Slow Cooker Beef Stew

This is a stew that my Dad always makes at least once a winter. I would even go so far as to say it might be his favourite thing to make outside of barbeque season. And he does it well. Unfortunately, I won’t be at home for this year’s rendition, so I had to give making it myself a try.

 

I’m not sure I should call it a recipe, because I think of it more as a set of guidelines. The key is to throw in anything and everything that seems like it might work. It reminds me of a quote from Huckleberry Finn, “In a barrel of odds and ends…things get mixed up, and the juice kind of swaps around, and the things go better.”

These are just some of the many vegetables that found their way into the stew.

While Huck’s culinary advice doesn’t apply to every scenario, it certainly works for beef stew. Or, it can be venison stew if you prefer. You can add parsnips, a can of tomatoes, or frozen peas (towards the end), leave out the sweet potato, or the celery, whatever makes it work with what you have on hand. When it comes to flavouring the stew, the list of possibilities is near endless: Worcestershire sauce, Ketchup, BBQ Sauce, Beer, hot peppers, Wine, Vinegar (or wine vinegar), tabasco sauce, thyme, a bay leaf, oregano, mustard, and of course salt and pepper.

When I made it, since I didn’t have Worcestershire, I added things like soy sauce, fish sauce, lemon juice, honey, and some of the liquid from a jar of dill pickles. It sounds crazy but it works. The only caveat I have is that it’s not good too put in so much of something that it becomes overpowering, especially if it’s an ingredient you’re not sure of. Still, there’s a lot of freedom to try things, and every batch of stew can be a little bit different. The only thing limiting you is the size of your slow cooker, so go create!

Slow Cooker Beef Stew

(I wasn’t really sure what to include in this, but I decided that if I was only ever going to make it once, this is what I would put in)

  • Olive Oil
  • ½ kg  (1 lb) package of stew meat
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 4 cups beef stock (or water)
  • 4 carrots, scrubbed
  • 2 large onions
  • 2 large potatoes, scrubbed
  • 3 celery sticks
  • 1 sweet potato, peeled
  • 1 turnip, peeled
  • 3 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 tbsp barbeque sauce
  • 1 can of beer
  • 1 tbsp thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1-2 tsp hot pepper flakes
  • Flour and Water
  • Salt and Pepper

To start with, try to cut most of the fat and gristle off of your chunks of stew meat, and cut them into similar sized pieces. I like 1 inch cubes. On medium, heat some olive oil and add the beef and garlic, then sprinkle on the flour to coat the pieces. Fry them for 5-10 minutes until they are browned on all sides. Remove from heat.

Meanwhile, start heating up the beef broth in your slow cooker and cutting all of your vegetables into same sized chunks. You can add the meat and vegetables to the broth at any time. Once that’s all done, add the sauces, beer and seasonings, mix it all together and top it off with some water if the liquid isn’t covering the veggies.

Now you’ve just got to wait for it to cook. You can relax, go to class, or write a blog post. (Or do all three!) You should give it around 12 hours (overnight) on Low or 6 hours (all day) on High to cook, but it varies with the size of your chunks and the slow cooker you use. You’ll know it’s done when the beef and vegetables are tender. Mix together some water and flour, using just enough water to dissolve the flour. Start with stirring ½ cup of this mixture into your stew, and then add more until the broth has reached the colour and consistency you want. Finally, taste your stew and add salt and pepper as you see fit.

The stew should be served nice and warm with a thick slice of bread or a biscuit, preferably after spending the day outside chopping wood or playing hockey on a nearby river. The copious, delicious leftovers can be frozen or kept in the fridge for a couple days.

The bread in this picture is a favourite recipe of mine, called Irish Soda Bread. I plan on making another loaf soon, and you can expect a post about it to be appearing here in the next few weeks.

The Best Banana Birthday Cake

Two days ago was the birthday of a very special person, someone near and dear to both Jasmine’s heart, and mine. That means that there must be cake. Fortunately, my fellow author was well prepared for the occasion, with ingredients, and most importantly, a recipe. Not just any recipe, but the same wonderful banana cake that the birthday girl’s family usually makes for her birthday. And the only thing better than Jasmine making a cake and blogging about it, is Jasmine and I making a cake together!

