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labeled pork

As you all know I love my slow cooker. There’s nothing better than dropping a piece of raw meat inside with vegetables and stock and letting it cook for hours while you run around and do errands. Then pulling out a hearty meal that’s full of flavor. But what about braising? I’ve always wanted to braise a pork shoulder or roast but rarely have the time.

There’s really not a lot of difference between braising and slow cooking. Both take a large piece of meat and slow cook it for hours in a stock. But while you can leave the house with the slow cooker running, since the braising happens in a large pot in the oven, you usually need to be home to braise a loin or roast. Well, since it’s been so cold and rainy recently, I’ve been spending plenty of days home while the boys read and write or draw and paint. It was on one of these days that I decided to braise a pork shoulder with apples; a recipe I found in a recent issue of Fine Cooking. The end result was sooooo good, all I wanted to do was have seconds, thirds and lick the pot clean.

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What made this roast so good and unlike anything I’d ever eaten? The rub, the apples and the char on the meat. Sure I’ve roasted apples and pork before, but this was special. See, you can’t just braise the pork. Sure, that makes it soft and shreddable, but what really makes the pork mouth-wateringly delicious, is the rub it marinates in for 48 hours. That’s right, 2 days. Now, you don’t have to marinate it for 2 days, you can just marinate it for 12 hours. But like most things, the longer it marinates, the more flavorful your pork. It’s super easy to do. All you do is rub the pork down with the spice mixture while you’re making another dinner. Then just put it in a covered pot in the fridge and forget about it. That’s what I did and like I said, it definitely made a difference. Those herbs and spices permeated the meat, and once it was slow roasted with the apples and onions, well… the flavors were out of this world.

The other secret to this amazing piece of meat? Charring the meat after braising it. According to Lynne Curry of Fine Cooking, it’s better to brown the meat after the braise because you get a more flavorful broth in which to cook the meat and there’s no chance of the meat juices evaporating. Plus the char gives the meat a nice crisp crust that really seals in all those amazing flavors I keep talking about. I’m so happy Curry introduced me to this “backward” braising method because it’ll be the only way I braise from now on.

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Spiced Apple Braised Pork (adapted from Fine Cooking)

Ingredients:

  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 4 teaspoons salt
  • 2-1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons dry mustard
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 (3 pound) bone-in pork shoulder
  • 2 medium apples, peeled and diced
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 cup water

Directions:

  1. Combine the coriander, salt, ginger, mustard and pepper in a small bowl.
  2. Using a sharp knife, trace the fact seams of the roast and around the bone to make a series of deep incisions on both sides of the roast. Score the external fat with a series of incisions. Then take the spice mixture and rub it all over the meat. Place the roast in a large, oven-proof pot, cover and put in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours and up to 3 days.
  3. Remove the meat from the refrigerator and let come up to room temperature, about 1 hour.
  4. Preheat the oven to 300°F.
  5. Add the apples and onion to the pork roast.
  6. Whisk together the vinegar, honey and water and pour over the roast. Recover the pan and cook in the oven for 2-1/2 – 3 hours, or until the meat is fork tender.
  7. Pull the pan out of the oven and raise the temperature to 425°F.
  8. Leaving the liquid, apples and onions in the pot, transfer the meat to a rimmed baking sheet to cool. Separate the meat into large chunks while discarding the fat.
  9. Place the pieces of meat back in the pot in a single layer and cook, uncovered, for about 40 minutes or until the meat is nicely browned. Serve immediately with the apples and the sauce.

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Rain, glorious rain! Yes, if you’ve been living anywhere in California you know that we’ve been getting record amounts of rainfall over the past six weeks. Did you know that Northern California is officially out of the drought and Southern California is also almost there? It’s amazing! Don’t get me wrong, I love the rain. I love being able to wear sweaters and Uggs during the winter months. It’s been kind of a novelty recently. But this week we had sun! It was warm. The boys actually wore shorts and T-shirts! It was wonderful! I wish it would last. But unfortunately there’s more rain scheduled for this coming weekend. That rain means more chilly temperatures and more sweater weather. But it also means it’s the perfect time for stews, soups and chilis.

A few weeks ago the rain was pelting the windows and all I wanted was a big hot bowl of soup. But not that boring see-through broth, and absolutely nothing that came out of a red & white can. I wanted something thick and hearty, with vegetables and maybe even a little meat. Something that would stick to your bones and make you feel all warm and cozy inside. Then I remembered this amazing stew I had at a food blogger L.A. event back in December.

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It was our annual cookie swap and everyone made and brought cookies. But Judy from My Well Seasoned Life didn’t just bring cookies, she also brought this amazing Beef Barley Soup. It was warm and comforting and absolutely delicious! Just thinking about that soup makes my mouth water. So, I decided to make my own version. I was so well sated at the end of the evening, I thought I’d share.

