Mitigated Spanish Success

I knocked out two more recipes from my Spanish cookbook last week, both of which were mitigated successes. I say ‘mitigated’ because while we enjoyed both dishes, both had significant problems.

First, Lentils and Mushrooms.

Lentejas con champiñones/ Lentils with button mushrooms
Photo by Javier García

There are few things more hunger-inducing than the smell of sauteeing onions, garlic, and mushrooms – which is exactly how this recipe starts. Add in the lentils and a few other things, then cover and simmer until the lentils are soft and the liquid is almost gone – EXCEPT that that never happened. Instead of stirring Pernod and a handful of fresh parsley into the pot, we added a small amount of each to bowls of slightly drained stew, the remainder of which was left on the stove in hopes that it would reduce. It didn’t. We enjoyed the dish, but I question the necessity of covering the pot, especially since the lentils were pre-soaked and well on their way to being soft.

Second, Marmitako, a Basque stew that features tuna, tomatoes, and potatoes. I love these process photos, all shared by Flickr user BocaDorada and licensed under Creative Commons1:

Así se empieza con el marmitako

Los ingredientes del marmitako

Parte del proceso de la preparación del marmitako


We’ve been getting the occasional tuna steak from Trader Joe’s – they come frozen in packages of two, which is just the right amount for a hearty dinner. While the tuna is typically cooked in the stew, the recipe I used recommended searing it in a separate pan, then adding it to the pot, where it is then topped with potatoes and simmered for half an hour or so. In theory, this means that everything is nicely reduced and the tuna is moist and tender. However, as with the previous recipe, there was just too much damned liquid, even with the lid removed for the last ten minutes. I did scale the recipe back and used fewer potatoes than required, but I doubt that the small amount of omitted potatoes would have soaked up the extra two cups of liquid that I spooned out before serving. A fine dinner, and good leftovers, but not something we’ll make again.

Alternative Recipes:
This take on Spanish Mushrooms and Lentils from Herbivoracious looks excellent, though it lacks the anise that was so appealing for me in the recipe we tried. This version of Marmitako from Global Gourmet appears to avoid the too much liquid problem by not covering the pot and also baking it in the oven, rather than simmering on the stovetop.

1 It is worth noting that any photos shared on this site that are not ours were either shared with the explicit permission of the photographer or are licensed under Creative Commons.


25 Recipes #2: Goulash

I’ve been cooking up a storm since we got home from Cleveland last Wednesday – I just haven’t been blogging about it. I made hummus and fresh pita bread for our friends’ New Year’s party – the latter was perfect, unlike earlier pita efforts. We were both somewhat worse for wear on Saturday, and the Barefoot Contessa’s fresh pea soup was just the thing for our troubled stomachs. On Sunday, I made the first recipe from my new Essential New York Times Cookbook: mushroom caps stuffed with sausage and duxelles – simple but incredibly flavorful, and destined to be on our table many times in the future. I also took on the second recipe from my 25 Recipes list: goulash.


I’m not sure how goulash got on our list exactly. I approached it with a bit of trepidation, as Shane grew up in a city whose cuisine is as influenced by Eastern Europeans as my hometown’s is by the Swedes.

I was concerned because there seems to be a great deal of disagreement about what constitutes authentic Hungarian Gulyás. Many recipes call for tomatoes, while others swear that goulash never contains tomatoes. Some recipes call for potatoes to thicken the stew. Others suggest serving the stew over dumplings or egg noodles. The goulash I remember from my childhood always involved ground beef and elbow macaroni, and is apparently known as American Chop Suey in some parts of the country..

Browning the beef

Fortunately for me, Shane doesn’t have any particular memory of a specific goulash, so I was safe to proceed. The one thing all goulash recipes seem to agree on is the paprika, which gives goulash its characteristic color and savory smoky flavor. The paprika differentiates goulash from more pedestrian (but no less delicious) beef stew. In this goulash, the paprika is cooked in bacon fat already used to brown your beef and saute onions and garlic.

Sauteeing onions and garlic

Add everything to the pot – the browned beef and bacon, plus stock, diced red peppers, tomato paste (oh, the heresy!), seasonings, and water (or beer) enough to get the right consistency. Let it all simmer for an hour or so – enough time for me to shred and then prepare some pasta – and you’ve got a warm and hearty dinner. I was going to add ‘flavorful’ to that list of adjectives, but I was honestly underwhelmed by this recipe. It was good but not remarkable, which is probably the case with most comfort foods.

