Crockpot Chili

The weather here in the great northwest took quite a turn last week. We went from weeks of sunny warm weather, to wet and much colder weather.

(I’m crazy to admit it, but I was kind of glad. I love me some fall foods.)

Anyways, I’ve been trying to crockpot my way back into cooking a meal each week, and this recipe was a super easy way to do it – while honoring a return to cold weather food.

(Oh, and I use ‘chili’ in the pop culture way – because apparently, according to Sheldon Cooper, real chili does not have beans in it. I learn so many interesting things from him.)

The Recipe:

Crockpot Chili

1 lb ground beef, browned

3/4 c onion, diced

3/4 c celery, diced

1 can green chilis

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 large can diced tomatoes

2 cans kidney beans, drained

1 can cannellini beans, with liquid

1 T chili powder

1 t dried parsley

1 t salt

1 t oregano

Place all ingredients in crockpot and and cook on low for 8-9 hours.

The Results:

So, I have to be upfront and honest about something. Hubs may have helped me out the night before by prepping all the ingredients for me. This was super helpful because, as he put it, it would’ve taken me 45 minutes to prep what took him only 20. (It’s a sad, but true fact.) Anyways, that basically just led to me just dumping everything in first thing in the morning – SO easy.

And it turned out really good.

Now, this is not a gourmet chili or a specialized chili, or anything fancy like that. This is a regular basic chili that I think everyone would like. It’s hearty and delicious – and is wonderful for leftovers.

(And everyone in the family enjoyed it – which is crazy and hardly ever happens around here.)

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Stuffed Peppers {with Beef, Rice, and Romano}

I’ve been having a hard time in the kitchen lately.

Not because I’m struggling with the cooking, but because I’m having a hard time with the meal planning.

(I know, you all feel so bad for me that I have to plan one whole meal each week.  I don’t know how the rest of you do it.)

I can find a great main dish – and then have difficulties finding sides.  Or vice versa.  It’s so frustrating.

So, when I saw Greg’s original recipe for stuffed peppers – I was inspired.  And then when I clicked on one of his attached links for other stuffed pepper ideas, I knew I’d found what I was looking for; a whole meal, in one very tasty dish.

The Recipe:

Stuffed Red Peppers with Beef, Rice, and Romano, adapted from Rufus’ Food and Spirits Guide

½ lb ground beef

1 medium onion, chopped

4-6 large peppers, tops cut off (stems removed) and chopped finely

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 stalks celery, diced

1 ½ c white rice

2 c beef broth

28 oz can crushed tomatoes

1 t coriander

1 t turmeric

2 T fresh cilantro chopped

5 oz Romano cheese

mozzarella cheese to taste

Sauté onion in oil until softened, then add beef and brown.  Add chopped tops of peppers, coriander, turmeric, garlic, celery and rice.  Mix thoroughly.  Pour in tomatoes and stock.  Bring to a boil, then turn heat down and simmer for 5 minutes.  Add cilantro.

Place in oven at 365 degrees and bake until rice absorbs all the liquid, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, scoop out seeds and pith from bottoms of peppers.  Place in a greased baking dish.

When rice is done add Romano cheese and mix well.  Scoop into pepper halves.  Top with a sprinkle of mozzarella and bake for about 10 minutes.

{Printable Recipe}

The Results:

Let’s just get this out of the way right from the start.  I got the wrong meat.

What? (You might ask.)  How in the world could you have messed up getting ground beef?!

(In my defense, I was grocery shopping with two rather boisterous boys, hopped up on sugar from the bakery cookies, who were getting very bored rambling along with me.)

When I saw the ground beef section, all they had were huge mega-packs of meat (yes, our small town store often lacks some of the basics – but what they do have, they want us to get in bulk).  Anyways, I looked over to my left and saw a section of what I thought was ground beef.  It certainly looked like ground beef, so I got some.  When I finally got to cooking away, I learned that instead I had purchased cube steak.  (Only me.)

Hubs came to my rescue, mid onion-sauteeing, and chopped it up in the food processor.  Apparently, it was then actual ground beef, and all was back on track.

Now, if you like your kitchen to smell warm and inviting with a little spice, this is the meal for you to cook.  The sauce/filling smelled amazing.

After the sauce/filling cooked for a bit, and an ample amount of Romano was added, it was all ready for the peppers.  I was a little worried about actually filling the peppers, but Hubs suggested using an ice cream scoop.  It worked like a dream.

(We kinda had some crazy-shaped leftover peppers to use – so that’s why the green ones look a little odd.)

