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Beef in Barolo

Done

Trying to decide what we’re having for dinner is liken to an unending loop of a scene from the film Marty. “What do you want to do?” “I don’t know, Marty, what do you want to do?”

“What do you want for dinner?”

“I don’t know. What do YOU want for dinner?”

Only the person who asks the question first has an advantage … “Well, I asked you first,” is usually the (not so) snappy retort.

Pick a protein, pick an ethnicity, give me a jumping point and I’ll happily create something, but please decide before I leave for town …

This entire stressful, daily conversation usually takes place before 8:00 am.

This one particular day, a Saturday even, I was saved by a rather large box in the mail. From KitchenAid. A box from KitchenAid is ALWAYS a good thing.

A little back story … When the Dear One and I moved all my worldly possessions to Maine 2 1/2 years ago, my slow cooker was the last thing placed on the truck. When we opened the doors some 9 bouncy hours later, the ceramic liner for my slow cooker was the first thing off the truck … KER-plunk … SMASH … sadness.

It’s has taken me that long to pick up the phone and call KitchenAid (BTW, some of the BEST customer service around) and order a new one. I was SURE it would be expensive. I was SURE they wouldn’t have  it. I was SURE wrong! It was very, very reasonable and the shipping was $2!

While opening the box I knew, just knew, that whatever “what-do-you-want-Marty” meal I was going to cook was definitely going into the slow cooker.

There’s something wonderful and magical about the slow cooker … food goes in, you set it, go about your day, come back to a home filled with wonderful aromas, a couple of quick sides and you’re done.

But what to make?

Wait! In our chest freezer in the bowels on our basement is a chuck roast. The Dear One offered to do the grocery shopping one morning. Thrilled with the idea of rolling over and going back to sleep for a while, I acquiesced. (As an aside, I love food shopping. There’s something about looking at food, loving picking out produce, picking just the right cut of meat or fish that’s just so … well, my fellow foodies, I know you understand.) Back to the Dear One. He wanted a roast. Okay. I made a list and sent him off into the world. He returned with a chuck roast. Not really a Sunday dinner kinda roast cut so I scowled at it and sent it off to the freezer, mostly to be forgotten.

Gazing through the slow cooker books on my shelf, I came across The Italian Slow Cooker by Michele Scicolone. I’ve had this recipe for Beef in Barolo bookmarked from my very first pass through the book. What cut of meat does it take, you may wonder. Well, a CHUCK ROAST. The Dear One has been saved, the roast has been liberated from the icy depths.

And what a recipe it is! The cloves give the beef and sauce a wonderful warmth, the wine and pancetta … just layer after layer of flavor. There is the bit that early in the morning you’re searing a hunk-o-beef and veggies, but so worth it in the end!

  • 1/3 C all-purpose flour
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 3-pound boneless beef chuck or bottom round roast
  • 3 T olive oil
  • 2 ounces pancetta, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 C dry red wine, such as Barolo
  • 2 C peeled, seeded, and chopped fresh or canned tomatoes
  • 1 C beef broth
  • 2 medium carrots, sliced
  • 1 medium celery rib, sliced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Pinch of ground cloves

NOTE: Even here in culinary wasteland of Bar Harbor I was able to find chopped pancetta in the specialty deli section. I always keep a few of these in the freezer for a quick meal and to avoid chopping. I used the wine I had on hand and open. As long as you’d actually drink it and it’s dry any red wine will do.

Combine the flour with salt and pepper to taste. Spread the mixture on a piece of wax paper and roll the meat in the flour.

In a large, heavy skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the beef and brown it on all sides, about 15 minutes. Place the meat in a large slow cooker. Add the pancetta and onion to the skillet. Reduce the heat to medium and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion is tender. Stir in the garlic. Add the wine and bring it to a simmer, scraping the bottom of the pan.

Ready to Slow Cook

Pour the mixture over the beef. Add the tomatoes and broth. Scatter the carrots, celery, bay leaf, and ground cloves around the meat. Cover and cook on low for 6 hours, or until the meat is tender when pierced with a fork.

Transfer the meat to a platter. Remove the bay leaf from the sauce. Slice the meat and spoon on the sauce.

NOTE: I served this over garlic mashed potatoes, but polenta would be wonderful. Sadly, the Dear One isn’t fond of polenta.

done 2

 

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Slow Cooker Beef Ragu

I know you all have heard me say this before, but I love my slow cooker. I am still terrified of it, am still convinced that every siren screaming past my office window is headed for my house, but still am totally enamored by it.

By the way, I live 5 miles from my office, across a river, around a bay, and unless my entire neighborhood was aflame, there would be no possible way fire engines from a fire house near my office would be going to MY house!

But I digress – as I often do.

