Slow-Cooker Tuesday: Lamb and Pumpkin Stew

As soon as about mid-September hits I am in the mood for pumpkin. All the way through spring, I can not get enough of the glowing orange squash. We have the regular preparations: cookies, breads, pie (of course) but my head has turned to savory ways in order to get more pumpkin in my life. A few years ago I started making a Persian lamb and pumpkin stew. It has become a late fall early winter tradition. This year, I thought I would adapt it to my slow cooker.

I sent John off to the grocery store for a few supplies–including lamb–one afternoon. He returned from Trader Joe’s with the best they had for lamb stew meat: red wine and herb pre-marinated lamb tips. I am not one to eschew short cuts in cooking these days, but the red wine marinade didn’t work with the Persian recipe. So I tinkered with the flavors a bit and tossed  it all together in the slow cooker. What came out after 8 hours was so good, I’ve made it again (and again) this winter.

The original recipe calls for prunes to be added at the end of cooking. I skipped the prunes, but missed the fruity acid bite they added to the finish–so I tossed in a cup of dried cherries and loved it. I use sugar-pie pumpkins (grown in our garden this year! yay!) and I use a Y-peeler to peel the pumpkin skin after I halve and clean them.

I like the pre-marinated lamb (so super easy), but really, I should be making my own. I would marinate the lamb chunks overnight in enough red wine (something on the fruity side–Zinfandel or Merlot) to cover and a blend of dried herbs as you see fit: oregano, thyme, parsley or whatever else takes your fancy. Then in the morning you’re all ready for your own lamb and pumpkin stew.

Lamb and Pumpkin Stew

  • 1 lb lamb stew meat, cut into about 2″ chunks
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 small sugar-pie pumpkins (about 3-4 lbs total weight) peeled and cut into bite-sized chunks
  • 1 onion chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 4″ cinnamon stick
  • 1 cup beef stock
  • red wine (not too dry, Zinfandel works really well)
  • 1 cup dried cherries (dried cranberries would also work)

Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Remove lamb from marinade and let dry slightly on a paper towel. When oil begins to shimmer, add meat and brown on all sides. When lamb is browned, place in slow cooker. Turn heat to medium and return skillet to stove. Add onions and saute until just softened. Add remaining marinade (or a generous splash of red wine) to pan and cook, scraping up all the browned herbs and meat. Pour onions and sauce over lamb in slow cooker.

Add chopped pumpkin to slow cooker. Toss meat and onion mixture through the pumpkins. Add spices and toss again. Add beef stock, and if the liquid looks low, add some red wine. Cover and cook on low for about 8 hours. Lamb and pumpkin should be fork-tender when done. The stew is fairly dry, but if it looks as though it is getting too dry–add more wine while cooking. During the last hour of cooking, stir in the dried cherries.

Serve with Israeli couscous. I like to cook mine with a pinch of saffron. Enjoy on a winter night.

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Cherry-Chocolate Cookies

I know the holidays are over and I should be thinking about bowls of oatmeal and spinach salads–hold the bacon and dressing, please–but I did not get enough cookies at Christmas.

Nope. Not nearly enough. I was so swamped by mid-December that I skipped out on making cookie platters for John’s office and didn’t get to them for either of my kids’ Holiday parties. In fact I was so busy that I planned and executed a cookie exchange party for my Parents of Multiples club–and brought STORE BOUGHT COOKIES as my contribution. The shame. I know.

So I still have cookies on the brain.

As a nod in the general direction of I am-counting-what-I-eat-again-to-lose-some-pesky-pounds I offer up this cookie. It was introduced to me as The Fiber Cookie but I prefer the glammed up moniker of Cherry-Chocolate. No one has to know that these are *almost* good for you. Just don’t eat the whole batch in one sitting, ‘k?

Cherry-Chocolate Chip Cookies

  • 1       cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 1       cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 2       eggs
  • 2       teaspoons vanilla
  • 1-1/2  cups white wheat flour, or AP
  • 1       teaspoon baking soda
  • 1       teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2   teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2       cups rolled oats (not quick cooking)*
  • 1       cup high fiber cereal (flakes and twigs)**
  • 1       cup dried cherries—rough chopped
  • 1       cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2   cup coconut flakes (optional)

Heat oven to 350°F.

In medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, and spices. Set aside.

In the bowl of a standing mixer, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, and then vanilla. Beat well.

Add combined flour, baking soda, and spices; mix well on low speed. Add oats, cereal, cherries, chocolate and coconut if using and mix in on low speed until just combined.

Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until light golden brown. Cool 1 minute on cookie sheets; remove to wire rack. Cool completely. Store tightly covered. Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

*I really like using thick rolled-oats in this recipe

**I use Trader Joe’s “Twigs, Flakes and Clusters” cereal, Kashi “Good Friends” is another option.

My kitchen helper says, “I be the cook’n man!”

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Slow-Cooker Tuesday: Welcome

For Christmas three years ago I asked for a slow cooker. Mainly because I didn’t have one and Christmas is my usual excuse to pad out my cooking cabinet collection. So hubby researched and purchased, I thanked him, put it away and there it sat. For another year.

At the time, I was still cooking mainly from glossy magazines and family recipes and neither source gave use to the humble slow cooker. And when I went looking for crock-pot meals what I found tended to be not how we eat. Lots of stews, lots of meaty meat and way to many processed ingredients. So, there it sat.

Then the babies came and in a fit of needing to change I joined a weight loss program and learned how to cook all over again. And fell in love with my slow-cooker. For a while there I was using it two times a week. At least. It was a way I could actually put a nice hot healthy meal on the table and still get through diapers, bottles, and bed somewhat intact. I could cook in the morning when the girls were fairly happy to be left to their own devices for 1/2 an hour.

As the girls got bigger and our weeks became busier and busier, I would meal plan a slow-cooker meal for our longest day–which was Tuesday. I loved coming home from a long day of preschool, play, and music to a house filled with the smell of a home-cooked meal. I joked with John that without the slow-cooker, Tuesday would have easily become “Take-out Tuesday”. I also discovered some really fun recipes that were full of fresh ingredients that my family loved.

So I thought it would be fun to share some of my favorite slow-cooker meals here. Our Tuesdays have changed, but I still always have a day in my week where it’s nice to prep in the morning and simply eat in the evening.

To kick things off, one of my very favorite dishes. Easy as anything to prep, and worth the wait to eat.

Cuban-Style Pork and Sweet Potato Slow Cooker Stew

Makes 5-6 servings

  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice (about 1 lb)
  • 1 pound(s) lean pork loin, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 14 1/2 oz canned diced tomatoes, with green chiles
  • 1 medium garlic clove, minced
  • 1/4 cup(s) orange juice
  • 2 medium scallions, chopped (green parts only)
  • 1/2 tsp table salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
  • 2 Tbsp cilantro, fresh, chopped

Place potato, pork, tomatoes, garlic, orange juice, scallions, salt, cumin and pepper in a 4- to 5-quart slow cooker; cover and cook on low setting for 7 hours.

Stir in lime juice and cilantro; cover slow cooker and cook for 5 minutes more. Yields about 1 1/2 cups per serving (including some cooking liquid.) Serve with rice or couscous.

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Rosemary-Pine Nut Caramels

I love caramel. I’ll choose a good caramel over any other sweet. I swoon for burnt caramel chocolates, drool for salted sauces, and dive head-first into sticky sweet ice creams. The mother of a long-ago boyfriend would make pine nut caramels for Christmas and teen-aged me thought they were the height of sophistication.

Though the boyfriend is long gone–the memory of those Christmas caramels lingered well into my adult life. Finally last year I got up the gumption to make some of my own. Yes, they were very good but not worth years of dreaming. This year, I wanted to craft a caramel that I could hand down to my daughters–and maybe one day my Christmas caramels will become the stuff of dreams.

This is a very soft, slightly salted, herbal caramel. I’ve been wrapping 1″ squares in waxed paper sheets. I think I might try elongated rectangles…but the square is just right for two bites. Don’t be afraid to cook the sugar fairly dark. I took it to a nice amber before adding the cream. Under cooking at the first step will result in a grainy caramel without deep, rich flavors.

Rosemary-Pine Nut Caramels

Makes about 80 1″ caramel squares

Ingredients:

  • 2 cup heavy cream
  • 4-5 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 5 ounces salted butter, cut into pieces
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 5 ounces lightly toasted pine nuts

Method

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Toast pine nuts on a baking sheet until just fragrant and beginning to brown, about 5-7 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.

Line bottom and sides of an 9×13-inch baking pan with parchment paper, then coat parchment with cooking spray or lightly oil.

Bring cream and butter to boil in a small saucepan, then remove from heat. Add rosemary sprigs and set aside to let steep.

Boil sugar, corn syrup, and water in a 3- to 4-quart heavy saucepan, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Boil, without stirring but gently swirling pan, until mixture is a light amber colored caramel.