After adding a bit of mozzarella and another quick bake, this was the deliciousness that was revealed…

Perfectly cooked, with a little spice paired with the sweetness of the bell pepper, cheesy and flavorful throughout; it was a perfect all-in-one meal.

That we got to eat for several meals.

And when it’s just as good as leftovers, too, you know you’ve found a winner of a meal.

Bon Appetit!

Sweet and Spicy BBQ Pot Roast

The cold weather has arrived.

(Or at least our cold weather – down to the 30’s at night.)

Nothing says snuggling-in on a cold autumn day with your family than a delicious homemade pot roast.  (Or a nice hot toddy if you’re snuggling with my family, but that’s a discussion for a different day.)

Anyways, I’ve kind of gone back to my cooking roots (they’re so deep you know) and am exploring my crock pot options these days.  I wanted to make a pot roast because it sounded comforting, warm, and I knew it would smell up my kitchen for hours.  I also hoped to find a recipe that was a little different from the typical pot roast.

When I saw this recipe at Mel’s Kitchen Cafe, I knew I’d found it.

The Recipe:

Slow Cooker Sweet and Spicy BBQ Pot Roast, from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe

4-7 lbs boneless chuck roast, trimmed of large areas of fat

1-2 T saute spice (equal parts garlic powder, salt and black pepper)

2 T vegetable oil

1 can root beer

1 can (around 9-ish ounces, the size of a soup can) red chile enchilada sauce

2 T Worcestershire sauce

1 T hot sauce

3 T cornstarch

¼ c of water or milk

Pat the roast(s) dry with a paper towel; then rub the saute spice all over the roast.  Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet until it is shimmering.  Brown the roast on all sides in the hot oil, for about 1 minute on each side.  The oil should be hot enough to get the roast nicely browned without burning it.

Transfer the roast to a 4-8 quart slow cooker.  In a bowl, combine the root beer, enchilada sauce, Worcestershire sauce and hot sauce and pour over the roast.  Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours or high for 5-6 hours.

Remove the roast, reserving juices in the slow cooker.  Tent the roast with foil to keep warm.  In a small bowl, combine the cornstarch and water/milk, stirring well until the cornstarch is completely dissolved.  Stir the cornstarch mixture into the juices in the slow cooker.  Cook, uncovered, on high for 15 minutes or until thickened, stirring occasionally. Serve sauce over roast with mashed potatoes or any other sides.

{Printable Recipe}

The Results:

Did you notice (how could you not?) that this recipe is made with root beer??  I was really excited to make it because I’d told Hubs that it would include some secret ingredients.  I wanted to test his taste buds to see if he could identify the unusual flavorings.

I started off rubbing and then browning the roast.  I’m so proud that I don’t freak out anymore when have to touch raw beef, fish, or pork (chicken’s still a whole other matter, though).

Aren't you glad I remembered to put the oil in first?

I put it in my lovely crock pot, mixed up my bubbly root beer concoction, and poured it on top.

See all the carbonation bubbles?

6 hours on high later, I had a moist, flavorful, absolutely delicious pot roast – and some darn fine gravy to go with it.  Minimal work with fabulous results!  Definitely my kind of recipe.

The root beer (or root beard as my son calls it) gave it a sweet carmel-y tone that matched well with the spicy enchilada sauce and salty worcestershire.  We also used the gravy on some delicious buttery mashed potatoes Hubs made, and it was heaven.

Unfortunately, that same four-year old (who shall now be known as Big Mouth) told Hubs the secret ingredients, so my little game did not come to fruition.  But in the end, I was okay with that because I was the big winner with this mouth-watering little gem of a recipe.

The perfect warmer-upper on a crisp, cold day.

Meatball Sliders

I think I may have mentioned this before, but Hubby’s a bit picky particular about his food.  Especially when I’m cooking for him — and on a special day.

For Father’s Day this year, I told him I’d make him whatever he wanted for dinner.  He finally decided, the day before, that he wanted Meatball Sliders.

Normally, this would’ve thrown me for a loop, but fortunately I had recently seen a recipe here, so I knew I could do it.  Though, of course, Hubs already had a meatball recipe I needed to try.

So I did.  (It was his day, you know.)

