Spring Lamb Stew w/ Spinach and Chick Peas

Spring Lamb Stew5 - Dinner Is Served

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!

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!

three-envelope-slow-cooker-pot-roast2

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

 

 

 

 

Classic Slow Cooker Pot Roast with Garlic and Rosemary

Pot Roast CoverThings that cause amateur food bloggers to fall off the wagon:

  • Full time job
  • Being a parent
  • Being a wrestling (or fill-in-the-blank sport) parent
  • winter/dark at 5:00/NO GOOD NATURAL LIGHT FOR PHOTOS!

Indeed a perfect storm of all the above have caused me to take a brief hiatus from blogging. But trust all is well, and slowly but surely I am getting back into the swing of things in the kitchen. Dusting off my faithful slow cooker and ready to share with you this  slow cooker pot roast recipe that I more or less pulled out of my hat last week.

A few years back, I was introduced  to Three Envelope Slow Cooker Pot Roast which is quite possibly THE easiest slow cooker recipe in the history of slow cookery.  My Classic Slow Cooker Pot Roast with Garlic and Rosemary is a version of that roast. In place of the “three envelopes” I’ve chosen just one envelope of Knorr Au Jus Gravy, enhanced with a little tomato paste. I then piled on the vegetables because, well,  who wants to come home after a busy day and fuss with more food prep!?Classic Slow Cooker Pot Roast 1

Because this is a “classic” pot roast, I stuck to the basics: carrots, onions, parsnips and potatoes. The vegetables take on a wonderful flavor after cooking low and slow all day long.

Flavor enhancements are a must! I like to rub my chuck roast with a simple savory rub comprised of salt, pepper, granulated onion and garlic. All pantry staples!Classic Slow Cooker Pot Roast 3

And finally to top it off, fresh rosemary and chopped fresh garlic. If rosemary is a deal breaker for you, fresh thyme makes an excellent substitute.Classic Slow Cooker Pot Roast 5

Last but not least, check out my Time Saving Tips at the end of the recipe, with “make ahead” suggestions and product recommendations. Enjoy and happy cooking!

Pot Roast Cover 2

Classic Slow Cooker Pot Roast with Garlic and Rosemary

1 2 ½-3 pound boneless chuck roast

1 tsp Kosher salt

½ tsp each: pepper, granulated onion and granulated garlic

1 tsp olive oil

1 packet Knorr Au Jus Gravy

1 ½ cups water

1 tsp tomato paste

1 cup sliced sweet onion, about 1/2 of a large

1 # red skinned potatoes (about 4 large), scrubbed and cut into 1 ½-inch pieces

2 cups peeled and coarsely chopped carrots

1  to 1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped parsnips, about one medium

1 TBS chopped fresh garlic

5-6 sprigs fresh rosemary

1 bay leaf

1 TBS cornstarch

1 TBS red wine or water

Chopped fresh chives (optional)

Combine salt, pepper and granulated onion and garlic in a small bowl to blend. Pat chuck roast dry with a paper towel and sprinkle spice blend all over roast.  In a large skillet, heat olive oil until shimmering.  Brown roast on both sides until well browned, about five minutes per side.

While roast is browning, combine au jus mix and water, whisking to combine.  Add tomato paste and whisk.

Place onions, a few rosemary sprigs and bay leaf on the bottom of a slow cooker. Place browned roast on top.  Scatter carrots, potatoes and parsnips around roast.  Pour au jus gravy mix on and around roast. Scatter chopped garlic on top and place remaining rosemary sprigs on top.

Cook on low for at least 8 hours or up to 9 ½ hours.

Using a large slotted spoon or strainer, carefully remove roast and vegetables to a platter (make sure all rosemary stalks and bay leaf are removed). Tent with foil to keep warm.  Strain and de-grease liquid and transfer to a small sauce pan. Bring to a boil over medium heat.  Whisk cornstarch and wine in a small bowl, then whisk into gravy.  Continue to simmer until slightly thickened, about five minutes.  Add additional salt and pepper to the gravy if necessary.

Break apart roast using a fork.  Sprinkle chives over all and serve with hot gravy.

Serves 4-5

time_saving

  • Onions, garlic, carrots and parsnips can all be chopped the night before. Just store in a zipper bag in the fridge
  • Peeled baby carrots can be used in place of whole carrots
  • The seasoning mix and gravy can both be mixed the night before. Store seasonings at room temperature and refrigerate the gravy.
  • Tired of throwing away unused tomato paste from a can? Try Savory Spice Shop’s Tomato Powder. Just dilute with water to whip up a little paste or sauce.  Keeps well in the fridge for months, so you can have quick tomato paste on hand whenever you need it!
  • While you’re checking out the Savory Spice Shop site, try a bottle of their Onion & Garlic Tableside Sprinkle. You can use 1 tsp of the blend in place of the granulated onion and garlic in this recipe. It’s salt free, so also a great way to add a dash of flavor for those on sodium restricted diets!

