Butternut Squash and Beef Stew
I love stew. What is better than a nice bowl of warm, comforting, flavorful stew? Honestly, I don’t think there is much better. Besides, you can stretch it out for a few meals, it is cost effective,  it is quick cooking, you control what goes in it, and well, it is absolutely perfect for this weather.
If you read my blog you know that I like to find ways to give dishes a little twist. Let’s face it, like so many other dishes stews run the risk of always being exactly the same. So here I am, it is raining cats and dogs in the Pacific Northwest and I am looking for a twist on stew. Like an episode of Chopped, I look around the kitchen to see what mystery ingredients I have around. I keep noticing the butternut squash in the vegetable rack that I haven’t really figured out what to do with that. Also, I want beef, but beef hasn’t been my cooking buddy. I will talk more about a little bit later. The only thing that comes to mind is to throw a bunch of broth in with the beef, butternut squash, and let that come together. Although this method is perfectly acceptable, I wanted something else but I just wasn’t sure exactly how to find that balance. First up, I needed to find a recipe that was going to to work for me.
Before I began the recipe search my brain began wrestle with the big elephant…err…beef in the room. Okay, it is cooking confession time. Most of the stews/braises I have made have all been pork for some time now. I know, why am I talking about about pork when the issue is beef? It will all make sense, but you may have to humor me a little bit. I have been using pork because it is pretty hard to mess up and it is darn consistent when it comes to flavor. The meat is always tender, flavorful, and never misses a beat regardless of how it is served.  Unlike the last few times I have done beef stew meat, which has come out dry and a little tough. What really makes that a mystery is when the recipe tells you the meat comes out tender and moist, and you get quite the opposite. This has happened the last two times I have made beef stew. I do the same thing every time; which is season the meat, sear it to coax some color and flavor out, and then add to the stew accordingly. The meat always comes out well seasoned, but misses the mark on texture and mouth feel. So I began to do some research on how to avoid this and learned something very interesting. Simply put, between the searing of stew meat and the meat cooking in the stew for a certain number of hours, you force all the moisture out of the meat long before the other components of the stew are cooked and have melded together. Since stew meat doesn’t have a lot of surface area, it is hard to keep moisture in while trying to achieve all the other things you want. How do you resolve this problem? Cook your meat in one piece to achieve your color and flavor, cut it down to desired size, and then you can add this to your stew to ensure you have tender meat. If you want more information on the article, click here.
Now that the question of how to cook the beef was solved, it was time to find a recipe. Off to the google-verse I went to complete my search. Surprisingly, it took a few searches to find what I wanted. However, something in this recipe spoke to me. The recipe used spices that are synonymous with winter and the base of the stew was a combo of tomato products and beef broth. I was suddenly inspired when I saw cumin, ginger, coriander, and more. Although these can be very pronounced and can overpower, they create an amazing warmth in the back of your throat with each bite. Plus, the recipe claimed you could have stew in fourty minutes!! As Barney from How I Met Your Mother would say, “Challenge accepted!” Just like that, it was on!
The prep for this is pretty simple. The big challenge is how to peel, remove the seeds, and cut up the butternut squash. If you go to your local grocery store you might find some that is ready to go in your produce section. This is a great time saver for sure. Keep in mind, you will pay a little more for the convenience of the work being done, but it isn’t worth losing sleep over. Alright, ready to look at a recipe? Lets do it!
Butternut Squash and Beef Stew
This recipe has been adapted by me, but you can click the link if you want to view the original.
Ingredients
  • 2 tablespoons of your favorite cooking oil
  • **1 pound stew beef (round or chuck), cut in chunks
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon peeled, minced fresh ginger or 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pound peeled cubed butternut squash, cut into 1 inch cubes or so (about 2 cups)
  • 1 15 ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 1 15 ounce can tomato sauce
  • 2 cups lower-sodium beef broth
  • 1/2-3/4 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon of coriander, if desired
  • 1/4 teaspoon of all spice, if desired
  • 1/2-2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
  • 3 cups cooked whole wheat couscous
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted*
  • 1 – 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
 

 

