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Art by Mike Jeffries

There are many reasons for eating less meat, including environmental concerns. I for one am preparing and enjoying more meatless meals all the time. I’ll share some of those recipes soon, but right now I’m sharing a meaty meal that I adore. Many years ago, my late mother was the owner/chef of a small, popular truck-stop diner. I know she would’ve approved of this easy, hearty recipe.

I know this recipe seems weird at first. I mean, canned soup poured over precious beef? What!? Mind you, it’s a short-cut recipe after all so bear with me. Still, the first time I made this it looked so strange that I thought, ‘Oh my gosh… Have I just wasted all these ingredients?’ But having gone that far I forged ahead, turned on the crockpot, said a little prayer, and voila! A few hours later my family and I were blessed with the best stew I’d ever made. The meat was SO tender, and the gravy… rich and flavorful. Years later and after many times preparing this recipe, I can tell you that this beef stew is foolproof to make and absolutely delicious. It’s just that easy.

One and Only Beef Stew

  • Servings: 8 generous servings
  • Difficulty: easy
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The long, gentle simmering time in the slow cooker turns this concoction into a delicious, succulent supper!


Ingredients

  • 1.5kg/3lb Bottom Blade (aka Chuck, rolled Pot Roast) boneless beef roast, cleaned and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 large onion, chopped into a small dice
  • 5 carrots, washed, chopped medium
  • 1 can tomato soup, undiluted
  • 1 can cream of mushroom soup, undiluted
  • 1 cube of McCormick’s Beef-flavored bouillon, crumbled
  • Seasonings: sea salt, ground pepper, garlic powder, dried oregano, dried basil, Steak Spice and Cajun Spice (about ½ teaspoon each or whatever you want… this is an example of what I add)
  • 4-6 dried bay leaves (removed before serving)
  • AT END OF COOKING TIME, JUST BEFORE SERVING:
  • Add slurry: 2 tsp cornstarch dissolved in 1 Tablespoon of water
  • 1½ cups frozen peas, stirred in as you remove the bay leaves
  • Creamy mashed potatoes, for serving


Directions

Remove strings and pull roast into sections. Carve off fat/silverskin (see video link below), cut beef into 1-inch cubes, and add to 6L/5.7quart slow cooker. Add vegetables and cans of soup. Add seasonings except bay leaves. Stir the thick mixture to combine, and now push open a few ‘holes’ to tuck the bay leaves in without breaking them. This makes the flavorful, but inedible, dried leaves easier to remove at the end.

Put lid on tight (I weigh it down with silicone oven mitts). Turn crockpot to LOW for 6 hours (8 hours in an older slow cooker). No peeking for this all day simmer. The beef cubes will break apart when cooked long enough. Give it more time if the pieces don’t cut in half with a fork.

Once the beef is tender, stir the slurry into the stew, turn crockpot to High, and simmer 5 minutes to thicken the gravy. Turn off crockpot. Stir in frozen peas while removing the bay leaves, and the peas will be ready within moments. Enjoy this succulent stew with hot mashed potatoes.


YouTube – cutting up roast for stew
This video helped teach me how to cut up roasts for stewing. After practice and learning, I now clean and cube a medium blade roast in ten minutes.

Note: The so-called required step in many stew recipes of pre-browning beef cubes to ‘sear in’ juices is (IMHO) a myth. Searing adds flavor but this recipe has tons of taste. I cherish the low-stress, fast prep, and easy clean-up of this recipe. Also, terms ‘slow cooker’ and ‘crockpot’ are used interchangeably.
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[Copyright © 2017 Front Yard to Backcountry]

Art by Ann Gates Fiser

Art by Ann Gates Fiser

Yes I really am that cheesy. I enjoy using this corny play on words from John Lennon’s incredible anthem for peace. It’s a song I have cherished all my forty-some years, and was especially delighted to hear one of my favourite bands, YES, put the refrain in their awesome song ‘Your Move’. 

So I think it’s a perfect expression to help elevate those beautiful bright green peas on your plate!

Art by Sharon Foster

Art by Sharon Foster

Since these easy-to-grow plants are not in season yet, I’m singing the praises of dried peas which have a long shelf life, as well as trusty organic peas from the freezer. They are a vegetable that take to the freezing process really well. Plus, they’re green and right now I’m celebrating everything green, like this delightful little gem of goodness!