Slow Cooker Pot Roast with Garlic & Rosemary - Dinner Is Served

Slow Cooker Minestrone Soup

Slow Cooker Minestrone Soup 1Wasn’t it just last week that I was commenting to someone how mild our winter has been thus far in the Chicago area? Well apparently I neglected to knock on wood because today we are MORE than making up for our snowfall deficit with the “Superbowl of Snowstorms.”  I have officially declared it an “all pajama day” at our house, along with getting the fireplace going and of course the game later on.

Days like this also call for hearty and comforting soups, like this Slow Cooker Minestrone Soup, a recipe passed on to me a few years back by my sister. I actually made this soup earlier last week and it’s the perfect thing to make for a crazy busy work week.  Just prep some onions/carrots/celery the night before: Slow Cooker Minestrone Soup 3

The next morning, into the slow cooker it goes with some chicken stock (I use my Smitten Kitchen Slow Cooker “Uncluttered Chicken Stock” which I always have on hand in the freezer). For a true vegetarian version simply substitute vegetable stock. Add a can of tomatoes:

IMAG0973Some beans of your choice (I used Great Northern Beans this time around) And of course the secret ingredient for any minestrone soup: a Parmesan rind.  Low and behold, look what they carry at my most awesome grocery store, Mariano’s: Parmesan rinds!

IMAG0993

Into the slow cooker it all goes and simmers away for a good 8 hours (on low)

Slow Cooker Minestrone Soup| Dinner Is ServedThen about thirty minutes prior to serving, stir in some chopped zucchini, spinach and al dente ditalini pasta.Slow Cooker Minestrone Soup 2

As for my snow day today, I’ll be cooking up a big batch of my favorite Andouille Sausage and Chicken Jambalaya, enjoying the winter wonderland, some football and later, a glass or two of red wine by the fire.

Winter Wonderland 2015

Slow Cooker Minestrone Soup

5-6 cups homemade chicken stock (or reduced-sodium vegetable or chicken broth)

1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes

1 (15-ounce) can beans (either Great Northern, Cannellini, Kidney or Chick Peas), drained and rinsed

2 carrots, peeled and chopped

1 celery stalk, chopped

1 cup onion, chopped

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon dried basil

1/4 teaspoon dried thyme

2 bay leaves

1 Parmesan cheese rind

Salt and ground black pepper

2 cups slightly undercooked (al dente)  ditalini pasta

1 medium zucchini, chopped

2 cups fresh baby spinach

Parmesan or Romano cheese for serving

  •  In a slow cooker, combine 5 cups broth, tomatoes, beans, carrots, celery, onion, oregano, basil, thyme, Parmesan rind, bay leaves, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Cover and cook on LOW for 6 to 8 hours or on HIGH for 3 to 4 hours.
  • Thirty minutes before the soup is done cooking, add ditalini, zucchini and spinach. Cover and cook 30 more minutes. Add additional cup of chicken stock if soup is too thick. Remove bay leaves and Parmesan rind and season to taste with salt and black pepper. Ladle soup into bowls and sprinkle parmesan cheese over top.

Serves 6-8

Slow Cooker Minestrone Soup 4

 

Cheesy Manicotti Roll-Ups

Cheesy Manicotti Roll-Ups | Dinner Is ServedFunny that as long as I have been cooking, certain dishes continue to elude me. Most often they are the most basic dishes, like meat loaf or ribs. I’ve tried countless recipes and techniques but can’t quite nail it. Lasagna is also a dish I was never 100% satisfied with. Too watery, too dry, pasta not quite right, too heavy, and so on and so forth.  Like Goldilocks searching for the perfect porridge or chair.

Then this past weekend, while flipping through some back issues of Cooks Illustrated, I came across a technique for making streamlined manicotti.  No tedious filling of pasta shells, just spread the cheesy filling over no-boil lasagna sheets, roll up and bake. I had great confidence, being from Cooks Illustrated, the recipe would be fantastic, which it was. What I didn’t expect was to realize that this was the perfect lasagna I’ve been searching for!

Just in a slightly different form.

