Healthy Mediterranean Cooking at Home

Tag Archives: Slow cooker

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Dutch ovens are cylindrical, heavy gauge cooking pots with tight-fitting lids that can be used either on a range top or in the oven. The heavy metal or ceramic construction provides constant, even and multi-directional radiant heat to the food being cooked inside.

The term “Dutch oven” is something of a misnomer in that the pots are neither Dutch nor actual ovens. Rather, it refers to the casting process developed in Holland by which brass vessels were cast in dry-sand molds. In 1704, an Englishman by the name of Abraham Darby traveled to the Netherlands to observe how the thick-walled cast-iron pots were made and, eventually, patented a similar process for use in England and its American colonies.

A Dutch oven has the advantage of using one pot from start to finish — you can sear protein in the same pan you use to braise. When using a Dutch oven, you can braise on the stove top or in the oven. Almost any cooking task can be performed in a Dutch oven.

All of my recipes below are cooked on top of the stove but you could easily finish the braising process in the oven. Cover and place the Dutch Oven on the middle of a rack in an oven that has been pre-heated to 300° Fahrenheit and follow the cooking times below.

How to Make Dutch Oven Recipes in a Slow Cooker.

Converting from a Dutch Oven to a slow cooker is easy. If a recipe has any searing, sauteing or deglazing steps, complete those steps in a pan on the stove top. After adding the liquid, transfer everything to the slow cooker. For recipes that call for either stove top simmering or an oven temperature of 300 degrees F or more, set your slow cooker to HIGH. For recipes under 300 degrees F, use the LOW setting. Slow cookers prevent liquid from evaporating, so sauces come out thinner than in a Dutch Oven.

SLOW COOKER DUTCH OVEN
12 hours/Low 3 hours/325° F
10 hours/Low 2 1/2 hours/325° F
8 hours/Low 2 hours/325° F
6 hours/Low 1 1/2 hours/325° F
5 hours/Low 1 hour, 15 min./325° F
4 hours/Low 1 hour/325° F
4 hours/High 2 hours/325° F
3 hours/Low 45 min./325° F
3 hours/High 1 1/2 hours/325° F
2 hours/Low 30 min./325° F
2 hours/High 1 hour/325° F
1 hour/Low 15 min./325° F
1 hour/High 30 min./325° F

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Quick Cooking Pork and Vegetable Stew Italiano

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 lbs boneless pork loin cut into 3/4-inch cubes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 onion, medium, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 cups fresh mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
  • 2 medium zucchinis, halved lengthwise, cut into 1/2-inch slices
  • 1 cup canned diced Italian tomatoes
  • 14 1/2 oz canned low sodium chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon fresh basil , torn
  • 2 teaspoons fresh oregano, chopped

Directions

Combine flour, salt and pepper in a plastic bag. Add pork pieces and shake to coat. Set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a Dutch Oven over medium-high heat. Add onion, celery, green pepper and mushrooms. Sauté for 5 minutes, until vegetables are softened. Add garlic and sauté for another 30 seconds. Transfer vegetables to a bowl and set aside.

Heat remaining oil over medium-high heat. Sauté pork on all sides, until golden brown, about 5 minutes.

Return sautéed vegetables to the pot. Add zucchini, tomatoes and broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes, until pork is tender. Stir in basil and oregano, season with salt and pepper and serve.

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Italian Vegetable Stew

6 servings

Ingredients

  • Half of a 1-lb. loaf sourdough bread, torn into 2” pieces (about 6 cups)
  • 1 bunch collard greens, center ribs and stems removed
  • 1 bunch Tuscan or other kale, center ribs and stems removed
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided, plus more for serving
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled, finely chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, finely chopped
  • 1 leek, white and pale-green parts only, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic cloves, chopped
  • ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 28-oz can diced Italian tomatoes
  • 8 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
  • 3 15-oz. cans cannellini (white kidney) beans, drained and rinsed
  • 4 sprigs thyme
  • 1 sprig marjoram or oregano
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Shaved Parmesan (for serving

Directions

Scatter bread on a rimmed baking sheet in a single layer. Let stand at room temperature to slightly dry out, about 2 hours.

Cook greens separately in a large pot (Dutch Oven) of boiling salted water until slightly softened, about 3 minutes per batch. Cool. Squeeze out excess water; roughly chop. Set aside.

In the empty pot heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat. Add carrots, celery and leek; stir often until softened, 8–10 minutes.

Add garlic and red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add tomatoes, broth, beans, thyme, marjoram, bay leaf and reserved greens; season with salt and pepper.

Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until flavors meld and soup thickens slightly, 40–50 minutes. Discard herb sprigs and bay leaf.

Just before serving, gently stir bread into the soup. Divide among bowls, top with Parmesan and drizzle with oil.

DO AHEAD: Stew can be made 2 days ahead. Let cool slightly; chill until cold. Cover and keep chilled. Reheat before continuing. Store bread airtight at room temperature.

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Spicy Cioppino

For 2

Ingredients

  • 6 fingerling potatoes, quartered
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1 small sweet onion, sliced
  • 1 jalapeno, minced
  • 2 garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon each dried oregano and basil
  • 1 teaspoon hot paprika (or half cayenne and half smoked paprika)
  • 1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup clam juice
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 fresh plum tomatoes seeded and finely diced
  • 1 white fish fillet (cod, halibut, grouper) diced (about 8 ounces)
  • 6 sea scallops and 6 peeled shrimp, patted dry 
  • 6 mussels and 6 small clams
  • 2 tablespoons capers, rinsed
  • 2 tablespoon minced fresh parsley and/or basil
  • Sourdough bread

Directions

Place potatoes in a Dutch Oven, cover with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer until tender, 8-10 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Add 1 tablespoon oil onion, garlic and jalapeno to the pan and stir to coat. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring often, until vegetables soften, about 4- 5 minutes.

Increase heat to medium-high, add seasonings, salt and pepper, wine, clam juice and tomatoes; bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to maintain a simmer and cook, stirring often, for 6 to 8 minutes.

Add the clams and mussels and cook until the shellfish open.

Season fish, shrimp and scallops with salt and pepper. Add the fish, shrimp and scallops, cooked potatoes, cream and capers to the pot, return to a simmer and cook until heated through and white fish is cooked, about 2-3 minutes. Garnish with parsley, if desired. Serve with sourdough bread.

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Italian Beef Stew

8 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon olive oil, divided
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped carrot
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 pounds boneless chuck roast, trimmed and cut into cubes
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 4 cups diced Italian tomatoes
  • 1 1/2 cups lower-sodium beef broth
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 8-ounce package whole cremini mushrooms, quartered
  • 3/4 cup (1/4-inch-thick) slices carrot
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley

Directions

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a Dutch Oven.

Place 1/4 cup flour in a shallow dish. Sprinkle beef with 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper and dredge in the flour.

Add half the beef to the pan; sauté 6 minutes, browning on all sides. Remove from the pan to a bowl. Repeat procedure with oil and beef.

Add the remaining 1 teaspoon oil to the pan. Add onion and chopped carrot; sauté 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add garlic; sauté for 45 seconds, stirring constantly.

Add wine to the pan and bring to a boil, scraping bottom of the pan (about 5 minutes). Return meat to the pan. Add tomatoes and the next 6 ingredients; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Uncover and stir in sliced carrot. Simmer, uncovered, for 1 hour or until meat is very tender, stirring occasionally. Discard bay leaf. Stir in remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, basil and parsley.

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Chickpea and Chicken Stew

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 skinless, boneless chicken thighs, sliced into ½ inch thick lengths
  • Kosher salt
  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 3/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 15-ounce cans chickpeas, rinsed, drained
  • 1/2 cup diced, drained roasted red peppers from a jar
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 cups 1′ cubes country-style bread
  • 3 tablespoons coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley

Directions

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a Dutch Oven over medium-high heat. Season chicken with salt; add to the pot and cook, turning once, until browned, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate.

