the perfect day to get a fire going and make some good old-fashioned cold-weather comfort food: beef stew, pretty much like mom used to make.

Ingredients:

  • 1 to 1 1/2 lbs. stewing beef
  • 4-5 carrots
  • 3-4 ribs celery
  • 1 large or 2 medium onions
  • 4-5 cloves of garlic
  • 4 large or 6-8 small potatoes
  • 1 red pepper (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 2 tablespoons butter or vegetable oil
  • Splash of red wine
  • About 2 pints beef stock
  • Black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1-2 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

 

Serves 4

Cut up your stewing beef into bite-sized chunks– around 1″ to 1 1/2″ cubes. Stewing beef is generally a cheaper cut that would be too tough cooked like a steak, but is perfect slow-cooked in a stew until it’s tender. Chuck steak is good for this. If you want to save a little time you can often find pre-cut meat labeled “stewing beef” at the store.

Cut the vegetables up. Dice the onions and mince the garlic into small pieces, but the rest of the veggies like carrots and celery, the more visible veggies, can be cut into more chunky pieces. I added a red pepper because I like the flavor, plus it adds some more vitamins to the stew, but I made this an optional ingredient because it wasn’t in mom’s stew.

Stew BeefYour chunks of beef need to be completely dry so they can be seared, so blot them down with some paper towel if you need to. This is important, because we want to brown the meat for flavor– not steam it.

Searing BeefAdd the butter or oil to a large pot (big enough for the whole stew– this is one of those nice easy one-pot meals). Turn the heat on high. When it’s sizzling, add the meat, and give it a few minutes to get nice and browned on each side before turning each piece over to brown the whole surface of each piece.When the meat is browned, remove it and pour out any excess grease from the meat, leaving just a little bit. Add the chopped up vegetables and cook while stirring until the onions start to soften up a little.

Now add a nice generous splash of red wine and stir up the brown stuff on the bottom of the pan from the seared meat. Cook long enough to let the wine reduce some and cook off the alcohol (our kids are going to be eating the stew too). Add the beef stock, put the beef back in, and add all the seasonings at this point and bring to a simmer. Cook on a very slow simmer for 2-3 hours.

While the stew is simmering, wash and scrub the outside of the potatoes. Peel the potatoes if you want, but I leave the skins on because it adds more fiber, and I like the taste of potato skins (plus, it’s one less thing to do!). Cut the potatoes into bite-size pieces, about the same size as the beef. Add the potatoes in the last 1/2 hour of the cooking time– they don’t take too long. Stick a fork in a sample potato piece to see if it’s done.

When the potatoes are ready, mix the 3 tablespoons of flour with an equal amount of water, adding the water slowly, and constantly stirring to make sure you get a smooth paste without any lumps of dry flour. It should have the consistency of pancake batter. Slowly add the flour-water paste to the beef stew while stirring the stew until it thickens up just to a gravy-like consistency. Heat and stir a little longer to make sure the flour is well-mixed in with the stew and the consistency is right (add a little water if it gets too thick), and it’s ready.

Serving suggestion– serve with a nice chunk of crusty French-style bread to help mop up the “gravy”, preferably in front of a nice roaring fire if you have one. Enjoy!

Cajun Pasta

final1

My wife ordered something called “Cajun Pasta” from a restaurant once, and she really liked it, so much she asked me to give it a try sometime. She liked my version, and it’s since worked its way into a semi-regular rotation on the weekend meal list.

 

Ingredients:

  • 12 Raw peeled-deveined jumbo shrimp
  • 1 Boneless chicken breast
  • 2 Andouille sausages, or Mexican chorizo
  • 1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes or several fresh tomatoes
  • 2 Cups chicken stock
  • 1/4 Cup olive oil
  • 2-3 Tablespoons flour
  • 1 Green pepper
  • 1 Large onion
  • 4-5 Cloves garlic
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • Black pepper to taste
  • Cayenne pepper to taste
  • Cajun/Creole seasoning to taste
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/2 Tsp. thyme
  • 1 Tsp. oregano

 

Serves 4

Chop up vegetables, cut up chicken and sausage.

Cover the chicken pieces liberally in the Cajun/Creole seasoning of your choice– I used Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning. Add a tablespoon of olive oil to a pan, get it good and hot, and brown the chicken and sausage. Then add the vegetables and cook until the veggies start to soften up, then we’ll take the cooked meat and veggies off the heat and set aside.