The pasta is melt-in-your-mouth tender, the cheese filling light and airy and the fresh tomato sauce takes just 15 minutes to make but is bright and fresh. As with all recipes, I made several modifications and proclaimed the dish “blog worthy.” So browse through some of the photos, if you wish, or dive straight into the recipe and all it’s cheesy, tomato goodness!

Cheesy Manicotti Roll-Ups | Dinner Is ServedYou don’t need many ingredients or time to make a delicious tomato sauce. I upped the amount of garlic from the original recipe and also gave the sauce a shot of tomato paste at the end to thicken it a bit.  Isn’t it beautiful?

Cheesy Manicotti Roll-Ups } Dinner Is Served

The filling contains all the traditional ingredients you’d expect in a cheese filling, along with fresh herbs.

Cheesy Manicotti Roll-Ups | Dinner Is Served

And assembly could not be easier.  Just soften the no-boil noodles in a little boiling water, spread some filling on each one, combine with the tomato sauce and bake.

Cheesy Manicotti Roll-Ups | Dinner Is ServedSunday supper at its very best!

Cheesy Manicotti Roll-Ups | DInner Is Served

Cheesy Manicotti Roll-Ups *

Tomato Sauce

2 (28-ounce) cans petit cut tomatoes, with their juice

2 TBS extra virgin olive oil

2 TBS minced garlic

1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

Salt

1 TBS tomato paste (optional)

2 TBS chopped fresh basil leaves

Cheese Filling & Pasta

3 cups part-skim ricotta cheese

2 cups grated Parmesan/Romano blend cheese

2 1/2 cups freshly shredded mozzarella cheese

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

2 TBS chopped fresh parsley

2 TBS chopped fresh basil

16 no-boil noodles (prefer Barilla® brand)

Preheat oven to 375°

Heat oil, garlic and pepper flakes in a large saucepan over medium heat until fragrant, but not browned (1-2 minutes). Stir in tomatoes and about 3/4 tsp salt and simmer until thickened slightly, about 15 minutes. If you want a slightly thicker sauce, stir in tomato paste. Sauce can be left chunky or, if you prefer a smoother tomato sauce, puree a bit using an immersion blender. Stir in fresh basil, adjust seasonings, and set aside.

For the cheese filling, combine ricotta, 1 cup Parmesan/Romano cheese, 2 cups of the mozzarella, eggs, salt, pepper and herbs in a large bowl. Adjust seasonings.

To assemble, pour 1-inch boiling water in a 13×9-inch broilersafe baking dish. Add noodles, one at a time, completely submerging them. Let noodles soak until pliable, separating then with tip of sharp knife to prevent sticking. Remove noodles from water and place in single layer on clean kitchen towels. Discard water from dish and wipe dry.

Spread bottom of baking dish with 1 1/2 cups of the sauce. Using a large spoon, spread a heaping 1/4 cup of the filling evenly onto bottom three-quarters of each noodle, leaving top quarter exposed. Roll into tube shape and arrange in baking dish seam side down. Repeat with remaining noodles and filling. Top pasta evenly with remaining tomato sauce, making sure pasta is completely covered. Sprinkle remaining 1/2 cup of mozzarella over the top. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for bubbling, about 40 minutes.

Remove baking dish and adjust oven rack to 6 inches away from broiling element. Heat broiler. Sprinkle manicotti evenly with remaining 1 cup Parmesan/Romano cheese blend.  Broil until cheese just begins to brown, about 4 minutes.

Let stand 15 minutes before serving.

Serves 8

*Recipe adapted from Cooks Illustrated

Slow Cooker Pot Roast Sandwiches with Swiss Cheese & Thyme Au Jus

Slow Cooker Pot Roast Sandwich with Swiss Cheese and Thyme Au Jus | Dinner Is Served

Is it just me or has the late Thanksgiving just thrown everything off kilter?  I feel like Christmas is just around the corner, and I’m starting to panic a bit (and I’m not a panicking kind of person).  To add to my already full plate, wrestling season is now in full swing for my son and weekend speech team meets for my daughter, multiple concerts, parties….ahhhhh!!!

Well when the going gets tough around these parts, it makes me love my slow cooker even more.  Having a meal essentially ready for everyone when I get home and before the evening activities start is a blessing.  And this recipe in particular…oh my.  I’ve been meaning to share it with you since forever because it is indescribably delicious.

So let’s get going with the game plan, shall we?  The night before, whip up this magical fantastic sauce, which I can pretty much guarantee you have all these ingredients in your pantry.

Slow Cooker Pot Roast Sandwiches with Swiss Cheese & Thyme Au Jus

Then chop up some carrots and slice a little onions.  Refrigerate everything and go to bed!

