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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Recession Meals

This time of year is perfect for slow cooker meals.  (Remember, Crock Pot is a brand of slow cooker--although most people use it as the generic term.)  Comfort food like stews and slow-cooked meats are great on cool nights.  We're all very busy with the holidays, so having an easy meal to be ready at dinnertime is terrific. 

And in these tough economic times, slow cookers work wonders on cheaper cuts of meat like chuck roasts, pork shoulder and even chicken.  And they use a tiny amount of electricity.

But really, slow cooker meals can be delicious and incredibly comforting.  Pulled pork, beef stew, soups--what's not to like?

Now, slow cooker meals--GOOD slow cooker meals--are not always as easy as dumping stuff in the cooker and turning it on.  To get real good taste, vegetables and meats sometimes need to be browned or sauteed.  You might have to do a little work right before serving, too.  But it's worth it. 

Here's an article from the Salt Lake Tribune that has some recipes included. 

And here's a great recipe I made the other day from Slow Cooker Revolution by America's Test Kitchen.  I only had about half the meat that's called for, so I halved the recipe and it worked great.  Try it!  You'll like it!

BEEF BURGUNDY (serves 8)

INGREDIENTS
1 (5 lb) boneless beef chuck roast, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2" chunks
Salt and pepper
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
4 oz bacon (about 4 slices), minced
3 onions, minced
1 carrot, peeled and minced
1/4 c tomato paste
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp minced fresh thyme or 1 tsp dried
1/3 c all-purpose flour
2 1/2 c Pinot Noir
1 1/2 c low-sodium chicken broth, plus extra as needed
1/3 c soy sauce
2 bay leaves
2 c frozen pearl onions
1/2 c water
3 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 tsp sugar
1 lb cremini mushrooms, trimmed and halved if small or quartered if large
  1. Dry beef with paper towels and season with salt and pepper.  Place half of the beef in slow cooker.  Heat oil in 12" skillet over medium-heat until just smoking.  Brown remaining beef well on all sides, 7-10 min; transfer to slow cooker.
  2. Cook bacon in skillet over medium-high heat until crisp, about 5 min.  Stir in onions, carrot, tomato paste, garlic and thyme and cook until onions are softened and lightly browned, 8-10 min.  Stir in flour and cook for 1 min.  Slowly whisk in 1 1/4 cup wine, scraping up any browned bits and smoothing out any lumps; transfer to slow cooker.
  3. Stir broth, soy sauce and bay leaves into slow cooker.  Cover and cook until beef is tender, 9-11 hours on low or 5-7 hours on high.
  4. About 20 min before serving, bring frozen pearl onion, water, butter and sugar to a boil in 12" skillet.  reduce to simmer, cover and cook until onions are fully thawed and tender, 5-8 min.  Uncover, bring to a boil and cook until all liquid evaporates, 3-4 min.  Stir in mushrooms and cook until browned and glazed, 8-12 min; transfer to slow cooker.
  5. Add remaining 1 1/4 cup wine to skillet and simmer until it has reduced by half, 6-8 min; transfer to slow cooker.  Let stew settle for 5 min, then remove fat from surface using a large spoon.  Discard bay leaves.  (Adjust consistency with additional hot broth as needed.)  Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve over mashed potatoes or buttered noodles.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Anniversary at Earl's

Hi everyone.  I trust you all had a fun and tasty Thanksgiving.  I heard that on average, people take in about 4600 calories on Thanksgiving.  To work that off, you'd have to walk approximately 30 miles.  Hope you've got good shoes.  I guess that since we did 2 dinners on Turkey Day, we've got 60 miles to walk.

And that's not to mention the delicious dinner MB and I had at Earl's Bucks County on Friday night for our 17th wedding anniversary. 

I've heard much about this locavore restaurant, but had never been there until Friday.  I wish we had gone earlier.