Most other Cajun Pasta recipes online call for adding heavy cream, and I’m sure those versions are really good, but I like to keep it a little lighter with my version (and I didn’t have any heavy cream anyway). So I made a roux, as with the Gumbo/Jambalaya recipe, but using 1/4 cup or a little less of olive oil. Add the olive oil to a pot large enough to finish cooking all the ingredients. Heat the oil on medium heat and gradually add the flour, stirring it in constantly. Since we’re using olive oil, which doesn’t withstand heat as well as butter or peanut oil, don’t cook the roux until it’s browned, we’ll go with a “blond” roux– just cook and stir until it’s the consistency, but not the color, of peanut butter.

When the roux is ready, add the cooked meat and veggies, the tomatoes, and slowly add and stir in the chicken stock. Add the seasonings, including more of the Cajun/Creole seasoning if you like. Simmer for about 20 minutes- 1/2 hour. Add the lime juice when it’s almost done cooking.

Serve over your favorite pasta (I used penne rigate), and add shredded parmesan cheese, and some chopped parsley if you like. Enjoy!

Paella

PaellaPaella is a dish originated by Spanish peasants, who used whatever they had on hand that day to make it, with local vegetables and whatever meat they could get hold of– often rabbit. That sense of improvisation makes paella perfect for RecipeOptions.com.

Over the years I’ve made many variations on Paella (Haven’t tried a version with rabbit yet, though). Often Paella has a combination of meats, seafood being very prominent. But I’ve made a version that was chicken-only when we had a friend over who was allergic to shellfish. And it would be very easy to make a very good vegetarian Paella, maybe with some eggplant added. So feel free to experiment with your own ingredients!

Pretty much the only constant ingredients when making paella are some type of short-grain rice and saffron. Fun fact about saffron- it’s one of the most expensive, if not the most expensive, spices per pound in the world. But don’t let that discourage you and decide to leave it out– you only use a very small amount. The distinctive bright yellow color and the unique and very distinctive flavor saffron adds to Paella makes it a very key ingredient.

For the rice, I used to use Arborio, the same style used for Risotto, but I recently read that it’s too starchy for Paella– the starchiness of Arborio is what gives Risotto that creamy texture when you stir the Risotto while it’s cooking. So for this recipe I tried a “Calrose” rice. I’ve heard Valencia or Calasparra are better, but they may be hard to find and may require purchasing online.

So for my version these days I’ve settled on a combo of chicken, Mexican Chorizo (I take it out of its casing and roll up little chorizo meatballs), shrimp and mussels. Spanish Chorizo might be a more “authentic” choice but I like the Mexican version. As for vegetables, my version is a little more unothodox– I like adding artichoke hearts, which I don’t think I ever saw in any Paella recipe but I think works in my version. Peas seem to be typical in every other Paella recipe I’ve seen, but peas are one of the few vegetables I’m not really crazy about, so I leave them out. Please feel free to add peas to yours if you like them. I’ve joked my version should really be called “Aella”, because….no P’s! (Sorry, that’s why I don’t write a humor blog).

With its bright colors– the bright yellow from the saffron, the green and red of the peppers and tomatoes, this makes a festive meal for around the holidays. Many families have a “Feast of Seven Fishes” tradition on Christmas Eve– an all-seafood Paella could easily be part of that. Heck, even if you’re looking for something a little different for Christmas dinner. Or this would work for a New Year’s Eve dinner as well. Anytime is Paella time. Enjoy!

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups short grain rice (Calrose or Valencia is good; Arborio will work too)
  • 2 boneless chicken breasts
  • 16 jumbo shrimp
  • 2 links Mexican chorizo
  • 1/2 lb. mussels
  • 1 green bell pepper or 1/2 green, 1/2 red pepper
  • 1 medium-sized onion
  • 4-5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 15oz. can petite diced tomatoes
  • 1 15oz. can quartered artichoke hearts
  • 1 bottle of clam juice
  • 2 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken stock
  • Juice from 1-2 lemons
  • 1/2 Tsp. thyme
  • 1/2 Tsp. oregano
  • 1/2 Tsp. black pepper
  • 1/2-1 Tsp. Creole-style Seasoning (Like Tony Chachere’s)
  • 1/4 Tsp. Saffron
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil

 

Special Utensils:

  • I used a heavy-duty iron wok, which actually works really well for making Paella. An authentic paella pan would of course be best, but any deep, wide pot with a heavy-duty bottom would work.

