The BEST Cranberry-Cherry Sauce

The BEST Cranberry-Cherry Sauce - Dinner Is Served3When was the last time you raved about cranberry sauce?  Too often it’s an afterthought to the Thanksgiving meal.  Hosts feel obligated to include it but often do not put a lot of effort into it.  Well with just the minimal amount of effort and the addition of tart cherries, you can elevate this side sauce to new levels.  20171119_201227250_iOS

The entire sauce comes together in under 20 minutes and can be made several days in advance.  A pinch of cloves adds a nice depth to the flavor as well.

Remember too that cranberry sauce is not just for Thanksgiving! It makes a wonderful topping for warm, baked brie  or served alongside roast pork or a seared duck breast.  And of course with leftover turkey sandwiches!

If you’re not feeling the cherry thing, take a look at the other fantastic cranberry sauce recipe here on Dinner Is Served: Cranberry Sauce with Ginger and Pinot Noir

Happy food prep to one and all!The BEST Cranberry-Cherry Sauce - DInner Is Served1

The BEST Cranberry-Cherry Sauce*

  • 2 1/2 cups cherry cider, cherry juice or cranberry juice cocktail
  • 1 8-ounce package dried tart cherries (about 2 cups)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 12-ounce package fresh cranberries
  • 1/8 tsp. ground cloves

Bring juice to simmer in a heavy, large saucepan.  Add dried cherries and remove from heat. Let stand 8 minutes. Mix in sugar, then cranberries and cloves. Over medium-high heat, bring sauce to a boil.  Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until cranberries burst, about 9 minutes.  Refrigerate until cold, about 4 hours (sauce will thicken). Can be prepared up to four days in advance.  Let stand at room temperature about 30 minutes before serving.

*Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit

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Thanksgiving Mashed Potatoes

 

Thanksgiving Mashed Potato Casserole - Dinner Is Served 3Thanksgiving has always held a special place in my heart.  A wonderful mix of comfort food, family time.  And chaos.  A little of which is expected but too much can quickly turn the fun family celebration into “next year we’re getting take-out!”   One of the biggest culprits in that mix of kitchen calamity: mashed potatoes.

To be clear, mashed potatoes are a MUST at my family’s Thanksgiving dinner if for no other reason than to serve as a vessel to hold all the delicious gravy.  But that last minute mashing and hauling out of the hand mixer or ricer and “how do we keep them warm while we carve the turkey” conundrum.

The solution?  This incredibly easy make-ahead mashed potato casseroleThanksgiving Mashed Potato Casserole - Dinner Is Served 5 Buttery Yukon Gold potatoes are whipped with a little sour cream and topped with a golden, crunchy Parmesan/Panko topping.  And best of all: IT CAN ALL BE prepped up to three days before so no frantic, last minute mashing!

A couple of recipe notes. You may certainly use any kind of potatoes you wish, although I am very partial to the Yukon Golds when it comes to mashed potatoes.  Purchase the largest ones you can find to minimize the amount of peeling.Thanksgiving Mashed Potato Casserole - Dinner Is Served 1

And speaking of peeling, if you don’t already own a Zyliss Vegetable Peeler, BUY ONE NOW!  For about $9 and free shipping (if you’re an Amazon Prime member), you will get a peeler that will peel vegetables with such ease, you’ll wonder how you ever got along with out it.  WELL WORTH THE MONEY!Thanksgiving Mashed Potato Casserole - Dinner Is Served 2

Another item worth purchasing for this dish and countless others is a jar of Trader Joe’s Seasoning Salt.  It’s wonderfully balanced and adds a nice depth of flavor without overwhelming the dish.Trader Joe's Seasoned Salt

Lastly a plug for using freshly grated Parmesan cheese in all that you cook. If you can spring for the real deal, Parmigiano Reggiano, go for it!  Otherwise there are plenty of domestic brands that taste great (BelGioioso’s Parmesan Cheese is a fave).Freshly Grated Parmesan Cheese

The more you can do ahead of time, the more you can spend with your family and loved ones and enjoy a chaos-free holiday.  Until next time, be well, eat well and love lots!

