Slow Cooker Texas Beef Chili

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Do you hate beans but like chili? Do you like beans but also like chili that’s a little different? Do you like chili? If you answered yes to any of the previous questions then this chili is for you. It’s beanless and beefy and incredibly satisfying, which is good because though it may be spring SOMEWHERE, in Ottawa we’ve had some major flooding and on Monday it stopped raining enough to SNOW. ALL. DAY. So we kind of need something cockle-warming. This chili is adapted from one my parents found on the internet and printed out and that I stole off their fridge in Florida and smuggled across the border.

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Start with 2lbs cubed beef chuck or stewing beef, and huck that in a non-stick skillet on high to sear all the sides. Chuck the browned beef into a large slow-cooker pot.

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Next, add in 2 tablespoons Worcestershire (“wooster”) sauce, 1 cup beef broth, a 28oz can of diced tomatoes, and 2 tablespoons tomato paste. Now, the recipe did not say to drain the tomatoes so I didn’t and I found my chili ended up a bit on the watery side (I also added twice as many tomatoes as the recipe asked for). I thickened the sauce with some cornstarch later on and it turned out super awesome, but I’ll leave it to your discretion to either drain the tomatoes or use a smaller can.

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Dice up the following: 1 white onion, 2 red bell peppers, 2 large carrots, 2 celery stalks, and a couple large green chilis. I used Anaheim chilis because they are huge and not too hot and I wanted to be able to feed this to LongJohn. Gather as well 1 tablespoon chili powder, 2 teaspoons cumin, 2 teaspoons paprika (ours is smoked), 1 teaspoon onion powder, 2 teaspoons garlic powder, and 1 teaspoon salt. Chuck all that in the slow cooker.

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Don’t forget to give it a bit of a stir.

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Cook that sucker on low for 8-12 hours, or on high for about 6.

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Before serving, juice 1 lime and add the juice to the mix.

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Serve garnished with either grated cheddar cheese, sour cream, or chopped cilantro (or all of the above, who are we kidding?).

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(More) Meals en Masse: Beef Stroganoff

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I know, it seems like this is all I’m doing these days. Well it’s kind of all I have time for in the evenings now, and I kind of want to get as much of it done as I can before I start to get REALLY tired. This Martha Stewart Stroganoff (adapted for lazy busy people) is almost as good as it would be if you made it by searing the meat and cooking it in a Dutch oven, and it takes way less time to put together. The amounts below will make a meal that serves six; I doubled the recipe and then divided it into three, cooking one and freezing two, and it perfectly sated the Pie and myself for dinner and provided a hefty lunch for us both the next day.

Start by chopping up 1 large onion. Chop it as coarsely or finely as you prefer. This is your jam, man.

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Grab as well 1 lb white mushrooms. You can cut them in half if you like but I was extra lazy and bought the pre-sliced mushrooms. Because I’m an adult and this is my house and I totally can do whatever I want (the novelty has not worn off yet – I don’t think it ever will).

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Grab yourself 2lbs good quality stewing beef. Mmm beef. The original recipe calls for you to take 2lbs chuck and slice it 1/2″ thick and 3″ long but who got time for that?

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Pitch all that into a 5-6 quart slow-cooker pot and dust liberally with coarse salt and black pepper.

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The other batches I chucked in freezer bags and I’m hoping the mushrooms will come out of it okay. Fingers crossed. If it doesn’t work out I’m sure that the Pie and I will be too sleep-deprived to notice.

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Cook your beef for 8 hours on low (or 6 hours on high), until everything is nice and brown and you have all this awesome juice. Scoop out about 1 cup of that awesome juice and pour it into a wee pot on your stove.

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Grab 2 tablespoons cornstarch and blend it with 2 tablespoons water.

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Pour that cornstarch mixture into the cooking juice and bring that to a boil.

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Let it cook for a few minutes until it gets nice and thick.

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While that’s going on, cook up a batch of egg noodles. I feel like this particular dish is what egg noodles were made for. If you wanna go gluten-free on this one, you may have to find alternative noodles.

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Turn the slow-cooker off (or leave it on warm) and return the thickened juice to the pot. Tip in as well 1/2 cup sour cream and 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard (this version I use has tarragon in it and it’s AMAZING). Give that a solid stirring.

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Serve over your cooked egg noodles with fresh dill, if you have it (I didn’t).

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A hunk of nice bread to sop up the extra sauce won’t go amiss, either.

