RECIPE: Pot Roast like Grandma's

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This is a recipe I have had for a few years. You use a dutch oven to cook the meat. It is a great way to slow cook a tougher, cheaper piece of meat. The trick to a dutch oven is to sear your meat on the stove top, getting a nice seasoned base. Then, deglaze the bottom with some onions and/or wine, scraping up the bits with a spoon. Because the dutch oven is oven proof, it can bake for the rest of the time with it's cover in the oven. The result is a tender, flaky serving of meat. There is often a lot of juice, great for potatoes or some buttered noodles on the side (or warm bread!) This recipe is for a traditional pot roast, a great weekend fall meal. It's very basic in nature. Be sensitive to what meat you choose. You can check out my cheat sheet on a previous post (Meat Cuts 101). I would recommend a chuck roast, cross-rib roast, seven bone pot roast or arm roast for this. A cut that can cook in braising liquid for 2 1/2 hours to get fork tender is the key.

Pot Roast like Grandma's

Ingredients

1 Tbsp. olive oil
3 1/2 lb. chuck roast, trimmed
salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onion
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1 cup red wine
 6 sprigs fresh thyme
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tsp. kosher salt
14 oz. beef broth
3 bay leaves
5 large carrots, cut into 1 inch pieces
3 large red potatoes, peeled and cut into 2 inch pieces
8 oz. white button mushroom, halved or quartered if large


Directions




Heat oven to 350˚. Heat olive oil in a dutch oven or oven safe dish. Sprinkle the meat with salt and fresh ground pepper on both sides. Brown the meat on all sides until brown (about 5 minutes on all sides with medium high heat.) Take the meat out of the pan and set aside and add the onions. With your tongs, toss the onions in the pan while scraping up all the brown bits from the bottom. Cook until tender, about 8 minutes. Deglaze the bottom of the pan with the red wine, scraping the bottom and sides.




Add the roast back into the pan, and add the broth, thyme sprigs, bay leaves, garlic and 1 tsp. salt. Heat to a simmer. Cover, remove the pan from heat and place on the middle of the oven. Bake for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until meat is just tender.


Add the carrots, potatoes, mushrooms and jostle them in with the juices and meat. Recover and cook for 1 hour more, or so, until the vegetables are tender and you can easily flake off the meat with a fork. If things are still not tender enough, kick up your temp to 400˚ and cook for 15 more minutes at the higher temp and check it promptly. A little extra time at a higher heat to speed things up to finish is a great trick (especially when you have a hungry, restless crowd).



Remove the meat from the pan, and shred into chunks onto a serving platter using two forks. Serve the vegetables on the side as well as the pan juices. Serve with some extra bread for mopping up the juice.


RECIPE: Apple Cake "Urbanized"

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I call this cake Apple Cake "Urbanized" because this was a cake I saw in my Epicurious rss feed (Marie-Héléne's Apple Cake) which I "kicked up" in flavor. It made my "to bake" list because it seemed very easy and quick to make for a busy weekend. You mix it all by hand, which beats taking out all the heavy counter "artillery". The oven does the rest. If you are like me, you are knee deep in apples from an orchard trip these days. This was a fast morsel to finish off the pot roast I was making Saturday for my family. It just filled the house on a chilly Saturday with warm, comforting smells. Perfect Fall food. I think the recipe is also versatile enough that you can add nuts, dried fruits, and maybe different liquors. Have some Fall fun with it!




Apple Cake "Urbanized"

Ingredients

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
4 large apples, peeled and chopped in 1 inch chunks (2 Jonathan's, 2 Golden Delicious)
2 large eggs
just under 3/4 cup sugar
generous 1/8 cup real maple syrup
3 tablespoons Amaretto
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, melted and cooled

Directions

Spray a springform pan generously with cooking spray. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet, and set aside. Heat oven to 350˚ and move the rack you intend to use to the center of the oven.

In a small bowl, mix the flour, baking powder and pinch of salt. Set aside.


In a large bowl, whisk the eggs until lightly beaten. Add the sugar and Maple syrup and whisk until smooth. Add the Amaretto, cinnamon and vanilla, and whisk until smooth again. Add half the melted butter and whisk until combined, then add half the flour and whisk until combined again. Then add the rest of the butter, whisk again until combined, then the rest of the butter. Whisk a final time until smooth and combined. Now fold in the apples until all the bits are coated with the batter. I switched to a spatula for this part. Pour into the springform pan. The batter will look like it has more apples than batter. Try and even out the batter and apples in the pan the best you can.