There really is nothing more comforting than coming home to dinner almost ready and the house filled with comforting aromas – just like every one else does every day in my house! I can see why they keep coming back! If I came home to that every day, I would never leave home either!

Winter into Spring in New York City is a very strange thing. One day it’s freezing, the next it’s hot, and some days manage to pack both into them. I wanted to squeeze this recipe in before it was too hot for this type of meal. The reality is, this is a good all year round recipe. This would be great for sandwiches.

The recipe in Everyday Food suggests serving this over pasta or polenta (which would be FAB-ulous), but I have mashed potato heads in my house, and I couldn’t imagine getting by serving this any other way. Wait, maybe over biscuits or with biscuits!

Okay, I lied! But still try this your tummies will thank you!

  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced small
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 6 T tomato paste
  • 3 T chopped fresh oregano leaves (or 3 t dried)
  • 4 lb beef chuck, halved
  • coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 2 C water
  • 1 to 2 T red wine vinegar

NOTE: Cut as much fat away from the beef chuck as possible.  I used dried oregano.

In a 5 to 6 quart slow cooker, stir together onion, garlic, tomato paste and oregano. Season roast with salt and pepper.

Place roast on top of onion mixture, add water. Cover and cook on high until meat is tender and can easily be pulled apart with a fork – about 4 1/2 hours on high or 9 hours on low.

Let cool for 10 minutes, then shred meat in slow cooker with 2 forks. Stir in vinegar to taste. Serves 6 and freezes beautifully.

NOTE: I used two tablespoons of vinegar. I liked the vinegary kick it gave the beef.

NOTE: One of my favorite parts about this slow cooker recipe is not having to actually saute or brown or cook anything before starting. for me, there’s nothing worse than standing bleary eyed in the morning, cooking things before I head off for work. I want to throw it all in and have magic happen while I am at work counting how many times my house burned down!

 

Slow Cooker Caramelized Onions ~ A Tribute to Becky

I don’t remember when it started. I think it just always was. Right from the very first second.

To quote a line from Jerry Maguire – she had me at hello.

A little background. When the Food Network made their heart wrenching decision to close the chat forums (which they never moderated), I thought it a good idea to open a chat board dedicated to the Barefoot Contessa – Ina Garten. It mostly was a good idea. I have made some wonderful friends there. I have also grown a very thick skin there.

I met Becky there. From the very beginning, Becky approached me and asked to help out. There was something gracious about her, something significant, something unwavering. She and I became instant friends. It was so easy. Our children are about the same age. We both love to cook. Love Fiesta. Love the occasional lovely cocktail. We are both innately curious.

Becky and I were also insomniacs. We would meet on AOL in the wee hours of the morning and talk for hours on end.

We talked about food, our husbands, food, dishes, food, people on the various boards, food, how to solve problems on them, and we talked about our children – ENDLESSLY. We laughed at them, we laughed with them, we cried for them and over them, we prayed for them, screamed about them, vented frustrations and absolutely adored each other’s children. I watched Abbey and Tori grow up into beautiful young women and she watched Tommy grown into the wonderful young man he is.

When Becky first found out about her illness, we discussed it. Her not getting better was not an option. We joked about the nuts and berries holistic approach she was taking at the beginning.

She was so brave – well, 90% of the time. Every once in a while she would break down – mostly by email – and say she was frightened or frustrated. When she started chemo and spending a lot of time at Vandy, I knit a blanket for her. It was pink and purple and very warm. The note I enclosed said that it was a hug. Whenever she used it, she wasn’t alone. I was there holding her hand and hugging her.

We were fortunate enough to meet in person. And she was as lovely and gracious in person as she always was online. FOr those of you who have dealt with crazies in the cyberworld, someone who was exactly the same in person as online is a rare thing.

I will never forget the morning I received Becky’s last email. I sat there staring at the screen – STUNNED. I answered her back immediately. I hope she was able to read it. I told her I loved her. I told her to be brave. I told her how much I appreciated her friendship. I told her dying was not an option – a mantra we had repeated incessantly from her initial diagnosis.

Sadly, less than 24 hours later she was gone – and I was, and still am, devastated by this loss.

I wanted – selfishly – the chance to tell her how much her friendship meant to me. We could talk on the phone, or online, or in email, or not for weeks on end and just naturally pick up where we were previously. She was trusting and honest, she was loyal beyond words (a very rare quality in people). She was always there to listen, to lend a hand, to brainstorm. I would have walked away and deleted Contessa’s Kitchen LONG ago had it not been for Becky and her optimism and faith that things would be okay.