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Meals en Masse: Beef Lasagna

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In preparation for the fact that in two months my life is about to get turned upside down and I won’t have any time or energy to do much, I’m trying to make it a little easier on myself. At least once a week I’m trying to prepare a meal that I can do in triplicate, where we eat one version and store the other two in the freezer. This week I made up a hearty lasagna to feed Papa John and Mrs. Nice, and the other two went into the freezer for some night this summer when we’re willing to brave the heat to get our pasta fix.

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Of course I never measure anything when I make lasagna, but I’ll try to give you some approximations here for a triplicate recipe if you’re interested in trying it for yourself (and feeling very smug later when you realize you have two giant lasagnas sitting in your freezer).

First I mixed up the cheese layer, which was 2 750g tubs of cottage cheese (you can use ricotta if you prefer, but if you’re buying in this amount the cottage cheese is way cheaper), 3 rectangular packages of chopped frozen spinach, thawed and drained, the equivalent of 2 heads minced garlic (or however much you prefer), and a smattering of freshly ground salt and pepper.

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Creamy cheesy goodness.

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Then you can chop up your veg. I like to choose vegetables that add substance to the lasagna without competing with individual flavours, so mushrooms (8-10), eggplant (1), and zucchini (2 small) are favourites of mine, together with sweet red peppers (2) to boost the colour.

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Next, a giant sweet onion gets chopped up and added to a large stock pot with a few tablespoons olive oil and a knob of butter.

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Once those are soft and fragrant, break up your ground meat with your fingers and tip it in. This is about 2kg extra lean ground beef. If you use medium ground you’ll probably want to drain the fat off once it’s cooked.

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When it IS cooked, tip in your veg and let those soften. Add in some of your favourite spices, like oregano and basil.

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Next, about 3 jars tomato sauce.

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Let that simmer down for a little bit.

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Grate up about 2 large bricks mozzarella. When in doubt, err on the side of too much cheese. Always.

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Now get your stuff organized for assembly. you’ll also need 2-3 boxes uncooked oven-ready lasagna noodles. Be smart and spray your pasta dishes before you use them. The glass one is the one I’m making right away, but the disposable aluminum pans are for the freezer – I don’t own enough Pyrex to put them all in the freezer at the same time. Plus the aluminum ones make great frozen tasty gifts for those of your friends who are in a similar situation to myself. HINT, HINT.

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Layer on some noodles, flat in the bottom, then a generous helping of tomato sauce. You’re aiming for about 1/6th of your sauce for each pan.

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More noodles, and then divide your cheese evenly between your three pans.

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More noodles. I ran out of noodles at this point because I only had two boxes, so I had to run out and get more. And it was cold. Hooray for expectant mother parking spots.

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Finally add in the rest of your sauce and smother it lovingly in cheese.

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The ready-made version can be cooked in about 45-60 minutes at 350°F.

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I’m putting in this same photo again so you can see how saucy and liquidy the sauce is, despite its thickness – that extra liquid means the noodles will cook through properly without drying out the dish.

The others need to be wrapped well and frozen. I recommend thawing them before cooking, and they’ll probably take about twice as long to cook through because they won’t already be nice and warm. Enjoy!

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Mmmore Meatloaf!

Happy Birthday to Papa John!

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One of the weirder, yet endearing things about my husband is the fact that if he goes to a fancy restaurant and they have meatloaf on the menu, he will order it. Every. Single. Time. Like a total weirdo. I’m carving my way through a juicy perfectly cooked steak. And he’s eating meatloaf. So we make quite a bit of meatloaf at home, too. Here’s another version of my classic: feel free to double it as I did and freeze one (or both) for later!

First ye grab yer meat. A lot of it. Enough for two loaves. I prefer the lean stuff – the extra lean is wayyyy more expensive and is harder to stick together.

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Then ye take yer onions.

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And yer mushrooms.

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And ye put them in a bowl.

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With a lot of other stuff: panko bread crumbs, Newfoundland savoury, oregano, salt, pepper. The works, really.

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Then you chuck the meat in a bowl and add some eggs. Like, four or five.

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Dump in the rest of the stuff too and give it a good stirring. Feel free to use your hands. Tip in some Worcestershire sauce as well for flavour.

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When you’re ready, whisk up a concoction that’s a mix of barbecue sauce, Dijon mustard, and honey.

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Spread that in the bottom of your two loaf pans.

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Cram the meat on top and smooth it down. See how that sauce comes up the sides? That’ll keep it from drying out.

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When you’re done, you can either cover it up and shove it in the freezer …

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Or you can bake it at 350°F until it reaches an internal temperature of 160°F.

