Category: Beef


I’ve never been the type to be squeamish about handling raw meat. I’ve always enjoyed getting truly hands on when cooking meat because it’s the best way of determining the quality of the cuts and if things are progressing properly. When I’m cooking steaks I use my (clean) finger to check doneness and when I’m mixing meatloaf I absolutely insist upon using my hands to mix it all up. How else can you feel if you’ve gotten all of the ground beef worked into the rest of the ingredients? How else can you tell if you need to add more crackers or bread crumbs? When you use a spoon you lose touch with a mixture that is rarely exactly the same as the last batch you made. It’s an organic recipe; depending upon fat contents, moisture levels, and humidity. And if you get those things right, magic happens. Your reward is a plate of hot, hearty, comforting goodness that can make the coldest night cozy or the worst day seem just a little brighter around the edges. What’s that? Your meatloaf isn’t that good? Then you’re using the wrong recipe! Allow me to share my rock-your-socks-off meatloaf recipe 🙂

Here we have your fairly standard meatloaf ingredients with the addition of carrots and bacon:

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“What on Earth is in the blue bowl??” you ask? Well… my kids still don’t care for pieces of onion in their food, so I grate the onion I need on the fine holes of my box grater. That’s what’s in the blue bowl. Now is the time to get a skillet out and and put some olive oil into it- about a tablespoon or two, just enough to cover the bottom of the pan. Set the heat to medium and once the oil shimmers, add in the carrots and onions.

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Cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions are fragrant and beginning to go translucent. Add in the garlic and cook for another minute. Take the pan off the heat and set it aside.

I have never used this particular bread before (from the bakery of a grocery store I shop at), so I didn’t know how it would react to the milk. Turns out, I had to double the milk and rip it into pieces to get it properly soaked. But that’s ok; you can just add some crackers later.

You could try to assemble the meatloaf and have it ready to go in the oven before you send it to chill, but it would likely just turn into an exercise in frustration. It’s best to let the mixture firm up in the fridge for a few hours (up to 8 hours) and then assemble the actual loaf. **Note: I don’t usually put the whole amount of salt in that’s called for in the recipe (1 t) because I almost always add crackers, which add to the salt already found in the soy and Worcestershire sauces as well as the salt that the bacon adds to the finished product.**

Make sure both the baking pan and the plate you’re working with are either sprayed with cooking spray or brushed with oil very well; that’s the only way you’re going to get the meatloaf to slide out of and then back into the pan and not have it stick to the plate either.

Use thick cut bacon bacon that’s long enough to line your pan. I use Farmland thick cut bacon and it’s a perfect fit. I tried Oscar Meyer bacon once because it was on sale and it was WAY too short- and I got the regular bacon, not the center cut. I couldn’t use it at all for this meatloaf.

When lining the pan, stretch each piece of bacon gently to lengthen it just a little so that when it shrinks while it’s cooking (which is inevitable) it continues to surround the meat mixture. Also, place the bacon strips so that you have the wide and narrow ends alternating; you’ll get better coverage that way.

Once you have the pan lined with the bacon, you’ll have to get the meatloaf mixture in. You can do that one of two ways: 1) press the mixture into the pan in handfuls or 2) shape the mixture in your hand and put it in all at once. I normally choose the latter, and it isn’t as hard as it sounds…

And it’s done! The mixture holds together very well because of the bread and eggs that bind it. You’re almost ready to put it in the oven. Fold the edges of the bacon,

Put your platter or plate over the top of the pan,

Flip the whole thing over and set it back down,

and wait for gravity to do it’s thing…

Here’s the “hard” part. It’s not technically difficult, you just have to be careful (but quick) and confident. You can’t stop in the middle or lose your nerve at the last second. Gently ease both hands under the meatloaf, supporting the length on both sides. Pick the whole thing up and carefully set it down in the same pan you used to wrap the meatloaf to begin with.

This is going to take awhile to bake, so don’t try to make this on a busy weeknight when you only have a little bit of time to cook. It makes amazing leftovers, though, so you could certainly bake this meatloaf on the weekend and reheat it during the week. I usually bake this recipe for over an hour. The bacon will be thoroughly cooked and a thermometer stuck into the center will read 165F-170F. Once the pan comes out of the oven, tent it with foil and let the meatloaf rest for 15-20 minutes- and please don’t skip this step! The mixture is very tender and needs some time out of the oven to set properly.

After the resting time has passed, carefully slide a spatula under each end and lift both up at once. The first couple of times you make this meatloaf you just might tear the hell out of it. I did. Don’t worry; it will still taste fantastic, it just won’t be as pretty as a picture:

Cut slices with a serrated knife and serve with whatever you fancy. After your main meal you can refrigerate the leftovers (if there are any), slice them whatever width you like, and makes sandwiches on some nice, soft bread. Mmmmm…. meatloaf sandwiches….

  • Difficulty: intermediate
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The Recipe:

1/2 Medium Onion, diced or grated

2 Carrots, grated fine

4-6 Cloves Garlic, minced

2 T Butter or Oil

1 LB Ground Beef

1/2 t Dried Thyme

1 T Brown Sugar

2 T Worcestershire Sauce

2 T Soy Sauce

1 t Salt (or to taste)

1/4 t Pepper

Pinch Nutmeg

4 Slices Stale Bread

1/3 C Milk

2 Eggs

8-12 Crushed Crackers (Optional)

6-10 Slices of Bacon

The Method:

*In a frying pan, melt the fat over medium heat.

*Add the onions and carrots and cook until the onions are soft, stirring frequently.

*Add the garlic and cook another minute then put the pan aside to cool for at least 5 minutes.

*In the meantime, put the slices of bread into a bowl large enough to hold all the ingredients (except the bacon, of course), sprinkle the brown sugar over it, and pour the milk over it all. Let it sit until the milk is absorbed.