Some Info on the Nutritional Benefits of Peas

split-peasWe don’t usually think about green peas as an exotic food in terms of nutrient composition but we should. Because of their sweet taste and starchy texture, we know that green peas must contain some sugar and starch (and they do). But they also contain a unique assortment of health-protective phytonutrients. One of these phytonutrients, a polyphenol called coumestrol, has recently come to the forefront of research with respect to stomach cancer protection.
A Mexico City-based study has shown that daily consumption of green peas along with other legumes lowers risk of stomach cancer (gastric cancer), especially when daily coumestrol intake from these legumes is approximately 2 milligrams or higher. Since one cup of green peas contains at least 10 milligrams of coumestrol, it’s not difficult for us to obtain this remarkable health benefit. (source)

Dried peas need to be washed and any discoloured peas or little stones discarded. Split peas don’t need to be soaked but doing so helps speed up the cooking time, but if adding to a soup they don’t need soaking. Simply wash, add to the rest of the ingredients, and cook.

Dr. Andrew Weil on health benefits and how to cook them:

source: DrWeil.com

source: DrWeil.com

There are few of us who have not found comfort in a steaming bowl of split pea soup at one time or another. Split peas are the dried, peeled, and most often split spherical seeds of the common pea plant, Pisum sativum. They can be purchased whole and un-split as well, though these take longer to cook.

Peas are thought to have originated somewhere between the Middle East and Central Asia; and, until the 16th century, when more tender varieties were able to be cultivated, they were almost exclusively consumed by humans in their dried form.

Just one cup of cooked split peas provides a full 65 percent of the Daily Value for fiber, making them, like all legumes, highly beneficial in blood sugar management and cholesterol control. Dried peas are also a good source of B vitamins (folate and thiamin) and various minerals such as magnesium, phosphorous and potassium.

Cooking time: Split peas, 30-60 minutes; whole peas, 60-90 minutes
Liquid per cup of legume: Split peas, 4 cups; whole peas, 6 cups
How to cook dried peas: While dried split peas do not need to be soaked, dried whole peas should be soaked overnight prior to cooking.
For split peas, combine in a pot with fresh, cold water for cooking. Place on stove and bring to a boil in a pot with a lid. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer, tilting the lid slightly to allow steam to escape, and leave to cook for up to 60 minutes, or until mushy.
For whole peas, drain soaking water and replace with fresh, cold water for cooking. Place on stove and bring to a boil in a pot with a lid. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer, tilting lid slightly to allow steam to escape, and leave to cook for up to 90 minutes, or until tender. (source)

Here is my all-time favorite recipe for split-pea soup WITH fresh (frozen) peas added at the end. I often adapt this recipe by replacing the bacon (gasp! I know) with 1-cup of leftover ham that’s been diced, labeled, frozen and ready for soup. This recipe is superbly delicious, and it freezes beautifully. Warm thanks to one of my TV and cookbook teachers, Chef Michael Smith from PEI.

Speedy Split Pea Soup With Bacon (or ham)

Art by Mary-Anna Fricano Welch

Art by
Mary-Anna Fricano Welch

Makes 6 generous servings (or lots to freeze) and is ready in about an hour.

1 package bacon, chopped (or 1-2 cups diced cooked ham)
1 large onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 stalks celery, washed and chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled sliced thinly
2 cups dried split peas
8 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon dried rosemary
Salt and pepper
2 cups of frozen peas
1 tablespoon of any vinegar

Place bacon in a large soup pot over a medium high heat. When the bacon is brown and crispy drain away the fat, leaving about 2 Tbsp in the pot (alternately, first cook veg in a bit of EVOO and add thawed cooked ham when adding dried peas, stock and seasonings). Add onion, carrots, celery and garlic to the pot and sauté for a few minutes. Add the dried peas, stock, bay leaves, rosemary and salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer and continue cooking until the soup is thick and the peas are completely soft. Stir in frozen peas and stir to heat through. Stir in the vinegar and add salt and pepper to taste. (recipe source) Gina’s Note: The bright pop of flavor from the fresh/frozen green peas adds a real freshness and depth to this dish, and the vinegar (I use red wine vinegar) simply highlights all the flavours already there. You won’t actually taste vinegar, it’s simply doing its magic of heightening flavors.

