Beef and Sun-dried Tomato Stew

Beef and Sun-dried Tomato Stew

Don’t say I didn’t warn you! When the weather decided to dip down to an assaulting ZERO DEGRESS back in October I told you I was forecasting one-bowl meals like stew, chili, soup, pasta bakes and casseroles in the near mise en place future. This here is just the beginning!

I’ve started to love Fridays more than ever these days. My weeks are long, at times stressful, and always jam-packed. Between work, gym and social commitments by the time the end of the week finally decides to show up I am ready to hit the couch hardcore. After work I look forward to along, quiet workout (long only because TLC’s weekly Say Yes to the Dress marathons could keep me on the treadmill all night long) and something warm that can be enjoyed in my pajamas on the couch.

I don’t want to make a fuss over dinner after a long week, so I was very happy that this stew came together quickly and easily — perfect for enjoying on the couch!

Sun-dried tomatoes are on my list of favorites, bonus that they also top Jeff’s. Put ‘em in pasta, pair it with feta cheese to make a festive salsa, or layer them with grilled veggies on a crusty bun, but I would never have thought to throw them in a stew. I’m glad someone thought it up, however, because it definitely worked.

Beef and Sun-dried Tomato Stew
Adapted from Best Health Magazine
Serves 6

Ingredients:

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 398 mL can white beans, rinsed
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped (or 1 teaspoon dried)
1 handful fresh basil, chopped
500 g top sirloin beef, cut into 1 inch cubes
10 sun-dried tomato pieces
1 large celery stalk, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced

Method:

1. Heat one teaspoon of olive oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Saute beef until browned but not cooked through, about five minutes. Remove from pan, set aside.

2. Reduce heat to medium and add remaining olive oil. Saute onion, garlic and celery until soft, about four minutes. Stir in tomato paste, rosemary and basil. Cook one to two minutes more.

3. Increase heat to high and stir in broth, scraping up brown bits. Mix in beans, tomatoes and a broth can of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and cover. Simmer for ten minutes.

4. Add beef, cover and let meat warm through, one to two minutes. Spoon into six bowls, top with basil and ground pepper.

Crock-Roasted Chicken

Okay, I’m just going to come out and say this.  Back in August I finally experienced my “that’s it!” moment and decided I was going to do something about the butter weight I’d accumulated.  I joined Weight Watchers and started losing weight.

Three months later I’ve lost 19.6 pounds and am just 2.4 pounds away from my first goal — which was to lose 10% of my body weight.  I wrote a little bit about changing my relationship with food back in September, and wondered if this would change mise en place.  It’s been pretty quiet around here, so it apparently did.

I can admit that I may have been a little embarrassed, worried about how “being on a diet” might affect my foodie cred (lame, I know). But being on Weight Watchers has also forced me to recalibrate all of the things in my life.  Finding time every day to work, exercise, eat well (i.e. actually taking time to eat lunch and not just shoving a slice of pizza into my face between paragraphs), cook, shower, relax, pay attention to my partner, family and friends, and oh yeah, sleep, has been a challenge.

So forgive me if after all that blogging hasn’t been high up on the priority list. Finding balance hasn’t been easy, but I think I’ve got it. My secret weapon: our new slow cooker!

About a month ago I dragged Jeff out to the Bay to purchase a slow cooker.  Once home in the elevator a neighbour noticed the box and lamented that our lives were about to be transformed.  And boy, was she right. After a long day at work we can come home to a hot meal without lifting a finger. We’ve enjoyed chili and stew and soup and the best roast chicken I have ever had in or out of a restaurant.

What are you waiting for? A slow cooker is definitely the secret to eating well on the run.

Crock-Roasted Chicken
Adapted from Prevention Guide Slow Cooker Recipe Book

Ingredients:

1 broiler/fryer chicken (3 1/4 to 4 lbs)
2 tablespoons paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons onion powder
3 cloves garlic, pressed
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Method:

1. Rinse and pat chicken dry, removing any visible fat. Discard giblets and neck. Coat 4-quart or larger slow cooker with cooking spray.

2. Combine paprika, onion powder, garlic, salt and pepper in bowl. Stir in warm water by the teaspoonful until thick paste forms. Coat chicken inside and out with seasoned paste before placing in cooker, breast side up.

3. Cover and cook on low 6 to 7 hours (or on high 3 1/4 to 4 1/2 hours). Remove chicken from cooker. When cool enough to handle, remove skin and carve. The meat will be so tender it will just fall off the bones.

Grilled Chicken Breasts with Tuscan Bread Salad

Grilled Chicken Breasts with Tuscan Bread Salad

I could relate to Mark Bittman’s recent post in the New York Times, Cooking, Eating and Not-Grilling.  Mr. Bittman admits that New York’s rainy June meant he could still happily use his oven and stove.  Summer has taken its sweet time to arrive here in Toronto; offering up a sunny day here and there, but most of the time it’s been on the cool side.  A little rainy, a little you’ll-need-a-sweater to go out in the morning, and that suits me just fine.

If you are not from Toronto, then I must tell you that summer is momentous in this city.  It is but a window, a sliver in winter, where the sun shines and the heat rises up off the pavement and you can eat, drink and be merry al fresco.  The first Friday afternoon warm enough to remove your winter coat, at least if you’re sitting in the sun, every patio in this city fills up to capacity; sometimes with long, winding line ups forming on the sidewalk.