Thanksgiving Mashed Potato Casserole*

  • 7 TBS softened unsalted butter + more to grease pan
  • 3 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1 TBS + 3/4 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1/2-3/4 tsp Trader Joe’s Seasoning Salt (or other brand of seasoned salt)
  • 3/4 tsp ground white pepper
  • 3/4 cup sour cream
  • 1/3 cup Panko bread crumbs
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • Dash paprika
  • Chopped chives (optional)

Lightly grease a 2-quart baking dish (See Note 1>)  and set aside.

Place potatoes in a large pot and cover with water by about 1 inch. Add 1 TBS salt and partially cover.  Bring to a boil over high heat then lower heat, uncover and simmer for about 20 minutes or until potatoes are just tender and still holding their shape.

Drain, then place potatoes back in the pot.  Place pot over medium heat, shaking pan, for about 30 seconds to let some of the excess moisture evaporate.  Remove from heat.

Mash potatoes using either a ricer, potato masher or hand mixer (see Note 2>).  Add 5 TBS of the butter, sour cream, 3/4 tsp each: Kosher salt, Seasoned Salt and white pepper.  Using a rubber spatula, spoon potatoes into prepared baking dish. (Can be prepared up to three days ahead.  Cover and refrigerate.  Let sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes before final baking).

Combine in a small bowl, remaining 2 TBS softened butter, Panko breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese.  Using your fingers, break up butter and combine to form coarse crumbs.  (If making ahead, cover and refrigerate.  Let sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes before final baking).

Heat oven to 400°.  Sprinkle crumbs over the top of the casserole.  Sprinkle a little paprika over top.  Bake until golden and bread crumb topping is golden, about 30 minutes (Note> If you double recipe, it may take up to 40 minutes).

Remove from oven.  Garnish with fresh chives and serve.

Serves: 6

*Recipe adapted from New York Times

NOTE 1> If doubling recipe, use a 9×13-inch baking pan

NOTE 2> For fluffy, super smooth mashed potatoes, nothing works like a Potato Ricer.   Standard Potato Mashers get the job done, although more likely to leave some lumps behind (which…some people LIKE lumps!).  Last but not least, a sturdy Hand Mixer will get the job done in no time.  Just be sure not to over mix or potatoes will become gummy.

NOTE 3> For a gluten free version, use Kikkoman’s Gluten Free Panko Breadcrumbs.

Thanksgiving Mashed Potato Casserole - Dinner Is Served

 

 

A Celebration of Blogging, Likes and Honey and…a Give Away!

Just over seven years ago, I decided to take the plunge and start a food blog.  The first recipe I posted was for this Really Great Sirloin Steak Marinade (still one of my very favorites).   There was no text, just the recipe and a somewhat dingy, out-of-focus photo, thanks to an old model cell phone camera and incandescent lighting.  /shuddersirloin-steak2

Now, 200 posts later, I have hopefully evolved into a more competent photographer and writer of words.  While not a prolific poster, my heart and soul still belong in the kitchen and in my garden <3, and I love sharing it all with you.

In addition to hitting the 200th post milestone, last week I also crossed over the 700 likes threshold on my Facebook Dinner Is Served page  .  I do believe this is cause for a celebration!

700 Likes

If you’re wondering what honey has to do with this post, well it has EVERYTHING to do because to celebrate these milestones,  I’m giving away one jar of our beautiful, golden fall honey!  Just leave a comment below or on my Facebook page and tell me your favorite way to enjoy honey and I will pick one winner at random.

PicMonkey Collage 1

I haven’t had the opportunity to talk at great lengths about our beekeeping hobby.  Honestly I have enough information and photos to start an entirely separate blog.  But the short and sweet (haha get it?) version is: YES, this is our second year beekeeping!  WE have two hives in our back yard that produce about 100# of honey (that does not include the honey produced by the bees to get them through the winter).IMG_0857

The honey is, in our humble opinion, amazing and makes all the effort worth while.  We enjoy it daily on toast, in tea or drizzled over yogurt.  Also  works great in salad dressings and marinades (like this one for  Honey, Lemon and Thyme Grilled Pork Tenderloin.

Again, THANK YOU for your likes and support.  Here’s to many more years of cooking and sharing recipes ❤

Until next time, be well, eat well, love lots!