*Add the ground beef, veggies, eggs, herbs, spices, sauces, and crackers (if using), and mix thoroughly. Your hands work best for this!

*Cover the mixture and let it rest in the fridge for at least an hour, but not more than 8 hours.

*Preheat the oven to 375F. (350F for a nonstick or dark loaf pan)

*Spray a 9 inch bread pan (I prefer glass) with cooking spray or brush with oil.

*Line the pan with bacon, leaving the tips hanging over both sides.

*Put the meatloaf mixture into the pan and fold the bacon over the top.

*Spray or oil a platter and put it over the loaf pan. Flip them both over and set on the counter to let the meatloaf fall onto the platter.

*Remove the loaf pan and carefully put the meatloaf back in, bacon tips down.

*Bake 1 hour or until a thermometer inserted into the center reads 165F-170F.

*REST  THE MEATLOAF FOR AT LEAST 15 MINUTES!

*Gently slide a spatula under each end of the loaf, remove it from the pan, and place on a serving platter to slice.

 

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Good grief, it’s been almost a year. A year!! SO MUCH has happened in that year, and I wasn’t sure if I would ever get to come back. I’ve wanted to, but it just hasn’t been in the cards until now. I wasn’t sure if anyone would even care at this point if I came back. But I’ve heard from a few loyal readers (I have loyal readers! I had no idea!) and they’re asking for more. That is so incredibly gratifying, you guys. Seriously. It almost made me cry. I’ve always said that if my blog helps one person enjoy food a little more, I’ll keep going. So here I am, in the kitchen again, with recipes to share. I have some truly amazing food to show you, starting next week 🙂

I think most of us know that every region of America has it’s own “signature” dish. Texas has barbecue, New England has clam chowder, California has Mexican in the South and wine country in the north, and the Mid West has fried foods and roasted corn. But how many of you know about the “signature” dishes of the far Northern part of our country? Before I moved to South Dakota I had no clue at all. But I learned quick! South Dakota has chislic: small bites of marinated beef, lamb, or venison, grilled or fried and served with toothpicks and hot sauce to dash on each piece. It was on EVERY menu that didn’t belong to a national chain restaurant and everyone thought theirs was the best, naturally. Minnesota, being heavily Scandinavian, is big on lutefisk (pickled white fish) and other northern European treats. And, of course, Wisconsin has it’s cheese; specifically, fried cheddar cheese curds.  But there’s also a wider ranging dish that is ubiquitous throughout the eastern Dakotas, northern Minnesota, and northern Wisconsin: Hot Dish. Much like any other regional dish you’ll find, every person who makes it has their own rendition of it, all are a favorite of someone, and everyone thinks theirs is the best. The ingredients have surprising variation; some people use ground meat, some use cubed. Some use mashed potatoes on top, many use tater tots, and some even use white or wild rice in their hot dish and forgo the potatoes all together. But they are all known as hot dish because they all consist of meat in some sort of sauce, possibly with veggies mixed in, with some manner of starch, and without fail the dish is in casserole form. It shows up at every single pot luck function in at least one iteration because it’s expected to; it’s not a pot luck if there isn’t hot dish.

Being short on time and ingredients one afternoon, I set out to make my own version. I got the basics together and just started adding things as the ideas came to me. I do that a lot. We were pleasantly surprised with the results and it’s a regular feature in the cold weather menu rotation. Thankfully, I was able to remember what I put in the pan!

The ingredients are very basic and very inexpensive. If you can find a really good deal on ground beef or turkey, it’s even cheaper to make, so it’s also a really good broke food dish 🙂

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Yes; that’s canned cream of mushroom soup. This is a super easy dish that is very budget friendly. If you want to make condensed cream of mushroom from scratch, it will work really well in this recipe and the taste will be phenomenal. But for now, canned is fine.

So brown your ground beef, drain it well, and put it back into the pan you used to cook it. Add the white pepper, onion & garlic powders, the soy & Worcestershire sauces, then the soup. Stir everything together and see what you’ve got. It will be super thick, so we want to thin it out a bit. How much varies; add milk or water until the mixture is the consistency of a stew. I usually end up adding about 1/3 cup of milk but sometimes it’s a little more. Once you have the right consistency, heat the mixture to a boil and then transfer it to an 8×8 baking dish. Since I have all stainless steel cookware (which means it’s oven safe) I just spread the mixture evenly in the same pan. Now you can spread the tater tots over the top of the beef mixture. I prefer to use mini tater tots, but use whatever you like or can find.

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Ready for the oven! Put the dish or pan in the oven, uncovered, at 400 degrees until the tater tots are golden brown and crispy on top. Usually that takes about 30 minutes in my oven.

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See how the sauce bubbled up between the tots? That’s how you know it’s cooking properly. If your tots are brown and crispy but the sauce isn’t bubbling, the dish is cooking too fast. Cover it with foil, cook until bubbly, then you can take the foil off and crisp up the tater tots.

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Hearty, tasty goodness that comes together fast! The whole thing is done in about 45 minutes and most of that is baking time. My favorite way to eat this is…

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…with ketchup. This is basically a burger & fries casserole, minus the cheese soup that usually goes into it, so ketchup goes perfectly with it. The rest of the family prefers theirs with BBQ sauce on top; the smoky, sweet flavor it adds is great! Add a salad or some fruit to this and you’ve got a complete meal. Make a double batch and you’ve got an easy offering for the potluck table 🙂

The Recipe:

1 Lb Ground Beef, Turkey, or Chicken

1 t Onion Powder

1 t Garlic Powder

1/4 t Pepper (I use white for just about everything, but black will work fine too)

1 T Soy Sauce

1 T Worcestershire Sauce

1 Can Condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup

1/3 (+/-) Milk or Water

Half of a 28 Oz Bag Frozen Tater Tots, or however many it takes to to completely cover the top of the meat mixture (I use mini Tots, but use what you like or can find)

 

The Method:

*Heat the oven to 400 degrees.