Kitchen Assistant

Either way, Mina was happy to supervise, Shane was happy to eat it up, and I’ll be happy to make it again. Maybe we’ll try a more authentic recipe next time.

Goulash from Smitten Kitchen – 1/4 recipe with egg noodles and some bread was enough for three portions

1026 Old Reliable Pound Stew

After the mixed bag that was our last batch of crock pot stew, I was craving an old standard.  I wanted Grandma’s stew, not some fancy concoction from Bon Appetit.  The sort of thing that you could trust would appear at a tailgate back when I was small and they still had season tickets near the 50 yard line at Kinnick.

Grandma's Tailgate Stew

I didn’t quite make Grandma’s stew today – thus avoiding the 1 1/2 shakes mystery.  What went into the crock pot was closer to “pound stew”, a recipe almost as easy to remember as pound cake: a pound of meat, a pound each of several vegetables, and a bit of gravy to pull it all together.  Shane’s only complaint was that it could use more seasoning, which I’m sure we’ll work out in the long winter ahead of us.

Pound Stew
Adapted from Kay Fesenmeyer’s recipe and from the Complete Slow Cooker Cookbook
1 lb beef stew meat, cut into 1″ cubes
1 lb carrots, peeled, and chopped into 1″ pieces
1 lb potatoes, chopped into 1″ cubes
1 lb tomatoes, diced
1 lb boiling onions, or quartered yellow onions
1 lb mushrooms (didn’t use this time but really want to next time)
1 tbsp oil or bacon fat (we used the latter)
1/4 cup flour
1-2 cups chicken or beef stock
2 tbsp corn starch
salt and freshly ground pepper

Dredge the beef cubes in flour, shaking off the excess. In a medium non-stick pan, warm the fat over medium-high heat, then add the beef and brown on all sides, ~5 minutes. Don’t worry about getting it cooked through, as it’s going to be in the crock pot all day.

Add everything but the corn starch to the crock pot, give it a good stir, and turn the heat to low. Go about your business for 8-10 hours. When you get home, whisk the corn starch in a bowl with a small amount of water, then stir into the liquid in the crock pot. At this point you have two options: turn the crock pot up to high, or carefully pour the liquid into a saucepan to reduce. I’d recommend the latter, as it is faster and also easier to whisk, thereby reducing the likelihood of getting a big blob of cornstarch in your bowl. Don’t worry if a few chunks of food end up in the saucepan – a few extra minutes on the heat isn’t going to hurt them. When the liquid has reduced to a gravy-like consistency, add it back to the pot, and serve with crusty bread to the hungry masses. As presented, this should make about 8 generous portions.

1007 Stewed

It’s on, baby!

Dinner tonight was entirely made up, just me chopping things and sticking them in the enameled pot.  I knew we had a bunch of veg, and I knew I wanted to make something that would cook itself while I exercised, and this is what I came up with: a sweet and savory stew that we spooned over a loaf of bread warmed in the oven during the last 10 minutes of cook time.  The rough recipe follows below, but you could absolutely make this with whatever root veg you had on hand, or you could substitute fresh tomatoes for the tomato paste, or red wine for the white wine, or butter for the oil, or beans for the sausage.  You get the idea.


Early Fall Stew

1 medium yellow onion
2 smallish bell peppers (from the garden!)
1/2 medium eggplant (just the neck part), peeled
2 cups mushrooms
3-4 stalks celery
3-4 medium-sized carrots
4 sausages (we used garlic chicken sausages from Trader Joe’s)
2-4 tbsp tomato paste
1/4 cup dry white wine or vermouth
whatever herbs you have on hand
salt & freshly ground pepper
olive oil

Preheat your oven at 350F. Chop all of your veggies and slice the sausages into bite-sized pieces. In an oven-safe pot (with a lid, though you don’t need it right now) – I used our new enameled cast iron – heat a splash of olive oil over medium heat, then add the onion and let it sweat a bit. Add the rest of the veggies, a couple of tablespoons tomato paste, fresh herbs – I used oregano and rosemary because that’s what we have in our front garden, and a fair amount of salt and freshly ground pepper, tossing everything around so that the tomato paste coats a bit. Add the wine and simmer for a minute or so, then put the lid on and stick the pot in the oven for an hour or so.

Serve with crusty bread and a crisp beer or cider.

0315 Mediterranean Chicken Stew

I actually made this stew for dinner last night, but I think I’d rather talk about its incarnation as tonight’s leftovers.