Bake the pan on the prepared sheet on the center rack for 60-90 minutes, or until top is golden and a knife in the middle comes out clean. If you find after 45 minutes that the apples on top are not softening but getting dry and tough, tent the cake loosely on top with foil for 10 minutes or so to get the steam to cook the top apples. Then take off the foil for the rest of the cooking time to finish browning the top. Let cool on a baking rack to room temp. Use a blunt knife or spatula and run it along the sides before removing the side piece. To take off the bottom, wait until cake is completely cooled.


Careful to not cover the cake while storing it, as the original author states that it is too moist and will get soggy. She suggests to cover cut sides with some wax paper. It keeps at room temp for two days. Serve with ice cream or lightly sweetened whipped cream.

RECIPE: Slow Cooker Lentil and Carrot Potage

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I grew up eating lentils, either in a savory soup or with a hearty peasant pasta dish my Italian mother would make. Lentils are packed with iron and protein, great for growing children. But lentils aren't what kids go gaga for. Here is a way to sneak lentils in their dinner without them knowing, and the sweetness of the carrots brings a whole other layer of flavor to it. This soup is a nice, warm, hearty meal for fall. You let is simmer in the slow cooker, then finish it off right before serving. We heated up some La Brea Whole Grain Take and Bake bread and made a little salad, and voila! Dinner!


Slow Cooker Lentil and Carrot Potage

Ingredients:

3 Tbsp Olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 celery sticks, chopped
1/2 tsp. salt and fresh ground pepper
1 Tbsp dried parsley
3 carrots, sliced
3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 potato, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup white wine
1 generous cup of dried red lentils
4 cups chicken broth
3 bay leaves
1 small lemon
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
cayenne pepper to taste (wait and add to adult servings at the end of serving children)
lemon slices, chopped fresh parsley for garnish

Directions:


In a large frying pan, heat oil. Add the onions and garlic and cook until translucent. Stir in carrots, potato and celery. Cook for 5 minutes. Add 1/2 tsp. salt, pepper and parsley and cook for 2 more minutes. Add white wine and scrape the bottom of the pan, cook for 2 more minutes. Turn your slow cooker on to high.

Add the vegetable mixture into your slow cooker. Add the lentils, the stock and bay leaves. Pare a strip of lemon rind about 1 inch wide and the length of the lemon. Scrape off the white pith on the back, and add to the slow cooker. Stir briefly to combine. Cover and cook on high for one hour.



Turn the cooker down to low, and cook for another 5 hours-or until the vegetables are soft and tender. With a spoon, pull out the bay leaves and lemon rind. Process the soup in a processor, blender, or ideally with an immersion blender until smooth. Stir in the cumin, cayenne (if not cooking for kids) and adjust your seasonings. Cook for another 45 minutes.

Turn the cooker to warm. Juice the lemon, and add to the soup. Serve warm, garnished with parsley, ground pepper and cayenne if adding at the end.



MOMMYHOOD: Goodbye Working Mom's Guilt-For Now Atleast!

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Yesterday TIME magazine published a short article about a recent 50 year study around children with working mothers. The surprising (or maybe not so surprising) news is that children of working mothers are doing just fine-great in fact! Now I want to clarify something before I go on, I am not making a comparison of children with stay at home Moms versus working Moms. All Moms are working their post-partum tushies off and are keeping it all together. Why I felt the need to share this study and talk about it is simple: working mom's guilt. I have had plenty of social stigma and worry for my child since I had to go back to work. And now there is finally a scientific study that is saying that I don't need to feel that way anymore.

