Savory Braised Short Ribs.

What’s not to love about short ribs? They’re pretty cheap, super meaty, and easy to cook because after a bit of prep, you can just walk away and forget about them. My kind of meal. These short ribs are fantastic and feature one of my all-time favorite flavors in the world ever in the history of the universe: Worcestershire sauce. I’ve loved it since I was little (though we did break up for a short time, when I discovered “anchovies” on the ingredients list. But I got over it and we’re back together). I love cumin and bay leaf with Worcestershire, so they got thrown into the mix, and thyme is always a good time/thyme., so he’s here, too. As far as side dishes go, I like to add petit pois at the end of the cooking process and make a sort of one-pot meal, but short ribs also go great with mashed potatoes, grits, or some delicious buttery rolls. Just go carnivore-nuts on their deep amber goodness.

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INGREDIENTS

5-6 short ribs (I actually prefer boneless short ribs, but my store was sold out, so I used bone-in. Boneless usually don’t need to cook quite as long, so keep that in mind if you go for boneless.)
butter
olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
2 small onions (or 1 large onion), diced
1 1/3 cups carrots, sliced into segments
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp ground cumin
pinch of red pepper flakes (or to taste)
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
4 cups stock (beef stock would be best, but all I have is my homemade chicken stock, and it does the trick)
optional: 1 1/2 cups frozen peas (J‘adore les petits pois.)

Just the Recipe link: Savory Braised Short Ribs

DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

In a Dutch oven or other large, stovetop- and oven-safe pot with a lid, heat butter and olive oil on medium high. Season each side of the short ribs with salt and pepper, and brown them in batches, careful not to crowd the pan. Don’t worry about cooking them through; we’re just trying to get some color on these babies. Once all the short ribs have had their time to brown, set them aside.

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Turn the heat down to medium and add more oil to the pan if necessary. Toss in the carrots, onions, and garlic. Cook until softened, and then stir in the cumin, red pepper flakes, thyme, and bay leaf.

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Cook until fragrant, and then pour in the Worcestershire sauce. Stir the veggies around as it steams, and then nestle the short ribs back into the pan. Pour in the stock and bring to a bubble. Taste for seasoning, and add salt as needed.

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Place the top on the pot and put the whole thing in the oven. Cook for 2 1/2 hours, checking occasionally to make sure you have enough liquid to keep things good and moist.

Once they’re falling-off-the-bone tender, the short ribs are done, so take the dish out of the oven and remove the bay leaf.  Use a large spoon to remove some of the fat from the top of the juices. Then, if you love peas as much as I do, stir them in now and then re-cover the pot, letting the heat cook them through.

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That’s it! Dig in and let the tender melty goodness fall right off the bone and into your heart/stomach. And watch out for little canine stomachs, who might want to steal a bite.

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Spicy-Tangy-Sweet Pulled Pork.

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INGREDIENTS

1 large onion, peeled and cut into 8 wedges
3-4 lb pork shoulder (also called pork butt)
salt
1 tsp peppercorns (or 3/4 tsp pepper)
1/2 tsp mustard seeds (or scant 1/2 tsp ground mustard powder)
1 canned chipotle chile in adobo sauce, minced (throw in a few more if you like it extra spicy)
1 tbsp adobo sauce (the sauce from the canned chipotle chiles)
2 bottles root beer (about 24 oz – I used Berghoff Root Beer, because I’m a good Midwestern girl)
1 cup water (optional – use if you want more juices leftover after it’s cooked)

Just the Recipe link: Spicy-Tangy-Sweet Pulled Pork

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 325 F.

Lay the onion wedges in the bottom of a Dutch oven or other large pot with a lid. Season the pork with salt.

If you’re using whole peppercorns and mustard seeds, grind them up using a mortar and pestle until they’re broken up, but not pulverized.

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Sprinkle your pepper and ground mustard over the pork, and place the pork in the pot, on top of the onions.

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Next, add the chipotle chile and adobo sauce to the pot, and pour in the root beer. Optional: add the water. Do this if you want more sauce at the end – I made mine without the water, and it had just enough sauce for the pork to soak it all up. If you like it a little saucier, add the water.

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Cover the pot and put it in the oven for at least 3 hours (I cooked mine for just over 4 hours). Flip the pork over once during cooking.

You know you’re there when you can easily shred the pork using two forks. At this point, remove the pork from the pot and shred it completely. Discard the bone.

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There should be just enough sauce left in the pot to coat the pork, so add the shredded meat back to the sauce and stir. That’s all!

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Obviously this makes a great pulled pork sandwich, but I served mine with these refried beans and this red cabbage slaw.

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Pork perfection, ready for its close-up.

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Spinach and Green Garlic Soup.