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Then you eat it. Unfortunately cooked meatloaf does not photograph well. But you get the picture.

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Wingin’ it Wednesday: Standard Stirfry

Me: What do you want for dinner?

Pie: I dunno. What do YOU want for dinner?

Me: I dunno. Stir fry?

And that, ladies and gents, is how 85% of our weekday meal conversations go. Usually we end up making a stir fry – it’s an easy, relatively easy, and healthier alternative to a whole bunch of the pre-made meals you get at the grocery store.

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First, cube up some chicken. Or beef. Or tofu. Whatever floats your boat.

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Then brown it in a pan with a dash of olive oil, some minced ginger, and minced garlic.

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While that’s going on, chop up some vegetables – any kind you like. Slice them thin so they will cook quickly. We used carrots, sugar snap peas, red peppers, onions, and broccoli here. If you want, you can also cook some rice or noodles to serve as a base for the stir fry.

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When the chicken is cooked, haul it out of the pan and put it aside in a bowl.

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Tip your onions into the pan to soften first.

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Then add in the rest of the veggies.

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Whip up a quick sauce of about 2 tablespoons plum sauce, 1 tablespoon teriyaki sauce, 1 tablespoon hoisin sauce, and 1 teaspoon peanut oil. Feel free to experiment with proportions and different sauces – we’ve experimented for a few years and this is the combo we like the best.

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Pour the sauce over the vegetables, stir it in, and pop a lid on the pan so the vegetables have a chance to steam a bit. How long this takes obviously depends on the amount of vegetables you have. You want them tender but not soggy.

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Toss your chicken back in to re-heat, then serve immediately over your rice or noodles.

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Yum!

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Roast Pork with Apple Cider Gravy

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This was the main attraction for Mrs. Nice’s birthday lunch and it was super good. I used a pork shoulder instead of a pork belly (because I couldn’t find one at the time) and made some drastic adjustments in cooking time, but the recipe is more or less the same as the one from Good Housekeeping.

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Start by preheating your oven to 450°F and grab a large shallow roasting pan. Plop a 3lb pork shoulder right in the middle, so there’s lots of space on all sides. Rub it all over with olive oil and salt and pop it in the oven for 30 minutes.

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After 30 minutes, turn the heat down to 350°F and let it keep cooking, sizzling away, for another half hour. Then grab 6 small eating apples (these are giant Cortlands, which are neither small nor eating apples, but that’s neither here nor there), and coat them with oil and salt and pop them in the pan as well.

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Cook for another 45-60 minutes, until the apples have burst and are tender and the pork is registering at about 145°-160°F, depending on how well done you like your pork.

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Plop the roast on a cutting board and wrap it up in foil and a towel to rest and keep warm.

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Scoop out your apples and set them aside for a minute. Drain the contents of the pan into a small saucepan and let that come to a simmer. Whisk in 2 tablespoons flour and, when it starts to thicken, add in 2 cups apple cider, whisking until smooth.

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Reduce the heat and leave that for a bit to thicken. Stir it occasionally.

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Slice up your apples and lay them over a big serving plate.

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Carve the pork roast and arrange the slices on top of the apples, and dribble with gravy.

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Serve the extra gravy on the side for your Deadly Mashed Potatoes!

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Fast-Tip Friday: Drying Herbs

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If you’re lucky, you still have time to run out and grab the rest of your late-summer herbs from the garden and do something with them before it’s too late. If you’re me, then while you were out of the country for work the temperatures dropped below zero and now all your basil is a disgusting black mess.

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HOWEVER, there’s still hope for a good number of your other hardier herbs.

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Since the summer, I’ve been hauling baskets of herbs inside to process. Some end up in butter (because mmmm, butter), and some, like the lemongrass stalks you see in this basket, go in the freezer. But most of them, I dry. It takes almost zero effort on my part and then the herbs are there for me to mix and package as gifts: spice rubs and herbal teas are quick and easy to make.

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What makes it easiest is this handy-dandy herb dryer that I picked up from Lee Valley. Hang it somewhere out of the way with good air circulation (for us, that’s over the side of our main staircase), and then just shove it full of fresh herbs.

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The mesh will allow air to circulate on all sides, meaning nothing gets mouldy or soggy, and some of your herbs, like lemon balm, will dry in a matter of days. And you didn’t have to do ANYTHING!

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Added bonus: for the few days it takes these herbs to start to dry up, the hallway smells like pizza or lemons or whatever we’ve got in the shelves.

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