I know this is a very emotional and socially charged subject. There are strong beliefs out there that a woman's role is still at home with her children. Period. But many women have had to make a hard choice to work and contribute to their households, especially with the recent economic downturn. Whether you have to or want to, the decision to leave your children to go to work is a hard one wrought with much guilt and worry. If you are a working mother like me, I know deep down inside you have wondered if your children have been missing out on a lot with you not there for them all day. But what has certainly bubbled up to the surface during this study is that whatever they are missing (if anything) you are making up for by being a hard-working, "go-getting" role model for your child, instilling in them independence and self esteem. The study states that from seeing their Moms hustling and bustling they tend to become high achievers with better GPAs later in life. They see that hard work gets rewards first hand, and learn to live by those ethics. This is not to say that stay-at-home Moms don't work hard. In fact, there is a great quote from Jane Sellman that states "The phrase "working mother" is redundant." The truth is, Moms work hard! The hard work ethic needs to be instilled by you as a parent-regardless if you go to work or not. But children of Moms that do go to work see it a little more in action with the rewards being more tangible (praise, awards, travel, promotions, bonuses and paychecks). Sadly, stay at home moms are unsung, unpaid heros with no monetary reward. I read somewhere that a stay at home Mom should make an annual salary of around $140,000. If we could all make that, then none of us would have to go to work, right!?

Interestingly enough for me, my working mom's guilt has kept my home-time in check, which this article alludes to. I think working moms know they can't take their time with their children for granted. Yes, we do spend less time with them, but we try and make it more about QUALITY time because we know we can't have QUANITY. When I am home with my daughter, I pass on the mediocre chores and TV shows or sometimes even order in dinner versus making it to really spend time with her. I focus on playing, reading, crafting or helping her with homework. I cherish the time I do have with her because I know I don't have a lot of it. Working moms need to be more conscientious of time with our children, and we protect it fiercely.


The article also mentioned that children of working mothers are more independent away from the home-probably because they had to at a young age on account of either going to day care or being cared by another family member or nanny. I am not sure if I agree with this completely, I think it depends on your child's personality. I do remember my daughter being able to have me leave the room without a meltdown and more open to meeting other people. But if it was a room of people at a party, she was still shy and I still had the first week of preschool melt downs at the classroom door! I guess time will tell if my daughter has a little more independence as a young woman through my example. But right now, the time I am at home she is very needy-almost possessive of me and our time together on weeknights after work-and that's OK.

Another point brought up that was something I did not think about was the subject of resources. With a Mom contributing financially to a household adds more the child can do to enrichen their life. More resources seemed to mean happy children. Not because they have money or are spoiled, but because they could go on vacations with their family, have access to extracurricular activities, have a better diet and a more comfortable or secure home. Security and comfort is the best thing you can give a child, and sometimes you have to go to work to achieve that environment.

And here is something that the article doesn't bring up and may be controversial for some of you- I often waffle on it myself, and that is about Mom's self esteem. A happy Mom means a happy house and happy children. Sometimes, going to work does help give a Mom something that is just for her, growing her knowledge, making new friends and getting fulfillment through praise and monetary reward. The trade off is stress, time constraints and lack of time with your kids. There are some days I wish I stayed at home! Then, I really think about it and I ask myself, would I be happy and challenged? I am not sure. I guess I can blog while my daughter is at school-but even that is technically working. The reality is that eventually, kids leave home and start their own lives, and if you did not maintain a little of yourself in that long journey, then you will be at a crossroads later in life. But isn't motherhood a series of crossroads anyway? I guess you make the decision to work or not, and depending on which road you choose then, you will be greeted with many more. Well, if this study is right, the working mom road, should you choose it, is not as rocky with pot holes as you may have originally thought.

Here is the TIME article-

http://healthland.time.com/2010/10/18/working-moms-kids-turn-out-fine-50-years-of-research-says/?hpt=T2

RECIPE: Lighten Up! Vegetable Lasagna

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This lasagna I have made a few times, and it has become a favorite with the family. My daughter has no idea she is eating a hearty helping of vegetables, and cottage cheese is a lighter cheese to use than ricotta (Though ricotta is just fine). I have also been using whole wheat oven ready noodles from Archer Farms (Target store's private label). You can use normal ones, but if you want to eat healthier, they are a yummy switch. Also,  I would spend the extra couple of bucks and get a higher end, better jar sauce. It's worth it. And finally, this is great for even a weeknight. I prep it all and assemble it until the moment of putting it in the oven, and I just cover it with tinfoil. Then I put it in the fridge, and I get it out the night I need to serve it for dinner. Let it warm up to room temp as I preheat the oven and bake it off then. Works great!