 

Serves 4-6

Chop chicken into 1″ pieces; take chorizo out of casing and roll into small (1″) meatballs.

Dice pepper and onion and mince up garlic cloves.

Heat up chicken stock in a separate pan and keep hot, just under a simmer.

Meat and Veggies Cooking

Meat and Veggies Cooking

Add olive oil to pan or wok and heat on high. When good and hot, add chicken and chorizo and stir frequently until the meat is browned.

Add diced pepper and onion and stir until they’ve started to cook through. Add minced garlic and stir until the vegetables are almost cooked through.

Add rice and stir until the rice has been coated with oil and mixed in well.

Pealla Seasonings

In go the saffron and other seasonings

Then add the can of tomatoes, lemon juice, clam juice and seasonings. Stir together, then cover and set on low-medium heat. Check at regular intervals and add the hot chicken stock to the Paella as the rice absorbs the liquid.

Rinse the mussels off with cold water and give them a scrub if you like. Remove the “beards”– the stringy fibers the mussel used to anchor itself. Make sure all mussel shells are tightly closed. If any are open and don’t close immediately with a couple taps against the counter, discard.

10-15 minutes before the rice is finished cooking (about 30 minutes, 40-45 total cooking time), add the shrimp and mussels. Since the rice can’t really be stirred at this point, push the shrimp down and fold into the rice so it’s completely covered. Push the mussels about halfway down into the rice and cover the Paella. Cook or 10 or so more minutes, until the mussel shells have opened. discard any shells that don’t open after cooking.

Enjoy!

 

Mashed Rutabaga (Swedes)

Mashed Rutabaga (Swedes)

Here’s my contribution for a really tasty side dish for Thanksgiving or any upcoming holiday dinner, a traditional holiday side dish in my family. My Scottish Grandma used to make mashed rutabaga as a side for holiday meals. She called them “Swedes”, which Wikipedia tells me is what they’re called in most British Commonwealth nations, having originated in Sweden. They’re a cross between a turnip and a cabbage, and they have a delicious earthy, cabbage-like flavor.

Well, enough rutabaga fun facts. Here’s what you really need to know- how to cook them!

Ingredients:

  • 3 Good-Sized Rutabagas (a little larger than a softball).
  • 1/4 – 1/2 stick of butter
  • 15 oz. Low-Sodium Chicken Stock
  • Salt and Pepper to Taste

 

Special Utensils:

  • A Potato Masher comes in really handy!

 

Serves 6-8

Rutabagas

Yes, this is what rutabagas look like

Chopped Rutabaga

Ready for boilin’

Cut ends off rutabagas and peel off skin. Rutabagas are difficult to work with, so carefully cutting the skin off with a sharp knife will probably work better than a potato peeler. Chop the rutabagas up into roughly inch and a half wide cubes, being careful because rutabagas are very hard and dense in their raw state, and difficult to cut up.

Some recipes for mashed rutabaga say to add cream. I think a generous amount of butter plus some good chicken stock give the rutabagas plenty of extra flavor. I like to take about a pint or so of low-sodium chicken stock and boil it down by 1/2 or more to concentrate the flavor.

Boiling Rutabaga

It’s beginning to boil…

As the chicken stock starts to reduce, put the rutabaga pieces into a large pot and fill with water so they’re covered. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium/low and simmer the rutabaga until it’s easy to break apart with a fork, about 1/2 hour. Drain the water from the rutabaga pieces and put them back into the pot.

Mashing Rutabagas

I did the mash…

Now comes the fun part– mashing! Add the butter, salt and pepper, and the reduced chicken stock a little at a time, mashing and stirring until it gets to a chunky mashed potato consistency. Taste as you go to add more butter, stock or seasoning as needed. Enjoy!

 

Jambalaya Gumbo

Jambalaya

My version of Jambalaya/Gumbo is one of my favorites to make (and to eat!). I made this with a roux (mix of oil and flour) to thicken it up and give it more flavor, and Jambalaya is typically made without a roux, so this is probably more of a Gumbo. But when I think Gumbo I think of adding okra, of which this has none. And this has tomatoes, which I think makes it Creole, the Cajun version having no tomatoes, I believe. So, Jambalaya or Gumbo? Creole or Cajun style? I don’t know, but I know it sure is good.

