Extremely Easy Old-Fashioned Stew

“No one who cooks, cooks alone. Even at her most solitary, a cook in the kitchen is surrounded by generations of cooks past, the advice and menus of cooks present, the wisdom of cookbook writers.” ― Laurie Colwin

old fashioned beef stew

STEW: Before

I’m all about the ease of finding recipes online, but you can’t beat good old-fashioned recipes from dog-eared cards written by hand or those found in favorite old cookbooks.

I’ve been nose-to-the grindstone busy with projects at work and at home for the past three months. This weekend was my first catch-up time slot in what seemed like forever.

First on the agenda. Spring cleaning. Yeah. I know. It’s fall. My timing is somewhat off.

Next up: Invite friends over for dinner. I have missed being social. Chitchat around the office water cooler doesn’t count. I like to entertain. Sometimes I love to fuss. But I’d rather keep things casual and entertain more often than fuss and be so exhausted I don’t want to think about inviting anyone over again for several months.

Hence tonight’s meal. Friends. Conversation. Laughs. Old fashioned stew. (Apple pie for dessert.) I dug up the stew recipe from Laurie Colwin’s book: Home Cooking. It’s in the oven now.

Toss chunks of chuck roast (2 1/2 pounds or so) in flour-pepper-paprika. Brown in olive oil. Add layers of thick carrot slices (I used 5 big carrots), a couple of chopped potatoes (1-inch pieces), wedges of onion (I used 3 gigantic onions) and minced garlic (I put in 6 cloves because I’m a garlic lover). Add 2 cups (or a bottle) of red wine, a small can of tomato puree and a few tablespoons of tomato paste. Toss in a spring of rosemary and thyme and a bay leaf. Oh. Salt and more pepper, too. Bring it to bubbling on the stovetop, then put the lid on and stick it in the oven for 3 hours. Uncover for the last 15-20 minutes.

Laurie’s recipe suggests serving it over noodles. I like to serve mine over mashed sweet potatoes. Or nothing. It’s that good.

Want the more-detailed recipe? Go find Laurie Colwin’s book. Or come on over for dinner.


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Salmon Chowder Time

Salmon and Bacon Chowder

Salmon and Bacon Chowder

A fisherman friend gave me a lovely salmon fillet from his fishing trip to Alaska, so I’m tempted to make this salmon and bacon chowder recipe. Or should I just roast the salmon in a sizzling hot cast-iron skillet? Until I make up my mind, I’ll share my chowder recipe again.

Salmon and Bacon Chowder
Makes about 6 servings.

¼ lb. bacon, chopped (about ¾ cup)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped (1 cup)
½ cup chopped carrot
½ cup chopped celery
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup chopped coarsely chopped new red skin potatoes or Yukon gold
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth or stock
1/2 to 1 teaspoon Grey Sea Salt with Five Pepper Blend or The Chef’s Miracle Blend (or salt, pepper and 1/2 teaspoon thyme)
2 cups coarsely chunked fresh salmon (altho I suppose you could use canned salmon, but you’ll get a different  result. Canned salmon is stronger flavored than fresh.)
1 cup fresh or frozen corn
1 cup  half and half
Chopped cooked bacon (optional)

1. Cook bacon in a Dutch oven or big pot until crisp; remove and set aside. (I like to scoop it onto paper towel to soak up some of the grease.) To the same pot, add olive oil, onion, carrot and celery. Cook and stir until tender, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, stir for about 30 seconds, then add flour. Cook and stir for 1 minute more. Stir in potatoes and broth. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes or until potatoes are just tender.

2. Stir in the bacon you’ve set aside, salmon, corn, half and half. Cook gently (do not boil) for 5 minutes or until salmon is cooked through. If desired, sprinkle individual servings with additional cooked bacon.


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Mexican Pizza with Chicken and Chile Peppers

Mexican Pizza recipe with chicken and chile peppers.

