The Slow Train* [easy meatball stroganoff]

The (Not So) New Girl is great at reminding me that my baby isn’t on the slow train with regards to whatever skill he hasn’t quite yet mastered, he’s just on his own train. He’ll get where he needs to go in due time.

And I guess I will too? But oh, lately does it feel like I’m on the slow train back to Sunday dinners. I used to love throwing a hunk of meat in the oven for all of Sunday afternoons until it was falling apart, and we were so hungry we’d eat enough to put ourselves in a food coma.

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(I really want this image to rotate, and I’ve spent too much time not getting it to work.)

Enter Design Mom’s easy meatball stroganoff.  The perfect, hearty Sunday dinner, but without all that roasting time. I prepped the sauce during the day, we took Gooplet for a gorgeous winter walk, saw an open house, visited with neighbors, came home to put him to bed, and reheated dinner for ourselves.  Dream day, dream dinner.

To make meatballs for 4 or 6 friends, you will need:

Ingredients
5 tablespoons butter, divided
1 large onion, diced
1 pound mushrooms (white button or cremini), sliced
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups beef broth
1-2 sprigs fresh thyme
One (24 ounce) package frozen meatballs**
1 cup sour cream, divided
Salt and pepper, to taste
For serving:
Hot, buttered egg noodles, spaetzle, or rice (we used barley)
Fresh parsley, chopped, for garnish

Instructions
1. In a Dutch oven or large 5-6 quart saucepan, melt 3 tablespoons butter. Add the onion and let cook, stirring often, until it starts to soften, about 3-5 minutes.
2. Add the mushrooms and season with a little salt. Saute, stirring often, allowing the mushrooms and onions to brown nicely. Remove the onions and mushrooms from the pan. Set aside and keep warm.
3. To the pan, add the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and melt. When foaming subsides, add the flour and stir well. Cook the flour, stirring constantly, for 30-60 seconds. Add beef broth. Whisk well to remove any lumps.
4. Bring gravy to a simmer. Add the thyme sprigs to the pan along with the reserved onions and mushrooms.
5. Add the frozen meatballs to the pan. Stir to coat with the sauce. Cover and let simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until meatballs are heated through. Be sure to stir occasionally to prevent the sauce from burning on the bottom of the pan.
6. Once meatballs have cooked through, stir in 1/2 to 3/4 sour cream, depending on preference. Taste sauce and season with salt and pepper to taste.
7. Spoon the meatballs and sauce over hot noodles, spaetzle, or rice, with remaining sour cream on the side.

*An alternate story to tell with the serving of this dish, was my husband’s commentary that we are a great match because I understand it’s appropriate to serve bacon with meatballs.

**The key to the meatball-finding is to look for beef meatballs that are not Italian season.  The author of the post recommends meatballs from Trader Joes or IKEA.  I can vouch that frozen IKEA meatballs are one of life’s great joys.

Best of 2014

Here were are again dear readers, at the close of another year.  Time to look back and reflect on our successes in the kitchen.  Mine are almost all recipes that add little nutritional value to your life.  So if you’re looking for help with your resolution, that’s another blog.  Sorry!

Click on the pictures to go to the recipes.

chocolate crunch bars.

banana walnut baked oatmeal.

funfetti cookies.

garlic and herb bread twists.

black bean burritos.

best chocolate chip cookies.

pounded cheese.

swedish pancakes.

chubby hubby cupcakes.

brown butter cherry bars.

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toffee tiramisu.

cheddar tailgating bread.

chili.

chocolate peanut butter globs.

candy cane cookies.

And two non-recipe posts:

brownie taste test.

nantucket.

Want to know what else is good here?  Check out the best of 2013, and 2012.

What Keeps You Going {chili}

chili.