*In a medium skillet or high sided oven safe pan, brown the ground meat then drain it well.

*Put the meat back into the pan and add the rest of the ingredients EXCEPT the milk and the tater tots.

*Mix very well and add milk or water until a stew-like consistency is reached.

*Heat the mixture to boiling then transfer it to an 8×8 baking dish (unless you are using an oven safe pan or skillet- then you can leave it where it is).

*Layer the tater tots over the mixture evenly, making sure there are no large gaps.

*Bake the casserole for about 30 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the tater tots are golden brown and crispy.

*Serve with condiments you would eat on a hamburger, or it’s also quite good plain.

 

So after being informed by my BFF that the print feature I added awhile back actually prints the entire blog post instead of only the recipe like I wanted it to, I have (with a little help from a more experienced blogger) figured out how to make only the recipe in each post printable. Yay! So from now on you will be able to print only the best part of each post: the recipe! And when I get time here and there I will go back and add the feature to all of my other posts (which number 72 as of today, so it may take me a little while to get it done). Thank you all for sticking with me thus far! ❤

I’ve had some requests for a “print recipe” feature, so I looked around and found one of those! You can now find a new button on each post. It’s labeled “print and PDF” and it can be found at the very bottom of each post along with the sharing buttons. You’re welcome and thanks for your continued support! ❤

I have a recipe up my sleeve that I wanted to share this week, but due to technical difficulties I couldn’t get it posted. I hope to have it up next week. In the meantime, I had something exciting happen last week: I was contacted by Endless Simmer to be featured in their Top 10 Gingersnap Recipes list! I consider myself (rightly) a small time food blogger. I’m not one of the big girls or boys who have hundreds or thousands of followers and their own cookbooks in the works. I can’t say it wouldn’t be fun sometimes to be that. But that’s not my goal. I like what I do and I like my blog. I think about the stress and the time taken away from my family to be a big blogger like that and I say, most assuredly, “I’ll pass, thanks.” So I was amazed that someone actually wanted to feature my post along with so many other wonderful posts from fantastic bloggers. Of course I jumped at the opportunity! So here you go; my first guest appearance 🙂

Top 10 gingersnap Recipe Countdown:

http://www.endlesssimmer.com/2014/10/08/gingersnaps-gone-wild-top-ten-gingersnap-recipes/

I’ve certainly made no secret of my love for Autumn here on this blog and in life in general. However, that love doesn’t carry over to the sports that come with it. Well, one sport in particular: American football. It’s not that I’m against sports entirely; I’m not. Rugby is awesome, soccer is pretty damn cool, and jai alai just rocks. But American professional football… BLECH!! I despise it. The players are GROSSLY over paid and mostly they’re a bunch of thugs in tight pants made into (undeserving) idols. Thankfully I can pretty much ignore football season. I have several die hard football fan friends on Facebook, but I can either just ignore the posts or hide them if they get too numerous. In fact, I did such a good job of ignoring football the last couple of years that I didn’t even know who was playing in the Superbowl until a day or so before the game! HOWEVER, all that being said, I do have to admit that I like cooking for people who watch football. Cooking fun, comforting food for a group of people is always right up my alley and football watchers definitely require that! So while I know (and care) very little about the rules of the game, I certainly know what the game obsessed like to eat and I enjoy supplying the food they’ll eat and providing a fun atmosphere 🙂

One of the best football watching/fall foods is chili… well, anything really. Chili dogs, chili cheese fries, chili nachos, chili mac, the list goes on. You can put chili on just about anything. But this isn’t chili such as you would eat out of a bowl with some cornbread on the side. Actually, I don’t care for that chili much. I think it’s the cumin- I’ve never really liked cumin as a defining flavor. That’s the version of chili you find in the Western US. What I like is the Eastern US’s version of chili: no beans, no cumin, and it’s usually served over spaghetti (look up “chili 5 way” and you’ll find an interesting meal!). This chili is more of a condiment than a meal in itself. And it’s incredibly easy to make. (You can also make this in the crock pot, but I’m doing the stove top version. I’ll put the crock pot directions below.) We’ll start with what you probably already have on hand…

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See? I bet you don’t even have to run to the store for any of that, do you? I love it when that happens! Oh- and I can hear you now “The Humble Food Snob is BUYING garlic in a jar?!?! Isn’t that contrary to what you’ve been saying all along about knife skills and economy?!” Sigh… Yes; it is. Under normal circumstances, I disdain jarred garlic. But under normal circumstances I have access to great garlic at one store or another. Large heads of garlic with nice big cloves and no green shoots in the center… what a fond memory. And that’s all it is; a memory. Because in my current locale, all that’s available at the 2 grocery stores are tiny heads of garlic about 3/4 the size of an egg with pathetic little cloves that are more work than they’re worth to peel. AND every head I’ve purchased so far has been growing already, which means I have to dissect the tiny cloves to remove the bitter shoots. So until I can grow my own garlic, I will be buying jarred garlic. Thankfully they offer it at a decent price here.