What a great place--an incredible menu with lots of choices, flavors, ingredients.  The cool thing is that for many of the ingredients in each dish, they list the local farm or producer where the food comes from.  The freshness of the ingredients comes out in the dishes.

We started by sharing an appetizer of mini tacos with braised short ribs, butternut squash, crema and freshly made corn tortillas.  I could have eaten about 20 of them.  The meat was melt-in-your-mouth.  They even brought them out on 2 plates since we were sharing them. 

For the entree, I got trout with smoked bacon-mustard vinaigrette, sweet potato gnocchi, spinach and micro mustard greens.  The fish was done perfectly--moist flesh, crispy skin.  The sweetness of the gnocchi and the smokiness from the bacon was a great match.  MB got humongous sea scallops (impeccably done--crisp sear and moist on the inside) with sweet potato-sage ravioli and roasted butternut squash dressed with browned butter and toasted pine nuts. 

We shared a slice of chocolate layer cake (our server suggested we share-- and she was correct in saying that the slice was huge) in honor of the fact that we had a chocolate wedding cake with chocolate icing.  The cake was very good--about a half inch of ganache covered chocolate cake and mousse inside. 

So if you are looking for a place to go for a nice night out, try Earl's.  It's not the cheapest place around, but it wasn't outrageously priced either.  And for a meal done that well, it's worth paying a little bit more.  Even if it means that we have to walk a few more miles to work it off!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Musings

Your days are numbered, Tom.
Well, we're in Thanksgiving week--usually a pretty crazy week for most of us.  Whether you're cooking or cleaning or traveling or whatever--there's lots to do. 

We're not hosting Thanksgiving--we'll be doing the usual 2-Dinner Marathon--but I'll be making some Cranberry Relish, Rocky Road Fudge and Roasted Asparagus (or Green Beans--haven't decided yet) for the 2 meals.  It's nice to have both families close by so we can spend the holiday with both, but it sure is a lot of eating.  It's all in the pacing, as we like to say.

I ate at Five Guys Burgers & Fries for the first time yesterday.  So greasy.  So messy.  Sooooo gooooood!  They really are good burgers (and the fries are tasty, too).  I got mine with grilled onions, grilled mushrooms, cheese, ketchup and jalapenos.  Sat in my gut for much of the day, but it was worth it.

To make up for the nutritional deficiency of lunch, I made a tasty, smoky Barbecued Salmon for dinner.  Very easy and yummy.  And healthy!

Jake and I are disgusted with the over-abundance of Christmas songs, etc.  Once Thanksgiving comes, then, OK.  But it's just too much too early.  I feel the same every year, but it seems like it gets earlier and earlier every season.  Oh well. 

Well, in case I don't get to post anything else before Thursday, I want to wish all of you a very Happy Thanksgiving.  Enjoy the food and family! 

Friday, November 18, 2011

Something Fishy

We've all got turkey on the brain this time of year and for good reason.  But I thought I'd put out a quick note about seafood for something different.

Have you been to Bucks County Seafood in Dublin?  There are a lot of good seafood places in our area, but for those of us who live near Dublin, we have a great place to go for all sorts of fresh, frozen and prepared seafood. 

Click here to read my post about Bucks County Seafood on Bucks County Taste.  And for a change of pace from turkey, stop in and see the great products they offer.

Bucks County Seafood is located at 164 N. Main St. (Rt. 313), Dublin, PA, 18917.  You can check out their list of products on their website or call them at 215.249.1295.  They’re open 10 am to 7 pm, Monday through Saturday and 10 am to 5 pm on Sunday.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Veggie Pizza

I'm somewhat interested in politics.  Once in a while, I'm even passionate about certain things political.  I usually don't write about these things because I don't want to offend anyone and because I just don't see the need to do it--there are enough people commenting on stuff like that.

But something happened in Congress the other day that amazes me, frustrates me and just plain ticks me off.

Eat your veggies!
The Obama administration put forth potential regulations with the goal to make school lunches healthier.  Now, no matter what you think of government regulations, you have to admit that helping kids eat healthier is a good thing, right? 

