Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Slow Cooker Cuban Steak Stew

Recipes for Ropa Vieja kept popping up in my cooking magazines and recipe emails, so I took it as a sign to make a batch.

This is Cuba's national dish and it comes with a story similar to stone soup (according to an article by Matthew Fairman in Cook's Country magazine).

A poor man trying to feed his family stirs old clothes ('rope vieja') into a pot of broth and says a prayer. A little while later he serves up a stew of beef and vegetables.

This meal is pretty easy to make. Roughly 20 minutes of prep will yield a very flavorful dinner after about 6 hours in the crock pot.

Most recipes recommend serving this stew over rice, but my boys requested mashed potatoes, so that's how we enjoyed it.

Mangia! Mangia!

Slow Cooker Cuban Steak Stew
Inspired by these recipes 

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 medium onions, peeled, halved and sliced thin
2 red bell peppers, stemmed and seeded and thinly sliced
1/4 cup tomato paste
4 garlic cloves minced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 bay leaves
1 2-pound flank steak, cut across the grain into 4 pieces
3/4 cup pitted and sliced green olives (I used Castelvetrano)
1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar

Heat oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and peppers and cover. Cook until softened and browned in spots, about 8 to 10 minutes. Stir a few times.

Push vegetables to the side of pan and add tomato paste, garlic, cumin, oregano and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook until fragrant -- about 1 minute.

Stir vegetables into tomato paste mixture. Add wine and cook for 2 minutes or until wine evaporates.

Transfer vegetable mixture to slow cooker. Add soy sauce and bay leaves.

Season steak with salt and pepper, then place into slow cooker and cover.

Cook for 6 to 7 hours on low.

When steak breaks apart easily, remove meat to a separate plate and shred with two forks into bite-sized pieces.

Add steak back to slow cooker. Add olives and vinegar.

Stir to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve over rice or mashed potatoes. Egg noodles would be nice, too.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Citrus Salmon with Tarragon Artichokes

Still not sure what to make for your significant other or family tonight? Why not try this heart-healthy meal?

This salmon dinner is full of fresh flavor that makes me think of spring. Instead of the usual dill, I used the cilantro I had on hand. The oranges and lemons brighten and add a little sweetness.

Plus, the main dish looks so pretty.

To me, though, the artichokes and tarragon steal the show. When sautéed together, the flavor combination is simply amazing.

And after eating such a healthy dinner, you won't have to feel guilty about indulging in some Valentine's Day chocolates or dessert.

Mangia! Mangia!

Citrus Salmon with Tarragon Artichokes
Recipe inspired by Costco and Sunkist

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
Zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
2 thinly sliced green onions
Salt and pepper
1 salmon fillet, 2-3 pounds
1-2 Cara Cara oranges, thinly sliced
1-2 lemons, thinly sliced

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a large foil pan with cooking spray, or line a baking sheet with foil and then coat with cooking spray.

Pat fish dry with paper towels and place skin-side down in pan.

Mix together first 7 ingredients – olive oil through green onions. Stir to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Spread herb mixture evenly on top of salmon.

Then lay orange and lemon slices on top of herb mixture, slightly overlapping the slices.

Bake for 30 minutes or until salmon easily flakes when checked.

Tarragon Artichokes

1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large jar of whole artichoke hearts (about 2 pounds), drained
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
Salt and pepper

Warm oil in skillet over medium-high heat. Add artichokes and saute until just beginning to brown.

Add tarragon and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Continue to cook until artichokes have some darker brown spots.

Serve warm.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Brian's Blackberry Jam Cake With Caramel Icing

Friday was a momentous day in the George family as it marked our last single-digit human birthday. Penny turned 9. It should be noted that doggie Ellie will turn 1 in May.

We celebrated all weekend with food — duck curry at a favorite Thai restaurant on Friday, homemade meatballs and sauce on Saturday, slow cooker Philly cheesesteaks on Super Bowl Sunday. And for dessert: blackberry jam cake with caramel icing.

I'd never heard of a jam cake before, but was intrigued when I saw my friend and former newspaper colleague Brian post about it on Facebook.

Brian's husband was grew up eating jam cakes in Kentucky. But Brian had never heard of them before either. Brian grew up in Virginia, and I'm from Ohio. I found a Southern Living story that explains that this dessert originated in Appalachia when store-bought sugar was scarce and jam was used to sweeten cakes.

Now because I'd never had or seen a jam cake before, I didn't realize that the icing was supposed to be spread all over the cake. Because the cake is to be baked in a tube pan — like angel food cake — I was picturing icing more as a glaze. Consider the picture of my finished cake.

And now Brian's finished cake.

Brian's is prettier, no doubt. But happy to report mine still tasted amazing. Subtly spiced. Not sickeningly sweet despite all the sugar and jam. Even the kids loved it. (Although, Lucy wants me to leave out the raisins next time.)

Y'all try this cake!


Brian's Blackberry Jam Cake
2 cups white sugar
1 cup butter
4 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
3 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
3 tablespoons cocoa
1 pint blackberry jam
1 cup raisins
1 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together sugar and butter. Slow add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Then, add buttermilk.