Reduce heat to low and add garlic and cook, stirring often, until fragrant, 30–60 seconds. Add oregano, tomato paste and red pepper flakes; stir until a smooth paste forms, about 1 minute. Add reserved, browned chicken with any accumulated juices, along with bay leaves and 4 cups water. Scrape up any browned bits. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, occasionally stirring, until chicken is tender, about 10-12 minutes.

Add chickpeas to the pot; bring to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Add diced red peppers. Stir in lemon juice; simmer for 1 minute. Season with salt and more lemon juice, if desired. Divide bread cubes among bowls. Ladle stew over. Garnish with parsley.

 


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Stracotto  translates literally from the Italian as “overcooked,” but the term has come to refer to beef stews and braises – especially in northern Italy.The important part of the recipe is the slow cooking of the meat at a very low temperature to tenderize even the toughest cut of beef. The recipe starts with a soffritto of onion, carrot, celery and, sometimes, finely diced pancetta or the fat from prosciutto and continues with the addition of red wine, beef broth, tomatoes and tomato paste.

There are as many versions of this dish as there are cooks. In much of Tuscany, the meat to be roasted in the pot is seasoned with a minced mixture of celery, carrot, onion and parsley, but never garlic, whereas the cooks of Arezzo use garlic and juniper berries to season the meat.

In Lombardy, the meat is marinated overnight  in the red wine. In northern Italy, especially the Parma area, leftover stracotto becomes a filling for ravioli.

In Florence, before the discovery of America and the importation of tomatoes, stracotto was cooked with agresto – a sauce made from crushed, tart grapes, boiled and flavored with cloves, cinnamon and the juice of a squeezed onion. Chianti is the wine of choice in preparing this dish in Florence and porcini mushrooms are often an important ingredient.

In Bologna, a veal roast is used for this dish. In Sicily, the meat is cut into chunks, stew like, before braising.

Italian Jews also make stracotto with wine and tomatoes that is eaten both as a shabbos lunch and as a Friday night dinner. Rome resident, Celeste Pavoncello Pipenro, recalls eating stracotto throughout her life, “I remember Grandmother Celeste cooking stracotto in a special crock pot that she used just for this dish. It was very important to her to cook the stracotto in the crockpot. Also, my father, Marco, cooks the stracotto quite often and he puts some chocolate in with the meat just to add a different flavor.”

The dish originated in the Piedmont area of italy and here is an early recipe translated from Italian to English.

Piedmontese Pot Roast of Beef with Barolo Wine

Ingredients for 6 persons
1 Kg of lean beef, Italian parsley, sage, garlic, onion, carrot, celery, a
little flour, one bottle of Barolo wine, olive oil, butter, nutmeg, salt
and pepper.

You place in a casserole dish some spoonfuls of butter, olive oil
and sliced onions. Saute these ingredients, then brown the meat
after dredging it in the flour. Cover with the parsley, garlic, the
herbs and the rest of the chopped vegetables. Brown the meat on
all sides to seal it, then add the Barolo wine. Simmer a while to
reduce the liquid & evaporate the wine, then add salt and pepper.
Cover and place in a preheated oven(150C/300F/Gas 2). Continue
cooking for approximately three hours in the covered casserole.
Slice the meat and serve the dish with its gravy, straining the gravy if
you prefer smooth gravy.

Barolo wine is traditionally used for this dish in Italy and in Italy it is possible to find inexpensive Barolo wines that are perfect to cook with. Unfortunately, that is not the case in America. Because you don’t want to pour a fifteen or twenty-dollar bottle of wine over a four-dollar piece of meat, I recommend cooking with a flavorful inexpensive red wine and reserving the Barolo to serve with dinner. For tender, flavorful meat, it is best to prepare this dish several hours or, even better, a full day ahead of time. Reheat it in the oven before serving.

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Italian Pot Roast (Stracotto)

I also include slow cooker directions for those who prefer that method for this recipe.

Ingredients

1 tablespoon olive oil
4 lb chuck roast
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
8 oz Cremini mushrooms, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 cups dry red wine
1/4 cup flat leaf parsley leaves, chopped
2 tablespoons sage leaves, chopped
1 bay leaf
1 cup beef stock
1 container crushed tomatoes (26-28 ounces)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
Polenta, recipe below, or Spaghetti

Directions

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Heat olive oil in a large Dutch oven. Salt and pepper the roast, then brown it on both sides.

If using a slow cooker, put the roast in the cooker. If you’re using a Dutch oven, put the roast on a plate.

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Sauté the vegetables in the oil that remains until they’re soft and a little browned.

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Add the wine to stir up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan and bring to a boil for 2-3 minutes.

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Add the herbs, tomato paste, tomatoes and beef stock.

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For the Dutch oven put the roast back in the pot and bring the mixture to a simmer and keep at just a simmer for 2 ½ to 3 hours.

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If the liquid begins to boil, you may need to place the lid ajar. You don’t want a rapid boil, just a few lazy bubbles or the meat will get tough.

If you’re using a slow cooker, add the vegetables, wine, stock, herbs, tomato paste and tomatoes to the cooker and turn on low for 6-8 hours.

When the meat is tender, remove and cut into thin slices. To thicken the sauce, especially if made in the slow cooker, boil for a few minutes. Remove the bay leaf before serving.

Serve the sliced beef with creamy polenta or spaghetti and a green salad. An Italian red wine, like Masciarelli Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, will be great to use in the recipe and to drink with dinner.

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Quick Creamy Polenta

3 cups water or beef broth
1/2 teaspoon salt, if using water
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup quick cooking polenta

Directions

Bring the water/broth to a boil. Add salt and butter, then while stirring, slowly pour in the polenta. Stir until there are no lumps, then turn the heat down to a bare simmer. After 5 minutes, turn off the heat and cover the pan until ready to serve.


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Why is buying a whole chicken better than buying one that is cut into serving pieces?

First, a whole chicken is cheaper per pound and is handled less along the way. It lends itself to a variety of cooking techniques and can be cut up at home exactly the way you want it: in half, quarters, eighths or tenths. Eating all of an animal not just the popular cuts, such as the breast, is the most sustainable way to eat. You get the added bonus of the back, neck, frame and gizzards, which can all be used to make broth for soup.

Second, you get several meals from one chicken. You can roast, braise or cook a chicken in the slow cooker. Once cooked, slice some of the chicken for the main meal and then use the leftovers in any number of dishes, such as risotto, chicken pie, a stir-fry, sandwiches or a salad, etc.

Simple Roast Chicken

  • One 4-5 pound whole chicken
  • Kosher salt and pepper

Directions

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Using a roasting rack set in the baking pan will help the chicken cook more evenly, since air can circulate freely. With a roasting rack, the chicken won’t be resting in its own drippings, so you get a crisper skin. For easier cleanup, you can line the pan with aluminum foil.

Remove the packet of giblets from the cavity of the chicken ( save for use in a stock, if you like — but don’t include the liver, which will make the stock bitter). Pull any loose fat from around the opening. Rinse the chicken inside and out, then dry the chicken very well with paper towels, inside and out.

Salt and pepper the cavity, then truss the bird (simply tie the legs together and tuck the wings underneath the body or tie kitchen string around them).

Sprinkle a generous amount of salt (around a ½ tablespoon) over the outer skin of the bird so that it has a uniform coating that will result in a crisp, flavorful skin. Season to taste with pepper.

Put the chicken, breast side up, on a V-shaped or flat rack and set the rack in a roasting pan just larger than the rack. Roast for 20 minutes, reduce the heat to 375°F and continue roasting for about 45 -60 minutes more. The chicken is done when the leg wiggles freely in its joint and when the juices run clear from the thigh area. (I roast mine until the it registers 165 degrees F on a meat thermometer. The chicken will continue cooking a bit after you remove it from the oven).

Baste the chicken with the juices that have collected in the bottom of the pan and let it rest for 15 minutes on a cutting board.

Variations:

Convection Oven

Cook at 425 degrees F in a convection oven for about 50 minutes.

