Slow ‘Fest Fix

As we approach Halloween and the weather gets blustery my appetite naturally shifts to heartier, stew-like meals.  Here’s one that shows up at some point, especially if I haven’t had my Oktoberfest fix.

For this stew we start with some big flavors, all which benefit from a slow cook.  I doubt there is a sausage out there that I don’t love – just throw in a little ground meat, and lace it with plenty of garlic, spices, and salt.  In this case, perhaps begin with a beefy sausage or a good bockwurst. It’s a matter of taste, but here the average kielbasa tends to fight with its mates.

Throw in a few red potatoes and add a really good sauerkraut. If it’s a canned sauerkraut, I usually rinse and drain it. There are some spectacular fermented ones in the market so it’s fun to consider one of them. They usually have so much going on, it’s a shame to rinse it all away, so give it a taste and see what you think.  I opted for a naturally fermented garlic and dill variety and hit mine with a light spray, but retained most of the brine, garlic, and herbs.

All of these characters work off of each other. The potatoes absorb and tame the sauerkraut, the sauerkraut balances the sausage’s richness—and so on. I also added some carrot chunks and sliced fresh cabbage for good measure.  The carrots bring a bit of sweetness and the cabbage isn’t noticeable unless you are looking.  It blends right in with the sauerkraut and gives it a little more structure.

Like crafting a fine wine, all of this requires and little time in the pot to mellow and bring these big flavors together.  If you are impatient, give it a couple of hours in a low oven, on a low simmer on the stove, or mindlessly in a crock pot or slow cooker for up to 6 hours.

Enjoy with a grainy mustard and a good rye or other hearty bread.

Slow Sausage, Sauerkraut & Potatoes

Ingredients
2 tsp olive oil
12-ounce beefy sausage, cut into chunks
½ onion, sliced
½ tsp each caraway seed and crushed peppercorns
1 bay leaf
16-ounce package sauerkraut, rinse and drain if very salty
5 red potatoes, scrub and quarter
2 tsp olive oil
12-ounce beefy sausage, cut into chunks
½ onion, sliced
½ tsp each caraway seed and crushed peppercorns
1 bay leaf
16-ounce package sauerkraut, rinse and drain if very salty
5 red potatoes, scrub and quarter

Instructions

  1. Brown the sausage in the oil on all sides. Add the onion and spices, toss to lightly color.
  2. Add the sauerkraut, then tuck potatoes into the niches in the pot, add up to a cup of water and bring to a simmer.
  3. Set to low slow cook for a minimum of 2 hours, or in crock pot for 6 hours. Adjust seasoning and serve in bowls. Serves 4 or more

Optional: add 2 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks with potatoes. Include ¼ head cabbage cut into 2″ strips along with sauerkraut.

Easy Entertaining: Chicken Ragout

This hearty chicken dish is the definition of flexibility—and the ideal solution for an easy dinner with friends.

Our Chicken Ragout features plump chicken pieces simmered in a rustic tomato sauce that is enriched with mushrooms, rosemary, sweet carrots, and other vegetables.

We have options with this dish:  it can be prepped and cooked in various stages for enjoyment right away or set aside until later. If you chose to make it ahead,  know that these big flavors will mellow and improve as the ragout waits for you.

The preparation is straight forward, brown the chicken off then use the pan drippings to flavor the basic tomato sauce. Let the chicken simmer in the sauce until tender. When it’s convenient, separately roast the mushrooms, onion, pepper, rosemary, and carrots in a hot oven to precook and bring out their inherent sweetness, and set aside until needed.

The dish can all be assembled for enjoyment later the same day, or refrigerate the components and bring  out when ready to serve.  Reheat the chicken in tomato sauce, add the roasted vegetables, and simmer briefly. The ragout should retain its distinct freshness, yet blend the robust flavors into one dynamic package.

Serve the ragout with Creamy Polenta or a pasta of your choice to round out the rustic tomato sauce that develops.

Chicken Ragout with Roasted Hearty Vegetables

Ingredients

3½ pound chicken, cut into portions, or equivalent pieces
½ salt & red pepper flakes
1 tsp fresh or ½ tsp dried sage or herbes de Provence
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, mash & sliver
1 tsp dried rosemary
1½ cups chicken stock
14½ ounce can diced tomatoes in juice
2 Tbsp tomato paste
Roasted  Hearty Vegetables (follows)