Directions
1. Add your oil in a dutch oven or heavy duty, high sided cooking vessel over medium-high heat. Cook whole piece of meat until it is browned and carmelized, 5-7 minutes a side.
 Set the meat aside on a plate. Add onion to pan, and a little extra oil if needed. Cook the onion, stirring often, until softened and translucent — I added a pinch of salt to coax out some of the water in the onion, but this isn’t required. While the onions are cooking, cut your beef into chunks to a similar size as your butternut squash so everything cooks evenly. After your meat is cut up, add ginger and garlic to the onion mixture. Stir this into the mixture for at least one minute to allow the oils in the spices to bloom.
2.  Place the cut beef back in the dutch oven. Add squash, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, beef broth, cumin, cinnamon, red pepper flake, and all other spices.
 Bring the mixture up to a boil, stirring to make sure everything is incorporated. Reduce heat to a simmer and cover, stir occasionally. Cook until beef is tender, about 35-40 minutes.
3.  Serve with couscous, rice, bread or add a dollop of yogurt. Sprinkle with almonds and parsley, if desired. This recipe makes about 8 servings.
That is it! Just that simple. You know what is most surprising about this to me? You really can have delicious, tasty stew in less than 90 minutes! The idea that stew will always take 8 hours are gone! Honestly, I can’t believe it.
In case you are wondering why almost every item in the ingredient list is in italics, that is because those are changes I have made from the original. Parts of the recipe were just clunky, weird, and didn’t make any sense. Hopefully my changes will help smooth things out and make the recipe easier through and through.
I have a couple of final thoughts to share about this recipe as well. This stew will intensify in flavor as it sits and the flavors have a chance to merry together. It will be better the second and third day than on the first day. Don’t believe me? Ask any Italian grandmother and they will set you straight. This would make an awesome vegetarian stew as well. Just substitute beef broth for vegetable broth, remove the beef, add a few more long cooking veggies and consume! I think the best thing about this recipe is it is a killer option to freeze the leftovers for a quick weeknight meal or on the days where you don’t feel like cooking.

As always, feel free to send me an email or comment on the recipe and let me know what you think.

Enjoy!!

The Best Braised Pork Roast

Okay, first let me apologize for the tardiness on this post. I have had a few things come up that have required my full and immediate attention. So, I’m a little bit behind getting this post up, but after a long delay, here it is.

The leaves are turning, the air is a little cooler, and for some, the excitement and anticipation of fall sports has arrived. We now shift gears from barbecues and summer weather cooking to the slow cooking, fall baking, and those irresistible aromas that we all associate with this time of year. Personally, I love this time of year for all those warm, comforting fall classic dishes and this dish is no exception.

A few years ago I was on the hunt for a roast recipe that could deliver some real flavor, but could be executed in a few hours as opposed to a whole day or more. Not that I’m against that or haven’t done made roasts like that, but sometimes I really want to be able to make the a roast on the fly. So, the search for a recipe began.

I should back up and say that I had tried a few beef pot roasts, but I always ran into the same problem. Although the meat was well seasoned, it was always a little tough even though I could cut it with a fork. I tried adjusting the cook time, the size of the roast, and the amount of liquid I used, but the results always ended up the same. So, I wanted to see if I could have an easier time with another protein option. I ended up turning my attention to pork to see if I could achieve the desired results.

The premise is super simple; season, sear, reinforce flavors, and cook low and slow. After some searching, I found a recipe that was very much what I had in mind and here is how to make it.

Ingredients

1-2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 ( 3 1/2-5lb ) bone-in pork shoulder roast, patted dry
Salt
Fresh ground pepper
4-7 gloves of garlic, peeled
2-3 stems of fresh rosemary
2-3 stems of fresh thyme
1/4 c of balsamic vinegar
1/2-3/4 c of red wine( something you would drink )
Beef stock to cover 2-3 inches of your cooking vessel
1-3 tbsp worcestershire
1 medium red onion chopped into thick half rounds

Instructions 

Season pork liberally with salt and pepper or other seasonings
Preheat oven to 325 degrees
Place Dutch oven or heavy cooking vessel over medium heat and add olive oil
Sear pork on all sides until pork is golden brown and crust forms

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Remove pork, drain off most of the fat, deglaze with all liquids, scrape bottom of pan to get all those good bits off the bottom of the pan, add remaining ingredients, and return pork to cooking vessel.

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Cover with foil and lid and cook for about 3 hours or until pork breaks apart easily with a fork and
looks like this.



You have probably noticed that a number of the ingredients are in italics. Since I’ve made this a number of times, I have had a chance to tweak the recipe and create an amazing flavor profile. Feel free to make any changes that you want or use your own seasonings. If you aren’t sure how else to season your pork, check out my all purpose rub or coffee rub for additional inspiration.


The best part about this recipe is that it incorporates a lot of the skills and tricks I have shared in some previous posts. Remember, we are trying to build on some skills and add some new techniques to the arsenal. As I have said, sometimes simply prepared food can be the best food.

What I love about this roast is that you can transform it into anything that you want. You could use it for tacos, sliders, pulled pork, french fry toppers, carnitas, hash, frittata, a chili topper, a base for a tortilla soup, and a number of other dishes I haven’t even mentioned. The meat is rich, tender, a little floral from the rosemary, some undertones of garlic, and leaves you wanting more. It does tend to go fast, so I would recommend that you make enough to have leftovers. Speaking of leftovers, a little pork, a veggie or two, and a potato makes for a quick meal any night of the week.

There is one very important note I want to talk about before you run off to the store to make this dish. I called this a braise in my title, which is simply searing and cooking slowly in a little bit of flavored liquid. This is the opposite of a standard pot roast cooking method where you cover most of the meat with liquid instead of just a little bit of liquid. They both have their places in the kitchen, but I favor the braise. In addition, like the short ribs, I cover the vessel with foil to hold in all the steam and this helps both to break down the meat and keeps all the moisture in the meat.

