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Friday Recipe Exchange: A Little of This and a Little of That

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JeffreyW’s delicious blueberry bars

For tonight’s recipe exchange, I put together the recipes based on what’s been cooking in our kitchens this week.

Missing my fresh fruits, I make do with flash-frozen berries:

Love the full-on strawberry flavor in my Strawberry Bread (recipe here)

Blueberries, I could make stuff with blueberries everyday. Including JeffreyW’s Blueberry Bars (recipe and photos here) and his Lemon-Blueberry Bread (click here for photos and recipe)

My afternoon pick-me-up of late probably isn’t for everyone, but really works for me. Hit of energy and curbs my sweet cravings. I blend a pound of frozen strawberries, a pound of frozen blueberries and about a cup of frozen raspberries in my Vita-Mix, which creates a very smooth mixture (if you ignore the raspberry seeds) which unlike juicing, retains all the fiber. I add it and an equal amount of water to a big pitcher, mix well. I have a glass of this in the afternoon and a pitcher lasts a good two weeks in the refrigerator.  YMMV.

My pressure cooker has been getting a real work out lately.  A couple of meals to continue on the one-pot theme from last week:

In this Pressure Cooker Pot Roast (click here), I pushed the limits and began with a frozen roast, just to see what would happen. It turned out great and the booze made up for some of the flavors lost by not being able to brown the beef first.

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Seriously, don’t all JeffreyW’s meals look delicious? Above is his yummy pot roast and below is his Pork Mole

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Playing with his new Electric Pressure Cooker, JeffreyW tackles Pork Mole (click here) with much success.

I would have a Bixby update, but he’s been so crazy today, I haven’t had time to download the photos and video from our play date this week. Crazy-assed dog.

For tonight’s featured recipe, thinking ahead to Valentine’s Day, these are a fun, elegant treat. I’m actually making them for a birthday get-together.

Pretty and tasty, they were inspired by a novel I was reading. If you want to read the full Food in Fiction post, click here.

Chocolate-Raspberry Cupcakes

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

Moist Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup cold water
  • 1/2 cup chopped raspberries

Dry ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup dry cocoa
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Grease and flour muffin tins. Cream together oil, butter and sugar. Mix in remaining moist ingredients, one at a time, until well mixed. Sift together dry ingredients. Mix dry mixture into creamy mixture and beat for 2 minutes at high-speed. Fill muffin tins 3/4 full and bake for 20-25 minutes, until they bounce back when pressed lightly.

Chocolate Ganache:

  • 6 oz dark chocolate
  • 6 oz heavy cream

Double boiler (I use a metal bowl over a saucepan with about an 1 inch of water)

Place chocolate and cream in top of boiler, bring water in bottom half to a boil, reduce heat to med-high and let chocolate melt, stirring occasionally. When completely melted, remove from heat and stir until cream and chocolate are completely mixed. Let cool and dollop over cooled cupcakes

Raspberry Sauce:

  • 2 cups raspberries
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice

saucepan

Puree raspberries until smooth, add raspberries and sugar to saucepan and heat to a low boil, stirring constantly. Boil for 1 minute, reduce heat to medium and stir constantly until thickened, remove from heat and add lemon juice. Let cool and spoon over frosted cupcakes.

Note:  For a layer cake, take 1/2 of the ganache, let it cool, mix with 1 cup crushed raspberries and spread between layers.  Keep the other 1/2 of the ganache warm and pour over cake to make a beautiful and smooth coating.  Serve with warm raspberry sauce.

That’s it for this week. Have a fun and safe weekend and say a little prayer for tornado damaged area of Florida, as they are expecting more rain and stormy weather. If you didn’t see it, here is my brother’s house, or what’s left of it. – TaMara

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Pushing the Limits: One Pot Dinners

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JeffreyW plates up a good-looking Pot Roast Dinner

I love to cook in my pressure cooker – rice, beans, soups – they all get their start in my pressure cooker. But my favorite thing to do is that quick dinner that tastes like it’s been in the slow cooker all day, even though I completely forgot to even take the meat out to thaw.

