Something to Change Your Life: Beef Bourguignon

This recipe was so good that I don’t have any photos of the finished product.  We ate it.  All of it.

Before making it, I told my sister about my plans and she suggested that I talk in that super obnoxious Meryl Streep version of Julia Child’s voice.  So I did.  Only I said terrible vulgar phrases in her voice.  It was really funny.  I also did something I’ve always thought would be cool… I took a swig of wine straight out of the bottle.  Turns out that wasn’t cool.

Needless to say, the husband was stoked when it was done and we almost argued over leftovers.

With that, I applaud Ina in creating the easiest recipe for Beef Bourguignon you’ll ever find.

Seriously, this is the only photo I managed to take. We devoured this meal in the span of a few dinners and lunches.

Makes: Not enough…ever.  But probably 10 servings

Time commitment: 2 hours

The Stuff

1 tablespoon good olive oil (let’s be real, I’ve never met a bad olive oil)

8 ounces dry cured center cut applewood smoked bacon, diced (yeah, it’s got bacon and it’s glorious)

2 1/2 pounds chuck beef cut into 1-inch cubes

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 pound carrots, sliced diagonally into 1-inch chunks

2 yellow onions, sliced

2 cloves chopped garlic (or garlic you’ve put through the garlic press)

1 1/2 cups red wine (I decided to use Chianti instead and quote that creepy part from Silence of the Lambs…total creep, I know)

2 cups beef broth

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (1/2 teaspoon dried)

4 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature, divided

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 pound pearl onions (no skins)

1 pound fresh mushrooms stems discarded, caps thickly sliced

Making the stuff

  1. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a high sided pan (or a Le Cruecet if you’re a super lucky cook and have one…hint hint)
  3. Add the bacon and cook until it’s done
  4. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon to a large plate covered in paper towel to drain some of the grease
  5. DO NOT DRAIN PAN OF GREASY OILY GOODNESS
  6. Cube beef into one ince pieces
  7. Dry the beef cubes with paper towels and then sprinkle them with salt and pepper.
  8. In batches in single layers, sear the beef in the hot oil for 3 to 5 minutes, turning to brown on all sides.
  9. Remove the seared cubes to the plate with the bacon and continue searing until all the beef is browned. Set aside.
  10. Toss the carrots, and onions, 1 tablespoon of salt and 2 teaspoons of pepper in the fat in the pan and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are lightly browned.
  11. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute.
  12. Add the wine to the pan and stand back.  Hot booze makes a lot of sizzle and smoke.
  13. Transfer everything to a big enough pot to hold a lot of stuff (I used a big double eared kettle)
  14. Put the meat and bacon into the pot with the juices.
  15. Add the beef broth and a bit more red wine if you haven’t drank it all by now to almost cover the meat.
  16. Add the tomato paste and thyme.
  17. Bring to a simmer, cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and heat gently on low for approximately 30 minutes or until the meat and vegetables are very tender when pierced with a fork.
  18. Combine 2 tablespoons of butter and the flour with a fork and stir into the stew.
  19. Saute the mushrooms in 2 tablespoons of butter for 10 minutes until lightly browned and then add to the stew.
  20. Bring the stew to a boil on top of the stove, then lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Season to taste.

To serve, toast  some bread in the oven and set out to be devoured along side the life-changing recipe.

Something for fall: Beer Battered Maple Bacon Dark Chocolate Cupcakes

In case I haven’t mentioned, my husband and I moved to our dream house just a few months ago. It has everything we want: a kitchen I love cooking in, spaces to entertain and a basement with a cellar suitable for my husband’s beer and wine brewing hobby. The best part? We have really cool neighbors.

How cool are they?  I’ll tell you. This weekend, the whole culdesac had its annual football party where one side of the street plays the other (husbands, wives, kids…and dogs) and we have a bash afterwards.  It’s totally Pleasantville shit, only we really do like each other and there’s no weird conspiracy.

I’ve been so excited for this event that I went shopping for fun cupcake decorations back in August and have been dreaming up this recipe to share for a super long time.

This recipe is gonna change lives…or at least how you’ll view chocolate cupcakes forever and for that, I’m eternally sorry.

Beer-Battered Maple Bacon Dark Chocolate Cupcakes

Makes: 3 1/2 dozen

Time commitment: 1.5 hours

The Stuff

For cupcakes:

I found these treasures months ago at Michael’s and knew I had to make some kind of cupcake for this party!