*

In life, it’s important to know what keeps you going.  What small parts of your everyday liturgy are the ones that allow you to rest and recharge.  I’m not talking about setting aside two hours to curl up with Netflix.  I’m talking about the little moments that you savor slowly in hopes of making them last a little longer.  I have three:

1.  The first sip of Starbucks in the morning

2.  Folding laundry

3.  Cooking dinner

Cooking, at least on nights when I’ve thought through what I want to make, and when I’m not in any rush, is such a luxury to me.  When I have other mouths to feed, it’s even better.  The other night, there were 5 of us for dinner at the (beach) table, and I was looking for something comforting.  I love soups and stews that spend their day simmering on the stove, while you busy yourself with other important work (in this case, catching up on the just-for-fun reading I’ve been neglecting), but it’s always bothered me that I don’t have a good beef chili recipe in my arsenal.  I swear by Ina’s chicken chili, but that’s non-traditional.  Sometimes you want the classic stuff.  I found a staple recipe from Cupcakes and Cashmere, and I’m so glad to have it in my back pocket now.  It’s the kind of chili recipe that you can take in any number of directions to suit your needs. I already started tweaking her recipe by changing the turkey to beef, and adding a bottle of beer at the end.  It makes the flavor so much more exciting.

To make chili for 5 or 6, you will need:

2 lb ground beef
2 white onions (medium dice)
4-5 garlic cloves (minced)
2 (28oz) cans of whole, peeled tomatoes
3 tbs chili powder
2-3 tbs canola oil
2 tbs Sriracha (optional)
1 1/2 tbs of kosher salt (less if you’re using Siracha)
2 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper (to taste)
2 cans black beans
1 can corn
1 bottle beer
Chili condiments (cheese, sour cream, avocado, broken-up tortilla chips)

Brown the beef in the bottom of a large pot.  When it’s cooked through, set aside on a paper-towel-lined plate, and drain fat.  Heat oil in bottom of same skillet and add onions, cooking 7-10 minutes.  Add garlic and spices and cook 1 minute.  Add tomatoes, breaking them up with your hands as you do.  Return beef to pot and give everything a good stir.  Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer.  Let sit on the stove at least 45 minutes, and up to a couple hours, checking to make sure there’s enough liquid at all times (adding water if need be).  About 10 minutes before serving, rinse and drain the beans and corn.  Add to pot with beer, and cook another 10 minutes.  Serve hot with plenty of toppings.

*Yes, the picture has kidney beans, and my recipe does not.  Kidney beans were the reason I hated beans for years.  But, you know what?  Beans are great.  Except kidney beans.  They’re just gross.  I made a couple tweaks to Emily’s recipe when I made it, and one I’ll make in the future is ditching the kidneys in the name of more black beans.

 

On Cooking [slow cooker buffalo chicken sandwiches]

It’s not for everyone.  I get that.

But you sort of have to do it, at least a little, even if you’re just boiling pasta water, if you want to survive.

So you have to find a way to get through it.  Make it as bearable as possible.

May I recommend YouTube-ing your favorite 80s ballads and singing them at the top of your lungs?

Because sometimes that’s what gets Sunday dinner* in the slow cooker.

buffalo chicken

Some suggestions,

And one of my all-time faves:

To make buffalo chicken for 4, you will need:

  • 1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 12 oz. bottle buffalo wing sauce (we use Frank’s)
  • 1/2 (1 oz.) package ranch dressing mix
  • 2 T butter (optional)
  • 2 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, grated
  • sliced bread, toasted

In the morning, put chicken, hot sauce, and ranch dressing mix in slow cooker.  Turn on low for 7 hours.

When chicken is done, shred with two forks.  Stir in butter if you’re looking to add extra calories and/or temper that spicy flavor.

Pile chicken on top of toast, and sprinkle with cheddar cheese.

*This week’s dinner brought to us by Cari Faye.  Thanks Cari Faye!

On Repeating Meals

Dear readers, what does your meal rotation look like?

I had a couple of friends over recently, and we got to talking about how we get dinner on the table night after night after (week) night.  One of my friends was surprised to learn that I rarely make the same meal twice.