One morning we were chatting about recipes. The recipe called for caramelized onions. My nemesis. Carmelized onions. Never made them – not ever once – without having to start them over. There were always burned parts. They were never evenly colored. Never achieved that golden color or deep flavor. Becky had said that she had read someplace that you could caramelize onions in a slow cooker. Off she went finding recipes to accomplish this, sending them to me as she found them. We both tried them, the outcome fabulous, and neither of us ever went without caramelized onions again!

As I have said previously – I will not mourn Becky’s death. I refuse. I will instead celebrate her life, our friendship, and raise a glass and toast her – Rebecca Louise Shauberger Turner, here is to you. You have touched my life and I am better for having known you and lucky to have you as my friend!

There really isn’t a recipe to this. Slow cookers come in all sizes and each manufacturer heats differently.

I have a KitchenAid 7 quart slow cooker. If I fill the slow cooker the onions take between 6 to 8 hours on high with the top off. The cover being off is what makes them brown. Some people’s slow cookers do a better job of this on medium or low. I tried that the first time and absolutely NOTHING was happening. You have to watch it and see if the onions are softening and gauge it that way.

So. Onions. Lots and lots of onions. I prefer using Vidalia onions.

Slice ’em up. Plunk them into the slow cooker. A few pats of butter. A glug or 2 of olive oil. A pinch or 2 of salt. On high. Walk away.

I usually do this on a day I am going to be home the entire time. They need to be stirred and the top IS off – and those of you who know me already know I love my slow cooker but live in fear of it. The onions start to break down.

And stir. And wait. And stir. And wait.

And when they are browned and a complete shadow of their former selves, I add a bit of balsamic vinegar.

When they are brown and soft to your liking, let them cool.

Although I freeze most of my onions – in one cup portions so I can easily take 1/2 or a 1/4 or th entire thing depending on the recipe – I keep some out for sandwiches. The one above is toasted sourdough, roast beef, cheddar cheese and the onions. Yum!

So, back to the purpose – I will miss you, Miss Becky, and will always have an emptiness in my heart. Abbey and Tori, your Mom thought you 2 were the greatest things since sliced bread. She thought you both were so amazing. There is and always will be a special space in my heart and home for the 2 of you.

Slow-Cooker Bacon Jam

OK – now really – does it get better than this? The slow cooker AND bacon AND jam. All 3 words swoon inducing on their own, but put them all in the same recipe and the outcome could be lethal.

When I saw the Slow-Cooker Bacon Jam recipe in the December ’09 Everyday Food Magazine’s “mmmmmm … bacon” section, it got an instant flag. I thought a jar of this would be great tucked into my Christmas goodie baskets.

Doing this in the slow cooker had to make it simple, right? Well, almost simple. There is a lot of prep to be done before it hits the slow cooker.  That’s the part that’s annoying. Once it goes into the slow cooker the house fills with the most amazing smells of bacon and coffee and maple syrup … just wonderful.

And then it goes into a food processor after cooking. There is a LOT of clean-up after this one! You get about 3 cups from one batch. So, while delicious, it causes a lot of mumbling and cursing while this process and clean-up is going on.

This particular slow-cooker recipe calls for the cover to be off during cooking. I am BARELY comfortable with the slow-cooker being on while I am not home PERIOD, now you want me to go out and leave the cover off too! What will I have to endure for a recipe next? Juggling knives?

Anyway, off we go –

  • 1 1/2 pounds sliced bacon, cut crosswise into 1″ pieces
  • 2 medium yellow onions, diced small
  • 3 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
  • 1/2 C cider vinegar
  • 1/2 C packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 C pure maple syrup
  • 3/4 C brewed coffee

NOTES: I don’t drink coffee and don’t have coffee in my house. I bought a cup of coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts and used that.  I may switch next time to muscavado sugar in place of the dark brown sugar. It has a deeper, more molasses flavor. I used Oscar Mayer center cut bacon.

In a large skillet, cook bacon over a medium high flame, stirring occasionally, until fat is rendered and bacon is lightly browned. With a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to paper towels to drain. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of bacon fat.

NOTE: DO NOT eat all the bacon while it is sitting there. It is tempting to grab it by the handful, but don’t.

Add onions and garlic and cook until onions are translucent, about 6 minutes.

Add vinegar, brown sugar, maple syrup, and coffee and bring to a boil, stirring and scraping up browned bits from skillet with a wooden spoon, about 2 minutes.

NOTE: Once all of these ingredients hit the pan, you are in for a real treat. The smells are just fantastic. Those smells still bring me back to being a little kid down in Breezy Point and waking up to the smells of coffee and bacon wafting up the stairs from the kitchen.

Add the cooked bacon and stir to combine.

Transfer mixture  to a 6-quart slow cooker and cook on high uncovered, until liquid is syrupy – about 3 1/2 to 4 hours.

