Sally’s Baking Addiction, December Challenge: Iced Sugar Cookies

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This month Sally challenged all of us to make sugar cookies decorated with royal icing. I am a fan of royal icing for my sugar cookies and made some last year, so I was ready to try to improve on my earlier attempts.

I began by making Sally’s recipe for the sugar cookies. This is a really straight forward dough and easy to work with, not to mention tasty. I rolled out the sheets and refrigerated them for a day, then used 9 different cutters to punch out the shapes.

The cookies were baked off, cooled and stored for another full day. Here is were I made a crucial decision. I used pre made royal icing from a baking supply store. I should have stuck with Sally’s royal icing recipe as it tastes better! The pre made icing looks great, was easy to work with but has more of a sticky, marshmallow consistency that we don’t really like.

But, I learned a valuable lesson and won’t do it again! Sorry Sally.

Once I got the premix to the right consistency, I began the outlining and flooding of the cookies.

There was some planning that has to go into this as the icing needs to dry before detail work can begin. Also, I decided to do some cookies with the wet-on-wet technique so those had to be handled quickly in order to prevent the icing from drying. I had to have a plan in place before I started!

I gathered all my decorations and mixed several colors of icing.

Then set to work! The snowflakes, snowmen, trees, bells, stockings, candy canes and lights were flooded and allowed to set to for one day so that I could add detail later.

The mittens and ornaments were flooded then other colors were added immediately. I used a straight pin to pull the colors together.

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A little colored sanding sugar and pearls finish them off.

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The verdict: I did ok. I think I did a better job with the wet-on-wet technique but I really suck at writing on the cookies! And, as I said before, I would not use this pre mix again. The consistency was a little too thick. I also will use only #1 or # 2 tips next time. The #5 was too wide and hard to control the flow of icing.

I had so much fun decorating these. I didn’t realize how many hours went into them until my hubby told me, apparently he was keeping track 🙂

I am not sure if Sally will be continuing this challenge series moving into 2018, but I hope she does as I have learned a lot and had so much fun challenging myself in the kitchen.

 

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Black & White & Color Photo Challenge

I did some experimenting in the kitchen the other day. I wanted to make candy turtles but wasn’t sure which type of caramel or chocolate combination would be best. The hubby and I are in agreement with the caramel choice but not on the chocolate options.

You know what, they are all good! But now which beauty shot is best? I leave that to you good people, I know you will pick the best one! 🙂

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Grab your camera or phone and join Linda from Everyone Else has the best titles and Take the “Black and White and Color” photo challenge!

Holiday Cocktail: The Hot Apple Pie

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A couple weeks ago, the hubby and I went to happy hour at a local restaurant. I had a drink called a hot apple pie. It had spiced cider, orange infused vodka and butterscotch schnapps! A very sweet drink but so good on a cold, rainy night 🙂

Then, a few days ago, my daughter told me that her boyfriend really wanted hot apple cider. I saw my opportunity to recreate (or at least attempt to) the hot apple pie.

I decided to use my crock pot, since I was also making a beef bourguigon in my dutch oven, and I wanted extra!

I combined allspice, cloves and nutmeg in a coffee filter (I was out of cheesecloth) and tied it with cooking twine. The sachet was added to 1 gallon of apple cider along with cinnamon sticks, star anise, orange and lemon slices.

 

I set the slow cooker on low for 4 hours and let the flavors steep into the cider.

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By now the house was smelling wonderful! The spiced cider was delicious on its own, and even better with a few embellishments!

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I did not have orange infused vodka, but used my vanilla flavored one instead. I added 1 oz. of each of the vodka and “Buttershots” (which is the butterscotch schnapps).

 

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I was quite happy with the end result! I do recommend this one 🙂

 

Hot Apple Pie Cocktail

  • Servings: 10 cups
  • Difficulty: easy
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Take your spiced apple cider to the next level with this sophisticated and elegant cocktail, perfect for the holidays!