 

French Onion Soup

2014-02-27 — 16 Comments
ART BY RICHARD T. PRANKE

ART BY RICHARD T. PRANKE

It’s a really cold and snowy winter’s day outside but indoors I’ve prepared myself an easy and incredibly comforting bowl of French Onion Soup. Started earlier this morning, covered and and set to low as I continue organizing, the delicious aroma that fills my home of those onions slowly caramelizing is deliciously intoxicating!

This easy soup is easily one of my favourite comfort foods. I learned how to prepare it years ago from watching celebrity chef Michael Smith make it on his show Chef At Home. This is what he has to say about French Onion Soup:

“This soup is like culinary alchemy: creating gold from virtually nothing. It’s amazing how much flavour you can coax out of an onion with patience. Taking the time to slowly brown an onion is one of the most satisfying things you can do in the kitchen. It’s the key to the rich, deep flavour in a bowl of true onion soup.”

Here’s how to make enough for 4 bowls, but I find it easy to reduce this recipe for just one person: me, as I’m the solo fan of this soup in my household. It is a comforting meatless meal that I adore. Inexpensive yet so rich tasting; my kind of meal! So let’s get our baking tray out and place our ovenproof serving bowls on it, and get started.

CARAMELIZED ONIONS

½ stick (¼ cup/60 oz) of butter
2 Tablespoons any vegetable oil (I use EVOO)
4 large onions, peeled and thinly sliced (love my mandolin for this task!)
A splash of water
A sprinkle or two of sea salt and freshly ground pepper

THE SOUP

IMAG03605 cups of tasty vegetarian beef broth* (While Chef Michael uses chicken stock, I make mine with 8 cubes of McCormicks Beef Bouillon ‘flavoured without meat products’ plus 5 cups of boiling water)
*And here’s where I stray even farther from convention! Rather than deglazing the caramelized onions with ½ cup alcohol –brandy, sherry, cognac, fortified or dry red wine– and then the 4 cups chicken broth, I use only broth but prefer the richer taste of McCormick’s vegetarian beef broth at a stronger ratio than the box suggests.

A sprinkle or two of sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Leaves from 2 sprigs of fresh thyme (or about ½ teaspoon dried)

4 slices hearty bread, multi-grain (or whatever’s on hand; I use light rye since that’s what we enjoy in my household)

2-3 cups (don’t skimp) of shredded Swiss, Gruyere or Emmenthal cheese (again I use what’s already in my fridge and have found a blend of shredded mozzarella with some grated parmesan to be delicious!)

DIRECTIONS

For the caramelized onions, toss the butter and oil in a large heavy stockpot and set over medium-high heat. Melt the butter – the oil will protect the butter and its flavour from burning – and then add the onions, a splash of water and salt and pepper. Stir well, then cover with a tight fitting lid. This will capture steam and help the onions release all their moisture. Cook, stirring now and then until the onions soften and become quite wet, about 10 minutes. Remove the lid and continue cooking over medium-low heat, stirring frequently until all the water has evaporated. Lower the heat a bit and slowly begin to caramelize the onions, stirring them frequently. This takes about an hour. You don’t need to stir continuously, just enough to keep the onions from sticking to the bottom. Continuing to lower the heat will also help prevent sticking. (Please note that I’ve learned even half that time has delicious results)

The-Best-of-CHEF-at-HOME-Michael-Smith

Adapted from recipe in
The Best of Chef at Home

For the soup, once the onions are a deep golden colour and have shrunk considerably, add ½ cup of broth. Turn the heat up and cook for a few minutes, stirring constantly, until the additional liquid seems to have evaporated. Add the remaining broth and bring to a simmer. Add the thyme, season to taste with salt and pepper and continue simmering for 10 minutes or so.

To serve, preheat broiler in your oven. Toast the bread to add flavour and help absorb the soup. Cut the toast to fit in your bowls; reserve. Ladle the soup into 4 ovenproof bowls; top each with a slice of toast (or two, whatever fits to cover nicely) cover the toast with an even mound of shredded cheese (be generous; cheesiness makes this soup complete). Place bowls on a baking sheet and slide under the broiler. Watching closely, broil until cheese has completely melted and browned a bit and looks beautiful! Using your oven mitts, carefully place each bowl onto a heat-proof plate and serve. Bon appetit!

Art by Faith Te

Art by Faith Te

As a regular reader you’ll know I love oranges. Here’s an excerpt from my post Festive Chinese Décor (reminding us that if nothing else, let’s put out a bowlful of oranges).

