Slow Cooker General Tso’s Chicken

Subscribers and frequent visitors to this site don’t come here for my take on Asian cuisine, No, as much as I love food from that part of the world, I must confess that up until recently, I very rarely prepared it, much to the joy of the local Thai, Japanese, Korean, and Indian restaurants. Now, however, there are four dishes that I prepare at home and enjoy very much. One, a chicken dish, is today’s recipe, General Tso’s Chicken.  The others can be found on blogs that I follow. The first of these, a delicious lamb dish called Karma Khorma, is from my blogging friend David’s decidedly delectable blog, Cocoa and Lavender. The second, a Korean pork dish, one of the first Asian dishes that I made with any frequency, is from Cam’s wonderful blog, Geukima, and is called Crispy Stir-Fried Pork Ribs With Caramelized Fish Sauce. The third is a very tasty Indian dish, Chicken Biryani, and can be found on The Insatiable Gourmet blog. You cannot go wrong preparing any of these and a visit to any of the 3 blogs is very rewarding. (Unfortunately, as of this writing, Geukima and The Insatiable Gourmet seem to be on hiatus. Cocoa and Lavender, thankfully, is still going strong.)  Not very long ago, the only Asian dishes I enjoyed were set before me at nearby restaurants. These days, hardly a week goes by that I do not prepare one of these four dishes. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?

*     *     *

General Tso 1

*     *     *

Now before going any further, it’s probably best to mention the origins of today’s dish. In my last post’s Comments section, I had mistakenly stated that the dish was created by Chinese immigrants in California. A comment from Eha got me googling its origins. Although I could not find the source stating its California origins (I should know better than to rely upon my memory for anything), I did find much to confirm Eha’s account. It is widely accepted that this dish was a creation of the Hunan chef, Peng Chang-kuei, in Taipei, Taiwan, after he had fled the Chinese mainland. Created in the ’50s, he once served it to Chiang Kai-shek. Chef Peng brought his recipe to America and introduced it in New York City in 1972 following Nixon’s trip to China. Since then, the dish has continued to evolve, in ways not necessarily pleasing to its creator. That is the simple version of the tale. You can find more information on Wikipedia or NPR or, for those who’d rather look at pictures, you can watch the movie, “The Search for General Tso“.

*     *     *

The Favorite Family Recipes website is the source for today’s recipe. I was attracted to it because I love both General Tso’s Chicken and my slow cooker. I can already sense some of you thinking how much easier it would be to stir-fry this dish. Well, I haven’t a wok and I am certifiably stir-fry challenged. For me, the slow cooker is the way to go. Even so, I did make a few changes. most notably replacing the original’s pineapple juice with orange juice and its cayenne pepper with ground chipotle. In both cases, I used what I had in supply. While searching for the cayenne pepper, I came upon a seldom used container of arrowroot and used it as a thickening agent instead of cornstarch,

I did make a couple of additions, as well. When I order General Tso’s Chicken from my neighborhood Chinese restaurant, broccoli is always included. Even though the original recipe makes no mention of it, I always include some form of the vegetable in my dish. Here, there was a package of broccolini in the vegetable crisper and it ended up being sautéed in garlic-flavored oil before being mixed with the cooked rice. About the same time the broccolini was grabbed, a few mushrooms were found. They had matured into the “use ’em or lose ’em” stage of crisper life and became the most unconventional addition to the dish.

Now that’s all settled, let’s take a look at the recipe.

*     *     *

General Tso 2

*     *     *

General Tso’s Chicken Recipe

Ingredients

Serves 4

  • 2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs, chopped into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1½ tsp kosher salt
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • ½ cup dark brown sugar
  • ½ cup lite soy sauce
  • ½ cup orange juice
  • ½ cup white distilled vinegar
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
  • ½ tsp ground chipotle pepper
  • approx. 4 oz sliced “baby bella” mushrooms (forgive me, Chef Peng)
  • 2 tbsp arrowroot, mixed with 2 tbsp water – flour or cornstarch may be substituted
  • 4 scallions/green onions, sliced

original recipe from Favorite Family Recipes

*     *     *

General Tso Rice 2

*     *     *

for the rice and broccolini

  • 1 cup jasmine rice
  • 2 cups water
  • ¼ tsp kosher salt
  • 2 tsp butter
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 8 oz (225 g) broccolini, roughly chopped
  • salt & pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Place the flour, salt, and pepper into a sealable plastic bag. Working in batches, add the chicken pieces to the bag, shake to coat, and place the now-coated chicken on a plate. Continue until all the chicken is coated with the seasoned flour.
  2. Add 2 tbsp of oil to a hot, large frying pan over med-high heat.
  3. When oil is hot begin adding the chicken pieces. Do not overcrowd. It should take you 2 batches, at least. You may need to add a bit more oil between batches. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes per side. Chicken needn’t be cooked through, only browned.
  4. When the chicken is browned on all sides, remove to a plate and begin the next batch.
  5. Meanwhile, into the slow cooker, add the sugar, soy sauce, orange juice, vinegar, garlic, ginger, and cayenne pepper. Stir to completely combine.
  6. Add the mushrooms and stir.
  7. When all the chicken has been browned, add to the slow cooker and set it to low. Cook for 3 to 4 hours or until chicken is cooked thoroughly.
  8. About 30 minutes before completion, check to see if the sauce has thickened. If not, combine the arrowroot and water to make a slurry. Add to the pot and gently stir. Cover.
  9. Bring 2 cups of water to the boil in a medium sauce pan with a lid.
  10. Add salt and butter, stir, and then add the rice.
  11. When the water returns to the boil, reduce the heat to low and cover the pan.
  12. After 20 minutes, remove the pan from the heat. Rice will be ready in 5 more minutes.
  13. While the rice cooks, add 2 tbsp olive oil to a large frying pan and heat over med-high heat.
  14. Add the smashed garlic and cook until brown.
  15. Remove the garlic, add the broccolini, and reduce the heat to medium.
  16. Continue to sauté the broccolini in the garlic flavored oil until cooked to your satisfaction.
  17. Add the cooked rice to the frying pan and stir until fully combined. (See Notes)
  18. Serve the cooked chicken atop a bed of rice with broccolini. Garnish the dish with the chopped scallions/green onions.

*     *     *

General Tso 3

*     *     *

Notes

Although broccolini was used here, I have used broccoli and broccoli raab in the recipe. In all cases, I added the cooked rice to the pan in which the vegetable was sautéed so that the rice could absorb as much flavor from the pan as possible. Of course, you could steam the broccoli and add it to the dish however you wish.

The amount of arrowroot slurry needed will vary depending upon how much liquid is in the pot. No matter whether you use flour, cornstarch, or my oft-forgotten arrowroot, mix an equal amount of water with the thickening agent.

*     *     *

It’s déjà vu all over again …

Green Tomato Relish Look Back

Very soon we’ll be coming to an end of our tomato growing season. Each of us probably has a favorite method for dealing with the green tomatoes left on the vine with no hope of ripening. My Grandpa placed them in the drawer of an old dresser on the patio where they slowly ripened. Others wrap them in newspaper, while some place the green orbs in paper bags. That’s great if you want to ripen them but what if you don’t want to invest the time, paper, or drawer space? Today’s look back will give you a totally different option Take this LINK to learn how to make green tomato relish. Your hot dogs will thank you.