What makes this soup so filling isn’t just the beef, it’s the barley and the vegetables. But unlike some soups, this isn’t one you can just whip up in half an hour. This soup is one of those meals that gets better the longer it simmers on the stove. So, if you’re planning on making this for dinner on one of these chilly winter nights, make sure it’s on a day where you’re going to be home for at least a couple hours. The end result will be well worth the time spent, I promise.

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Beef and Barley Stew (adapted from My Well Seasoned Life)

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 pounds beef chuck, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 8 oz. cremini mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme, minced
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine, like a cabernet or merlot
  • 3 cups beef broth
  • 3/4 cup pearl barley
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Pat beef dry with paper towels and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  2. Heat oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add the beef and brown on all sides; transfer to a bowl.
  3. Add the onions to the pot and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the mushrooms, carrots and celery and cook until the liquid from the mushrooms has evaporated and the vegetables begin to brown, about 6 or 7 minutes.
  4. Stir in the garlic and thyme and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  5. Pour in the wine and scrape up any browned bits off the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon.
  6. Stir in the broth and browned beef along with any accumulated juices. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat, cover and simmer for about 45 minutes.
  7. Stir in the barley and salt and pepper to taste; recover and continue to simmer for another 30-40 minutes. Ladel into bowls and serve.

labeled short ribs

One of my favorite winter meals is short ribs. They’re hearty, filling and rich and I absolutely love them.

I’ve made them a few different ways including the slow cooker and a pot on the stove. While one cooks for a few hours longer than the other, the cooking techniques are quite similar. Both require covering the short ribs in liquid, and then cooking them for hours. No matter which technique you use or what kind of sauce you cook the meat in, ideally you get the same result: tender meat that falls off the bone and melts in your mouth.

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This recipe comes from Fine Cooking and uses celery as part of its liquid. The benefit with using celery is that it’s pretty much available year round. I use celery all the time: as bases for stocks and stews, as well as adding it to salads and tuna for crunch. Sometimes I’ll even eat a stalk for a snack. But I’ve never used it as the main flavoring in a braise before. See, as the celery cooks, it flavors the beef and the sauce while at the same time absorbing some of the beefy flavor of the meat. The whole meal makes my mouth water just thinking about it.

Yes, it’s a braise so it needs to be cooked on the stove which means you really can’t leave your house for a few hours. But the end result is so delicious, and the smells that fill your house are so amazing, you won’t mind being stuck inside. Besides if there’s a storm brewing outside (it is winter after all), you really don’t want to leave your house anyway.

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Braised Short Ribs and Celery

Ingredients:

  • 5 pounds bone-in beef short ribs
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 shallots, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 6 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 4 cups beef broth
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoons celery seeds
  • 1 head celery, ribs peeled and cut on the diagonal into 3-inch pieces
  • 8 oz. shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely grated fresh lemon zest
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F.
  2. Generously season the ribs with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add half of the ribs, and brown on all sides, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate, and repeat with the remaining ribs, adding more oil if needed.
  3. Reduce the heat to medium, add the shallots and butter, and cook, stirring, until the shallots begin to brown, 1-2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another 30 seconds. Add the lemon juice, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon. Stir in the broth, wine, mustard, and celery seeds.  Return the ribs to the pot, cover, transfer to the oven, and braise for 2 hours.
  4. Stir in the celery, mushrooms, thyme, and lemon zest. Re-cover and continue to braise in the oven for another 40-50 minutes, or until the beef is very tender.
  5. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the ribs, celery and mushrooms to a serving platter.
  6. Transfer the pot to the stove. Bring the liquid to a simmer over medium heat. In a small bowl, whisk together a 1/4 cup of the braising liquid with the cornstarch. Stir the cornstarch mixture into the liquid in the pot until thickened to your liking for a sauce (you may not need it all). Return the ribs, celery, and mushrooms to the sauce. Serve immediately with rice or polenta.

labeled-risotto

Comfort food. It’s one of my favorite things, especially when the days get cold. I mean, there’s just nothing better on a chilly, rainy evening than a hot bowl of stew or a big pot of macaroni and cheese. One of my favorite entreés during these winter months is risotto. It’s rich and creamy and feels like a big warm blanket wrapped around my stomach.

I’ve made all types of risotto, but this one is fresh and full of nutrients thanks in no small part to all the green vegetables. Full of fiber and B1, this risotto is the perfect choice for January since this is the time of year we’re all concerned about eating healthy. But this dish isn’t just healthy, since it’s full of peas, zucchini and asparagus, it’s also a great way to get the kids to eat their vegetables.

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If your children are anything like my boys, they’re anti veg. But neither one could get enough of this dish because of its color. See, the peas and shredded zucchini turn the white rice bright green. So, now they’re eating something cool that looks like slime, which for boys is totally awesome.