We made plans a few days before to get together after one of my exams. I’m immensely glad that we did, because coming out of that particular exam, I needed the comfort of a warm kitchen and a good friend. (Turns out, calculators are fairly essential when writing an exam on probability! Who knew?*) Anyway, once we’d finished catching up on each other’s lives, we got down to business and made a cake.

*If you’re actually concerned about how I did on my exam, my prof did find me a calculator about halfway through. But the panic involved wasn’t particularly conducive to good test-writing. We’ll see what happens!

I’ll admit that Jasmine did most of the work, but I’ll justify it by saying that we were in her kitchen. (Although that doesn’t explain why I was even less helpful during the cleaning up part) While I mostly flitted around taking pictures, I did mix the wet ingredients.

And then we added the bananas, the vanilla, and ALL THE CHOCOLATE CHIPS! (Really, we used up all of the chocolate chips. Admittedly, some of them went into our mouths, but most of them went into the cake.)

At this point, Jasmine prepared to pour the cake batter into the pans. Since the dry ingredients were still sitting in a bowl on the kitchen table, it’s a good thing she didn’t. I suppose that one problem you can run into when cooking with other people is that it’s easy to get distracted from what you’re doing. Fortunately, someone was paying attention (me!). Disaster averted.

After mixing in the flour and pouring the cake mix in to the pans at a more appropriate time in the baking process, they were all set to go into the oven.

Chocolate Chip Banana Cake
From Crazy Plates, with only the smallest of adaptions

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon each baking powder and soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 1/4 cup mashed bananas
1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup chocolate chips (at least)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease your baking pan. We used two 8″ cake pans.

Combine flour, powder, soda and salt in a medium bowl.

In a large bowl beat together eggs and butter. Add the rest of the wet ingredients and beat until smooth.

Add dry mixture to wet mixture in batches, it should be pretty thick. Then add the chocolate chips. Make sure you eat some too. You know, like a quality check.

Bake for about 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean. Serve as is, or get fancy and do some icing. It doesn’t need icing, but it wouldn’t hurt either.

TIP: if you’re making a layer cake (like us) you can bake the cakes at 300 F for about half an hour. They’ll come out flatter and be easier to stack. We went for the “cut off the dome part” method, because Jasmine wanted a taste straight out of the oven, but if you’re crazy and don’t feel like sneaking a snack ahead of time, you can totally reduce the heat for a flatter cake.

(A note from Jasmine: As soon as I finish my exams, if I ever finish my exams, I’ll post part 2 of this birthday feature: the icing. So stay tuned!)

I Love Leeks

This is going to be quick, because it’s late at night and I’ve got a lot of studying to do tomorrow. But after coming out of three exams in as many days, today was my day of rest. I did some serious cooking today for the first time in almost two weeks (that might be a lie, but I really tried to refrain from wasting time in the kitchen). I went grocery shopping for the first time in a month. Ditto for doing laundry. I guess that doesn’t actually sound very restful, but it was still a nice day.

I knew exactly what I wanted to make, because I’d been planning it since acquiring the main ingredient three weeks ago. My Dad grows the most extensive gardens you’ve ever seen in the summer, and last time my family came to visit he brought me a bunch of leeks. In the Jamie Oliver cookbook I have, there’s a recipe called “Slow Cooked Leek Soldiers with Bacon” and it’s the best way to cook leeks that I can think of.

The first time I made this, it was wonderful. To me, the warm, buttery taste of leeks combined with a bit of bacon-y goodness and a hint of thyme makes for an unparalleled winter comfort food. I don’t know if cozy is an adjective that can be used to describe food, but if it can, that’s how I would describe it.  If I wasn’t writing a physics exam on Monday, there would be a loaf of homemade bread to go along with it.

Anyway, if you enjoy the taste of leeks, I highly recommend that you make this dish sometime, and as I mentioned before, it’s a Jamie Oliver Recipe, so it’s obviously awesome.