Carefully pour cream mixture through a fine mesh strainer into the caramel (mixture will bubble up). Discard rosemary sprigs. Simmer, stirring frequently, until caramel registers 248°F on candy thermometer, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in toasted pine nuts. Pour into baking pan and cool 2 hours. Cut into 1-inch pieces, then wrap each piece in a 4-inch square of wax paper, twisting 2 ends to close.

recipe adapted from: Fleur de Sel Caramels on Epicurious

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Chocolate Peppermint Cookies

This is the time of year when my thoughts turn to Christmas season baking. While I do hate the rush to put out decorations in the stores…once the first good rain falls I like to heat up the house with baking projects. And to me Christmas baking means cookies. And lots of them.

Why cookies? Cookies are easy. Cookies are portable. Everyone (at least everyone I know) loves them. While I have a list of must-bakes for the holidays, I also love to try new recipes/ideas out. So when my friend, the fabulous Miss M, told me about a package of cookies she bought and could then not stop eating, I knew I had to try and bake a good clone for her. The cookies in question were Coco-Sugar cookies and they were topped with a peppermint frosting and little peppermint sprinkles. Pretty good. After getting my hands on one, the cookies was determined to be more of a chocolate drop cookie–far easier to make than a chocolate sugar cookie. I instantly knew the base of the cookie would have to be a slightly altered version of my favorite cookie from the past spring, the wonderful Chocolate Cookies with Cocoa Nibs and Lime from Simply Recipes. The combo of lime and chocolate is divine, but the cookie itself had the crumb and size (and ease of baking) I wanted for the peppermint. With a few minor adjustments the cookie part was covered and ready for the peppermint pop.

The store cookies were topped with a thick buttercream-type frosting. It was pretty piled on, but it’s not my favorite when I’m making cookies. I tend to favor Royal Icing if I ice at all. For the peppermint I whipped a fairly thick Royal flavored with vanilla and mint. I dipped the cookies rather than try and use a spatula or piping bag. Right after the dunk in the Royal I dipped them in crushed peppermint candies to finish the look. I think they are a lovely, delicious winter cookie–and will make it onto my cookie platters this year.

Ready to try your hand? While I think cocoa nibs should be included in every chocolate cookie, ever, they *can* be considered optional in this one. But if you have a chance to get your hands on some, please try them in the cookies. They add crunch and depth of flavor unlike anything else.

Chocolate Peppermint Cookies–Adapted from Simply Recipes

  • 1 cup of butter softened to room temperature
  • 3/4 cup of dark brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup of white granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon of sour cream or plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 3/4 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup of cocoa nibs (optional)

Peppermint Royal Icing

~30 small candy canes or Starlight mint candies, crushed into small chunks

Method

1 Preheat the oven to 350°F. Beat the butter and sugars together for about two minutes at medium speed or until well incorporated and light in color. Add the egg, sour cream or Greek yogurt, and vanilla extract and beat until well incorporated, about a minute. Be sure to scrape down the sides and the bottom of the bowl halfway through.

2 In a small bowl, whisk or sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cocoa powder. Add to the butter mixture slowly, and beating at medium speed, stopping once all of it is incorporated (do not overmix). Fold in the cocoa nibs. Chill for 5-10 minutes to help set the dough up for easy scooping.

3 Take small spoonfuls of the dough and roll into one inch sized balls (I use a small cookie scoop) and place onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 12 minutes. The bottoms should be slightly browned and the cookie should appear set, but not dry. Let cool on the pan for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

4 While cookies are cooling, make the Peppermint Royal Icing (see recipe below). When cookies are cool, dunk the top of each cookie into the thick icing. Swirl while pulling the cookie out of the icing for a smooth top and then dip in crushed peppermint candies. Place back on cooking rack and let dry, at least an hour, before plating or storing. You can, of course, just eat them right away.

Makes approximately 4 dozen cookies.

Peppermint Royal Icing

  • 1 egg white (about 1 oz)
  • 2 1/4 cups (8 oz) sifted powdered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon mint extract

Method

1 With the paddle attachment of a standing mixer, beat the egg white until foamy and soft peaks form.

2 Set the mixer to medium-low speed and gradually add the powdered sugar. Scrape the side of the bowl between additions.

3 Add the extracts and beat on medium-high speed until the frosting is no longer shiny. It will be thick. Stir in water teaspoons at a time until the frosting is the consistancy of thick gravy. Dip cookies–any remaining frosting can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

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