Archive for the 'one dish' Category

Slow Cooker Mac & Cheese

slow cooker mac cheese 1 Slow Cooker Mac & Cheese

We’re taking turns catching colds around here. As I write this I’m wrapped in a blanket with a stiff neck (my mom keeps telling me to wrap a wool sock around it, like my grandad did, and I just might) and a mug of warm lemonade (yes!), sneezing approximately every 3 minutes, my face fixed with that expression you get when you’re just about to sneeze. (This cold is such a cliché.) We’re anticipating a high of -19 tomorrow, not that we’ll likely leave the house anyway after getting up at 5 to watch the gold medal hockey game. My ambitious plan is to make doughnuts and bellinis – or perhaps fizzy wine smoothies – and plenty of coffee. But later in the day, when everyone is cold and sleepy and huddled on the couch to catch the last of the Olympics, a batch of mac & cheese will be in the slow cooker. Oh yes it will. I wish it was in there now.

Slow cooker mac collage 1 Slow Cooker Mac & Cheese

The first time I made this was back in late December, when some friends threw a house party and asked me to bring slow cooker mac & cheese. I have not had good experience with slow cooker mac & cheese in the past, and I debated cheating and making a regular batch of mac & cheese and bringing it in a slow cooker to keep warm. But I love the idea of a gooey, extra cheesy mac & cheese done in the slow cooker – it’s something that should work well, and there should be no need to have to precook the pasta – its starch should contribute to the thickening of the sauce and all that. It should work. And its success should not rely on a can of condensed cheddar cheese soup.

Also: I need crispy bits.

slow cooker mac collage 2 Slow Cooker Mac & Cheese

Mostly when I make mac & cheese I cook the noodles while simultaneously turning butter and flour into a paste to which I add milk and cook to thicken (or if you want to get fancy about it, make béchamel with a roux) and add big handfuls of grated old cheddar to melt. But this macaroni with lots of cheese went about things differently, amalgamating pasta, butter, milk and cheese into one delicious unit, rather than dousing cooked noodles with cheese sauce. A variation worked in the slow cooker – huzzah! I used up half a cheese ball from our Christmas party, which was really just grated cheese and cream cheese anyway, but if you don’t happen to have half a leftover cheese ball, cream cheese will work just fine. And there will be crispy bits aplenty.

slow cooker mac cheese 6 Slow Cooker Mac & Cheese

And while it was meant for the kids at the aforementioned party, the adults devoured it and asked for the recipe, and I’ve made it twice since. Soon to be three times.

Slow Cooker Mac & Cheese

1 lb (450 g) elbow macaroni, uncooked (41/2 cups)
1 – 1½ lb (454-750 g) old cheddar cheese, grated
one 8oz (250 g) pkg cream cheese, cut into chunks
4 cups (1 L) 2 % milk
salt and pepper
pinch freshly grated nutmeg (optional)

Combine all the ingredients in the bowl of a slow cooker; cover and cook on low for 3-4 hours, removing the lid to give it a stir about once an hour.

Serve warm. Serves 8-10.

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February 22 2014 | one dish and pasta and slow cooker | 18 Comments »

The Best Beef Stew

Beef Stew 1 The Best Beef Stew

When we were kids, my dad fancied himself a pretty good beef stew maker. I did not agree – he used big chunks of flank steak, which I suspect weren’t cooked quite long enough to break down in its tomato-ey sauce, because while it was certainly lean and healthy, it had the texture of chewy meat rope. (Sorry Dad – it’s not you, it’s me. And the meat rope.)

Fortunately, he’s so fantastic that it’s easy to overlook his stew.

Beef stew Collage The Best Beef Stew

But it’s funny how childhood food preferences stick with you – I keep thinking I don’t like beef stew, but really I do. (So long as the meat is cooked long enough.) Any tough cut of beef (or bison) makes a good stew – even those chunks of “stewing beef”; the trick is to simmer it first, giving the connective tissues time to melt and the gravy a chance to develop, before adding the potatoes and carrots, which you don’t want to break down to the point where chewing is unnecessary. These days, I make beef stew in the big red Le Creuset braiser I bought for myself, browning the meat first on the stovetop to create all those deep browned crusty bits that add so much flavour. (One day I made boeuf bourguignon for fifty, and browned so much beef that our kitchen was like a steamy meat sauna.)

Beef Stew 6 The Best Beef Stew

Once I have that foundation of browned bits, I add the onion and celery to the pan to loosen them (and create even more), then some beef stock, tomato paste, balsamic vinegar (because: yum) and red wine and let the whole thing simmer for a good couple hours, until it looks something like this:

Beef Stew 4 The Best Beef Stew

Then the potatoes (small, with their skins) and carrots (ditto), and even parsnips, if you’re into alternative root vegetables, get into the pool. Toss a handful of frozen peas in too, if you like.

Beef Stew 3 The Best Beef Stew

They get the chance to cook in the dark, sticky gravy, leaving everything awesome and not at all watery; enough to stand up to these neverending cold-snowy-icy days.

Beef Stew 2 The Best Beef Stew

Or for nights when you want to invite your dad over for dinner.

The Best Beef Stew

3-4 lb beef chuck or stewing beef, cut into 2-inch pieces
salt and pepper
canola oil, for cooking
1 large onion, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped (optional)
2-3 garlic cloves, crushed
3 Tbsp. tomato paste
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
4 cups (1 L) beef stock
1/2 bottle red wine (about 2 cups)
a few sprigs of fresh thyme
2 lb. small, thin-skinned potatoes, halved
3 carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1-2 parsnips, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces (optional)
1/2 cup peas, thawed (optional)

Preheat oven to 300°F. Pat the beef dry with paper towels and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Place a heavy, ovenproof pot over medium-high heat, add a generous drizzle of oil and cook the meat in batches, without crowding the pan, browning it well on all sides. Remove from the pot and add the onion and celery, if using. Cook for 3-4 minutes, until soft and starting to loosen the browned bits in the bottom of the pan. Add the garlic and tomato paste and cook for another minute. Add the vinegar and cook for another minute.

Add the stock and red wine, cover and cook for 2 1/2 hours, until the meat is very tender. Add the potatoes, carrots and parsnips, stir to coat everything well and return to the oven for 30-40 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. (If you’re adding peas, stir them in for the last 5 minutes.) Serve hot.

Serves 6-8.

pixel The Best Beef Stew
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February 06 2014 | beef and one dish | 14 Comments »

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