The administration's proposals for school lunches worked to reduce the amount of potatoes (french fries) served, lower the amount of sodium used in prepared foods, increase the amounts of whole grains that are used and eliminates silly things like counting tomato paste as a vegetable when used on pizza. 

Well, Congress has said that they don't think that these ideas are all that good.  They released a spending bill that effectively kills the Obama proposals.  It prevents the reduction in fries, delays the limits on sodium and the increase in whole grains.  And it continues to view tomato paste as a vegetable. 

Now, why would Congress do this?  Well, for some, anything the the president does calls for some sort of opposition--no matter what it is.  But the ones really pulling the strings in this case are those who called for fighting these regulations: the potato industry, the frozen pizza industry, the salt industry.  Don't want those profits to drop!  Because you know how outside of schools, french fries, salt and frozen pizzas are rarely eaten.  (Yes, that's sarcasm.)

Some, including some schools, say that the regulations proposed by the administration are too stringent.  Some say that the government should not tell us or our kids what to eat.  But isn't it the responsibility of a government to protect the welfare of the citizens?  You can't ignore the fact that kids are less healthy and more obese than ever.  Yes, parents have a responsibility to feed their kids healthy food.  But a kid is going to eat what's offered in the lunch line--so why not offer healthier options?  Unhealthy kids turn into unhealthy adults, which affects all of us in many ways--not the least of which is increased healthcare costs. 

Sorry.  Stuff like this frustrates me.  You can read an AP article about these proposals here.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Slow Cooker Turkey?


Photo courtesty of Cook's Country.
The latest issue of Cook's Country magazine has a recipe for a turkey breast--with gravy--made in a slow cooker.  Now really, can that be any good?

Well, we just so happened to have a turkey breast in the freezer and I thought trying out the recipe was a good way to get our taste buds ready for Thanksgiving.

As I would expect from Cook's Country, the recipe was very good.  OK, if you're looking for a real roasted turkey flavor, you're not going to get it here.  But if you're cooking for just a small number of people and you want a more hands-off way of cooking turkey, this is the way to go.  It's flavorful, extremely moist and the gravy is really tasty.  It's definitely worth a try--if not for Thanksgiving, at least another time.

SLOW-COOKER TURKEY BREAST AND GRAVY
Serves 8-10

If you don't have quite 3 Tbsp of drippings in Step 1, supplement with additional butter.

INGREDIENTS
1 (6-7 lb) bone-in turkey breast, trimmed
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 onion, chopped coarse
1 carrot, chopped coarse
1 celery rib, chopped coarse
6 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
7 Tbsp all-purpose flour
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 sprigs fresh thyme plus 1 tsp minced
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper
  1. Pat turkey dry with paper towels.  Remove skin and cut into 4 equal pieces.  Cook skin in 12" skillet over medium heat until browned, 8-10 min.  (I found that I needed a little longer.)  Transfer skin to slow cooker.  Pour off all but 3 Tbsp fat from skillet.  Add butter, onion, carrot, celery and garlic and cook until veggies are browned, 8-10 min.  Whisk in flour and cook, whisking constantly, until golden, about 2 min.  Slowly whisk in broth and wine and bring to to a boil.  Transfer gravy, thyme sprigs and bay leaves to slow cooker.
  2. Season turkey with salt and pepper and place meat side up in slow cooker.  Cover and cook on low until breast registers 160 degrees, 5-6 hours.
  3. Transfer turkey to carving board, tent loosely with foil and let rest for 15-20 min.  Strain gravy into a serving bowl; discard solids.  Stir minced thyme into gravy and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Carve turkey and serve.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Turkey revisited

As I write this, I am trying out a Cook's Country recipe for "roast" turkey breast with gravy--made in a slow cooker!  I know, doesn't seem like it would work, but I trust their recipes.  I'll be sure to let you know how it turns out.