Ann @ Dinner Is Served

 

Ann

 

 

 

A Few of My Favorite Things: September, 2017

How did it get to be September already?  And how is it possible I’m not quite ready for Fall (my favorite season) yet? Maybe it has something to do with the fact my back yard is at the peak of summer splendor right now and I just don’t want that to go away anytime soon. Backyard 2017

There are still plenty of tomatoes to harvest, basil to turn into pesto and more honey to extract. In other words: IT AIN’T OVER TILL IT’S OVER!

I’ve also been busy discovering a few *new favorite things lately and thought this would be a good time to share a few with you. They are all from Trader Joe’s so if you don’t happen to have one nearby, I apologize and promise next time I will review products that are more universally available.

But for now, let’s start with this completely amazing cheese that we cannot stop eating at our house.IMG_3484

TJ’s Unexpected Cheddar has apparently been around since 2011 so eh….guess I haven’t been paying a lot of attention to the cheese section in a while!  We’re more than making up for lost time, by going through large quantities of this rich and nutty cheese.  I’ve been putting it on burgers and into salads. But mostly just nibbling on it on a cracker or with some apple slices and a glass of red wine. At $3.99 for a  oz. block, it’s a MUST TRY!

And speaking of red wine, this Petit Reserve Meritage Blend is also a must try, especially at the low low price of just $7.99/bottle.  Two words: CASE WORTHY.  This red blends Merlot, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes into a full-bodied, versatile wine.  Fantastic balance of fruit, spice and oak all rolled into one.  Pair with some Unexpected Cheddar and your life will be complete.IMG_3488

Next up is Trader Joe’s Frozen Brown Rice. Rice = not exactly THE most exciting food topic but something I serve to the family at least a few times a week.  It took me years to convert the young ones over to brown rice (mom fail for starting them off on white rice and white bread :-/ )  But now that I’ve finally gotten to eat it, I try to serve as often as possible and TJ’s make this so easy with pre-cooked frozen rice that is actually good and way better than those pre-cooked rice in the bags at the store.

Trader Joe's Brown Rice

And now the best for last…Spatchcocked Lemon Rosemary Chicken. Total game changer, this one!

Trader Joe's Spatchcocked Chicken

For just $3.99/lb (price as of 09/2017), you get a whole, butterflied chicken marinated in a delightful blend of lemon, garlic and rosemary.  And the best part?  You just put in a pan and bake for an hour.  We’re talking ZERO EFFORT here.  The kind of meal that’s right up my alley after a long day at the office.  Two enthusiastic thumbs up from the teens (really now young adults) as well.

Until next time, be well, eat well, love lots.  Eat cheese and drink wine too!

Ann @ Dinner Is Served

A Few of My Favorite Things - Dinner Is Served

 

 

 

Grilled Shrimp with Basil and Prosciutto

 

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This one’s been on my list FOREVER to share with you as it’s one of my very favorite ways to serve shrimp. It’s very simple to make and…I just happen to have an ample supply of basil in my garden right now (yes, basil pesto has already been made!)Grilled Shrimp with Basil and Prosciutto Dinner Is Served4 Grilled shrimp make the perfect summertime patio meal, accompanied by a green salad, fresh ciabatta bread and a crisp white.  They also make a wonderful appetizer.  Versatility: it’s a good thing!

Start with a classic white wine/lemon marinade that’s spruced up with some fresh chopped basil and Dijon mustard: Grilled Shrimp with Basil and Prosciutto Dinner Is Served1

Then let your gorgeous shrimp marinate for a good three hours in the fridge. You can probably get away with two hours.  I wouldn’t go longer than four:Grilled Shrimp with Basil and Prosciutto Dinner Is Served2Grilled Shrimp with Basil and Prosciutto Dinner Is Served3

To assemble, just wrap a fresh basil leaf around each shrimp, followed by a strip of prosciutto and grill, basting with the reserved marinade. The result is juicy shrimp with just enough lemon and basil flavors, surrounded by smokey, crispy prosciutto.