Lemon and Herb Roast Chicken

Additional Ingredients

  • 1 lemon
  • Several sprigs of thyme and rosemary or a mixture of herbs you like
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed

Season liberally with salt and pepper and squeeze the juice of the lemon over the chicken. Put the herbs and garlic inside the cavity, together with the squeezed-out lemon halves—this will add a fragrant lemony flavor to the finished dish. Follow directions above for Simple Roast Chicken.

Roast Chicken and Vegetables

  • 6 whole small yellow onions
  • 4 carrots, cut into 2 inch pieces
  • 1 fennel bulb, cut into 2 inch pieces
  • 6 potatoes, peeled and quartered
  • 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
  • 1 cup chicken broth

Arrange the vegetables in the bottom of the roasting pan and sprinkle them with salt, pepper and the Italian seasoning; add chicken broth to the bottom of the pan. Place chicken on top of the vegetables and cover pan tightly with foil. Follow directions for Simple Roast Chicken and remove the foil when the oven is reduced to 375 degrees F. Turn the vegetables over occasionally while they are roasting to insure even browning.

Whole Chicken in a Crock Pot

crock pot chicken

Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne (red) pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 onion
  • 1 large chicken (3-4 lbs)

Directions

Combine the dried spices in a small bowl.

Chop the onion and place it in the bottom of the slow cooker.

Remove any giblets from the chicken and then rub the spice mixture all over. You can even put some of the spices inside the cavity and under the skin covering the breasts.

Put prepared chicken on top of the onions in the slow cooker, cover it, and turn it on to high. There is no need to add any liquid.

Cook for 4 – 5 hours on high (for a 3 or 4 pound chicken) or until the chicken is falling off the bone.

Stovetop Chicken

stovetop-chicken

Leftovers are great for chicken casseroles.

Ingredients

  • 1 (4-to 5-lb.) whole chicken
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine or chicken broth

Directions

Remove neck and giblets from chicken and reserve for another use. Sprinkle chicken with salt, garlic powder and pepper.

Melt butter with oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat; add the whole chicken and cook, breast side down, 5 minutes or until golden brown. Turn chicken, breast side up, and reduce heat to medium-low.

Add 1/4 cup water and 1/4 cup wine (you can use all chicken broth, if you wish) to the Dutch oven.

Cover and cook 1 hour or until a meat thermometer inserted in a thigh registers 165 degrees F.

Cutting Up a Whole Chicken

 

1. Remove the legs

Place the chicken breast side up on a solid cutting board. Pull one leg away from the body and cut through the skin between the body and both sides of the thigh.

Bend the whole leg firmly away from the body until the ball of the thighbone pops from the hip socket. Cut between the ball and the socket to separate the leg. Repeat with the other leg.

2. Divide The Legs

Place the chicken leg skin side down on the cutting board.

Cut down firmly through the joint between the drumstick and the thigh.

 

3. Remove The Wings

With the chicken on it’s back, remove a wing by cutting on the inside of the wing just over joint. Pull wing away from the body and cut down through the skin and the joint. Repeat with the other wing.

 

4. Cut Carcass in Half

Cut through the cavity of the bird from the tail end and slice through the thin area around the shoulder joint. Cut parallel to the backbone and slice the bones of the rib cage. Repeat on the opposite side of the backbone.

 

5. Remove The Breast

Pull apart the breast and the back. Cut down through the shoulder bones to detach the breast from the back. Cut the back into two pieces by cutting across the backbone where the ribs end.

6. Cut Breast In Half

You may leave the breast whole if your recipe requires. To cut in half, use a strong, steady pressure and cut downward along the length of the breastbone to separate the breast into two pieces. If the breasts are large you may want to cut each half into two pieces.

Save the parts, such as the backbone and wings, to make broth. I keep a bag in the freezer and add to it until I have enough to make soup.

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Chicken in Vinegar Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1-4 lb chicken, cut into 8 or 10 pieces
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 8 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 4 shallots, peeled and minced
  • 1 cup cider vinegar mixed with 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 cup Riesling or other dry but fruity white wine
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley

Directions

Rinse chicken pieces, pat dry and season with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add half the chicken, skin side down, and brown, turning once, about 10 minutes per side. Remove and set aside. Repeat the process with the remaining oil, butter and chicken.

Reduce heat to medium, add garlic and shallots and cook, stirring frequently, until slightly soft, about 5 minutes.

Deglaze the skillet with vinegar and wine, scraping brown bits off the bottom with a wooden spoon. Reduce vinegar mixture by about one-third, 3-5 minutes, then stir in tomato paste.

Return chicken to skillet, pour in the stock and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Turn chicken and continue cooking until juices from chicken run clear, about 15 minutes. (If the sauce becomes too thick, thin with a small amount of chicken stock or water.)

Remove chicken from skillet with tongs to a deep serving bowl. Pour sauce from the skillet over the chicken and garnish with parsley.

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Roasted Chicken with Bell Peppers and Potatoes

Ingredients

  • 1 whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces
  • 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 large green bell pepper, cut into strips
  • 1 large red bell pepper, cut into strips
  • 1 large sweet onion, cut into eighths
  • 6 medium potatoes, quartered
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Place the chicken, onions, peppers and potatoes in a large baking pan. Make sure not to crowd the pieces together in the pan. Scatter the garlic slices over the mixture and drizzle some olive oil on top of the ingredients. Sprinkle with the parsley, oregano, paprika, salt and pepper.

Cover the baking pan with aluminum foil and put in a preheated oven at 275 degrees F (135 C) for 45 minutes. Remove the foil, turn the oven temperature up to 375 degrees F (190 C) and cook the casserole for 15-20 minutes more, until the chicken and potatoes brown and a meat thermometer registers 165 degrees F.

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basketAlmost every Italian city and town has its specialties and there are regional specialties also; the end result is a huge number of local cuisines rather than a single national cuisine. However, there are some dishes that you will find almost everywhere and that are now standards among the many Italian communities scattered across the globe.

Vegetables play a large part in Italian cuisine because the fertile soil, especially in the south, provides bountiful amounts of vegetables and herbs. A typical cold salad might include raw or cooked vegetables tossed with herbs and cheese. Other popular dishes are cianfotta, a stewed dish of eggplants, peppers, zucchini and onions with basil and olive oil that is served cold. Pepperoni imbottiti stuffs red and yellow bell peppers with breadcrumbs seasoned with black olives, capers, garlic and anchovies and, of course, the famous parmigiana di melanzane or eggplant parmigiana.

There’s an old saying that “good cooking begins in the market” and never is this more true than with Italian cuisine which relies heavily on fresh produce. The most commonly used vegetables include tomatoes, garlic, onions, bell peppers (capsicum), eggplants (aubergine), cabbage, zucchini (courgettes), artichokes, fennel, mushrooms, celery, asparagus, broccoli, spinach, cauliflower and lettuce. These vegetables are traditionally chopped and added to baked pasta dishes, risottos and pizza or turned into salads, soups, appetizers and side dishes.

Vegetables can easily be the highlight of a meal. For example, a grilled mushroom cap filled with arugula bean salad, roasted vegetables paired with creamy polenta or a vegetable laced risotto offer substance as a main meal. With a little crusty bread and some aged cheese on the table, you also have a healthful meal. Here are some vegetable main dishes you might find on the Italian table.

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Warm Farro Pilaf with Dried Cranberries

Serves 6

An Italian wheat grain, farro is chewy and tender, like barley but with a milder flavor. Pearled or cracked farro cooks much faster than whole regular farro and it doesn’t require soaking before it’s made. The farro in this recipe can be made a few days ahead or even frozen.

Ingredients

For the Farro

  • 1 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium carrot, cut in half
  • 1 celery rib, cut in half
  • 1/2 small onion in one piece
  • 1 ¼ cups pearled farro
  • 4 cups vegetable broth

For the Pilaf

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 medium onion, diced (2/3 cup)
  • 1/2 lb kale, center stem removed, chopped (4 packed cups)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/3 cup toasted pine nuts

To make Farro:

Heat oil in saucepan over medium-high heat. Add carrot, celery and onion. Cook 3 to 5 minutes or until vegetables start to brown. Add farro and stir well. Pour in broth, and bring mixture to a simmer. Reduce heat to low and cover. Cook 20 minutes or until just tender; drain. Discard carrot, celery and onion. Cool Farro.