My adaptations to the recipe involved cutting it in half, because I only had that many leeks. I also changed a few other things because fresh thyme is a luxury I don’t have, and I can’t justify opening a bottle of wine to use a single glass. I also left the bacon on top of the leeks while I ate it, whereas Jamie took it off and chopped it up.

Slow Cooked Leek Soldiers with Bacon

  • 6 leeks
  • Olive Oil
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 tsp dried thyme
  • A knob of butter
  • 2 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • Water
  • 4 slices of bacon

Preheat your oven to 400ºF. Butter a small (roughly 6×6) casserole dish. Trim the ends of the leeks and discard the outer two or three layers. Cut off, wash and finely chop the dark green part of the leeks. Put them in a frying pan with the olive oil, garlic, thyme and butter, and cook them for ten minutes until softened. Meanwhile, take the remaining pale green and white parts, wash them, and slice them into two inch pieces. When the dark green tops are done, spread them out in the bottom of your casserole dish, and then place the two inch pieces upright in the pan. Ideally, they’ll be packed nice and close together, but if the dish and the number of leeks you’re using don’t quite agree with each other, that’s fine.

Add the vinegar and chicken stock, and enough water so that the leeks are standing in at least a half inch of liquid. Layer the bacon overtop. Get a big strip of wax paper, wet it under the tap, and then fit it snugly around the leeks. Then cover it sheet of aluminum foil.  Place the dish in the oven for an hour or so, until the leeks are tender, and you can easily slide a fork into one of them. When they have reached this point, remove the foil and wax paper and put the dish back in the oven for 20 minutes. When the bacon is crispy, take it out, let it cool, and then enjoy!

 

Pumpkins again.

It is possible that I am beginning to tire of pumpkin. But I am also in the throes of exams. As such I thought today would be a good day to talk about a recipe I made a while back, during my obsession with pumpkin. These pumpkin pancakes were absolutely delicious, and I honestly have no idea why it has taken this long for me to get around to posting them.

During my pumpkin craze I had a huge list of pumpkin things I wanted to try. The muffins I wrote about on this blog, but also pumpkin cakes, cookies, stir frys, casseroles, and waffles. I had dozens of recipes bookmarked, and while there are lots I didn’t get to, I did manage quite a lot.

But the pancakes. Do you have any idea how many recipes for pumpkin pancakes there are out there? I had at least four bookmarked. So friends, what I give you today is a hybrid of some of the recipes I found (along with my own ideas of course).

My main inspiration came from Adrianna over at A Cozy Kitchen, which you should really check it. Her post on Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Pancakes is an especially great one, not to mention the photography really puts this post to shame (for some reason I really didn’t come out with very many decent photos after making these). A fun fact about A Cozy Kitchen? Adrianna started her food blog with a friend. JUST LIKE ME AND CHELSEA. I guess it isn’t that uncommon, but I still thought it was neat.  Caroline now writes for a different blog, called Pink Basil which you should also check out. I might just make an exception to being done with pumpkin in order to try these babies.

In spite of how long it took me to get these up here, I think they were my favourite pumpkin recipe this year. Maybe next year I’ll tackle the rest of the pumpkin recipes.

Pumpkin Pie Pancakes                                                                                                          Adapted from A Cozy Kitchen (and the internet in general)

1 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
1 cup milk
1 egg
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 tablespoons of butter, melted and cooled slightly

Mix the dry ingredients except for spices in a medium bowl and set aside.

Measure the wet ingredients into a blender or food processor and mix well. Add spices and blend for a minute or two, to make sure the pumpkin is really smooth.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients in two batches. Be careful not to overmix, the batter might still have some lumps.

Brush your frying pan with butter. Cook the pancakes over medium low heat. Unlike usual pancakes these won’t spread very much, so I used a spoon to spread them a bit as soon as I scooped them. Cook until you see bubbles on the surface then flip and cook for almost a minute, or until golden.