Instructions

  1. Sprinkle chicken with salt, pepper, and sage.
  2. In a large pot or in a multi-cooker set to Hi Sauté, heat 2 Tbsp. oil, add chicken and sauté until golden brown, about 6 minutes per side. Transfer chicken to bowl.
  3. Lower heat to Medium Sauté, add garlic and rosemary and briefly sauté. Deglaze with a ½ cup stock, scraping up browned bits, about 1 minute. Stir in canned tomatoes with juice and tomato paste, remaining broth, and bring to a boil. Drop heat to Low Sauté and simmer 5-10 minutes to blend flavors.
  4. Add the chicken and any juices to sauce and simmer covered over low heat for 20 minutes, or set multi-cooker to HI Pressure for 10 minutes using 10 minutes natural release. Can be cooled and chilled overnight at this point.
  5. Skim off excess fat, add the roasted vegetables to heated chicken and simmer 10-15 minutes longer. Adjust seasoning. Serve with Creamy Polenta, sprinkle with drained capers or fresh basil.  Serves 4

Roasted Hearty Vegetables  Using 1 Tbsp olive oil, 1 Tbsp red wine vinegar, ½ teaspoon salt, ¼ tsp red pepper flakes, 1 tsp fennel seed. 1 small onion in wedges, 2 medium carrots cut up, 1 cup crimini mushrooms halved, 1 green pepper cut.

  • Heat oven to 425-450°F.  Line a sheet pan with parchment or non-stick foil.
  • In a medium bowl, combine the oil, through fennel seeds.
  • Place the vegetables as cut up into the bowl.  Toss with the seasoned oil to coat.
  • Arrange the vegetables evenly on the pan.  Roast for 20 minutes, until tender-crisp. Stir after the first 10 minutes.  Turn off heat and let stand in oven with residual heat for 10 minutes.

Nixtamalized Corn = Hominy = Posole

Nixtamalization is getting a lot of buzz these days, especially with the many vested in preserving and promoting the traditional foods of Mexico.  For anyone else interested in authentic flavors and elemental nutrition it should matter, too. It seems we have come full circle from what the Aztecs knew centuries ago.

The Aztecs would grind the kernels of their maize or field corn against the limestone rocks found in the riverbeds, and they discovered the beneficial interaction between the two.  They noticed how their bodies responded after eating corn that had been ground in limestone. This corn did not cause digestive problems and gave them energy and spiritual alertness.

Scientists have since confirmed that lime releases niacin, an essential amino acid, in the corn.  The increased health benefits of nixtamalized corn are substantial:  it can reduce bad cholesterol, increase good cholesterol, and contribute to the optimal functioning of other body processes such as digestion, cellular repair and elimination of toxins. Niacin also seems to reduce the level of triglycerides in the blood and much more.

Hominy is made with either white or yellow corn, but specifically it is from flint or dent corns which have a tougher outer seed coat than others. Soaking the kernels in an alkaline solution loosens or dissolves this outer portion. In the process, the kernel absorbs water and the alkaline solution which is key to nixtamalization. When cooked, the chemical composition of the kernel is altered, boosting the nutritional value of maize.  This process also provides hominy with its readily identifiable flavor and chewy bite.

Posole, hominy,  nixtamal, are all the same thing: they are corn that has undergone the nixtamalization process. Posole, a derivation of the Nahuatl word for hominy, has come to broadly refer to a soup or stew made with hominy.  So popular is posole in Mexico, it is considered a national dish, with various regions proclaiming their unique version as the best.

Here’s an easy posole made with a combination of pork, tomatillos, and pasillas or other hot peppers.

The hominy and tomatillos  provide added thickening power and flavor that melds with the pork into a rich and supple stew. Serve it straight up in bowls with favorite toppings like avocado, cilantro and crema. Or, cook it down until thick for a tortilla filling. Enjoy with spicy slaw, fresh avocado, salsa, cilantro and whatever else pleases you!

Pork Posole

Ingredients
2 tbsp. vegetable oil, divided
1 large onion, slice into strips
2-3 pasilla peppers, or other hot peppers, seed & cut into strips
3 cloves garlic, divided
1½ – 2 lbs pork sirloin, trim, cut into strips
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. oregano
7-8 tomatillos, husk, quarter
1 tomato bouillon cube
Few dashes favorite hot sauce
2 tostadas or corn tortillas, in small pieces
1½ cup water, enough to barely cover
2 cups cooked white hominy, rinse and drain

Accompaniments:  warmed corn tortillas, guacamole, cilantro, crunchy slaw, hot sauce

Instructions

  1. Heat 1 tbsp. oil in large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté to soften, add the pepper strips, 2 cloves garlic cut into thin strips, and continue to cook until the peppers have softened and garlic is aromatic. Remove all from pot and set aside.
  2. Season the pork strips with salt and pepper. Increase the heat to medium high and add remaining 1 tbsp. oil to the pot.  When shimmering add the pork and brown on all sides.  Add the third clove of garlic cut into slivers, and toss briefly along with smoked paprika and oregano.
  3. Stir in the tomatillos, crumbled tomato bouillon,  a dash of hot sauce, the corn tortilla pieces, water to barely cover the pork, and stir to combine well.
  4. Cover and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour, until the pork is tender. Or, to use multi-cooker, seal the lid, bring to high pressure and cook for 25 minutes. Turn off system, let pressure come down naturally for 10 minutes, then release remaining pressure.
  5. When the pork is tender add the reserved onion and pepper medley. Stir in the hominy and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes or longer, until flavors are well blended and the posole has thickened. Adjust seasoning.
  6. Serve the posole in bowls with favorite garnishes. Serves 4.