3/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder (Rodelle or bust)

3/4 cup hot water

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder (yes, both of those weird white powder I always seem to confuse and use the wrong one)

1 1/4 teaspoons sea salt

2.5 sticks butter

.5 oz bacon fat

1 package bacon – get the good stuff, no crappy bacon is allowed

2 1/4 cups sugar

4 eggs, room temperature

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 cup sour cream (the smallest size that looks like a yogurt cup is perfect)

2 oz dark beer (Dubious – Black Chocolate Stout is my favorite)

The Frosting

Looking back, I should have stocked up on more of these. They’re the cutest things, ever.

2 sticks butter (room temperature)

2 tablespoons vanilla extract

3/4 package of powdered sugar

1/4 cup maple syrup (don’t even think about bringing Aunt Jemima to this…spring for something good)

Michael’s Tailgate “GO TEAM” Cupcake Liners

Making the Stuff

The Beer Battered Bacon Cupcakes (don’t worry, the beer cooks out so it’s kid-safe)

  1. Chop bacon and cook – keep 4 tablespoons of the fat for the recipe
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  3. Line muffin tins with the cute Go Team liners and spray with a good nonstick spray so they pop off easy for eaters
  4. Whisk together cocoa and hot water until smooth in a small bowl
  5. In another bowl, mix up flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt
  6. In a small saucepan, melt together sugar, bacon fat and butter on low head until it’s a nice sugary buttery sauce
  7. Dump buttery sugary goodness into your Kitchenaid and mix on low (setting 2 or 3) until it’s cooled off
  8. Add eggs one at a time to mixer (now on setting 3 or 4)
  9. Add vanilla and chocolatey goodness
  10. Add beer. If you don’t want to measure, do what I do and pour out two swigs for your homies
  11. Add half of the flour, all of the sour cream and then the other half of the flour while mixing on low (2 or 3)
  12. Fold in 1/2 of the cooked bacon
  13. Fill up muffin tins and bake for 15-20 minutes

The Maple Bacon Frosting

  1. Beat butter in Kitchenaid for about 5 minutes (work on drinking the rest of the delicious beer or fending off the vultures lurking around your remaining bacon)
  2. Add vanilla extract

    It’s so good you won’t want to share…but do it anyhow.

  3. Add Maple Syrup (don’t be afraid to fudge the measuring here, I just dumped it in and went back and forth between syrup and sugar until I got the right consistency).
  4. Slowly add powdered sugar until you get the right consistency for adding to a frosting bag
  5. Frost cupcakes and sprinkle bacon on top

This is my best cupcake, ever.  My friend Meg helped me frost them the night before while we drank (too much) wine and even said she liked them before we popped a cork.  Whatever you do, make sure to share this one with people you really like because it’s a lot of work for a special treat.

Something on the Side: Potato-Fennel Gratin

This recipe was super easy once I figured out what the hell a fennel bulb was, I was off to the races and finally used (and more importantly figured out how to use) my Simple Slicer had to have (and bought at least two years ago at a scrapbook crop event).

This one is another one of those dump-all-the-crap-bowl-and-go ones so you can’t screw it up.  It also pairs awesome with Ina’s turkey meatloaf.

Get you some Potato -Fennel Gratin

This, as it turns out is fennel. It looks like a weird onion and totally smells like black licorice. Seriously.

The Stuff

2 small fennel bulbs

1 yellow onion, thinly sliced (I just chopped mine…such a rebel)

2 tablespoons good olive oil (I added a squirt of truffle oil too)

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

4 large russet potatoes (the big ones you’d make into twice baked potatoes)

2 cups plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream

2 1/2 cups grated Gruyère cheese (1/2 pound)

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Making the Stuff

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Butter the inside of a 10-by-15-by-2-inch (10-cup) baking dish. If you don’t know how to do that, pull a little paper off the stick of butter and “paint” the dish with butter.  It’s fun.
  3. Remove the stalks from the fennel and cut the bulbs in half lengthwise.

    So damn good. Serve with Ina’s Turkey Meatloaf and prepare for applause.