Eat as you go, or keep warm in a 200 degree oven. I served mine two ways. The first round I covered in maple syrup and sprinkled with icing sugar. The second round I spread with icing that I had leftover from making this. Maybe it’s because I’m Canadian, but for me maple syrup (not a certain aunt‘s table syrup) has always been the one and only topping for pancakes, waffles and french toast. Recently I’ve been experimenting with lemon curd, jam, custard and so on. It’s all good, but nothing will ever top maple syrup. Likewise, the icing was good but kind of overpowered the pumpkin flavour.

Freeze your leftovers so that you can heat in the microwave or toaster on busy mornings. Future you will thank you!

Teacup Soufflé

I can’t be alone in thinking that food served in a teacup is incredibly cute. I have this friend. She likes tea, and cute teacups, and cute little cupcakes that you eat with the tea that you drink out of said teacups. She’s pretty adorable herself so cute little things like this always remind me of her (which makes me like them even more). …Anyway now that I have thoroughly abused that mundane word let’s move things along…

You know when you stumble upon a brand new recipe and 20 minutes later find yourself wandering around in the grocery store looking for walnuts, feta cheese and pears because you simply have to try this new crepe filling, and it just can’t wait until tomorrow? (That happens to everyone, right?)

Well, this isn’t one of those times. This is one of those times when you realize that your fridge has just a few too many soon-to-be-expired items sitting in it. You resign yourself to a mismatched meal of leftover soup, a few spoonfuls of yoghurt and a salad of soggy tomatoes on wilted lettuce… but then inspiration comes along and turns the leftovers into something new.

In this case, I had some spinach that was maybe two days away from sprouting legs and walking itself to the green bin and some eggs and cheese that needed to be eaten… soonish.

I was about to make an omelet, one of my usual leftover solutions, when it occurred to me that I hadn’t had soufflé in a while. This prompted ten seconds of excitement before I realized that I don’t have an oven-safe dish appropriate for soufflé. Disappointment. I wondered if mugs might work. They hold hot stuff, right? I did a quick google search and learned that you can bake soufflé in a mug or teacup! Success! There might have also been something about only using a certain type of mug, but I didn’t have time to read the fine print, I was on a soufflé mission.

Just like mom taught me, I carefully melted butter, separated eggs, stirred cheese and cautiously folded in egg whites. Then with the reckless abandon of someone craving warm cheesy deliciousness, I carelessly dumped it into mugs and threw it all in the oven.

Fortunately, these mugs ended up being the kind that are safe to put in a three-hundred degree oven! Honestly though, I just picked them because they didn’t have ducks on them and they weren’t advertising anything.

Keep in mind, soufflé is kind of an eat-it right way thing, so you would be wise to share this with a few friends if you’re serving it as a side. Or you can go the way of yours truly and give yourself a nice little soufflé stomach ache. Don’t worry though, it’s totally worth it.

So folks, this story has a happy ending. The mugs are safely back in their cupboard, the spinach was rescued from impending bacterial doom and the heroine enjoyed a warm, cheesy, melt-in-your-mouth dinner with not a brown lettuce leaf in sight!

Spinach Souffle
With teacup advice from eHow

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese (mozzarella would be good too!)
1/2 cup spinach, cooked chopped and drained
1/2 tablespoon chopped onion
2 eggs, separated

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Melt the butter with the flour in a saucepan over low heat. Stir until this mixture is smooth and bubbly, but not brown. Add salt, pepper and milk, stirr constantly over medium heat until smooth and thick. Stir in cheese until it is melted and remove from heat.

Add spinach and onion. Gradually add beaten egg yolks. Allow to cool slightly. Beat in egg whites until stiff and then fold into the other ingredients.

Now you can pour the mixture into your mugs. I used an oversized tea cup that is really more of a bowl (see first photo). I was afraid it was too small to hold all the souffle, so I poured some into a regular mug. As it turns out I probably could have fit it all into the teacup, the souffle didn’t rise past the top. Assuming you are using regular old mugs (make sure the ceramic is heat-resistant!) this recipe should fill 2 biggish mugs or 3 smallish ones. Butter your mugs, fill them with the egg mixture, then place on a cookie sheet to transfer to the oven.