My usual meal is to add about 1 cup of water to the pan, add a bunch of spices and herbs to the water, put the tray in and then layer halved potatoes, FROZEN skinless chicken breast or thighs (boneless or not, doesn’t change cooking time much), throw a couple of halved carrots on top and pressurize. Twenty minutes later, dinner is ready. The spices and herbs in the water infuse everything with flavor. It’s not as complex as roasted chicken, but for a quick dinner, it’s great.

Today I was wandering through the freezer, reorganizing to make room for holiday stuff and counting my bags of cranberries – which I stockpile in case there is a great cranberry shortage in the future. I pulled out a nice chuck roast I bought on sale a few weeks ago, half of which I used for the beef stew last week, half I tucked away for a nice pot roast dinner. I thought it would be nice to make tomorrow. Then I decided I wanted it today.

 

This is the newest model comparable to the one I own. Pretty.

So I pulled out the pressure cooker. This would be a first, starting with a frozen roast. It was either going to work or I was going to end up with one tough piece of beef. But I wouldn’t know if I didn’t give it try. (I do these things so you don’t have to).

I put the roast on the tray, poured a little bourbon over it (since it worked so well with the beef stew) added water, bay leaf, salt, pepper, onion, halved potatoes and carrots. I pressurized it for 55 minutes. I was guessing at the time because I wasn’t sure with it frozen how much extra time I should add.

At the 55 minute mark, I turned off the heat and let it depressurize slowly (instead of cold bath method). When I opened it, the beef was perfect. Again, the flavor was not as complex as if I had been able to brown it ahead of time. But it was tender and moist.

The carrots and potatoes were good, although if I did it again, I would probably add them at the twenty or thirty minute mark and re-pressurize for another twenty minutes.

So I’ll mark this down as a win and know that if I need a quick dinner, I can put pot roast on the list of recipes that will go from frozen to dinner in an hour.

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Recipe Exchange: Helping Friends

A funnel cloud is seen north of Longmont on Thursday evening. (Jenn Fields / The Denver Post)

A funnel cloud is seen north of Longmont on Thursday evening. (Jenn Fields / The Denver Post)

Yes, that’s the tornado that touched down a couple miles from my neighborhood last night. It was a raucous night.

Today, for the second time in as many weeks, I braved my kitchen to cook for friends who lost a loved one. So I thought it would be good to talk about cooking to help friends.

Cooking for friends doesn’t have to be restricted to a death in the family. Birth of a baby, finals week, new to the neighborhood, moving away, these are all times when people can be too busy and too stressed to cook or eat properly.

What’s 4 Dinner Solutions was actually started because I used to deliver dinners to teachers during the last push of the school year. If you know any teachers, you know they start to look a little rough around the edges by the time school is finishing up. Seemed the least I could do for them.

What do bring. Don’t overwhelm them with sugary treats. Sugar, while great for mood and comfort, can add to fatigue. Last week I baked cookies because chocolate was requested. If you are doing a dessert, make sure it’s ready to serve. Don’t expect them to cut a cake or brownies into serving sizes. Cookies (find your favorite here) and cupcakes (some fun flavors here) are a great choice.

Know your audience. Skip the alcohol unless you’re really sure this is okay. I have one friend that a wine care package is my first thought, but that’s a rare exception. If they have food restrictions, go for a vegetable, fruit, cheese and dip platter. Lots of healthy finger foods that can accommodate the vegans, gluten-free and allergy prone. A tray is perfect for those that just don’t have the time or inclination to sit down for a meal. Grazing is often how people cope with stressful situations.

Please for all that is holy, don’t make a casserole. Make a complete dinner, or if that’s not possible, put together a deli platter. Or how about a picnic? Put a bunch of picnic foods in a nice basket, along with paper plates, napkins, utensils and cups.