Don’t get me wrong, we have some staples, but if I’m making roast chicken, I’m going to change up the spices, or the dressing, or the sauce pretty much every time.  So yes, we have roast chicken a bunch, but we eat it differently each time.

chicken in milk

Except maybe not anymore.  Because when The Kitchn told me Jamie Oliver’s chicken in milk is probably the best chicken recipe of all time, I knew what to do.

chicken in milk

And man, they were right.

The combination of flavors is something serious.  It’s not your typical lemon, olive oil, basil and thyme concoction.  Keep the lemon and the oil, but add sage, milk, and a hint of cinnamon, all of which come through in each and every single bite of dinner.

Oh and of course there’s garlic.  Ten (unpeeled) cloves of it, roasting in the pan juices, all lending their sweet, intense flavor as well.

I feel like this chicken is a gateway chicken.  Like if you can get this one under your belt, you’re on your way to a beautiful, home-cooked future.

To make Jamie Oliver’s chicken in milk, you will need:

  • 1 roasting chicken (this is the time to splurge on rich people meat)
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • olive oil
  • 1/2 stick cinnamon (I didn’t have any, so I used 1/4 tsp.)
  • 1 handful fresh sage leaves
  • zest of 2 lemons (rather than grate them with my microplane, I peeled the zest in large strips)
  • 10 cloves garlic, skin still on
  • 1 2/3 C milk

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Season chicken liberally with salt and pepper, rubbing it all over the skin.  Coat the bottom of a heavy bottomed pot (one that will fit the chicken snugly) with olive oil.  Once oil is hot on the burner, place chicken in pot.  Brown for a few minutes on all sides.  It’s important to leave the chicken where it is for a solid 2-3 minutes until the skin is brown.  The more you move it around, the less the flavor is going to get all caramelized on the bottom of the pan, and caramelized on the bottom of the pan is key here.  Remove the chicken and set aside on a plate.  Pour off the oil from the pot, but don’t scrape the bottom.  Remember: caramelized brown bits = mega flavor later.

Place the chicken back in the pot and add remaining ingredients.*  Put in the oven and promptly forget about it for 1 1/2 hours.  Okay, if you think of it, or if your house smells so good, you have no choice but to dream about it, then run back in the kitchen now and again to baste the chicken (spoon the juices over the top) to ensure crispy skin.  But it’s really fine no matter what.  This is a low-maintenance meal.

To serve, carve up the chicken, and spoon the sauce over top.

*A note:  While in the early stages of smoothie making, Wooden Nickels told me that dairy and citrus don’t mix.  Dairy causes citrus to curdle.  I never forgot it, because, well, if you drank that smoothie, the lesson would stay with you too.  So when I read that Jamie Oliver’s chicken in milk requires milk and the zest of two lemons, I was skeptical.  But if you read Jamie’s recipe closely, you’ll see that he comes right out and tells you that the milk will curdle, and these little curds will be a magical part of the dish.  See?  No worries, dear readers.

In the Slow Cooker

AGOMYR asked me whether I knew of any slow cooker recipes that don’t involve cream of something soup.

Nope.

Not yet.

As of last weekend, I’ve used my slow cooker twice.  And both times, I used cream of mushroom soup.

pot roast

This time around I made pot roast, which tasted infinitely better than the time I made pot roast the old fashioned way.  And this was crazy easy.

I still get nervous leaving my slow cooker on all day, so I always use it when at least one of us will be at home the majority of the time it will be on.  I know no one else does that.  Dear readers, reassure me that my house won’t burn down if I leave it on when I’m not home!

If you need me, I’ll be chained to these four walls while it’s on.

To make pot roast for days, you will need:

  • 3 pound roast (buy something good; spend a little extra dough)
  • 2 cans reduced sodium cream of mushroom soup (if you go to Whole Foods or Trader Joes you can find a version that’s low sodium, but doesn’t have any other fakey ingredients)
  • 1 package onion soup mix (I have yet to find an onion soup mix without fakey ingredients, but you can make your own)
  • 1 package (8-10 oz) cremini mushrooms, sliced (but button are fine too)

Place all ingredients in slow cooker, and cook on low for 9-10 hours.  I turned the pot roast every couple hours.  Basically whenever I waltzed into the kitchen.