  4. Remove the fennel cores and thinly slice the bulbs crosswise, making approximately 4 cups of sliced fennel.
  5. Heat up a medium-sized pan with oil and saute the fennel and onions in the olive oil and butter on medium-low heat for 15 minutes, until tender.
  6. Peel potatoes, and start quoting My Big Fat Greek Wedding
  7. Thinly slice the potatoes by hand or with the simple slicer you finally bothered to take out of the packaging.
  8. Mix the sliced potatoes in a large bowl with 2 cups of cream, 2 cups of Gruyère, salt, and pepper.
  9. Add the sauteed fennel and onion and mix well.
  10. Pour the potatoes into the baking dish.
  11. Press down to smooth the potatoes.
  12. Combine the remaining 2 tablespoons of cream and 1/2 cup of Gruyère and sprinkle on the top.
  13. Bake for 1 1/2 hours, until the potatoes are very tender and the top is browned and bubbly.
  14. Allow to set for 10 minutes and serve.

We’re down 3 total recipes from the book.  What am I making next?  I’ll be sharing my beef bourguignon experience and going a little off-script for the neighborhood football party with my beer battered dark chocolate maple bacon cupcakes.

Oh yeah, this totally isn’t a weightloss blog.

Something for Dinner: Turkey Meatloaf

Meatloaf is only something I’ve gotten to know about in the past couple of years.  I know, it’s weird.  Growing up, both of my parents thought it was gross and likely both had bad experiences with it before.  This meal is hardy, warm and full of flavor.

Now that it’s cold in Michigan, something warm and out of the oven is the ideal dinner.  I’m happy to once again report that this is another one of Ina’s get-stuff-in-a-bowl-and-bake recipes. Easy, good and according to the Mr., “the best thing I’ve ever made”.

With that I give you Ina Garten’s Turkey Meatloaf.

sauteed onions mixture ready for a delicious turkey meatloaf

Makes: 12 servings

Time commitment: 2 hours.  If you premix the meat, plan on 1 1/2 hours baking time

The Stuff:

3 cups chopped onions (2 large onions)

2 tablespoons good olive oil (all olive oil to me is good, add 1-2 drops truffel oil for intense flavor)

2 teaspoons kosher salt (I prefer sea salt)

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (1/2 teaspoon dried)

1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce

3/4 cup chicken stock

1 1/2 teaspoons tomato paste

5 pounds ground turkey breast

1 1/2 cups plain dry bread crumbs

I never knew how much turkey 5 pounds was. Now I understand this much meat could leave the Brady Bunch with leftovers.

3 extra-large eggs, beaten

3/4 cup ketchup

Making the Stuff:

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
  2. Prep a medium sized pan  – with high sides – with olive oil over low heat (never add food to a cold pan…it’s just not pretty).
  3. Add the onions, salt, pepper and thyme until cooked (about 15 minutes)
  4. Add worcestershire sauce, chicken stock and tomato paste. Mix well, remove from heat
  5. Pull out your biggest mixing bowls and get ready for your hands to get dirty
  6. Combine the ground turkey, bread crumbs, eggs and cooled onion mixture. Mix with hands.
  7. Line jelly roll sheet with parchment paper and gently shape (don’t squish the shit out of it, you want to keep as much moisture in there as possible) into a rectangular loaf.
  8. Spread ketchup over top of loaf evenly
  9. Bake for 1 1/2 hours until the meatloaf is cooked all the way through
  10. Pair with the potatoes fennel au gratin

That makes 2 out of 90 down and another 88 recipes to go! Next up, potatoes au gratin!

Delicious, filling, warm and full of flavor!

Something with Fish: Lobster Salad in Endive

As promised, I’m working my way through Ina Garten‘s Barefoot Contessa Cookbook.  So far, I have to say I like her style.  She’s all about making it easy on the cook while making something delicious and special for the eaters.

For me, all lids are Nicole-proof. Can’t open a one of them!

Here’s an update, there are 90 recipes in the book in all and I have until September 17th 2013 to cook each and every one.  Here’s another factoid: I don’t like hate rules, so I’m going to go in whatever order I feel like.

This recipe was a good one to cut my teeth, essentially one of those put-all-the-stuff in a bowl and mix ones.  The hardest part was honestly getting the lid of the stupid capers. The end result was actually a tasty surprise to none other than my fish-hating husband.

With that, I give you Lobster Salad in Endive.

Makes: about 30 (depending upon how much you stuff ‘em)

Time Commitment: 30 minutes

The Stuff

3/4 pound fresh cooked lobster meat, diced (to avoid traumatic lot  of work, I just asked the deli dude if there was any non-immitation stuf cooked and voila!)

1/2 cup good mayonnaise (it turns out there is such a thing, Ina recommends Hellman’s)

1/2 cup small-diced celery or about 1/4 cup onion (1 stalk)

1 tablespoon capers, drained (pictured right in case you’re all “WTF is a caper, man?”)