*     *     *

Coming soon to a monitor near you …

The Kitchens Salute Awburr-what? … Melanzane!

*     *     *

Mom’s Osso Buco

Osso Buco della Mamma

Ossobuco 1

Finalmente! It was almost one year ago when I prepared osso buco for Zia and promised you that I would soon post the recipe. Well, that was the plan.

As I mentioned last week, Mom didn’t leave us a cookbook but we do have a couple of notebooks in which her recipes can be found, in varying states of completion. The osso buco I prepared for Zia was based on a recipe that I found which was little more than a few notes. We enjoyed the dinner and, when I got home, I set about writing the recipe. That’s when I found it, Mom’s full recipe. She had written notes in one book and the full recipe in another. I had taken one version with me to Michigan and referred to the other when I began writing the recipe. The post was put on hold until I could prepare Mom’s actual recipe. The Visitation would prove the perfect opportunity to both prepare Mom’s recipe and celebrate Zia’s return to Chicago.

I’m fully aware that some may object to eating veal, for a variety of reasons. I myself cringe when, while traveling through Michigan, I see the tiny enclosures used to raise calves for veal. Today there are alternatives. A quick check with Google will provide you with the names of local farms that raise veal humanely and the stores that carry their product. Be forewarned, however, that your peace of mind won’t come cheaply. A much less expensive alternative is to substitute beef shanks for the veal. In fact, that’s what I did when I tested both versions of Mom’s recipe, and, what I do when I’ve a taste for osso buco but don’t wish to take out a loan to satisfy it.

There are few differences between Mom’s original recipe and what I’ve prepared here, and those involve my use of a slow cooker. Braising shanks in an oven requires more liquid than doing so in a slow cooker. The recipe reflects this. Additionally, as you’ll soon see, Mom cooked 4 shanks at a time. I only cooked 2, though I kept most ingredient amounts the same. This meant that I had quite a bit of extra sauce left over. See below to learn how we used that sauce.

*     *     *

Ossobuco 1

*     *     *

Osso Buco Recipe

Ingredients

  • 4 veal shanks (See Notes)
  • salt and pepper
  • flour
  • olive oil
  • 1 large onion sliced
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine (See Notes)
  •  1/2 cup veal stock – chicken may be substituted
  • 1 large can (28 oz, 794 g) whole tomatoes, torn/crushed by hand

for the Gremolata

  • 2 anchovy fillets, finely chopped — anchovy paste may be substituted
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 3 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
  • zest of 1 lemon

Directions

  1. Season the shanks with salt & pepper on both sides. Begin to heat some oil in a frying pan over medium heat.
  2. Place about 1/3 cup of flour into a plastic bag, followed by 2 of the shanks. Carefully shake to coat the shanks with flour. Place the shanks in the now hot oil and repeat with the remaining 2 flanks.
  3. Cook the shanks until both sides are well-browned, – about 7 or 8 minutes total. Remove and reserve.
  4. Meanwhile, add the onions, garlic, carrots, celery, tomatoes, tomato paste, and bay leaf to the slow cooker. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Stir until combined.
  5. Use the white wine to deglaze the frying pan and pour the liquid into the slow cooker when finished.
  6. Add the shanks to the slow cooker. Be sure to include any of the juices that may have collected on the plate.
  7. Add enough stock so that the sauce comes halfway up the sides of the shanks.
  8. Set the slow cooker to  “LOW” and cook for 8 hours. To speed up the cooking time, for every hour cooked on “HIGH” reduce the cooking time by 2 hours.
  9. About every hour, baste the top of the shanks to keep them moist. (See Notes)
  10. Make the gremolata towards the end of the cooking process:
    • In a small bowl, combine the anchovies, garlic, parsley, and zest. Stir until fully combined.
  11. Carefully remove the shanks and serve immediately with sauce and garnished with a sprinkling of gremolata.

*     *     *

Ossobuco 3

Osso buco served with polenta and broccolini 

*     *     *

Notes

I’ve slightly adjusted Mom’s recipe to reflect braising these shanks in a slow cooker and not the oven. If using the oven:

  • Preheat the oven to 350˚ F  (175˚ C).
  • Increase the amount of liquids use 2/3 cups dry white wine and 3/4 cups stock.
  • Cook for 1½ to 2 hours.  Meat should be fork tender and just about falling off the bone. Let it go too long and it will fall of the bone, ruining your presentation.

Although you can get shanks as thin as an inch, 2 inch thick shanks were used here. Cooking times may vary if you use shanks that vary in thickness.

Ask your butcher to tie the shanks to prevent them from falling apart during the braise. Be sure to remove the string before serving.

Attempting to turn the shanks over while braising is very problematic. They may, in fact, fall apart during the process. Best to leave them as-is and baste them periodically throughout the braise. If braising in the oven, baste the shanks every 30 minutes or so, If using a slow-cooker, baste every hour or so. Remember, the fewer times you uncover a slow cooker, the better.

*     *     *

It’s that time again

Winter is fast approaching and I’m going to sneak in one last visit with Zia before it gets here. The Kitchens will be closed while I’m gone.

*     *     *

About that extra sauce

Tagliatelle in Sauce

After our dinner, the leftover sauce was split in half. Zia’s portion went into the freezer and went home with her. My portion was later used to dress the homemade tagliatelle pictured above.

*     *     *

It’s déjà vu all over again …

Stovetop Root Vegetables

Last weekend saw this area’s farmers markets close for the year, reflecting the fact that very little, if anything, will be grown here for the next 6 months. This doesn’t mean, however, that all locally grown produce has disappeared and no longer available. Because of their relatively long shelf-life, our markets will still carry apples, squash and a variety of root vegetables for weeks, even months, to come. Today’s look back features a stove top method for braising root vegetables, a recipe that will make an attractive side dish for any of the feasts you may prepare this holiday season. You can learn all about it by clicking HERE.

*     *     *

Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Honey Mustard Preview

  Honey Mustard

*     *     *

Braised Lamb Shanks

Lamb Shank 3In a previous post, I’ve mentioned that when I was a boy, a young goat was the meat of choice for our Easter dinner. Goat, however, was to be replaced by Spring lamb but even its reign was cut short, since my siblings weren’t at all enamored of it. As a result, Mom switched to serving some sort of roast for our holiday meal, reserving lamb for other, not so special, nights. (Sorry that I cannot be more specific but, as I’ve also mentioned before, my attention during holiday meals was always fixated on the platter of ravioli.) For those non-holiday dinners, she would serve lamb for the 3 of us and some other dish for my siblings. Lamb shanks were most often served for no other reason, I thought, than they were so easy to prepare. Remember, she had another dinner to cook for my siblings.

Although I don’t have Mom’s recipe in written form, I know it well. We spoke of it often and she was delighted to hear that I would be serving lamb shanks for dinner. It turned out that, as much as Dad and I enjoyed lamb, Mom was crazy about it. She’d rather make 2 meals than go without her lamb.

