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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Salmon Cakes and Baby Spinach Salad with Orange Vinaigrette.

On Friday night, I made baked salmon fillets for dinner. Intending to post the recipe afterward, I shot each step of the prep process – but when I sat down to eat, it was…just fine. Not great. And I tend not to blog about recipes that I don’t think are awesome or that I wouldn’t make again, so I decided not to write it up or post it here. Oh well, this happens fairly often, folks. I finished eating one of the fillets,  and I shredded up the second and put it in the fridge. I unenthusiastically figured I would make some kind of salad out of it. Meh. But then I thought, there is a lot I could do with this average-tasting salmon that would make it totally delicious! So I combed the internet a bit and found a recipe from Rachel Ray that really got me going. I adapted it a bit and the result is what you see here: a tasty dinner that sees an ugly duckling salmon fillet turned into a real swan of a meal (birds and fish – stop me if the metaphor-mixing gets to be too much). Long story short: “blah.” became “ta-da!”

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INGREDIENTS

for the salmon and salad:
1 egg
1 – 1 1/2 cups salmon, cooked and flaked (1 can of salmon will work here as well)
1 green onion, sliced thin
1/3 cup bread crumbs (I used Panko – use gluten-free bread crumbs if you like)
1 tsp of your favorite fish seasoning (I used Lake Shore Drive Seasoning from the Spice House – love this stuff!)
a squeeze or two of hot sauce (I use Sriracha)
a small handful of fresh parsley, chopped
a pinch of cayenne pepper
salt and pepper
a few tablespoons of vegetable oil (not olive oil or butter – we need it to have a pretty high smoke point)
1 1/2 cups fresh baby spinach, washed and dried
shredded carrots or any other salad fixins’ you like

for the orange vinaigrette dressing:
1 tbsp orange juice
1 tsp red wine vinegar
3-4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Just the Recipe link: Salmon Cakes and Baby Spinach Salad with Orange Vinaigrette

DIRECTIONS

Get the pan going over medium heat (not medium high). We’ll add the oil in a little bit; for now, just heat the pan.

Crack the egg into a mixing bowl and add the salmon. Use a fork to mash up the salmon a little bit and combine it with the egg. Add green onion, bread crumbs, seasoning, hot sauce, parsley, cayenne pepper, and salt and pepper, and stir together to combine everything evenly.

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At this point, add the oil to the pan – just enough to cover the bottom. Let it get hot while you form the salmon into cakes. Divide the mixture into two even portions, and use your hands to shape each portion into a patty about 3/4 inch thick. Add them to the pan and cook until browned and a little bit crispy on each side. Mmm.

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While the cakes cook, prep the salad. I tossed the baby spinach onto a pretty plate and topped it with shredded carrots. Then make the dressing, which is incredibly easy. Just stir together all the ingredients with a fork.

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Then it’s just a matter of dressing the salad and plating the salmon cakes. Perch them right on top of the greens, and if you have any dressing leftover, drizzle a bit on the cakes. The orange is delicious here. I could hardly believe this was the boring salmon I had made the night before. Enjoy!

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Green Taco Burger Wraps.

I love lettuce wraps – I think I even prefer when things are wrapped in lettuce to any tortilla or bun (excluding hot dogs, of course). The cool crunch and the light freshness of the lettuce just seems to pair well with a lot of the foods that we think of as bun-worthy. This recipe for what I’m calling “green taco burger wraps” combines the best of cheeseburgers and tacos and wraps the whole thing in nice crunchy lettuce. The burger meat is spiced with cumin and oregano to give it a bit of Mexican flavor, and the toppings are all my taco favorites (especially avocado….mmmm). They’re easy and healthy and so delicious!

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INGREDIENTS

about 3/4 lb ground meat (I used beef)
1 egg
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
salt and pepper to taste
red onion, diced
cheese, sliced (I used cheddar)
cilantro, rough chop
tomato, chopped
red pepper, raw or lightly sauteed
4 large lettuce leaves, rinsed and patted dry
avocado, sliced
green onion, sliced
1 lime, sliced

Just the Recipe link: Green Taco Burger Wraps

DIRECTIONS

First, season the burger meat. In a large bowl, add meat, egg, cumin, garlic powder, paprika, ground coriander, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper, and red onion to taste. I set the rest of the red onion aside in a little ramekin to top the burgers with later. Use your hands to mix all the ingredients together.

