Sunday, March 27, 2016

Slow Cooker Beef Stew with Brandy

Despite the repeated objections of Sir Pickypants (too dangerous) I went out and bought a slow cooker two weeks ago.  What can I say?  I was tired of being the only cook on the block without one.  More accurately, I was tired of constantly having to buy takeout on nights when I have dance classes or play rehearsals or any other occasion that would keep me out of the kitchen in the evenings.

Over a year after my hip surgery I am still struggling to lose the post-surgical weight.  I believe the best tool one can have when trying to to be fit is one's own kitchen.  I was not making nearly enough home-cooked meals.  Not only does having a slow cooker make it easy for me to have home-cooked meals on nights I'm not home, it saves money, fat, salt, and calories to not have to eat out all the time on weekends.  Usually we're so tired after a day at the barn that cooking seems out of the question.  Going out or getting takeout feels like the only solution.  With a slow cooker I can put on a pot of turkey chili in the morning and have it be ready for us at the end of a long day.

The slow cooker isn't as easy to use as you think.  I don't have a fancy version with timers.  I have the basic, low-rent, supermarket version.  Most recipes tell you to cook the food on low for 8 hours max.  I am out of the house for 11 hours at a time and it could still be another 2 hours before Kevin comes home and we sit down to eat.  I had tried adapting some of my favorite recipes like chili and mango coconut chicken and they were pots of flavorless mush.

I learned a few lessons from this.  I need to season the food well.  I need to season it until even Rachael Ray cringes (no pun intended) over the crazy number of ingredients in the dish.  I also need to use far less liquid than I think I need - and then use even less than that.

Friends who are experienced with the slow cookers also tell me the meat used makes all the difference.  Beef and pork cuts with lots of connective tissue hold up much better than poultry.  They also tell me to use packets of salad dressing mix, and soup mix, and gravy mix.  I'm not sure I can handle that.  Maybe I'll try it if I get desperate.  Maybe Sandra Lee was on to something (but then her food always sounded awful whether it was made in the slow cooker or not).

So this weekend I decided to try working with some beef stew and make the husband suck it up.  (He does eat some beef now, so he can handle it.  I hardly ever have to call him SPP anymore.  I think I ruined him.)  I didn't want to do a traditional beef stew though.  We know I don't like that.  I thought it might be fun to make my own twist on boeuf bourgignon but with a different liquor.

I started by browning some chunks of stew meat dreged in flour, salt, and pepper.

When they were browned, I removed them and browned some carrots and parsnips.  I cooked them by themselves in a dry-ish pan so they would take on some real color and flavor (because you know how I feel about flavorless mushy vegetables).
I removed them and added a chopped onion (no photos because my camera battery died at this point). and cooked it until it was soft.  Once they were done, I added a cup of brandy and reduced it down.

Everything went into the slow cooker with a half cup of beef stock and it cooked on low for 8 hours.

An hour before serving I added 10oz. of sliced cremini mushrooms.

Then I served the whole thing with mashed potatoes.  Why didn't I add potatoes to the stew itself?  That's a silly question. Everyone knows I hate those weird starchy potato bits floating in my stew liquid.  That's one of the main reasons I have hated traditional beef stew over the years.

It still had too much liquid, but it was tasty.  This has been my most successful slow cooker recipe so far.

I will let you decide what type of oil you want to use for starting your ingredients.  Some people like canola because they think it's neutral.  Traditional beef bourgignon uses bacon fat.  I'm open to all types.  Experiment with what tastes best to you.

Beef Stew with Brandy

  • 2-4 Tbl oil
  • 2 pounds beef stew meat, cubed
  • Flour for dredging
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 large carrots, cut in chunks
  • 2 medium parsnips, cut in chunks
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 cup brandy
  • 1/2 cup beef stock
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 10 oz. crimini mushrooms, thickly sliced

Coat beef cubes in flour salt and pepper.  In a large pan heat 2 Tbl oil and brown the beef cubes well (you will need to work in two batches).  Remove from pan and place in slow cooker.

Add additional oil if necessary and then add the carrots and parsnips to the pan.  Cook until they have some color on the outside.  Remove from the pan and place in the slow cooker.

You can add a bit more oil to the pan if you need to before you add the onions.  Cook until they are very soft.  Remove them and add to the slow cooker.

Deglaze the pan with the brandy.  Bring to a boil and let it reduce by half.  Add another teaspoon or so of salt and add to the slow cooker.  Then add the beef stock.

Place the sprigs of thyme and rosemary around the slow cooker.  Cover with the lid and cook on low for 8 hours.  In the last hour of cooking add the mushrooms.

Serve with mashed potatoes or rice.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Brownie Time!

I made brownies!  I made brownies!  Everyone loves brownies.

Sorry.  I knew this post wasn't going to be terribly exciting, especially after blogging about Hawaii (also a post about the non-food aspect of the trip is up on my other blog if you haven't read it yet) but I did make brownies.  Since it was a new recipe idea that I came up with, I thought I should make a post about it and share the recipe.

This brownie inspiration came from a simple craving for raspberries and chocolate together.  I kept thinking of rich cake and dark chocolate and tart berries all merging together in one dense bite.  It was clearly time to make some raspberry brownies.

My barn had its annual awards dinner this past weekend.  It's a potluck and I was assigned dessert (and even if I wasn't assigned dessert, I would have brought it).  Here was my chance for the grand experiment.

Most raspberry brownie recipes I saw online either had a raspberry cream cheese swirl (husband would hate) or just had little dabs of raspberry jam scattered around them.  I wanted the raspberry fully incorporated in the brownie.  I knew the best way to do this would be to mix some quality preserves into the batter, but my concern was how this would affect consistency.  Would it make the batter too loose and keep the brownies from solidifying when baked.  The obvious solution was to increase the flour a bit, but would it work?

I used a classic one-bowl recipe that would bake enough brownies for a crowd (uses a 15"x9" pan instead of an 8" or 9" square one).  I made sure to use high quality chocolate to keep the flavor rich.  I added 1/4 cup of flour and also put in a tablespoon of cocoa powder to deepen the chocolate flavor even more.  I used raspberry liqueur instead of vanilla and mixed those raspberry preserves right into the batter.  Once they were baked, I added a ganache glaze flavored with more raspberry liqueur.

They were exactly what I dreamed they would be and they seemed to be a big hit at the dinner.  There were hardly any left at the end of the night.  Due to their dense nature and ganache topping, I called them Rapsberry Truffle Brownies.

Raspberry Truffle Brownies

  • 4 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 1.5 plus sticks, plus 2 Tbl unsalted butter
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3 Tbl raspberry liqueur, divided
  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 1 Tbl cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup seedless raspberry preserves 
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream 
  • 4 oz semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a 15"x9" baking pan with baking spray. 

Melt 1.5 sticks of butter and unsweetened chocolate together in a bowl set over simmering water, or microwave in a microwave safe bowl.  Set aside.

Combine flour, salt and cocoa powder.  Set aside.

Beat eggs and  1 Tbl raspberry liqueur into chocolate and butter mixture until combined.  Stir in the flour mixture.  Gently stir in the preserves until combined.

Spread the brownie mixture in the pan.  Bake for 30 minutes or until set.  Allow to cool.

In a small saucepan bring the cream to a simmer.  Remove from heat and add the semisweet chocolate and stir until melted.  Stir in the remaining 2 Tbl of butter, then stir in the remaining 2 Tbl of raspberry liqueur.

Spread the ganache over the cooled brownie and refrigerate until set.  Cut into squares and serve.