Mexican Pizza recipe with chicken and chile peppers.


Don’t tell anyone, but I was once madly in love with the Mexican Pizzas at Taco Bell. Haven’t been to Taco Bell in forever, but I still have that craving now and then. So I created a Mexican pizza recipe. My version is a lot plumper than Taco Bell’s…because I’ve loaded it up with chicken, black beans, and Hatch chiles.

Fresh Hatch chiles are typically available only in the fall, but that’s when I stock up, roast ’em (or buy them freshly roasted) and freeze them. But if you don’t have a stash in your freezer, you can easily substitute the chile peppers of your choice.

At the Des Moines, Iowa Farmer’s Market—Juan O’Sullivan—roasts them before your very eyes in the fall. And he makes an amazing salsa. He also shares some of his Mexican recipes here.

Or try my Mexican pizza recipe. Just in time for Cinco de Mayo.

Mexican Pizza with Chicken and Hatch Chile Peppers

1 onion, chopped

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon coriander

2  cups green enchilada sauce

2 cups chopped cooked chicken (I used 2 chicken breasts from a deli roast chicken)

1 15-oz can black beans, rinsed and drained

2 medium tomatoes, chopped, or a handful of cherry tomatoes, quartered

4 hatch or Anaheim chile peppers, roasted, peeled, seeded, and chopped

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Three 8-inch flour tortillas

2 1/2 cups shredded Mexican blend cheese

Optional toppings: chopped tomatoes, sour cream, fresh cilantro

Lime wedges (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Cook onion in hot olive oil over medium heat about 4 minutes or until soft. Add garlic and tandoori seasoning; cook and stir for 1 minute more. Stir in 1 1/2 cups of the enchilada sauce, the chicken, black beans, tomato, salt, and pepper. Cook and stir for about 5 to 10 minutes or until heated through and bubbly. Remove from heat and stir in cilantro.

3. To assemble, spread  1/4 cup of the enchilada sauce on bottom of a 9-inch pie plate. Arrange one of the tortillas on sauce. Top with half of the chicken mixture. Sprinkle with 1 cup of cheese.

4. Top with another tortilla and remaining half of chicken mixture. Sprinkle with 1 cup of cheese. Top with last tortilla. Spread remaining 1/4 cup green enchilada sauce over tortilla.

5. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until heated through, topping with remaining 1/2 cup cheese during the last 10 minutes of baking. Let stand on a wire rack for 5 to 10 minutes before serving. If desired top with chopped tomatoes, sour cream, and/or cilantro. Serve with lime wedges.

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New Year’s Food for Good Fortune

I like to hedge my bets, so am planning on eating as many “lucky” foods as possible New Years Eve and New Years day.

And wearing red undies. Red lingerie brings giddiness, passion, love and luck. Right?

But, as for food that brings good fortune, here’s a short list, that I’m picking up at the grocery store for these next two days. Just in case. Oh…skip the lobster and chicken. They don’t have good New Year’s vibes. But these foods do.

  • Grapes, 12 of them Eat them at midnight for luck in each month of the new year. Raisins work too.
  • Turmeric-laced foods:  Gold-colored foods bring financial prosperity.  Monica Bhide, who leads a life of spice, talks turmeric and has an amazing Fish Curry recipe here.Post image for Spice of the month: Turmeric
  • Pork Recipe below: Pork Sauerkraut with Sour Cream
  • Beans, lentils, black-eyed peas Combine them all in a super good-fortune soup
  • Cabbage or sauerkraut It’s just lucky. My German heritage means this is the recipe I’m including here.
  • Fish I might only have time for a tuna sandwich today
  • Long noodles They’re Japanese symbols of long life, so Soba or buckwheat noodles work…or what about ramen noodles? I’m sure spaghetti works too. Noodle up!
  • Sweet bread or cakebaked in a ring shape You know—coming full circle. Add a little trinket to bring extra luck to the person who gets that trinket in her slice.
  • Share, share, share! Food and friends guarantee happiness in the new year…and always. xo

Pork Sauerkraut with Sour Cream
Makes 8 servings

Despite my German heritage (sauerkraut is served at EVERY family holiday), I’m not a big fan of sauerkraut. Except for this version. The sour cream mellows the kraut. I sometimes cut down on the pork and add some Polish sausage.