Transfer mixture to a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Let cool. refrigerate in airtight containers.

NOTE: Great on toast. Makes an amazing BLT! I am trying to think of other ways to use it – aside from just spooning it right out of the jar. I thought perhaps on top of sautéed chicken. I am open to suggestions! It is a little sweet for me. When I do this again, I am going to use moscavado sugar and perhaps a little less of it. Maybe espresso instead of coffee would cut the sweetness a little!

Slow-Cooker Short Rib Ragu

I love short ribs. I love my slow cooker. Short ribs IN my slow cooker is practically a marriage made in heaven.  It was great that it was Thursday – time for a Every(thurs)day Food Magazine recipe and my slow cooker was calling to me -‘It’s cold out now. you know you want to use me today!’

I really am trying to get over my slow cooker phobias. The phobia begins with trying to remember it’s a slow cooker and not a crock pot. Crock pot has such negative connotations that go along with the name. Second, every siren I hear is not my house burning to the ground. I work 8 miles from my home, but across a river, through a tunnel, around a bay, but those sirens are still screaming towards my house as I sit at my desk. And lastly, to all you nay sayers out there, great food comes out of a slow cooker. Are there really frightening slow cooker recipes? No, those would be crock pot recipes. Great recipes come from a slow cooker. Imagine, all the ingredients go in, you set the timer and you walk away and fret all day. When you return dinner is done. Works for me!

My relationship with the slow cooker began when I saw the Kitchenaid 7-Quart Slow Cooker at Macy’s. It was beautiful and sleek and calling my name. Sadly, it was also expensive – $149.  A series of events came along that had to be driven by fate – the slow cooker went on sale for $129, I was given a gift card for $100, I had a coupon for 20% and a code for free shipping! So yes, the lovely slow cooker was mine for $3.20. Crock pot haters be damned! I had to have it!

I am so glad I made the leap. There is something wonderful and childhood like when you come home after a long day out in the cold, cruel world and your home smells like dinner. You might need a quick side dish, a salad, a loaf of bread, but the lion’s share of work has been bubbling away all day.

There are now some really great slow cooker cookbooks out there. Among my favorites are The Italian Slow Cooker by Michaele Scicolone Semi-Homemade Slow Cooker Recipes 2 (I can already hear the collective gasps from my foodie friends, but the slow cooker recipes in here are really good), the Gourmet Slow Cooker by Lynn Alley, and a whole host of recipe by my friends on Contessa’s Kitchen.

Yes, with some recipes there is a bit of prep before things go into the slow cooker. What I usually do is brown or saute whatever needs to be done the night before and put in the fridge. When I get up, I take it out of the fridge and bring it to room temperature while I putter around. Once it’s at room temperature, I continue with the recipe and plug the slow cooker in. I just can’t brown honking pieces of beef when I am half asleep!

  • 2 tsp vegetable oil
  • 3 lbs boneless short ribs, cut into 3-inch pieces
  • coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced small
  • 1 large carrot, diced small
  • 1 can (28oz) whole peeled tomatoes
  • 2 sprigs oregano or rosemary or thyme

NOTE: Boneless short ribs are not easy to find. If you are in NYC and have access to Fresh Direct, they have them. I also added red wine to this, it just seemed to be calling for it.

In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high. Season short ribs with salt and pepper. In batches, cook until browned on all sides, about 10 minutes total.

Transfer ribs to a 5-to 6-quart slow cooker. Pour off all but 1 tsp fat from skillet and add onion and carrot. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring until vegetables are soft, about 3 minutes. Add 1/2 cup juice from tomatoes, stirring and scraping up any browned bits from skillet with a wooden spoon.

NOTE: I added a splash of red wine here.

Transfer vegetables and liquid to slow cooker and add tomatoes, breaking them up as you go. Add herb sprigs; season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and cook on high until meat is fork-tender, 6 hours.

NOTE: I sprinkled in an Italian herb mix instead of the herb springs. I also added a splash (or tw0) of red wine here as well. The easiest way to break up the tomatoes is with a scissor. I stick it in the can and just snip, snip snip. I have a pair in my kitchen that I keep hidden from the ‘others’ who think it’s okay to cut tin cans and rope and heaven knows what else with scissors I use to cut chickens and canned tomatoes!

With a slotted spoon, remove herb sprigs and transfer meat to a cutting board. With a ladle or large spoon, skim fat from cooking liquid (you’ll remove about 1 1/4 cups). With two forks, shred meat and return to cooking liquid. Serve immediately or let cool in liquid and reheat over medium before serving.

NOTE: I didn’t have that much fat to skim off. I served this over polenta. Everyday Food showed it over toasted pieces of a peasant-type bread and over noodles, as well.