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.
  • 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


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.


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.


  • 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


    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.


Bolognese That Will Bowl You Over

OK, tonight we are talking about a classic Italian pasta dish — Bolognese. It is simply a rich flavored, tomato based sauce. Sounds good right? There is only one problem with this amazing sauce, it is not known to be a quick cooking dish.

You can find a million recipes that list the cook time between 3-12 hours to get this right. Who can spare that time? Even on weekends that can be hard unless you use a crock-pot. By the way, you can make the sauce that way if you prefer. However, I have a recipe that you can have up on the table in 45-60 minutes instead of 12 hours. That sounds even better, doesn’t it?

Here is what’s behind door number one!

Recipe courtesy of Giada De Laurentiis

Let’s talk changes:

We love garlic. So, instead of 2 cloves we use about 6-7 cloves, adjust accordingly.

Meat mash-up. The first time we made this we did try the ground beef but found the pasta to be overly heavy and it left a unpleasant coating in the mouth with each bite. We loved the recipe and wanted to find another option so we turned to ground turkey. Ground dark turkey meat will give you the richness and flavor, and in my opinion, you  won’t miss the ground beef at all. Since it is just the two of us we do three quarters of a pound and do just fine.

Basil makes everything better. We prefer basil to parsley, so that is what we use when we make this sauce.

Finally, we love Parmesan cheese to finish this pasta. The cheese is rich, creamy, and brings a pleasant finish of salt with each bite. We prefer fresh shaved Parmesan, which requires a small piece of Parmesan cheese to use as needed, but if you don’t have the access to a whole piece of Parmesan then the pre-shaved stuff works just as well.

Speaking of salt, seasoning is really important here. Remember to season often with this dish to build the layers of flavor. Also, taste, taste, and taste. Taste is the key that unlocks the door to great fare.

Just so you can get an idea of what you will need I have included this photo for you.

Level one, onions and garlic. Keep an eye on the heat level as each stove cooks a little differently. Don’t rush, you will have time to make sure everything is cooked through.

All veggies report to the pan. Repeat, all veggies report to the pan. This is not a drill.

The ground turkey has been working with all the vegetables for a few minutes here.

Right before you let this simmer add a dash of dried oregano, dried basil, between 1/8-1/4 cup of wine (something you would be happy to drink). Once this starts to simmer stir everything together and continue to stir every few minutes until the sauce has reduced enough.

Feel like the sauce is lacking the special something? With a couple minutes left before you are ready to serve add 4-8 tablespoons worth of left over pasta water to the saucepan.. Why? The pasta water will have salt in it, which will help you give the sauce additional flavor and you might be able to add less salt as a result. Also, the starch in the pasta water will help give the sauce more body and richness, and will help the sauce adhere to the noodles better.

That’s it! Done. You won’t regret it. 🙂