Credit: Invisible-no-more.com

Ingredients

-1 gallon apple cider, filtered or unfiltered

-1/2 cup brown sugar

-2 Teaspoons whole allspice

-3 Teaspoons whole cloves

-2 dashes of grated nutmeg

-4 cinnamon sticks

-4 star anise

-2 oranges, 1 cut into half and the other sliced

-1 lemon, cut into slices

-1 oz. Vanilla infused vodka, or orange infused vodka

-1 oz. Butterscotch schnapps

 

Directions

  1. Add the 1 gallon of cider and brown sugar to a crockpot and stir to mix.
  2. In a coffee filter or cheesecloth, place the allspice, cloves and nutmeg. Carefully fold up the coffee filter, making sure none of the spices can fall out. Tie up with butcher’s twine and place into the cider.
  3. Slice an orange in half and place sliced side down into the cider, along with the additional orange and lemon slices. Add in the cinnamon sticks and star anise.
  4. Cover and heat on low for several hours before guests arrive, or can be heated on high for an hour or two until it’s hot enough and then turn the heat down to low.Keep spice bag and orange halves in the cider the entire time.
  5.  Add the liquors to a glass and fill with the hot spiced mixture.

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Sally’s Baking Addiction November Challenge, Decorative Pie Crust

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This month Sally challenged us to make pretty pies. This is not my forte! This is only the second pie I have ever made, and for it to be pretty? Well, I did give it my best shot.

Sally’s challenge was to bake any pie we chose and she provided many beautiful designs to inspire us to be creative with the lattice topper.

My first pie was also a Sally challenge, from back in July, and we really liked the cherry pie recipe from her website, but cherries are no longer in season. So I chose her cranberry almond apple pie to bake for our family Thanksgiving dinner.

The first order of business was to make the crust and allow it, at least two hours, to firm up in the refrigerator. Sally’s pie crust recipe is easy to follow and does produce tender, flaky layers.

After a couple hours I rolled out the bottom dough and placed it into a 9 inch baking dish.

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The almond portion of the pie is from almond paste. Sally recommends Odense and it is rolled out and fitted into the bottom of the pie.

This went back into the refrigerator while I mixed up the filling.

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Now came the tricky part for me-how to decorate the top of the pie? I decided that I wanted to make a braided edge so I cut strips 1/4 inch thick and made three stranded braids. Not that easy it turns out, when there are small bits of butter running throughout the dough! But I eventually got it done and laid them over the circumference of the dish.

With the extra dough, I cut wider strips, and used cookie cutters to stamp out turkey and heart shapes.

The pie went into the oven until it was golden brown and the filling was bubbling.

 

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This was probably my least successful challenge to date. It was tasty, although I feel it should have baked longer, and we did enjoy it. However, I need more practice with pie dough!

What a great reason to keep practicing 🙂 Can’t wait to see what Sally has in store for us in December!

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Is store bought puff pastry really good enough?

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How many times have you heard a chef on TV say that store bought puff pastry is just as good as making it yourself? Probably many times! I know I have and I have never seen a recipe that says “first make puff pastry”. No one makes puff pastry aside from a few bakeries out there. Most businesses determined, long ago, that it is not cost effective to pay someone to spend the entire day making just laminated dough. They tend to have it shipped frozen and roll out the thawed dough to make their pastries.

Hey, I get it! I made full puff pastry in culinary school and it was a serious chore! But have you heard of “rough puff” dough? If you are a fan of The Great British Baking Show, then there is a good chance that you are aware of this baking shortcut.

I got to thinking, is store bought really just as good? I decided to make two identical tarts, one with store bought puff pastry and one with rough puff and compare the end products.

Puff pastry is all about building layers and keeping everything cold. I am currently in my kitchen in Tucson and the temperature the day I made this was 86°F, so not ideal conditions! But I went for it anyway, and here is what I found out.

Let’s start with the rough puff which is only four ingredients: flour, salt, butter and milk (or water). Since one huge advantage store bought dough has over making your own is time, I needed to record how long the rough puff takes to prepare.

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I gathered my hardware

I set my phone timer and hit start.

 

I combined 1 cup of flour, 1/4 teaspoon of kosher salt, whisked it together. Next was the addition of 5 oz. of COLD. European butter. Why specifically European? It is comes from grass fed cows and gives the pastry a quality our domestic butter just can’t match. But if you don’t have access to that, just make sure your butter is cold!!

 

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Look how yellow that butter is! 

The butter is cut into the flour and salt mixture until small bits of butter are visible.

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Lastly add the 1/4 cup COLD milk or water and combine until a shaggy dough forms.

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This is where the folding come into play. Pat the dough, on a well floured board, into a rectangle, about 8 X 10 and then fold into thirds. This is your first fold.

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Rotate 90 degrees, and repeat by rolling into the 8 X 10 rectangle and fold the dough into thirds and onto itself again. That is fold number two. The goal is to do this a total of 6 folds.