Anyway… You may notice that the amounts in this picture and the amounts in the recipe below don’t jive. I know that. I went from a normal sized freezer plus a stand alone freezer to store things in at my last residence, to just a tiny freezer in a small, 30 year old fridge. That means it’s also got an inch of frost taking up room. Is being in our own home and away from the awful situation we were in worth it? A thousand times YES!! Does it mean I have to change the way I do some things? Yes again. And that’s ok. So instead of the full batch I’m making a half batch. (And incidentally, a recipe I found that helped inspire this makes double what’s below! 😮 )

So brown your ground beef. You can also use ground turkey or chicken, but you’ll need to make sure there is about half a cup of fat of one kind or another to soak up the flour to make the roux. It can be olive or vegetable oil, or you could use bacon fat- that would be a great addition! While the meat is browning, dice your onion. Don’t drain your meat. Like I said; you’ll need the fat. Add the onions and cook until they’re soft- about 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another couple of minutes. Sprinkle the flour over the mixture and stir. Cook, stirring for about 3 minutes. You want the flour to cook but not burn. It should look almost like there is no flour:

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Now you can add the water and the tomato sauce. I usually add the sauce first and then put the water in the can and swish it around to get the last traces of the sauce out of the can. Why waste it? Along with the water and tomato sauce, add the spices. Give it a good stir, and you’ve got this:

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Put a tight fitting lid on this and bring it to a boil. Give it a stir, lower the heat until it’s at a slow simmer, replace the lid, and go do something else for awhile. You’ll need to come back and stir the pot about twice an hour, but other than that you’ve got 2 hours to kill. I’d suggest watching something with Robin Williams in it. Never forget what it feels like to laugh with your whole body and soul- the world needs more of that. The Birdcage is my particular favorite of his 🙂

Once 2 hours have ticked by, take the lid off, give the pot another stir, and let the chili simmer for about an hour without the lid, stirring every 15 minutes or so. It may take a little more or less than an hour. Just keep an eye on it. You want to end up with a chili that is very thick.

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I know; it doesn’t LOOK a whole lot different. But it has reduced by about two thirds to half. Go ahead and give it a taste and adjust the salt and/or pepper. Don’t add too much pepper though- now is when you add the red pepper flakes if you want a milder chili. If you’re looking for spicy chili, add the red pepper flakes with the rest of the spices before you simmer the pot.

I was supposed to have a wonderful money shot for this post: A plate with hot dogs smothered in chili with melty cheese on top. But then I went and landed myself in the urgent care. I’ll be ok. But it cost me my blog picture. So sadly, I do not have a great shot of this tasty chili in action. But I do have a tip for freezing the leftovers. Here you go:

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I prefer to have thinner, wrapped packages of food that I can stack several packages high instead of plastic containers that limit my storage and break when I inevitably drop one. So I line plastic food storage containers with plastic wrap and divide the (completely cooled) food into them. Each of these containers will make one meal’s worth of chili dogs.

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Put these in the freezer, come back in a couple of hours, lift the sides of the plastic to remove, wrap the food, and you’re good to go! I usually do 2 layers of plastic wrap followed by aluminum foil, like so:

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Make sure you mark the package with the contents and the date it was made. That way you don’t have to unwrap your packages and try to guess what’s in them.

So there you go: a jumping off point for lots of hearty recipes to get you through the fall and winter; from watching sports on TV to tail gating to coming in off the slopes or the sled hills.

As promised, Here is what you need to do to make this chili in a crock pot (slow cooker):

– Brown the meat, saute the onions and garlic, and add/cook the flour as described above.

– Transfer the mixture to the crock of the slow cooker and add the rest of the ingredients.

– Remember to not add the red pepper flakes until after cooking unless you want SPICY chili.

– Cover and cook on low for 5-6 hours or high for 3-4 hours.

-Here’s the caveat to making this chili in the slow cooker: you need to let it cook with the lid off for about the last hour, just like the stove top version. And you need to stir it a few times. When it’s the consistency you want you can take it out. This is a deal breaker for some, because they want whatever is in the slow cooker to be ready when they get home from work or wherever. If that’s the case, I’d advise making it on a day off and reheating what you have set aside. You can’t tell it’s been reheated, so it’s not a problem.

The Recipe:

2 Lbs. Ground Beef

2 Onions, diced fine

4-6 Cloves Garlic, minced

1/2 C + 1 T All Purpose Flour

29 Oz. Can Tomato Sauce

8 Oz. Water

2 t Salt

2 t Seasoned Salt

2 t Pepper (Black or White, doesn’t matter)

1/4 C Chili Powder (don’t let the amount scare you- it’s not really spicy at all)

1/3 C Sugar

1 t (or to taste) Red Pepper Flakes (this is what will make it spicy)

The Method:

*In a large soup or stock pot, brown the ground beef. Do not drain!

*Add the onions and saute 3-4 minutes, until the onions are fragrant and soft.

*Add the garlic and saute 2-3 minutes.

*Sprinkle the flour over the mixture and stir to combine, cooking 3-4 minutes. Don’t let the roux burn!

*Add the tomato sauce and the water, swishing the water in the sauce can to get the remnants out.

*Stir in the spices (adding the red pepper flakes now only if you want spicy chili).

*Cover the pot and bring the chili to a boil.

*Stir, lower the heat to a slow simmer, replace the cover and cook 2 – 2 1/2 hours, stirring a couple of times per hour.

*Uncover the pot and continue to slowly simmer for about an hour, until the chili is very thick.

*Taste for seasoning. Add more salt and/or pepper if needed.

*If you haven’t added them before now, stir the red pepper flakes in.

When Ron & I started dating I was a single mom of 15 month old twins and to say that money was tight would be a gross understatement. Ron was a student, so his finances weren’t any better. Most of our dates consisted of staying in and watching a movie after the girls went to bed. That continued after we got married (10 months after we started dating). For our first anniversary I wanted to have a special dinner, but we didn’t know anyone in the town we had moved to so we couldn’t call a sitter. And money was still an issue. We were quite fond of our evenings in, but I didn’t want our anniversary to be just another date night on the couch. So ’round about April (3 months before our anniversary- I like to be prepared well in advance) I started really thinking about what I could do to give the two of us a special evening. I started by making a playlist on Youtube of romantic songs to listen to while we ate. Then I decided on dinner: pan seared filet mignon, Caesar Salad, good, crusty, fresh bread, and cheesecake for dessert (to find the recipe for the AMAZING cheesecake I make, click here). I know what you’re thinking “Filet mignon?! How is that cost conscious??” But if you watch the sales at a lot of grocery stores, you’ll find they offer filet mignon as part of a 2 for $5 (-ish; stores differ, but they usually offer them at a price that’s far less than what you’d normally pay) special at least once a year- usually 2 or 3 times. That makes it completely affordable! And I’ve found that deal in three different states in three different parts of the country, so there’s a good chance you’ll find it where ever you live. If I can get the steaks on sale I can make the whole dinner for about $25-$30 or so, give or take. Try getting 2 steak dinners with cheesecake for dessert at a nice restaurant for $30 or less and you’ll know why I’m perfectly fine with staying home and making our special occasion dinners when we’re low on money!