Green garlic is everywhere right now. It’s just young garlic, with a softer, edible skin and a milder flavor. It’s delicious in scrambled eggs, soups, and sauces (especially pesto). Since I haven’t been feeling well lately, from a combination of allergies and a sore throat from screaming my head off when the Blackhawks beat the Red Wings in a Game 7 of the NHL playoffs, I figured a nice spring soup might perk me up a bit. It’s also a great way to get a good healthy helping of spinach! Adapted from Orangette, this light and easy green garlic and spinach soup is a breeze to make and delicious to boot. Dig in.

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INGREDIENTS

butter and olive oil
3 stalks green garlic, sliced (use the white and the light green parts)
pinch of salt
pinch of cayenne pepper
1 cup chicken stock
2 1/2 cups water
5 oz baby spinach
a spoonful of Greek yogurt
pepper

Just the Recipe link: Spinach and Green Garlic Soup

DIRECTIONS

In a Dutch oven or other large pot, heat a bit of butter and olive oil over medium low. The butter is for flavor, and the olive oil will keep the butter from burning. Once it’s hot, add the green garlic, salt, and cayenne.

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Cook gently, careful to avoid burning or browning, until the garlic is soft and smells sweet, and has lost its raw smell. Add the chicken stock and turn up the heat. Bring to a boil, and then turn down to simmer for 15 minutes.

Add the spinach and turn off the heat. Stir it in and let stand just 5 min, so it cooks but keeps its bright green color.

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Now puree the soup in batches, until it’s smooth. Add it back to the pot to reheat. I wanted to reduce my soup and get it to a little bit thicker consistency, so I simmered it a few minutes more.

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Once it’s where you want it, turn off the heat and stir in a scoop of greek yogurt. Serve immediately, with lots of pepper on top. Delish!

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Cabernet Beef Stew.

Because life is a cabernet.

Chicago has had a very chilly start to May, especially over the past few days, and this weekend I found myself with a crazy craving for beef stew. On Saturday, I built our beautiful new kitchen island, so I decided that Sunday would be the day I put it to good use and make a glorious pot of stew. Having just drooled over a DVR-ed episode of Barefoot Contessa where Ina Garten makes a food-porn-o-rific batch of Parker’s Beef Stew, I used her recipe as inspiration for this one. And of course, I added paprika to my recipe, because I can never make a beef stew without paying at least a little homage to goulash (the absolute king of stews, in my humble opinion). I give you, cabernet beef stew.

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INGREDIENTS

1 – 1/2 lbs stew beef, cubed (I like mine cut into small, bite-sized pieces)
1/2 cup potato starch flour (all-purpose flour is fine here, too, but you’ll need a bit more of it)
salt and pepper
olive oil
4 carrots, peeled and sliced
3 stalks celery, washed and sliced
1 small sweet potato, cubed
1 medium onion, chopped
3 bay leaves
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 bottle of cabernet sauvignon*
2 cups stock (I used homemade chicken stock)
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
3 canned whole tomatoes, chopped, plus a tbsp or two of canning liquid
2 sprigs fresh rosemary (or about 1 tsp dried rosemary)
1 tsp paprika
1 cup frozen peas
marjoram, for garnish
*Note: the flavor of the cabernet sauvignon is quite strong here. If that doesn’t sound good to you, I recommend cutting back to about a quarter bottle of wine.

Just the Recipe link: Cabernet Beef Stew

DIRECTIONS

In a mixing bowl, stir together potato starch flour, salt, and pepper. Drop a few pieces of meat in at a time and toss to coat. Shake off the excess and set aside, until all the meat is coated in flour.

Heat a Dutch oven or other large pot over medium high heat and add olive oil. Working in batches, brown the meat on all sides. Remove the browned meat from the pan and set aside.

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Preheat oven to 300 F.

Add carrot, celery, sweet potato, and onion to the Dutch oven, along with bay leaves. Cook about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.

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Add garlic and cook two more minutes. Remove vegetables from the pan and set aside.

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Pour red wine into the pan, along with the rosemary and paprika, and stir to deglaze, making sure to loosen all the brown bits from the bottom.

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Add stock, Worcestershire sauce, and tomatoes. Then add the meat back to the pot, followed by the vegetables.

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Give it a stir, cover the pot, and bring to a low boil. Then place it in the oven and cook for 2-3 hours, until the meat is fall-apart tender or until you can’t wait any longer. I ended up turning the heat down to 275 F about 20 minutes in, to keep the stew at a low bubble instead of a more active simmer.

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Once the stew is done cooking, remove from the oven. Turn off the oven at this point – we’re done cooking.

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Stir in frozen peas and re-cover the pot. They’ll defrost and cook in the heat of the stew.

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Serve with warm, crusty bread, and if you like, sprinkle a bit of marjoram on top.

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Loaded Chili.

