Monday, January 25, 2021

Joey's Slow Cooker Hoisin Beef Stew



Lately I’ve really been in the mood for a nice hearty beef stew. Maybe it was the recent blast of cold air, maybe it’s because I haven’t had it in a while. Maybe it’s because a new house immediately smells like home when you have a slow cooker of beef stew cooking all day.
 Whatever the reason, I started looking at new and different beef stew recipes, and I saw a few Asian inspired recipes that use Hoisin Sauce as a base. I thought “OK now THAT sounds fabulous.” It reminded me of when my sister, Cathy, and I decided to make our own Hoisin sauce (which was fabulous, btw. I think we need to do that again, Sis!) This time, I just used jarred sauce, which is perfectly fine. Of course, I didn’t follow just one specific recipe. I took what I liked from a few different recipes and made my own. It turned out perfectly!!
 The other thing I like about this recipe is that you can prep it the night before, keep the insert chilled in the fridge overnight, and then place it in the slow cooker in the morning. All that’s left is making the rice for dinner! Easy peasy!
I’m definitely adding this one to the repertoire!

3-4 lbs beef chuck cubes
3 large carrots
4-6 large scallions
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbs fresh ginger, minced
8 oz fresh or frozen sugar snap peas
2 cups jarred (or homemade) Hoisin Sauce
Pinch of Kosher salt
pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
Cooked rice for serving
Sesame seeds for garnish, optional

In a large skillet, add a few glugs of vegetable oil and place over medium high heat. Arrange beef cubes in one layer. Do this is batches so as not to crowd the pan. Resist the urge to stir them! Just let them brown on one side to a deep dark brown. Turn the pieces over, and brown on the other side. As the pieces brown, remove them to a slow cooker. Repeat with remaining beef cubes.
 While the beef is browning, peel and slice the carrots, slice half of the scallions, and add them to the slow cooker along with the Hoisin sauce, garlic, ginger, salt, and red pepper flakes. Add a half cup of water to the now empty saute pan, and place over high heat. Using a wooden spoon, scrape up all the browned pits that are stuck to the pan, and add to the slow cooker. Give everything a good stir until well coated with the sauce. Cover and cook on low for about 7-8 hours. You could also cook on high for 3-4 hours. Add the snap peas for the last hour of cooking. When everything is finished cooking, top with remaining chopped scallions. If you’d like a thicker stew, just add a couple tbs of corn starch or tapioca starch to about 1/2 cup cold water, then stir it into the hot stew. Let it continue to cook until it becomes rich and thick and glossy. Serve over rice. Garnish with a sprinkle of sesame seeds, if desired.

When you’re browning your beef cubes, really take the time to do it properly. Be patient! This is not a time for taking short cuts. And when I say not to crowd the pan, I mean it! There should be space between them. And I know you want to stir them around. Don’t do it! Resist the urge! Just put them in the pan, and don’t touch them. You want a nice dark sear. And if you try to turn them over and they’re stuck to the pan, it means they’re not ready yet. They’ll release from the pan when they’re ready.
This brings me to my next tip: Unless it’s the only kind of pan you have, don’t use a nonstick pan. You really want all the bits to brown on the pan. They add so much flavor!
 Don’t have snap peas? Use snow peas instead. Don’t like peas at all? Leave ‘em out! Want more carrots? Go for it! You do you!
One other tip.. when you’re making rice… saute some chopped onions or scallions in a little oil… then add the rice to the pot. Stir to combine. And here’s the real tip: Use chicken broth instead of water to cook the rice. Game changer! Best. Rice. Ever.