Once the night of our anniversary arrived, we put the girls to bed as usual and then set up the living room with a small coffee table in the middle of the room set with candles and Ron’s laptop set up next it for the music. Ron sat at the breakfast bar in the kitchen while I cooked and we talked. When dinner was ready we sat in the dark living room at the candle lit table, talking about our life together so far and what we’d like the future to hold as we ate a delicious dinner and listened to music that we both loved. By the end of dessert we had decided that the evening was so wonderful that we didn’t miss going out in the least. In fact, Ron requests the exact same dinner for his birthdays- even when we do have the money to go out. It’s truly a magical experience for us!

For our anniversary this year Ron had to work. For some, that means having a late dinner. For us that means postponing it completely because for now Ron spends Sunday night through Friday afternoon away from home, on the road with the railroad. So I had to plan the big night for the weekend after. I wanted to go all out this year because this is the first time in 4 years we’ve been able to have our special meal. I even bought flowers for the centerpiece this year. I’ve included pictures of the table for our special evening. But for now, I’ll give you the method for the steak I cook…

You’ll need 2 bacon-wrapped pieces of filet mignon. Sometimes the ones that are on sale come vacuum packed in a package of 2. I got this year’s steaks from the butcher counter at my local grocery store. About a day before you plan to cook them, coat both sides with seasoning. I’ve used McCormick’s Montreal Steak Seasoning on these (I haven’t gotten around to making my own yet- but I will soon). Press the seasoning onto both sides so it sticks. IMG_20140719_204407536 Wrap the steaks in plastic and put them in the fridge until about 30-40 minutes before you plan to cook them. Let them come to room temperature while you let the oven heat up to 400 degrees. Yes; my anniversary is in July. Yes; I did this anyway. It was worth it!

Once the steaks are at room temperature and the oven has heated up, put a small oven proof skillet on medium high heat and add enough oil to coat the bottom. When the oil shimmers (it will happen fast so stand and watch it) put the steaks in and cook on the first side for about 2-4 minutes. My steaks are only about an inch to an inch & a half thick, so they will only take about 2 minutes to sear. It may seem like the seasoning is going to burn- don’t worry; it will be fine. So long as you put a good thick layer of seasoning on, it will form a crust instead of actually burning. If you don’t want a crust of seasonings, just sprinkle the steaks with a little seasoned salt. Or you can leave them plain too.

Cook the steaks for about a minute on the second side and then put the whole pan into the oven. Let the steaks cook for about 10 minutes for rare. (Despite the color on the outside of the steak in the picture below, it really was rare in the center.) This will give you time to plate up the sides you’ll be serving. I just did mixed greens and bread because we were going to be eating dessert immediately after dinner and I didn’t want us to be stuffed from a huge meal and therefore unable to truly enjoy our dessert. Well, that and other reasons 😉 If you make sides other than salad and bread, you’ll need to have them ready and standing by for when the steaks are ready to go. Once the steaks come out of the oven, plate them with the other sides and you’re ready to go! IMG_20140719_210231824

(Note: because of the lighting in my kitchen at 9 pm, the steak looks darker than it was. In reality the color was about a shade & a half lighter than in the picture.)

Here is what this year’s anniversary dinner looked like: IMG_20140719_210422052

 

In the light when I set this table up it looked like this: IMG_20140719_193756588_HDR

 

It’s super easy to turn a table that seats 6 into cozy seating for 2 or 3. See the stepped risers the candles are on? They’re made of these: IMG_20140719_193907100

Yep. Four 12 packs of soda. The single cans are for stability and the gallons of water are to help insure the top boxes don’t move around. Throw a (clean!) bed sheet over the whole thing and you have a beautifully appointed romantic table for 2, complete with ambiance! And all for WAY less than you’d pay in a restaurant. For fun, Ron & I did the math. Including decorations (which we already had but we included into the price to account for people buying them specifically for this dinner), rum to go in the sodas we had, and all of the ingredients, we had dinner for less than $50. Money isn’t an issue for us now, but it’s always wise to be judicious with the resources we have. And it feels good to know I can provide a top-notch meal for less than we’d have to pay elsewhere.

 

Over dinner we discussed our favorite memories from the last year and from the 8 years we’ve been together. That’s our anniversary tradition, and this year it was extra sweet 🙂 It was a beautiful evening with my beloved.  After all we’ve been through and with how bright our future looks, it was wonderful to have a special dinner just the two of us with great food and a romantic atmosphere. Ron was happy to have our special dinner again and I was happy to be able to make it for him. I’m very lucky to have the life I have and I really couldn’t ask for more. Life is good 🙂

Seriously- stay with me on this one. I know it sounds outrageous and you want to turn your nose up at the idea. You’re thinking “Gingersnaps don’t belong in beef stew. Or any stew for that matter.” But if you refuse to be at least a little adventurous and humor me on this you will miss out on perhaps the best beef stew EVER. The flavor is complex and rich- infinitely more involved than just meat and vegetables in gravy. It’s what I’ve always wanted my beef stew to be but have never managed to turn it into. I do have to admit that the original idea isn’t mine. It all started here with Carbonnade a la Flamande, a traditional dish from Flanders (the Northern European area that encompasses France, Belgium, and Holland).

