Sunday, February 16, 2014

Cozy up (Holly-fied Gaston Beef Stew – Inspired by The Joy of Cooking)

I have many many cookbooks, but rarely follow a recipe.  I love to read them, get inspired by them and kinda treat them like text books from a favorite class.  But there’s one recipe that I count on when the weather turns cold:  Gaston Beef Stew from The Joy of Cooking.

I’ve been making this yummy stew for as long as I’ve been living away from my folk’s house.  That’s a very long time.  

Through the years, I’ve continued to tweak this homey basic here and there, so now it is more my own. For example, I use bacon rather than salt pork - a couple of slices does the trick; I used to use dried thyme and fresh rosemary, but lately have been on a herbs d' Provence kick. (I always thought it was odd that the original recipe had no spices or herbs, other than the parsley.)  In addition, the original recipe does not call for either mushrooms or peas, and frankly, I don't think a stew is a stew without them.  So in goes frozen peas and sliced mushrooms. I've also bumped up the amount of both the tomato sauce and beef stock.  Oh, and I also add the parsley in three stages, rather than all at one time when making the tomato-based cooking liquid. So it's still basically the same, but it has been "Holly-fied."

With the recent snow melting and showers off and on, I made a big pot of it yesterday.  It was absolutely delish.  And, as the original recipe says, it gets better after sitting overnight, so we’ll really enjoy the leftovers tonight.

Holly-fied Gaston Beef Stew
Serves 8
This looks like a lot of ingredients but you probably have most of them in your pantry
  • 2 – 3 pieces of bacon cut into ½ inch slices (this replaces the salt pork called for in the original recipe)
  • 2 pounds of beef, all visible fat cut away and cut into bite sized pieces. (I like to use a roast suitable for making pot roast, but you can buy pre-cut stew meat as well.)
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1 large brown onion, chopped
  • 1 16 oz can of tomato sauce
  • 16 oz of beef stock (fill the empty tomato sauce can)
  • 12 whole peppercorns
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 2 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 Bay leaves
  • 1 cup of chopped parsley
  • 6 small white potatoes cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 6 carrots, peeled and cut into thick coins
  • 2 ribs of celery, sliced into ½ inch pieces
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 2 cups sliced mushrooms
  • About ¼ cup flour
  • Lots of kosher salt
  • Lots of fresh cracked pepper
  • Lots of Herbs d’ Provence
  • Few splashes of red wine vinegar

  • In a Dutch oven, brown the bacon until the fat is rendered and the meat is crispy.  Remove the bacon and reserve the fat in the pot
  • Season the meat with salt, pepper and Herbs d’ Provence.  Brown the meat in the bacon drippings over a medium high heat.  Do this in 3 to 4 batches so you brown the meat and don’t boil it in its own juices.  Add a bit of olive oil if the pot gets dry during this process.
  • When all the meat is browned, put it back in the pot with the bacon and sprinkle the flour over it.  Stir to combine.
  • While the meat is browning, combine the tomato sauce, beef broth, onions, garlic, cloves, peppercorns, Bay leaves, 1/3 of the parsley, another few shakes of the herbs d’ Provence, and the Worcestershire sauce in a small sauce pan and bring to a boil. Pour this mixture over the browned meat after you dust it with the flour.
  • Bring the entire mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, cover tightly with a lid and cook for 2 hours. You can stir now and then, but try to leave it alone!
  • In about 45 minutes, put the potatoes and carrots into a pot of cold water with a generous amount of Kosher salt.  Bring to a boil and then simmer for 5 minutes, or until slightly tender.  Don’t over cook!
  • Strain the veggies, and add them to the stew pot, along with the raw celery, another 1/3 of the parsley and the frozen peas.  Add a shake or two of the Herbs d’ Provence, and a pinch of salt,  couple grinds of pepper. Bring back to a bubble, reduce to simmer, cover and cook for another hour.  
  • At the end of the final hour, stir the stew, check the seasoning – add salt and pepper if necessary.  
  • Just before serving, stir in the remaining parsley, and a few shakes of red wine vinegar to wake it up.  (This is a great trick for anything you cook for a long time.)
  • Serve with crusty bread if you like, but this is just fine all alone.


Sunday, February 9, 2014

Tilapia with Roasted Butternut Squash, Tomatoes and Spinach (8 WW Points Plus Value)

Packed with "Power Foods"
this dinner is filling and
as healthy as it gets.
I’ve been on a roasted butternut squash kick.  Cut into bite sized pieces, drizzled with olive oil, and sprinkled with salt, pepper and whatever herb or spice floats your boat and butternut squash is a filling, figure friendly side dish or main event.  Yup, in my book these babies are crave-worthy.

Tonight I was also craving fish.  The two came together for a cozy winter dinner that pretty much cooked itself while we watched the Olympics. 

Tilapia with Roasted Butternut Squash, Tomatoes and Spinach
Serves 2 (8 WW Points Plus Value per serving)

  • 2 pieces of tilapia – boneless, skinless filets  or “loins” (who knew fish had loins!?!)
  • 1 1/2 cups butternut squash, peeled and cut into bite sized pieces (or buy it prepped at the store)
  • ½ cups cherry tomatoes
  • ¼  of a large sweet onion, cut into ¼ inch slices
  • A big handful of baby spinach
  • 1 tsp olive oil for the fish, and 1 TBS olive oil for the veggies
  • Kosher Salt
  • Cracked black pepper
  • Herbs d’ Provence (or whatever herb or herb blend you like)
  • Juice half a lemon
  • Tablespoon of capers (optional, but I love the briny punch they add and always have a jar on hand.  Try them in tuna salad!)


The Veggies
  • Heat oven to 375 degrees
  • Cover a baking sheet with foil and scatter the squash, tomatoes and onions in a single layer
  • Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, pepper and Herbs d’ Provence; and toss gently.  Then spread the mixture out to a single layer
  • Put into the oven and roast for 30 minutes, stirring once or twice for even cooking
  • At the 30 minute mark, pull the sheet out.  The squash should be soft and the tomatoes deflating.  Add the spinach and stir again
  • Replace in the oven and roast for another 15 minutes
  • At the end of 15 minutes, pull from the oven and pull the foil up and around the veggies like a pouch to steam further.

The Fish
  • Sprinkle each side of the fish with salt and pepper
  • Heat a non-stick sauté pan and drizzle with about a teaspoon of olive oil. 
  • When the pan is hot enough for the fish to sizzle when it touches the pan, add the fish and sauté  on one side for 2 minutes; then flip the fish, squeeze on the lemon juice and add the capers and cook for another 2 minutes or until the fish is firm to the touch.

To serve – spoon half of the veggie mixture onto a plate or pasta bowl and top with a fish filet.