2 pounds pork (I like pork butt), cut into 1-inch chunks
Salt and pepper to taste
3-4 tablespoons canola oil
3 large onions, chopped
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
2 pound jar sauerkraut (drained and squeezed dry)
1/2 cup water (or low-sodium chicken broth)
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup sour cream

 1. Sprinkle pork with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add pork; cook and stir until brown. Remove pork from pan and set aside. Add onions and cook until soft. Drain excess fat. Stir in paprika; cook for 1 minute.

2. Stir in browned pork, sauerkraut and water. Cover and cook gently for 60 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, whisk together the sour cream and flour. Stir into sauerkraut mixture. Simmer gently until heated through.

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Quick Garlic-Parmesan Chicken

Quick Garlic-Parmesan Chicken

Was hungry NOW. Usually when I’m hungry NOW, I end up filling up on cheese and crackers while I figure out what to cook for dinner. Then I start cooking. Then I eat more cheese and crackers or maybe a brownie or more than likely a couple of gigantic garlic-stuffed olives that I keep in my fridge for emergencies.

But I’ve been watching my weight, so I figured if I could fix dinner fast, I’d avoid the extra pre-dinner calorie gorge. Skinless, boneless chicken thighs were awaiting. (Thighs cook quickly when untucked and opened flat, butterfly style.) So, I narrowed it down to either lemon chicken or, hmmm, Parmesan chicken.

Parm chicken won because I just happened to have a chunk of Wisconsin’s own Sartori SarVecchio Parmesan in my refrigerator. It’s rather awesome. It has big sharpish taste and that same crystalline-crunch of Parmigiano-Reggiano. (I buy local not to just buy local, but because it tastes remarkable).

I also had a little bit of grated Parmesan in the fridge, too. You know. Green can o’ Parmesan. Couldn’t resist combining the two. But you can use one or the other if you don’t want to use both.

I served the chicken with pasta tossed in pesto. And a salad. And now I’m happy.

Here’s my recipe. It serves 6. Guess what I’m bringing for lunch tomorrow?

Quick Garlic-Parmesan Chicken  

1/4 cup butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup fine bread crumbs (I used a fine grater to make my own crumbs with a piece—the heel—of a loaf of multigrain bread. You can use Panko or purchased bread crumbs, too.)
3 Tbsp. grated Parmesan (green can)
2 Tbsp. freshly shredded Parmesan
Coupla shakes Italian seasoning
Freshly cracked black pepper
1 lb. skinless, boneless, chicken thighs (6 thighs) 

1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Combine butter and garlic in a small skillet. Heat (low) until butter melts. In a bowl combine bread crumbs, Parmesan, Italian seasoning, and pepper.

2. Dip chicken in garlic butter (both sides), then into crumb mixture to coat. Put chicken in a 9×13 baking pan. Drizzle with remaining garlic butter. Bake, uncovered, for 15 minutes or so, or until chicken is cooked through (165° F).

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Sausages and Polenta

Just barely tweaked this recipe from a couple of years back that was originally developed by food writer/editor/creator extraordinaire, Renee Schettler, for a magazine I was editing at the time. The grapes in this one-dish dinner roast to a mellow mushy jam-ish delight. And they take on a happy sweet-tang after getting  a finishing drizzle of balsamic glaze. Of course, you can skip the glaze and just splash with 1 or 2 tablespoons of balsamaic vinegar…or nothing. Trader Joe’s has a pretty good balsamic glaze, too.

