Recipe: Easy Wine’d Beef

Since the weather was so chilly last week, I was searching out a way to make something for dinner that would warm us up.  Stir-fry would have been tasty, but since I don’t have a good non-stick pan at my disposal yet (still in the apartment), I opted to make a faster version of a traditional Beef Bourguignon.  EasyWine'dBeef

I started with a piece of beef that was on sale at the local grocery store.  I’m not exactly sure what cut of beef I purchased… I just know that there was some great marbling of fat (for yummy flavor) and it was boneless.  I popped it in the freezer for a bit to make it easier to cube, then tossed the cubes of beef with some flour seasoned with salt, pepper, and smoked paprika.

In the meantime, I heated some olive oil in a large stock pot and then sauteed a diced onion, a little green pepper, and a few handfuls of celery until they were softened and fragrant.  I love the way the smells in a kitchen can permeate the entire apartment and make the place smell “homey”, don’t you?

Once everything had a nice browned glaze to it, I moved them over and added the flour/seasoned beef to the pot.  I added a little more fat (some olive oil and a little margarine) to start the browning process for the beef.  This took some time, but it was well worth it.  NOTE: You’re not trying to cook the beef the whole way through, you’re just browning it in preparation for the slow cooking it will do in the liquid you’ll add next.

Once the beef is nicely browned, you are now going to add liquid.  I like to add a half bottle of a delicious red wine (like James River Cellars Merlot, Meritage, Rad Red, or even Hanover Red).  I also add about a cup of water and a beef bouillon cube to add some depth of beef flavor to the meal.  Your seasonings can be added now – I like to use a bay leaf or two, some herbs de provence, some worchestershire sauce, and a glop of ketchup.  Mix everything together, pop a lid on the top, and put the entire pot into a preheated 300 degree oven for an hour or two.  Stir it occasionally, to make sure that you’re getting the right blend of thickness and flavors… feel free to add more liquid if it’s getting too dry and don’t forget to remove the bay leaf before serving.

When you get close to dinner time, choose and cook a vegetable and a pasta of your choice.  As you can see by the photo, I used spaghetti noodles and broccoli.  Since my pantry is limited at the moment, I have an abundance of spaghetti, so I just broke the noodles in half and cooked them in salted water.  I then put a small bag of broccoli into the microwave and cooked it until it was bright green and cooked through.  I love serving this meal with wide egg noodles, but those didn’t make the cut when I was choosing what to bring to the apartment… feel free to use whatever pasta (or even a baked potato) you and your family like best.

I hope my recipes give you some ideas of meals you can make for your family, even if you don’t have a lot of “extras” at your disposal.  Play with what you’ve got on hand, pick up one or two essentials, and you can make a delicious dinner at home instead of spending extra money on dining out every night.  I have a hard time going to a restaurant and ordering something that I know I am able to make at home.  While I believe that going out should be a special experience, I do believe that staying in and making dinner for your family can bring about some pretty wonderful satisfaction as well.  It’s all in how you frame the experience.

Wishing you fun as you re-frame your own cooking experiences with your family!




Recipe: Italian Pot Roast

Here’s one of my favorite recipes for a chilly winter’s evening.  It’s great on a night where you don’t want to have to think about dinner and all you want to do is come home to dinner with the family.  This is a simple recipe to make for as many people you’ll be feeding… from two on up to as many as you can fit in your kitchen.  Feel free to play with the ingredients as well – it’s the idea of the recipe rather than the specifics.  Use The Force and create your own version of this delicious meal… then sit back and enjoy the compliments!Italian Pot Roast


2 ½-pound London broil

1 t salt

½ t pepper

1 t extra virgin olive oil

2 onions, sliced or chopped

½ -pound fresh mushrooms, sliced

4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes

1t dried basil

½ cup dry red wine (Suggested: James River Cellars’ Cabernet Franc, Merlot, or Meritage)



  1. Cut beef into large chunks, then sprinkle with ½ t salt and ¼ t pepper.  Heat oil in large stock pot over medium high heat and cook until browned, about 6 minutes.
  2. Remove beef.  Add onions, mushrooms and garlic to pot.  Cook, stirring occasionally until the vegetables begin to brown and soften, about 6-7 minutes. Add tomatoes, basil and wine along with remaining salt and pepper.  Cook until mixture begins to thicken, about 5-6 minutes.  Replace the beef in the stock pot and place in oven, at 250 degrees.  Cook for 4-5 hours.
  3. Remove beef once fork-tender and keep warm.  Cook all remaining ingredients on stove-top until thickened, 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Serve beef and sauce with mashed potatoes and a crisp, green salad.


Note:  Can use Crock pot and cook on high for 4-5 hours OR on low for 6-8 hours

Recipe: Easy Merlot Steak Sauce with caramelized onions

I made a great steak sauce the other night… one that took my slices of steak from “tasty” to “wow” in such a short amount of time that even I was impressed.  I wanted to come up with something that would bump up the flavor of dinner and, while my non-wine loving guys were unimpressed, I thought it turned out really well.

I heated some olive oil in a saute pan, then added in some thinly sliced onions and let them cook for a good half hour, stirring occasionally.  There’s really no shortcut to caramelizing onions – time and low heat are needed to get that toasty sweet taste from an onion – but it is entirely worth the effort.  I started the sauce as soon as I walked in the door from work and made that the focus of the meal, time-wise.  I still had dinner on the table within 40 minutes, but it was the sauce that needed the brunt of cooking time and attention.  While this is an incredibly easy sauce, it’s not going to be quick.Merlot Steak Sauce

Once the onions hit that “toasty/caramelized” stage, I poured in some Merlot from James River Cellars Winery.  I was using The Force for this recipe, so amounts were going to be approximations no matter how much sauce I was making.  You might be able to tell by the pictures that I only used one onion and about a cup of wine… if you’re making this for a group of wine lovers, I would definitely increase everything for this recipe.