Today’s recipe is pretty much all Mom. I did make a couple of adjustments, though. Namely, Mom used red wine and I use white with a little sherry vinegar. Then, too, for today’s recipe, I used a slow cooker and Mom’s was nowhere near large enough for lamb shanks. If that’s you or you don’t like slow cookers, this dish can just as easily be made in the oven or on the stove top. Instructions to do so follow the recipe below.

*     *     *

Whether you’re celebrating Passover or getting ready for Easter, the Bartolini Clan and I wish you a very Happy Holiday.

*     *     *

Lamb Shank 2*     *     *

Braised Lamb Shanks Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 lamb shanks (See Notes)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 medium carrots, roughly chopped
  • leaves and stalks from the top of a celery heart, about 1 cup
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 6 cloves of garlic, smashed, separated
  • 4 sprigs of rosemary
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cup white wine (Mom used red wine)
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 3/4 cup sherry vinegar (Mom didn’t use any vinegar)
  • vegetable stock (See Notes) (Mom used her chicken stock)
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • lemon zest for garnish, optional (See Notes)

*     *     *

Lamb Shank Braise*     *     *

Directions

  1. In a large fry pan, heat the olive oil over med-high heat.
  2. Add 2 smashed garlic cloves and sauté until golden. Remove the garlic and discard. (See Notes).
  3. Season the lamb shanks with salt and pepper and place them into the pan, browning them on all sides. This could take anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes.
  4. Remove and reserve the lamb shanks.
  5. Place all the vegetables into the pan, season with salt and pepper, and sauté until some color is achieved.
  6. Add the tomato paste and cook until fragrant and its color deepens, 2 to 3 minutes.
  7. Remove the mixture from the pan and place into the slow cooker, along with the garlic, rosemary, bay leaf, and sherry vinegar.
  8. Use the white wine to deglaze the pan and then add it to the slow cooker. Season with salt & pepper.
  9. Place the lamb shanks into the pot and add enough vegetable stock so that half of the shanks are submerged. Cover the slow cooker. (See Notes)
  10. Cook on low for 8 hours, turning over the shanks about every 90 minutes. (See Notes)
  11. Remove meat and cover while the liquids are strained and the sauce prepared. (See Notes)
  12. Serve, garnished with lemon zest, and with the sauce on the side.

*     *     *

For those without a slow cooker

Instead of using a fry pan, brown the shanks and sauté the vegetables in a Dutch oven or heavy bottom pot with a lid. Follow the recipe and place everything into the pot. Add enough vegetable stock to submerge 2/3 of the shanks. Bring to a boil over med-high heat and cover. At this point, you can:

  • Leave the pot on the stove, reduce the heat to a soft simmer, and cook for 90 to 120 minutes. Meat should be nearly falling off of the bone. Turn over the shanks occasionally.
  • Place the pot into a pre-heated 250˚ F (120˚ C) oven and cook for 3 hours. Turn over the shanks occasionally.

Serve as indicated in the recipe above.

*     *     *

Lamb Shank 4*     *     *

Notes

Be sure to remove any excess fat and as much gray skin as you can. Rather than show you how I did it, you can see a pro do it HERE. It’s not the most thorough set of photos but they will give you a better idea than mine would have. (Work for food? Applications are now being accepted for a photographic assistant.)

If at all possible, make you own vegetable stock and use the flavors that you will use to braise the lamb shanks. One or two days before you cook the shanks, place one onion (quartered), 2 celery stalks (roughly chopped), 2 carrots (roughly chopped), 2 cloves of garlic (smashed), 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary, a few sprigs of fresh parsley, 1 bay leaf, and 6 or 7 cups of water into a medium sauce pan. Over med-high heat, bring the contents to a boil, then reduce to a low simmer. I let mine simmer for 2 hours and got a full quart of vegetable stock. I did not use any salt nor pepper in this stock so that I could better control both seasonings during the braising process.

Because less liquid evaporates from a slow cooker, less braising liquid is needed than when a Dutch oven is used to braise on the stove top or in the oven.

Using smashed garlic cloves to flavor the cooking oil is something Mom did all the time. It’s especially useful when sautéing vegetables, giving them garlic flavor without having pieces of garlic in the dish.

If you haven’t got 8 hours to wait for dinner, you can reduce the cooking time by setting the slow cooker’s setting to “High”. As a general rule, one hour of cooking on “High” is worth 2 hours on “Low”.

A few months ago, Chef Michael Symon mentioned that he uses citrus zest as a garnish when he serves braised meats. I decided to give it a try and, since then, I’ve used orange zest on beef cheeks and lemon zest on harissa chicken and today’s lamb shanks. In all cases, the zest added a bit of freshness to the dish that I liked very much.

Once you’ve strained the liquids and removed the fat, you can:

  • serve the sauce as-is;
  • reduce it and serve; or,
  • if needed, use a thickening agent —I used arrowroot — to make gravy.

No matter how you finish the sauce, be sure to taste and adjust its seasoning as needed.

*     *     *

It’s déjà vu all over again …

CresciaSince I’ve shared a lamb shanks recipe for Easter dinner, why not share a bread recipe, as well? Today’s blast from the past will take you to my post for the Easter bread of Le Marche, the ancestral home of the Bartolini side of my family. Braided and loaded with cheese, this bread will fill your kitchen with an irresistible aroma while it bakes. Be forewarned. Don’t bake this bread too far in advance of Easter, for it has a tendency to disappear. You can learn all about this crescia by clicking HERE.

*     *     *

Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Harissa Roasted Vegetables PreviewRoasted Vegetables Salad with Harissa

*     *     *

Gettin’ Cheeky with Beef – And in a Slow Cooker, No Less

Guance di Manzo Brasato

Let me say from the onset that this is not a Bartolini family recipe. In fact, I can say with some certainty — feel free to back me up, Zia — that beef cheeks never graced a Bartolini dinner table. This all changed the last weekend of last October. That was the weekend the vendor with certified organic meats returned to the farmers market.

*     *     *

Beef Cheeks 1*     *     *

You may recall that I had been waiting for him to return because he sold goat and, even though I’d found some at a nearby market, I prefer to buy organic when its available. As it is, I buy chickens from him all Summer long. It had been weeks since he last set up his stall and I was, frankly, surprised to see him. The following weekend was to be the market’s last for the year and I thought him gone until 2014.

His stall, for lack of a better word, is a set of folding tables arranged in a “U” shape. On them he’s places about 6 ice chests in which he keeps the week’s frozen inventory. That week there wasn’t any goat meat but I was surprised to find a package labeled “beef cheeks.” I bought it, along with a chicken, and placed both in the freezer when I returned home.

Well, as this Winter unfolded, I exhausted my repertoire of comfort foods. Last week’s tuna noodle casserole was proof that I’d run out of options. It was about that time that I remembered that there were beef cheeks in the freezer, though they had somehow managed to work their way to a back corner. Another Sunday braise was suddenly in the offing.

