Easy Slow Cooker Beef Stew

There is nothing earth-shattering or revelatory about beef stew in the fall, is there? The ingredients in my version are as one would expect—big chunks of vegetables, potatoes, beefy morsels and a thick, rich braising gravy—yet this is exactly the kind of comforting, satisfying, rib-sticking classic fall food I’ve been dreaming about since the temperatures first began to drop. So, even though I expect you may have your own recipe for beef stew, I’m going to share mine visually, just to make you hungry and ready to celebrate the season in comfort (you’re welcome).


Under less busy life circumstances, I might have made this one-pot stew right on the stovetop in our enamel-coated Dutch oven. But when I’m upside down with my day job, busy with home updates and wrangling our pets, I really appreciate the versatility of our slow cooker. Ours has extra options, including a setting for browning meat, so I was able to get this done without shifting ingredients from one pot to another. If your slow cooker has more simple settings, just brown the meat first in a skillet on the stove and transfer it to your slow cooker when it’s ready to braise.

I selected grass-fed, locally raised beef for my stew. It’s easier on my digestive system than conventional beef, and we feel strongly about supporting local suppliers. Choose the best beef you can find, and a cut that is mostly lean, but with some marbling for flavor. I tossed the beef chunks with a few generous pinches of kosher salt and let them rest 15 minutes while I prepped my other ingredients and got my slow cooker up to speed.


For no special reason, I decided that I would use fancy onions for my beef stew. I chose cippolini onions, which are small and squatty—kind of like miniature vidalias—and they need to be peeled before cooking. This was easy to do, with a quick bath in simmering water, then a shock in an ice bath. For the sake of uniformity, I cut my other vegetables to match the size of the cippolinis. If you wish, use a large sweet or yellow onion, cut into large chunks. 


Browning the meat encourages more flavor because of something called the Maillard reaction, and if you want to geek out on food science, you could read this article to understand what that’s all about, or you could simply trust the process and brown the meat (your taste buds will thank you). When the oil in my slow cooker was ready, I added the salted meat a few pieces at a time to avoid a sudden temperature drop and turned them frequently to ensure even browning.


As soon as the meat was browned, I added a pat of butter and a few cloves of chopped garlic. A dusting of flour coated the meat and set the stage for gentle thickening, and then I splashed in about 1/4 cup of dry red wine. This adds depth of flavor to braising liquid, but if you don’t care for wine in food, you could substitute a splash of red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar for a similar effect.


This is the time to transfer the browned meat to the slow cooker if your appliance only has heat settings, and it helps to have the cooker set on high heat setting when you do so. Add two cups of broth to the meat and stir it around until it begins to thicken slightly. Add the cut-up vegetables and cippolini onions, then add enough additional broth to just cover the cooker ingredients. Drop the temperature to low setting, add a couple of bay leaves into the stew, cover it and let it simmer for about six hours.


By that time, the beef will be very tender and the vegetables will be soft to the bite. If you like your stew a little thicker, a corn starch slurry will do the trick without giving an off taste. Turn the cooker heat back up to high and remove the bay leaves. Whisk together corn starch with equal amount of very cold water until smooth, and drizzle a stream of the slurry into the stew. When the braising liquid reaches a gentle boil, it will thicken to perfection.


We served our beef stew with some homemade, warm-from-the-oven dinner rolls. Now, aren’t you glad it’s autumn? What comfort food have you been craving?


Easy Slow Cooker Beef Stew

  • Servings: About 8
  • Difficulty: average
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There's an easy way to enjoy an all-day stew without giving it all-day attention. Grab your slow cooker and let's get cooking!


Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pounds grass fed stewing beef, or chuck roast cut into pieces
  • 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 to 5 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped
  • 1 Tbsp. salted butter
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup dry red wine
  • 4 cups low-sodium beef broth, divided
  • 7 oz. cippolini onions, blanched for easy peeling
  • 2 cups fresh carrot chunks
  • 2 cups Yukon gold potato chunks (skin-on is OK)
  • 1 cup chopped celery, ribs removed
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • 2 Tbsp. corn starch blended with 2 Tbsp. ice water (optional, for additional thickening)

Directions

  1. Blot stewing meat (or chunks) dry with paper towels. Sprinkle with one heaping teaspoon kosher salt and black pepper to taste. Rest meat at room temperature for about 30 minutes.
  2. Heat olive oil in a cast iron skillet, Dutch oven or slow cooker (if yours has a browning function). Brown meat on all sides over medium heat. Add garlic and cook about 2 minutes, taking care to avoid burning it. Sprinkle flour over meat and garlic, and toss until it appears absorbed onto the browned meat.
  3. Pour wine over meat and quickly toss, scraping up any browned bits from the surface of the pot. The wine should thicken quickly, creating a sticky coating all over the meat. Transfer the meat (if using a separate pot) to the slow cooker on high setting.
  4. Add 2 cups of the beef broth and stir meat around until the broth begins to thicken slightly. Add onions, carrots, potatoes and celery and toss to combine. Add remaining broth and stir. Place bay leaves and thyme sprigs on top of the stew mixture. Reduce slow cooker to low setting and cook for about 6 hours, until beef pieces and vegetables are tender.
  5. If desired, stir in corn starch slurry during the last 30 minutes of cooking time (use high heat). Serve with crusty rolls to sop up all the delicious gravy!