To make Pilaf:

Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Sauté diced onion 5 to 7 minutes. Add kale and cook 5 to 7 minutes or just until wilted. Reduce heat to medium and stir in garlic and Aleppo pepper. Cook 1 minute, then add farro, and sauté 3 to 5 minutes or until warmed through. Remove from heat and stir in dried cranberries and pine nuts. Season with salt and pepper, if desired. Serve warm.

butternut squash

Parmesan-Butternut Squash Gratin

Ingredients

  • 1 butternut squash (2 1/2 lb)
  • 2 tablespoons butter or margarine
  • 2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup Italian seasoned panko bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Directions

Heat oven to 375°F. Spray 13×9-inch (3-quart) glass baking dish with cooking spray. Peel, halve lengthwise and seed squash; cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Arrange with slices overlapping slightly in the bottom of baking dish.

In a 2-quart saucepan melt butter over medium heat. Reduce heat to low. Add garlic; cook 2 to 3 minutes, stirring frequently, until garlic is soft and butter is infused with garlic flavor. Do not let butter brown.

In a small bowl mix bread crumbs, cheese and 1 tablespoon of the butter-garlic mixture.

Brush squash slices with remaining butter-garlic mixture. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and bread crumb mixture.

Bake uncovered 30 to 40 minutes or until squash is tender when pierced with fork. Increase oven temperature to 425°F; bake 5 to 10 minutes longer or until the squash is lightly browned. Before serving, sprinkle parsley over top.

vegetable casserole

Roasted Vegetable and Bean Casserole

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 2 pounds cipolline onions, about 1 1/2 inches in diameter, trimmed and peeled
  • 1 bulb fennel, cored and cut lengthwise into 2-inch pieces
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes
  • 3 cups cooked dried cannellini beans or equivalent canned, rinsed and drained
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme for garnish

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Place the potatoes, onions and fennel in a roasting pan. Add the olive oil and toss well to coat.

Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Roast, turning occasionally, for 20 minutes. Add the tomatoes and beans and roast another 15-20 minutes or until the potatoes and cipolline are fork-tender and golden brown. Garnish with thyme.

spinach pizza

Deep Dish Spinach Pizza

Ingredients

  • 1 pound fresh spinach, thoroughly washed and stemmed
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • Cornmeal
  • 1/2 recipe quick whole-wheat pizza dough (recipe below)
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded Mozzarella cheese
  • 1 cup freshly shredded Provolone cheese
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 1/4 cup thick tomato sauce (recipe below)

Directions

Heat oil in a large skillet and add garlic; saute for 30 seconds. Add spinach and cook until wilted. Remove from heat. Chop spinach.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Lightly oil a 9-inch round baking pan 1 1/2 inches deep and sprinkle the bottom of the pan lightly with cornmeal. Roll dough into a 12-inch circle and fit into pan. Dough should just cover the bottom and sides of the pan with no overhang.

Mix cheeses together and spread 1 cup of the cheese mixture over the bottom of the dough in the pan. Spread the spinach over the cheese, covering the cheese completely. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of cheese over the spinach layer. Spread the tomato sauce over the spinach.

Bake in the preheated oven 20 minutes. Take the pizza out of the oven and sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top of the pizza. Return the pizza to the oven and bake 5-10 minutes until the cheese is melted and the filling is bubbly. Remove from the oven and allow to sit for 5 minutes before cutting.

Yield: one 9-inch deep-dish pizza, serving 6 to 8.

Quick Whole-Wheat Pizza Dough

Ingredients

  • 1 package dry yeast
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt

Directions

Dissolve yeast in 1 cup of water, stir in olive oil and set aside until bubbly.

Combine the all-purpose flour with the whole-wheat flour and salt in a food processor bowl. Process for a few seconds to blend. With processor running, slowly pour yeast mixture through the feed tube and continue to process until a firm, smooth and elastic ball of dough forms. If the mixture is too dry, you may have to add another tablespoon or so of warm water. If it is too soft, add a little more all-purpose flour, one tablespoon at a time.

Remove dough from the processor bowl, divide in half and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate half the dough for this recipe for at least 10 minutes or up to one day. Freeze the other half of the dough for another use.

Yield: dough for two 9-inch deep-dish pizzas or two 12-inch flat pizzas

Thick Tomato Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped fine
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped fine
  • 1 16-ounce can whole plum tomatoes
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Pinch crushed red pepper

Directions

Heat olive oil in a large skillet, add onion and garlic and cook over medium low heat, stirring, until the onion is soft but not brown. Add remaining ingredients including liquid from the tomatoes. Crush tomatoes with the back of a spoon.

Adjust heat to low and simmer, uncovered, until the sauce is very thick and no longer liquid, about 30 minutes. Stir sauce from time to time to prevent sticking.

Yield: 1 1/4 cups

stuffed peppers

Slow Cooked Vegetarian Stuffed Peppers

Ingredients

  • 6 large sweet bell peppers
  • 2 cups cooked brown rice
  • 3 small tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 cup frozen corn, thawed
  • 1 small sweet onion, chopped
  • 1/3 cup canned red beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1/3 cup canned black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 3/4 cup cubed Monterey Jack cheese
  • 1 can (4-1/4 ounces) chopped ripe olives
  • 4 fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 3/4 cup meatless spaghetti sauce
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 4 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, divided

Directions

Cut tops off peppers and remove seeds; set aside. In a large bowl, combine the rice, tomatoes, corn, onion and beans. Stir in the Monterey Jack cheese, olives, basil, garlic, salt and pepper. Spoon into peppers.

Combine spaghetti sauce and water; pour half into an oval 5-qt. slow cooker. Add the stuffed peppers. Top with remaining sauce. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese.

Cover and cook on low for 3-1/2 to 4 hours or until peppers are tender and filling is heated through. Sprinkle with remaining Parmesan cheese.

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lambbasic1_wide-d28234fec2b2afb46e2aad61985c3d451a8870b6-s40-c85One of the best ways to cut the cost of your shopping bill but still enjoy good quality meat is by buying cheaper cuts. It’s easy to end up buying the same things each week, such as chicken breasts or pork chops, but these are the more expensive cuts of meat. Many of the cuts that our grandparents ate regularly are forgotten about, even though they make great tasting, inexpensive meals and can be used in a variety of recipes. Don’t be put off buying cheaper cuts of meat because you are unsure of what to buy or you don’t know how to cook them.

A great way of finding out more about the cheaper cuts of meat that are available in your area is to talk to your local butcher or your local supermarket meat department manager. When shopping for lamb, always check the dates that are stamped on the packaging to know if you are getting fresh meat. If lamb is not contained in a package, look at the color of the meat, as that is a major factor in determining how fresh it is. Lamb should be pink/red in color. Any meat that is dark red is older and will not be as tender. Also, look for other markings on the label that will give you more information about the lamb. USDA Prime will be the highest in tenderness and flavor. USDA Choice is still high quality meat, but slightly less tender. While USDA Prime has somewhat of a higher fat content, all grades of lamb have similar protein, vitamins and nutrients.

Cheaper cuts of meat often come from tougher, muscled areas of the animal and require slow cooking in stews or casseroles to soften them up. By slow cooking these cuts of meat, which can be done either in a slow cooker or in a covered pot in the oven, you can easily make tasty meals. Where dishes call for “braising” or “stewing”, you can often use any of the cheaper cuts of meat. Braising refers to the cooking technique, where the meat is browned first in a pan and then cooked for several hours in liquid on low heat in a covered pot.

Less Expensive Lamb Cuts

Lamb Breast

This is one of the cheapest cuts and can be very versatile – it can be roasted, stuffed or rolled.