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That’s the only cooking prep you’ll do in this recipe. At this point, I set the meat aside to let the flavors hang out a bit while I chopped up everything else and put all the amazing toppings into their own little bowls.

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When everything else is ready to go, cook the burgers. First, use your hands to form them into small patties (we made two little patties per person). I cooked them on my beautiful new Le Creuset grill pan from Williams-Sonoma, but a regular grill or a pan can do the trick as well. Put your pan over medium high heat and lightly grease before adding the burgers. Cook until browned on each side and medium-rare in the middle (or however you like your burgers cooked!). Set aside for 5 minutes to let the meat rest.

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The next step is just assembly!

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I started with the lettuce wrapper, then laid the burger on top and placed the cheese on top of that, so it would get a little melty. Then it’s only a matter of topping to your heart’s content – cilantro, red pepper, red onion, green onion, avocado, and a finishing squeeze of lime make these a perfect fresh and healthy lunch. Before you take a bite, just wrap the lettuce around your taco-topped burger. Then dig right in!

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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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Scarborough Fair Roast Chicken.

Are you going to Scarborough Fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme
Remember me to the one who lives there
She once was a true love of mine.

If you love this song as I do, it’s likely because you know the beautiful version sung by Simon and Garfunkel. And if you love it as I do, you might also use it as a guide to seasoning chicken (more on that later). Knowing it was much older than a 60s hit, I decided to comb the web a bit to learn about the history of the song. There’s a pretty interesting Wikipedia article on this old ballad that gives a bit of background; the playfulness of the lyrics is what interests me most. Part of the song is from the point of view of a young man who instructs his love to do impossible tasks for him, and then it switches to her point of view. She gives him equally impossible tasks—and their relationship depends on the completion of these tasks. It’s sweet and a little goofy, despite the utterly mournful vibe of the S&G hit.

But when you really pay attention to the words of “Scarborough Fair,” it doesn’t make sense, at least to me, why the four herbs (parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme) are mentioned in every single verse. They don’t have anything to do with the rest of the song! For me, this lovely herbal repetition has dictated the way I season chicken dishes for as long as I’ve been cooking (so it’s no surprise that parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme feature in my whole roast chicken as well). But since I’m sure the point wasn’t to help people flavor meat, I did some Googling to see if there was an explanation. I found a few theories, my favorite of which says that these four herbs, when used together, ward off the evil eye. So look away, all you devils out there—this chicken is protected by musical magic! Taste the magic, people.

I have one serving suggestion that I will repeat at the end of the recipe, because it really is a good idea: make sure to have a crusty baguette on hand, because you’re going to want to sop up those heavenly juices.

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INGREDIENTS

1 whole chicken, rinsed and patted dry
olive oil (regular, not extra virgin)
1 tbsp dried parsley
1 tsp dried sage
1 tsp dried rosemary
1 tbsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
2 bay leaves
salt and pepper to taste

Just the Recipe link: Scarborough Fair Roast Chicken

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Put your chicken in a pan, legs- and breasts-side down, and drizzle with olive oil. Combine the parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, salt, and pepper, and sprinkle half over the chicken. Then flip the chicken so that the legs and breasts are facing up, and repeat the olive-oil-drizzling and the spice-sprinkling. You could massage the spices into the chicken a bit if you like; I didn’t feel like it today. It’s the cook’s prerogative.

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Pop it in the oven for about an hour and 15 minutes, depending on the size of your bird. It’s done when the juices run clear and the meat has lost its inner pinkness.

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That’s all! Roast chicken is incredibly easy. Definitely not the kind of task that the young man in “Scarborough Fair” would have requested of his lover. And when you eat this, you’ll enjoy it so much more if you have a nice crusty loaf of bread to dip into the juices—sometimes I think they’re the star of the show, they’re just that good.

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