If food is not an option, then offer to walk the dog, clean the litter box, watch the kids for the afternoon, or vacuum the house before guests arrive.

How about you, what do you do for friends in a time of need? And what’s on your  plate for the weekend? Anyone else dodging wild weather?  If you missed it, JeffreyW bought a new camera this week. Pictures are worth a look.

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Now for the recipes. For tonight I have put together a Pot Roast (photo above by JeffreyW) with all the trimmings (recipe here), hot and ready when they get home and for tomorrow, I’m putting together the featured recipe. They can then bake as needed. I’ll add a loaf of crusty bread and a bag of salad to complete that meal.

Baked Ziti

Baked Ziti

  • 1 pound ziti pasta
  • 1 pound bulk Italian sausage, spicy or mix 1/2 spicy and 1/2 sweet
  • 1/2 yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 to 4 tsp crushed garlic
  • 2 tsp dried basil, crushed
  • 1 tsp dried oregano, crushed
  • 1/4 tsp thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1- 6 oz can tomato paste
  • 2 – 14 oz cans tomato sauce
  • 8 oz mozzarella cheese, grated
  • 12 oz ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup grated parmesan

Saucepan, skillet, 9×13 baking dish

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the pasta and boil, uncovered, until the pasta is al dente, you want it very chewy as it will continue to cook while you bake it. Drain the pasta and DO NOT RINSE (you want the pasta starchy so it grabs the sauce).

In a skillet, brown the sausage. When it is mostly browned, add the onions and stir well to combine. Sauté everything until the onions are translucent, about 4-5 minutes. Add the garlic, spices and stir to combine. Cook 1 to 2 minutes, then add tomato paste, stirring to coat all the meat. Add tomato sauce and bring to a low simmer for 5 minutes.

Spread a thin layer of sauce in the bottom of a lightly oiled 9×13-inch casserole pan. Add a layer of pasta, ladle more sauce, spoon 1/2 the ricotta cheese over sauce, in dollops (three across and 4 to 5 up works well, kind of like you’d do cookie dough). Spread a 1/4 of the mozzarella. Add more pasta, more sauce, remaining ricotta, 1/4 of the mozzarella, sauce, pasta and the rest of the sauce. Top with mozzarella and parmesan.

Bake at 350°F until the top is bubbly and browned, about 20 minutes. Let rest for 5 minutes before cutting. I put a cookie sheet under the baking dish to catch any sauce bubbling over.

Serves at least 8

NOTES:

This can be put together ahead of time and refrigerated. Bake for 15 minutes, covered with foil, bake for additional 20 minutes until cheese is bubbly and brown and center is hot.   As this serves 8, you can use two 8×8 baking dishes and freeze one for later.

That’s if for this week. No Bixby update, but he’s recovering nicely from his “procedure” and I’m recovering from being dragged across the grass and the black eye has healed considerably. Life with an overgrown puppy. Have a terrific weekend – TaMara

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Friday Recipe Exchange: Comfort Foods

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I asked JeffreyW to send me some ideas for comfort foods and he included this photo. Yum.

I hope everyone had a good holiday. Now it’s time for the Christmas rush. But before I start with those recipes, I thought we’d revisit comfort foods. When things get crazy busy, I fall back on easy comfort foods: soups, mac-n’cheese, slow-cooker meals.

What sparked this idea was a recipe for Macaroni and Cheese Bacon Cups. No, seriously, someone thought of putting macaroni and cheese into cups made of bacon and baking it in the oven. If you’re daring and want to try your hand at it, JeffreyW has the recipe for Bacon Cups here and two Macaroni and Cheese recipes are here and here.

The photo above is easy to recreate (JeffreyW recommends frozen shoestring fries), but he has a recipe for even more elaborate Chile Cheese Friesclick here for recipe and mouth-watering photos.

When cold weather hits and my schedule is full, I want Spicy Potato Soup and Biscuits, recipes here.