Monday, January 18, 2021

One Pot Creamy French Onion Pasta Bake


 So, I was trying to remember where I first saw this recipe. I think it was in a text thread with one of my sisters..or my nieces… but I have no idea.. anyway… it was one of those “We should make this some time” sort of texts, and I immediately added it to my list of foods to try. (Yes, I have a list. Don’t you?)
 It seemed like the perfect thing to make during the colder months when everyone is looking for something warm and comforting. It’s from a blog called Half Baked Harvest, and it was described as being a cross between mac and cheese, and French onion soup. You can’t get more warm and comforting than that!!!
 First of all, is was REALLY easy to make, especially since you do everything in one pot. I transferred it to a baking dish, but if your pot is oven proof, you could just put the whole thing in the oven. One less dish to clean!
 So if you like French onion soup. This has your name written all over it. Thank you again to Tieghan over at Half Baked Harvest for the fabulous recipe. I’ll definitely be making this one again soon!

4 tbs butter  
2-3 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced
2 tsp honey
1 cup dry red wine, such as Cabernet Sauvignon
2 cloves garlic, minced or grated
2 cups cremini or wild mushrooms, sliced
2 tbs fresh thyme leaves (or 2 tsp dried thyme)
Kosher salt and black pepper
3 cups low sodium chicken broth (use vegetable broth, if vegetarian)
1 tbs Worcestershire sauce (use soy sauce, if vegetarian)
2 bay leaves
1 pound of your favorite short cut pasta
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper, using more or less to your taste
1 1/4 cups heavy cream, whole milk, or canned coconut milk
1/3 cup crumbled gorgonzola cheese (optional)
2 cups shredded gruyere cheese

Heat the oven to 400ºF.
Melt the butter, onions, and honey together in a large pot over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring occasionally until softened, about 5 minutes. At this point, you want to slowly add 1/2 cup of the wine, 1/4 cup at a time, until the wine cooks into the onions. Continue to cook another 8-10 minutes until you've used the 1/2 cup of wine and the onions are deeply caramelized.
Add the garlic, mushrooms, thyme, and season with salt and pepper, cook another 3-4 minutes. Add the remaining 1/2 cup wine, the broth, Worcestershire sauce, bay leaves, and the pasta. Bring the mixture to a boil. Stir frequently until the pasta is al dente and the broth has been absorbed, about 8-10 minutes. Stir in the cayenne, cream, gorgonzola, if using, and 1/2 cup gruyere cheese. Remove from the heat.
If needed, transfer the pasta to a baking dish. Top with the remaining gruyere cheese. Transfer the baking dish to the oven and bake 20 minutes or until the cheese has melted and is lightly browned on top. Cool 5 minutes before serving. Serve with fresh thyme. Enjoy!

Even if you’re not a fan of bleu cheeses, I definitely recommend adding the gorgonzola to the dish. You won’t even taste the “bleu-ness” of it, but it makes the flavor SO much deeper and richer. SO good!
If you can do free thyme instead of dried, DO IT. I always prefer fresh herbs over dried ones. It makes all the difference in the world. I also added a little fresh parsley over the top for a little pop of color!
Btw, one of the notes listed with the recipe is that you can use half pomegranate or cranberry juice and half chicken broth in place of the red wine. I was actually wondering if pomegranate juice was an option even before I read the note. It’s nice to know my hunch was correct!

Monday, January 11, 2021

Poppy Seed Almond Cake


   Since we're all spending much more time at home these days, I started doing what many people do... YOUTUBE. Seriously, is there anything that ISN'T on Youtube? Need to learn how to work your digital thermostat? There's a how-to video on Youtube. Wanna learn how to use a pressure canner? Youtube. Need to learn how to do a British accent? Youtube. (yes, I've literally done all of those things). And since I've started watching Youtube videos, (or as I call it, going down the Youtube rabbit hole) I’ve started to follow specific channels.
 This cake comes from Claire Staffitz, who was on Bon Appetit’s Test Kitchen channel, and now she has her own channel from her own home kitchen. She talks about many recipes from her book “Dessert Person”, and says that THIS cake is her most favorite. In her words: “It’s scented with almond extract and studded with poppy seeds, and it’s the most tender flavorful snacking cake. It’s is just a perfect cake…..It’s so easy you can bang this cake out and have it in the oven in 15 minutes.” I also love that she says “You don’t need an occasion to bake a cake.” So true! It actually reminds me of the kind of cake my Mom used to make. I noticed that the recipe uses 3 cups of flour, and I remember once upon a time, my Mom noted that using that much flour “makes a nice sized cake.” (I’m pretty sure she was talking about the favorite 7 Up Cake when she said that, and for some reason that always stuck with me).
 The other thing that makes this cake so great is the thin glaze that goes over the cake after it’s finished baking. So delicious and sweet. What’s not to love?
 Make this on a Sunday afternoon and have it with a cup of tea, for dessert, or whenever you want a late night something sweet. It really is a perfect cake!