Below is a post I made last year at this time (slightly edited)--all about turkeys and the yummy Thanksgiving meals they give us. As a side, check out this post with a strange, but tasty sounding stuffing recipe.
Thanksgiving is coming up on us pretty quickly.  In just over 2 weeks, we'll be searching out our stretchy pants and getting ready to stuff ourselves with our favorite holiday fare.   (Choose your favorite in the poll to the right.)  And I'd be remiss in telling you that Mary Beth and my wedding anniversary falls on the day after Turkey Day this year--just as it did 17 years ago.  17 years!?  How does she do it?

If you are like 97% of Americans, you will be eating turkey this Thanksgiving.  Although more people are eating turkey at non-holiday times (consumption has increased 116% and production is up 300% since 1970), most Americans see turkey as a holiday dish.  Too bad, though.   Turkeys are very low fat and very high in protein (more than chicken or beef).  The average gobbler eaten at Thanksgiving is 15 pounds (much less than the largest turkey on record—86 pounds!). 

Oh, and studies show that there’s way too little tryptophan in turkey to cause drowsiness.   All the wine and food you stuff in your stomach pulls blood away from the brain to aid in digestion and prevents you from seeing the 2nd half of that football game or helping with the dishes.  You’ll have to find another excuse.

Ben Franklin famously nominated the wild turkey as our nation’s symbol (rather than the bald eagle).  He saw that these relatives to the pheasant were hearty, tough and plentiful—just like the early Americans.  Wild turkeys can fly up to 55 miles per hour for short distances and can run up to 20 mph.  They were nearly wiped out in the U.S. in the early 1900’s, but now thrive in every state except Alaska.   (Most of them seem to live at Peace Valley Park!)

Many of us use frozen turkeys and most of them are fine.   However, there are plenty of places locally to get delicious fresh birds.   Check out this Bucks County Taste post for more information where to get them.   Just remember that they're in demand, so don't wait to long to reserve yours.

There are literally thousands of ways to roast a turkey.  There are recipes with different kinds of rubs and brines.  Some use low heat, some high.   Some roast breast up, some breast down.  Here’s my favorite way to roast a turkey—on the grill.  It turns out juicy and delicious—and cooks very quickly.  It’s from America’s Test Kitchen.  The recipe is for a charcoal grill (with directions for gas grilling at the end of each step.)

  1. Dissolve 2 cups kosher or 1 cup table salt in 2 gallons of water in a large stockpot or clean bucket.  Add a 12-14 pound turkey, giblets & tail removed, rinsed thoroughly and wings tucked under.  Refrigerate or put in a very cool spot (32-40 degrees), 12 hours or overnight.  (I have used a cooler and added ice packs to keep cold.)
  2. Toward the end of the brining time, cover six 3-inch wood chunks with water in a bowl; soak for 1 hour, then drain and set aside.  (For gas: soak 3 cups of wood chips for about 30 minutes, drain and place in smoker box of gas grill or make a foil pan to hold the chips.)
  3. Keep bottom vents on grill completely open.  Start charcoal.  (For gas: place tray of chips on burner and preheat to high for about 20 minutes or until chips are smoking heavily.)
  4. Spray a V-rack with nonstick cooking spray.  (Before I had a rack, I made a big foil ring to hold the bird.)  Remove turkey from brine and rinse inside and out with cool running water to remove any salt.  Pat dry with paper towels; brush both sides with 2 tablespoons melted butter.  Set turkey, breast-side down, in V-rack.
  5. Arrange coals into one side of grill, piling them up 2-3 briquettes high.   Place 3 wood chunks on top of charcoal.  Put grate in place and put V-rack on with turkey over cool side of the grill.  Open lid vents halfway and cover, turning lid so vents are opposite wood chunks to draw smoke through grill.   Grill-roast for 1 hour.  (For gas: Turn off one burner—not the one with the wood chips—and put turkey over that burner.)
  6. Remove lid from grill.  Using thick potholders, move V-rack (with turkey) to rimmed baking sheet or roasting pan.  Remove grate and put 12 new briquettes and the last 3 wood chunks on top (For gas: add more chips, if necessary); replace grate.  Using wads of paper towels, flip turkey breast-side up in rack.  Return to cool side of grill so that leg & wing that were facing the heat are now facing away.  Cover and grill-roast for 45 minutes.
  7. Using thick potholders, turn V-rack with turkey so the leg & wing facing heat is now facing away.   Using an instant-read thermometer, check temperature in each thigh.   The target temp is 175-180.  If it’s close, cover and check the temp again in about 15 minutes.   If it’s below 145, cover and check in a half-hour.
  8. Remove turkey from grill, cover loosely with foil, and let rest 20-30 minutes.  Carve and serve.
Really, this sounds more difficult than it really is.  You will LOVE the smoky, moist meat that results from this process.  Save the giblets and find a good giblet gravy recipe to go with your bird.  You’ll be thankful you tried it!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Super Broccoli!

