weeknight gourmet

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Easiest Beef Stew Ever!

It has been a while since I posted.  I have been cooking but between work, some illness making its way through our family, and taking a much needed vacation, there really hasn’t been much time to devote to my blog.  Hopefully that will change soon!

I made this super easy beef stew a few weeks ago — you basically just throw all the ingredients in a pot, bring to a boil and then put in the oven.  I was a bit skeptical of the recipe because it does not call for you to brown the beef as most stew recipes do.  But the stew was very flavorful, the beef tender, and the veggies perfectly cooked.

Make sure to have some crusty bread for dipping.

Best Beef Stew
Everyday Food

  • 3 pounds beef chuck, trimmed of visible fat and cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1/3 cup tomato paste
  • 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 1 pound medium onions (about 2), cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 1 pound small white or red new potatoes (about 6), well scrubbed, halved if large
  • 1 pound carrots, cut into 1 1/2-inch lengths
  • 6 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 2 bay leaves
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a Dutch oven (5-quart) with a tight-fitting lid, combine beef, tomato paste, vinegar, and flour; season with salt and pepper.
Add onions, potatoes, carrots, garlic, bay leaves, and 3 cups water. Bring to a boil.
Cover, transfer to oven, and cook until meat is fork-tender, 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Remove bay leaves and, if desired, season with salt and pepper before serving.

Barefoot Contessa's New Cookbook, "How Easy is That?"

I received the latest Barefoot Contessa cookbook, How Easy is That, for Christmas.  As usual, it is beautifully photographed and full of flavorful but simple recipes that rely on good quality, fresh ingredients.  I don’t think there was a single recipe in the book I wouldn’t want to make (or eat).

I’ve already cooked a couple of the dishes — the Lemon Chicken Breasts and the Weeknight Bolognese (recipes are below).

The lemon chicken was so simple yet so packed with garlicky, lemon goodness!  I used bone-in, skin-on breasts because I have never seen boneless, skin-on breasts and did not want to do any butchering.  The chicken cooks at 400 degrees which is a great temperature for roasting some veggies as a side.  I served with some Brussels sprouts and crusty bread.  The sauce is definitely dip worthy.

I also used some of our endless ground beef from the half-steer to make the Weeknight Bolognese.  The only changes I made to the recipe were to use a can of whole tomatoes and penne because that’s what I had in the pantry.  The sauce was so delicious and tasted like it had been simmer for hours.  We had a nice simple antipasto with the bolognese for a quick Italian feast.

I really love the Barefoot Contessa and would love to be a guest of Ina’s at her beautiful Hamptons home.  She always makes her guests feel so welcome, sets a stunning table, and makes comforting dishes that rely on seasonal ingredients.  Alas, until Ina discovers the Weeknight Gourmet, trying more of Ina’s delicious recipes from this gorgeous cookbook and, hopefully, being as gracious and relaxed a hostess as she will have to suffice.

Lemon Chicken Breasts
Copyright, 2010 Barefoot Contessa, How Easy is That?

  • 1/4 cup good olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons minced garlic (9 cloves)
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest (2 lemons)
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1½ teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 boneless chicken breasts, skin on (6 to 8 ounces each)
  • 1 lemon

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Warm the olive oil in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, add the garlic, and cook for just 1 minute but don’t allow the garlic to turn brown. Off the heat, add the white wine, lemon zest, lemon juice, oregano, thyme, and 1 teaspoon salt and pour into a 9 X 12-inch baking dish.

Pat the chicken breasts dry and place them skin side up over the sauce. Brush the chicken breasts with olive oil and sprinkle them liberally with salt and pepper.

Cut the lemon in 8 wedges and tuck it among the pieces of chicken.

Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, depending on the size of the chicken breasts, until the chicken is done and the skin is lightly browned. If the chicken isn’t browned enough, put it under the broiler for 2 minutes. Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil and allow to rest for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and serve hot with the pan juices.

Weeknight Bolognese
Copyright, 2010 Barefoot Contessa, How Easy is That?