IMG_3921After my third fold is where the temperature in my kitchen caught up to me! The butter was getting soft, so after the third fold I had to put the dough into the refrigerator for 15 minutes to cool down. I finished the next three folds (for a total of 6) as quickly as I could and then the dough needs to be refrigerated for an hour before proceeding.

 

So, how long did it take to get to this point? When I got the pastry into the fridge for the 1 hour rest I hit stop on my clock.

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Since I had to stop and chill the dough and then let it sit for more than the recommended hour to firm up, my time was longer than it should have been. If I had done this in my Seattle kitchen, I think it would have only been about 30 minutes.

 

By comparison, if I was using store bought I would have saved this 50 minutes.

It was now time to make the tarts. First I pulled out the chilled rough puff pastry, rolled it into a 10 X14 rectangle, pricked the pastry with a fork. I returned this to the fridge while I prepared the store bought dough.

 

The store bought puff pastry was thawed, in the fridge overnight so all that was needed was to unfold it, roll it into a 10 x 14 rectangle and dock the dough. Since the store bought was already in a 9 X 9 inch sheet, the rolling out process was also faster.

So far they look fairly equal, except for their color.

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The dough on the left is the store bought and the right is the rough puff

There is a big difference in color thanks to the rich butter. There was also extra dough from the rough puff but nothing left over from the thinner store bought sheet. I used the extra dough to decorate the rough puff so I wouldn’t get them confused in the oven!

With Thanksgiving around the corner I decided to make pear, apple and cranberry tarts. Once the filling was in place they both went into the 400°F oven for 30 minutes.

They both looked great!

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Rough puff tart

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Store bought tart

Visually, there doesn’t appear to be too much of a difference! Choosing the lowest points of each crust to measure the depth of the crust showed that they were practically the same. A slight edge could go to the rough puff.

 

Slicing it open and looking at the layers did show a difference.

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store bought, end on view=dense, no air pockets

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Store bought bottom edge=small air pockets with a few layers

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rough puff, end on view=large air pockets, very flaky

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rough puff, bottom edge=air pockets all along the bottom edge

Now it was time for the taste test! My hubby was the judge, he was given a slice of each but it was a blind test. He did not like the buttery flavor of the rough puff! He said it was too buttery for his taste. It was also the flakiest of the two tarts, but the store bought was tasty too!

 

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The verdict? I felt that the rough puff was worth the extra time and effort. I would like to take one more crack at it with a cooler kitchen! I did like the flakiness and the extra butter flavor did not bother me!! Although if you are tight for time, then the store bought is just as good as making your own.

Rough Puff Pastry

A quick puff pastry recipe that is buttery and flaky and easy to make.

Credit: E2 Bakes Brooklyn

Ingredients

-1 cup flour

-1/4 Teaspoon kosher salt

-5 OZ. good quality European Butter, cold

-1/4 cup milk or water, cold

 

Directions

  1. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour and salt. Use a pastry blender or two forks to cut butter into dry ingredients until the largest pieces are the size of small peas. Pour in cold water or milk and stir with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon until a shaggy dough forms
  2. Flour a smooth surface and a rolling pin. Turn dough out onto surface, and use your hands to pat it into a rough rectangle. Roll the dough into an 8×10″ rectangle. Fold dough in thirds, and give it one quarter turn. Roll into an 8×10″ rectangle again, fold, and turn. Repeat rolling, folding, and turning until it has been done six times total. Wrap folded dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour, or up to 48 hours. 

Apple, Pear and Cranberry tart

  • Servings: 1 10 X 14 tart
  • Difficulty: Easy
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A simple and elegant fruit tart. Perfect for a buffet table and can be served at room temperature.

Credit: invisible-no-more.com

Ingredients

-2/3 cup dried cranberries

-1/4 cup Calvados or Brandy

-1-2 apple, peeled cored and sliced thin

-1-2 pears, peeled cored and sliced thin

-2 Tablespoons granulated sugar

-2 Tablespoons butter

-1-2 Tablespoons maple syrup

-egg wash as needed

 

Directions

  1. Place dried cranberries into a shallow bowl and add the Calvados, or Brandy or Water to rehydrate. Allow a minimum of 15 minutes.
  2. Peel, core and thinly slice the apples and pears. Arrange in a pattern over the pastry dough. Add the cranberries and sprinkle with the sugar.
  3. Dot the tart with the butter and brush the crust with the egg wash. Bake at 400F for about 30 minutes, until puffed and golden.
  4. Brush the warm tart with the maple syrup. Serve warm or at room temperature. 