Although still below freezing, that Sunday turned out to be the warmest day of the month to date. Since there was no real need to heat the kitchen, I switched gears a bit and opted for using the slow cooker rather than the Dutch oven. Best of all, with a fridge well-stocked with braising vegetables, there would be no last-minute trip to the grocery that morning — until I realized that I’d need side dishes. Curses!

*     *     *

This braise is like most, with one minor exception. I started by making a form of battuto, an Italian soffrito. In our part of Italy, a battuto consists of finely diced onion, parsley, garlic, and salt pork. Battuto is the first thing into the pan, after the olive oil is heated, and will flavor the dish as its aroma fills your kitchen. Here, I made my battuto with guanciale, parsley, and garlic. (Yes, this recipe mixes the cheeks of both pork and beef. Shocking!) The onions were added with the other braising vegetables, once the battuto was cooked. The rest of the recipe is easy enough to follow and you should have no problems.

*     *     *

Beef Cheeks Braising*     *     *

Braised Beef Cheeks Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 beef cheeks, approximately 1.2 lbs (540 g)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 oz guanciale, chopped – pancetta or bacon may be substituted
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/4 c parsley, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, leaves included, roughly chopped
  • 2 carrots, roughly chopped
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 3 tbsp tomato paste
  • 3/4 c red wine
  • 3/4 c Madeira
  • 1.5 c beef stock
  • salt and pepper
  • lemon zest

*     *     *

Battuto*     *     *

Directions

  1. Combine chopped guanciale, parsley, and garlic on your cutting board and chop them together until uniform. This is the battuto.
  2. Warm oil in a sauté pan over med-high heat. Add the battuto and sauté until the guanciale’s fat is rendered, about 5 – 7 minutes. Do not allow to burn.
  3. Add onion, carrots, and celery to the pan and sauté until the onion is translucent.
  4. Add the rosemary and thyme to the pan. Continue sautéing until both begin to wilt.
  5. Use a slotted spoon to remove the pan’s contents and place all into the slow cooker. Do not drain the oil.
  6. Season beef cheeks with salt and pepper before placing into the hot pan. Turn when brown, about 5 minutes. Remove when both sides have been browned. Place into the slow cooker atop the other ingredients.
  7. Add the tomato paste to the pan and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  8. Use wine to deglaze the pan.
  9. Add the Madeira and beef stock and bring to a boil to burn off the alcohol.
  10. Add the liquid to the slow cooker. (See Notes)
  11. Cook on high for one hour before reducing to low for another 6 hours. Turn over the meat occasionally, about once every 90 minutes, or so. (See Notes)
  12. Remove meat and cover while the liquids are strained and the sauce prepared. (See Notes)
  13. Just before serving, garnish with a bit of lemon zest.

*     *     *

Beef Cheeks 2*     *     *

Sides

As pictured, there were 2 sides served, neither of which is complicated nor difficult to prepare.

  • Mashed Potatoes and Parsnips with Roasted Garlic:Parsnip-Potato Mash
      Prepare mashed potatoes as you would normally, substituting 1/3 of the potatoes with peeled, chopped parsnips. Once boiled and drained, mash before adding warmed heavy cream into which butter and roasted garlic cloves have been added. Serve.
  • Sautéed Broccoli Rab (Rapini) with Pancetta and Garlic:Rapini with Pancetta
      Sauté chopped pancetta in a bit of olive oil to render its fat and until it’s not quite fully cooked. Add garlic and, after about a minute, add the broccoli rab, season with salt & pepper, and sauté until cooked to your satisfaction. Serve.

*     *     *

Notes

The braising liquid should not be so deep that the meat is totally submerged like you would do for a stew or soup. When using a slow cooker. the liquid should come about half-way up the side of the beef cheeks. When using a Dutch oven, I use enough liquid so that it comes up 2/3 of the side of the protein to allow for evaporation. Use more or less liquid to arrive at the recommended level. Just maintain the same ratio of the braising liquid’s ingredients: 2 parts beef stock to 1 part each of Madeira and red wine.

A slow cooker works by applying a low, even temperature over a long period of time. Do not uncover the cooker unless necessary or you’ll run the risk of extending the cooking time.

Parsnips are a bit more firm than potatoes. When preparing them, chop the parsnips in pieces that are slightly smaller than the potatoes to insure that all will finish cooking at the same time.

Once you’ve strained the liquids and removed the fat, you can:

  • serve the sauce as-is;
  • reduce it and serve; or,
  • use a thickening agent — flour, corn starch, or arrowroot — to make gravy.

No matter how you finish the sauce, be sure to taste and adjust the seasoning as needed.

*     *     *

When blogs collide

On the very day that I was cooking my beef cheeks, Phil, of “Food, Frankly“, posted his recipes for preparing an ox cheeks dinner. Do yourself a favor and take a few minutes to check out the delicious meal that he prepared.

*     *     *

And finally

In the Comments for last week’s post, my Cousin mentioned that there’s a recall of beef that was processed by a California company and sold across the US. Though the beef I purchased was locally grown and processed, that is hardly the case everywhere. You can read about the recall and the reasons behind it in this USDA News Release, dated February 18th, 2014.

*     *     *

It’s déjà vu all over again …

Tricolor Risotto 4It won’t be long now before we are once again celebrating St. Joseph’s Feast Day. Today’s look back will show you how to prepare a risotto of 3 colors, each of which, not so coincidentally, corresponds to one of the colors of the Italian flag. You needn’t be Italian to make this expression of Italian pride and you can learn how to do it by clicking HERE.

*     *     *

Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Chocolate Torte Preview 2 Gluten-Free Chocolate Torte

*     *     *

Braised Goat in the Moorish Style

Capra Basata nello Stile di Moresco

Braised Goat with Harissa

I’m back and the Kitchens are once again open. Zia and I thank you all for your kind words and well wishes. She sends her warm regards. She, also, sent me home with a few new recipes — octopus and quail are at the top of that list — and I’ll be sharing them in the weeks to come.

Of course, we did buy our share of honey, over 4 gallons between the two of us. Although I brought home 2.25 gallons (8.5 l), almost all went to my neighbors for distribution among their family members. The “Honey Man”, Mr. Falkenberg, has about 100 hives and they produce enough honey for him to sell it in some of that area’s markets, as well as during not one but two weekends this year. He also sold apples, grapes, and black walnuts.  I bought a 5 pound bucket of grapes for $2.00 and used them to make grape jelly yesterday. The apples were used to make apple sauce and my Zia Mariolla’s apple cake. That recipe will be shared in the near future.

*     *     *

(Click to enlarge any photo)

*     *     *

I’ve mentioned in the past that my family prepared goat, very often at Easter. As the years past, we relied more upon lamb for that holiday meal and I cannot tell you the last time I enjoyed goat in any form. Worse yet, I had no idea where I might purchase some. Well, that all changed a few weeks ago. I didn’t realize it but the vendor at the farmers market from whom I buy organic chicken also sells a variety of meats, goat being among them. Although I couldn’t buy any at the time, I knew I’d be back to purchase some. And that’s the last I’ve seen of that vendor. For whatever reason, they are no longer at the farmers market. Not only did I lose my long sought-after source for fresh goat meat but I lost my organic chicken vendor, too.

