Thursday, April 24, 2014

Japanese-Inspired Beef Stew


After a year of being unemployed I finally landed a job, my first real nursing job! I am now working at the oncology clinic at a major university, which around here is a big deal. It ranked in the top 50 schools in the U.S. so working there is an honor. However, being a full time employee again has made cooking on weeknights a new challenge for me, but the slow cooker has already been my savior. Be prepared for more slow cooker recipes since that handy, beautiful appliance will be saving the day more often than not. As you may have noticed I am continuing my Asian cuisine fascination into the slow cooker. I am infatuated with stews so this twist on your regular beef stew keeps it fun! I found out that searing the beef before slow cooking it really makes a difference. I never thought it would and often I would skip that step out of laziness or time. I prepped this meal on a Sunday and stuck it in the slow cooker on Tuesday. I seared the beef, placed it in one of those slow cooker liners with the rest of the ingredients so that Tuesday morning all I had to do was put the bag in the slow cooker, set the time and leave for work. The meat is tender and melts in your mouth and the aroma in your house will even drive your pets crazy. If you can, try to sear the beef, if not just toss in the beef raw it will be fine. Serve with rice and your favorite vegetables!

2 tablespoons oil
2 lbs beef stew meat, cubed
4 medium carrots, chopped diagonally
1 onion, chopped
1 cup chicken or beef stock
1/2 cup white wine
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 teaspoon salt

1. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium high heat until very hot. Sear the beef on all sides; cook in batches if needed. Transfer the beef to the slow cooker.

2. Add all the remaining ingredients and stir well. Cover and cook on low for 10-12 hours or on high for 4-6 hours. Serve and enjoy!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Caldo Gallego Estilo Cubano - Galician Soup - Cuban Style


When I was a kid I dreaded the day my mom use to make this soup. Much to her dismay I simply refused to eat it and would make myself and a PB&J sandwich . I don't know why but I never liked it. It wasn't until I was an adult that I began to somewhat tolerate this soup and now in recent years - I wholeheartedly embrace it!  My recipe is based on the Cuban version of this very classic Spanish soup. It is the way I remember my mom making it with the exception of the use of pork salt, which I leave out. I just don't care for it. My recipe uses smoked ham shank instead of ham hocks because it's lot meatier and I think adds more flavor.  It also uses Spanish chorizo, and I will caution that using the Mexican variety is a no-no.  The flavor profiles of these two chorizos is a world apart, they can not be interchanged and to attain the same flavor at the end. I was very happy to be able to use fresh, organic collard greens from my own garden and my own homemade chicken and ham stock. Box stocks are just fine too.  I am providing a slow cooker** and a stove top method. This soup makes a big batch, is even better the next day and freezes well.

Serves 8-10

1 1/2 pounds of dried  great white northern beans
1 large bone-in smoked ham shank
4 Spanish  dry-cured chorizo, sliced into small coins
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large Spanish onion, chopped
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cups of collard greens, chopped
1 pound of potatoes, large dice
2 turnips, diced
4 cups chicken stock
2 cups of ham stock
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup water
Salt** and pepper

Slow cooker instructions:

  • Soak beans overnight in water. Rinse and discard soaking water.
  • Place all the ingredients (except salt and pepper) into a slow cooker.
  • Cook on low for 8 hours. I do not recommend the high setting for this recipe.
  • Taste and add salt and pepper if needed
Stove top instructions:

  • Soak beans overnight in water. Rinse and discard soaking water.
  • In a large heavy dutch oven pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and chorizo. Cook for 5 minutes, add the garlic and cook an additional 2 minutes.
  • Add the tomato paste, stir to coat ingredients in the pan well.
  • Add all the remaining ingredients (except potatoes, turnips and salt & pepper). Bring to rolling boil and boil for 3 minutes.
  • Lower heat and cook at a low simmer for 45 minutes. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed.You may need very little if any.
  • Cook at a simmer for 1 1/2 hours and then add potatoes and turnips.  Cook an additional 20-30 minutes or until potatoes/turnips are tender.

Serve this over white rice or with a crusty toasted loaf of your favorite bread and a good bottle of Spanish red wine. Cheers!

**Recipe Notes: I have found that the slow cooker method works best when cooked on low for 8-10 hours.  I find that using it on high for 4-6 hours just doesn't deliver the right amount of flavor.
Be mindful of salt.  I prefer salting, if at all, at the end, and allow it to cook for 10 minutes so that the flavor is infused into the soup.  You have the smoked ham, ham stock and chorizo that will most likely add all the salt you will need. Most of the time I don't add any at all.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Grilled Achiote Pork Loin Chops


For me pork chops are always tricky on the grill ... they can dry out and just turn into a tasteless mess.  However, with a little prep, you can count on these center cut pork loin chops always being tender, juicy and absolutely scrumptious! These  chops are first brined and then marinaded in achiote paste before they hit a sizzling hot grill. If you aren't familiar with achiote paste it is used in Central American cooking, particularly in my knowledge base, in Nicaraguan cuisine. It is also known as annato seed. It is especially delicious when used as a marinade on grilled meats of all kinds.