We’re headed up to the great state of Wisconsin for a little R&R then back to harvest this year’s honey (you can see our hives in the photo below).   Looking forward to sharing that with you!  Until then…be well, eat well, love lots!  And may all your days be as beautiful as the one we had yesterday here in Chicago20170729_232905956_iOS

Grilled Shrimp with Basil and Prosciutto

  • 1# Jumbo – to Colossal size shrimp, peeled and deveined (See NOTE)
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/8 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 TBS Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • Fresh or coarsely ground black pepper
  • About 15 large fresh basil leaves (or 1 per shrimp)
  • About 15 thin slices of prosciutto (or 1 per shrimp)  For smaller shrimp you may get by with 1 slice of prosciutto for two shrimp
  • Two thick lemon wedges for grilling and garnishing (optional)
  • Toothpicks
  • Non-stick grill spray + basting brush

Combine the white wine, olive oil, lemon juice, mustard, chopped basil and pepper to taste in a bowl, whisking to combine.  Place shrimp in a shallow glass or non-reactive dish.  Pour marinade over, turning shrimp a few times to coat.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 3 hours or up to 4.

Remove shrimp from marinade, reserving marinade for basting.  Wrap the middle of each shrimp with a basil leaf followed by a slice of prosciutto.  Secure with a toothpick and repeat with remaining shrimp.

Preheat grill and clean surface.  Spray with nonstick spray. Grill shrimp for several minutes on each side, basting with reserved marinade.  Make sure the shrimp is cooked through the prosciutto is just starting to crisp.  While shrimp is cooking, place lemon wedges on grate and cook until slightly charred.

Remove shrimp to a platter. Serve with fresh sprigs of basil and grilled lemon wedges

Serves: 3 as a main course; 8 as an appetizer

NOTE> Shrimp sizes and descriptions can be tricky which is why I usually end up just eyeballing it when I’m at the store.  For this recipe, I found some GORGEOUS pink Key West shrimp that were labeled “U12,” meaning under 12 shrimp per pound.  To me, that’s THE perfect size for grilling.  Technically these fall into the “colossal” category but they’re not really all that huge!  You can step it down to Jumbo shrimp, especially if you’re making this as an appetizer.  Just keep in mind they will cook in no time at all on the grill so be prepared with that spatula and platter.  ENJOY!

Grilled Shrimp with Basil and Prosciutto . Dinner Is Served

 

 

Spring Lamb Stew w/ Spinach and Chick Peas

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Does it feel like I spend an inordinate about of time talking about the weather?  Mostly…COMPLAINING about the weather! Maybe it’s a “Chicago” thing, I don’t know.  Our seasons seem so jumbled lately.  A mild winter, followed by a cold spring and delayed summer. Or a blistering hot summer that carries on till fall.  As I write this post, I am staring out at a sea of mud and puddles in my back yard. Grey skies and drizzle.  Spring…sigh.

Thankfully, I always have a good recipe in my back pocket, to make us happy even when the weather is getting us down and this Spring Lamb Stew is perfect for those chilly spring evenings when winter just won’t let go.Spring Lamb Stew3 - Dinner Is Served

Especially if you’ve been stuck in the beef stew rut, this stew is a welcome change.  Very simple ingredients that require minimum prep time and best of all: it’s ready in a little over an hour!  I imagine if you have one of those fancy “Instant Pots”, you could probably pull this off in no time! Spring Lamb Stew - Dinner Is Served

Also love this recipe because it offers something a bit different that your typical “run of the mill” lamb stews.  Chick peas (See Resources section after recipe) and an abundant amount of fresh spinach at the end, add a nice touch of texture and color, not to mention health benefits!  If chick peas aren’t your thing, definitely feel free to substitute canned white beans.Spring Lamb Stew4 - Dinner Is Served

Also recommend serving over mashed potatoes or soft polenta to complete the meal and of course some red wine and plenty of candles to make you forget all about Mother Nature’s wrath.

