Brazilian Black Bean & Pork Stew

We had a considerable amount of snow over the course of the past two weeks, probably the most that the Eastern Shore has seen in quite a few years. Both little ones were home with me, cooped up in the house, for a majority of those days.   Needless to say, comfort food was in order.

I’d had this recipe bookmarked to try since I bought my copy of Slow Cooker Revolution, and would add it to our weekly menu – but it just kept getting pushed back for one reason or another. I finally decided that it would make a great snow day meal, so it finally came together in my crockpot last week – and I’m kicking myself for not getting around to it sooner. I assumed that I wouldn’t really like it…I’m not the biggest kielbasa fan, and it seemed really meaty. Not that I dislike meat, quite the contrary. But, on initial inspection it just didn’t seem like my cup of tea. But, I knew all the little carnivores in this house would adore it. I was right on that count at least, but was wrong in assuming that I wouldn’t love it too!

The flavors were out of this world. Everything blended together perfectly when cooked, creating a symphony of meaty goodness in one pot. The pork and kielbasa were tender, but still retained their shape and texture. And the beans – oh my word, those beans! Absolutely perfectly cooked – nice and creamy, just the way I like them. I served over a bed of cilantro-lime rice, and topped with some sliced avocado and the Brazilian hot sauce they suggest in the book. It kind of reminded me of pico de gallo…but with the addition of green bell pepper, white wine vinegar, and extra-virgin olive oil – it definitely added more layers of complexity.

It made a large batch, so we enjoyed it for dinner one night – and I stuck the other half in the freezer for a quick meal one night when I’m not feeling like cooking. Which, I must admit – is getting more and more often as the due date for baby boy #3 approaches. It’s good to know that such a hearty and comforting meal is just a thaw out and re-heat away!

Source: adapted from Slow Cooker Revolution

Mushroom Risotto

Last week I’d made a delicious roasted chicken for dinner, and being the frugal girl that I am – couldn’t let that chicken carcass go in the trash can without making a batch of chicken stock with it first. When menu planning for that week I took stock of what I had in the pantry before heading to the store to do my weekly grocery stock-up. I had a full package of arborio rice, and a bunch of samples of different varieties of dried mushrooms that the good folks at Marx Gourmet Foods had sent me – so I put mushroom risotto on the lineup.

I ended up making it on a cold, rainy evening…and this filling meal couldn’t have been more perfect. I’ve gone on before about how wonderful dried mushrooms are to keep around. They add so much flavor to whatever dish you use them for, and they never go bad in the pantry. While I’d say porcini is my hands down favorite, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed the matsutake. They were lighter in flavor, almost floral. I’d imagine they would be absolutely perfect in a big batch of homemade ramen noodles! But, if you can’t find them – don’t sweat it. The dried porcinis alone, combined with the earthy flavors of the sauteed fresh mushrooms will give more than enough flavor to this dish!

The stirring necessary is a little bit time consuming, but take if you take the time to enjoy a glass of wine (that you’ve been forced to open for the dish!)…it makes it a little more fun, and the time pass quicker. And the result you’ll get in the end is so worth it! A thick, rich, and creamy dish – that is just bursting with flavor. Great for my gluten-free friends, and could easily be made into a vegetarian dish by using vegetable broth instead of chicken stock. I’ve only made one other risotto in the past, but I’m looking forward to trying some different recipes in the future!

Vegetable Beef & Barley Soup

Gosh, it’s cold here. And I know our 10 degrees is nothing compared to some of my friends up north, who have been fairing in the negative temperatures this week. In this kind of weather, there’s nothing that’s better than a big pot of soup bubbling away on the stove.

Soups was one of the things I found hardest to “get right” in the kitchen when I was just learning how to cook. My mom made THE BEST vegetable beef soup, and for something that seemed so simple – the hell if I could ever get it right. I finally figured out I was being too fussy with it, it really does come down to simplicity. And time. Time is key too. Unlike chicken soups, beef soups don’t take all day. With the aid of a good store-bough beef stock (I personally love the Campbell’s brand found in the condensed soup aisle) a delicious, hearty, and filling soup can be on your dinner table in just a couple hours.

We usually reserve this meal for when I’ve cooked a roast of beef – either a big fancy prime rib roast, or a more affordable cut like an eye-of-the-round. In fact, I think we all might look forward to the second meal of soup than the first meal of roast beef! Well, I do at least. I can’t speak for the 3 other carnivores in my house. Did I tell you guys we found out Baby #3 is ANOTHER BOY?! It’s a good thing I love to cook, as I’m going to have quite a few bottomless pits to feed in a few years with three growing boys in the house! Big pots of soup will be my savior, and this one is my absolute favorite!

Don’t be afraid to play around with veggie combinations either. This is just usually what I have on hand in the pantry, and in the freezer – so I go with that. But I love to add chopped cabbage if I have that hanging around, or any other veggies that are hanging out in the fridge at the time. You can’t really go wrong with anything in here. I hope it becomes a favorite in your home too!

Buttermilk-Chive Mashed Potatoes

Have you guys started giving any thought to Thanksgiving yet? If not you need to get on it, it’s right around the corner! We usually keep things pretty traditional around here – roasted turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce…you know the routine. But I like to make all those traditional things just a little bit more special on Turkey Day, if I can.

I found myself with some dwindling chives outside and an-almost-gone-container of buttermilk last week when I made my favorite all-beef meatloaf, so I thought I’d mix them into mashed potatoes to make them a little more fancy. The slight tang from the buttermilk and the mild onion flavor from the chives were just perfect in the creamy mashed potatoes – making them delicious enough to eat plain, but not too overpowering that a spot of gravy on them wouldn’t be a welcome addition as well.

I’m hoping to get another couple of Thanksgiving day favorites up before the big day, so keep checking back for more yummy ideas for your Holiday table.