Well, returning home after the third week of the vendor’s absence, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I pulled the car to the curb and googled, “Where to buy goat in Chicago?” Lo and behold! Just about a half-mile from my home, there’s a Middle Eastern grocery and butcher. It’s one block West of the Indian market where I buy spices and I’ve walked past it any number of times. Within minutes, I was on my way with a goat shoulder wrapped in brown paper.

Once home and after a quick web search, I settled upon a great recipe. Unfortunately, it required harissa and I didn’t have a recipe for the sauce nor did I feel like experimenting. So, I did what I often do. I went to the Middle East Bakery & Grocery, a little gem of a store located in my old neighborhood. As luck would have it, they make their own harissa on-site and it’s good enough to be used in a number of the restaurants in town.

So, with a goat shouder on the counter, harissa in-hand, and a jar of preserved lemons hiding out in the back of my fridge, I set about making braised goat — but with one major difference. The original recipe uses a dutch oven to braise the roast, slowly, in the oven. When I finally bought the meat, Summer had returned to this area with a vengeance, I wasn’t about to turn on my oven for anything, let alone a long and slow braise. Instead, I pulled out the slow cooker and my kitchen kept its cool. This is the version described in the recipe below.

Oh! One more thing. I will be bringing some goat with me to Michigan next time so that I can learn and share my family’s recipe for roasting it. Get ready, Zia!

*     *     *

Raw Goat Shoulder

*     *     *

Goat in the Moorish Style Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 cup harissa for marinade
  • 2 – 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 6 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 3 cilantro stems – that’s right, I’m using cilantro
  • 2 cups low/no sodium chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • the rind from half of a preserved lemon, finely chopped
  • salt and pepper
  • harissa for serving
  • Greek yogurt for serving

*     *     *

Goat ready to be cooked

*     *     *

Directions

  1. With a very sharp knife, remove gray skin from the meat. Season with salt & pepper.
  2. Place meat in a large, seal-able plastic bag, add the harissa and completely coat the meat. Place the bag and contents in the fridge overnight. Turn bag over every couple of hours. Remove from fridge 1 hour before cooking is to begin.
  3. Heat oil over med-high heat in a medium sauté pan. Add onions, carrot, garlic, bay leaves, and cinnamon stick, sautéing until soft and fragrant. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Meanwhile, place stock, white wine, and honey in a small sauce pan, bring to a boil, and then keep warm over a very low flame.
  5. Once the vegetables have been sautéed, dump that pan’s contents into the slow cooker. Add the cilantro and stir.
  6. Place the goat meat atop the vegetables, Be sure to include any remaining harissa left in the bag.
  7. Pour the wine mixture around the roast in the slow cooker. Cover and set to “Low”.
  8. Turn the roast after 1 hour, and then again every 2 hours after. Roast will be cooked in 8 hours.
  9. After 8 hours, remove roast to a dish and cover. Strain the pan juices, discarding the braising vegetables. Set aside to allow the fat to separate and then remove.
  10. See Serving Suggestions below

Inspired by a recipe in the NY Times.

*     *     *

Goat Plated

*     *     *

Serving Suggestions

1) Once cooked, the roast can be carved and served as-is. Sprinkle with the preserved lemon. Suggested accompaniments would be rice, yogurt, and a bit of harissa on the side. The sauce can be reduced to the thickness of your choice. Check for seasoning before serving on the side.

2) Debone the cooked roast and treat it as you would pulled pork. Return in to the slow cooker. Add the preserved lemon and mix thoroughly. Reduce the sauce to the desired thickness and either add it to the pulled goat or serve on the side.

*     *     *

Goat Sandwich on Baby Arugula with Greek Yogurt and Harissa

Pulled Goat Sandwich on Baby Arugula with Greek Yogurt and Harissa

*     *     *

It’s déjà vu all over again …

About a year ago, I posted a recipe for plum cobbler that I jokingly called “magical.” What I didn’t know, but learned while I was visiting Zia, was that the recipe contained a typo. Instead of listing “1 TBSP baking powder”, I had written “1 TSP baking powder.” Big difference, no? I’ve since corrected the recipe  and please make sure you do the same if you’ve made a copy for yourself.

*     *     *

Coming soon to a monitor near you …

_DSC0001 2

Blueberry-Lemon Slice

*     *     *

Split Pea Soup

With Mother’s Day but a few days away, I’ve read a number of posts featuring recipes for a variety of dishes, running the full gamut from savory to sweet. Not to take anything away from these beautiful posts, but I’ve chosen a different path. You see, so far I’ve shared a number of soup-related posts. Each was often described in terms of its use for members of my family. This soup nursed me back to health, that one nursed Sis; this was our New Year’s Day lunch, these took turns as lunch on cold Winter’s days; and, always, Dad was there to enjoy the salad Mom prepared using the boiled meats, similar to a bollito misto. Notice that Mom was never mentioned, other than as cook for these fantastic dishes. Sure, she enjoyed each soup but none were her favorite. No, Mom’s favorite, not so coincidentally, is today’s featured soup, split pea.

*     *     *

*     *     *

As much as she enjoyed split pea soup, Mom rarely prepared it. If my memory is correct — something that becomes less likely with each passing day — Mom and I were the only ones to like this soup. The rest, at best, endured it. Not only that but we rarely had baked ham for dinner. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, our holiday meals were pretty much decided and ham just didn’t make the cut. Besides, I don’t think that Dad was at all interested in baked ham, for I cannot remember it ever being served on a Sunday or any other night that Dad was home for dinner. So, with ham being served so rarely, there were no ham leftovers and, consequently, no split pea soup. I know my vegan and vegetarian friends will take issue with what I’m about to write but here it is. You must have ham to make good split pea soup. Mom said so.

Though it’s true that we might not have had it often, Mom and I still did enjoy our split pea soup. She usually served it when it was just the two of us for lunch and it became something of a special treat. Later, after I moved away, whenever I told her that I was going to roast a ham — or had just done so — she would ask if I was going to make split pea soup, asking for each and every detail of the recipe. And more than once I brought a frozen ham bone home to Michigan with me, made a pot of split pea soup, and left it for her, safely stored in her freezer. So, this Sunday, while many will honor their Mom with a homemade breakfast in bed or a fantastic brunch at a favorite restaurant, I’ll remember mine with a bowl of split pea soup for lunch.

*     *     *

Like so many of the recipes I post, today’s is a work in progress. Over the years it has evolved into a two-step process. In the first, a stock is prepared that becomes the base for the second step. It’s not at all complicated but it does take a bit more time than the standard way of preparing split pea soup. I think you’ll find, though, that the additional flavor in the soup is well worth the extra time required.