This dish does take a little extra time, but as usual, the payoff is huge! Truthfully, I have made this dish more than once in a weeks time. It was well worth it!

I hope you are inspired and will take your roasts to the next level. Let me know what you think by sending me an email or commenting on the post to give me your feedback!

Enjoy!

I’ll Make Chili For You

When it comes to cooking, there is nothing better than a dish that simmers away on the stove top for hours. Not only is the smell intoxicating, it provides a nice continuous gentle heat in the house, and lifting the lid on a gently simmering pot of delicious ingredients is the best! That only gets better when you can basically throw a bunch stuff in a pot, walk away for a while, and let it simmer away until it turns to something flavorful, satisfying, and just plain tasty.

I started thinking about this since I am helping with a family member who is very ill and trying to make sure that I can provide the one thing I know, food. But, I wanted to be able to create a few recipes rather quickly with little fuss. I could think of nothing better than homemade chili.

Let’s talk chili, I think there is a stigma about chili that hangs around. It is either too spicy, salty, too meat-centric or it just takes too long to long to make. Sounds like a familiar story, right? I am here to tell you that you can have chili ready to eat in about ninety minutes and you can have it your way. Yes, your way. I will tell you that I’ve never made my own chili until the other day, and it couldn’t have been easier!

For those of you who don’t like my billion photos, you are in luck, because I made this recipe under a deadline and I only took two photos. As luck would have it, only one photo really turned out the way I wanted. Rest assured, I won’t let my photo taking lapse because I would hate to deprive you of that.

Click here for the original chili recipe, which is a recipe I adapted from allrecipes.com. Below is my version.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped green or red bell pepper
  • 1/4 tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/8-1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 3 teaspoons of paprika
  • 1 (29 ounce) can diced tomatoes
  • 1 (15 ounce) can tomato sauce
  • 2 (16 ounce) can beans, drained such as red, black or navy beans
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

    1. In a large saucepan or dutch oven over medium high heat, saute ground beef until browned, about 5-7 minutes. Season both ground beef and pepper and onion mixture with a little salt and pepper. Remove ground beef with slotted spoon, drain most of the fat, leaving a little to saute peppers and onions until softened about 5-7 more minutes.

 

  1. Add the remaining ingredients, reserving the beans until near the end of the cooking time. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer for 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. With about 15 minutes remaining, stir in beans till they are warmed through and serve.

Below are a few changes I made to this recipe:

I doubled up on the canned beans to give the chili some extra substance and body. This is great way to make it if you want to go the vegetarian route.

*Scaling back on the dried spice is okay. I only used about a 1/4 teaspoon of chili powder and about an 1/8-1/4 teaspoon of cumin. Both of these go a long way and tend to really perfume and flavor the dish. When you “bloom” or cook dried spices in some oil over heat, those spices release a lot of their oil and can intensify in flavor. Make sure to give the spices time to develop so you can accurately adjust your seasoning level if needed. Remember, it is easier to add than have to try to take some of that spice out. Also, I omitted all the jalapeno as well.

*Just a quick follow up related to the spice/heat level of the chili. I was making it for someone who can’t really tolerate much spice, but I wanted to give the chili a little undertone of heat. If you want to add more chili powder, jalapeno or something more intense like a fresno chili, then go for it! Remember, it is about knowing your audience and what they can tolerate. We want our family and friends to enjoy what we are cooking, but not make them feel like you are serving a bowl of Mount Vesuvius. Again, unless that is your goal, then let it rip!

Paprika makes the world go round. Seriously, it has such a great flavor profile and provides a subtle depth. I added a couple of teaspoons to the chili when I made it. Oh, it also adds an incredible color and that makes it really look like you fussed over it for hours even though you didn’t. I will call this a cooking hack to save you some time.

After some stirring, perhaps a beverage or two, and some patience you are rewarded with this.

Serve this in a bowl with some cheese, sour cream, and a little cilantro on top. If you want to step this up, spoon some of this over some chips and top with cheese for some chili cheese nachos. Oh, still not enough hacks? Okay, how about some scrambled eggs topped with a little homemade chili to get your day started? Do it! You won’t be disappointed.

Want to make a vegetarian version? As I said, no problem! Take out the ground beef, add a little vegetable stock, add some fresh yellow corn, and toss in some sauteed mushrooms near the end until they are warmed through and have absorbed some of that amazing chili base.

If you end up with tons of leftovers, don’t worry! Throw some
pre-portioned containers into the freezer for a quick lunch or dinner anytime you.

Once again, the twists on this are unlimited If you really want to wake this up, add some beer or coffee to really help reinforce some of those great flavors. The limits are your own, so be creative! I promise, nothing will be beat a bowl of this on a cold blustery days around the table with your loved ones.

Enjoy!