Until next time, be well, eat well and love lots!20170326_014157478_iOS

~Spring Lamb Stew with Spinach and Chick Peas~

  • 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds of lamb stew meat, cut into 1-inch pieces (see Note>)
  • Garlic powder, Kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper
  • 3 TBS olive oil
  • 1 onion, coarsely chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 1 1/2 cups pieces peeled carrots (1/2-inch pieces)
  • 1 15-ounce can chick peas (or canned white beans), drained and rinsed
  • 3/4 cup chicken stock
  • 1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
  • 1 TBS fresh lemon juice
  • 1 8 or 10-ounce package ready-to-use spinach leaves
  • Lemon wedges for serving
  • Piece of parchment paper, cut to fit inside pot

Pat the meat dry with paper towels and season all over with garlic powder, salt and pepper.  In a large pot, heath olive oil over medium-high heat until shimmering.  Add stew meat in one layer and leave undisturbed for about 5 minutes. Then turn and continue browning about five more minutes.  Add onions and carrots and continue to brown, stirring occasionally, until vegetables begin to soften (about 5 minutes longer).

Stir in tomato sauce, chicken stock, chick peas and lemon juice and bring to a simmer. Carefully lay parchment paper over the surface of the stew.  Cover with lid and reduce heat.  Simmer until stew meat is tender, about 1 hour.

Remove lid and discard parchment paper. If stew seems too dry, just add a little more stock to your liking.  Add spinach by the handful, stirring. Cover and cook until spinach wilts, about 4 minutes.  Season with additional salt and pepper to taste and serve over mashed potatoes or polenta, with lemon wedges.

Serves 4

NOTE> Lamb shoulder chops are usually your best bet for stew meat, unless your butcher or grocery store happen to have meat already cut up.  If purchasing shoulder chops, be sure to purchase about 2# to yield 1 1/4# of stew meat.

-RESOURCES-

chickpeas

Evidence of chicken pea (aka garbanzo bean) consumption dates back to thousands of years B.C. This legume is known for its versatility, health benefits (high in fiber, iron and protein) and is used widely through many different cuisines.  They can be roasted, added to soups, stews, salads and pureed for dishes like my world famous hummus.

Canned chickpeas are widely available but the quality varies, as this tasting panel from Fine Cooking Magazine discovered.  Their #1 pick: Goya brand chick peas, followed by Pastene (a brand I have never seen here in the Chicago area).  I also think La Preferida brand to be superior as well.  So next time you’re in the market for best quality canned chick peas, head to the Hispanic section instead of the canned vegetable aisle!

Chocolate Irish Stout Cupcakes with Mint

Chocolate Stout Cupcakes with Mint - DInner Is Served

What an odd weekend it’s been. We moved our clocks forward and the tulips are up yet at the same time, Chicago is preparing for a week of…snow!  My beloved Chicago Blackhawks had a morning game which has totally thrown me off kilter, watching hockey while drinking coffee. My no longer baby girl turned 21 last week and came home beaming with her first ever purchase of a 6-pack of beer.  There’s corned beef in the slow cooker and in the midst of it all, I am BAKING!20170312_173311856_iOSGuess I just felt like I really needed a chocolate cupcake in my life right now.  And with St. Patrick’s Day right around the corner why not add Irish Stout beer to the cake batter and chopped chocolate mint candies.  All topped with a minty white chocolate cream cheese frosting. I don’t bake often but when I do, there’s no holding back!20170311_205609733_iOSThese cupcakes and frosting are wicked easy to make and store well in the fridge so you can enjoy throughout the week, paired with a cold glass of milk or a little Jameson on the rocks 😉  I know I’m biased but in all seriousness, these are probably some of the best cupcakes I’ve had the pleasure of making and eating.

From my crazy kitchen to yours, be well, eat well and love lots!

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Chocolate Irish Stout Cupcakes with Mint

For the cupcakes:

  • 1 cup dark stout beer (I used Murphy’s stout)
  • 6 TBS salted butter
  • 4 ounces Ghiradelli® 70% Cacao Extra Bittersweet Chocolate
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup sour cream
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 28-count box Andes® candies

For the frosting:

  • 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese at room temperature
  • 4 ounces (1 stick) salted butter, at room temperature
  • 6 ounces Ghiradelli® white chocolate, melted and cooled
  • 1/4 teaspoon mint extract
  • Green sprinkles (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line two cupcake pans with 18 liners and set aside.

Combine the beer, butter and chocolate in a double boiler (or, a metal bowl set atop a pan of simmering water). Stir the mixture until the butter has melted and about 3/4 of the chocolate has melted. Remove from heat and slowly add the sugar, stirring constantly, until the granules melt and the mixture is smooth.

