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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Wonton Soup, Dismantled.

I LOVE this soup! I haven’t been feeling well lately, and I think the reason I finally wrote up this recipe is because I’ve had such a serious wonton soup craving. It’s delish – so warming and comforting. And as much as I really do enjoy putting a pot of soup on the stove and tending to it for 3 or 4 hours – it’s such a labor of love! – there is certainly to something to be said for a great fast soup as well. This is one of those. In about 30 minutes you’ll have a beautiful and easy wonton soup, with deconstructed wontons, of course. I replace long cooking time with layer-by-layer flavor-building: first the seasoned chicken cooks, then the ginger, garlic, and peppers, then the cabbage and stock, then the edamame and noodles, and finally the crowning glory that makes this soup so special: the soy sauce. Mmm. I wish I had a bowl of leftovers right now!

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INGREDIENTS

olive oil
2 tbsp sesame oil
2 small chicken breasts, cut into small pieces (think little bitty bite-sized)
3/4 tsp powdered ginger, or 1 small knob fresh ginger, grated
2 cloves garlic, grated
1 bell pepper (I used orange), diced
3 cups chopped cabbage
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
5 cups water
1 cup shelled edamame
1 1/2 cups egg noodles
2 tbsp soy sauce
salt and pepper to taste
chopped onion and fresh cilantro, for garnish

Just the Recipe link: Wonton Soup, Dismantled

DIRECTIONS

In a soup pot, heat a drizzle of olive oil and the sesame oil over medium high, careful not to let it smoke (sesame oil becomes bitter if you let it burn). Add the chicken and some salt and pepper and stir, cooking until you can’t see any more pink. Then add the ginger, garlic, and bell pepper, and cook until softened and fragrant, about 3 minutes.

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Add the cabbage and stir, cooking about 3 more minutes to soften.

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Pour in the chicken stock and water and simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

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Add the edamame and noodles and cook until the noodles are done. Remove from heat and stir in the soy sauce, then taste and add salt and pepper accordingly.

Garnish with chopped onion or green onion and cilantro, and more soy sauce if you like. Quick wonton soup in about half an hour!

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Celery Root and Sweet Potato Soup.

I’ve been wanting to try this type of thing for a while. Have you ever noticed, while you wander through the grocery store, a really knobby, homely-looking reject vegetable? One that looks like something went wrong when a normal vegetable was growing and it came out all messed-up? That’s celery root, also called celeriac. It’s notorious in the culinary world as one of those foods that many home cooks tend to shy away from, never knowing its versatility and great flavor. I hope to learn a lot more about celery root and to have some more recipes up here in the near future! For now, this warming, pale orange soup is just lovely, despite celeriac’s homeliness. Thank you to Frugal Feeding for the inspiration.

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INGREDIENTS

2 tbsp butter, divided (or skip the butter and just stick with oil)
olive oil (any oil really will work  – I used sunflower oil. Because I felt like it.)
2 small onions, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small celery root, peeled and diced
1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced
4-5 cups vegetable or chicken stock
thyme, paprika, salt, pepper to taste (I used a small palmful of each)
bay leaf
1/2 – 1 cup half and half
fresh parsley for garnish

Just the Recipe link: Celery Root and Sweet Potato Soup

DIRECTIONS

Heat oil and, if using, 1 tbs if butter in a large soup pot, and add onion and celery. Cook until translucent, stirring occasionally. When the onions are nearly there, stir in the garlic.

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Add the celery root and sweet potato and cook 5 minutes.

Next, pour in the stock and add your thyme, paprika, salt, pepper, and bay leaf. If you’re using butter, add the second tbsp here and stir in to melt. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sweet potato and celery root are totally soft.

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Remove from heat and puree in batches, either using a blender or food processor, or, if you’re lucky enough to have one (I do not!) use an immersion blender.

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Pour in the half and half and stir, and you’re ready to serve! Garnish with fresh chopped parsley. I had a nice little lunch of this soup with a butternut squash and green onion quesadilla.

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Broccoli Cheddar Soup.

File this one under “tons of flavor in less than 20 minutes.” Also file it under “food for when you’re pretending it’s snowing,” because that’s what I did yesterday. It’s been something like 300 days since Chicago has had any measurable snowfall, and despite a snow-optimistic forecast, it’s just not happening for us. I woke up Friday morning to a depressingly still-green backyard, and it’s hard to feel Christmasy with such balmy weather. Global climate change is really throwing a wrench into my Christmas spirit! So I made this tasty, toasty dish for lunch, and I’m crossing my fingers we’ll get a white Christmas in the next few days. Until then, broccoli cheddar soup is a good distraction.

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INGREDIENTS

olive oil
butter
1 tsp all-purpose flour
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup half and half
1 1/2 cups stock (I used leftover beef stock)
salt and pepper
pinch of nutmeg
a few handfuls of broccoli (I had some leftover cauliflower so I threw that in too)
about 1/3 cup grated cheddar cheese (don’t measure. Just add as much as you want.)

DIRECTIONS

In a saucepan over medium heat, heat a splash of olive oil and a bit of butter and add the flour, stirring constantly. Cook about a minute, then add the garlic and cook another minute.  Pour in the half and half, stock, salt, pepper, and nutmeg.

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Bring to a low boil and add the broccoli. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the broccoli is tender.

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Remove from heat and pour into a food processor or blender. Add the cheese and blitz to your liking.

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Serve with bread and butter and cross your fingers it will snow before Christmas.

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Vegetable Stock.

Homemade vegetable stock: SUCH a helpful ingredient to have around. I make this stuff in huge batches and keep it in my freezer for whenever I need it, which is as least once a week. I always cook couscous and quinoa in stock to boost their flavor, and it’s also fantastic for sauces, soups, and cooking veggies. Also, it’s practically free. Here’s why: in a freezer bag, I save up all of my otherwise-throw-away-able bits of carrot peel, onion skin, garlic skin, celery leaves, herb stems, whatever I’ve got around, and once the bag is full, I’m ready to make a gorgeous pot of stock out of things I would otherwise have tossed. So why not recycle by making your own stock? It tastes great, has no preservatives and no sodium, and it’s free. The ultimate homemaker’s trick!

INGREDIENTS

enough frozen vegetable bits to fill a pot – I use onion skins, garlic skins, carrot peels, and celery leaves
seasoning to taste – I try to stick with the Scarborough Fair rule of parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme, but I was out of rosemary. Instead I used a bit of marjoram, just because I felt like it.
3 bay leaves
a palmful of peppercorns
Note: I go back and forth about salting my stocks. It’s a saltiness control thing. Stock absolutely needs salt, but then stock is also an ingredient in other dishes that get their own salt. Skipping the salt in your stock means you’ll have more control over the final dish’s saltiness. Does that make sense? Pun very much intended, salt is just a matter of taste. Add it, don’t add it, we’ll all survive.

DIRECTIONS

Put all the veggie leftovers and the flavorings in a Dutch oven or large pot. Cover with cold water.

Bring to a boil and then turn down to a simmer. Cover and cook 2-3 hours.

When the stock is done, turn off the heat and let it cool a little bit. Then use a mesh strainer to strain everything out.

You’re left with a giant bowl of super flavorful, glistening amber vegetable stock—lucky you. I reserve a few cups of it to keep in the fridge for use in the next week, and then I pour the rest of the stock into ice cube trays to freeze. I pop the stock cubes out of the trays and keep them in a bag, so I can use exactly the right frozen portion whenever I need them in the next few months. Unendingly convenient, this is definitely one of my favorite recipes!