For the Cake
2 1/3 cups granulated sugar
2 tbs poppy seeds
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 1/3 cups vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp almond extract

Heat oven to 350ºF. Grease and flour your Bundt pan.
To make the batter, whisk together all the dry ingredients (the first 5 ingredients listed) in a mixing bowl. (In this case, the sugar is a dry ingredient, even though it’s technically classified as a wet ingredient.)
In a separate bowl, combine wet ingredients. Pour the combined wet ingredients into the dry. Mix well for a couple minutes. Pour into prepared pan. Bake for 80-90 minutes. Let cake cool in pan for 15 minutes before glazing.

For the Glaze:
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup orange juice
2 tb
s butter, melted
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract

While the cake is still warm, use a skewer to poke holes over the entire surface of the cake. Whisk together all of the glaze ingredients. Brush glaze all over the cake and let it sink in.

Claire’s Tips:
It’s best to use room temperature ingredients because the cake will bake more evenly. Don’t have a bundt pan? Use two loaf pans and bake them for almost the same time, 75-80 minutes.

Joey’s Tips:
Make sure you keep an eye on the baking time. All ovens are different! Mine was perfectly finished about 15 minutes earlier than expected. Remember, always to watch the cake, not the timer! Also, in the video, to prepare the pan, she brushes it with oil and then dusts the pan with flour. I just used a baking spray, which is basically the same thing. It’s non-stick oil spray that has the flour already in it. So much easier! Just be sure to spray it over the sink!

Monday, January 4, 2021

Joey's Unstuffed Pepper Casserole


 Usually at the start of the new year, I like to do recipes that are warm and hearty and comforting. Nothing does that like a casserole, am I right? But right after the holidays, I’m not so inclined to have a casserole that is so heavy you need to take a nap after you eat it.
 So that brings me to this one. It’s just like the classic stuffed peppers, but it’s all mixed up together in a casserole. It has the standard combo of beef and rice, and it cooks in a nice hearty tomato sauce that won’t weigh you down. Feel free to add more vegetables to it if you like! That’s the beauty of casseroles. You can  add anything that suits your fancy! Serve it up with a fresh crisp salad and you’re good to go! Enjoy!


1 lb ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, (or more) minced
2 medium (or 1 large) bell peppers, chopped
1-2 cups cooked rice
1 29oz can crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup water
a few splashes of Worcestershire sauce
1 tbs sugar
salt and pepper to taste
chopped fresh basil to taste
1-2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

Saute onions and peppers in a little oil in a large skillet. Add ground beef and cook until browned. Drain excess fat. In a large mixing bowl, combine beef mixture and remaining ingredients, adding only half of the cheese. Pour into a casserole dish. Cover and bake 30 minutes. Remove cover, top with remaining half of cheese. Bake another 15-20 minutes or until the cheese is melted and bubbly.

This is a great way to use up leftover rice whenever you order take out. Just sayin!
If you’re not a meat person, go ahead and swap out the beef for something else. You could do hearty chopped cremini mushrooms, or any other vegetable, or choose your own protein!
Btw, the sugar is there just to offset the acidity of the tomatoes. Plus I do like a slightly sweet tomato sauce on my stuffed peppers. Same idea!
Don't have mozzarella? Use Cheddar instead!