 

A Prelude to St. Paddy’s Day: Sauerkraut Stew

Every now and then I crave sauerkraut, and it doesn’t have to be an artisan-style fermented quality; good old Steinfeld’s pickled cabbage is just fine with me.  Perhaps it’s a strange and sudden precursor to St. Paddy’s Day, but I need my cabbage.  The corned beef will just have to wait.

Sauerkraut stew (640x480)
Root Vegetables with Mixed Sausage Stew with Sauerkraut

When this happened on a recent rainy day, I looked around to see what might work without a dash to the market. I always seem to have sausage odds and ends in the freezer, random unused portions from other projects.  Lucky me, I came up with a nice sized link of kielbasa and a couple of bratwursts.

While the sausage defrosted, I heated up the Le Creuset pot and quickly sautéed an onion and a clove of garlic.  In went a chopped carrot, a turnip, and some creamer potatoes, halved.  The sausages were cut into chunks and tossed into the pot to pick up a little color.  Once that happened, I added a cup or so of beef stock to deglaze the pot and create a broth.

For seasoning I dug out my jar of dried juniper berries that had shifted to an obscure corner of the spice cabinet from lack of use. There’s nothing like it, and it’s precisely for times like this that I am so happy for juniper berries.  I do a quick sniff test and grab a few and drop them into the pot—love their resin-ish smell.  A little rosemary, a bay leaf, and a few grinds of black pepper are added to the mix.

I rinsed and drained the sauerkraut.  It’s not something I do without thinking twice, because it seems such a waste.  But in this case, there’s a lot going on and it’s just as well to knock it down a notch. Into the pot it goes and it is all brought to a simmer; then it’s covered with a lid and left to simmer for 30 minutes.

Clearly this amalgamation is not totally Irish, but it is doesn’t matter.  It does the trick and incredibly, and there’s more good news.  Once the flavors blend overnight, the sauerkraut mellows a bit, and it is even better.

Root Vegetables and Mixed Sausage Stew with Sauerkraut

Ingredients
2 tsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, smashed and in slivers
1 carrot, peeled, cut into chunks
1 turnip, peeled, cut into chunks
9 oz. creamer potatoes, cut in half if large
12 oz. kielbasa sausage, cut into chunks
8 oz. bratwurst, cut into chunks
1-2 cups beef stock, as needed
6-8 juniper berries
1 tsp. fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
Freshly ground pepper
16 oz. sauerkraut, rinsed and drained

Directions

In a heavy pot, heat the oil over medium heat and add the onion and garlic. When aromatic, add the carrot, turnip, potatoes and toss well.  Increase heat to medium high, add the sausages and lightly brown to take on color.

Deglaze with beef stock, add the seasonings, and the drained sauerkraut.  Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cover for 30 minutes.  Adjust seasoning and serve in bowls.  Serves 4.

 

Cherishing Chorizo

Recently I had the very good fortune of once again enjoying some of the amazing Spanish chorizo made in Boise, Idaho where there is a very active Basque community.  It had been way too long since my last bonanza, and this was just as good as I remembered!

Try throwing a few of these incredible sausages on the grill, and you will know what I am talking about.  We gorged ourselves silly and could eat no more, yet I still managed to stash a few in the freezer for another day.

cherished chorizo
Cherished Chorizo

Yes, this lean sausage is the stuff that dreams are made of: cured pork predominantly laced with garlic and pimentón―a Spanish paprika that ranges from sweet to hot, and is often smoked. If you enjoy the nuances of smoked flavoring, this luxe seasoning is definitely worth seeking out.  It has endless applications beyond beans, sauces, marinades, salad dressings…it’s even tasty on buttered popcorn.

This past weekend I knew I had another winner on my hands when I decided to whip up a quick soup with kale and garbanzo beans.

Garbanzo, Kale, and Spanish Chorizo Soup
Garbanzo, Kale, and Spanish Chorizo Soup

How lucky was I to have just enough Spanish chorizo in the freezer to elevate this to a world class soup?   All it needed was a dash of pimentón for added depth and a splash of sherry vinegar for brightness.  So simple, so stylish… so good!

Note:  Spanish chorizo should not be confused with the popular Mexican varieties which tend to be softer due to a higher fat content, and flavored with cumin, chilies, and other traditional Mexican spices. Both chorizos are delicious, but they are absolutely nothing alike.