In another bowl, sift together flour, salt, soda, baking powder, cinnamon, allspice and cocoa. Add this to the sugar-egg-buttermilk mixture and mix well. Add blackberry jam and combine. Place raisins and nuts in a small bowl and coat with a small amount of flour; add to mixture.

Grease and flour a tube pan. Pour cake batter into pan. Cover pan with a stoneware plate. Place a pan of hot water on the bottom rack in the oven, so the cake will steam as it bakes. Bake for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until a straw inserted in the center comes out clean. Frost with caramel icing.

Caramel Icing
1 1-pound box of light brown sugar
1 stick butter
1 cup milk

Combine ingredients in a saucepan. Cook until the soft ball* stage. Beat with an electric mixer until thick. If it gets too thick, add a few drops of milk and stir.

*Soft ball stage is candy-making lingo for 235 degrees, and it will be a major marking on any candy thermometer, Brian explained when I asked. He added: If you don't have a candy thermometer, "the test is something like `drop a little into water. If it forms a soft ball (as opposed to a hard ball, hard crack, etc.), you're good to go."

More from Brian: "Because the temperature is so important, making jam cake frosting is among the more complicated things I do. It will probably take longer than you'd expect for it to reach temperature. But it's really good—sweet but sophisticated, not like Betty Crocker glucose goo." (Sorry, Betty.)

Friday, February 2, 2018

Sweet Potatoes Topped with Spicy Black Beans & Tomatoes

We've all got Super Bowl food traditions. At my house, some combination of nachos, chicken wings, pizza, trays of veggies, cheese and crackers and all sorts of dip usually make an appearance.

Amy's husband loves Crockpot Queso. I think Erin's Pretzel Wrapped Hot Dogs will be a hit with my boys this year.

The dressed-up dogs are going to be on my menu, next to these festive potato boats. These potatoes are full of flavor and low in greasy fat. Combined with black beans, tomatoes, green chilis and spices, they carry all the zesty tastes this food-centric day calls to mind, without the guilt.

Plus, I'm not a fan of chicken wings.

Sadly, my boys are not keen on black beans. I've already served this dish to them and they preferred the potatoes topped with no-bean chili and shredded cheddar instead. (Hence, the pretzel-wrapped hot dogs.)

There are some children who will enjoy this meal. We made a version at a recent Junior League of Peoria Kids in the Kitchen program and a few of our kiddos gobbled them up.

The students inspired some other sweet potato topper ideas, which would be great for a make-your-own sweet potato bar at a party: taco meat and cheese, chili and cheese, marshmallows and mini chocolate chips.

Whatever you whip up for your Super Bowl celebrations, enjoy and Mangia! Mangia!


Sweet Potatoes Topped with Spicy Black Beans & Tomatoes
Inspired by this recipe from and these ideas from Schnucks grocery stores

4 sweet potatoes, scrubbed clean
2 medium-large tomatoes, diced
1 4 ounce can roasted green chili peppers
1 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

For serving: Chopped fresh cilantro, sliced green onions, shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream

Note: You can sub in a can of Ro-Tel tomatoes and green chilis for fresh tomatoes and canned chilis

Cook potatoes.

Oven method: Place each potato on a square of aluminum foil. Spray with cooking spray, sprinkle with salt and wrap in foil. Bake at 400 degrees for 1 hour or until potatoes are soft.

Microwave method: Prick potatoes with a fork. Place in microwave and cook for 15 minutes or until soft all the way through

In a microwave-safe bow, combine tomatoes, green chilis, beans, garlic, spices and olive oil. Stir to combine. Once potatoes are done, warm bean mixture in microwave for 2-3 minutes.

Split potatoes lengthwise down the middle. Top with 1/2 cup bean mixtures. Sprinkle with cilantro, green onions and cheddar cheese.

One young Kids in the Kitchen chef calls this "dinner dessert potato." She ate 3 of them!

Monday, January 29, 2018

Beef Stir Fry with Broccolini and Red Peppers

Like Chinese take-out, but the greasiness and saltiness not so much? Yeah, me too. I like to cook dishes that remind me of all that I love about Chinese take-out but in a healthier way. Like Sriracha Pork Noodles and now this dish, Beef Stir Fry with Broccolini and Red Peppers.

Pleased to report it was a George family crowd pleaser, though one child would have preferred it with broccoli over broccolini. BTW, that would be a fine substitution if you can't get broccolini at your market or if you know it will be met with certain resistance.


Beef Stir Fry with Broccolini and Red Peppers
1 cup long-grain white rice
3 tablespoons toasted sesame oil, divided
1 1/4 to 1 3/4 pounds flank steak, thinly sliced against the grain
1 pound broccolini, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
1 red pepper, sliced into thin strips
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 bunch of green onions, sliced thin to the dark green parts
1 1/2 cups unsalted beef broth
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch

Cook rice according to package directions.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon oil in large skillet over high heat. Add beef and cook, tossing often, until only slight pink — about 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to bowl. Note that the beef will continue to cook through after you remove it from the heat, so you don't want to overcook it on the stove. Dump liquid left in the skillet into the sink.

