Monday, January 22, 2018

Slow Cooker Bolognese Sauce

Whenever the cold weather kicks into high gear, my first thought is to put a big pot of something on the stove and let it cook all day. I’m guessing you’d get the same response from many of my family members as well.  It’s just how we were raised! If my Mom didnt have a pot of beef stew, then she’d have a pot of meatballs or chicken stew. There’s just nothing more warming and comforting if you’ve been out in the cold.
 During our recent cold snap of subzero temperatures, I immediately started my search for whatever I’d decide to cook all day. While I was browsing the interwebs, I happened to be watching The Pioneer Woman. She was making this Bolognese sauce, and I thought “well, THERE’s the recipe I’m looking for!” It was an easy throw together recipe, and I already had most of the ingredients on hand.
Easy! So it cooked and cooked and cooked all day, OMG it’s amazing. And the longer it cooks, the better it is. I had some for dinner, saved some for leftovers, and froze the rest. Perfect, huh?
 So the next time you want a cook-all-day kinda recipe, you should give this one a try. It’s my new fave! And it might become yours too!

2 carrots

One 6-ounce can tomato paste
1 cup dry red wine
4 pounds ground beef
2 cups whole milk
Two 28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried basil
2 teaspoons dried thyme
2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 Parmesan rind, optional, plus grated Parmesan, for serving
Cooked spaghetti, for serving
Chopped fresh basil, for serving

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the celery, carrots and onions, season with salt and pepper and cook until softened, about 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the tomato paste and cook for a minute. Pour in the red wine and cook until it is mostly evaporated, about 3 minutes. Pour this mixture into a slow cooker.
Pour the remaining 2 tablespoons oil into the skillet, add the beef and season with salt and pepper. Cook, breaking up any lumps, until it is nicely browned, about 15 minutes. Drain off any excess fat. Stir in the milk and cook until it is mostly absorbed by the meat, about 5 minutes. Add this to the slow cooker along with the tomatoes, oregano, basil, thyme, red pepper flakes, nutmeg and Parmesan rind if using. Add some salt. Give it a good stir, cover and cook on low for 6 hours.
Skim off any fat on top and check the consistency. If it is too thick, add a bit of water. If it is too thin, cook for another 30 minutes with the cover off.
Remove the rind and serve over spaghetti with lots of grated Parmesan and topped with fresh basil and parsley. Extra sauce can be frozen for later use.

I added quite a lot more red wine, and I also used fresh herbs instead of dried. I think the fresh thyme was a game changer! Just sayin!

Monday, January 15, 2018

Crock Pot Smothered Pork Chops and Potatoes

  I'm sure I'm not alone when I say this, but whenever it's super cold outside, I immediately want to cook something delicious and warm and comforting. You know, something that will cook all day and make the whole house smell like home. Do you do that too? Especially when we get a lot of snow, you see people posting photos of everything they've cooked while being snowed in. I do it all the time!
 So, since our recent cold snap of subzero temperatures, I've lately been turning to my slow cooker for a few new all day recipes. As soon as I saw this recipe from The Country Cook, I knew I had a winner. There was just a whole lot of "how can this not be good?" about this recipe! Serve it up with some steamed greens and there's dinner! Prep it the night before to save time! So add this one to your repertoire and keep it in mind the next time there's snow in the forecast.
It just may become your new favorite!

2-3 tbsp. olive oil
4 thick cut, bone-in pork chops
salt & pepper, to taste
1 (10.5 oz.) can condensed cream of chicken with herbs soup
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1 cup milk
2 garlic cloves, minced
3-4 large russet potatoes, sliced into ½” thickness
1 onion, diced
2 cups shredded colby & monterey jack cheese, divided use1/2 cup sliced green onion, for topping

  Heat olive oil in a large skillet over high heat. Season pork chops with salt and pepper. Brown both sides of the pork chops (don’t fully cook the pork chops - just a minute on both sides to get them brown.) Set aside pork chops. In a medium bowl, whisk together the cream of chicken soup with the heavy cream, milk, and minced garlic. Set aside. Slice potatoes and chop onions. Spread the sliced potatoes and the onions into the bottom of a 5 quart or larger oval slow cooker. Season with salt & pepper. Spread half the soup mixture on top of the potatoes. Sprinkle one cup of shredded cheddar cheese on top. Place pork chops in a single layer on top of cheese. Spread the rest of the sauce mixture on top of the pork chops. Cover with remaining cheese. Cover slow cooker and cook on low for 4-6 hours. When done, sprinkle the top with sliced green onion.

I think the next time I make this, I may add some fresh thyme leaves to the soup mixture. Just a thought!
Not a fan of cheese? Just leave it out! I've never tried it, but it seems to me that the soup/sauce mixture would be just as delicious without it. But maybe add a tsp of mustard to the sauce, just to add a little sharp bite that you would normally get from the cheese!
When I made it, I had enough ingredients to double everything, so I did! I still did the potatoes and onions on the bottom, and the chops on top. I just piled the chops on top of each other and then poured the soup mixture over all. I also let it cook for a good long time so that the meat was falling off the bone by the time I served it up!