Carbonnade a la Flamande is said to be a hangover cure because it’s made with ale. I wouldn’t know. I don’t get hangovers. Partly because I don’t drink very often. And when I do I don’t drink to excess. But the times in my life that I have “tied one on”, I haven’t gotten a hangover. Called me blessed, I suppose. Anyway… The recipe calls for a significant amount of ale. I didn’t want to spend the cash, honestly. With my husband out of work at the moment we don’t have the extra cash to spend. So I changed the recipe. I turned this into a traditional beef stew with a secret ingredient instead of Carbonnade a la Flamande. I may never make beef stew any other way. It’s that good!

Aside from the gingersnaps, the ingredients for the stew are incredibly mundane…

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Note that there is no obvious thickening agent for this stew. The reason for that is simple: the gingersnaps thicken the stew. The above link says to add the gingersnaps when the stew starts boiling. I found that to be a mistake. I’ll go into why a bit later. But the gingersnaps really are all you need to make this stew unbelievably thick. You would have to add A LOT of cornstarch or roux to make it as thick as the gingersnaps make it.

Let’s get started! Dice the carrots, slice the onion and garlic, and then mince the thyme (if you’re using freshly cut off of your own plant like I do- the stems are so small and green that I can just use them along with the leaves. If you’re using store bought fresh thyme with woodier stems, scrape the leaves off and discard the stems). Wash your cutting board so you don’t cross contaminate, and then dice the bacon and deal with the meat if need be. You can use stew meat for this but I seem to have a knack for finding stew meat that looks great on the surface but under that is the fattiest, most gristly meat ever butchered. So I play it safe and buy an inexpensive roast or steak. In this case, a bottom round roast. If you’re using stew meat just leave it as is. If you’re using steak or roast, cut it into 1 inch chunks.

Cook the bacon over medium low heat to render it completely. Once it starts to get crisp remove it from the pan using a slotted spoon and set it aside- keep the drippings in the pan. Brown the meat in the bacon drippings over medium high heat in batches (don’t cook it all the way through- you just want to sear the outside), taking care to not crowd the pan. You want the meat to sear- not boil in it’s own juices. Remove each batch of beef to a bowl and set it aside. If you don’t want to use bacon you can use olive oil to brown the beef. But the bacon adds a wonderful flavor and a touch of smokiness- I never miss a chance to use bacon for things like this!

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After you get all of the meat browned and removed to a bowl, add the onions and saute over medium heat until soft. At that point add the garlic and cook for a few minutes; until it’s soft and fragrant. Once you’ve achieved that, pour in the beef stock to deglaze the pan. Add the beef (along with any juices accumulated in the bowl) and the herbs and cook for… well, that depends on what cut you used. If you used stew meat you’ll want to let it simmer for at least 2 hours. Three wouldn’t be a bad idea.  If you used round steak or roast you should only need about an hour to an hour & a half. Just be sure to keep an eye on the liquid level- it should always be covering the beef & onions by about half an inch. If you need to you can add some water to the pot to keep the proper level. Don’t worry about making it bland. The beef will give the water plenty of flavor.

This is where I diverge rather significantly from the carbonnade recipe linked above. It says to add in the gingersnaps spread with mustard as soon as the stock comes to the boil and then cook the stew for 2 to 3 hours. I did that the first time around and it worked ok… but I had a big burnt spot on the bottom of the pot that I had to be careful to not scrape into anyone’s bowl. It works much better if you let the meat simmer in the stock and then add the gingersnaps spread with the mustard for the last 30-45 minutes of cooking. So let your meat simmer, covered, for the appropriate time. When the time for the gingersnaps comes, get them ready…

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Turn each cookie over and smear the bottom with a thin layer of Dijon mustard. BEFORE YOU ADD THE COOKIES, put the carrots into the stew. You don’t want them to be mush so don’t add them before now. So stir the carrots in and then add the cookies in somewhat of a layer to the pot. They may not ALL be in one single layer- that’s ok. Just float them on top.

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Bring the stew back up to a simmer and put the cover back on. Let simmer for about 10 minutes and then start stirring the cookies into the stew.

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It may take a little effort but they will dissolve and thicken the stew. Simmer with the cover on until the cookies are completely dissolved and the stew is as thick as desired. You’ll need to stir the pot fairly often now, as once the cookies dissolve it’s the stew’s fondest wish to stick to the bottom of the pot. Once the stew is finished cooking, don’t forget to fish out the bay leaf- you don’t want to eat that. In fact, the bay leaf may very well cut your tongue if you try to eat it. Then check for seasoning and add salt & pepper to your liking.

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This stew really is amazing; it’s rich and savory with a hint of spice & a tiny bit of sweetness from the cookies. You can add just about anything you want in the way of veggies, too. Sometimes I add peas as well as carrots. And sometimes mushrooms are a very welcome addition. If you want to add mushrooms I suggest portobellos for their meatiness and ability to hold up to boiling. You will need to saute them along with the onions. I served this batch over homemade mashed potatoes, but traditionally carbonnade is served over egg noodles so if you prefer, you can serve it that way. But I think my absolute favorite way to eat this stew is by itself in a bowl with a hunk of warm, crusty bread. Mmmmmm….

The Recipe:

2 Lbs. Beef, see above

4 Large Cloves Garlic, Sliced Thin

2 Onions, sliced

1/4 Lb. Bacon, Diced

1 1/2 Liters (3 Pints) Beef Stock

1 Bay Leaf

2 Springs Fresh Thyme

2-3 Medium Carrots, Diced

6 Oz. Gingersnaps

Dijon Mustard

Salt & Pepper to Taste

The Method:

*Slice the onions and garlic, dice the carrots, and mince the thyme (put them into separate bowls).

* Dice the bacon.

*Cut up the meat if need be.