Already-cooked lobstah is the way to go, just ask the seafood counter people and don’t let them off the hook with that imitation crap.

1 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh dill

Pinch kosher salt

Pinch freshly ground black pepper

4 heads Belgian endive

Making the Stuff

  1. Dump everything in that list above, minus the endive, into one bowl and combine with a rubber spatula until everything is evenly coated
  2. Wash endives – those suckers are usually coated in dirt in between leafs!
  3. Cut the base of each endive so leafs are easy to pull off
  4. Spoon the mix into the curved part of each leave and arrange on a plate
  5. Make everyone around you try at least one or promptly burst into tears.

Next up: Turkey meatloaf and potato fennel gratin!

It’s easy, crunchy and full of flavor. You can’t screw this one up!

Something with a book: Barefoot Contessa Challenge

I’ve never been great at keeping up with movies, add a husband into that mix and change the previous statement to “girly movies.”  So you won’t be shocked to read that I only just saw the movie Julie & Julia, about a young woman who cooks her way through Julia Child’s famous book, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.”

At the end, all I could say was, “I could totally do that! I really should do that to learn more about dinner foods. I’d be way less lame while doing it.”

A couple days and an Amazon.com delivery later, I was way less annoying and ready to get to work. Plus, my sister was into doing this with me – double win!

Here are the caveots:

  1. I don’t feel like I’m lost or drowning in my life
  2. I don’t personally care for French food
  3. I’m not looking for a book deal or a motion picture or even a lot of readers for this blog.

What i am looking to do is learn how to cook a meal to accompany all the sweet sugary confections I’ve been making thus far, learn more about cooking methods and savory food in general.  That doesn’t mean I won’t bake some cupcakes in between but it does mean that I won’t be giving my friends and family sugar buzzes to last a lifetime.

So naturally, I turned to Ina Garten and am cooking my way through The Barefoot Contessa because she loves to entertain, share food and work with fresh stuff.

This ought to be fun.  First up: Lobster Salad in Endive….and convince my husband he likes both lobster and endive.

Alright, Ina…let’s do this!

Something with fire: Creme Brulee

This past week, I celebrated my fourth wedding anniversary with my husband.  It’s been an adventure of a year together together between buying a new house, becoming  an aunt and uncle and our extended hobbies (cooking/blogging for me and brewing beer for him).  That said, it’s also been a very expensive year.  So to celebrate this year, we opted to make dinner together, go see the Dark Knight Rises and buy each other gifts that feed our habits – no pun intended.  He got me real ramekins and a culinary torch!

The best thing about this recipe is that it’s super simple, not too sweet and you get to play with fire!

These tools are not only cute but make you feel like the next Food Network Star while you use them. Okay… maybe it’s just the torch.

Simple Creme Brulee

Makes: 4 servings

Time commitment: 30 minutes (of actual cooking), 2 hours of waiting

The Stuff

1 cup heavy cream (I bought mine from the dairy farm just up the road, Cooks Dairy!)

2 egg yolks

2 tsp vanilla extract

3 tablespoons sugar

Raspberries to garnish

Making the Stuff

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees
  2. Pour the cream into a heavy saucepan and mix in the sugar.  Heat on medium until bubbles appear along the side of the pan.  This should be hot.
  3. Mix egg yolks and vanilla in Kitchenaid at high speed until well whipped.  The higher and longer you whisk this for, the fluffier your brulee will be.
  4. While Kitchenaid is on medium-low, slowly pour in cream/sugar mixture into the egg/vanilla combo.
  5. Divide mixture among 4 ramekin dishes
  6. Place ramekin dishes into rimmed pan (my 9×9 brownie pan worked perfectly)
  7. Add boiling water to brownie pan until water is halfway up ramekin dishes
  8. Lightly wrap top of pan with tin foil
  9. Place onto the middle rack of your oven
  10. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until just set – throw them away if they get brown before you pull them out
  11. Refrigerate for 2 hours
  12. The fun part: get torch ready!
  13. Lightly sprinkle a spoonful of sugar over the top of each brulee before torching
  14. Move torch in circular pattern to fully brown and crispen the sugar
  15. Garnish with Raspberries (or any berry of your choice) and serve!

Finished product offers a sweet (but not too sweet) ending to any meal! If you’re looking for a drink to pair perfectly with it, check out Bon Appetite’s recipe for a raspberry-thyme smash (click here for recipe)