Add broccolini, peppers and remaining 2 tablespoons oil to skillet. Cover and cook, uncovering to toss halfway through, for 4 minutes. Uncover and cook for 2 more minutes, stirring often. Add garlic and green onions and cook until fragrant — about 1 minute. Transfer to bowl with beef and toss gently to combine.

Whisk together broth, soy sauce, sugar and cornstarch. Add to skillet and bring to a boil; cook until thickened and glossy — about 1 minute. Serve veggies and beef over rice and drizzle sauce on top.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Cauliflower Pasta Bake

Cauliflower is having a moment now that someone figured out how to rice the vegetable, but I still like to eat it in a more naturally occurring state.

I came across this Ina Garten recipe and thought my kids would like it. Pasta, cheese and a bread crumb topping sounded like a kid-friendly dinner to me. Read on for their honest reactions:

Son #1: "If you're going to make pasta, why don't you use tomato sauce?"

Son #2: "Why couldn't you have made baked ziti?"

Well, too bad for my boys. My husband and I loved this dish, which can serve a crowd or a family of 4 for a few days. Another plus? You can prep this in advance and bake it when you are ready.

Hope you like it as much as I did!

Mangia! Mangia!

Cauliflower Pasta Bake

1 pound medium pasta shells
Olive oil
Large head cauliflower, cut into small florets
4 tablespoons sage leaves, chopped
2 1/2 tablespoons drained capers
1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic
Zest from 1 medium lemon
2 1/2 cups freshly grated fontina cheese (about a 13 ounce piece with rind)
1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese
3/4 quarter cup panic bread crumbs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves, minced
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a large rectangular baking dish with cooking spray and set aside.

Heat a large pot of water to boiling. Cook pasta until al dente, according to package directions. Drain and put into large bowl.

Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet. Saute cauliflower (in batches, adding more oil as needed) in a single layer until lightly browned. Transfer to bowl with pasta.

Add the sage, capers, garlic, salt and pepper to the bowl with all of the cooked cauliflower and pasta.

Mix together. Add grated fontina cheese and stir to combine.

Place half of the pasta mixture in the baking pan. Top with dollops of ricotta cheese. Place remaining pasta on top.

If you are preparing this ahead time, let cool, then cover with foil and refrigerate.

Before baking:

In a small bowl, stir together panko, parmesan, parsley and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Sprinkle on top of the pasta. Bake for about 30 minutes, until browned and crunchy on top. Serve hot.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Chicken Stew with Sausage and Cannellini Beans

We all have those meals we love to make for family and friends.

Mine include Baked ZitiCajun Turkey Jambalaya and Turkey, Black Bean & Sweet Potato Chili.

And this favorite, straight from the pages of the Slow Cooker Revolution cookbook. The first time I made this -- way back in 2012, I was hooked. It was my first time cooking with fennel and the amazing flavor it imparts to the dish is addicting.

I've since served this up to many of our house guests, but hadn't made it recently. So glad I did. This stew does require some prep work, which makes it great for a weekend, not to mention cold, cloudy days.

Mangia! Mangia!

Chicken Stew with Sausage and Cannellini Beans

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 pound mild or sweet sausage links, sliced
2 onions, minced
1 large fennel bulb, thinly sliced (remove the stops and the core and cut in half first)
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, minced
Pinch red pepper flakes
1/3 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup white wine
4 cups low sodium chicken broth, plus extra as needed
2 bay leaves
2, 15 ounce cans cannelloni beans, drained and rinsed
6 ounces baby spinach
Shredded Parmesan cheese for topping

Cut off extra fat from chicken and pat dry with paper towels. Sprinkle with salt and pepper on both sides.

Over medium-high flame, heat 1 tablespoon oil in 12-inch skillet. In batches, brown chicken on both sides, about 5 to 8 minutes per side. Add more oil if needed. Place cooked chicken in bowl until next steps.

Heat remaining oil in the pan. Add sausage and brown well. Transfer to bowl with chicken. Reserve 1 tablespoon of fat in pan and pour off the rest.

Add onions, fennel, garlic, tomato paste, thyme and red pepper to pan and cook until softened and lightly browned, about 8 minutes.

Stir in flour and cook for 1 minute. Slowly stir in wine, scraping up browned bits. Add 1 cup broth and stir to smooth out any lumps.

Transfer to slow cooker. Add 3 cups of broth and bay leaves. Stir to combine. Add chicken, sausage and any juices in the bowl. Cover and cook 4 to 6 hours on low.

Remove chicken to large plate or cutting board and shred into small pieces with two forks.

Skim off any fat on top of stew and remove bay leaves.

Stir in beans and spinach. Cover and cook on high for 10 minutes to wilt spinach. Add chicken, stir and allow to heat through.

If stew is too thick, add hot broth.

Ladle into bowls and season with salt and pepper. Top with Parmesan.