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 …

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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