Slow Cooker Pot Roast Sandwiches with Swiss Cheese & Thyme Au JusThe next morning, things could not be easier.  Just throw the veggies and the magical sauce into your slow cooker, season your pot roast and place on top, set your cooker for 7-8 hours and go about your day.  When you return home, you will be met by an aroma so seductive, you’ll want to dive right into that meat!  But wait, because it gets better.

After you remove and shred the meat and strain the sauce, now get out a few pieces of Texas toast and spread with a little horseradish mayo:

Slow Cooker Pot Roast Sandwiches with Swiss Cheese & Thyme Au Jus

Top with some of that delish pot roast and a slice of Swiss cheese like this:

Slow Cooker Pot Roast Sandwiches with Swiss Cheese & Thyme Au Jus

Then run them under the broiler till the cheese is all hot and melty and serve with that wicked good thyme au jus.  Seriously, you’ll need a moment or two alone with this meal.  Added bonus: if you have hungry teens in the house and you serve this to them, they will love you so much, they might even offer to do the dishes.  That’s how good it is.

So with twenty-three shopping days till Christmas, I best be getting to the mall now.  Here’s to panic-free and stress-free cooking in the weeks to come.  I need it!

Slow Cooker Pot Roast Sandwiches with Swiss Cheese & Thyme Au Jus

For the Roast:

2 medium or 1 large onion, thinly sliced

2 carrots, chopped

1/4 cup low sodium chicken broth

1/4 cup Worcestershire Sauce

1/4 cup Dijon mustard

2 TBS dried thyme OR 1 large bunch fresh thyme

2 TBS tomato paste

1 bay leaf

1 boneless chuck roast, about 3-4 pounds

Kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper

For the Sandwich:

 1 cup mayonnaise

2 TBS prepared horseradish

8 slices Texas toast, toasted

8 slices Swiss cheese

In a 4-6 qt. slow cooker, combine carrots, sliced onions, broth, Worcestershire, Dijon mustard, thyme, tomato paste and bay leaf. Season roast with salt and pepper on both sides.  Place on top of the vegetables.  Cover and cook on low heat 6-7 hours or on high 4-5 hours.

Transfer meat to a large bowl or rimmed cutting board and shred with two forks, adding a few TBS of the cooking liquid to moisten.  Set aside.  Strain vegetables out of liquid and transfer the au jus to small saucepan; keep warm over low heat (discard solids).

Preheat broiler and place rack to about 6-8 inches away from heating element.

Toast the bread and place on a sheet pan.  Combine the horseradish and mayo and spread a thin layer on each slice of toast.  Top each piece of toast with some of the shredded meat.  Top each with a slice of Swiss cheese.  Broil until cheese melts, about two minutes.  Serve sandwiches with the warm au jus.

Serves 8

Orecchiette with Fennel, Sausage and Tomatoes {quick..family..comfort}

2012-11-18 18.41.58

Oh I’m telling you, I am cranking them out fast and furious now!  It does help that I am currently in between assignments at work, although today I am home bound with a most annoying cold.  And in my Daquil-induced haze, it took me about thirty minutes to just add text to my photo.  Oy..

Anyway, this recipe has an unusual twist from traditional pasta dishes, which frequently begin with a onion/garlic saute.  In their place is a generous portion of fresh fennel, sauteed to a mellow stage, beautifully complimenting the sweet Italian sausage and tomatoes.  Fresh basil and some piquant Pecorino Romano cheese brighten the dish.  It comes together in about 30 minutes, so it definitely qualifies as quick and well…it’s pasta so of course it’s comfort food!

For a healthy variation, you may certainly substitute turkey Italian sausage and whole grain or whole wheat orecchiette or medium shells.    And a glass or two of some nice sangiovese certainly would not hurt either.

Eat well and take your vitamin C.  I’m off in search of a big box of tissues  :-/

Orecchiette with Fennel, Sausage and Tomatoes {quick..family..comfort}

Kosher salt
3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 lb. sweet Italian sausage, casing removed (or 3/4 lb. mild turkey Italian sausage)
1 large fennel bulb (about 1-1/4 lb.), quartered, cored, and finely chopped
3/4 cup dry white wine
2 cups fresh (or canned) seeded diced tomatoes, drained if using canned
12 basil leaves, torn into small pieces
1/8 to 1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
Freshly ground black pepper
3/4 lb. dried orecchiette pasta or medium shells
1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano

Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil.

Heat 1-1/2 Tbs. of the oil in a 10-inch straight-sided saute pan over medium-high heat until shimmering hot. Add the sausage and cook, breaking it up with a metal spoon, until browned and cooked through, about 5 minutes. Transfer the sausage to a paper-towel-lined plate and pour off and discard any fat left in the pan.