*     *     *

Split Pea Soup Recipe

Ingredients

For the ham stock

  • 1 ham bone, some meat left on
  • 2 partially cooked, smoked ham hocks
  • 2 onions, quartered
  • 4 carrots, quartered
  • 4 celery stalks leaves attached, quartered
  • parsley stems
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 quarts (3.8 l) water

For the split pea soup

  • 2 lb (908 g) dried split peas
  • 3 to 4 quarts (2.85 to 3.8 l) ham stock
  • 3 or 4 carrots, diced or sliced, as preferred
  • 8 oz (227 g) roasted ham, cubed — more or less, to taste
  • ham removed from bone, trimmed & chopped
  • meat from ham hocks, trimmed & chopped
  • salt & pepper, to taste
  • croutons for serving (see Notes)

Directions

  1. For the stock
    1. Put all the stock’s ingredients into a large, heavy bottomed pot, bring to a boil, and then reduce to a low simmer.
    2. Continue simmer for 2 hours, skimming surface foam occasionally, as needed.
    3. After 2 hours, remove meat from pot and reserve. Pour stock through a fine mesh sieve to remove remaining vegetables and other bits, resulting in a clean stock. Reserve.
    4. When cool enough to handle, trim the meat from the bones and chop into bite-sized pieces. Cover and reserve.
  2. For the soup:
    1. Add all the soup’s ingredients to a slow cooker. If you did not create enough stock in the previous step, add water to augment.
    2. Set on “low” and cook for 8 hours or set on “high” and cook for 4 hours.
    3. Check for seasoning and serve garnished with croutons. (See Notes.)

*     *     *

*     *     *

Variations

This can just as easily be made on the stove top as it can in a slow cooker. Create the stock as indicated and place all the ingredients into a stock pot rather than a slow cooker. Bring to a boil over a med-high heat and then reduce to a soft simmer. Soup will be ready once the peas are soft and the carrots cooked, about 30 to 45 minutes.

If you want the smokey flavor but not the pork, try using a bit of smoked turkey instead of the ham hocks.

 *     *     *

Notes

From what I’ve seen, split peas are sold in 1 lb. (454 g) packages. When I made today’s soup, I made a “double batch” that resulted in a little over 4 quarts (3.8l) of soup.  I wanted some for my dinner, to be sure, but also some for the freezer. As you may have already gathered, a bowl of split pea soup makes a fantastic lunch. Still, you can easily halve the recipe, if you like.

You’ll note that I do not use salt and pepper until the very end. There’s no way to estimate the amount of salt in the ham or hocks. Wait until the end of the cooking process, give a taste, and then add whatever you feel is needed.

To make croutons:

  • Heat equal amounts of olive oil and butter in a frying pan over medium heat.
  • Add 1 smashed clove of garlic and sauté.
  • Meanwhile, cube a few slices of thickly sliced bread.
  • When oil is hot and garlic fragrant, place bread cubes in the pan and toast, turning frequently.
  • When browned to your satisfaction, remove to paper towels, and reserve.

*     *     *

It’s déjà vu all over again … 

Pasta al Salmone

Pasta al Salmone

When I travel to Italy, there are 2 dishes that I request every time and very often more than once: pasta with clams and pasta with salmon. The first is a dish I’ve made for some time using a family recipe, while a recipe for the latter eluded me for years. You can well imagine my excitement when I finally stumbled upon the secret to this fantastic dish. Click HERE to see this secret revealed.

*     *     *

Coming soon to a monitor near you … 

Wonton wrapper pastas

*     *     *

Beef Short Ribs

Short ribs weren’t on the menu when I was growing up. No, I had to wait until I was well past my youth, living here in Chicago, to discover them and even then it was purely coincidental. I had just moved into an apartment on The Lake and was checking out the neighborhood one Saturday when I “discovered” a Hungarian restaurant. Having looked at the menu, I was ready to order the paprikash when my waitress announced that the day’s luncheon special was short ribs. I opted for the special and that split-second decision became a life-altering event. For well over a year afterward, I dined there frequently and never sampled the paprikash, but I did order the short ribs every time. I introduced friends to my “discovery” and urged each to try the short ribs. You see, I was in heaven and was happy to share my good fortune with everyone — until  that  day.

*     *     *

Beef short ribs served over polenta, with grilled asparagus & horseradish sauce

*     *     *

I was having lunch with a good friend and we were marveling about — you guessed it — the short ribs when the check came. My friend was surprised to see how little our lunch cost and I mouthed the words that I would soon come to regret, “I don’t know how they do it?” During my very next visit to this little gem of a restaurant, we overheard a patron at a neighboring table question the waitress about the restaurant’s future. She replied, assuring them that the restaurant wasn’t going anywhere. At the end of our meal, one of my lunch party, a friend who had come to love the place as much as I, asked the waitress whether the place was closing. Again she said, “No way!”

The following Saturday the place was closed, never to re-open.

In the years since, more than a few of my favorite restaurants have closed, each after I uttered the fateful incantation. Once I realized the power of those words, I did my very best to avoid mouthing them but if you’re going to serve potent margaritas or top-shelf sake at below market prices, well, I can hardly be held responsible. Anyway, through the years, I’ve seen my favorite Chinese, Mexican, and Sushi restaurants all close, not to mention great little diners and hamburger joints. Perhaps the most painful closing of them all was my neighborhood Thai restaurant, which served the best Pad Thai on the planet. I was known as “Mr. John.” Since its closing 8 years ago, I’ve never repeated those powerful words in reference to any restaurant that I’ve liked. (Interesting to note that I have tried to use the magic on restaurants that should be closed as a service to my fellow diners. The fact that these businesses have continued, uninterrupted, mocks me to this very day.) So, aside from ruining the businesses —  and dreams — of a number of immigrant families, just what does any of this have to with short ribs?

Well, once my Hungarian restaurant closed, I took it upon myself to learn how to prepare beef short ribs. Mom, my first resource in such matters, suggested making them like a beef stew. So, my first attempts were cooked in a slow cooker and pretty much looked like a stew. Looking back, my experiences preparing short ribs pretty much mirrors my growth as a cook, such as it was. Over the years, I learned to brown the meat first, make a roux and a sauce, use the vegetables for the braise only, added wine, moved the braise from the slow cooker to a Dutch oven, and, finally, added some balsamic vinegar to the pot. The spices, also,  changed and, somewhere along the way, I began making horseradish sauce. The recipes I share today are the last of a long series.

*     *     *

Beef Short Ribs Recipe

Ingredients

  • 3 – 4 lbs (approx. 1.8kgs) beef short ribs — 6 to 8 rib pieces
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 carrots, roughly chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, roughly chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 3 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1½ cups red wine
  • 1½ cups low-sodium beef broth
  • ¾ cup balsamic vinegar
  • 3 tbsp tomato paste
  • 3 or 4 fresh thyme stems
  • 2 fresh rosemary stems
  • 1 bay leaf
  • salt & pepper, to taste