Lamb Shanks

Lamb shanks have become popular in recent years, which has pushed the price up a bit. But they are still a good value and are suitable for slow roasting, stewing or braising. Lamb Shanks are excellent on a dinner party menu. They also make for a delicious meal, when slow roasted in individual aluminium foil packs with white wine and herbs.

Whole Lamb Shanks

Whole Lamb Shanks

Shanks are a cut of lamb taken from either the shoulder (fore shank) and arm of a lamb or the upper part of the leg (hind shank). The fore shank includes part of the shoulder, as well as part of the leg, while the hind shank includes only part of the rear leg. Lamb shanks have a paper-thin membranous covering and a thin layer of fat. While a lamb shank is leaner than other parts of a lamb, the meat can be tough. This cut of lamb must be braised or roasted.

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Cross Cut Lamb Shanks

Osso buco is the name for a classic Milanese dish of cross-cut slices of veal shank, which are often labeled osso buco and slowly braised in a vegetable-rich, tomato-based sauce until the meat is so tender, it falls away from the bone with the merest nudge of a fork. The shanks are traditionally served over saffron risotto or polenta.

If you’ve ever seen a whole veal shank, you’ll understand why cutting it crosswise into thick sections makes complete sense. The same is true of lamb shanks, pork shanks and turkey legs. Ask to have them cross cut for a nicer presentation, because it is so much more appealing to serve shanks in slices rather than as joints on a platter. Most likely, you’ll have to place a special order with the butcher in your market, but lamb shanks are much cheaper than veal.

browned-shank

Tips For Slow Cooking Lamb

  • Brown the lamb first, in batches if necessary. This will caramelize the meat and improve its flavor.
  • Although lamb is a little more fatty than other meats, don’t trim all of it away before cooking. The fat contains a lot of the flavor and helps make the meat tender. The excess will rise to the surface of the cooking liquid and can be skimmed away.
  • Remember to only lightly season slow-cooked dishes at the beginning of cooking. As the meat braises the cooking liquid reduces and concentrates the sauce, which can easily become too salty.
  • When simmering lamb, do it over a low heat so that the liquid bubbles only very gently around the meat. This will keep the meat tender.
  • Keep an eye on slow-cooked lamb. Unless you want it so tender it falls apart. Check it after about 45 minutes for tenderness, as lamb cooks much faster than other meats. 

lamb ossobuco

Lamb Osso Bucco

Makes 6 servings.

Ingredients

  1. 2 lamb shanks trimmed of fat and cross-cut into 1 or 1 ½ inch thick pieces
  2. 2 heaping tablespoons flour
  3. 1 teaspoon salt
  4. 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  5. 1 tablespoon olive oil
  6. 1 onion, chopped
  7. 2 carrots, chopped
  8. 1 stalk celery, chopped
  9. 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  10. 1 ½ cups tomato sauce
  11. 1 ½ cups dry white wine
  12. 1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped
  13. 1 ½ teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped
  14. 1 bay leaf
  15. 1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped

Directions

Heat oven to 325°F. Combine flour, salt and pepper in a paper bag. Drop the lamb pieces into the bag and shake, thoroughly covering the pieces with the flour mixture.

Pour the olive oil into a Dutch Oven and brown the shank pieces over medium-high heat. Remove the browned lamb and set aside.

Reduce the heat to medium and add the onions, carrots and celery to the skillet. Cook for three to five minutes, stirring constantly. Add garlic, tomato sauce, wine, basil, thyme and bay leaf. Add the browned lamb and return to a simmer.

Place the pan in the oven, covered, and bake for 1 hour.

Turn the meat. Cover and cook another hour or until the lamb is tender enough to fall off the bone easily.

Remove the bay leaf. Sprinkle with parsley and serve. It is traditional to serve this dish with risotto.

shankpan

Lamb Shanks in Foil Packets

Ingredients

  • 4 (2-1/2-inch) sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 4 (2-1/2- to 3-inch) strips orange zest
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • Crushed red pepper flakes
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 lamb shanks (about 1 lb. each), trimmed
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 4 teaspoons unsalted butter

Directions

Position an oven rack in the lower third of the oven and heat the oven to 300°F.

Arrange four 16×16-inch squares of heavy-duty aluminum foil on a work surface. Put 1 rosemary sprig, 1 garlic clove, a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes and 1 strip of orange zest on each square. Set aside.

Pat the lamb shanks dry and season generously with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat until shimmering hot. Working in batches if necessary to avoid crowding, brown the shanks on all sides, about 10 minutes total per batch. Transfer 1 shank to each foil square, arranging it on top of the herbs. Draw up the edges of the foil to capture any juice, but don’t seal the packets yet.

Return the skillet to medium heat, add the wine and bring to a simmer, scraping the skillet with a wooden spoon. Remove from the heat. Portion the wine drippings evenly among the 4 packets, pouring it over the lamb. Dot each shank with a teaspoon of the butter.

Fold the foil to form rectangular packets, sealing the seams tightly. Arrange the packets on a baking sheet; it’s fine if they touch but they shouldn’t overlap. Bake for 2-1/2 hours; then check for doneness by carefully opening one of the packets (watch out for the steam) and testing the meat with a fork—it should be tender and pulling away from the bone. If necessary, continue to bake for another 10 minutes and check again.

Transfer the contents of the packets to large pasta bowls, surrounding the shanks with the liquid from the packets. Serve with mashed potatoes and a green vegetable.

lamb shanks and pasta

Pappardelle with Braised Lamb Shanks and Winter Vegetables

Serves 8

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 lamb shanks, cross-cut into 1-inch-thick slices, as for osso buco
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 5 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 4 shallots, chopped
  • 2 cups dry white wine
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • Juice and julienned zest of 1 orange
  • Juice and julienned zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 branches fresh rosemary
  • 1 thick parsnip, cut into 1-inch dice
  • 1 small rutabaga, cut into 1-inch dice
  • 1 small celery root, cut into 1-inch dice
  • 1 pound dried pappardelle, fettuccine or other wide, flat pasta
  • 1/4 pound button mushrooms, sliced
  • 6 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • Lemon wedges

Directions

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Dry the pieces of meat with a paper towel, season them well with salt and pepper and brown them on all sides; set them aside. Add the garlic and shallots to the pan; cook until golden, about 6 minutes. Add in the wine; simmer 5 minutes. Add the stock, orange juice, lemon juice, tomato paste, rosemary, the browned lamb shanks and any juices they have released. Cover and simmer gently for 45 minutes.

Stir in the orange and lemon zest, parsnips, rutabaga, mushrooms, tomatoes and celery root. Cook, partially covered, until both the lamb and vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes more. Set aside to cool. When the lamb is cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bones and add it back to the stewed vegetables. Discard the bones.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta until al dente. While the pasta is cooking, reheat the lamb and vegetable stew; bring to a simmer.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the cooked pasta directly from its cooking pot to the pot with the stew. Add the cheese and parsley; toss to combine. Season well with salt and pepper and serve in heated bowls, garnished with lemon wedges.

Jewish lamb shanks

Lamb Shanks – Jewish Style

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 4 Kosher lamb shanks (about 1 pound each), cross cut and visible fat removed
  • Kosher (coarse) salt to taste
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 medium onions, halved root to stem and thinly sliced
  • 3 tablespoons coarsely chopped garlic
  • 3 cups homemade chicken stock or canned, low-sodium chicken broth, divided
  • Pinch of saffron threads
  • 1/2 cup dried apricots
  • 1/2 cup prunes
  • 1/2 cup almonds, toasted
  • Black pepper to taste

Directions

Soak the lamb shanks in water to cover in a large bowl, changing the water frequently until it runs clear. (This will take about 15 minutes in all.) Remove the lamb shanks, dry them very well with paper towels and then season them all over with salt.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350°F.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a Dutch oven or other large, heavy, ovenproof pot over medium-high heat. Add the shanks and brown them on all sides, about 15 minutes altogether. Remove the shanks and set them aside.

Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the pot, reduce the heat to medium and cook the onions until they are soft, about 10 minutes.

Mix saffron with 1/4 cup of the chicken broth and add to the pan. Stir to mix well, 2 to 3 minutes.

Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Remove the pot from the heat. Stir in the remaining chicken stock and return the lamb shanks to the pot.

Place the pot in the oven and roast, covered, turning and basting the shanks frequently, for about 1 hour.

Add the apricots and prunes and continue roasting, covered, until the meat is very soft, about 1 1/2 hours.

Transfer the shanks to a platter and keep warm. Remove as much fat as possible from the sauce, using a spoon or a fat separator. Season the sauce with salt and pepper, if necessary.

Spoon the sauce over the lamb shanks, garnish with toasted almonds. Serve by itself or over couscous.

slow cooker lamb

Slow Cooker Wine Braised Lamb Shanks

Ingredients :

  • 4 large lamb shanks
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons dried parsley flakes
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
  • 1 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1 medium carrot, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 cup Burgundy wine (or beef broth)
  • 1 teaspoon beef bouillon granules

Directions

Sprinkle lamb with salt and pepper. Place in a 5-qt slow cooker. Sprinkle with the parsley, garlic, oregano and lemon peel.

In a small saucepan, saute the onion and carrot in oil for 3 – 4 minutes or until tender.

Stir in wine or broth and bouillon. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Pour over the lamb.

Cover and cook on low for 8 hours or until meat is tender.

Remove lamb and keep warm. Strain cooking juices and skim fat. In a small saucepan, bring juices to a boil. Cook until liquid is reduced by half. Serve with the lamb.

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What is the difference between a crock pot and a slow cooker?

One recipe may say to use a crock pot and another recipe may say to use the slow cooker. Are they interchangeable? Is one better for a certain type of meal than another?

A Crock-Pot is a slow cooker. But a slow cooker is not necessarily a Crock-Pot. Oh no!

A crock pot is a type of slow cooker with a stoneware pot that sits inside a surrounding heating element. A slow cooker is a pot, usually made of metal, which sits atop a heating surface. However, when you are shopping for such a cooking device, manufactures use the names interchangeably.

How The Slow Cooker Gets The Job Done.

The base of the slow cooker has a doubled-walled metal compartment that contains the heating elements. As the elements heat up, they warm the insulated air trapped between the two metal walls. Heat is then transferred to the air between the inner metal wall and the stoneware pot. The hot air heats and cooks the food slowly and evenly. As the heating elements do not make any direct contact with the stoneware pot; there are no hot spots and, therefore, no need for stirring.

Crock pots and slow cookers both have three parts–a pot, a lid, and a heating element. However, a crockpot has only two cook settings, “Low” and “High.” There may also be a “Keep Warm” setting to allow the pot to warm before serving. The temperature at these settings remains constant. A slow cooker has a number of different settings, usually numbered one to five. The heating element on a slow cooker usually cycles on and off. Some slow cookers have a timer that can be set to cook for a number of hours.

Crock pots and slow cookers come in various sizes to suit family size and specific purposes. However, crockpots are generally heavier than metal slow cookers, and may be more difficult to manipulate when washing. Since crock pots are made of stoneware, they also break more easily when dropped.

File:Crock pot parts.jpg

Advantages of Slow Cooking

1. There is only one dish to clean.

2. It is a great way to use extra vegetables and inexpensive meats. Less expensive or tough meats, such as chuck roasts or steaks and stew beef, are tenderized through the long cooking process. Put it in the crock pot, add some seasoning, and you end up with a tender, tasty meal.

3. Cooking in a crock pot makes your house smell really good.

4. Slow cooked food is more flavorful and tender. The extended cooking times allow better distribution of flavors in many recipes. The lower temperatures lessen the chance of scorching of foods which tend to stick to the bottom of a pan and burn easily in an oven.

5. It’s convenient to cook in a crockpot. You can put all the ingredients in and then do your thing: go to work, school, yoga, whatever. And when you come back, the meal is ready.

6.The slow cooker frees your oven and stove top for other uses, and should definitely be considered as an option for large gatherings or holiday meals. Many people swear by their slow cooker for Thanksgiving dressing (or stuffing)

Some Tips:

Whenever you purchase a new slow cooker, use it the first few times, on HIGH and on LOW, before leaving it unattended to make sure the vessel operates correctly.

Remember to place the cooker on a cookie sheet, granite counter top, the stove top, or a similar surface. The bottom can get quite hot.

Slow cooker recipes often say to brown meat before adding to the slow cooker, but this isn’t necessary, though it gives meat a nice color. If you add paprika to chicken before putting it in the slow cooker, a brown color is created while cooking.

Flouring meat before adding it to a slow cooker helps to keep it moist and thicken the sauce.

Don’t lift the lid while cooking, or the food will take longer to cook.

A few of the areas where a slow cooker does not perform as well:

– Large cuts of meat such as boneless prime rib or leg of lamb are still best when oven roasted.

– Except for stews and chowders, the slow cooker does not cook fish very well.

– The slow cooker collects a lot of the juices since the steam does not escape during cooking and these juices can become diluted and watery, which can affect the flavoring of the food.

– If not careful, a slow cooker can overcook food, especially some of the more tender meats and poultry.

Cooking For Two

Most slow cooker recipes are intended to serve four to six people, so cooking for two usually requires recipe adjustments. Generally, you can just cut a recipe in half, but be careful about quantities of spices and texture ingredients like baking powder and eggs. If the recipe already calls for a small amount of spices or herbs (like 1 tsp. oregano) you can probably leave the original amount, even for a smaller recipe. If you reduce spices too much, you’ll end up with bland food.

Remember that smaller portions also cook faster. It helps to be around the house the first time you try a new recipe so you can check its progress, but this isn’t always possible. For two-person meals, plan to reduce the heat or cooking time, or sometimes both. Cook your food for about three-quarters of the time the larger recipe suggests, and turn down the heat one or two notches to avoid scorching. If you’re going to be at work all day, put the crock pot on a low setting. You can always turn the heat up to finish the meal when you get home, but if your food is burnt or overcooked, there’s not much you can do.

Another option for two-person cooking is to make the larger serving recipe and freeze the leftovers. Extra food can be frozen in individual or two-person portions and thawed at your convenience, saving you even more time.

 Slow Cooking Recipes

The recipes below are designed to take advantage of what a slow cooker does best – long, low-heat cooking with lots of moisture. They do not require multistep preparations and can be assembled the night before, refrigerated in the cooking dish and placed on the cooking vessel just before you leave for work.

 

Slow Cooker Italian Pork Chops                                                                                                                       

6 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 6 pork rib chops (with bone), cut 1/2 inch thick (about 2-1/2 pounds), trimmed of fat
  • 2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 28 ounce container Pomi chopped tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 medium zucchini or 2 bell peppers, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons cold water
  • 4 ounces dried orzo pasta, cooked according to package directions

Directions:

Place onion in a 5- to 6-quart slow cooker. Place half of the pork chops on top of the onions. Sprinkle with half of the Italian seasoning, garlic, salt, and pepper. Repeat layering with remaining pork chops, Italian seasoning, garlic, salt, and pepper. Top with tomatoes and balsamic vinegar. Add zucchini or pepper pieces to cooker.

Cover and cook on low-heat setting for 8 to 9 hours or on high-heat setting for 4 to 4-1/2 hours.

Using a slotted spoon and tongs, transfer meat and vegetables to a serving platter; cover and keep warm. In a medium saucepan stir together cornstarch and the cold water; stir in cooking juices from cooker. Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened and bubbly; cook and stir for 2 minutes more. Serve over meat and vegetables. Serve with orzo.

 

Slow Cooker Italian Chicken Pasta Soup                                                                                                   

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/4 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 cup diced carrots (about 2 medium)
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion (1 medium)
  • 1/2 cup halved pitted ripe olives
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 carton low sodium chicken broth (32 ounces)
  • 1 can low sodium Italian-style diced tomatoes, undrained (14 1/2 ounces)
  • 1/2 cup uncooked small shell pasta

Directions:

Mix all ingredients except pasta in a 3 1/2- to 4-quart slow cooker.