Garnishes. Goodies. Fixins’. At least half the reason I love chili is the toppings you get to put on it. Oh, my, the toppings. This recipe is about making an amazing chili that will eventually become an Ode to Toppings, and I want you to use them all: avocado, cheese, cilantro, tomato—whatever your heart desires. And you know what? You are a great cook and a wonderful person, and you deserve a beautiful meal. So thank yourself for making this by plating it up like a work of art and garnishing the heck out of it. Heidi at 101 Cookbooks is the master at this. Here are some of her most gorgeously garnished soups: Split Pea, Broccoli Cheddar, Yellow Split Pea, and Posole in broth. Let life imitate art and load up this chili!

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INGREDIENTS

for the chili:
olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste
1 lb ground meat (I used pork)
1 28oz can diced tomatoes
2 cups stock (I used beef stock)
2 tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
1 16oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 16 oz can corn, drained and rinsed

all the fixins’:
avocado, sliced
fresh cilantro, chopped
cheese, shredded
fresh tomato, chopped
onion or green onion, thinly sliced or minced
squeeze of lime

Just the Recipe link: Loaded Chili

DIRECTIONS

Heat oil in a pan and add onion and red pepper. Cook about 8 minutes, until softened.

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Add the garlic and the cayenne pepper, oregano, coriander, cumin, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper. Stir and cook 1-2 minutes, until fragrant and yummy-smelling.

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Add the ground pork and use your spoon to break it up. Cook until browned, stirring occasionally.

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Once the meat is browned, pour in the canned tomatoes and the stock. Toss in a bay leaf for good measure. Bring to a boil and then turn down to a simmer. Simmer for 45 minutes.

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After 45 minutes have gone by, add the cilantro, corn, and beans, and simmer for another 15 minutes.

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Taste for seasoning and your chili is good to go! Now dress it up. And make it look beautiful, for heaven’s sake! You’re worth it.

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Gail’s Baked Mac ‘n’ Cheese.

I went to college about 1000 miles away from home, and at times it was rough for a homebody like me! Home is comforting and safe and easy—and that’s part of the reason why I wanted to go far, far away. To stretch myself a bit, get uncomfortable, and try something a little bit scary.

But not every experience needs to be new and unknown; sometimes safe and comfortable is just what the doctor ordered. And without any of my own family nearby, college-me found it especially thrilling to get to spend a weekend at the homes of some of my friends. It was so much fun to hang out with their families, pet their dogs, and see what it was like in the towns where they grew up. Visiting my beloved roommate Maura’s family was always a lot of fun for many reasons, not the least of which was the amazing FOOD! Maura’s mom and dad are awesome cooks and never failed to whip up something absolutely delicious whenever I came to visit; I have droolingly fond memories of her mom Gail’s key lime pie, and her mac ‘n’ cheese was always out of this world. I was overcome with a craving for it this past weekend, and they were nice enough to share the recipe with me. And, no surprise, it was the best mac ‘n’ cheese I’ve ever home-made myself. Check it out – this is the amazing Gail’s Baked Mac ‘n’ Cheese!

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INGREDIENTS (this served 3 people 2 BIG helpings each, with leftovers)

1 lb (1 box) cavatappi or your favorite pasta
4 tbsp butter
olive oil
1 small onion, diced
3 tbsp flour
3 cups milk (approximately – you’re just going for the right sauce consistency, so eyeball it a bit)
1 cup Gruyere cheese, shredded
1 1/2 cups cheddar cheese, shredded
nutmeg, salt, and pepper to taste
1 tbsp or more Sriracha or other hot sauce
3/4 tsp Dijon mustard
panko bread crumbs

Just the Recipe link: Gail’s Baked Mac ‘n’ Cheese

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Cook the pasta in boiling salted water until slightly underdone. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta cooking water (it’s nice and starchy and is great to have on hand to add to the sauce later), and then drain the pasta and set it aside. It will finish cooking in the oven later.

Heat butter and a drizzle of olive oil over medium high, and add the onions. Cook until softened and translucent.

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Add the flour and stir as it forms a paste. Let it cook for about 2 minutes, stirring the whole time.

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Then grab your whisk and slowly pour in 1 cup milk, whisking vigorously to avoid creating any lumps. Once this first addition of milk is incorporated, whisk in the rest of the milk. once all the milk is incorporated, you can trade in your whisk for a spoon if you like, and keep stirring as the sauce thickens.

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Once the sauce has thickened and coats the spoon thickly, stir in the cheese.

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Add the nutmeg, salt, pepper, Sriracha, and Dijon mustard at this point, tasting and adjusting to get the flavor you want. I ended up adding a lot more Sriracha than I initially planned. It’s just so good in here.

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By this time, the sauce had thickened a little more than I wanted it to. To get it back to that gooey creamy sauciness, I added a bit of the pasta water that I had set aside earlier. When the sauce consistency is to your liking, stir in the pasta and coat it completely in beautiful cheesy goodness.

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Pour the whole thing into a greased baking dish and spread it out evenly. Top with bread crumbs and drizzle with a bit of olive oil.

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Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until the sides are bubbling and the topping is browned and crunchy.

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Devour!

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