Easy Red Beef Stew

I was headed out to do some holiday shopping recently and decided that I wanted to make a simple crockpot dinner so that I wouldn’t feel pressured to rush home and make something that evening.  I had a nice piece of beef in the fridge and had picked up a package of baby potatoes at the store, so this was a really easy dinner to create.redbeefstew

Ingredients:

  • Beef – I don’t know much about cuts of beef, but I knew enough to get a “chuck roast”.  The one I chose was on sale, so I grabbed one that was on the smaller side so we wouldn’t have much waste.
  • Flour – I tossed some into a plastic bag to coat the beef before putting it into my crockpot.  Don’t honestly know how much… just enough to coat the meat.
  • 1+ onion – I cut this into thick chunks and used one whole vidalia onion and one half a red onion that I had in the fridge
  • 1 packet country gravy
  • 1 packet dry onion soup mix
  • 1 package (or similar amount) of baby potatoes (see photo of what I found at the store… this one included a few cloves of garlic and two sprigs of rosemary)
  • Red wine – the original recipe simply called for water, but that won’t cut it in my house.  WHY USE WATER WHEN YOU CAN USE WINE??
  • Frozen peas – I didn’t measure, but you could use whatever vegetable you like best here.  NOTE: If you’re planning to use carrots, I would allow them to cook with the beef instead of popping them in at the end.

Directions:

  1. Slice onion into chunks and put in the bottom of a large crockpot.
  2. Toss the meat in a plastic bag with some flour and then shake to cover.  Place meat on top of onions to cook.
  3. Open package of potatoes (or chop up large potatoes to fit around roast) and lay them around the meat in the crockpot.
  4. In a separate bowl, open the packets of gravy and onion soup and mix together with red wine.  I did not measure the amount of red wine used – I simply poured the wine and mixed it with the dry ingredients until it looked like enough.  I have a habit of adding too much liquid to my crockpot recipes, so I went a little lighter than I might have otherwise, which ended up working out well.
  5. Pour liquid over the roast.
  6. Cook on low for 6-8 hours or on high for 4-5 hours.
  7. During the last half hour (or 15 minutes before serving), stir the roast a bit and add your frozen peas.  These won’t take long to cook and you don’t want them to disintegrate into the gravy.
  8. Serve with some crusty bread to soak up the gravy… it’s delicious!

This was one of the most simple of meals but such a crowd pleaser.  If your family is picky about onions, feel free to slice them a bit smaller, but I liked the chunks of onion with the bites of meat and potato.  Feel free to experiment with other vegetables or seasonings… it’s your meal for your family, so use what you like!

Enjoy!

Pad Thai a la Ali

When my son E was in high school, I would make Pad Thai every few days for his volleyball team.  His friends would drive him home and then back to school again for practice, so I would make homemade meals for them to thank them.  Since I had never included this recipe on my blog, I thought I would post it now.padthai

Ingredients:

  • Sweet sausage (about 1 cup)
  • Broccolini (sliced into 1 cup of small pieces)
  • Thin Spaghetti (approximately 6 oz)
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 1T sugar
  • 1T soy sauce
  • 2T white wine + enough to deglaze pan
  • crushed garlic (about 1 thumb-worth)
  • 2T sesame oil
  • 1 large shallot (thinly sliced)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2T sliced almonds (lightly toasted for better flavor)

Directions:

  1. Heat 1T sesame oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat.  Sear sausage until cooked through, deglazing pan with wine, then add broccolini and saute until both are cooked and toasty.  Remove until ready to toss meal together for serving.
  2. In separate pan, cook spaghetti until al dente.
  3. In small bowl, mix ketchup, sugar, soy sauce, wine, and garlic.  Set sauce aside until ready to toss with meal.
  4. Heat remaining 1T sesame oil in large saute pan over medium-high heat.  Saute shallot until softened, then add garlic cloves to pan.  Once both are lightly cooked, add the cooked sausage and broccolini to pan and bring to temperature.
  5. Add cooked spaghetti to pan and toss with reserved sauce.  Saute until everything is thoroughly coated and heated through.  Divide among two plates and sprinkle with toasted almonds to serve.

This post is my own interpretation of a favorite Weight Watchers’ recipe that I used years ago.  That recipe used shredded chicken and had a few other tweaks, like using rice noodles and peanuts.

Suffice it to say that I love to play with recipes to create new versions that use wine and work with ingredients or flavors that are favorites of my family members.  I hope you enjoy coming up with new ways to change recipes of your own!

“Using The Force” for the first time

I was talking with a friend yesterday about what to make for dinner, when we stumbled upon the idea of having him “use The Force” to create a meal for him and his girlfriend.  We talked about a few recipes, contemplated different degrees of difficulty, and came up with the plan to use my Chicken Prosciutto Roll recipe.  He didn’t want to spend an inordinate amount of time on dinner, so we discussed ways he could “shortcut” the recipe and tailor it to their tastes.  I was so excited for him that I had to write a quick blog post to share this with you all.

AMUsingTheForce

Here’s his final product:

Doesn’t it look terrific?  THIS is what I mean when I say, if you’re planning to use one of my recipes,  that you should alter the original to fit what your family likes best, using the flavors and spices that you most enjoy.  He made his own version of a Chicken Prosciutto Roll and it turned out wonderfully.  He *did* use chicken breasts, Bourcin Cheese, and James River Cellars Gewurztraminer white wine, but swapped out ham for the prosciutto, since that’s what he had on hand.  More importantly than simply following the recipe, he used what he had at his disposal and took the time to prepare a meal that he and his girlfriend would enjoy.