Cover and cook on Low heat setting 8 to 10 hours.

About 30 minutes before serving, stir in pasta. Increase heat setting to High. Cover and cook 20 to 30 minutes or until pasta is tender.

Slow Cooker Lentil Stew with Polenta                                                                                                            

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups brown lentils, picked over and rinsed
  • 2 onions, sliced
  • 1 large green bell pepper, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1 28 oz container Pomi chopped tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 1/2 cup vegetable broth
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 cup quick-cooking polenta or substitute 1 (18-ounce) tube of store bought polenta, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds

Directions:

Layer lentils, onions, bell pepper and garlic in the bottom of a 4- to 6-quart slow cooker. Pour in the tomatoes and sprinkle with oregano, crushed red pepper flakes and salt. Pour in broth and vinegar, cover and cook on low until lentils are very tender, about 7 hours.

Prepare the polenta according to package directions and serve with the stew. If you like firm polenta instead of soft, then follow these directions:

When polenta is thick and smooth, pour it into an 8 inch greased square pan. Spread the polenta evenly. Bake in a 350 degree F. oven for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool in the pan. Cut into serving pieces.

Heat store bought polenta slices before serving

Slow Cooker Chicken in Wine Sauce                                                                                                                   

Ingredients:

  • 4 medium red-skin potatoes, quartered
  • 4 medium carrots, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 stalks celery, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 small onion, sliced
  • 3 pounds chicken thighs or drumsticks, skinned
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon. dried rosemary, crushed
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 cup low sodium chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 tablespoon butter or Smart Balance blend
  • 3 tablespoons Wondra all-purpose flour
  • Snipped fresh thyme (optional)

Directions:

In a 5- or 6-quart slow cooker place potatoes, carrots, celery, and onion. Place chicken pieces on top of vegetables. Sprinkle with parsley, salt, rosemary, thyme, pepper, and garlic; add broth and wine.

Cover and cook on low-heat setting for 8 to 9 hours or on high-heat setting for 4 to 4 1/2 hours. Using a slotted spoon, transfer chicken and vegetables to a serving platter; cover with foil to keep warm.

For gravy:

Strain juices into a large saucepan and whisk in flour and add butter. Turn on heat and cook and stir until thickened and bubbly. If desired, sprinkle chicken and vegetables with snipped thyme. Pass gravy with the chicken and vegetables. Makes 6 servings –  (3 1/2 ounces cooked meat, 1/3 cup gravy, and 3/4 cup vegetables).

Slow Cooker Ratatouille                                                                                                                                                   

Ratatouille is versatile and can be used on pizza, pasta or as part of a casserole or a lasagna.

Ingredients:

  • 2 large onions, cut in half and sliced
  • 1 large eggplant, sliced, cut in 2 inch pieces (peel if you prefer)
  • 4 small zucchini, sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 large green (or any color you like) bell peppers,seeded and cut into thin strips
  • 2 large tomatoes, cut into 1/2 inch wedges
  • 1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Directions:

Layer half the vegetables in a large crock pot in the following order: onion, eggplant, zucchini, garlic, green peppers, tomatoes.

Next sprinkle half the basil, oregano, parsley, salt and pepper on the veggies.

Dot with half of the tomato paste.

Repeat layering process with remaining vegetables, spices and tomato paste.

Drizzle with olive oil.

Cover and cook on LOW for 7 to 9 hours.

Place in serving bowl and sprinkle with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

May freeze up to 6 weeks.

Slow Cooker Country Italian Beef                                                                                                                                    

6 to 8 servings

Serving Size: 1  2/3 cups

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds boneless beef chuck pot roast
  • 8 ounces tiny new potatoes, halved or quartered
  • 2 medium carrots or parsnips, peeled and cut into 1- to 2-inch pieces
  • 1 medium onion, chopped (1 cup)
  • 1 medium fennel bulb, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch-thick wedges
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
  • 1-14 1/2 ounce can low-sodium beef broth
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 1 – 6 ounce can tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves

Directions:

Trim fat from roast. Cut roast into 2-inch pieces; set aside. In a 4- to 5-quart slow cooker combine potatoes, carrots, onion, and fennel. Add meat to cooker; sprinkle with rosemary.

In a medium bowl whisk together broth, wine, tomato paste, tapioca, pepper, and garlic. Pour over all meat and vegetables in cooker.

Cover and cook on low-heat setting for 8 to 10 hours or on high-heat setting for 4 to 5 hours. Stir in basil just before serving.

 


        Tips and Recipes for Make-Ahead Meals

Make-ahead meals let you serve home-cooked dishes even on the most hectic days. Action-packed weeknights, overscheduled weekends, days when you have too much to do before guests come over or before you go to someone else’s house with a dish in hand — there are plenty of times when “make-ahead” meals can come to the rescue. Make-ahead meals put you in control of your schedule. You do the preparation when you have some extra time, then you’re rewarded with a quick, home-cooked meal when things get hectic later in the day, week, or month.

Mom's Guide to Meal Makeovers

“Since dinner time is often a hectic time for families,” Janice Bissex, RD, author of The Mom’s Guide to Meal Makeovers, says, “it can really help for moms or dads to make all or part of the meal in advance. Prepping ingredients for a recipe ahead of time or assembling the full meal for reheating can make the dinner hour more relaxed and manageable. There are several ways to make your meals ahead of time. You can assemble them early in the day and place the dishes in the refrigerator until you’re ready to bake them in the oven. Or you can completely cook your meal, freeze or refrigerate it, then just warm it up at mealtime. Some make-ahead meals don’t even require baking — like main-dish green salads or pasta salads.”

A Beautiful Bowl of Soup

Paulette Mitchell, author of 13 cookbooks including A Beautiful Bowl of Soup, says her favorite strategy for make-ahead meals is to plan a soup and salad menu. “Soups often benefit from being made ahead because standing time allows the flavors to blend. Most homemade salad dressings taste better when they are made a day in advance,” she adds. 

If you’ve got a slow cooker, you’ve got a leg up on make-ahead meals. Judith Finlayson, author of The Healthy Slow Cooker, calls the slow cooker the most effective time manager a cook can have. “You can have all the ingredients prepped and even partially cooked, in most cases for up to two days ahead. Many slow-cooker recipes are suited to being prepared ahead of time and slow-cooker dishes, like stews and chili, lend themselves to being frozen or refrigerated and reheated. You can do “big batch” cooking and have dinner for a second night during the week.  Eat a portion on the day it is cooked, and freeze the rest for future meals,” she says.

Front Cover

 Make-Ahead Meals for Breakfast or Brunch

Here are four make-ahead breakfast or brunch options for the next time you have to feed a crowd fast first thing in the morning:

1. Crepes. Just cook the crepes the day before and keep them in a sealed bag — or wrapped well in foil — in the refrigerator. Fill them with a mixture of fruits or assorted jams the next morning. Or add a ham and cheese filling, then heat them up. You can have the filling ingredients chopped and shredded and ready to go the night before, too.
2. Strata. Strata is an overnight breakfast entrée by design. You’re supposed to let it sit in the refrigerator, then bake in the morning.  It’s a perfect make-ahead option.
3. Quiche. Quiche can be served warm or cold. Just bake it the day before, and, if you want to serve it warm, heat it up in the microwave.
4. Breakfast Breads, Coffee Cakes, and Muffins. You can always make bakery items ahead and serve them cold or warmed up in the microwave. To round out the breakfast or brunch, have fresh fruit ready to serve with it. You might also want to cook up a plate of light breakfast sausage, grilled Canadian bacon, or lean ham — all of which can be warmed up in the microwave in two minutes.

