Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Katherine's Pot Roast, Part One

Last month, my little Sunshine and I had the chance to fly out to Santa Fe and spend a long weekend with Katherine and her family. To thank them for having us, and to make carnivore Mr. Katherine happy, I cooked them up a pot roast. In fact, it burbled away in a Crock Pot while we went on a short hike up in the nearby mountains, seen here.

By way of a back-story, Katherine is a vegetarian and the Mr. is not. I promised to give them a recipe and then realized that writing one is harder than I had imagined. For one, pot roast is the one thing I can cook without even glancing at a recipe. Two, preparing a recipe for someone who rarely cooks – and never eats – meat might mean a little more expository writing than my tired brain could handle. Three, culling sources for a good recipe from which to start revealed an infinite variety out there.

One month later, and I’m working on it. I’ve figured out that what I do approaches an Italian pot roast or stracotto. Unlike the recipes online, I don’t use mushrooms. Also, due to my own biases, anything with too many prepackaged ingredients was right out.

For Katherine… this is the essence of what’s done and I promise I’ll break it out into an actual recipe very, very soon:

Season and brown a large hunk of cheap, tough red meat.
Cook down some vegetables in the same pot.
Combine meat and veggies in a slow cooker with enough liquid to cover.
Cook 7-10 hours.
Serve with the starch of your choosing.

"Emergency" Dinner

Everyone needs to have at least one meal trick up their sleeve. Something tasty, reasonably healthy, and QUICK to assemble that's more complicated than pasta with jarred sauce and more ambitious than cereal. That said, we've certainly had our share of both in this house. Once in a while, however, when ordering pizza doesn't appeal and breakfast-for-dinner seems a little too much like a cop-out, we have Emergency Dinner.

For this, I keep a bag of frozen salmon fillets (thank you wholesale club!) in the freezer, a quick starch mix in the pantry, and then use either salad or frozen veggies to round it all out. Within 30 minutes or less, we have three items on the dinner plate.

For the salmon:
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Spray a baking sheet or pan with non-stick cooking spray.

Place salmon skin-side down and top with yummy things. We like a little S&P, some whole grain mustard and panko breadcrumbs.*

If you want, drizzle a little oil in the top so the breadcrumbs crisp up.
Plan on baking it for about 10-12 minutes if thawed, about 15 minutes if cooking from frozen. (Yes, you can do that.) For a flourish, broil on low the last 2 minutes to brown the topping.

For the sides:

Pre-flavored couscous comes together in about 10 minutes. Last time, we used a rice blend instead (pictured) that took about 20.
Microwave some vegetables. Toss with a little butter or oil and some seasonings while the fish cooks.


What's your emergency stand-by?

*You can use Dijon mustard and regular breadcrumbs too. Also good is a little soy sauce and honey whisked together and drizzled on the fish. Very basic is S&P and some lemon juice (and maybe dill or another herb) sprinkled on top.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Easy Peasy

For dinner, I’m finding it a constant challenge to come up with something at least marginally nutritious for the family to eat and easy enough for me to make. Bonus points if I get leftovers too. Now and again, I hit on something really good that makes us all happy. This is my version of Parker’s Split Pea Soup found in The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook.

We love Ina Garten; her flavor palette meshes well with that of our family. I find her recipes work as promised, though she uses more salt that I would. And the servings yield in the cookbooks can be a bit too much for my small family, so I tend to half everything. Here, I took an already simple soup recipe and made it easier on myself. I add in some meat for extra protein and, unlike Ina, dump all the split peas into the pot at once. This can easily go vegetarian, and the soup can take a couple more carrots or potatoes if you have them.

The soup does get very thick as it stands, so I find it necessary to add in some water when reheating to get it to a better consistency. Since I tend to throw this together whenever I have time to let something sit on the stove a bit, we usually have this reheated for dinner and then again as leftovers.

Split Pea Soup


  • 1 chopped yellow onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/8 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups medium-diced carrots (3 to 4 carrots)
  • 1 cup medium-diced red potatoes, unpeeled (3 small)
    • Note: I’ve also used unpeeled Yukon Golds.
  • 1 pound dried split green peas
  • 8 cups chicken stock or water
    • Note: I’ve used all stock or a combination of both, depending on what was on hand.
  • Chopped, cooked ham or sausage (optional)
    • Note: I buy vacuum-packed ham steaks and chop them up. These are already cooked and can be added in during the last 30 minutes of cooking.


In a 4-quart stockpot [I use my 5-quart Dutch oven] on medium heat, sauté the onions and garlic with the olive oil, oregano, salt, and pepper until the onions are translucent, 10 to 15 minutes.

Add the carrots, potatoes, split peas, and chicken stock. Bring to a boil, then simmer uncovered for 90 minutes, or until all the peas are soft. Skim off the foam while cooking, if you can. Stir frequently to keep the solids from burning on the bottom. Or, lower the heat and lengthen the cooking time to off-set your not stirring quite so often.

Taste for salt and pepper. Serve hot. Pairs really well with crusty bread.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Food Biases

I like to cook and have a few biases I’ve noticed while doing it. Before I write about my pot-roast-for-Katherine and our favorite split pea soup, I thought I’d share my kitchen quibbles:

  • Bacon really makes anything taste better.
  • Ditto for pastry dough.
  • Vegetables are awesome, but ham tends to make it into my vegetarian entrée recipes.
  • I cannot fathom making savory foods without garlic, onions or both as part of the dish.
  • Spicy foods aren’t my thing, but I like well-seasoned food.
  • I tend to reject any recipe calling for a can of condensed soup as an ingredient.
  • Actually, I’m not a fan of canned anything other than beans, tomatoes, and the occasional simmer sauce.
  • While not completely opposed to convenience foods in cooking, I tend to think, “how can I make this myself?”

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