The Recipes:

Meatballs, adapted from Cook’s Illustrated, Nov/Dec 2010

Makes about 15 2-inch meatballs

1 c bread crumbs

3/4 c buttermilk

1 large egg

3/4 lb ground pork

1 lb lean ground beef

1 1/2 oz grated Parmesan cheese

1 T dried parsley

1 T red pepper flakes

1 T oregano

2 medium garlic cloves, minced

table salt and ground black pepper

1.  Place wire rack in foil-lined cookie sheet.  Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Combine bread crumbs and buttermilk in large bowl and let sit, mashing occasionally with fork until smooth paste forms.

2.  Add egg, beef, pork, Parmesan, spices, and garlic.  Using hands, gently mix until thoroughly combined.  Spray wire racks with non-stick cooking spray.

3.  Lightly form into 2-inch round meatballs (I used a 2-inch ice-cream scoop).  Place meatballs, evenly spaced, on racks.  Roast until browned, about 30 minutes, rotating tray halfway through.

The Results:

Another winning meal for me.  Seriously, I am on a role!  (Knock on wood.)

First off, making the meat balls wasn’t bad at all – except for having to stick my hands in the raw meat mixture.  This actually freaked me out a bit (and Hubs offered to do it for me – but I was having none of that).

So he decided to take action shots instead.

This felt awful, and it gave me the heebie-jeebies (that’s a technical term).  But it was over quick and then I was off to scoop some meatballs.

This is the point in the meal where Hubs and I started cracking dirty meatball jokes.  I think I’ll refrain from sharing them here. 

(And you are welcome.)

Now here’s when the meal got really fun.  I realized that we didn’t really have all the ingredients suggested for the home-made marinara sauce I was going to make… so, I made it up.

Yes, you read that correctly.  Seriously, no recipe.  Just from my head and with ingredients we had on hand. 

And guess what?  It turned out so good!

(Just in case you’re curious, it involved olive oil, onions, garlic, crushed tomatoes, red pepper flakes, red wine, fresh oregano, and fresh basil.  I really, really wish I’d written down what I used – because I want to make it again sometime.  Oops.)

Another Hubs action shot. (He wanted to document this amazing feat for me. And/or maybe make sure I didn't mess up too bad.)

Finally, we placed the meatballs and sauce on King’s Hawaiian Roles (yum) and were ready to eat.

Another wonderful (and unexpected) dinner success.

Hubs was completely proud of me.  (Though I think he’s starting to get a bit jealous.)

I even impressed myself.

(Which isn’t too hard, but I’ll take it.)

Best Stew Ever

So this one was worth the wait…

And I got to use my new knife (a lot).

Here’s the Recipe:

Hearty Beef Stew, Cook’s Country Magazine

5 pounds boneless beef chuck-eye, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes

3 T vegetable oil

4 medium onions, chopped fine

1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste

2 c low-sodium chicken or beef broth

3 T soy sauce

1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces

1 pound red potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces

1 pound parsnips, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces

1 1/2 t minced fresh thyme

2 bay leaves

2 T Minute Tapioca

2 c frozen peas, thawed

1. Dry beef with paper towels, then season with salt and pepper.  Heat 1 T oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking.  Add half of beef and brown on all sides, about 8 minutes.  Transfer to slow-cooker and repeat with remaining beef (you shouldn’t need more oil).

2. Add 1 T oil, onions, and 1/4 t salt to empty skillet and cook until golden brown, about 6 minutes.  Add tomato paste and cook, stirring well, for 2 minutes.  Add broth and soy sauce, bring to simmer, and transfer to slow-cooker.

3. Toss carrots, parsnips, potatoes, 1/2 t thyme, and remaining 1 T oil into bowl.  Season with salt and pepper.  Wrap vegetables in foil packet that will fit in slow cooker.  Stir bay leaves and tapioca into slow cooker; set vegetable packet on top of beef.

4. Set slow-cooker to high, cover and cook for 6 to 7 hours (Or cook on low for 10 to 11 hours.) Transfer vegetable packet to plate.  Carefully open packet (watch for steam) and stir vegetables and juices into stew.  Add remaining 1 t thyme and peas and let stand until heated through.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve.

As you can tell, there was a LOT of chopping and cutting involved.  I was really excited to use my new knife – and it cut like a dream!  I do have to say, though, I think it’s still a bit too big for my hands – but it’s definitely a step in the right direction.

I also learned that, apparently, according to Hubby at least, stew is a tandem cooking event.  Or at least he treated it as such. 

In other words, he stood by me the whole time, assisting me with my cutting, measuring, stirring, etc.  For the most part, that was fine.  I was a tad irritated that when I was not chopping my onion properly, he made me start over on a new onion.  Seriously?  He’s lucky I let him stay in the room after that.