*In a large soup pot, cook the bacon over medium low heat until completely rendered and crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon to a bowl. Do not drain the drippings.

*In batches, sear the meat in the bacon drippings over medium high heat. As each batch is done remove it to a bowl.

*Add the onions to the pot and saute them over medium heat until soft.

*Add the sliced garlic and cook for 2 minutes- until soft and fragrant.

*Pour the beef broth into the pot to deglaze.

*Add the beef and it’s drippings and the bacon back into the pot.

*Add the herbs to the pot.

*Cover and simmer appropriately. (2-3 hours for stew meat and 1 1/2 – 2 hours for round steak or roast)

*Spread the bottoms of the gingersnaps with a thin layer of Dijon mustard.

*Add the carrots to the pot.

*Float the cookies on top of the broth.

*Simmer, covered, for 10 minutes and then break up the cookies by stirring.

*Simmer, stirring often, until the cookies are completely dissolved and the stew is as thick as you’d like it to be.

*Fish out the bay leaf (this can also be done right before you add the cookies- sometimes it’s easier to find when the stew isn’t thick) and discard.

*Taste to check seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste.

*Serve over mashed potatoes, egg noodles, or just on it’s own.

I have a confession to make: I hate grilling with commercial charcoal. No matter what I do I can’t keep it lit. I’ve tried tricks & tips from numerous sources and none of them work for me. And I hate the smell of burning charcoal. It’s so… harsh. And unnatural. When I grill with commercial charcoal I have to shower and wash that set of clothes immediately afterwards because the smell lingers- especially in my hair. And propane? No thanks. Then we’d have to buy propane all the time. And propane grills do a fine job of getting the food cooked, but you lose that “grilled” flavor that is the whole reason you’re cooking out in the first place. But this summer my husband & I have hit upon a solution: grilling over an actual fire. We make our fire in an old charcoal grill and it’s perfect! Build a base of tinder: dryer lint, wood shavings, newspaper, or dry grass from the yard all work very well. Then around that put some kindling. Larger dry sticks work fine or you can cut some of the larger pieces of wood into sticks with a hatchet. We use a small amount of dimensional lumber. You DO NOT want to use this as your only wood for a cooking fire because it does contain some very not good for you things- a lot like commercial charcoal briquettes. But we just use it to get the fire going. You should have something like this: IMG_0172 Now put some fire to your tinder and blow on it if it doesn’t catch completely. Gently!! Blow on the baby fire gently! You want to give it some extra oxygen- not blow it out. Once the kindling catches well, add some larger pieces of wood- but only a couple. If you add too much too soon your fire will die and you’ll have to start over. Or call on the pizza fairy to visit your house. IMG_0176 Good! Now you’ve got your fire established. You can add another piece or two of wood. Now put your grate over the top and let the fire burn down until it’s hot enough that you can only hold your hand over it for about 5 seconds. Now you can add your room temperature meat. Did I not say to let the meat come to room temperature? No, I didn’t. Sigh. Well, I’m not re-writing the post. You should be reading through the instructions before you begin anyway. So really I’m just keeping you on your toes 😉 But seriously, you don’t want to try to cook meat straight from the fridge. It’s too cold- it won’t cook properly. I’m using flank steak for this post but we’ve also cooked chicken this way and it’s equally awesome! Anything you can cook on a conventional outdoor grill you can cook this way. You just have to keep an eye on the heat. I wish I could tell you exactly how hot it will get or exactly how to control the heat but I can’t. It’s something you have to work with for a bit & get to just know by sight and feel. It doesn’t take long. If you’re paying attention while you cook you should get the hang of it after one or two tries. Trial & error isn’t a bad thing. Learning for yourself teaches you SO much more than having every last detail laid out for you. And this is a great way to learn for yourself. Figuring this out gave my husband and I a wonderful sense of accomplishment! IMG_0179 We bought a cooking grate at the local camping supply store because the grate that came with the grill was left out to rust (not by us, thank you very much). We have wood stored here at the house from my father in law’s forays into tree trimming. We have apple, cherry, and plum to work with and they each add their own special flavor to whatever goes over them. The smell is much softer, much more natural, and far more pleasing than commercial charcoal. In fact, it’s fun to just sit by the fire and chat while we wait for the fire to be ready and then while the food is cooking. That’s definitely not something we would consider with commercial charcoal. I always thought it was the ranting of people who are obsessed with camping, but everything really does taste better cooked over an open fire! And the materials are fairly easy to lay your hands on. If you have a regular charcoal grill you have all you need except the wood. If you don’t have a charcoal grill, you can use a fire pit. You know; the ones people buy for decoration that they swear they’ll sit next to every night in the nice weather so they spend $200 on a nice one and then never actually use it. Craigslist is filthy with them. Cheap. And usually brand new or nearly so. Go find one, buy it, and actually use it! As for the wood, if you have trees in your backyard see if the need trimming. If it’s a hard wood, you’re ready to go! Or, once again, Craigslist or any local newspaper usually has all sorts of people trying to get rid of wood. Check it out- this is completely worth it! So the actual recipes! Finally, right?! I’ve seen a few recipes for pineapple salsa over the years and thought to myself “that sounds really good!” and then never thought of them again. But I saw one recently and decided that this time I would actually put it into the menu plan. It was good! But not great. Certainly not great enough to make the same way again. So I played. Because that’s what I do. I have a basic pico de gallo recipe that is easily turned into pineapple salsa- just add some grilled pineapple. Don’t like pineapple? No problem. Don’t add it. Without the pineapple this is just basic pico de gallo and is super good on tacos or nachos! IMG_0195.JPG (2) (*Disclaimer: I have to be honest- this picture was taken AFTER I made a plate of tacos for my husband (pictured below). So this is not a full batch; the ingredients listed below will make more than this. We got enough for 10 tacos using the smaller sized flour tortillas.) If you’ve made pico de gallo before, you’ll notice that I don’t have any cilantro pictured here. That is simply because I don’t like cilantro. If you would like to add it you’ll need about 1/3 of a cup, chopped. Or you can substitute flat leaf parsley. I just leave the leafy green stuff out altogether. For the best flavor, the pineapple needs to be a bit charred. And since this tastes better if it gets to sit for an hour or more, it can’t really wait until the pineapple can go over the fire. So I just drain the pineapple slices very well and put them in a dry pan. About 2 minutes per side on medium high heat does the trick. Now you’ll need to seed the tomatoes. DO NOT just cut up the tomatoes and throw them in the bowl for pico de gallo. The gel and seeds will add too much moisture and a bitter flavor. To seed tomatoes just slice the fruit into wedges, lay the wedges on their sides, and run your knife between the tomato flesh and the gel. They should look like this when you’re done: IMG_0164 All you have to do now is dice all of the fruits & veggies into small pieces (I mince the jalapeno), add a bit of kosher salt and a squeeze of lime juice, stir, cover, and let sit it in the fridge. (When you take it out there will be quite a bit of juice but it’s ok. The salt has drawn it out- it’s supposed to be there.) On to the steak. The steaks I buy take about 6-7 minutes per side over the fire to get to the point of very rare in the middle, which is where you want them if you’re going to be cooking them one more time after slicing. Once the steak is rare I put it on a platter, cover it with foil, and let it rest for 15 minutes. This is essential! If the steak doesn’t rest all the juices will come flooding out when it’s cut and the steak will end up dry. But this 15 minute stretch of time is perfect because now you can make your taco seasoning! You didn’t honestly think I was going to use a packet of seasoning, did you? If I did I might as well quit this blog right now. Taco seasoning is SO easy to make! In fact, I would bet that you already have all of the ingredients in your pantry or cupboard already. I found a very simple, very tasty recipe here and adapted it a bit. This is also incredibly simple to make into a large batch and store away for later. IMG_0181 Now THAT is what taco seasoning should look like. It’s the color of spices you actually have in your cabinet- not that weird orange color that you really can’t quite identify. So once you have your seasoning made and your steak has rested for at least 15 minutes, you can go ahead and slice that beautiful piece of meat. Since the flank steak is so wide I cut it lengthwise down the center, with the grain, before I cut it into slices. That way the meat is easier to eat and fits in the tortillas better. Use a very sharp knife and make the slices as thin as you can without shredding the meat, thusly… IMG_0184 Yes; you want it that rare. If you cook it anymore than that you will end up with very tough meat after you cook it with the taco seasoning. If you were going to eat this straight from the grill you could cook it more. Now put the slices in a pan or skillet on medium high heat, add the seasoning (about 1 tablespoon, but you can use more or less according to your preference), about 1/4 cup of water, and bring to a simmer. Continue to simmer (lowering the heat if necessary) until the seasoning has made a nice thick sauce. IMG_0189 Mmmmm…. so tasty!! Now remove the pan from the heat, get the pineapple salsa out of the fridge along with any other taco toppings you fancy, and go to town! IMG_0191 These are SO good and SO easy that you’ll be astonished that people actually leave home and pay someone else to cook them! Of course, you don’t HAVE to cook the steak over an open fire. You can just grill it like normal people. Or you can pan sear it. You’ll need a heavy bottomed pan that’s large enough to fit the steak. Add just enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan and heat the whole lot over high heat (about 3/4 of the way to the “high” mark on the knob). Once the oil is shimmery and giving off tiny wisps of smoke, add the steak and cook it for 7 minutes on each side for a 3/4-1 inch thick steak (this will be a very rare steak). Proceed as above for resting, slicing, etc. You WILL need to use the exhaust fan and you WILL need to open the windows if you pan sear. But it’s worth it- even in the winter 🙂 So only 7 more weeks of summer left! That thought makes me happy! The kids are already excited to start school again and I am absolutely longing for Autumn to arrive. Knowing there’s only 7 more weeks of summer is making things a little more bearable 🙂