Since this is Recipe Options, before I give my recipe I should say there’s no need to stick to it! There’s a lot of variation with Creole/Cajun style meals. They usually all have the “holy trinity” of vegetables: bell pepper, onion and celery. And there’s also a “holy trinity” of herbs I think of as being necessary to Creole/Cajun style– thyme, oregano and bay leaves. And there should be some heat added with cayenne pepper, depending on how spicy you like it. After that, it’s wide open– three types of meat are pretty typical- sausage, chicken and some type of seafood. But if you just have shrimp, it’s a Creole shrimp stew! Or try crab meat instead of shrimp. If you don’t have sausage, I’ve used bacon and that works well. I mentioned tomato vs. no tomato. I also mentioned roux vs. no roux– I’ve made this plenty of times without a roux, and it’s still plenty good– and a lot faster to make. I add a little lime juice to my recipe, and that’s not traditional, but I think it really works with the other ingredients. We like it spicy, so I often add Tabasco sauce,  as well as Jalapeno peppers or whatever peppers I might have on hand- Hungarian, Serrano, Thai-style peppers, etc. Never tried throwing a Habanero pepper in there, but I bet that would be really good. Some recipes call for a shot of Worcestershire sauce– sometimes I add some, sometimes not, depending on what mood I’m in. When it gets to the simmering stage, I’m tasting it and deciding if it needs a little more of this or that. Some dishes call for simplicity, but this is one that really brings out the mad scientist in me.

 

Ingredients:

  • 16 Jumbo Shrimp
  • 2 Boneless Chicken Breasts
  • 2-3 Andouille Sausages (Mexican Chorizo works if you can’t find Andouille)
  • 1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes or several fresh tomatoes
  • 2-3 Cups Chicken Stock
  • 1 Bottle Clam Juice (Optional)
  • 1/4 Cup Peanut Oil and/or butter
  • 2-3 Tablespoons Flour
  • 1 Green Pepper
  • 1 Large Onion
  • 4-5 Cloves Garlic
  • 3-4 Celery Stalks
  • Juice of 1 Lime
  • Black Pepper to taste
  • Cayenne Pepper to taste
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/2 Tsp. Thyme
  • 1 Tsp. Oregano
  • 2-3 Bay Leaves
  • Fresh Parsley

 

Serves 4

Chop up vegetables and cut up chicken and sausage into not too small pieces. Mince up the garlic into small pieces. Here’s a good article that covers cooking terminology like chopped vs. diced vs. minced. If the shrimp has shells, remove them and you can simmer the shells in the chicken stock for awhile to give the stock more of a seafood flavor. Otherwise, you can add a bottle of clam juice instead. Or do both!

Roux

Just about there!

Heat up the peanut oil (or peanut oil and butter, or 100% butter) on medium-low heat in a large pot and add the flour a little at a time, stirring constantly. Keep adding flour until the mix of oil and flour (the roux) has a paste-like consistency. Keep stirring, stirring until the roux is a nice medium reddish-brown color, the color of peanut butter or an old penny. This will take about 1/2 hour to 45 minutes. To stop stirring for too long is to burn the roux.

chix-veg-rouxWhile stirring the roux, I like to cook the chicken and vegetables (and the sausage if it’s uncooked, but not the garlic yet) with a little oil in a separate skillet. Then, when the roux is done, add the chicken, sausage, vegetables and garlic, and stir some more, letting it all cook a little more and blend.

simmering

Simmering away nicely…

Start adding the chicken stock (don’t forget to remove the shells if you added them), a little at a time, until it’s mixed in and has a good stew-like consistency, not too thick or too thin. The chicken stock should be hot or at least warmed up before it’s added to the roux in order to mix properly. Now add the tomatoes, herbs and spices (all the rest of the ingredients besides the parsley, shrimp and lime juice), and let it all simmer for about 1/2 hour-45 minutes.

Add the shrimp at about the last minute of simmering. You want to cook the shrimp until it’s just turned translucent. Shrimp should not be overcooked- you don’t want tough, rubbery shrimp! You can make the jambalaya/gumbo for the next day, and that’s fine– some say it’s even better the next day, when the flavors have had a chance to blend together. Just don’t add the shrimp until you heat it up again the next day.

When it’s done simmering, mix in the lime juice, serve over rice and garnish with fresh diced parsley if you like. Enjoy!