Leftover Challenge: Chicken and Orzo Soup

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One of the my favorite things to do for dinner is to roast a whole chicken. That, with some roasted veggies and a nice roll or slice of bread, makes for a satisfying meal that is also fitness friendly! This is actually one of the most requested dinners from my hubby and our two kids.

It is just the two of here in Tucson, so I knew that this nice, big roaster would easily pull double duty the next day. I always choose the largest bird I can find, this one is just over 6 lbs. I pat it dry, stuff the cavity with a lemon, onion and whatever herbs I have that will go bad soon. I tie him up, rub olive oil over the skin and add salt and pepper. This gets popped into a 400-425°F preheated oven for about an hour and a half (until the temp reads 155-160°F). After a 10 minute rest we are ready to carve and eat.

After dinner I spend a few minutes picking the carcass clean! I am looking for about a pound of left over meat to use the next day in the soup. And that is where we start now!

This soup is low in fat so we need some serious flavor help. I find that smoked paprika and red pepper flakes are great flavor additions.

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I am not a fan of regular paprika but the smoked version really adds some depth. White wine adds some much needed acid, and you only need a cup. I detest opening a full bottle of wine for 1 cup, and I don’t want to spend a lot on wine that I am only using for cooking. I have found this wonderful 4 pack of pinot sold in most grocery stores. 1 little bottle is just about 1 cup.

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So no waste and it is not expensive. They sell red wine four packs as well and I keep both on hand for these sorts of recipes. Back to the soup!

Heat 1 tablespoon or so in a 4-6 quart pot and add 1 finely chopped onion. After the onion becomes translucent add the minced garlic, paprika and red pepper flakes, cook for 2-3 minutes longer.

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Now add the acidic ingredients, 4 chopped plum tomatoes and the white wine. A quick word about the tomatoes. I like to core and remove the seeds because they add no actual flavor and too much water to the soup.

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Add the chicken broth and bring the soup to a boil. While the pot is cooking away, prepare your chicken. Chop about 1 pound of cooked chicken into bite sized pieces.

And, rinse and drain 1 15 oz. can of navy beans.

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Now is also a good time to cook the orzo. You may be thinking “why don’t I just dump the orzo into the soup and cook it all together?” The answer is yes, absolutely you could do that! But, unless you are feeding a crowd and will eat the entire pot of soup that day, I would advise against that. The pasta will break down in the presence of the acids and become mushy. Not a texture we enjoy here! Also, if you prepare the orzo separately then people can add as much or as little as they like, depending on their carb needs 🙂

I, sadly, did not have another pot to make the pasta so had to improvise. My deep skillet did the trick! While the orzo is cooking, add the chicken and beans to the soup and continue cooking until the chicken is heated through.

Near the end, add the mushrooms and peas and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. The final addition is the spinach, it only needs to wilt and you want to retain the bright green so add this last before plating.

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And that’s it! Time to serve it up. Add the orzo to the bowl, don’t worry if it is not hot the soup will take care of that.

If the kids don’t like soup, they might like the orzo with a little butter or marinara. You can make as much or as little orzo as your family requires.

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You can use store bought rotisserie chicken for an even faster meal prep.

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I have also made this with both pork and uncooked chicken. Just take a pound of either and cut into 1 inch cubes. Brown the cubes on all sides in the 1 tablespoon of olive oil, you don’t need to cook the meat through as it will continue to cook in the soup. Remove the meat from the pot and set aside, then proceed with the recipe (make sure to scrape up all the brown bits on the bottom of the pan when you add the wine and tomatoes, this is great for flavoring the soup!)

My favorite dinner rolls to serve with this are found here.

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Chicken and orzo soup, a great way to transform that chicken from last night!

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Chicken and Orzo Soup

  • Servings: 8-10
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print
Credit: invisible-no-more.com

Ingredients

-1 Tablespoon Olive oil

-1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped

-4 cloves garlic, finely minced

-2 teaspoons smoked paprika

-1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

-4 plum tomatoes, chopped

-1 cup white wine

-4 cups low sodium chicken broth

-1 pound cooked chicken or pork, cut into 1 inch cubes

-1 15oz. can white beans, or navy beans

-4 oz mushrooms, sliced

-6 oz. frozen peas or corn

-2-4 oz. fresh spinach

-1/2 to 1 box Orzo pasta, cooked and drained

 

Directions

  1. Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion to the pot and cook, stirring often, until just beginning to brown, 2 to 3 minutes.
  2. Add garlic, paprika and crushed red pepper (if using) and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  3. Add wine and tomatoes, increase heat to high and stir to scrape up any browned bits.
  4. Add broth and bring to a boil.
  5. Add the cooked chicken and beans and continue cooking until the chicken is heated through. Reduce to a simmer.
  6. Prepare the Orzo as per package instructions, drain and set aside
  7. Add mushrooms and peas (or corn, or both) and stir thoroughly. Add the spinach at the end. Serve over the orzo. 