Here are a couple of pictures of my cutting handiwork:

My arch nemesis, the onion

Meat (and yes, I got in trouble for using the same cutting board — in my defense, I did cut my meat after all the veggies)

The Results:

So I decided to halve the recipe because it would only be serving 2 (and a quarter, if you count my picky four year old).  That made plenty for us all and left lots for yummy leftovers.

I skipped the parsnips because frankly, I have no idea what they are or what they taste like, so I thought I’d be safe.

Everything went really well (how could it not with Hubs standing over my shoulder the whole time!)…

And surprise to you all, it was absolutely amazing (the title didn’t give it away, did it?). 

Tender, flavorful.  So, so, so good!  Even my four-year old and 11 month old loved it.  That’s a sign of a good meal.

I highly recommend this recipe.  Enjoy!

Differences

I learned something valuable today.  Something, that is probably really obvious to everybody else, but for me, was an epiphany.

I truly learned what the difference is between an experienced cook and a novice.  Let me tell you a little story…

My husband was running very late today.  It wasn’t my day to cook, but I knew if I didn’t step up, we’d end up eating bad take-out food instead.  So, I was bold and brave – called my husband and offered to cook our planned meal.

It was beef stroganoff and didn’t look too hard.  After a 10 minute prep conversation where hubby lectured me and scared me about all I would have to do (it honestly sounded like he was trying to talk me out of cooking), I started. 

I cut the beef, cut the onion, put them in the pan with some crazy thing called Fluffo (new vocab word: 1/2 shortening & 1/2 butter).  Added the flour and broth — and it looked TOTALLY wrong.  Things were sticking to the bottom of the pan, the meat was sticking to itself, and the color was all off.  I immediately called him to get help, and of course, he didn’t answer.  So, I just kept going with the recipe.  Added the sour cream and mustard, hoping it would look better.  Nope. 

I was sticking exactly to the recipe.  No deviations and I double-checked to make sure I read it all correctly.

Sigh. 

Well, it was supposed to cook for an hour, so I left it alone on low and crossed my fingers.

Right about then my husband came in the door.  And he knew exactly what to do.  He added more broth, more sour cream, more mustard and more broth.  He changed the heat, stirred a little differently, and viola – it was perfect.

And I realized what made us different.  He had the confidence to steer away from the recipe.

He was unafraid to add or change something (according to his gut) to make it better.

His experience had given him the knowledge that changing something wouldn’t necessarily ruin it.

That’s what I want.  That’s what I need.  If you’ve seen my last two week’s recipes, in my gut, I knew something was wrong.  I even had ideas of what could fix it.  But I didn’t do a darn thing about it.  I stuck to the recipe like it was written in stone and just hoped for the best.

I’m going to work on it, because I actually think I might be able to become a pretty okay cook someday.

French Dip Results

Well, it wasn’t bad.  Not exactly what I was hoping for either.  But, actually, that wasn’t my fault.  Yay!

Let’s start with the rest of the meal cooking…

Overall, it went off fairly well.  I removed the beef from the crock pot and set it aside to rest.  (I learned about resting beef in one of the thousands of hours I’ve been forced to watch Food Network).  I went to strain the broth — and was almost met with disaster!  Usually when I’m straining something (like boxed mac’n’cheese) I just set the strainer in the sink becasue what I’m keeping is in the strainer.  Not thinking clearly – or at all! – I did what I usually do, place the strainer right over the sink.  Just as I was about to pour the broth into it, my husband yells, “WAIT!”

And then I realize what I was just about to do – dump all my good au jus right down the drain!  Phew, that was a close call!

Next, I went to cut the beef roast.  (And this is where my meal became something other than what I wanted).  Instead of being able to be cut into nice beef slices, my roast ended up more like pot roast.  Big chunks of beef were not what I was expecting.  But, and this is amazing, my husband said that it wasn’t my fault.  He admitted it was his fault for purchasing a different cut of meat than what was suggested.

I swear I almost fell over when he admitted that a cooking mistake was HIS fault.  I wish I’d had a video camera for that.

While all this was happening, my buns were toasting in the oven with some tots for our veggie.  (Sidenote, I’m thinking I may have to work on the healthy veggie side idea…)  And the only reason I knew to toast the buns in the oven and not our toaster was because I asked.  That’s how clueless I am.

Everything ended up tasting great, but I was a bit disappointed in the meat texture.  Next time I will definitely have to follow the recipe’s suggestion for the meat.

Bon Appetit!