Serves 2 - 4

For the brine:
4 - 1" center cut boneless pork loin chops
1 quart brining solution: 3 tablespoon salt, 2 tablespoons brown sugar, 1 quart water

For the achiote marinade:
1/2 cup of Achiote paste
1/8 cup white wine

Prepare brine, making sure to dissolve the salt and sugar completely. Add chops and leave in brine overnight or at least 4 hours. Remove from brine, pat dry. In a glass or zip bag add the achiote paste and the wine, mix together, add the chops. Cover or seal and let marinade for 4 hours or overnight.

Fire up the grill until it's very hot. Remove chops from achiote marinade, pat dry and salt & pepper each side.  Place on hot grill and cook for 3-4 minutes per side. Remove to platter, cover with foil and let the chops rest for 5 to 10 minutes.  This will allow all the juices to redistribute throughout the pork and will make for a juicy chop.

The results are  a filet mignon type tenderness with the juiciness from the brine and the delectable flavors of the achiote paste.

Serve with a side of rice pilaf, simple salad and ice-cold German beer. ENJOY!

Want to know more about brining, check out my post on brining, which includes a handy brining chart.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Slow Cooker MeatLoaf


Meatloaf! The all American family dinner that pretty much everyone has had at least once in their lifetime and if you haven't... well you must! I am a lover of American food as I am a proud American. I went to a baseball game the other night and as the woman sang our national anthem I got goosebumps. I always do because I truly love living in this country; I love the melting pot, the freedom, the history, the land and the beauty this country has to offer. You have a little but of everything here and although there are a lot of hiccups on the road of this country it is what makes us the United States of America. It's like our friends or our partners, they are never perfect by any means, but the imperfections make them perfect to you; that is how I feel about this country. For being such a young country because in fact we are very young compared to the rest of the world, I think we are doing just fine! Anyways, enough of my patriotic rant (I did want to be an American history professor at one time so it shines through from time to time) to me meatloaf, among other popular American foods, is an American staple. It's easy to make for any night of the week; it's great for a small family or even a dinner party! The taste of meatloaf never gets old and people keep reinventing it everyday. So to make meatloaf even easier than it already is, lets put it in the slow cooker! I know it sounds odd but let me tell you that it comes out very moist, not watery at all and above all delicious! I hope you enjoy this version of the American classic: Meatloaf!

1 1/2 lbs ground beef
3/4 cup milk
2/3 cup bread crumbs
2 eggs, beaten
Onion powder, to taste
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon dried oregano
1/8 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons brown sugar

1. Combine beef, milk, bread crumbs, eggs, onion powder, garlic powder, oregano and thyme in a bowl; shape into a loaf. Place in the slow cooker and cook on low for 5-6 hours.

2. Combine ketchup and brown sugar in a small bowl. Spread over the cooked meat in the slow cooker and cook for an additional 15 minutes on high. Serve and enjoy!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Succulent Roasted Boneless Leg of Lamb and Roasted Vegetables


One of the Hubs favorite meals is lamb ... in any possible way. Problem is a big leg of lamb is too much for just the us two. But last weekend I actually found a small 3 pound boneless leg of lamb. It was perfect just for us two! I marinated it for a little over 24 hours and I have got to tell you it was so tender, succulent, juicy and it was packed with flavor. Sometimes a marinade can take over the beautiful flavor of what it is marinating. Not this marinade, it compliments the lamb beautifully, bringing out the robust, yet delicate flavor of the lamb. The rosemary, lemon and garlic enhance the natural sweetness that is in the lamb. Add to that, roasting beautiful simple vegetables, like onions, potatoes and carrots, right along with the succulent roasted lamb and you have an all in one pan meal. It's simply perfect!

4-5 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
2-4 springs of fresh rosemary, leaves stripped from stems
1 teaspoon fresh greek oregano,
2 lemons, zested & juiced
1/4 cup olive oil
1 handful of parsley
1 teaspoon salt
Pepper to taste

3 pound boneless leg of lamb
Salt & Pepper

1 1/2  pound small red potatoes, halved
1 pound french carrots or baby carrots
3 large Vidalia onion, sliced in thick wedges
Olive Oil
Salt and pepper