Zucchini Tzatziki

Remember that song from long ago“Anything you can do, I can do better?” I believe it was from the musical, Annie, Get Your Gun, and I had it on repeat in my mind as I was putting shredded zucchini in the starring role for this popular Greek condiment. A typical tzatziki would be made with grated cucumber, but the sheer volume of zucchini coming from my garden has me changing up everything these days. I thought there was a good chance zucchini could stand in for the cucumber—alongside the Greek yogurt, minced garlic and fresh herbs—and it really worked!

We enjoyed this zucchini tzatziki over July 4th weekend, with grilled chicken souvlaki and grilled shrimp. And it was just as delicious last night with the leftovers!

Zucchini was an excellent understudy to the usual cucumber in my tzatziki!

If you find yourself with an over-abundance of zucchini, as I expect is probably the case for everyone who has planted it, then give this a try.

As with cucumber, the zucchini needs to be salted generously and rested in layered towels so that the excess moisture can be released. The amount of salt used to draw out the moisture is almost exactly the amount needed to season the dish, so it works out well.


Next, stir and measure out the Greek yogurt into a small bowl. Add the drained zucchini, finely chopped fresh garlic, black pepper and fresh herbs—dill and mint are traditional, so that’s what I used—and give the whole thing a big stir. Adjust the salt to your liking; it may not need any extra at all. Cover and refrigerate the tzatziki until you’re ready to use it. Stir it well just before serving.


Tzatziki is so flavorful, with a garlic bite and the cooling nature of the mint and dill. I could eat it all summer, and now that I know how well zucchini works in this recipe, I’ll be doing it this way again. Below is a printable version of the recipe, and keep scrolling to find a few more delicious ways to enjoy tzatziki. 🙂


Zucchini Tzatziki

  • Servings: 1 cup
  • Difficulty: so easy!
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This recipe is an easy way to use up an extra zucchini squash, and it was a fun twist on a classic Greek tzatziki sauce.

Ingredients

  • 1 smallish unpeeled zucchini, shredded (about 1 cup)
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt (for drawing moisture from the squash)
  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt (I used 2% milkfat)
  • 2 or 3 cloves fresh garlic, finely minced
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh dill, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh mint leaves, chopped
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • additional salt, to taste

Directions

  1. Spread zucchini shreds evenly across a double layer of paper towels, or on a clean kitchen towel (choose one that is lint-free and not washed with fragrance or fabric softener). Sprinkle salt all over the shreds, tossing them a bit to ensure even coverage. Fold the towel up to contain the zucchini in a “packet,” and put it in the fridge for a couple of hours. I placed my zucchini packet in a shallow glass dish to prevent drips.
  2. Transfer salted zucchini to fresh layers of paper towel and blot well to wick away lingering moisture. You may be surprised how wet the original paper towels are, and a great deal of the salt will be soaked into them as well.
  3. Stir the Greek yogurt and measure it out into a small bowl. Add the zucchini shreds, garlic, herbs and black pepper. Stir to combine. Adjust salt to your liking.


Keep the tzatziki refrigerated until ready to serve. It will keep in the fridge for several days, but may separate over time. Give it a good stir just before serving.




Reduced-Guilt Vanilla Ice Cream

I’ve been trying to “lean in” to some positive lifestyle changes, to better care for my body after the less-than-ideal results of my recent bloodwork. What I have realized is that I have no problem adjusting my cooking to suit the health and dietary concerns of others, so I have the knowledge and ability to do it for myself. But taking care of me is something I have never been as good at, so this has been an important exercise for many reasons. The biggest bummer about this recent “watch what you eat” recommendation is, well, the timing.

The doctor meant no harm, I know, but his admonition to “cut back on fat intake” is not exactly what I want to be thinking about on the first day of National Ice Cream Month! As much I’d like to put my fingers in my ears and sing, “la-la-la-la-la,” I realize that doing so will only come back to bite me. If I put off getting healthier until August, I would only find an excuse to put it off until September, and so on. I gained a little more than 15 pounds since the COVID pandemic began, and that is not OK. My cholesterol numbers are “mildly elevated” for the first time ever, and to get a handle on that quickly, I am taking a new approach wherever I can, starting right here with my favorite summer treat.

My goal with this ice cream was to whittle back the fat content without losing all the creamy, indulgent texture that makes ice cream so enjoyable. I remember back in the day, my grandmother occasionally had something called “ice milk” in her freezer, and it was boring at best. A treat is only a treat if it satisfies—what I wanted was the best of both worlds, and friends, I think I have cracked the code.