The Recipe: Pineapple Salsa 4 Slices Pineapple, drained well, charred, and diced

1 Large Tomato, seeded and diced

1/2 Medium Red Onion, diced

1/2-1 whole Jalapeno, diced fine (I use half but if you want the pico spicier use the whole thing. Or if you’re really crazy, use 2)

1 t Kosher Salt Juice from half a small lime

The Method: *Drain the pineapple slices very well.

*In a dry pan heat the pineapple slices for about 2 minutes on each side. You want some charring but you don’t want them blackened.

*Seed the tomato by cutting it into wedges and running a knife between the flesh and the gel where the seeds are. Discard the cores. (Ours go in the compost bin so they aren’t wasted.)

*Dice the fruits and veggies, add the salt and lime juice.

*Stir, cover, and refrigerate up to 3 days.

The Recipe: Taco Seasoning 1 T Chili Powder

1 t Garlic Powder

1/2 t Onion Powder

1/4 t Red Pepper Flakes (more or less, depending on how spicy you want it. Remember: you can always add more so err on the side of caution.)

1/2 t Paprika

2 t Cumin

1 t Kosher Salt (you can adjust this as you like. I don’t buy the mainstream media’s reports of how evil sodium is so I use the whole teaspoon)

1 t Black Pepper

The Method:

*Mix all ingredients.

*Use about 1 tablespoon of seasoning and 1/4 cup of water for each pound of meat you’re cooking. You can adjust this to suit your tastes. (Another perk of making your own!)

*Bring to a simmer and continue simmering until the liquid has reduced to a sauce.

***UPDATE: You can make this seasoning more like store bought, which forms a thick sauce, by adding 1 heaping teaspoon of cornstarch to 1/2 C of water instead of 1/4C. Add the seasoning to the meat and then pour in the slurry. Boil and cook until the sauce thickens.***