Yes, the recipe calls for purchased polenta. (Of course you can make your own. I used Melissa’s Organic tube o’ polenta. Kinda good, especially when the sausage juices melt into it. It’s got onions and rosemary too. That’s it. Pop it in the oven and do a good deed for your neighbor while it’s sizzling. Or pour a glass of red wine and sink into another chapter of “50 Shades of Gray.”

What’s your favorite fall comfort food … or book to snuggle up with?

13×9 one-dish dinner!


Sausages, Polenta and Grapes

4-6 smoked chicken sausage links, about 1 1/2 lb. total (I’m partial to Aidell’s. I usually use their Artichoke and Garlic version here.)

1 1/2 pounds seedless red grapes

1 tube (1 lb.) refrigerated cooked polenta, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1 large red onion, cut into thin wedges


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The Kid with a Gun

It was a Sunday afternoon. Kinda cloudy weatherwise, but sunny in my head. Time for a quick run to the neighborhood co-op grocery store. Me and my list. I needed a few ingredients for Over-the-Rainbow Chard Pasta from our cookbook.

He was standing in front of the store, just to the right of the door. I glanced over, then quicky glanced away. I could see him coming toward me.

I suspected he was a panhandler. He was going to ask for money. And he did. In a big way.

“Gurmey yup poos,” he said. Very quietly.

Pardon me?

“Gimme your purse.” He was louder this time. And he nodded his head toward his jacket pocket. I followed his eyes to the handgun he held at his hip. It was big. Black. Menacing. Heart-stopping, breathtaking big. I remember being surprised at the size of that thing. I thought handguns were smaller.

This was a big bleep-bleeper.

I looked back up at his face. It was young. Chubby. Almost cherubic. His eyes big, brown and anxious. On his head a black knit stocking cap. In the center of the cap a big round hot-pink logo or circle. Hot pink.

Can I just give you some money?

Seriously. Those were the first words that popped out of my mouth when I was being held up at gunpoint. At gunpoint. Maybe it was the hot pink decor on his hat. Maybe it was his baby face. Maybe it was because the gun was held at his hip. He wasn’t really aiming it at any major organs, was he?

Umm, I hate to put you out, but would you mind if we negotiated a little before you shoot me and take my purse?

He quietly mutters again: “OK. Twin tree.”


“Twenty,” he says.

And then it hits me. Not a bullet, but the fact that I had hardly any money. I contemplated stopping at the ATM on my way to the store, but decided I’d just charge it.

I don’t think I have that much, but I’ll give you what I have.

“OK,” he says.

I start digging in my purse. By now, despite the fact that I had convinced myself that he was a pretty mellow bad guy, my heart was well beyond its target zone. I find a 5-dollar bill and two ones. I hand it to him. His hand is shaking more than mine.

You really shouldn’t be doing this.

(Seriously? Now I’m scolding the guy with a gun?)

“I’m sorry,” he says. Then turns and sprints across the parking lot.

Storm clouds appeared. I didn’t fix pasta that night, but here’s the recipe I had planned to make.

Photo by Sandra Gerdes

Over-the-Rainbow Chard Pasta

8 oz. fusilli or linguine, broken in half

2 medium tomatoes, chopped

2 medium summer squash or zucchini, halved and cut in 1/2-inch slices

3 cloves garlic, minced

3 Tbsp. butter

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes

4 to 5 cups roughly chopped rainbow chard

2 tsp. fresh chopped rosemary

1 Tbsp. fresh chopped basil

1/2 cup grated Asiago or Parmesan cheese

Cook pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, in a Dutch oven cook tomatoes, squash, garlic and chile pepper flakes in hot butter and olive oil over medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes, or until crisp-tender. Add rainbow chard and rosemary, tossing, stirring and cooking for 5 to 10 minutes, or until chard wilts. (The bigger the pot, the quicker the chard will wilt.) Pile veggie mixture all over pasta. Shower it with cheese.





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