Serve this luscious ice cream by itself, or as a creamy pairing to cobbler, pie or cake!

I’m not going to claim that this ice cream is health food—it isn’t. But it does have lower overall fat than my usual sweetened condensed milk base and it was so easy to make, with only a few ingredients and an ice cream machine. This condensed milk style of ice cream was already on the fast track to becoming my go-to base recipe—it requires no eggs or cooking, after all—but now that I know that it can be lightened up and still be this delicious? Game over, and everyone wins!

A few easy swaps from my usual no-egg ice cream base, and it turned out terrific!

The first swap I made was the condensed milk itself—I opted for the fat-free version of this shortcut ingredient, figuring that the thick, syrupy texture would hold its own in the absence of the milkfat, and I was right. For extra body, I blended in a small container of Greek yogurt, which only added 3 grams of fat. Half and half was swapped in for the usual cup of heavy cream, which saved more than 50 grams of fat in the whole batch. And a half-cup of light whipping cream, which is decadent but still lighter than heavy cream, contributed a bit of silky richness. Here’s how easy it was to make:


In case you’re wondering—no, your eyes are not fooling you; the condensed milk was more beige than cream-colored. I did a little research into this, and it turns out that canned milk can change to a tan color if it has been stored in warmer temperatures, but it isn’t a problem unless the can is bulging, or the milk has visible signs of spoilage (I checked the Eagle brand website to be sure). Mine was fine, and I actually appreciated the color, which lent a visual richness to my reduced-guilt ice cream. It was almost the same color as if I had used a high-fat custard base recipe. Were the substitutions enough to make a measurable difference in the fat content? I wasn’t sure yet, and frankly didn’t want to know the impact of my choices until after I tasted it.  


A generous tablespoon of real vanilla paste gave my ice cream the deep homemade flavor I crave. When my base was all mixed together (which only took FOUR minutes!), I covered it and sent it to the fridge to be completely chilled. No matter what ingredients you put into an ice cream, you want it to be really cold before you add it to an ice cream machine, churning it up into a frosty treat.


The recipe finished as easily as it started. I poured it into my ice cream machine and churned for 25 minutes, then transferred it to an insulated container and held my breath, hoping that my substitutions would not sabotage my desire for a rich, creamy treat.

According to my calculations, and based on the actual product nutrition labels, this version of ice cream is almost exactly 50% lower in fat than the other, with less than 7 fat grams per serving!


Friends, it’s going to be a great summer! I’ll have more fun ice cream recipes to share during National Ice Cream Month.

Happy 4th! 🙂

Reduced Guilt Vanilla Ice Cream

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: easy
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A few simple ingredient swaps resulted in this creamy, indulgent ice cream that just happens to be half the fat of a regular condensed milk ice cream recipe.

Ingredients

  • 14 oz. can fat-free sweetened condensed milk
  • 5 oz. container Greek yogurt (2% works great)
  • 1 cup half and half
  • 1/2 cup light whipping cream
  • 1 Tbsp. real vanilla paste (or 2 tsp. real vanilla extract)

Directions

  1. In a large pitcher bowl, whisk together the sweetened condensed milk and Greek yogurt until evenly combined.
  2. Stir in heavy cream and half and half, whisking to blend after each addition.
  3. Stir in vanilla paste. Cover and chill the mixture for at least two hours.
  4. Whisk mixture just before freezing, to reincorporate any ingredients that have settled. Freeze in ice cream machine according to manufacturer’s instructions.
  5. Transfer to insulated container and place in freezer to firm up.

Because this ice cream is lower in fat than most, it’s best to consume it within 4 to 5 days. Longer storage results in a slightly icy texture.



Strawberry-Rhubarb Lemonade

Ah, fresh lemonade. Is there anything more refreshing on a scorching hot summer day? If you have never made homemade lemonade, I promise you that it’s very simple and totally worth the effort. All you need is a simple syrup (which is literally only a warmed mixture of water and sugar), a tiny pinch of salt (which is basically an exclamation point on the other flavors) and a whole bunch of freshly squeezed lemon juice.

And if you want to elevate homemade lemonade with other flavors, it’s a simple twist of ingredients. For my strawberry-rhubarb version, I made two simple syrups, one infused with the bright citrus flavor of organic lemon peel, and the other with two stalks of cut up rhubarb. Then, I pureed fresh organic strawberries with water, strained out the seeds and combined the whole thing in a pitcher with the juice of six lemons.

This recipe makes a delicious base. Mix it in equal parts with still or sparkling water for the ultimate refresher!

The result is this beautifully hued summer beverage with tart, sweet and tangy flavors that taste all at once like spring, summer and sunshine. The formula is slightly concentrated, leaving me with options for how to serve it. It’s delicious mixed 1:1 with cold water over ice, or 1:1 with chilled sparkling water, and I haven’t tried it yet, but I imagine it would make a great cocktail if shaken with ice and a shot of vodka or blanco tequila. My husband even suggested we blend it with crushed ice for an even more refreshing summer cooler—a slushie.