Lighten Up! Vegetable Lasagna 

Ingredients:

12 sheets oven ready lasagna noodles, preferably whole wheat
1 Tbsp. Olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
8 oz. mushrooms, sliced
1 medium zucchini, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 medium yellow squash, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1/2 cup white wine
8 oz. baby spinach, washed
2 ripe tomatoes, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp. dried parsley
1 Tbsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground pepper
1 container (15 oz.) cottage cheese
2 cups shredded mozzarella (low fat if you wish)
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese plus 1/4 extra Parmesan cheese for assembly
1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 large 24 oz. jar good quality tomato sauce

 
Directions:

Using a small, fine sieve, drain the cottage cheese to get a lot of the water out. Let it drain for 20 minutes, using a spoon to jostle it around every so often to get more water out.
 




In a large saute pan, heat olive oil on medium heat. Add onion and garlic until onions are translucent. Add the mushrooms, cook for a few minutes or until the mushrooms release their juices. Add zucchini and squash, and cook for 4 minutes, stirring often. Add the white wine and scrape the bits up from the bottom of the pan as you reduce down the wine. Add the spinach and the tomatoes, and cook until the spinach begins to wilt, folding the spinach into the rest of the vegetables. Stir in the basil, parsley, 1/4 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. pepper. Take off the heat and set aside.

 

Now back to your cottage cheese-add the cottage cheese to a bowl and add the nutmeg, Parmesan cheese, 1/4 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp. pepper. Mix until combined.

 










Now time to assemble. (If you are baking the same night-preheat the oven to 425˚ while assembling.) In a 13 x 9 baking dish, layer 1 cup sauce along the bottom of the pan. Lay the noodles, 4 noodles side by side lengthwise, overlapping a little. Next layer the cottage cheese in an even layer on the noodles. Then add half the vegetables evenly over the cheese. Layer 3/4 cup of mozzarella cheese evenly over the vegetables. Layer 4 noodles again on top of the vegetables, slightly overlapping. Add another cup of sauce over the noodles, covering them generously. Sprinkle 1/8 cup Parmesan cheese over the sauce. Then repeat with the cheese mixture, vegetables, mozzarella, noodles, more sauce. When you get to that last layer of noodles, pour the rest of the sauce over the whole lasagna. Sprinkle the remaining mozzarella, and if you have some extra Parmesan cheese, sprinkle that on top. Cover with tin foil. Store in the fridge until ready to bake. Bake at 425˚ for 25-30 minutes with the tin foil on. Uncover the foil, and cook for 5-10 more minutes until hot, bubbly and golden. Let sit for ten minutes before cutting or else it won't cut well. Serve warm.

COOKING: Apples to Apples-Which is Best for Pie? (an experiment)

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In my pursuit of an award winning pie, I have done a TON of research on which apple is best for pie. But in all my reading, I have not been able to find consensus on the ideal approach. SO what I have been hoping to do was to create my own experiment, baking a handful of recommended apples in little pies, and baking them the same way to conduct a true taste test. Then share (and show) the results here. 
Conveniently, we went to a great apple orchard in Michigan last weekend and there were bins that contained some of the sought after pie apples for sale. Excitedly, I bought one apple of each variety and conducted the experiment this week. I brought the pies into work and had everyone comment on texture and flavor, as well as vote on which was their favorite. I am sharing the findings here. 
Surprisingly, there was no single clear-cut winner, but a few. What I have discovered is that it is completely subjective based on one's palate. Some were in the sweet, "apple saucy" camp. Some were in the tart, firmer texture camp. So depending on what you like, there are certainly apples that fit the bill more than others. I also know I am lacking still in some apple varietals here that I still wish to test, such as Pippin, Winesap, Fuji and Jonagold. I intend to update this post as I am able to try these and other varietals. Please feel free to comment and add your own favorites! And really, at the end of the day, as one of my coworkers pointed out-"It's apple pie! There is no wrong apple for pie! It's all good!"