Horseradish Sauce – recipe follows

Directions

  1. Pre-heat oven to 325˚F (160˚C).
  2. Heat oil in a Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot with a lid over med-high heat.
  3. Meanwhile, use paper towels to pat dry the short ribs, season liberally with salt & pepper, and place into the now hot oil. DO NOT CROWD. You will probably need to brown them in 2 batches. Once the meat has been placed into the pot, do not disturb for about 3 minutes. Check one to see if it has browned. If so, turn each piece to brown another side, If not, continue cooking for another 2 minutes before checking again.
  4. Brown all sides of each rib before removing them to a platter and repeating the process with the rest of the ribs.
  5. Pour off excess grease, leaving 3 tbsp in the pot. Add the celery, carrots, and onion to the pot and begin sautéing. Season with salt & pepper.
  6. When the onion is translucent and the vegetables have softened, add the garlic and continue sautéing for about a minute.
  7. Add the flour to the pot, stir, and cook for two minutes.
  8. Use the red wine to deglaze the pot. Once finished, add the balsamic, beef stock and tomato paste. Season with salt and pepper and stir well.
  9. Add the thyme, rosemary, and bay leaves. Return the ribs to the pot, bring to a boil, cover, and place in pre-heated oven.
  10. Continue to cook for 2½ to 3 hours or until meat is fork tender and falling off of the bones. Carefully remove the ribs to a platter and cover with foil to keep warm.
  11. Pour the braising liquid through a strainer and place resultant liquid into a grease separator.  Wait a few minutes to allow the grease to rise and then pour off the sauce.
  12. Depending upon your preference, you can
    1. Serve the sauce as is.
    2. Place the sauce into a small pan so that it can be further reduced and thickened.
    3. Add more wine or beef broth and then reduce.
  13. No matter the choice, be sure to taste the sauce to see if additional seasoning is needed.
  14. The sauce may be used to cover the ribs before serving or left on the side.
  15. Serve immediately with mashed potatoes, buttered broad noodles, or polenta, as pictured.

*      *     *

Horseradish Sauce

Combine equal amounts of plain yogurt (Greek pref.) and sour cream. Add horseradish to taste, some brown, whole grain or Dijon mustard, a dash or two of Worcestershire Sauce, and salt & pepper to taste. Mix well and refrigerate until needed. Be sure to make extra for the cole slaw.

*      *     *

Pulled rib sammich with horseradish slaw & corn relish

*     *     *

Notes

I always try to make extra ribs, gravy, and horseradish sauce. Not only are the ribs even tastier the next day, the meat can be pulled apart, similar to what is done with pork, and used with the extra gravy to make sandwiches. The extra horseradish sauce can be used as a dressing for cole slaw to top off the sandwich, as pictured, or as a condiment. If used to dress slaw, you may wish to add more yogurt, sour cream, or a little mayonnaise, to suit your tastes.

Be sure to come back next Wednesday when, as promised, I’ll show you how to make mascarpone.

*     *     *

Mom’s Boiled Dinner

Though Italian, through and through, the Bartolini Sisters’ recipe repertoire was anything but restricted to Italian fare. Both Sisters cooked a range of dishes representing many cuisines, and as Mom loved to recall, I was about 6 when I told her that eating at our  house was “an adventure!” You see, it was about that time that Mom had gone to lunch with a few friends, I believe, at what was at the time Detroit’s premier Chinese restaurant. She ordered sweet & sour something-or-other (I don’t remember what), thoroughly enjoyed it, and asked the waiter if she could have the recipe. He agreed and returned a few minutes later with the recipe, which no doubt pleased Mom no end. Later, when the check arrived, Mom was surprised to see a $25.00 fee for the recipe included in the total! (Understand that this was a time when $25.00 was considered a nice sum to win on game shows like “What’s My Line?”. )  Mom, rightly, refused to pay the $25.00, indignantly gave them back the recipe, and vowed to duplicate that meal. And thus began our “adventure.” Starting with the Chun King section of the grocery store, Mom set out to make the ultimate sweet and sour dish. Time after time, she served us the latest version which, to be fair, we kids often thought was OK. Having tasted the original, however, Mom felt otherwise. I remember one specific dinner when her latest attempt fell short of expectations. After one bite, disgusted, she pushed her plate aside and watched as we kids gobbled it down.  The thing I most remember and, frankly, am most proud of, is she never gave up. Laughably, we did eat a couple pretty bad sweet & sour concoctions but she was determined to prove that the restaurant’s food wasn’t all that special and certainly not worth $25.00 per recipe. Truthfully, I don’t think she ever hit pay dirt, at least not while I was living at home, but she did teach me a valuable lesson by her example. So, when I describe the number of tests I’ve run to, say, come up with a cheddar cheese pie crust, or, to find the right level of “heat” in my giardiniera, don’t credit me. Credit Mom.

But I digress …

*     *     *

*     *     *

Among the many cuisines the Bartolini Girls drew upon, American was first and foremost. Meatloaf, stews, casseroles, and fried foods, among others, were very often served — with a platter of pasta on the side, of course. Mom, in particular, loved a New England boiled dinner and she was sure to serve it a couple of times each year. Today, although I may have added a couple of vegetables to the pot, I keep her tradition alive and prepare a boiled dinner at least twice every year, once in the Spring and again in the Fall.

The recipe that I’m about to share uses quite a few vegetables to form a bed for the corned beef. Even with my 6 quart crock pot, only a couple of cabbage wedges will fit into the cooker and, as a result, I have to make other arrangements for the rest of the cabbage. When there’s about an hour to go before dinner is ready, I place as much sliced cabbage as will fit comfortably into the slow cooker and replace the lid. The rest of the cabbage goes into a covered frying pan, a cup of broth from the slow cooker is added, and then everything is seasoned with salt & pepper, to be cooked over a medium heat. Cooking times will vary, depending upon the amount of cabbage and size of the pan. Try to time it so that this cabbage is finished when the slow cooker’s contests are ready. When ready, combine the two preparations for serving and storing. Of course, the alternative to doing this is to use fewer vegetables but, frankly, that just ain’t gonna happen around here.

*     *     *

Mom’s Boiled Dinner Recipe

total time: approx.  8.5 hours

Ingredients

  • 1 prepared corned beef, 4 lbs. Do not discard the packing liquid, unless directed to do so by the package directions.
    • enclosed spice packet
    •                     or
    • 12 green peppercorns and 1 tbsp pickling spice.
  • 1 small bag of baby Yukon gold potatoes
  • 1 large onion, cut into about 8 wedges
  • 1 rutabaga, cut into large chunks
  • 1 turnip, cut into large chunks
  • 4 carrots, cut into 2 inch chunks
  • 4 parsnips, cut into 2 inch chunks
  • 2 garlic cloves, diced
  • 1 cabbage, outer leaves discarded, cut into about 10 wedges
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • water

Directions

  1. About an hour before you begin, remove the corned beef from the fridge and set it on a counter so that it warms slightly.
  2. Place the potatoes, onion, rutabaga, turnip, carrots, and parsnips into the slow cooker.
  3. Sprinkle the garlic over the vegetables and do the same with the spice packet, if any, that came with the corned beef. (If no spice packet, add the pickling spice and green peppercorns.) Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Place the corned beef atop the vegetables and empty the packing liquids over everything. Add water until the slow cooker is about 2/3 full.
  5. Set crock pot to “high” and cook for one hour, turn the meat over, set to “low” and cook for 6 more hours, turning the meat over every 2 hours. Periodically skim the surface to remove any off-color foam, as necessary.
  6. After 7 hours, turn over the corned beef one last time, place the cabbage wedges into the slow cooker, replace the cover, and cook for an additional hour. If you have too much cabbage for your slow cooker, place the surplus into a frying pan, season with salt & pepper, and baste with a cup of broth from the crock pot. Cover and cook over medium heat until ready to be served — 15 to 20 minutes.
  7. After a total of 8 hours, remove the corned beef to a cutting board, slice it thinly, and place it on a platter with the cooked vegetables and cabbage. Serve immediately. Alternately, some people, myself included, prefer that their vegetables be served in a bowl with some of the broth.
  8. When preparing the leftovers for storage, be sure to combine all the cabbage and its cooking liquid with the rest of the vegetables.