  • 2 TB good olive oil, plus extra to cook pasta
  • 1 pound lean ground sirloin
  • 4 tsp minced garlic (4 cloves)
  • 1 TB dried oregano
  • ¼ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 ¼ cups dry red wine, divided
  • 1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
  • 2 TB tomato paste
  • Kosher salt & black pepper
  • ¾ pound dried pasta, such as orecchiette or small shells (
  • ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh basil leaves, lightly packed
  • ¼ cup heavy cream
  • ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving

Heat 2 TB of olive oil in a large (12 inch) skillet over medium-high heat. Add the ground beef and cook, crumbling the meat until the meat is no longer pink and has started to brown. Add the garlic, oregano, and red pepper flakes and cook for 1 more minute. Pour 1 cup of the wine into the skillet and stir to scrape up any browned bits. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, 1 TB salt, and 1 ½ tsp pepper, stirring until combined.  Bring to a boil, lower heat, and simmer for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to the directions on the box. Finish the sauce while the pasta cooks. Add the nutmeg, basil, cream, and the remaining ¼ cup wine to the sauce and simmer for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally until thickened. When the pasta is cooked, drain and pour into a large serving bowl.

Add the sauce and ½ cup Parmesan and toss well. Serve hot with Parmesan on the side.

Serves 4-5.

Cooking for Charlotte: First Baby Food

We’ve been blessed with a good eater (as evidenced by her cheeks and thighs)!  Charlotte transitioned to solids very easily a few months ago.  We started with the basic (and bland) rice cereal and then introduced a variety of fruit and veggie purees.  Other than the cereal, I’ve been preparing Charlotte’s food.  Some things like mashed banana and avocado, don’t really require much effort.  Some of the other purees take a little advanced thought, but it is easy to make a big batch and freeze in individual servings.  I like Baeba’s trays and Baby Cubes.  But you can also just use an ice cube tray.  I use a Baeba Babycook as well as my All-Clad Steamer and a Cuisinart Mini-prep to prepare the food.  The Babycook is a steamer and mini food processor in one but you really don’t need one if you have a steamer and mini-prep or food mill.

I’ve really enjoyed making Charlotte’s food and seeing her reaction to different tastes and textures.

She loves fruit!  I guess all babies prefer the sweetness of fruit to veggies.  But she does love butternut squash, sweet potato, and avocado (I know it is technically a fruit).  She will tolerate peas and green beans.

She hated my first attempt at carrots.  I am hoping the gagging and coughing when she doesn’t like something is not the sign of a drama queen in the making.

We just tried meat for the first time last week.  She enjoyed the turkey but hated the lamb.  More coughing and gagging.  She also now knows that Angus is eager to eat whatever she is eating so she’s been spotted lowering a hand covered with food for Angus to lick.  Angus will be a friend for life.

I love cooking for Charlotte.  As I begin to wean Charlotte, I love that I am continuing to nourish her with the baby food I am preparing.  Cooking for my loved ones is so important to me and I am happy that I have been able to do so for Charlotte so early in her life.  I look forward to many more years of cooking for my gorgeous girl!

Here are a few of Charlotte’s favorites:

Charlotte’s Pear Puree

1 ripe pear

1. Peel and cube a fully ripened pear
2. Mash or puree as desired

Pears do not need to be steamed but it is recommended for babies under 8 months. 

Charlotte’s Peach Puree

1 bag frozen peaches, defrosted

Steam for 3 to 5 minutes.  Puree to desired consistency.

Charlotte’s Sweet Potato

1 sweet potato

Prick potato several times with a fork.  Roast potato at 400 degrees for 30 to 45 minutes (depending on size of potato).  The potato skin will separate easily from the potato.  Mash with a potato masher.  Add liquid, depending on desired consistency.

Charlotte’s Turkey

1/2 pound ground turkey
1/4 cup water

Combine ground turkey and water in a frying pan.  Cook until turkey is browned.  Puree turkey and cooking liquid until desired consistency.

Happy New Year! Top 2010 Posts

Happy New Year from the Weeknight Gourmet!  2010 was a transforming year for me as I became a mother.  Here are my favorite posts and recipes of this very memorable year.  Some of the posts are bit sentimental and others are just delicious recipes.  Enjoy!

Feeding Charlotte

What’s Been Cookin’ in the Weeknight Gourmet’s Kitchen

I Became a Foodie 10 Years Ago

What My Waffle Make Means to Me

Lamb Chops with Pistachio Tapenade

Kitchen Cabinet Coffee Cake

Looking for Menu Ideas: Real Simple’s Four Week Dinner Plan

Comfort Food Classic: Mac n Cheese

Parker’s Beef Stew

Holiday Menu: Pork Roast, Cauliflower Gratin, Red Velvet Cake

Holiday Menu: Honey-Mustard Pork Roast with Bacon, Baby Arugula Salad & Cauliflower Gratin

The day after Christmas is my father-in-law’s birthday.  Tim’s immediately family came up to the Berkshires on the 26th to celebrate.  We had the delicious and festive menu below.  The pork I have made before and it was even better than I remember!  The bacon and the honey mustard coating gives amazing flavor to the meat.  This is the first time I made the Barefoot Contessa’s Cauliflower Gratin and it was a huge hit!  Who wouldn’t love cauliflower with a nice cream sauce and lots of Gruyere. I had some leftover Brussels Sprouts & Butternut Squash.  The dish reheated nicely.