Bake until soufflé has grown like a mutant alien in the movies and is brown on top. This should take about half an hour. Serve right away to your favourite teddy bears.

Ratatouille doesn’t sound delicious…

“If you’re gonna name a food, you should give it a name that sounds delicious. Ratatouille doesn’t sound delicious. It sounds like “rat” and “patootie.” Rat-patootie, which does not sound delicious.” -Linguini, Disney/ Pixar’s Ratatouille

I always been a lover of markets, but never really a frequenter of them. So naturally when Gillian asked me if I was interested in going to the market last week I responded with a very enthusiastic yes.

So last Saturday I woke up at an ungodly hour, made even more ungodly by the fact that it was a Saturday and headed out to meet Gillian at Starbucks. Not only did she beat me there, when I arrived she was dressed in a completely adorable manner, dispite the fact that it was freakishly early and she probably (okay, definitely) had to leave the house at least 20 minutes earlier than me. [NOTE: I am almost certainly exaggerating about how early in the morning all of this actually took place.] We both grabbed a much-needed coffee and hopped on the bus.

When we arrived at the market I wanted to take absolutely everything home with me from crisp apples and crunchy green beans to that beautiful busker playing by the maple syrup stand. (There’s just something magical about holding a guitar that makes sevens transform into tens.) Gillian’s motherly reminders that “anything you buy you have to carry home on the bus” paired with the thought of my ever-shrinking bank account kept me from buying a second jar of honey (but this one has cinnamon in it!), a little Christmas tree (it would look adorable in the living room!) and a pair of moccasins (but they’re nothing like my other ones!). However it did not stop me from buying lots of tasty fall veggies, some Niagra honey and a big jug of apple cider, which I’ve been dying to buy for weeks but could never bear the grocery store price.

I arrived home with an armload of delicious fresh veggies and a hankering for Ratatouille. In September I made “Ratatouille’s Ratatouille” from Smitten Kitchen and was looking forward to trying it again with a few of my own alterations. Side note: Smitten Kitchen is a fabulous blog written by Deb Perelman, who puts both my photography and writing skills to shame. You should go look at her blog. Also she’s writing a cookbook, which you should probably buy the second it comes out. Anyway, Deb describes this Ratatouille as being just like that fancy shamncy dish from the Disney movie, and nothing like the chunky stuff your mom used to make. Not that there’s anything wrong with the stuff you mom used to make, but this Ratatouille? Let me just say, one bite of this and you’ll know exactly why that snobby food critic sacrificed his whole reputation to eat food made by a rat.

This dish is the perfect thing to make on a lazy fall afternoon when you have the time to leisurely puree tomatoes and chop eggplant whilst chatting with friends who are making jello shots cupcakes for that evening’s birthday party. What’s that? Nobody has time to leisurely chop eggplant? Oh that’s right. I just use food to procrastinate when I have a hundred other things to do. Just yesterday I made chocolate zucchini cake instead of working on this post, and with exams just around the corner I’m worried for both my GPA and my BMI. Nonetheless it was a splendid morning of shopping with Gillian and a fun afternoon of eggplant chopping and being entertained by the birthday girl’s hilarious little brother.

Ratatouille’s Ratatouille
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1/3 onion, finely chopped
1 or 2 garlic cloves, very thinly sliced
3 bigish tomatoes, 4 small ones
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 small eggplant
1 zucchini
2 small bell peppers (I used red and yellow)
Few sprigs fresh thyme
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Start by peeling your tomatoes. You can do this by letting them sit in boiling water for a minute and then running cold tap water over them. The skins will slide right off. Dice the tomatoes and puree them in a blender or food processor. Pour this into a pan and bring to a boil. Simmer so that the liquid can evaporate. As you do this the puree will get thicker and redder. When the tomatoes are approaching desired constancy add the onion and garlic. Let simmer for a little longer and then pour into the bottom of your baking dish. Stir in salt, pepper and one tablespoon of the olive oil.