In a large bowl, combine the sour cream, eggs and vanilla. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat until combined. Slowly add the beer mixture and beat till smooth.  Add in the flour and baking soda and mix until smooth.   Chop enough of the Andes® candies to make 1/2 cup (reserve rest for garnish), and stir into the cake batter.

Pour batter into prepared cups and bake for about 18-22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cupcake comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for about five minutes, then remove cupcakes and let cool at room temperature.

For frosting, beat cream cheese until fluffy.  Add softened butter and continue to beat until light and fluffy. Gradually add in the melted chocolate and mint extract and continue mixing until smooth.  Pipe or spread onto cupcakes and top with green sprinkles.  Garnish with a whole piece of Andes® candy.  Serve immediately or store cupcakes, covered, in the refrigerator.

Yield: About 18 cupcakes

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Spain-Inspired Dinner

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One of the casualties of my returning to work full time a few years back was having people over for dinner.  Mostly because my dining room table became ground zero for all “work in process”: unfolded laundry, unpaid bills, school books and bags of chips that no one had time to put away.  I couldn’t even begin to think about entertaining as the task of organizing the chaos was overwhelming.

Towards the end of last year, I was feeling especially disconnected from friends.  And I realized how much I missed those dinner parties. I also realized it was about time I got a handle on the disorganization that had taken over my house, so I spent a few weekends cleaning and purging and FINALLY seeing my dining room table for the first time!20170211_185110500_ios

Then the planets aligned with a few other couples whose sons wrestled in high school with our son and we got a date to gather and wine and dine!  I thought a sunny Spain-inspired menu would be the perfect way to break up the mid-winter monotony.  For starters I put together this platter of traditional Spanish cheeses and charcuterie: Cana de Cabra (tangy goat cheese), Campo de Montalban (a 100 day aged cheese is a blend of cow, sheep and goat’s milk from La Mancha), prosciutto, sausages and my favorite Marcona Almonds.20170212_001516606_ios

Olives too!  Oh my…these Castelvetrano Olives Marinated with Rosemary, Red Chili, Orange and Paprika were spectacular: 20170211_191404314_ios-1

There are so many versions of paella, it was difficult deciding which one to make!  I ended up with this Chicken and Seafood Paella from Jo Cooks since it offers a bit of everything.  A little tweaking was necessary as I omitted the clams, added some chopped roasted red peppers and about one cup of peas at the end.  16/20 shrimp is the perfect size and andouille sausage can easily be substituted if chorizo is not available.  With the right equipment and best quality ingredients (see Resources section below), this dish was a knock-out:20170212_023654293_ios-1

Because I love wine and especially Spanish wine, there was plenty of it to go around as well. For red, I chose a silky Tempranillo : 2014 Hito Cepa 21 available locally at Binny’s Beverage Depot for just $13.99/bottle.  Be sure to decant this one about an hour before serving so all of its complex fruit and smooth tannins are at their best.  For white, I didn’t want to veer too far into anything floral, so opted for a 2015 Naia Verdejo, which had just enough straw and citrus to compliment the seafood and work with the more assertive saffron/smoked paprika elements in the dish.  Available at Binny’s for just $10.00/bottle.  It’s a great value!

We ended the evening with chocolate covered strawberries, other sweets and of course more wine!

To me this is what cooking is all about and I can’t wait to gather friends together for another meal to share.  Whether I can keep my dining room table cleared until then remains to be seen 😉

Until next time, be well, eat well and love lots!

Ann

~RESOURCES~

PAELLA PAN – Do you HAVE to buy one to make paella?  Well yes and no.  The week before I gave the recipe a test run in a shallow Le Crueset pan and it was very good.   For my dinner party, I borrowed a more authentic paella pan from a friend and the paella was even better. The large surface area and dimpled carbon steel base allowed for even cooking and that wonderful authentic paella “crust” to form on the bottom.  Would also make a great pan for sauteeing vegetables and for other rice-based dishes.  At just $29.95 for a 15″ pan (large enough to make a paella for 8),  at Williams Sonoma, how can you resist!20170212_153824811_ios