Leftovers are an important part of our weekly meal planning.  We both brown-bag most days, and leftovers make up most of those lunches.  It’s never really made a lot of sense to me to buy separate food for lunches, apart from extras like string cheese, granola bars, small pieces of fruit, and the occasional treat, especially when we’re putting so much effort into main dishes in the evening.  So instead of sandwiches, Hot Pockets, or Lean Cuisines, all of which have previously made up substantial parts of our lunches, we take jars of soup or thick slices of meatloaf with fresh bread, with small containers of grapes, crackers, or other snacks to eat throughout the day.  As a result of this, meals often make multiple appearances in our house.  Soup made over the weekend may show up in 3-4 additional lunches, as will be the case this week.

This stew, made for last night’s dinner with our friend Marla, was supposed to produce 4 portions, but instead resulted in at least 6.  We enjoyed the stew with warm polenta last night, the bitter escarole nicely balancing the sweetness of the polenta and the savory chicken.  Like Saturday’s soup, it was hearty and warm, but not so hearty that we fell stuffed after.  But when I had a portion for dinner tonight, I felt decidedly ambivalent.  The chicken was boring and a little chewy.  The greens were limp and unpleasantly bitter.  The broth was watery.  I had no desire to finish my bowl, much less the 2-3 portions still in the fridge.

So what to do?  I hate throwing away food, but I also hate wasting calories on things I really don’t enjoy.  What do you do to rescue meals (or leftovers) you no longer want to eat?

Mediterranean Chicken Stew from Whole Living

0224 Crock Pot Azorean Spiced Beef Stew

I got smart this time and did the prep for this stew when we got home from the movies Tuesday night – as if the workday’s worth of anticipation wasn’t enough to drive us mad with hunger.  This stew was amazingly flavorful – savory, with a subtle sweetness from the cinnamon sticks that spent all day in a delicious bath of beef stock.  I like eating from this part of the world – the heartiness and subtlety of Iberian food appeal to me in ways that the richness of French cooking or the wide range of Italian cuisine don’t.  Maybe it’s the Camino.  Maybe it’s chorizo.  Maybe I’m just a pork-and-potatoes kind of girl.  Either way, we’ll be making this stew again.

Crock Pot Azorean Spiced Beef Stew from A Year of Slow Cooking

0203 Barley Stew with Leeks, Mushrooms, and Greens

While we haven’t had anything quite like the snowpocalypses that our friends back in DC have experienced this winter, that doesn’t mean the cold isn’t wearing on us. I’ve basically decided it isn’t worth doing my hair until hat season is over, and can frequently be found under several layers of blankets and several layers of clothes complaining about how cold I am. Shane seems to be handling it a bit better – when the temps popped above freezing today, he commented that it would’ve been a good night to work on the moped.

This recipe, then, was just the thing for a cold night.  After about an hour of prep, simmering, and amazing smells, I ladled out big bowls of soft grains and cold weather veg – leeks, mushrooms, and kale, plus tomatoes canned last summer.  We both added salt at the table, which I think is probably the most appropriate point in this recipe – any earlier, and you’d risk over-salting in order to make the flavor pop.  The stew was warm and hearty, full of pleasing textures and varying veg flavors.   We made a full batch – about 6 generous servings at about 240 calories each – so a winner for calories, nutrition and enjoyment.

Barley Stew with Leeks, Mushrooms, and Greens from Bon Appetit

0103 Chicken Goulash

This recipe came from an old issue of Food and Wine, long relegated to the recycling bin. I have yet to determine a good way to keep track of recipes that I’d like to try – in addition to the cabinet full of cookbooks, pages flagged with post-it notes, I have a file folder full of recipes torn out of magazines and cut out of newspapers – and let’s not talk about the number of bookmarks I drool over but never get around to making.  I’m glad this one finally made the cut.

The chicken thighs came from Sparrow Market, where the butcher separated thigh from leg and wrapped it all in paper for me.  Shane boned the chicken, while I diced the vegetables, repeatedly removing Mina from the counter.  Everything came together quickly – the chicken browned beautifully in my workhorse of a skillet, and by the time everything went into the oven, we were both starving.  We skipped the dumplings in favor of a warm loaf of the first all-local bread baked by Zingerman’s (so new that it’s not listed on their website).  A warm, filling, and delicious meal, which paired nicely with a complex, buttery, and fruity Chardonnay.

Chicken Goulash with Biscuit Dumplings from Food & Wine