Trim the ends off the eggplant and zucchini. As carefully as you can, trim the ends off the peppers and remove the core, leaving the edges intact, like a tube. With a sharp knife, cut the eggplant, zucchini and peppers into very thin slices. Keep in mind that you want all your vegetables to be about the same circumference, so that the layering process is easier. If one of the vegetables is thinner than the others (this happens to me with the zucchini) you can cut it on a diagonal to make the circles longer.

Arrange slices of prepared vegetables on top of the tomato sauce. Overlap them so just a bit of each flat surface is visible, alternating vegetables. You might have some left over after. I had about a third of the zucchini and eggplant left. Remember that this is a particularly flexible recipe quantity wise. If your dish is bigger just use an extra tomato or two in the sauce.

Drizzle the remaining tablespoon olive oil over the vegetables and season them generously with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the fresh thyme over the dish.

Cover dish with a piece of parchment paper cut to fit inside and bake for approximately 45 to 55 minutes, until vegetables have released their liquid and are clearly cooked, but with some structure left so they are not totally limp. They should not be brown at the edges, and you should see that the tomato sauce is bubbling up around them.

Serve with a dab of soft goat cheese on top. Deb also suggests crusty bread or couscous. Hmmm… next time.

Oatmeal + Chocolate Chips + Cookie = Delicious

(My favourite kind of math)

You know what’s awesome? Cookies.

Specifically these ones

You know what’s even more awesome? My roommate Gillian. Put them together and what do you get? A scrumdiddlyumptious way to spend a Friday night. (And yes, scrumdiddlyumptious is s a completely legitimate word, as every Roald Dahl fan knows)

This is approximately what happened.

I arrived home at about 5 o’clock Friday night with absolutely no plans, and a very strong desire to unwind after a week of classes and homework. So, when Gillian asked if I would like to make cookies, I replied in the most exuberant way imaginable. Something like this:

This is not an exaggeration.

Gillian quickly went to the internet and procured a recipe for Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies, while I poured over my cookbooks and became happily distracted by all of the soups, cakes, muffins, breads, sides, etc. that I hope to make someday (This is a fairly commonplace event). Anyway, we settled on Gillian’s recipe and set about discussing all of the changes we might like to make. Most notably, we decided to double the batch (the only thing better than cookies: twice as many cookies!). We also added sunflower seeds, traded applesauce for a banana and some yogurt, and added (fake) maple syrup in place of some of the sugar. I will admit, these adjustments were largely motivated by a lack of applesauce and an excess of sunflower seeds and maple syrup, but I would say that they turned out to be good ones, nonetheless.

We went to work, Gillian mixing up the dry ingredients and I the wet, whilst happily chatting away. Before long, we had this!

And then this!

And then into the oven they went.

One of my favourite things about cookies is that they don’t take long to cook. As much as I love pie, it can be difficult waiting multiple hours for it to cook and cool. There’s something magical about the instant gratification of pulling a cookie out of the oven a mere ten minutes after it went in, and being able to pop it into your mouth a minute later. Of course, it’s also the reason why I ended up eating about four of them. But were they ever delicious. Sadly, I can’t shared the soft, chewy texture of a cookie fresh from the oven, or the sweet, silky, cocoa-laden taste of a still warm chocolate chip, (at least not over the internet) but I can show you a picture and leave it up to your imagination.

The finished product. Yum!

  • 1 cup WW Flour
  • 1 cup Flour
  • 4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 4 cups of oats
  • 4 tbsp butter (room temp or melted)
  • ¾ cup brown and white sugar, each
  • ½ cup maple syrup
  • 2 eggs
  • ¼ cup yogurt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 overripe banana
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • ½  cup sunflower seeds
  • ½ cup chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. In a large bowl, cream together the butter, white and brown sugar, and maple syrup. Add the eggs, and then stir in the yogurt, banana and vanilla. In another bowl, combine the dry ingredients. Add dry to wet, combine, and then mix in the chocolate chips and sunflower seeds. Drop by teaspoonful’s onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet and place into the oven for about 12 min.