Starting next week, I’ll move into holiday recipes, both for the meals and gift giving. For the animal lovers, there is a Bixby update here, but be forewarned when you click through, HE. HAS. GROWN. Although he doesn’t seem to realize it.

What’s on your menu for the weekend? How is the holiday shopping coming along?

Tonight’s feature recipe is very simple and quick to put together.

Marinated Pot Roast Final

Slow-Cooker Tangy Roast Beef w/Potatoes & Carrots

  • 2 to 3 lbs boneless chuck roast
  • ½ cup red wine vinegar
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 4 red potatoes, halved
  • 4 carrots, peeled & quartered

Slow-Cooker

In order, place items in Slow-Cooker. Cook according to manufacturer’s directions (usually 8-10 hours on low). Couldn’t be simpler. But if you don’t want tangy, just substitute a good red wine for a richer flavor. If you have time, it’s worth it to brown your roast on all sides before tossing in the slow-cooker. Lightly flour all sides, heat oil in a skillet and brown quickly. I usually use tongs and brown the sides as well.

That’s it for this week. Next week we’ll tackle holiday treats for gift giving or to take to parties. – TaMara

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Slow-Cooker Tangy Pot Roast

Marinated Pot Roast Final

New puppy or not, gotta eat. Chuck roasts were on sale this week, so I bought a five pound one, cut in half and marinated one half and froze the other. I threw the corn in the slow-cooker during the last 15 minutes an it was perfectly steamed.

Recipe is here: Tangy Pot Roast

Mmm… Roast Beef

DSC_7930 (1600x1060)Mrs J grabbed a big roast at the store the other day and we went with the crockpot to cook it.  She was wanting a basic pot roast supper and that is what she got.  I did tweak the menu a tad and made her mash her own potatoes but she didn’t mind.  The roast nearly filled the crockpot but I squeezed in carrots, onions, and celery and filled the rest of the space with beef broth and red wine.  I didn’t have any fresh herbs so dried thyme and bay leaves went in for seasonings, along with black pepper and salt, natch.DSC_7933 (1600x1060)There was still plenty of meat and gravy left so I added a few more veggies and broth for the next day’s stew.  I still have a fair sized lump of beef, I may slice it for sammiches before the day is out.  Speaking of that, it may reach above 70 degrees here today, which should melt the last traces of snow.  Just in time for more snow tomorrow!  Ahhhh!

Mmm… Pot Roast

DSC_7199 (1600x1060)Haven’t done one of these in a while.  Brown a nice piece of beef in a big pot, then add broth to just about cover and toss in onions and garlic with bay leaves and other dried herbs that suit your taste.  Rosemary and thyme work for me.  These can simmer covered on the stove top or cook in a 350 oven for a few hours.  Toss in the veggies during the last 45 minutes or hour so that they aren’t terribly overcooked.  Tastes will vary.  I take everything out but the liquids and add a slurry of corn starch to make gravy.  Use a paper towel or two to sop grease off the top if there is too much.  That will depend on the cut of beef.DSC_7204 (1600x1060)I tossed in some whole button mushrooms with the carrots and potatoes but they are optional.  Hot rolls would be the bread standard for this dish but we had some fresh white bread to use up so I made garlic toast out of a heel.  Mrs J made a salad, a beautiful salad that was good for us, with feta cheese and olives.  She said.  LOL

Mmm… beef braised in red wine

I enjoyed the gravy from the braised oxtails we had the other day so much that tonight’s beef was cooked in the same manner.  I browned the meat in the Dutch oven and then laid it across the roughly chopped veggies.  Today I have carrots, leeks, turnips, and celery for the bed.A few sprigs of fresh thyme, bay leaves, and a generous grind of black pepper and a sprinkle of kosher salt and it is ready for the wine reduction I had going on the other burner.  Boil a bottle of red wine in a sauce pan until it is reduced by half and pour it over the meat, adding beef broth to just cover.  Put on the lid and cook in a 350 oven for a couple of hours.  Strain out and discard the solids and further reduce the gravy on the stovetop while your potatoes are boiling and the carrots and sprouts are roasting.I added two cloves of finely minced garlic to the cooked potatoes and then mashed them with butter and sour cream.  Toss a couple of those nice cloverleaf rolls that you have leftover onto the oven rack while it’s still hot and pretty soon you will have a pretty dinner to call the clan to.A nice rare beef roast has a lot to recommend it but I’ll take one of these fork tender pot roasts any day.