Here’s how it came together, and I’ll admit that it could have been easier if I had made only one simple syrup rather than two, but there’s a reason it happened that way. I’ll explain in a moment.





Bring the heat, summer!

So, why two syrups for this recipe? It wasn’t necessary, and next time, I’d make them together in one batch. Truthfully, I made my rhubarb syrup first, and it was intended for some other recipes, but a story in my news feed last week caught my eye and I took a detour toward this pretty, pink lemonade. The story was about the upcoming “Strawberry Moon,” the full moon tomorrow night that has the distinction of also being a supermoon.

Photo by Francesco Ungaro on Pexels.com

Big Moon Summer

Supermoon occurs when the moon is full at the same time it is closet to Earth in its orbit. Nothing is different about the moon itself, of course, but the combination of its full phase and proximity to our planet give it the appearance of being larger and brighter than a typical full moon.  

I am fascinated by the moon, which has tremendous influence over all life—from the ocean tides and reproductive cycles of animals to its effects on the human body and even (or, perhaps, especially) our emotions. Nobody understood these things more than the Native Americans, who are responsible for the names given to the full moons each month. They named the moons based on what was in season, or what was happening in nature at the time of each full moon cycle. Various tribes held this moon-naming practice, but the names that are still used today are mostly attributed to the Algonquin tribe, which made its home in the stretch from New England to the Great Lakes.

Strawberry Moon is the first of three supermoons this year. Next will be July’s Buck Moon (named for the time when male deers’ antlers will be in full growth mode, according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac). And some sources say that August’s full moon also qualifies for supermoon status. That will be the Sturgeon moon, so named for the abundance of sturgeon fish that historically filled the Great Lakes during late summer. That’s three consecutive supermoons, and I think that’s a natural phenomenon worth celebrating.

Want to see the Strawberry Supermoon? This site will help you find the best time for viewing in your area—Moonrise and Moonset Calculator (timeanddate.com)—but if you don’t want to try to interpret the scientific chart for an exact time, just pour yourself a tall glass of strawberry rhubarb lemonade and head outside for a sky check any time after sunset on Tuesday.

Cheers!


Strawberry-Rhubarb Lemonade

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: easy
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I’ve combined juicy strawberries, spring rhubarb and fresh lemon juice, making a beautifully hued beverage with tart, sweet and tangy flavors that taste all at once like spring, summer and sunshine. This is slightly concentrated, leaving me with options for how to serve it. It’s delicious mixed 1:1 with cold water over ice, or 1:1 with chilled sparkling water, and I can’t wait to try it as a cocktail, shaken with a shot of vodka or blanco tequila.

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups filtered water
  • 1 1/2 cups organic cane sugar (more or less to taste)
  • 2 or 3 stalks rhubarb, chopped
  • Strips of lemon peel from two organic lemons
  • Juice of 6 lemons (about 3/4 cup)
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • About 1 cup fresh organic strawberries, trimmed and hulled
  • 1 cup water (for pureeing the strawberries)

Directions

  1. Combine filtered water and cane sugar in a large saucepot. Add rhubarb pieces and strips of lemon peel. Heat over medium heat until water comes to a gentle boil, then turn off heat. Stir until sugar fully dissolves. Stir in salt. Allow this mixture to cool to room temperature.
  2. Add strawberries and 1 cup water in the pitcher of a blender or bowl of a food processor. Puree until no visible bits of berry remain. Strain through a mesh strainer over a large pitcher or bowl.
  3. Add simple syrup and lemon juice to strawberry puree. Stir to blend. Chill overnight.
  4. To serve, combine equal parts lemonade base and cold (or sparkling) water and pour over ice.



Blender Buttermilk-Feta Dressing

Let’s get this out of the way; today’s post is less about the salad dressing (which was just OK, and I’ll offer my ideas for making it better) and far more about my excitement in finding the new appliance I used to make it. What can I say? —I don’t take my decisions lightly.

We are approaching the six-month mark since the completion of our beautifully remodeled kitchen, and I am still on the hunt for the right tools to help equip me for success. You know how it is—you improve one thing, and suddenly everything in and around it seems outdated. My husband, Les, and I gave every countertop gadget we own a once-over when we did our update, and though a few appliances were deemed worthy, I have decided to replace my tired, old food processor (more to come on that one) and to purchase a real, honest-to-goodness blender. It’s about time!

I’ve had a Nutri-Bullet personal blender for a few years, and it’s great for breakfast smoothies and small amounts of things that I want to puree into oblivion, but not so good for anything that requires finesse, because the Nutri-Bullet has only one setting. It is also inconvenient for making anything that requires adding or adjusting ingredients halfway through, because once you open the wide, jar-like lid, the blended mixture gets all over everything and makes a mess. I needed a blender that opened at the top and had multiple settings and functions to help me with more than just smoothies.