While I’m not a big fan of slime, I do love the flavors that come through in this risotto. You have the sweetness from the peas and shredded zucchini but you also have a hint of salt thanks to the vegetable stock and Parmesan cheese. This is definitely one of my new favorite dinners and I can’t wait to make it again and again.

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Green Vegetable Risotto

Ingredients:

  1. In large saucepan bring the stock to a simmer.
  2. Fill a large bowl with water and ice and set aside.
  3. In a food processor combine basil, spinach, garlic, 1/4 cup of oil, vinegar, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Cover, blend until smooth and set aside.
  4. Add asparagus to the simmering stock; cook about 1 minute or until bright green and barely tender. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the asparagus to the ice bath. Remove and set aside. Repeat with the peas.
  5. Heat the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil over medium heat in a large sauté pan. Add the onion and remaining salt and cook until the onion is tender, about 5 minutes.
  6. Stir in the rice and cook until the rice is translucent, about 2 minutes.
  7. Add 1 cup of stock to the rice and stir continuously with a wooden spoon until the stock is absorbed. Repeat the process with the remaining stock until all of the stock is absorbed and the rice is creamy and tender. (This should take about 20 minutes.)
  8. Stir in the zucchini, pesto, cooked asparagus and peas until well combined and the risotto is bright green.
  9. Remove from the heat and whisk in the Parmesan. Ladle risotto into bowls, sprinkle with Parmesan and serve immediately.

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Now that the holidays are over, we’re all focused on eating healthier, less fattening foods. It’s actually the number one new year’s resolution. Well, the number one new year’s resolution is to lose weight, but that usually involves eating healthier so it all kind of goes together. Unfortunately that means no cakes or cookies or heavy dishes with creamy sauces. Sounds kind of boring, doesn’t it? I mean let’s be honest… none of us really look forward to the new year, because it suddenly means we have to start eating healthy. But eating healthy doesn’t mean that you have to give up flavor.

I’ve been a fan of The Chew since it originally aired. While I don’t have as much time to watch it as I used to, whenever I do catch it there are always at least one or two recipes that strike my fancy. A little over a year ago, Fabio Viviani was on the show and he made a baked risotto that I’ve made several times since. It’s simple, uses fresh ingredients, is full of flavor and is perfect for this time of year.

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See, when it’s cold outside, I like eating casseroles, mac & cheese or baked pastas. All things that are heavy, creamy and the definition comfort food. But those just aren’t ideal after a good six weeks of heavy dinners, cookie swaps and sweet desserts. But this risotto is comfort food without being rich or heavy. It’s full of meat, vegetables and rice and sticks to your ribs without making you feel like you need to unbutton your pants. Plus, if you use fresh ingredients, you don’t have to worry one iota about breaking those new year’s resolutions of yours.

I know risotto is usually a time consuming meal to make, but since this version is baked, you don’t need to spend an hour standing over a stove, stirring until your arm feels like it’s going to fall off. Yes, there is some stirring involved, but most of the cooking time takes place in the oven, which means you have more time to relax and set the table or toss together a salad before dinner. The cooking process alone is reason enough to whip up this dish. But the flavors and the fresh ingredients are what keep me coming back winter after winter.

Yup, I love this dish. As soon as the new year starts and the Christmas decorations are put away, I break out my cast iron casserole, make sure I have several cans of diced tomatoes, plenty of rice and whip this recipe up at least once if not a few times over the winter months. Give it a try and I bet you’ll do the same.

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Baked Risotto with Sausage

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 9 cloves garlic, divided
  • 1 (28 oz. can) diced tomatoes
  • fresh basil, torn
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 4 oz. salami, diced
  • 2 red bell peppers, seeds removed and diced
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped
  • 1-1/2 cups Arborio rice
  • 1-1/2 cups red wine (like Merlot)
  • 1-1/2 cups chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Directions:

  1. Smash six of the garlic cloves with the back of a knife.
  2. Heat 1/3 cup olive oil in a 3 quart sauce pan. Add the garlic and cook over medium heat until the garlic is a nice golden brown.
  3. Stir in the tomatoes and a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Cook the sauce until thick, about 15 minutes. Add 3 more tablespoons of olive oil and increase the heat to high. Continue to cook the sauce until the oil turns red. Remove from the heat and add the torn basil. Set sauce aside and let cool. (This sauce can be made several days ahead. Just seal in an airtight container and refrigerate.)
  4. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  5. Heat the remaining olive oil in a large, oven safe pan over medium heat. Add the sausage and salami and let cook until no longer raw.
  6. While the meat cooks, dice the remaining garlic. Then add the garlic, bell peppers, onion and thyme to the pot and cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in the tomato sauce and cook, stirring continuously, for another 5 minutes.
  7. Add the rice and cook for another minute. Pour in the wine and stock, give a quick stir to combine the flavors and bring to a boil. Cover the pot with a lid and bake in the oven for 35 – 40 minutes or until the liquid is absorbed.
  8. Stir in the Parmesan and serve immediately.