SAFFRON – In addition to a paella pan, it’s worth investing in some good quality saffron for this dish, as it is truly the star flavor ingredient.  Unless you’re in a bind, I would not recommend supermarket saffron as it is typically grossly overpriced and has likely been sitting on the shelf for ever.  Instead, head to Amazon and purchase a bottle of this Mehr Premium All Red Saffron.  3 grams will run you around $20 and yes I know that is a lot of money but this is a generous quantity and will last you a long time.  And with this stunning silky gift box, think of it as a gift to yourself!20170208_000645233_ios

OLIVE DISH – Part of the fun of entertaining is digging through my shelves of serving plates, glassware, etc. It’s amazing how much I’ve accumulated over the years. This pretty ceramic olive bowl makes frequent appearances at parties. Mainly because I LOVE olives and serve them at almost every occasion.  One compartment for the olives, one for toothpicks and a third for pits.  And it just happens to have been made in Spain. Perfect!  Available online at La Tienda for $29.95 + shipping.20170212_151906702_ios

 

THE Three-Envelope Slow Cooker Pot Roast

three-envelope-slow-cooker-pot-roast-dinner-is-servedBehold the one and only slow cooker pot roast recipe that takes under one minute to prep and requires only a slow cooker and a pair of kitchen shears!

If it seems like I have quite a few slow cooker pot roast recipes on my blog, you would be correct. Four of them to be exact!  Do we really need another one?  Well yes of course we do!  Especially one that is hands down the most basic and simple and can be assembled in about a minute or less in the morning.  Intrigued?  Read on…

I first spotted this recipe a few years ago on Facebook. At that point I had already perfected my original Classic Slow Cooker Pot Roast with Garlic Thyme Gravy so this recipe, which uses just three packets of gravy/salad dressing mix and water seemed to be a step back.  Actually a few steps back.three-envelope-slow-cooker-pot-roast1

Pardon my food snobbery but this is not the way I cook!

As is often the case fate intervened one day. I found myself with a chuck roast that was near its expiration date and neither the time nor the ingredients to make my classic pot roast. But lo and behold, I did have on hand these three magical packets of seasoning so I decided to give it a go.20170127_133713550_ios-1

Much to my surprise/chagrin, the roast was delicious!  My fears that the gravy would be overpowering or salty or just plain weird, were totally unfounded. I mean I didn’t even brown the roast and it was STILL delicious.  How can that be?

I did make some minor modifications to the original recipe, diluting the seasoning mx a tad. And because I love carrots with pot roast  added them in along with about 1/2 of a large onion, sliced.  On the back end, you’ll want to strain and degrease the cooking liquid as well.

But for the most part that’s it.  Pure comfort food with the minimal amount of effort. I’ve added an Equipment Note below highlighting the key kitchen tool for this recipe: the best ever pair of kitchen shears.  No kitchen should be without one!

Until next time…be well, eat well and love lots!

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THE Three-Envelope Slow Cooker Pot Roast

  • 1 chuck roast, about 3 pounds
  • 1 (0.7 oz) packet dry Italian Salad Dressing Mix
  • 1 (1.0 oz) packet Ranch Dressing Mix
  • 1 (0.75 oz) packet Brown Gravy Mix
  • 2 cups water
  • 2-3 cups peeled carrots or parsnips (optional)
  • 1/2 large onion sliced (optional)
  • Chopped fresh parsley (optional)

Trim any large pieces of fat from roast and place in a slow cooker.  Combine the three packets of salad dressing and gravy mix with the 2 cups of water, whisking to combine.

Scatter carrots and onion (if using) over roast and pour only about 1 1/2 cups of the gravy mixture over all.  Note I do not use the full 2 cups as that is just slightly more liquid than you’ll need.  Discard remaining liquid.

Cook on low for between 8-9 hours.

Using a slotted spoon, remove roast and vegetables and transfer to a platter to keep warm. Strain liquid through a fine mesh metal strainer.  Using a spoon or a gravy separator, remove any excess fat from the gravy.

Pour over roast and vegetables, top with chopped parsley and serve.

Serves 4-6

***Equipment Note***

20170128_153814127_iosWhen you think of kitchen essentials, a pair of scissors probably does not come to mind and yet a solid pair of shears like these from Pampered Chef can multi task and become one of your most valuable tools.