Serve with mashed potatoes.

4 Things

On our 4th anniversary…

1.  I introduced myself to my husband by saying, “Oh, your last name’s Lopez?  If we got married, my name would be Jennifer Lopez.”  Dear readers, if you were ever planning to stop a 17 year old boy in his tracks and (6 years later) get him to propose, I suggest approaching him in a similar manner in his earliest days at college.

2.  It didn’t take long before I knew.  You know.  The way you know about a good melon.

3.  That whole thing where people tell you marriage takes work?  I don’t think it’s true.  It’s not always easy.  But it’s never felt like work.

4.  Shortly before we got married my husband and I were hanging on the couch.  He looked lovingly into my eyes, and told me, “we’re going to be married for a long time.”  “No, husband,” I snapped instantly.  “ForEVER.  We’re going to be married forEVER.”  And I’m happy to report, we’re right on track.

angel chicken

I’m also finally on track in terms of using our slow cooker.  It was a long time coming, but I realized it’s perfect for Sunday Dinners.  After gathering a few Pins from a friend, I decided to make Angel Chicken first.  I have no idea why it’s called Angel Chicken, but I do know that if something is made with a white wine, mushroom sauce, I’m in.  This one’s a winner.

To make Angel Chicken for 4, you will need:

  • 16 oz. mushrooms, sliced (any kind you like, or a combination, I used cremini)
  • 1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 4 T unsalted butter
  • 1 can cream of mushroom soup
  • 4 oz. cream cheese
  • 1 package dry Italian dressing seasoning (or make your own)
  • 1/2 C dry white wine

Place mushrooms in bottom of slow cooker, and place chicken on top.  In small saucepan, melt butter over medium heat.  Stir in soup, cream cheese, and seasoning and white wine, and mix till fully melted and combined.  Pour sauce over chicken and mushrooms.  Set slow cooker for 5 hours on low.

The one of us who never has to watch his carb intake enjoyed this with white rice, while the other of us was perfectly content with broccoli.

On Sundays

On Sundays, I make pancakes.

On Sundays, we go to the farmers market.

On Sundays, we go to church.

On Sundays, we watch football.

On Sundays, I eat brunch.

On Sundays, I bake.

On Sundays, I take a little more time with dinner than I usually do.

beef stew

On Sundays, I make soup.

To make a giant pot of beef stew, you will need:

  • Vegetable oil
  • 4 pounds stew meat
  • 2 T butter
  • 5 carrots, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • salt
  • pepper
  • leaves from 5 sprigs thyme
  • 1/2 C red wine
  • 2 baking potatoes, chopped
  • 8 C beef stock (or if you forgot you already had some leftover in the fridge, 4 C plus a lot of water)
  • 1 C frozen peas

Heat oil in large, heavy bottomed skillet.  Add meat in small batches, browning evenly on all sides.  Remove meat and set aside.

Melt butter in skillet and add carrots, celery, onions, thyme, salt, and pepper, and cook 8-10 minutes, until tender.  Add wine, and scrape everything around until you get all those brown, flavorful bits off the bottom of the pan.  Let wine reduce by about half.

Add stock, potatoes, and meat, and bring pot to a boil.  Reduce heat to simmer, and let stew cook 2 hours, stirring every now and again if you feel like it.

When stew is finished, add frozen peas.  The residual heat from the stew will cook the peas.

The Last Roast of Winter (or, the BGSK cookbook can do no wrong)

Well folks it happened.  We made it through a DC winter without a single weather-related work closing. I didn’t think I’d live to see the day that happened.  These people have no idea what to do with snow.  But unfortunately, we didn’t really have any snow.  Or if we did, it came on a Saturday.

I’m thankful for such a mild winter.  For one, I got to run a whole lot more, and most of the time I didn’t even need my cold gear.  I didn’t have to scrape my car down ten minutes before leaving each morning.  And I didn’t feel the need for a warm Starbucks cup in my hand as much as usual.