Here is how they were baked so that you understand the sugar/flavor additions-

Experiment Ingredients per Mini Pie:
Store bought crusts, defrosted and rolled out
Each apple sliced 1/4 inch thick, 1 apple per mini pie
Dash of salt, cinnamon and fresh grated nutmeg
1 1/2 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp. lemon juice
drop of vanilla
2 tsp. melted butter
1 1/2 tsp. corn starch


COMMENTS PER APPLE:
EMPIRE

Empire: Too soft and not as flavorful, mushy, overpowered by crust
Texture was balanced, not too tart or sweet, liked the tart, crust slightly overpowers the apples, little dry, medium mush, and traditional flavor


CORTLAND

Cortland: Too mushy, a little too sweet, moist, sweet and tangy


MIXED FIRM AND SOFT

Mixed (Johnathan, Golden Delicious and Empire):
Good texture, odd taste, nothing to write home about, just OK, bland and like McDonald’s


GOLDEN DELICIOUS

 Golden Delicious: Good flavor and Texture, melt in you mouth texture, texture holds up to the crust, strong apple flavors, hearty, softer texture, delicious, maybe overpowered by crust, nice consistency, mushy, not as much taste, bland


MACOUN
 Macoun: Soft, good flavor, tart, good texture, not sweet enough, “eh”, just alright, sweet but less flavor, apples hold their shape, tangy but does not taste like apples


NORTHERN SPY
 
 Northern Spy: Lightly soft while keeping a firmness, loved the flavor, texture holds up to the crust, strong apple flavors, tart, more unique flavor, moist, nice and sweet, better texture and more shape, tangy, tart, effervescent


JONATHAN

Jonathan: Not too sweet, good, not as flavorful, OK but “typical” in flavor, overpowered by crust, what apple pie should taste like, a little dry, not as flavorful, holds shape well, lemony


IDA RED

Ida Red: Loved this flavor, nice tartness, texture holds up to the crust, strong apple flavors, nice texture, wonderful consistency, “custardy” with firm apple bits, good sweet/tart balance, moist, sweet-tangy and flavorful, good shape, nice pink color, floral

MCINTOSH

 McIntosh: maybe too tart, melts in your mouth texture, strong apple flavors, maybe too mushy, flavor nothing to write home about, moist, just OK, mediocre

FINAL DECISIONS ON FAVORITES:
5 Ida Red
4 Northern Spy
4 Golden Delicious
3 Cortland
1 Empire
1 McIntosh
1 Jonathan

Thank you to all my coworkers for helping me taste their way to this post! Happy Baking!
 

HOME: Appreciating Modern Conveniences

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My family and I took a quick weekend trip to our lakehouse rental to enjoy fall pleasures and time with each other. Because it was a short trip, we kept things kind of lean as far as packing. I usually pack a lot of favorite kitchen utensils and gadgets when we go up on our week long stay. The cottage is equipped with the basics, and you can manage to cook basic, decent meals-but not for "foodies"!

Well, after a trip to an orchard, I wanted to make an apple pie. I had the foresight to bring my favorite pan and rolling pin-but that's it. What I came to realize, and appreciate, is what modern day appliances really do for us. They not only make things easier, but it allows us to be better cooks.

My pie crust is usually made in the food processor-it allows the butter pieces to be the right size for an ideal crust and allows things to stay cold. Well, making a pie crust with just a fork is a bit of a job. And the bits of butter stayed in larger chunks and were too varied in size. Meanwhile, my shortening melted quickly as I kept mushing the dough together with the fork, my wrist beginning to hurt (then kneading it with my hands, making things worse!). I wanted to make two pies, one for the cottage landlord and one for us. So double the work with just a fork-not so fun. The dough was very soft, the vegetable shortening melting too fast. I barely needed liquid to shape it into anything. I had a feeling it was not going to roll out well-and I was right. It was a mess. In frustration for our pie, I used store bought dough. I just gave up! The landlord's was a galette-and it was thankfully passable. The shortening stayed colder and the dough was slightly more workable than the other two crusts.

Beyond crusts, making whipped cream or meringue from egg whites had to be done with a whisk by hand-ouch! I have gained a whole new respect and admiration for the chefs that came before us. They had to do things with whisks, forks, hand mashers and hand beaters. In some ways, it might be better-things were probably not over mixed or overworked (from exhaustion)-but WOW. I bet our grandparents had wrists of steel! They also were probably more patient with their labors of love, because they had to be. They had no choice. And when they said they loved to bake, they had to REALLY mean it. I love baking too-but I also love my food processor, and the extra time it gives me to spend with my daughter. XOXO Cuisenart! Hope you like traveling because you are coming next time!
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