Once the wine was reduced to an acceptable thickness (by about 60% or so), I added a pat of butter to “gloss the sauce”, so to speak.  This bit of fat contributed a shininess to the visual presentation of the sauce on my steak and I later went back and topped some of my roasted potatoes and steamed broccoli with sauce as well.  Since I was the only one sampling, I had enough to spread throughout my dinner and, wow, was it ever tasty.  Whoever said that a sauce for your steak wouldn’t make other foods taste good as well was (IMHO) nuts!

Easy, simple sauce… that’s what I was hoping to create, and that’s what I got.  As I said earlier, it did take time, but the effort was truly minimal for the amount of flavor that I gained.

Feel free to mix up some of the ingredients in this recipe to cater to the favorites in your own family.  You could easily replace the onions with mushrooms… swap out the Merlot for a Cabernet Franc or Cabernet Sauvignon… this is a basic recipe, meant to allow you to tailor flavors to your preferences.

Have fun playing with your food… that’s what makes cooking so enjoyable!

Recipe: Merlot Risotto with Goat Cheese and Carmelized Onions

This is one of those “O M G” recipes for those of you who like a creamy rice dish.  It’s got flavor and just enough texture… it’s decadent yet simple enough to make for a quick dinner… and it’s got lots of ingredients that can be flipped around to suit almost any finicky guest.  Even better, it’s based on a recipe that my boss uses at her house!  It became a staple in her house after her trip to Rome… it’s going to become a staple in my own house because it’s just so darn tasty.  You’ll have to try it and see what YOU think.

Merlot Risotto


4 Tablespoons of olive oil (divided 2T +2T)

Garlic (to taste – I like a lot, so I use 3-4 cloves worth)

1 1/4 cup arborio rice (I used a medium-length rice since I couldn’t find arborio but might use a short-grain next time)

1 cup James River Cellars’ Merlot (You can also use Cabernet Franc or another deep red wine of your choosing)

3 cups beef stock (If you’re making this for a vegetarian, simply use vegetable stock instead)

4 oz goat cheese (Use what you like and the amount you prefer – it’s the creaminess that you want here)

2 large, thinly sliced onions (You can substitute 3 cups of mushrooms or a mixture of both if you prefer)

Salt and pepper to taste

  1. In a large skillet, heat 2T olive oil over low heat, then add onions.  Allow to slowly cook for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until onions are caramelized.  If you’re using mushrooms in any form, this is where you’re going to cook them.
  2. While onions are cooking, heat remaining 2T olive oil in a large saucepan (don’t use something too small!).  Add garlic and cook until fragrant.  Add rice, tossing to coat in the oil, and allow to toast for 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add in wine, stirring occasionally.  Once the wine is absorbed, add in 1 cup of stock and allow the rice to absorb the stock as it did with the wine.  Repeat this 2 more times until all the stock has been added and absorbed.  I didn’t stir this constantly – I didn’t feel it was necessary.  I kept an eye on it and then tasted the rice when all the liquid was absorbed – if you like a softer consistency, feel free to add another cup of stock to the rice and stir as before.
  3. Reduce the heat to low and add salt/pepper, goat cheese and onions, then stir.  I like the cheese to be thoroughly incorporated before I serve it, so I don’t top each serving with bits of cheese, but feel free if that’s what you prefer.

You’ll notice that this post looks like an actual recipe… because I started with an actual recipe.  I’ve added tons of places where you can alter things to fit your preferences, but this is your starting point.  If you want to add some protein, feel free!  There’s no “RISOTTO POLICE” who will come and tell you that you’re doing things wrong.  As with any recipe where I use The Force to create a new rendition, feel free to make your own changes.  The idea is to help you think outside the box and come up with a dish that will become a favorite at your house.

After all… don’t you think the famous chefs took some inspiration from the food they ate when they were out?  It’s scary, but try it every once in awhile.  You might create a new “famous” recipe too!

Recipe: Bacon-wrapped Dates with Merlot

I did it again… had to come up with a tasty treat for a holiday party and decided to add wine to the mix.  Thankfully, it worked out well and tasted terrific!  This is one of those simple, quick, and easy recipes that begs to be repeated again and again.

I had just been to my best friend’s surprise birthday party and her sister (also a major foodie) was providing the food that inspired this creation.  While L’s version had no wine, hers did include a delicious type of cheese tucked neatly inside the dates… oh so decadent, but more than I could manage in the short amount of time I had to make my own rendition.

As sometimes happens when using The Force,  I ended up purchasing way too many dates and not enough bacon.  I probably could have cut the package of bacon into thirds instead of in half, as I did, but it was really yummy, as evidenced by the photBacon-wrapped Dateso I’ve included here.  I simply used a package of pitted dates from my local grocery store and wrapped each date with a half piece of bacon, then secured the bacon with a toothpick.  Once the dates were all wrapped, I drizzled them with maple syrup and then “thumbed” James River Cellars’ Merlot over top the entire recipe.  I probably could have mixed the syrup and wine together and brushed the mixture over those little morsels, but I wasn’t thinking far enough ahead.

Once all these sweet and salty treats were ready, I popped them into a 400 degree oven for about 10-15 minutes.  I could have used a 450 degree oven and had them done in 10, but I was working on some other things and the extra time worked to my advantage.  The final product was worthy of a New Year’s Eve party with dear friends… easy on the eyes and oh, so yummy.

I hope you’ll consider trying this recipe out on your own.  See if you come up with another way to use these ingredients to make something that covers both sweet and savory snack lovers.  Besides… isn’t most everything made better with bacon… and WINE?

Happy New Year to you and yours… May 2013 be a stellar year for one and all!