When I had lamented to Les a few years ago that it was difficult to find a quality blender “like they used to make,” you know, with a sturdy glass carafe, he disappeared to our garage and returned with a dusty relic that had been gifted to him many years ago (for his first wedding, as he recalls). It was tall and heavy, with real glass! Unfortunately, when we finally found replacement gaskets for the ones that had dry rotted, we discovered that the blender didn’t have much oomph. It was mostly good for, well, stirring things.

After months of intense research, and reading reviews on every website imaginable, I have finally found the best blender for us. It’s tall, attractive, powerful and versatile enough to handle whatever role I give it. In other words, it’s the George Clooney of countertop appliances. The first challenge I had with it was deciding what to make first, and so far, I’ve only used it to make coconut martini cocktails and this buttermilk feta salad dressing, which was included in the little recipe cards that came with the machine. Regardless of your blender brand, I’m confident that you can make this dressing, and it only requires five ingredients, plus salt and pepper.

This dressing can’t help being tangy, with feta, buttermilk and lemon! Garlic and olive oil round out the ingredients list.

Part of the appeal of this recipe was that I already had all the ingredients, and the dressing wasn’t bad but I would recommend a few tweaks to improve the texture and balance the tang. Just about any kind of fresh, tender herb would be good here; basil, cilantro or dill would add a zesty punch. In the texture department, I would recommend addition of a couple tablespoons of mayonnaise to produce a creamier dressing that will cling better to your salad greens. If you do stick to the recipe offered by Breville, I recommend using a buttermilk with a thicker consistency so it doesn’t turn out watery.

Here’s how things went for me.


But enough about the dressing. 😉

I am very pleased with our new Breville blender, which has a pre-programmed setting for smoothies, and eventually I will get around to making one. I especially appreciate the self-clean function, which makes cleanup a snap, even after making a creamy salad dressing like this one. It’s so easy, I literally put two drops of dish liquid into it with about one cup of water and touch the “auto-clean” button. The blender does the rest, switching between speeds and settings until the pitcher is clean. Quick rinse, and done. I should have bought it years ago. Did I mention that I paid full price for this appliance, and nobody is paying me for my opinion? Just thought I’d mention that, in case this sounds like an advertisement.

Besides the debut of our fab new blender, I am also excited to apply a new way of sharing the details of my recipes with you. When I first started my blog, my sister-in-law, Andrea, suggested adding a “print” feature to make it easier for a reader to save a recipe for later. It was a great idea, and up to this point, I have accomplished it by formatting the recipe into a PDF that I upload at the end of a post. Today, I’m doing something different.

After an hour-long chat session with WordPress support (which left me as confused as ever), and then a few friendly emails and helpful coaching by one of my blog buddies about something called “shortcode,” I have finally figured out how to apply my recipe ingredients and instructions to my posts, including a quick “print” option, without so much background work.

I first spotted this feature on a post by Maylee at BeyondGumbo.com, and when I reached out to ask about it, Maylee graciously walked me through how she uses the feature. As you’ve probably guessed, her blog is all about the regional cuisine of Louisiana (which is so much more than gumbo!), including a beautiful bibb salad with luscious Louisiana strawberries, which she just posted on Sunday. And if you think that sounds delicious, wait until she surprises us with something that she casually whips up from the satsuma trees growing in her backyard. 😊


Let’s see how this goes!

Easy Buttermilk Feta Dressing

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: very easy
  • Print

This recipe is simple and versatile, and it can be made in any blender. Consider tweaking it by adding other ingredients, such as your favorite fresh herbs, for a twist of flavor.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup cultured buttermilk
  • Approximately 1/2 cup feta, crumbled
  • 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • The juice of one organic lemon
  • 1 small clove garlic, rough-chopped
  • 1/2 tsp. organic lemon zest
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Directions

  1. Place buttermilk, feta, olive oil, lemon juice and garlic into the jug of a blender. Puree 15 seconds, or longer if needed to achieve smooth texture.
  2. Add lemon zest. Season with salt and pepper. Mix on a low speed for 5 seconds, to incorporate seasonings. Transfer dressing to a jar and refrigerate until ready to serve.



Pollo Chipotle

There’s a time and place for the numbered dishes on a Mexican restaurant menu—you know what I mean, the #11 combo platter of one crunchy taco, one burrito and one enchilada, with a side of rice and flavorless refried beans. For me, the time was in my younger years, before I learned to appreciate the Mexican specialty dishes as I do today, and the place was (obviously) an actual restaurant, which I don’t frequent as much as I did in those days because, frankly, we prefer the food we make at home. It has only been recently that I started considering how to make some of our favorite Mexican meals, and those favorites seldom include items from the numbered combo section, and never any crunchy, from-a-box taco shells that I used to associate with Mexican “cuisine.” It’s funny how much has changed.