Pot roast

I added a lot of liquid to the Dutch oven I cooked the beef in, used the lid and wasn’t worried about overcooking it.  I should have worried.  We got to fooling around outside and before I knew it the kitchen had taken on a charred beef smell.  Great aroma from a charcoal grill, perhaps.  From a pot roast in the oven?  Not so much.Then again, that’s why they invented gravy, isn’t that right?

Thursday Recipe Exchange: Portuguese Beef and Pasta

Years ago, when I was first learning to ski, I was very frustrated by the amount of time I spent on my ass and not skiing.  Someone told me that if I wasn’t spending  a lot of time picking myself up, I wasn’t really skiing. I needed to push my limits to get better. In other words, it was all good.  I find that information works for a lot of things in life.  Cooking is no exception.

This week, I spent a lot of time on my figurative ass, playing with the new crock-pot making various recipes.  There were epic failures.  The first thing I tried was a slow cooker meatloaf.  It called for a basic meatloaf recipe – I have a favorite – and then cook all day on low.  The results were not stellar.  More like steamed meatloaf.  An unappetizing color and texture.  Not the nice deep brown of a good baked loaf.  I was able to salvage it by cutting it into thin slices and frying it up for sandwiches.

I'll stick to these scalloped potatoes from now on.

The next failure was the scalloped potatoes.  This called for a slightly modified recipe, a bit more moisture than in the baked method.  The flavor was fine, the texture was horrible.  Kind of like if you reheated some that you baked.  Rubbery and chewy.  I’m not sure how you could modify the recipe to get a creamier texture.  I’d love to hear any ideas in the comments.

The rest of the week was spent making traditional slow cooker foods – soups and a lovely pot roast.   It wasn’t a total loss.  I did learn that for a fool-proof slow cooker recipe it’s best to have a recipe that can cook, unattended, all day without risk of ruin.  Both the potatoes and the meatloaf really could not have cooked any longer than they did.  They would have turned out even worse.

So that was adventures in cooking this week.  What foods do you use your slow cooker for successfully? Anything usual that we’ve never thought of?  Hit the comments.  Next week I think our theme will be Mardi Gras, and I’m hoping you’ll come prepared to share some favorite drinks as well as Cajun food recipes.  Someone should bring the King’s cake recipe, too.

Here’s one of my favorite fool-proof slow cooker recipes:

Portuguese Beef & Pasta

This works best if you cook the pasta separately and either add it to the beef the last 15 minutes or serve the beef over the pasta.  This is one of those slow cooker recipes that the longer it cooks, the better it gets, usually 10 hours minimum for best flavor.

  • 1 lb round steak, cut into thin strips, remove excess fat
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp pepper
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 green pepper, cut into thin strips
  • 1 tsp crushed garlic
  • 6 oz can tomato paste
  • 2-14 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 bay leaf (remove before serving)
  • ½ tsp crushed red pepper
  • 8 oz dry macaroni**

Slow-Cooker and saucepan

Add beef, salt, pepper, onion, green pepper, garlic, paste, diced tomatoes, water, bay leaf & red pepper to Slow-Cooker. Cook according to manufacturer’s directions (usually 8-10 hours on low) until beef tears easily with a fork. In saucepan, cook macaroni according to package directions. Drain well (you don’t want any water in your beef mixture) and mix beef and pasta and serve.

**Ditilani works really, or any tiny pasta, like tiny elbow macaroni or tiny bow-ties.