Cookin up Some Slow Cooker Love and Beef Stew

beef-stew-101-B

What a great week this has been! I was published in Resource Magazine’s Fall 2014 edition in an article that my friend, Skip Cohen, wrote about me. If you get a chance to read that edition you might enjoy it. The theme for the Fall 2014 edition is food photography. In addition to working on that article, I have been building up my lifestyle portfolio and shooting regularly. I am really grateful that I get to spend time doing something that I love; photography.

I don’t know about you, but another thing that makes me happy is cooking up some comfort food on a cold day. Sometimes I am like a big old bear. As soon as the weather turns cold, I a find myself craving old favourites like stew, chili, or homemade pasta. You would think I am preparing for a long winter of hibernation. With the skating season just beginning I will not be hibernating, but out getting my exercise doing something else that I love. Life is good!

While you are out and about preparing for the holidays, take some time to stop and enjoy a meal with your loved ones. We all get so busy that we lose sight of those around us but those simple times together are the moments that they will remember for years to come.

beef-stew-104

Slow Cooker Beef Stew

Makes 6 servings

Ingredients:

3lb.stewing beef
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
3 yellow waxy potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 large sweet potato, peeled and cubed
2 carrots, chopped into 1/2 inch chunks
2 parsnips, chopped into 1/2 inch chunks
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups sliced mushrooms
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
3 cups beef broth
1/2 cup dry red wine
2 tbsp. tomato paste
1 tsp. Worchestershire sauce
1/4 cup all-purpose flour

beef-stew-prep

Directions:

Season the beef with salt and pepper. Place in slow cooker. Add the Potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, onion, garlic, mushrooms, thyme and bay leaf.

Whisk together the beef broth, wine, tomato paste and Worchestershire sauce. Stir the wet mixture into the slow cooker.

Cover and cook on low for 9-10 hours, until beef is tender and vegetables are cooked through. Skim off fat.

Whisk flour in 1/4 cup water until smooth, stir into the slow cooker. Turn the heat to high, cover and cook until the sauce has thickened, about 20-30 minutes.

Remove Bay leaf and thyme sprigs and serve.

beef-stew-102

Advertisements

Potato Leek Soup with Stilton

leeks-on-a-cuttingboard_PMM1291

I remember the first time I took a cooking class. It was held by the Board of Education at a high school near my home. Our instructor was the executive chef for a major bank. I remember learning how to cook classic dishes like Beef Wellington, Boulangere Potatoes, Caesar Salad and Potato Leek soup.

A few years later I had that same soup at an upscale restaurant in Toronto called Fenton’s. For years Fenton’s was my favourite place to eat for special occasions since the food was superb. Their chef added a chunk of English Stilton to each bowl making the Potato Leek soup outstanding. Stilton is a relatively strong cheese which provides perfect balance to the creamy soup. I loved it so much I ordered it every time I ate there. Sadly, Fenton’s closed down many years ago, but I still make the soup the same way that they served it.

I have taken many culinary courses since then and have tried numerous soup recipes but Potato Leek is still my favourite soup on a cold winter’s day. It would make a great starter for a holiday meal or a wonderful lunch main course.

Many of my readers who live in the United States will be celebrating Thanksgiving this week.
I wish you and your families a Happy and Healthy Thanksgiving!

potato-leek-soup_PMP3082

Potato Leek Soup with Stilton

Ingredients:

2 tbsp. butter (30 mL) sliced to 1/4 inch

4 leeks, white part only, washed and

1 large onion, thinly sliced

5 large Russet potatoes, peeled and diced to 1/2 inch cubes

5 cups chicken stock (1 L)

1/2 tsp. dried thyme (2.5 mL)

1/4 tsp. ground black pepper (1.25 mlL)

1/4 cup of whipping cream (60 mL)

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh chives (60 mL)

4 oz. Stilton or blue cheese, crumbled (110 g)

Directions:

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the leeks and onion and sauté until the onion is soft and translucent, approximately 5-8 minutes.

Add the potatoes, chicken stock, thyme, and black pepper.

Bring the mixture to a boil; remove any scum that floats to the surface. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook until the potatoes are soft, approximately 20-25 minutes.

Remove from the heat. Process the mixture with a hand blender until smooth.  Add the whipping cream and mix well.

Ladle the soup into individual soup bowls. Add a 1/1/2 inch chunk of Stilton to the centre of each bowl and sprinkle each serving with the chives.

Vegetarian Borsch

Borsch-V2

I recently had the honour of making a traditional Ukrainian Christmas Eve dinner for some friends of mine. The Sviaty Vechir consists of a meal including 12 dishes that contain no meat and no dairy products. This special dinner is held on January 6th which marks the beginning of the Christmas season on the Julian calendar.