Set the pan over medium heat and add the remaining 1-1/2 Tbs. oil, the fennel, and 1 tsp. salt. Cook, stirring, until the fennel softens and browns lightly, about 6 minutes. Raise the heat to high, add the wine, and cook, scraping the bottom of the pan to loosen any browned bits, until almost evaporated, 1 to 2 minutes.

Add the sausage, tomatoes, half of the basil, the red pepper flakes, and 1/2 tsp. each salt and pepper. Lower the heat to medium, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes break down, 6 to 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the orecchiette in the boiling water, stirring frequently until just tender, about 11 minutes. Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water and drain well. Return the pasta to the pot, add the sauce, and cook over medium-high heat, stirring, for 1 minute so the sauce and pasta meld. If the pasta seems dry, add enough cooking water to moisten it to your liking. Stir in half of the pecorino, season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve sprinkled with the remaining pecorino and basil.

Serves 4

Coq au Riesling

Words almost can’t describe how much I love this chicken, but the word “exquisite” comes to mind.  It’s French, it’s elegant and the sauce…oh my.  I wish I could reach right through your screen right now and let you have a taste.  Butter, wine and crème fraiche.  Need I say more?

This, is worthy of your most special dinner party, served with buttered noodles or spaetzle and a rosy red beet salad.  Going with either a vin d’Alsace pinot gris, or a delicate pinot noir, should you be in the red wine state of mind.   Of course there will be some leftover Riesling as well, but I always think the leftover wine should be saved for the cook <g>.

Bon appétit!

Coq au Riesling

  • 3-4 pounds bone-in chicken pieces (skin on or off) (see Note>)
  • Kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1 TBS each butter and olive oil, plus a bit more butter for sauteeing mushrooms
  • 4 small shallots, minced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 TBS Cognac
  • 1 cup dry Riesling
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme (or a pinch of dried thyme)
  • 8 – 10 oz. mushrooms, quartered (preferably cremini)
  • 1/2 cup crème fraiche or sour cream (or 1/3 cup heavy whipping cream)
  • Chopped fresh parsley or tarragon for garnish

Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper.  Heat the butter and olive oil in a sauté pan and brown the chicken on all sides, working in batches if necessary.  Remove to a plate and add the shallots and garlic to the pan for about 1 minute.  Carefully pour the Cognac in to deglaze (if you’re the adventurous type of soul, feel free to “flambé” the cognac and let it burn off).  Put the chicken back in the pan.  Pour in the wine and stock, cover and cook until the chicken is tender, about 20 minutes, turning once.

Meanwhile, melt a little butter in a frying pan and cook the mushrooms until golden.  When the chicken is cooked, remove it to a serving platter to keep warm.  Over medium high heat, boil down the cooking liquid until reduced by almost half.  Stir in the crème fraiche and mushrooms.  Discard fresh thyme sprigs and taste the sauce for seasoning.  Pour the sauce over the chicken, sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Serves 4-6

Note> You may certainly use boneless skinless chicken breasts in this dish.  Just lightly pound to a uniform thickness and proceed with the recipe as written. Reduce simmering time to about 10 minutes.

Braised Chicken Thighs with Basil & Olives

I love food matches made in heaven:  lamb and rosemary, port and chocolate, french fries and ketchup, Mama Nunz garlic cheeseburger and Little Kings Ale  at 3:00 a.m. (don’t ask).    You just know when that flavor combination hits the mark, and in this dish these classic flavors are absolute soulmates.  Garlic, olives, basil and tomatoes have existed together for centuries, in cuisines throughout the world.

I will also admit to being completely olive obsessed lately, ever since I discovered Castelvetrano olives in mass quantity at Costco.  But I digress…

I was led to this recipe by necessity: chicken thighs on sale at Whole Foods, along with a spare package of fresh basil in my fridge.  Just had to pick up a can of crushed tomatoes, kalamata olives, some green beans for a side dish and a bottle of wine.   You may also want to stock up on garlic because this recipe calls for a whopping twelve cloves.  Which in turn brings me to one of the most interesting aspects of this recipe and a first for me: cooking with whole cloves and mashing them at the end with a fork.

No surprise that Food and Wine nailed this technique and I am now a big fan!  This gives the sauce a nice mellow garlic flavor.  Not overpowering and not burned.  A perfect marriage with the bright flavors of the fresh basil and tomatoes.  And yes….those olives, oh my!

May they all live happily ever after.

Braised Chicken Thighs…

 with Basil & Olives