Garbanzo, Kale and Chorizo Soup

Inspired by Cooking Light magazine, September 2010

Ingredients
1 tbsp olive oil
½ onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
4 oz Spanish chorizo, diced
1 carrot, peeled, diced (optional)
½ tsp oregano
½ tsp smoked paprika
1 medium Roma tomato, seeded, chopped
½ tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
14 oz. canned garbanzo beans, drained
2 cups chicken stock
2 cups water, approximate
1 tbsp sherry vinegar
5-6 cups kale or escarole, chopped

Directions 

  1. Over medium, heat the olive oil in a soup pot; add the onion and  garlic and sauté until aromatic, 3-4 minutes. Add the chorizo, carrot, oregano and smoked paprika and cook 5 minutes.
  2. Stir in the tomato, salt and pepper, the garbanzo beans, chicken stock and bring to a simmer. Add additional water as needed for a stew-like consistency.
  3. Just before serving, add the sherry vinegar and the kale or escarole and simmer briefly until wilted.
  4. Adjust seasoning and serve. Yield 4 servings.

Hassle-free: Wintery Country Stew

There are a few vegetables that I generally have on hand.  Onions, carrots, and potatoes are some of my favorite kitchen stalwarts and it’s evident that many cuisines including the United Kingdom, much of Europe, and other countries scattered around the globe agree.

As well they should:  these and other root vegetables are easy to grow, they store well, and can be used in many different styles and fashions. There is one dish from the southwest of France that is a glorious reminder of how a few basic ingredients can be supremely elevated through thoughtful preparation.garbure

Garbure is a thick country-style stew made with root vegetables, white beans, and well-laced with assorted meats such as duck confit, smoked pork, and/or sausage.

root cellar
root cellar

As with most country cooking, much depends on what is seasonal and on hand.  Along with the above listed trio, cabbage and perhaps a parsnip would be included in the typical garbure.

Before refrigeration was readily available, these vegetables were safely over-wintered in some version of the trusty root cellar.

Fortunately, in today’s kitchen we are no longer as limited with supplies and produce as we were once, and we have plenty of choices.  Instead of grabbing some of that duck confit we handily packed away, or relying on the ends of the ham bone, or hacking off a few links from the dried sausage hanging from the rafters, we can simplify our preparations—direct from the supermarket.

For four or more servings, a couple of thick slices of smoked ham and few links of first rate sausage will suffice. The average suburbanite no longer needs the massive amount of meat once required to fuel our bodies.

Although there are days when we may want an all day project, even our garbure no longer requires that much effort.  We can begin with a good quality prepared chicken stock and throw in some of that dwindling supply of onions, carrots and potatoes, plus a parsnip or a turnip, a little cabbage, and perhaps a green pepper. Instead of soaking and simmering a huge pot of dried cannellini beans, all we need is a 14-ounce can of cooked beans.

gratineeOnce the meat permeates the stew and and it is so thick that a spoon nearly stands upright in it, we’ll finish it all off with an artisan quality country bread, nicely toasted—for the glorious cheesy gratinée that graces the top.

Yes, on a cold winter’s day, we can have a superb country stew—one with big, earthy flavors—and we can have our meal ready and waiting in less than two hours.

Vegetable Stew with Cannellini Beans and Mixed Pork

Inspired by Jacques Pepin’s White Bean and Ham Stew, Essential Pepin

Ingredients

2 qts chicken stock
1 lg carrot, peeled, medium chop
1 lg parsnip, peeled, medium chop
1 lg onion or leek, well cleaned, medium chop
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
1 rib celery with leaves, small chop
2 med red potatoes, scrubbed, large chop
1 poblano or green pepper, seeded, medium chop (optional)
1/2 head cabbage (savoy is good), cored, medium chop
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp thyme, dried
salt and pepper
8 ozs thick sliced ham, large chop
12 ozs smoked sausage, kielbasa or other, sliced
14 ozs cannellini beans, cooked, drained and rinsed
1 med boule or other artisan bread
2 c Gruyere or other melting cheese, grated
Accompaniment:  1/2 c pepperoncini pepper, chopped

Directions

  1. In a large pot, heat chicken stock, add carrot through the cabbage; add the bay, thyme, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Cover lightly and simmer for about 40 minutes.
  2. Add the ham, sausage and cannellini beans and simmer another 40 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it is thick and stew-like and the vegetables are meltingly tender. Adjust seasoning.
  3. Fill oven proof bowls and top with lightly toasted 1/4″ sliced sourdough or other artisan bread, sprinkle with Gruyere or other melting cheese and broil until bubbly. Pass chopped pepperoncini. Serves 4 or more.