 Make-Ahead Meals for Dinner

Here are a few dinner dishes that are well suited to making ahead of time:

  • Most casserole-type dishes lend themselves to being made ahead, like tuna noodle casserole, au gratin style potatoes, chicken enchiladas, or a creamy chicken and rice dish.
  • Double up the ingredients for a casserole and use one for dinner and freeze the second casserole for a month later.
  • Stew-type dishes, cooked and kept in the refrigerator, are ideal for warming up on demand — a serving or two (or more) at a time.
  • If the ingredients are already cooked, cut, and ready, you can toss main-dish green salad together in less than 5 minutes.
  • Chilled pasta and rice salads (and salads made with other whole grains) are perfect when you need a cool dish to serve with virtually no time to spare.
  • Some mostly meat (or fish) dishes, like meatloaf, chicken Parmesan, and crab cakes, can also be made ahead and then cooked or reheated.

    Recipes for Make-Ahead Meals

To get you thinking of all the dishes that you can make now and eat later, here are a few entrée recipes to get you started:

Chicken Florentine Pie

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups shredded, skinless roasted chicken breast (you can use a roasted chicken from the store)
  • 2 cups cooked brown rice (you could also use 1 pouch of microwavable frozen brown rice, or instant brown rice)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried sage
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley flakes or 2 tablespoons fresh, finely chopped parsley
  • 1/2 cup chopped sweet or white onion (or chopped green onion)
  • 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed in microwave and drained well
  • 1 1/2 cups part-skim ricotta
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/3 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 3 tablespoons prepared pesto

Directions:

  1. If baking right away, preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Coat a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate with cooking spray.
  2. Combine shredded chicken, brown rice, herbs, onion, spinach, ricotta cheese, pepper, and Parmesan cheese in a large mixing bowl and gently mix together.
  3. Spoon the mixture into the prepared baking dish and cover with foil. Keep the covered dish in the refrigerator until ready to bake.
  4. When ready to bake, place covered dish in preheated oven and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil; spread pesto over the top of the dish, and bake about 10 minutes longer.

Yield: 6 servings

 

Eggplant Squash Bake

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 1 jar (4 ounces) diced pimientos, drained
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons fat-free (skim) milk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
  • 3/4 teaspoon dried tarragon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 cup marinara sauce, divided
  • 1/2 pound eggplant, peeled and cut into thin crosswise slices
  • 2 medium zucchini, cut in half then lengthwise into thin slices
  • 2 medium yellow summer squash, cut in half then lengthwise into thin slices
  • 1/4 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese

Directions:

  1. Saute together the oil, onion and the garlic in a small skillet until soft. Remove from heat and let cool.  Combine ricotta, pimientos, Parmesan cheese, milk, marjoram, tarragon, salt, nutmeg and pepper and mix well. Add onion and garlic mixture.
  2. Spray a 9 or 10 inch baking dish with cooking spray then spread 1/3 cup of the marinara sauce on the bottom of the dish.
  3. Layer half of the eggplant, zucchini and summer squash in the baking dish then top the layers with the ricotta mixture. Layer the remaining eggplant, zucchini and summer squash over the ricotta mixture and then top the layers with the remaining 2/3 cup of  sauce. Sprinkle mozzarella on top. Dish can be covered and refrigerated until ready to bake.
  4. Bake in a 375 degree F oven for 25-30 minutes.

Potato Lasagna

If you don’t want to use ham, you can substitute 1 1/2-cups of any finely diced meat, such as roasted chicken or fish, such as cooked salmon or a vegetable, such as diced fennel or squash.

Ingredients:

  • Low-Fat Fettuccine Alfredo, see recipe below
  • 1 1/2 pounds potatoes, cut on the longer side into 1/8-inch thick slices
  • 1 1/2-cups of any finely diced baked ham
  • 3 tablespoons shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper (or more if you like)
  • 1 cup frozen peas, thawed
  • 1 cup shredded reduced-fat Swiss cheese (or use gruyere, smoked gouda, or white cheddar)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. if you’re baking the dish right away. Coat a 9 x 9-inch baking dish with cooking spray.
  2. Spread 1/4 cup of the Alfredo sauce in the bottom of the baking dish. Layer 1/3 of the potatoes over the sauce and sprinkle with a dash or two of pepper.
  3. Combine Parmesan cheese, ham, peas and shredded cheese to a large bowl and toss to mix well. Spread half the ham mixture over the potatoes in the dish. Top with  1/4 cup of sauce, then another layer of potato slices. Top with more black pepper and the remaining ham mixture.
  4. Finish by spreading 1/4 cup of the sauce on top, then the remaining potato slices. Pour the remaining Alfredo sauce over the top. If you aren’t baking right away, cover with foil and keep in refrigerator until ready to bake.
  5. When ready to bake, keep the dish covered with foil and bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes. Then uncover the dish, reduce heat to 350 degrees F, and bake about 20 minutes more or until potatoes are tender. Let stand about 10 minutes before serving.

Yield: 6 servings

Low-Fat Fettuccine Alfredo

Ingredients:

  • 1 teaspoon unsalted butter
  • 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 1/4 cup half-and-half
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and lightly crushed but keep whole
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 pinch nutmeg
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Directions:

In a small saucepan, heat the butter over medium heat until foaming. Whisk in the flour until mixture is smooth and golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Whisk in the milk, half-and-half, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt, pepper and nutmeg. Bring to a simmer.
Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until sauce is slightly thickened, 1 to 2 minutes. Discard garlic, stir in Parmesan and remove from heat. Makes 1 cup.

Lemony Tuna and Pasta

Makes: 4 to 6 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups dried rigatoni or penne pasta (6 oz.)
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped celery
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon-style mustard
  • 1 teaspoon dried marjoram
  • 1 teaspoon finely shredded lemon peel
  • Juice from half a lemon and the other half reserved for garnish
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 -5 to 6 ounce cans chunk tuna (packed in olive oil), drained
  • 1/2 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
  • 1 tablespoon capers

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Grease 1-1/2-quart baking dish with cooking spray; set aside.
  2. Cook pasta according to package directions; drain.
  3. In medium saucepan cook celery, onion, and garlic in 1 tablespoon hot oil until tender. Whisk in flour, mustard, marjoram, lemon peel, and pepper. Add broth all at once. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly, whisking to remove any lumps. Fold in tuna and pasta. Transfer to prepared baking dish.
  4. In small bowl stir together bread crumbs and the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Sprinkle on tuna mixture. Bake, covered, for 15 minutes. Uncover and bake 5 minutes more or until bubbly and brown.  Let stand 5 minutes. Sprinkle with capers and garnish with lemon.

Serves 4 to 6.

Italian Beef Stew

Yield: 8 servings (serving size: 1 cup)

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2  pounds boneless chuck roast, trimmed and cut into cubes
  • 3/4  teaspoon salt, divided
  • 1/2  teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped onion
  • 1/2  cup chopped carrot
  • 1  tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1  cup dry red wine
  • 1-28 oz. containers Pomi chopped tomatoes
  • 1 1/2 cups fat-free, lower-sodium beef broth
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2  teaspoons chopped fresh oregano
  • 2  teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
  • 1  bay leaf
  • 1  (8-ounce) package cremini mushrooms, quartered
  • 3/4 cup (1/4-inch-thick) slices carrot
  • 2  tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 1  tablespoon chopped parsley

Directions:

  1. Heat a Dutch oven over medium-high heat and add oil to pan.
  2. Place the 1/4 cup flour in a shallow dish. Sprinkle beef with 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper; dredge in flour. Add half of beef to pan; sauté 6 minutes, browning on all sides. Remove from pan to a bowl. Repeat procedure.
  3. Add wine to pan, and bring to a boil, scraping pan. Cook 5 minutes. Return meat to pan. Add tomato and next 6 ingredients; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Uncover, and stir in sliced carrot. Simmer, uncovered, for 1 hour or until meat is very tender, stirring occasionally. Discard bay leaf. Stir in remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, basil, and parsley.
  5. Refrigerate tightly covered until serving. Reheat on low heat.

 

 

 

 

 

 



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