Beef Bourguignon

Dan and I are both blessed with wonderful families, and although all of us live in different cities, we are fortunate to be able to travel to see them at the holidays (as well as other times throughout the year.)  Holidays are filled with traditions, and like most, each of our extended families have their own little customs and practices that make a holiday special (possibly the biggest and most-debated of which is the timing of opening gifts at Christmas.  I come from a Christmas-Eve-Gift-Opening family, while Dan’s family always opened gifts on Christmas morning.  Since we travel  to be with family each Christmas (last year’s trip to Paris being the exception), we follow the customs of whichever family we are spending the 25th with, and haven’t had to draw any lines in the sand at our own home.  Yet.)  Because we spend most of the week or two surrounding Christmas traveling to spend time with our extended families, we decided several years ago to create our own holiday tradition for just the two of us — spending New Year’s Eve at home together, cooking a fabulous meal and watching a classic movie.  The meals and movies are always different (we rang in 2011 with mussels in champagne broth and the movie “Vertigo”), but the underlying theme is the same — make an effort to cook something special that may take a little more time or technique than usual, and enjoy each other’s company.  Fresh off our trip to Paris, this year we decided to make beef bourguignon, using this recipe from French chef Eric Ripert.  While the movie that night (Hitchcock’s “Shadow of a Doubt“) was good, but not great, the rich and meaty stew was layered with flavor and was well worth all the time and effort required to prepare it.  Plus the recipe involves fire, and Dan loves (safely!) making fire in the kitchen.

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Sopa de Fideo

Someone recently asked us what we do for fun, and we mentioned this little food blog of ours.  She then asked what kind of food we blog about, and we weren’t quite sure how to respond.  “Um, all kinds?”  Basically, we blog about the food that we like and cook (or attempt to cook), which includes many different types of cuisine.  We particularly enjoy cooking (and eating) Tex-Mex at home, partly because it is easily adaptable — depending on personal preferences and ingredient availability — yet incorporating just a few key elements still gives you that unmistakable Tex-Mex flavor.  This soup is the perfect example of a Tex-Mex dish for which there are numerous different recipes and variations, but the rich and slightly spicy tomato/chile broth and thin, short noodles are the signature elements that define this soup and make it one of our newest comfort food favorites.  We found the recipe in a cookbook by fellow food blogger, Homesick Texan, and adapted it by adding ground turkey to make it slightly more hearty as a main course.  The original recipe provides an excellent template for the base of the soup, which you can then embellish however you see fit.  We may try adding shredded chicken (rather than ground turkey or beef) the next time we have chicken leftovers.  The possibilities are endless.

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Italian Bread Salad

This recipe is a great way to turn stale, leftover bread into a delicious and different side dish.  Over the past year or so, Dan has been experimenting with making homemade bread (recipe to come, once he has perfected it.)  During one of his more prolific experiments, we had a couple of baguettes that we didn’t get a chance to eat before they started to get stale.  Rather than throw them out, we consulted one of our favorite recipe sites, Epicurious, for a recipe with bread as one of the main ingredients.  We discovered this bread salad recipe, which is similar to a panzanella we have previously enjoyed, but is a little less hearty and therefore more suitable as a side dish rather than a main course.  It was really easy to throw together, incorporating many ingredients that we almost always have on hand:  bread, cucumber, celery, green onions, Kalamata olives, parsley, basil, good olive oil and red wine vinegar.  The original recipe also calls for capers, but we left them out because I don’t really like them (they make me think of mutant peas.)  Feel free to add capers if you like them — they probably add a nice salty flavor.  That’s another thing we like about this fresh and easy side dish — as good as the original recipe is, you can add (or subtract) whatever herbs, veggies and seasonings you prefer.

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Southern-Style Chicken and Dirty Rice

Every once in a while, the easy efficiency of a slow-cooker meal can be a trade-off for complex and sophisticated flavor.  Not so with this recipe.  It requires a little bit of work on the front end (browning meat and sauteing veggies), but the final result is a meal that we would be quite pleased to be served at a restaurant in New Orleans, and it’s one of our favorite slow-cooker dishes to date.  Not surprisingly, the recipe comes from one of our go-to sources for excellent cooking — America’s Test Kitchen — specifically, their book “Slow Cooker Revolution.”  We have tried several recipes from this book (including Smothered Pork Chops) and enjoyed each of them, this chicken and rice most of all so far.

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Cauliflower “Mac-N-Cheese”

Anyone else resolve to eat more vegetables in 2012?  While we don’t usually make formal resolutions, we are trying to work more vegetables into our diet this year.  Cauliflower is an excellent choice as a substitute for potatoes or other starch because it is low in fat and carbs, but high in fiber and vitamin C.  The only tricky part can be making it taste good if, like me, you’re not really a fan of cooked cauliflower.  Roasting the cauliflower with brown butter is a good option.  So is smothering the cauliflower with a cheesy sauce.  Although not the most healthy vegetable side dish around, this recipe by Whitney Miller (winner of the first season of the reality cooking show “MasterChef”) uses cheddar cheese, butter, milk and cream to mask enhance the cauliflower’s natural flavor and make it edible delicious.  We used 2% lowfat sharp cheddar cheese and fat free milk to make it slightly more healthy and will definitely make this one again.  Now, if someone could somehow make exercise more appealing, we’d be all set for the new year.

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Sesame and Honey Pork Tenderloin with Ramen

We appreciate the efficiency of a meal that incorporates the basics — protein, starch and vegetable — all in one pot.  Kind of like a soup or stew, but more substantial.  We adapted this recipe from one found in a Cook’s Illustrated publication:  “30-Minute Suppers.”   (We have the Fall 2011 issue, which does not appear to be available online just yet.)  The pork has lots of flavor from cooking in the honey and sesame sauce and would be good enough on its own.  But adding rich broth, ramen noodles and wilted spinach turns the pork into a full and delicious meal.

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