I should mention here that Toronto has nothing on Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland.  When we arrived it was beautifully sunny, but only about five degrees Celsius and there was still a bum in every seat on every patio.

So summer is not my thing.  The heat makes me lazy, unless I’m lying on a beach in say, Costa Rica, and I never know what to wear.  Even worse, what to cook when it’s hot and humid and the thought of turning on the oven makes you cry?

Summer decided to pay us a visit yesterday, after a monsoon of a rain storm, that left the city hot, hot, hot. Jeff and I dragged our heels around the city, sipping our iced coffees, too hot and bothered to come up with anything to do. In the end we threw in the towel, picked up some cold beer and retreated to the balcony. The heat is much easier to bear with a cold beverage and a good, trashy chick-lit book.

This salad came together pretty easily between chapters and we sat down to eat just as a cool breeze blew up over our balcony. It’s so summery, even if you do have to turn the oven on for a few minutes to bake the bread chunks. Trust me, it’s worth the extra heat and coming from me, that’s saying something. With a glass of white wine this really was the perfect summer meal and I can bet, should summer decide to make another appearance between now and September, we’ll be having it again.

ATTENTION: If you are going to make this, and I highly suggest you do, please read the recipe all the way through. If you don’t, you’ll be screwed. No really. The chicken needs to marinate for at least two hours and your salad needs to rest not just once, but twice. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Grilled Chicken Breasts with Tuscan Bread Salad
Adapted from LCBO’s Food & Drink
Serves 4-6

Ingredients:

Grilled Chicken

1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
2 teaspoons chopped garlic
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons dry mustard
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon chili flakes
1/4 cup dry white wine
4 chicken breasts, bone in, skin on

Salad

4 cups torn sourdough bread, slightly stale (day old)
3 cups coarsely chopped tomatoes, membranes removed
1 cup coarsely chopped red onion
1 cup diced cucumber
6 leaves basil, slivered

Dressing

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon sugar
Salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste

Method:

1. Combine olive oil rosemary, thyme, garlic, mustards, sugar, chili flakes and wine. Brush over both sides of chicken and under skin. Marinate for two hours or overnight in the fridge.

2. Preheat oven to 350F. Place bread chunks on a cookie sheet and bake for about 15 minutes or until golden. Cool.

3. Toss bread with tomatoes, onion, cucumber and basil, mixing well with your hands. Let sit for 10 minutes.

4. Whisk together red wine vinegar, olive oil and sugar. Season with salt and pepper and toss with bread salad. Let sit 30 minutes before serving.

5. In the meantime, preheat grill to medium. Remove chicken from marinade and season with salt and pepper. Brush with a little extra olive oil and place chicken bone-side down on grill. Grill for 12-15 minutes per side, or until juices run clear.

6. Serve over bread salad. (If your chicken breasts haven’t been separated, cut through the bone before serving).

Chinese Chicken Salad

Chinese Chicken Salad

So this recipe was a recent Barefoot Bloggers pick, a group dedicated to blogging Ina Garten‘s recipes that I do not belong to.  I stumbled upon it instead at Ezra Pound Cake, one of my regular reads.  I don’t know what it is with me these days, but once again, the sesame oil in the dressing really caught me.  Just like the week before I made Mark Bittman’s Thai Beef Salad, I couldn’t stop thinking about how delicious this salad was going to be.

After a day of enjoying the bea-u-ti-ful weather in Toronto this weekend, we arrived back at the apartment in the late afternoon and I began putting the salad together.  Each time I added another ingredient into the dressing I couldn’t resist a little taste, getting more and more excited to try the final dish with each taste.

Some of the Barefoot Bloggers felt that the salad was much better the next day, after the flavours had a chance to settle in together, so I was worried that it was going to be short on flavour.  Heck no, it was awesome in the flavour department, so I can only imagine what lunch is going to be tomorrow.

But once I plated the meal I realized that there really wasn’t much to it.  It didn’t feel complete; probably because I’m a bit of a starch addict, so I wanted pasta or rice to go along with my salad.  I didn’t mind the lightness of it, it just felt like a lot of meat on my plate.  Next time (and there will be a next time) I would up the veggies in the dish, maybe even add a couple more — like carrots or celery or bok choy — and add some noodles (which I did for my lunch time left overs).  But all in all, a delicious meal!

Chinese Chicken Salad
Adapted from Ina Garten’s “Barefoot Contessa Parties!”
Serves 12

Ingredients:

4 split chicken breasts (bone-in, skin-on)
Olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 pound snow peas (or asparagus, sliced into thirds)
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
2 scallions, sliced diagonally
1 tbsp. sesame seeds, toasted

For the dressing:

1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar (or apple cider vinegar)
3 tbsps. soy sauce
1 1/2 tbsps. dark sesame oil
1/2 tbsp. honey
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. peeled, grated fresh ginger
1/2 tsp. sesame seeds, toasted
Up to 1/4 cup smooth peanut butter (I used about a tablespoon, and it was all it needed)
2 tsp. kosher salt (you could omit the salt as you used soy sauce, or add it a little at a time)
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Method:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Place the chicken on a sheet pan. Rub the skin with olive oil, and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, until the chicken is just cooked. Let cool. Remove the meat from the bones, discard the skin, and shred the chicken in large bite-sized pieces.

3. Combine the chicken, snow peas and peppers in a large bowl.

4. Whisk the dressing ingredients, and pour over the chicken and vegetables. Add the scallions and sesame seeds, and season to taste. Serve cold or at room temperature.