It is tradition that the family gathers around the table to celebrate the holiday that begins when the first star is seen in the night sky. The table is set and the candles are lit and an extra place is set for those who cannot be there. It is a night to celebrate and a night to remember ancestors.

The meal always begins with a serving of Kutia which is a pudding made from wheat berries often flavoured with poppy seeds, fruit, nuts or honey. This course is followed by Borsch soup, cabbage rolls, and various fish and vegetable dishes.

Since I am not Ukrainian I had to do some research before inviting my friends to dinner. I wanted it to be special, while preserving tradition.  I admit that I picked up a few of the dishes at the Deli and Ukrainian bakery in Toronto’s Bloor West Village. Even with the dishes that I picked up, I still had many more to prepare. I wanted to make it a meal to remember.

One of the dishes that I made was this rich, ruby-red borsch soup.The recipe can be altered by using beef broth but am posting the vegetarian version. The broth is light and flavourful and the vegetables add enough substance to make it a heart warming addition to any meal.

Vegetarian  Borsch

Makes 6 servings

INGREDIENTS:

8 cups vegetable broth
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
4 large beets, peeled and chopped into ½ inch chunks
4 carrots, peeled and chopped into ½ inch chunks
1 large potato, peeled, cut into ½ inch cubes
2 cups thinly sliced cabbage
3/4 cup chopped fresh dill
3 tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 cup sour cream (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Pour vegetable broth into a large pot and add beets, carrots, and potato; bring to boil.

Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes.

Stir in cabbage and 1/2 cup dill; cook until cabbage is tender, about 15 minutes.

Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in vinegar.

Ladle soup into bowls. Top with a sprinkle of dill or a dollop of sour cream.

Potato Salad with Peas, Radishes and Eggs- A new twist on a classic

It has been another week of glorious weather! We experienced our Northern solstice a few days ago marking the beginning of summer. As the days slowly grew longer we enjoyed the daylight late into the evening hours. Now the days will gradually get shorter so we will scramble out to enjoy every minute of sunshine before summer ends.

I am continuing on my journey to improve my health through exercise and healthy eating. The other day I rode 31 km on my bike covering a span of Toronto from the east side of the Don River to the west side of the Humber River along the waterfront and Don Valley trails. Every few kilometres we looked up to see a different side of the CN tower allowing us to gage the distance travelled and to see the skyline from many different perspectives.

There is a fairly steep hill near my place that, until now, I have barely been able to scale on foot without breathing hard. At the end of this cycling trip I was able to ride up the hill without stopping. This major milestone has taught me that 2 months after my biking accident I am able to ride with confidence. I am able to face the challenges head on and knock them off the list one by one.

It has been an incredible journey, so far. I am learning to live in the moment and to savour each one. I have renewed my love affair with my city by cycling around her parks and paths. I have taken my life back under my control and I feel great!

Part of this wonderfiul journey is discovering ways to enjoy classic dishes with a lighter twist. Potato salad is a traditional addition to a grilled dinner or picnic. This version is light yet has subtle, balanced flavours. The addition of radishes and eggs add a level of complexity needed to make the dish memorable.

Potato Salad with Peas, Radishes and Eggs

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients

2 tbsp. pine nuts
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
Sea salt
4 eggs
1 cup frozen green peas
1 ½ pounds organic potatoes, washed and halved
2 radishes, thinly sliced
2 tbsp. chopped flat leaf parsley
Freshly ground black pepper

For the vinaigrette:

Sea salt and pepper
1 tsp. French Dijon mustard
3 tbsp. lemon juice
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Directions

Toast pine nuts in a frying pan for 2 minutes, or until lightly coloured and fragrant. Set Aside.

Soak the onion in a bowl of cold salted water for 20 minutes. Drain and pat dry.

Boil the 6 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water to stop them from cooking. Shell the eggs and cut each in quarters.

Boil the green peas in salted water for 3 minutes. Drain and rinse them under cold water to stop them from cooking and let them cool.

Boil the potatoes for 20-25 minutes in salted water until tender to the fork but not overcooked.

To prepare the vinaigrette: In a small bowl combine the ingredients in a small bowl. Whisk together.

In a large bowl combine the potatoes, onions, peas, eggs and radishes. Dress with the vinaigrette, herbs and pine nuts and season with sea salt and pepper. Toss well and serve.