We finished the birthday meal with a delectable Red Velvet Cake.  So moist!  And the cream cheese frosting was amazing!

Honey-Mustard Pork Roast with Baby Arugula Salad

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Cauliflower Gratin

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Brussels Sprouts & Butternut Squash with Bacon Vinaigrette (leftovers from Xmas)

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The Best Red Velvet Cake

Holiday Menu: Cauliflower Gratin

I love cauliflower but I know not everyone does.  This is a recipe that will get even a hater to eat his cauliflower.

To reduce the prep time, I cut the cauliflower and grated the Gruyere earlier in the day.  Also, I used two medium size heads.  One head was not going to be enough for the six people I was serving.

There was not a crumb left to this dish!  Definitely a keeper!

Cauliflower Gratin
Barefoot Contessa

  • 1 (3-pound) head cauliflower, cut into large florets
  • Kosher salt
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, divided
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups hot milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 3/4 cup freshly grated Gruyere, divided
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • 1/4 cup fresh bread crumbs

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Cook the cauliflower florets in a large pot of boiling salted water for 5 to 6 minutes, until tender but still firm. Drain.

Meanwhile, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a medium saucepan over low heat. Add the flour, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon for 2 minutes. Pour the hot milk into the butter-flour mixture and stir until it comes to a boil. Boil, whisking constantly, for 1 minute, or until thickened. Off the heat, add 1 teaspoon of salt, the pepper, nutmeg, 1/2 cup of the Gruyere, and the Parmesan.

Pour 1/3 of the sauce on the bottom of an 8 by 11 by 2-inch baking dish. Place the drained cauliflower on top and then spread the rest of the sauce evenly on top. Combine the bread crumbs with the remaining 1/4 cup of Gruyere and sprinkle on top. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and drizzle over the gratin. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the top is browned. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Holiday Menu: The Best Red Velvet Cake

I wish I had a photo of this cake but it was too hectic getting the meal on the table and entertaining guests.  But trust me, it was amazing looking and tasting!

I turned to my favorite source of the cake recipes — the Cake Mix Doctor.  She starts with a basic cake mix and adds all sorts of goodness to come up with some delectable cakes!

The red velvet cake required a number of ingredients beyond the cake mix but was super easy to make.  I do not have three cake pans so I just made a two layer cake and allowed the cake to cook for a bit longer since there was more batter in the pan.

The cream cheese frosting was delicious as well.  Make sure to allow the butter and cream cheese to come to room temperature and to sift the confectioner’s sugar.

There is no doubt I will be making this cake again!

The Best Red Velvet Cake
The Cake Mix Doctor

  • Solid vegetable oil shortening, for greasing the pans
  • Flour, for dusting the pans
  • 1 (18.5-ounce) package plain butter recipe golden cake mix
  • 2 ½ tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/3 cups buttermilk
  • 1 (1-ounce) bottle red food coloring
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, melted
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar
Place rack in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly grease 3 9-inch round cake pans with shortening, then dust with flour. Shake out excess flour and set the pans aside.
Place the cake mix, cocoa powder, buttermilk, food coloring, melted butter, eggs, vanilla, baking soda and vinegar in a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer on low speed until ingredients are incorporated, 1 minute. Stop machine and scrape down side of bowl with rubber spatula. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat for 2 minutes longer, scraping the side of the bowl again if needed. The batter should look well-blended. Divide batter evenly among 3 prepared pans, about 1 ½ cups batter per pan, smoothing the tops with rubber spatula. Place pans in the oven. If your oven is not large enough to hold 3 pans on center rack, place 2 on that rack and one in the center of the rack above.
Bake cake layers until they just start to pull away from the sides of the pans and the tops spring back when lightly pressed with a finger, 17 to 21 minutes. The layer on the higher rack may bake faster so test it for doneness first.
Transfer cake pans to wire racks and cool for 5 minutes. Run a dinner knife around the edge of each layer and give the pans a good shake to loosen cakes. Invert each layer onto a wire rack, then invert it again onto another rack so the cakes are right side up. Let the layers cool completely. Make frosting.
To assemble the cake, transfer one cake layer, right side up, to a serving platter. Spread the top with some of the frosting. Place a second cake layer, right side up, on top of the first and frost the top. Repeat this process with the third layer. Frost the side of the cake with a thin coat just to set the crumbs. Use the remaining frosting to go back over this and liberally frost the side, working with smooth, clean strokes. To make slicing easier, place uncovered cake in the refrigerator until frosting sets, 20 minutes.
Cream Cheese Frosting:
Place 1 (8-ounce) package reduced-fat cream cheese and 1 stick (8 tablespoons) of room-temperature butter in a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer on high speed until light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. Stop machine and scrape down side of bowl with rubber spatula. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and 4 cups sifted powdered sugar; beat on medium speed until well combined. Increase the mixer speed to high and beat the frosting for 1 minute longer.