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Albin's Apricot Chicken with Wild Rice and Pistachios

 During this time a very short year ago, I was just about to open in a production of La Cage aux Folles. (For those of you who are unfamiliar, this is the show on which the movie The Birdcage is based.) I had the incredible privilege and honor of playing the role of Albin also known as Zaza (which is the Nathan Lane role). Throughout my many years of performing in theater, out of all the roles I've ever played, I think Albin may be my very favorite. It was definitely the most challenging, and it took me MONTHS to learn, but it was definitely the most rewarding!
 Anyway, in my very first scene, this was one of my lines: "I deboned a chicken, stuffed her with wild rice and pistachios, anointed her with apricot glaze, and topped her off in truffles.."
 Well, of course, ever since then, you KNOW I've been wanted to make this dish!
 So here we go.. Since there was no actual recipe, this is basically how it went down:
Instead of de-boning an entire chicken, I just used boneless breasts. For the wild rice and pistachio stuffing, I just looked for different wild rice recipes and then did some tweaking until it was right. (Side note, if I'm being quite honest, wild rice is usually not my go-to. But OMG wait until you try it in this stuffing!) And then I just did an easy apricot glaze. Simple! Oh, and since truffles are insanely expensive, I decided to just do a tiny drizzle of truffle oil over the top (but that's just optional!)
 The result was absolutely delicious! And it was pretty easy too!
 So, thank you, Zaza, for coming into my life. I will cherish you forever. And to my fabulous extended La Cage family, this one's for you. I hope you'll continue to live life "on an angle!"

4 boneless breasts of chicken
salt and pepper
Wild rice and pistachio stuffing
1 cup apricot preserves
2 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp dry mustard
1 tbs honey
truffle oil, (optional)

Heat oven to 350ºF.
With a very sharp knife, place your whole hand on top of a chicken breast, and then slice horizontally, giving you two pieces that are twice as thin. Do this with remaining chicken. Season both sides with salt and pepper. Prepare the wild rice stuffing as directed.
 For each piece of chicken, place a heaping mound of stuffing in the center of each breast. Pull the ends up to meet. Secure with a tooth pick. Place each piece of stuffed chicken in a baking dish.
 IN a small bowl, combine preserves, soy sauce, mustard, and honey. Brush glaze generously over the chicken. Cover with foil. Bake for about 30 minutes or until cooked through. Don't over bake!
 After it is finished baking, remove cover and give it another generous glaze. Drizzle with a tiny bit of truffle oil, if desired.

Not a fan of apricots? Just use another kind of preserves! How about peach or pineapple? You just want something sweet and sticky for your glaze.
Not a fan of wild rice? Just use whatever kind you like!

Wild Rice and Pistachio Stuffing with Craisins

 This recipe was originally created to partner with Albin's Apricot Chicken, but it really goes perfectly with anything. Pork chops? Yes please. Roast Beef? Absolutely. Regular baked chicken breast? Definitely! It's has a rich flavor with just a hint of sweetness from the dried cranberries, and the pistachios give it a little crunch to round everything out. Make it over the weekend and then serve it during the week for quick weeknight supper!

4 tbs butter
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
3 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 cup wild rice
1 cup long grain brown rice
1 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1 tbs fresh thyme leaves
3/4 cup shelled pistachios
1/2 cup scallions, chopped
Salt and pepper

Melt the butter in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add onions and garlic. Saute until tender, about 4 minutes. Add chicken broth. Bring to a boil. Add wild rice. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Stir in brown rice. Cover and simmer until rice is tender and most liquid is absorbed. Stir in cranberries, parsley, thyme, and green onions. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Not a fan of pistachios? Use any other kind of nut. How about pine nuts?
Not a fan of dried cranberries? Use any other dried fruit you like! Regular or golden raisins or even chopped dried apricots if you're making it with Albin's Chicken. Anything will work!

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Joey's Sun Dried Caprese Dip

 Here's a really simple party dip that you can throw together in a snap. I made it for Tory and Ryan's house warming party and everyone gave it a big thumbs up! Basically, I wanted to make a quick dip, but didn't feel like going to the store. This is what I happened to have on hand, so here we are!
 Its brilliance is in its simplicity, really. It's pretty much one of those "how can this not be good" sort of dishes. And it only uses a few ingredients, so it's as easy as can be to throw together. Sometimes the simplest things are the best, dontcha think? Make this for your next party or casual hang.
This one's a keeper!

2 (8oz) pkgs cream cheese
1 cup Ranch dressing
1 small jar sun dried tomatoes in oil, drained and chopped
fresh basil

Using an electric mixer, simply whip together the cream cheese and ranch dressing. Spread onto your serving plate in an even layer. Top with sun dried tomatoes and ribbons of fresh basil. Serve with Triscuits or your favorite cracker.

Not a fan of ranch dressing? Use any other kind of creamy salad dressing you like! But seriously, who doesn't love ranch dressing??? That would be like not loving bacon. That just makes no sense to me.