Recipe adapted from La Tartine Gourmand- Recipes from an Inspired Life by Beatrice Peltre

Roasted Potato Salad with Feta and Mint

As I mentioned earlier, I have taken up cycling again. I used to cycle quite often until my last bike rusted out and died. I had such a glorious ride on Saturday so I rushed out Sunday afternoon to hunt for a new bike. I decided to test drive a hybrid bike from my local cycle shop. While riding down a side road the tire got caught in a rut in the road. I went down face first onto the pavement and I ended up with a badly scratched face and 2 black eyes. Thankfully no cars were coming and I did not break any bones.

Thankfully, the bike was not even scratched. I promptly returned it to the store and came home to find an ice pack.

I have spent the last few days explaining my new look to my colleagues at work. It is interesting to see people’s reactions to this. Some immediately thought the worst and assumed that someone had hurt me. Some hardly noticed. I must say that I am more amused by their reactions than by my own.

Now I know you must be thinking that this will make me give up on cycling, but my stubborn Scottish blood won’t let me. Now it has become a challenge that I must take on. I cannot let this get the better of me. I was back out last night hunting for a new bike.  I plan to keep at it although next time I will definitely wear a helmet.

When the world says, “Give up,” Hope whispers, “Try it one more time.”
– Author Unknown

In addition to cycling I am walking, doing a Zumba work out and eating well. I still feel good about my journey in spite of this setback. I plan to report back in a month or two to say that I have reached my personal goal.

During the summer, I like to eat salads and light meals for dinner. This is a quick and easy take on a traditional potato salad. It makes a great week night dinner when you are in a hurry but still want to eat healthy.

Roasted Potato Salad with Feta and Mint

Makes 2 servings

Ingredients
6 fingerling potatoes, scrubbed and halved
extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
sea salt flakes
1 cup frozen peas blanched
1 cup fresh sugar snap peas, blanched
2 oz. feta cut into large slices
6 slices prosciutto
½ cup mint leaves

Dressing
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. white wine vinegar
1 tsp. Dijon mustard

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Place the potato on a baking sheet and toss with a little olive oil and sea salt.
Bake for 25 minutes or until golden and tender. Set aside to cool slightly. To make the dressing, combine the oil, vinegar and mustard.

To serve, toss the potato, peas and sugar snaps with half of the dressing. Divide the feta, prosciutto, potatoes, peas, sugar snaps and mint leaves between serving plates. Spoon over remaining dressing and serve.

Recipe adapted from Fresh, Fast, Simple by Donna Hay

Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Sage Browned Butter

No trip to Rome would be complete without a visit to the ancient ruins of the old city. Standing in the Colosseum and imagining gladiators and the historic events of centuries long past, really puts time in perspective. In North America we think of history as the past two hundred years. In Europe and Asia history is a world of ancient civilizations. Ruins of the Roman times are strewn across the country bearing witness to this historic era.

Before we leave Rome for Florence and Tuscany I want to share one more recipe from this region. It is one of my favourite Italian dishes, Gnocchi. These fluffy little dumplings were first introduced in Roman times and have become very popular all over Italy. This recipe is a modern-day variation of the classic potato gnocchi that I adapted from one in the Earth to Table cookbook.

Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Sage Browned Butter

Makes 6 servings

Ingredients

4 medium sweet potatoes
4 medium Russet potatoes
3 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 extra-large eggs, beaten
3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
12 fresh sage leaves
1/4 cup butter

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Place sweet potatoes and potatoes on baking sheet, prick with a fork and roast until soft, about 1 1/2 hours. Let cool slightly, then cut in half and scoop the flesh into a large bowl.

Add flour, salt and pepper to the potato mixture and mix until smooth. Make a well in the center and pour in eggs. Using a fork and starting at the centre of the mixture, incorporate the eggs into the mixture.

Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until a soft, slightly sticky, spongy dough forms. Do not over work the dough. Shape into a ball and place on a lightly floured cutting board. Cut ball into 8 pieces and cover with a clean tea towel. Dust a baking sheet with flour.

On a lightly floured surface, working one piece at a time and keeping the rest covered, roll each piece into a 20-inch rope, about 1/2 inch thick. Cut rope into 1-inch lengths. Using your thumb, roll each piece back over the tines of a floured fork, leaving an indentation from your thumb on one side and the marking of the fork on the other. Place gnocchi on prepared baking sheet. Repeat until all dough is prepared.

Dough can be refrigerated in an air tight container for up to one day.

Melt butter in a small fry pan and add sage leaves. Simmer over medium heat until the butter turns golden brown. Remove from heat and set aside.

To cook gnocchi bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Plunge half of the gnocchi into the boiling water. Once they float to the surface, continue to cook for 1 minute longer. Using a slotted spoon, transfer gnocchi to a plate and repeat cooking process with the other half of the gnocchi.

Drizzle with sage butter and parmesan and serve.

Recipe adapted from Earth to Table by Jeff Crump and Bettina Schormann