Variations

Aside from making one’s own corned beef from beef brisket — something beyond my scope — the only variations of which I’m aware involve the vegetables. Basically, this recipe was Mom’s but I’ve added the turnip, rutabaga, and parsnips. Make the recipe your own and drop or add any vegetables to suit your tastes

*     *     *

*     *     *

Note

The leftovers from this dinner store well and you can easily use them to repeat the meal, if that’s your wish. As I’ve mentioned, however, I prefer the vegetables served with the broth as a soup. That means that I can use the corned beef for panini, also personal favorites. Pictured above is one such sandwich made with corned beef, Swiss cheese, a little cabbage, and some mustard. It doesn’t get much better than this.

*     *     *

Slow Cooker Beef Stew

Yes, you read that correctly: beef stew is next on the agenda. We’ll get to that but first I’ve got some ‘splaining to do. One of Chicago’s grocery chains has closed selected stores around town, renovated them, and is now re-opening each in grand style. One such re-opening occurred recently in my neighborhood and, of course, I attended and brought a friend. While there, he took advantage of one of the sales, buying a 4 lb bottom round beef roast. As you may already know, this cut of beef is not particularly well-marbled and isn’t the most tender of cuts. As such, it responds well to stewing or braising and is perfect for slow cooker stew. My friend asked if I had a recipe and I sent him this one in an email. Since I have the recipe handy, I might as well include it here now rather than later.

Before I share the recipe, however, we should probably look at a few of the ingredients. First off, I tend to avoid the grocery’s beef that’s pre-cut into chunks and labeled “beef for stew”. When I make stew, I prefer pieces that are 2 – 3 inches in size and those that are pre-cut are usually about half that size. So, I buy a 2 – 3 lb chuck, top round, or, as already mentioned, a bottom round roast. Once I get home, I cut the roast into chunks the size of my choosing. Of course, if you prefer smaller pieces, by all means go for it.

Zia and six-month-old Max.

Next, let’s look at the vegetables. If you’re considering making stew in a slow cooker, chances are you’ll be setting it up before leaving for work. Unless you have a sous chef, the last thing you’ll want to do is spend time chopping and cleaning your veggies. That’s why I recommend a small bag of new red or Yukon gold potatoes,  frozen pearl onions, and organic baby carrots. Only the potatoes need washing and everything can be thrown into the slow cooker as-is. If you prefer, feel free to use any type of carrot, potato, and onion that’s available. Just be sure to cut them into approximately equal-sized pieces so that they cook evenly.

Last to be mentioned is the wine. Although I use a few ounces of wine in this recipe, it’s not necessary and can be skipped, if you like. This isn’t boeuf bourguignon, after all. If you live alone, like I do, opening a bottle of wine just to use a few ounces in a recipe isn’t practical. I certainly don’t want to drink the rest with my dinner and watching it degrade on a counter or in the fridge is not the answer. I’ve found that the mini bottles of wine — about 5.5 ounces each — are the perfect solution. Our supermarkets sell them in sets of four and offer a variety of grapes. I buy one set of red and another of white. If a recipe calls for wine, I can use one of these bottles and have little, if anything, left over. Granted, these wines aren’t going to be of the same quality as those found in my wine rack but, then again, I’m not about to open an expensive bottle of wine just so that I can pour a few ounces into a stew. I’ll leave it for you to decide whether to use wine and, if you do, which one to choose. A general rule of thumb, however, states that if a wine isn’t good enough to drink, one shouldn’t cook with it. So, avoid the “cooking wines” at your grocery.

*     *     *

Slow Cooker Beef Stew Recipe

yield: 6 – 8 servings

prep time: approx.  30 minutes

cook time: 8 – 9 hours

Ingredients

  • One  2 – 3 lb beef roast, cut into 2 – 3 inch chunks (less expensive cuts of meat are fine for this recipe)
  • 3 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small package of new red or Yukon gold potatoes.
  • 1/2 small bag of organic baby carrots
  • 1 package frozen pearl onions
  • 1/2 package (about 4 oz) button or crimini mushrooms, quartered (more/less may be used according to your preference)
  • 1 small bottle (5..5 oz) red wine
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 – 4 sprigs of thyme
  • One 32 oz. box low-salt, fat-free beef stock
  • salt & pepper, to taste

Directions

  1. Spray the inside of the slow cooker with your favorite cooking spray.
  2. Place olive oil in a frying pan and heat over medium-high heat.
  3. Meanwhile, use paper towels to pat dry the beef chunks, season them with salt & pepper, and place them into the now hot frying pan. DO NOT CROWD. The pieces should not touch each other or they will steam and not brown. You may need to do this in batches. Do not disturb the meat. After 3 minutes, gently lift one piece to see if it has browned. If not, return the piece as it was and wait another few minutes before checking again. Once it is browned, turn it over, as well as all the other chunks in the pan, Repeat this process until all the meat is browned on all sides. Remove the meat and place in the slow cooker. If needed, add a little more olive oil to the frying pan before browning the 2nd, or 3rd, batch of meat.
  4. Remove the frying pan from the heat, add the wine, and return to medium heat. Use a wooden spoon to scrape off any residue from the pan’s bottom. Once the pan is “clean,” reduce heat to low.
  5. Sprinkle the flour on top of the meat in the slow cooker. Add the bay leaves and thyme sprigs.
  6. Add potatoes, carrots, onions, and mushrooms, in that order, to the slow cooker.
  7. Season with 1/2 tsp salt & 1/8 tsp pepper (more/less if you prefer).
  8. Pour the now-heated wine over the slow cooker’s contents.
  9. Add enough beef stock to cover the beef chunks. It’s OK if some of the mushrooms or carrots are above the liquid.
  10. Set slow cooker on “high” for one hour and then “low” for another 7 hours. Alternately, you can set your cooker on “low” and cook for 9 hours.
  11. Remove bay leaves & thyme sprigs before serving.

Variations

Although not really a variation, I have made this recipe but without the potatoes. I then serve it over a bed of plain rice or one of buttered, wide egg noodles. Before doing so, I check to see if the gravy is thick enough for serving this way. If not, I use a slotted spoon to remove most of the cooker’s content’s to a platter, leaving the liquid behind. Turn the cooker to “high” and while the gravy heats, mix a couple tbsp of corn starch into about a 1/4 cup water. Add to the slow cooker, stir thoroughly, and heat on “high” for 10  minutes before returning the stew meat & veggies to the cooker. By the time everything is heated through, another 5 – 10 minutes, the gravy should be thick and ready to serve.

*     *     *