Oranges – Ya gotta have em! Keep fresh oranges in your house. Eat them and encourage every one to eat their oranges! Peel them. Cut them up. Juice them. Toss segments in salads. Give them to guests. Take them to work.

One result of our enjoyment of oranges is an abundance of leftover peels. Not quickly compostable! Rather than tossing them, there are many ideas we can implement in giving them further use.
My hubby loves nibbling on candied peels but I prefer to mince them up and stir into muffin batter. Here’s an easy recipe that makes about 1 cup.

Candied Orange Peels

4 or 5 oranges (or any combo of citrus fruits)
¾ cup of sugar
With a sharp knife, slice ends off oranges and place flat end on cutting board. Following curve of fruit, slice away the outermost peel leaving most of the white pith. (Enjoy the oranges as freshly squeezed juice, tossed in a fruit salad, or just as they are! Now, on with the directions for candied peels) Thinly slice peels into strips. In a pot of boiling water, drop sliced peels and cook for about 10 minutes. Drain and transfer peels to a rack over a baking sheet, spreading into a single layer. Let dry slightly for about 15 minutes. In a small saucepan bring ½ cup of water and ½ cup of sugar to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Add peels and return to a boil. Boil gently until peels start to become translucent and syrup thickens, about 10 minutes. With slotted spoon, transfer hot peels carefully (do not touch) to wire rack, separating as required. Let candied peels dry for about an hour until cooled. Toss with ¼ cup of sugar and store in a tightly sealed jar for up to a month (Never lasts that long around here!).

Orange and Vinegar Household Cleanser

Photo by April  Trash Free Living

Photo by April
Trash Free Living

While this handy cleaner I enjoy using has already been posted all over the Web, just in case you’d like a refresher (pun intended) here’s an easy and effective Citrus Cleaning Solution. With each orange peel you accumulate, toss them in a container in the freezer until you have enough to fill a Mason jar.
Also an important note: do NOT use this vinegar-based solution on your granite or marble countertops or cutting/cheese boards because the acidic vinegar can mar the finish of porous stone surfaces. Avoiding stone, this is an effective all-purpose cleaner that’s even safe for wood but I mostly use it in my kitchen and bathroom. It polishes surfaces and leaves everything gleaming!

Directions for Concentrate: Using a 1-quart/1L glass jar, fill with citrus fruit peels (takes at least 5 oranges). Pour white distilled vinegar over peels, screw lid on tightly and allow to sit at least 2 weeks, shaking jar periodically. Strain into another Mason jar and discard peels. This concentrate can store in a tightly covered jar up to one year (but if your home is like my household, it’ll get used up long before then!).
To Use as a Cleaner: Dilute concentrate with half water (some recommend a weaker solution; some use full strength; do what works for you) and if desired, add a few drops of an essential oil such as from any citrus fruit, lavender or rosemary; optional but a delightful addition. Although the citrus peels don’t completely eliminate the vinegar aroma while cleaning, the vinegar scent fades quickly as it dries leaving a pleasant citrus fragrance lingering. Nice!

More suggestions for extending the life of those orange peels.

Art by Debbie Becks Cooper

Art by Debbie Becks Cooper

This clever blogger, Alison at The Sprouting Seed, has 30 Ways to Use Orange Peels!

Here’s my faves from her list:

A Natural Sponge – Did you know that you can use an orange peel as a sponge? Crazypants, I know. Before the peel dries out, it contains oils that help de-grease surfaces. If you have a gunky stove or sink, just use a fresh orange peel to scrub it.

Deodorizer – Place peels in the bottom of a smelly garbage can before you put in a clean trash bag.

Refrigerator Deodorizer – Cut orange in half and remove the fruit. Fill the orange-half with salt. Put in a small bowl and keep it in the fridge.

Preserve Brown Sugar – Add orange peels to brown sugar to help draw the moisture from the sugar and keep it from solidifying.

Start a Fire – And then cook your food on it! Dried orange peel makes great kindling for your next campfire.

Orange Tea – Dry orange peels and add a few pieces to tea the next time you brew it. The orange will infuse a nice citrus-y taste into the tea.

Thanks Alison! All these ideas rock. So let’s all keep this amazing fruit coming into our homes, our bellies, and our household cleaning supplies. Oranges (and their peels) are awesome!

Sources – click on image to visit source in a new page/tab