The one thing I’ll truly miss about the cold temperatures is the ability to heat the house on a Sunday evening because of whatever large hunk of meat I have roasting in my oven.  Sunday dinners are often the most memorable, and surprisingly, they’re often the easiest, as they typically involve leaving meat alone in a low-temperature oven for several hours.  All you have to do is stay home and make sure the house doesn’t catch on fire.

We bought the most beautiful chuck at the farmer’s market this morning, with BGSK’s Beer Beef Stew in mind. Seriously, the three point five pounds of marbled meat you see above was a thing of beauty.  And it smelled good.  Raw.  I’ve never been one for beef carpaccio, but this was more tempting than I bargained for.

Don’t worry, I resisted.  My husband sat at the kitchen table and wiped an inordinate amount of drool off his face while watching me slice this hunk of beef up, though.

Things only got worse as I seared the meat, added aromatics, and left it completely alone.  For two hours.  While I worked upstairs, and he down, we kept yelling to each other, “It smells so good!”

Dear readers, I know this blog has been dark for a little while.  I know I used to post all the time, and that hasn’t been happening as much as it used to.  Problem is, when you have a cooking blog, you have to cook great food.  And though I’ve been cooking just as much as always, it hasn’t been memorable.

This dish is my grand entrance back on the blog.  It’s bold, it’s flavorful, it’s comforting, it’s hearty, and it will knock the socks off your men friends, should you choose to serve it to them.  Make it quick, as the number of cool evenings left in the year is limited.

I had my way with Cara and Phoebe’s recipe, adjusting it to fit the amount I needed, and the stock in my pantry.

To make 4 servings, you will need:

  • canola oil
  • a couple pounds chuck roast (mine was 3.5 pounds, but then I hacked off a bunch of fat, so who knows how much I ended up with), patted dry, cut in 1 inch cubes, and seasoned with salt and pepper
  • 2 onions, sliced
  • 4 carrots, large diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 T brown sugar
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1 tsp. dried thyme (or use 1 T fresh)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 bottle beer (we used Stella)
  • 2 C beef stock
  • 2 T dijon mustard
  • 8 oz. cremini mushrooms, sliced

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Heat canola oil in bottom of Dutch oven.  Working in batches, sear meat on all sides over high heat, and set aside on plate.  Saute onions about 8 minutes, and add carrots for another two, adding a little more oil if necessary.  By this time, your onions should be good and caramelized.  Stir in garlic, brown sugar, 1 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. pepper, and saute till fragrant, about 2 minutes.  Stir in thyme and bay leaf, and add beef and any accumulated juices back to Dutch oven.  Pour in beer, scraping any brown bits off the bottom of your pan.  Add broth, and mustard, and give everything a good stir.  Cover with a tight-fitting lid, and place in oven for 2 hours.

About 10 minutes before stew is done, heat 1 T oil in small skillet.  Add mushrooms, and saute till they release their liquids, and soak them back up again.  Toss 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. pepper in there while they’re cooking as well.

When stew is finished, remove from oven, and add mushrooms.  Serve hot, over a starch of your choice.  We had mashed potatoes.

Winter Food

Now that the temperatures have finally dropped, and ballet flats without socks will not suffice as I hurry out the door each morning, I always turn to comfort food for dinners.  I’ve made chicken spaghetti, chicken and dumplings, and chicken noodle soup, all right around the holidays.  Isn’t it strange how certain times of year always make us hungry for the same kind of food?

Here are all those same ingredients, remixed.  Dear readers, I present Ina’s chicken stew with biscuits.

I followed Ina’s recipe, and as usual, she came through for me. This dish is exactly the type Ina was born to make.  She nails American classics, usually by finding simple ways to enhance the flavors.  There is nothing fancy about chicken stew with biscuits, but the way Ina’s turns out makes you want to invite all your friends for Sunday dinner and serve this for company.  No one would complain.

*A note: I put about 3/4 of the casserole in this here 9 x 13 pan, and froze a smaller casserole (biscuit dough frozen separately) to bake off later.  While we were rushing around prepping for international travel, that little freezer casserole served us well.