One of Jake's favorite veggies is broccoli, which is great.  Broccoli is really good for you.  (I must admit that it's not one of my favorites, but I eat it.)

But now there apparently is even more reason to eat a new variety of broccoli--a "super broccoli" that British scientists have bred to contain 2-3 times regular broccoli's amount of glucoraphanin, a nutrient that is believed to help prevent heart disease.

Photo by Mark Dunham/AP
According to scientists in an AP article on the subject, the new broccoli could actually lower your cholesterol.  It supposedly tastes sweeter than regular-strength broccoli because there is less sulphur in it.

It has been for sale in California and Texas for the last year, has recently been sold in Britain and should be sold throughout the US sometime this fall. 

Of course, there are those who question the need for such a thing--you can read some of the pros and cons of it in the article--but I suppose there could be worse things than healthier broccoli. 

What they need to come up with now is something like cheese that lowers your blood pressure.  That, I'd pay for!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Delicata

Winter squashes abound this time of year.  Butternut, acorn, pumpkins and many more can be found all over.  All of them are tasty, nutritious and relatively easy to prepare.

Last weekend I picked up a couple delicata squash.  As winter squash go, these are a breeze to make.  Simply cut them in half, scoop out the seeds and season.  I just rubbed them with some extra-virgin olive and seasoned with salt and pepper.  You could put whatever seasoning you like--cinnamon, cayenne, garlic. 

I stuck them in a 425 oven (along with the baked pork chops I was making) for about 20-25 minutes or until the flesh is very tender and starting to brown a little on top.  The skin is thin and tender, so you don't have to peel them. 

The flavor is sweet, but not overly so.  Not as sweet as a sweet potato or butternut.  It's more like an acorn squash if you ask me.  But as an easy and healthy side dish, you can't beat it.  Give them a try.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Hello, Betty!

I love all the different kinds of apples that are available in our area this time of year--sweet, tart, crisp, soft, red, yellow.  And being just picked, makes them taste even better.

Photo courtesy of America's Test Kitchen.
I made a really tasty Apple Brown Betty over the weekend from America's Test Kitchen (where else?).  At least I was told it was tasty.  I made it for the fellowship hour after church and it was like a swarm of locusts descended on the table of food, so I never got to taste it.  But I thought I'd pass it on to you.

APPLE BROWN BETTY
Serves 6-8 (I doubled it, but only used about 2 cups of cider instead of the doubled amount)

If your apples are especially tart, omit the lemon juice.  If, on the other hand, your apples are exceptionally sweet, use the full amount.  Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container; topped with vanilla yogurt, they make an excellent breakfast.  The apple varieties listed in the recipe are recommended, but you could use any tart and sweet varieties.