At one of our favorite local places, called Señor Bravo, the pollo chipotle is the special menu item that always wins over my husband, Les. The chicken (or pollo, if you wish) is tender and bite sized, and it’s drenched in a spicy sauce that has enough smoky chipotle to warrant being part of the dish’s name, but also enough rich cream to soften the edges and give the dish a special flair. I have tried several times to make this dish at home, and on previous attempts found it difficult to replicate the flavor and texture. It seemed something was missing so I fiddled with the cooking process, added ingredients and spices, tried different types of cream—from half and half to heavy cream—and every addition made it less and less like the restaurant dish. Finally, I dialed it all back and kept it simple. Turns out, simplicity was exactly and only what it needed.


Besides being simple and delicious, this dish is also relatively healthy, as I used cream cheese rather than heavy cream to thicken the spicy sauce. This eliminated the need for flour as a thickening agent. And for our at-home pollo chipotle, I jazzed up a simple pot of brown rice with a shake of cumin and a small handful of chopped cilantro and served it alongside a simple salad with fresh tomato and slices of ripe avocado.


Ingredients

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts

2 Tbsp. expeller-pressed canola oil

1/2 large yellow onion, chopped

2 cloves fresh garlic, smashed and sliced

3/4 tsp. kosher salt

1/4 tsp. sweet Spanish paprika

1/2 tsp. ground cumin

Several twists of freshly ground black pepper

1 or 2 Tbsp. pureed chipotle with adobo sauce* (see recipe notes)

1 cup low-sodium vegetable broth*

A couple of pinches of dried Mexican oregano*

4 Tbsp. cream cheese, room temperature


*Recipe Notes

The chipotle puree is best prepared in advance, and you may want to start with one tablespoon and adjust up to taste. To make the puree, empty the entire contents of a small can of chipotles in adobo sauce into a food processor or blender. If your processor has a small bowl insert, that will be the perfect size. Pulse a few times, then run the machine continuously until the sauce is completely smooth.


I prefer the more complex flavor of vegetable broth in most recipes, but for this dish, you could certainly use chicken broth. I would still recommend a low-sodium version, as this helps with controlling the overall amount of sodium in the dish.

Low-sodium vegetable broth is one of the most versatile ingredients in my pantry. If you prefer, use chicken broth.

Mexican oregano is very different from the easier-to-find Mediterranean oregano you are probably accustomed to using. It’s part of the verbena family, with a citrusy, slightly floral flavor. Search it out in an ethnic supermarket, at Whole Foods or the international spice section of World Market. If you can’t get Mexican oregano, dried marjoram would be a better substitute than regular oregano.

To make the cilantro rice, simply cook a batch of your favorite brown rice according to package instructions. Use vegetable broth rather than water for more flavor. Stir in salt, pepper, a few shakes of ground cumin and a small handful of fresh, chopped cilantro leaves before serving.

Why serve ordinary rice, if you can make it more flavorful with so little effort?

Instructions



Looking for ways to use the rest of the chipotle puree?



Tahini-Lemon Sauce

One of my favorite condiments is tzatziki, the Greek yogurt-based topping that is perfect for anything you put on a pita, including gyro and souvlaki. The zesty zing of garlic and cooling notes of grated cucumber are an easy, refreshing way to pile on the flavor. But for a vegan dish, such as the falafel I made recently, tzatziki is off the table. We wanted a flavorful topping that still had a Middle Eastern vibe, and one that could play many roles, as a dipping sauce, topping or dressing.

That’s how this tahini-lemon sauce came to be, and as I whizzed up the ingredients in my food processor, it occurred to me that this sauce is basically hummus, minus the chickpeas. All the other components of hummus are in there—the tahini, which is a sticky paste made from ground toasted sesame seeds, fresh garlic, fresh lemon juice, salt, spices and good olive oil. Processing these ingredients results in a smooth, completely emulsified mixture that can be thick or thin, depending on how much water your blend into it. For my purposes this time, I kept it on the thicker side as a perfect dipping agent for my falafel, but I can easily see the benefit of thinning it to pour onto a salad or Buddha bowl.

This tahini-lemon sauce is smooth, silky and creamy, but with no mayonnaise or dairy.

My husband’s adult daughter has adopted the vegan lifestyle, and I am always on the lookout for easy foods to make when she visits. This tahini-lemon sauce fits the bill, and it’s so tasty that we non-vegans won’t feel like we are missing out on anything.

Enjoy!


Ingredients

1/2 cup tahini paste

2 cloves garlic, chopped

Juice of 1 large lemon

A few shakes of crushed red pepper* (see notes)

2 Tbsp. fresh dill leaves

1/4 cup water (or more, for thinner sauce)

3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil


*Notes

The crushed red pepper flakes that you see in pizza restaurants would be fine here, but if you can get your hands on Aleppo pepper, that is even more in keeping with the Mediterranean flavor profile. We used a three-pepper blend (Aleppo, Maras and Urfa) from Flatiron Pepper Company, and their rep informed me that it will be back in stock in a few months. I’ll update this post at that time to include a link, in case you’d like to check it out.