From cutting up chickens, to snipping chives, trimming an artichoke, cutting up clusters of grapes and yes, opening packages of seasoning mix, a good pair of shears can do it all.  I especially love these from Pampered Chef as they are spring loaded and make even the toughest tasks, easy on the hands.

My only caveat would be: keep your kitchen shears IN THE KITCHEN!  You don’t want to use these for craft projects or cutting through cardboard boxes, etc.  Not only do you risk dulling the blade, but they’re likely to get lost (I speak from experience!).

No well stocked kitchen should be without them!

 

 

 

 

Slow Cooker Bolognese Sauce

slow-cooker-bolognese-dinner-is-served-coverHard to imagine a dish more worthy of Sunday Supper than a bowl of tagliatelle served with a hearty Bolognese Sauce, warm Italian bread and a bottle of red. I grew up in a non-Italian household with the quick “Americanized” version of this sauce (browned ground beef and a jar of marinara)  and not ashamed to admit I still make that version for the family when I’m pressed for time.  Simply referred to as “spaghetti,” it may not be the real deal but we all enjoy it.

This year, I have decided to go back to my Sunday Supper roots and resurrect some of the classic recipes, made from scratch with no shortcuts.   I’ve made Marcella Hazan’s Bolognese Sauce many times, but wanted to give my new slow cooker (see Equipment Notes after the recipe) a try, so made some adaptations and came up with a sauce that will comfort one and all.

Start with the holy trinity of flavor bases: onion/carrots/celery.  First chopped then finely minced (note the personalized Dinner Is Served cutting board!)slow-cooker-bolognese-dinner-is-served-3

Add a few pinches of classic Italian herbs:slow-cooker-bolognese-sauce-dinner-is-served-1

And let us just pause for a moment to admire this freshly opened bottle of Savory Spice Shop’s California Basil:slow-cooker-bolognese-dinner-is-served-2

And some best quality tomato products:slow-cooker-bolognese-dinner-is-served-4

Along with a little vino (red instead of the traditional white wine), and balsamic vinegar.  Then just let your slow cooker do all the work!  A last minute addition of creamy mascarpone cheese or cream cheese provides that extra dose of richness.

I have to say, this sauce is MADE FOR the slow cooker. The meat is incredibly tender and the sauce develops such a unique complexity. I will still approve of the “quickie” version for a busy weeknight but weekends are made for slow, old-school kind of cooking.

Until next time…be well, eat well, love lots!slow-cooker-bolognese-dinner-is-served-cover2

Slow Cooker Bolognese Sauce

  • 1 TBS olive oil
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 1/2 pound mild bulk Italian sausage
  • 1/2 cup EACH chopped onion, celery, carrots
  • 1 TBS chopped garlic
  • 1 can whole tomatoes (28 oz), preferable imported Italian San Marzano
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 dry red wine
  • 1/4 cup low sodium beef broth
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 2 TBS balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp fennel seed
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup mascarpone or cream cheese

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Add beef and sausage and cook until no longer pink. Drain through a sieve and place on a paper lined plate; set aside.

Mince the onion, carrot, celery and garlic in a food processor and transfer to a 4-6 quart slow cooker. Pour the whole tomatoes along with their juices into the food processor and pulse a few times until chopped.  Add to the slow cooker.  Add all the additional ingredients except for the mascarpone cheese.  Stir.  Cover and cook on low for 4 hours.  Just before serving, stir in mascarpone or cream cheese.  Serve over pasta and garnish with shaved Parmesan cheese or slivered fresh basil.

Serves 6

EQUIPMENT NOTE

On Christmas Day, I was heating some cocktail meatballs and sausage in my slow cooker when my old faithful totally died.  Bummer!  I looked up my order history on Amazon and turns out the model was six years old.  Eh…not a super great lifespan, in my opinion.

I decided to go with another brand, Cuisinart, as a replacement and found this ultra cool model on Amazon.com. It not only slow cooks, it has a heating element to brown food and a steamer insert (perfect for steaming artichokes, corn, etc.).  I love the lighter weight interior and non stick surface.  So far I am totally in love with it and fingers crossed it will make it past 6 years!cuisinart-slow-cooker