My friend, AM, did a fabulous job of tailoring a basic recipe to make it his own.  I hope you’ll consider trying this same sort of thing in your own home.  It’s not hard to make dinner… it just takes a little thought and the ability to let your efforts shine as your own.

If you want me to blog about it and share your steps, just send me a message and take a few pics of the beginning/middle/end of your efforts so you can send them to me.  I’d be more than happy to help as you create dinners for your friends and loved ones… after all, it’s just food!

Enjoy the process…

Wine and Food pairing event

On November 10th, I participated in a wine and food pairing event at Sur La Table at the Stony Point/Richmond store… if you weren’t able to attend, for one reason or another, you really missed out on an amazing selection of food and wines.  There’s something so much fun about how the taste of a food changes when you add a specific wine… and this class did a wonderful job of showcasing that for all who attended.

My best friend, Lynne Just, is the resident chef at the Richmond Sur La Table and approached me about specifically pairing some of our James River Cellars for a cooking class.  It took some time to get everything organized, but I was really excited when the final menu came together.   Lynne came up with an appetizer, a salad, a hearty main dish, and a decadent dessert… and I got to help pair the wines we’d use.  I planned to attend the event, representing James River Cellars Winery, so I could explain our wines, but I also got to participate and do some of the cooking.  It was a BLAST!

The evening’s menu was as follows:  Blue Cheese Crostini with Applewood Bacon and Rad Red Wine-Reduction…. Roasted Beet Salad with Toasted Pecans, Goat Cheese and Merlot Vinaigrette… Au Poivre Ribeye with Merlot Sauce and Roasted Garlic Potatoes… Chocolate and Chambourcin Bread Pudding with a Caramel and Chambourcin sauce.  YUM!!

The wines that were used that evening were all from James River Cellars Winery.  We showcased Chardonel (a hybrid grape of Chardonnay and Seyval Blanc, created at Cornell in 1953) as we began cooking.  Our Rad Red (a dry blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petit Verdot) was used in the reduction for the crostini appetizer.  Merlot (which sports our Monitor vs. CSS Virginia Civil War label) was used in the vinaigrette for the salad as well as the sauce for the steaks.  In true chocolate-lovers’ fashion, our Chambourcin was used in both the bread pudding’s genache and flavored the caramel sauce that was poured over at the end.  It was an incredible meal that allowed everyone to enjoy both the wines AND the food.

We’re already making plans to repeat this sort of event in the spring, so keep an eye out for advertising about this class.  We’ll share the information on both the Sur La Table site (where you would sign up and pay for the class) as well as on the James River Cellars website, Facebook page, and twitter account.   A lighter menu is in the works… maybe a fish dish for the main event?  We’ll have to see what will work best, but one thing’s for sure… we’ll have a fabulous time!  Hope you can join us…

Beware, I cook using “The Force”

When I was first married, I followed recipes.  I would go to the grocery store with the purpose of picking up specific ingredients for a singular recipe and then go along, step-by-step, to hopefully come out with the picture-perfect dish that would make my new husband swoon with happiness.  After all, wasn’t the way to a man’s heart through his stomach?

It didn’t take me long to realize that this age-old phrase was simply that… a phrase.  The way to my own love’s heart was simply to be part of his life, whether I was cooking dinner in the kitchen or sitting across from him in a restaurant.  It wasn’t the three-course meal that was important; it was the thought behind the preparation… the plan behind the action… the love that was shown simply by paying attention and trying.

So I started to “wing it” when it came to food.  I know there are those of you who are cringing right now… cooking is a science and should be treated as such.  As much as I do agree that there’s a huge amount of science that goes along with cooking the right ingredients and the right temperature to achieve the right result, I also would insist that cooking existed for millions of years before we had oven thermometers and Pyrex measuring cups.  I simply don’t want to be tied down to a full-on planned recipe every time I want to make dinner.  It’s just not “me”…

So, I use “The Force” when I cook.  You know, the reference from Star Wars?  “May The Force be with you”?  I look to recipes for ideas, inspiration, and basic constructs of a dish… and then I branch out.  Sure it’s scary sometimes… but when it all comes together and makes a meal that everyone agrees is a WINNER, it’s a totally hyped experience.  Yes, there are those times when the recipe fails miserably, but thankfully those have become fewer and fewer over the years.

Take my chocolate chip cookie recipe, for example.  I started out using the standard Toll House Cookie recipe from the back of the package.  It’s tasty… it’s traditional… and it’s what everyone uses when they first start out making cookies.  It just started getting boring to make the same recipe over and over again.  My chocolate chip cookie recipe is a bit more “flamboyant”… for lack of a better word.  I’ve learned that I like to have some unique ingredients in my recipe, to add different back-notes of flavors to the cookie.  Over the years, my recipe has included chili powder, ground ginger, almond extract, espresso, blood orange balsamic vinegar, and yes… WINE.   Lest you think that I’ve abandoned the focus of my blog so soon, I will say that I do add red wine to my chocolate chip cookie dough.   It adds a lovely fudginess to the cookies and my guys seem to love it, which is why I’ll probably be making another double batch of dough to keep in the fridge before the weekend rolls around.

Many people like recipes to read like directions (step 1, step 2, step 3, etc) while others tend to allow for some creativity to flow when following a recipe.  It’s seen as more of a guideline than a directive.  For those of you who fall into the second category, you will understand my recipes much easier than those of you who crave the specifics of teaspoons, tablespoons, and quarter cups of ingredients.  In any case, I hope that you find some entertainment value in my cooking… I believe that it’s the journey that’s just as important as the final dish or destination.

Try using The Force in your cooking sometime… you might find a creative soul just waiting for the opportunity to shine!