Instructions




Whole Grain Soft Pitas

A commitment to healthier eating is kept with small, consistent adjustments. That probably sounds like a ridiculous statement coming from the cook who shared steak & potato pizza and decadent bananas Foster ice cream within the past few weeks, but I don’t necessarily mean just counting calories. I’m referring to more sweeping lifestyle changes that incorporate healthier choices and become the norm. Every time I have tried to “diet,” my plan falls apart, and I am quite accomplished at beating myself up under those circumstances. It is better, I have found, to find a few things that I can do without feeling cheated and simply apply those things across the board in my cooking repertoire. Eating healthier in general helps me feel better about the more luxurious things I enjoy in “moderation.”

For example, I hardly ever eat highly processed foods—including meat with nitrites and pantry items containing high fructose corn syrup or hydrogenated oils. On the rare occasions that I do consume those things, it’s because I am ordering in a restaurant where the ingredients list is not easily reviewed. I ditched soft drinks a long time ago, and I make my own salad dressings most of the time, using vinegar or fruit juice, spices and extra virgin olive oil. We are diligent to seek out grass-fed beef (and we don’t eat nearly as much as we once did) and free-range chicken, and we are big supporters of the local butcher shop that carries responsibly raised pork.

The biggest change I’ve made over the past several years, though, is a shift toward whole grains in the baked goods I eat, and this got a lot easier when I started making my own bread at home. Not every recipe I make is 100% whole grain (including this one, which checks in at about 65%), but swapping white flour with some amount of whole wheat has been a smart decision that is easy to stick with. Nutrition experts rank whole grains more highly for two main reasons—the fiber they bring to a dish, and the complex carbohydrates that help keep our blood sugar levels regulated. 

If you bake at home, and you want to try shifting toward whole grain, I highly recommend picking up a bag of “white whole wheat” flour, made by King Arthur Baking Company. I am not a paid representative of this company (though my friends and family have said I should be, as much as I rave), but from one friend to another, I don’t mind telling you that this one product has changed the way I bake and eat, and I can hardly notice a difference in a typical recipe. Unlike some whole wheat flours, which are made from hard red wheat and carry a slight bitter flavor, King Arthur’s white whole wheat flour is produced from exactly that—hard white wheat—and it behaves and tastes almost exactly the same as an all-purpose flour. It can be swapped in 1:1 in most recipes for breads, pancakes, cookies and muffins. If you want to make a gradual switch, start by subbing about one-fourth of the total flour with the white whole wheat, then increase it to your liking as you go. Over time, you may find all-white breads to be flat and bland. That has certainly been the case at our house.

These whole grain goodies are terrific as sandwich wraps, and also great for cutting into wedges and dipping into fresh hummus!

For these soft wraps, I’ve taken a recipe that I posted in May 2020, when my blog was still in its infancy, and I’ve flipped the ratio of flours so that it uses twice as much white whole wheat as all-purpose flour. That earlier recipe for Soft Pita Breads is still great, and I’ve linked to it so you can check out the original. But this version, in all its whole grain glory, turned out so good with the falafel we made at home recently that it will become my go-to. What makes the pita breads so soft and bendy is an unusual technique of pre-cooking a portion of the flour before adding the rest of the ingredients. The pitas are “baked” on a griddle rather than in the oven, or you can use a dry cast-iron skillet if that’s what you have.

This recipe is easy even for beginning bakers, and unlike most of my bread-related shares, it does not depend on sourdough starter.

Enjoy!


Ingredients

2 cups white whole wheat flour* (see notes)

1 1/4 cups boiling water (plus up to 2 Tbsp. additional water)

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2 cup dried potato flakes*

1 Tbsp. milled flax seed (optional, but so good for you)

1 1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. onion powder (optional)

1 tsp. instant yeast*

2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil


*Notes

When measuring by volume, it’s important to fluff the flour first to avoid compacting it in the measuring cup. For best results, follow the fluff-sprinkle-level method.

Fellow label readers, you may find it difficult to find dried potato flakes that aren’t filled with dozens of unknown ingredients. Most “instant mashed potato” brands don’t make the cut in my recipes, but I have found two sources that are truly just potatoes, and that is the way to go. One is the 365 brand, available at Whole Foods and on Amazon, and the other is this one from Bob’s Red Mill. I promise, for my next batch, I will test a recipe that uses cooked potatoes.

Take note of what kind of yeast you have. Instant dry yeast is not the same as “active dry” yeast. The latter must be proved in warm water before using, whereas instant yeast can be added directly with the other dry ingredients. If you only have active dry yeast, try reserving 1/4 cup of the boiling water. Let it cool to bathwater temperature and dissolve the yeast in it for about 10 minutes. Add this mixture with the rest of the dry ingredients as directed in the recipe.