BREAD CRUMBS
4 slices high-quality white sandwich bread, torn into quarters
3 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
2 Tbsp packed light brown sugar

FILLING
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
Pinch table salt
3 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 1/2 pounds Granny Smith apples (about 3 large), peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2" cubes (about 4 cups)
1 1/2 pounds Golden Delicious apples (about 3 large), peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2" cubes (about 4 cups)
1 1/4 cups apple cider
1-3 tsp juice from 1 lemon (see note above)
  1. FOR THE BREAD CRUMBS:  Pulse the bread, butter, and sugar in food processor until coarsely ground, 5-7 pulses.  Transfer to a 12" skillet and toast over medium heat, stirring constantly, until they are deep golden brown, 8-10 min.  Transfer to a paper-towel lined plate; wipe out the skillet.
  2. FOR THE FILLING:  Combine the sugar, spices, and salt in a small bowl.  Melt 1 1/2 Tbsp butter in the now-empty skillet over high heat.  Stir in the Granny Smiths and half of the sugar mixture.  Distribute the apples in an even layer and cook, stirring 2-3 times, until medium brown, about 5 min; transfer to a medium bowl.  Repeat with the remaining butter, the Golden Delicious and the remaining sugar mixture, returning the first batch of apples to the skillet when the second batch is done.
  3. Add the cider to the skillet and scrape the bottom and sides of the pan with a wooden spoon to loosen the browned bits; cook until the apples are tender but not mushy and the liquid has reduced is just beginning to thicken, 2-4 min.
  4. Remove the skillet from the heat; stir in the lemon juice (if using) and 1/3 cup of the toasted bread crumbs.  Using a wooden spoon, lightly flatten the apples into an even layer and evenly sprinkle with the remaining bread crumbs.  Spoon the warm betty into individual bowls and serves with vanilla ice cream, if desired

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Healthy Blues

You know that we travel to Maine each year and you may have read some stuff that I've written about wild Maine blueberries (like this post, for example).  These tiny berries pack loads of sweet blueberry flavor.  As it turns out, scientists are finding that they pack loads of health benefits as well.

video
This is Jake back in '08 doing a little research.

Back in August, there was a conference held in Bar Harbor with researchers from the US, Canada and Europe--the Wild Blueberry Health Research Summit. 

Studies are being conducted that show the amazing power of these little fruits. 

The memory and brain function of older adults with Mild Cognitive Impairment--often a precursor to Alzheimer's Disease--can be affected positively by wild blueberries.  Studies show that wild blues may help improve memory tasks, motor function and the growth of new brain cells among other possible brain-health benefits. 

Proposed studies about wild blueberry health benefits include investigation into their effects on insulin sensitivity, blood pressure, blood vessel wall strength and other cardio health indicators.

It's been known for a long time that eating fruit--especially berries--can give great health benefits (see this post).  But it is more and more evident that wild blueberries have more antioxidants and other healthy compounds than other berries--including cultivated blueberries. 

If good health tastes as good as wild blues do, then being healthy suddenly got a lot easier!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Post-Halloween Pumpkins

Halloween is over.  You've taken the kids trick-or-treating, carved your pumpkin, shoveled the sidewalk (huh?!!) and now what?

Well, food-wise, there's all that left-over candy.  We don't get many trick-or-treaters, so we always buy what we like because we know we'll have plenty left over. 

But what about pumpkins?  As you know, they're not just for carving.  They're a tasty, nutritious food that is very versatile. 

The versatility is evident in the recipes from these two articles I've run across.

The first is from the Washington Post and discusses the writer's experimenting with smoking pumpkins.  He even includes a Pumpkin S'more recipe.  Actually sounds pretty good.  Read this article here.

The second article is from the Patriot Ledger in Massachusetts.  In the article, a nutritionist talks about the health benefits of adding pumpkin to your diet by doing things like adding pumpkin puree to oatmeal or brownies.  This adds flavor, vitamins, fiber.  Read this article here.

So visit your local farm stand, dig a couple of pumpkins out of the snow and have fun doing something creative with them!