Holiday Menu: Rack of Lamb, Brussels Sprouts & Butternut Squash with Bacon Vinaigrette, and Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas!  We had a great first Christmas with Charlotte.  We enjoyed lots of time with family and lots of delicious food!

In case you are looking for menu ideas for New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day, I highly recommend our Christmas meal!  My go-to ladies — Ina Garten and Giada de Laurentiis — helped make our holiday meal spectacular!

The lamb was so flavorful and tender and the portobello mushrooms were amazing (and could have been a meal themselves).  The sprouts and squash were a great combination that I had never tried before.  And, I have made this cranberry cake before and it is always festive and delicious!

Grilled & Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms
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Brussels Sprouts & Butternut Squash with Bacon Vinaigrette
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Rack of Lamb Persillade
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Cranberry Upside-down Cake

Holiday Menu: Rack of Lamb Persillade

I love rack of lamb!  And, this is a delicious and simple recipe!  The breadcrumb crust has great flavor from the lemon zest, garlic, and parsley. And, the quality of lamb we had was just unbelievable.  So tender!

The only change I would make is searing both sides of the racks before putting them in the oven.  Our lamb required about 10 minutes longer than the recipe called for and I think had I seared the lamb it would have been done faster.
Rack of Lamb Persillade
Barefoot Contessa

  • 3 small or 2 large racks of lamb, frenched
  • Good olive oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups loosely packed fresh parsley leaves
  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic cloves (3 cloves)
  • 1 cup fresh white bread crumbs
  • 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest (2 lemons)
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Place the racks in a roasting pan, fat side up. Rub the tops with olive oil and sprinkle with the salt and pepper. Roast the lamb for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the parsley and garlic in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade and process until they’re both finely minced. Add the bread crumbs and lemon zest and process for a second until combined.

Take the lamb out of the oven and quickly press the parsley mixture on top of the meat. Drizzle with the melted butter and return immediately to the oven and roast for another 15 minutes.

Take the lamb out of the oven and cover with aluminum foil. Allow it to rest for 15 minutes, cut in double chops, and serve.

Holiday Menu: Grilled & Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms

These stuffed mushrooms were a huge hit!  I am not a huge fan of Gorgonzola and I still thought these were unbelievably good.  I grilled the mushrooms on a grill pan, since it was not a night to be grilling outside, and then finished the mushrooms under the broiler.

The stuffing is so flavorful from the hot Italian turkey sausage, mascarpone, and Gorgonzola.  These mushrooms are hearty enough that you could make even these mushrooms as a main course.

Grilled & Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms
Giada de Laurentiis

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus 1/4 cup
12 ounces turkey sausage, casings removed
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
2 tablespoons fresh thyme
2 tablespoons fresh oregano
3/4 cup plain breadcrumbs
1 cup (4 ounces) Gorgonzola, crumbled
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus extra for seasoning
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus extra for seasoning
6 large portobello mushrooms, stems removed

Place a grill pan over medium-high heat or preheat a gas or charcoal grill.

In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat. Add the turkey sausage and cook, stirring frequently, until cooked through, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the mascarpone cheese. Add the thyme, oregano, bread crumbs, 1/2 of the Gorgonzola, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Stir until all ingredients are combined.

Brush the mushrooms on both sides with the remaining oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill the mushrooms, stem side down, for 3 minutes. Turn the mushrooms over and grill for 2 minutes until tender. Fill each mushroom with the sausage mixture and top with the remaining Gorgonzola. Return the mushrooms to the grill and cook until the stuffing is warmed through and the cheese starts to melt, about 5 to 7 minutes.

Cook’s Note: The assembled mushrooms can also be placed on a baking sheet and cooked under a preheated broiler until warmed through.