Instructions



Les’s 3-Variety Overnight Applesauce

When Terrie asks me to share a recipe for her blog, my immediate thought about the specific post is where my recipe came from. In the case of applesauce, which I make at various times throughout the year, I have no answer.

I simply cannot recall the origin of my homemade applesauce. I suspect it came about originally because of my son’s absolute love of apples; he started eating apples before he was 2, and had one daily into his high school years.

I do know my recipe took a turn when two things happened. First, somewhere along the way, I decided to do with the applesauce what I have done with mashed potatoes, which is mix varieties to increase the flavor and texture. Rather than two varieties (russet and Yukon gold), as I do with my roasted garlic mashed potatoes, I decided three was the perfect mix for apples in applesauce. Second, back about 2013, for my annual gift to self for Thanksgiving (a story unto its own), I bought a Cuisinart multi-cooker, a juiced-up version of a slow cooker. This is the same slow cooker that saved many a day for us during our recent kitchen remodel.

For applesauce, the slow cooker suffices—and it is easier than tending a cast-iron pot, my old method. As for varieties, I’m quite consistent in using Honeycrisp for sweet and Granny Smith for tart; then, the third variety is whatever strikes my fancy. Unless, that is, I can find my all-time favorite, Jonagold, which happen to be extremely tough to locate in North Carolina. This year, the third variety was Kanzi, a style of apple that basic research reveals comes from Belgium. The name means “hidden treasure,” and the apple is considered a cross between a Gala and a Braeburn. It is a mix of tangy and sweet, a fine add to the first two. All three apples are in the crispy category, which I believe makes for better applesauce.

A couple of years ago, Terrie asked me to make this for Thanksgiving as an add to the usual cranberry sauces on our table. It had more to do with the proximity of the Jewish holiday Hanukkah, where applesauce is a wonderful complement to Terrie’s homemade latkes. This year it was a complete no-brainer, as Hanukkah begins the Sunday night of Thanksgiving weekend.

This recipe requires some upfront labor in peeling and dicing the apples. But after that, the slow cooker does the rest and a few hours later—voilà!—a homemade applesauce that will have your dinner table guests thinking you’re a genius in the kitchen.

This recipe could not be simpler. Combine your ingredients in the slow cooker and wait nearby with a spoon.

Ingredients

Eight to nine large apples, three varieties

One small lemon, juiced

1/2 to 3/4 cup brown sugar

Vietnamese cinnamon to taste (I use about 1/2 teaspoon)


Instructions

Peel and core the apples, then cut into bite-size chunks. Add to the slow cooker. Juice the lemon over the apples and toss to prevent browning. Add the brown sugar and cinnamon and toss to coat. Turn the slow cooker to high and let it cook for four to six hours. I usually set it up at bedtime and by morning, the cooker has cooled. Mash the softened apples by hand (I use a potato masher). If you like the applesauce chunky, use a light mashing touch. Chill and enjoy.


Les’s Cranberry Sauce with Mandarin Oranges

In the 35 years I’ve been cooking Thanksgiving dinners, one of my favorite things to make is cranberry sauce. Although I have the same fondness for the jelled cranberry of Ocean Spray fame that we all grew up with (you know, the kind you used the can opener on one end and punched two holes in the other end and secretly thrilled to the sucking sound as it plopped out onto a plate), I instinctively knew early on that there had to be a better way.

Initially I began to make fresh cranberry sauce by boiling the berries in water and adding sugar. I wanted more flavor, and in 2002, I hit the jackpot with a website recipe that adapted a version originally published in Cooking Light magazine. That means my batch for Thanksgiving 2021 will be the 20th year I’ve made this delicious concoction.

It’s about sugar and apple cider (instead of water) offsetting the tart of the cranberries, and mandarin oranges adding back a different type of tart. If you make it, I guarantee you’ll be hooked. Terrie even loves it on vanilla ice cream.


Ingredients

12-ounce bag of fresh cranberries

1 cup of white sugar* (see notes)

½ cup of brown sugar

1 cup of apple cider*

½ jar of mandarin oranges*


*Notes

The original recipe called for 1½ cups of white sugar and ½ of brown sugar. I cut down the white sugar because it is plenty sweet. Either light or dark brown sugar works well.

Although I do typically use apple cider, the recipe certainly would work with water. Better yet if you can find it, as I’ve only been able to do a couple of times over the years, apple-cherry cider is the bomb!

I used half of a 23.5 ounce jar of Dole mandarin oranges; I like jars better because I feel that canned oranges have a “tell” of can flavor (coincidentally, not unlike Ocean Spray jellied cranberry sauce).


Instructions

Combine all ingredients, except Mandarin oranges, in a medium saucepan on medium heat and bring to a simmering boil over the course of 15 to 20 minutes. Turn down heat as cranberries begin to pop and work a spoon around the outside of the pot, crushing them into a sauce. When all berries have popped, remove from heat and refrigerate for an hour. Then, add the mandarin oranges to the slightly gelled sauce and refrigerate again until ready to serve.