French-Irish Beef Stew, the short version!

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Back in December (almost 1 year ago!) I posted a recipe that I called French-Irish Beef Stew. I explained that the name reflected the marriage of both a traditional French Bourgeon and a hearty Irish stew, full of potatoes and other veggies. We do love that recipe but it requires an overnight step making it a two day process. Don’t get me wrong, the time is totally worth it! But sometimes we want dinner a little faster than that, so this version was born!

I began by dicing five slices of applewood smoked bacon and browning it in a Tablespoon of olive oil in a 6 quart, Dutch oven.

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The bacon was removed from the pan and set aside for later. The beef cubes were dried well with paper towels to facilitate browning. Salt and pepper were added and the beef was seared in the hot oil on all sides. This was done in batches, and in a single layer, to ensure that the beef did not sweat and was able to caramelize properly. This was added to the pan of bacon for later.

The batches take time, but it is a really important step to develop the flavor fully. While the beef was cooking I began prepping the vegetables.

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Two yellow onions were diced, as well as several cloves of garlic

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The carrots were cut into 1 inch pieces, on the bias

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Three Yukon Gold potatoes were diced

When the last batch of beef came out of the pot, the onions, carrots and potatoes were added and cooked for 10-15 minutes until the onions became translucent.

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After that time, the garlic was added and the mixture cooked for another minute or so. Then the beef and bacon were reintroduced to the pot.

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Now comes the good stuff! 1 bottle (750 ml) of red wine was added along with enough beef broth to cover the contents.

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Finally, tomato paste and thyme were stirred into the mixture. The pot was covered and placed into an oven, set at 250°F for 1 hour and a half, or until the veggies and beef were fork tender.

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The next addition was the sautéed mushrooms, which I like to do separately and then add to the stew near the end. You could put them directly into the stew but by preparing them independently it will add another level of flavor.

I happen to have some fancy mushrooms left over from a different recipe. I made “fancy mushroom toast” earlier in the week. If you haven’t had that, I do recommend it!

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Fancy Mushroom Toast, with 5 different types of mushrooms

You could use any type of mushroom for this stew, I just happen to have purchased more than I needed for the toasts! Sauté the mushrooms in a combination of butter and olive oil, until soft and dark brown in color. Reserve for later.

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When the stew is done cooking add the sautéed mushrooms and we like to add frozen peas (the Irish side again). The stew needs to be thickened at this point and I like to use a beurre manié. (so French!)

 

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Combine 2 T of butter with 2 T flour to make a paste. You will be able to add as much or as little as you like to thicken your sauce to your liking.

 

 

Bring the pot to a boil and then lower to a simmer for 15 minutes to make sure the flour taste has cooked off and that the components are heated through.

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Now you are ready plate it up! I added a little chopped parsley and a big spoon.

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Enjoy this one!

French-Irish Stew, the Short Version

  • Servings: 6-10
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

A hearty stew that marries the best of classic, rich French techniques with the earthy notes of an Irish stew.

Credit: Invisible-no-more.com

Ingredients

-4-6 slices applewood bacon, diced (about 8 oz)

-1 Tablespoon olive oil

-2 1/2 pounds good quality chuck beef, cut into 1 inch cubes

-kosher salt

-fresh ground pepper

-2 yellow onions, cut into 1 inch cubes

-1 lb. carrots, peeled and cut into 1 – 1 ½ inch cubes

-1 lb. small Yukon gold potatoes, halved or quartered

-3 – 5 garlic cloves, minced

-1 750ml bottle of red wine

-2 c. beef broth (or enough to cover the meat and veggies)

-1 T tomato paste

-1 t. fresh thyme leaves (or ½ t dried thyme leaves)

-1 T kosher salt

-2 t. fresh ground pepper

 

-4 T room temperature unsalted butter, divided

-2 T all purpose flour

-8 oz. fresh mushrooms, thickly sliced

-1 10oz. package of frozen peas

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven at 250° F.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven and brown the bacon over medium heat. Remove the bacon and reserve for later.
  3. Completely dry all the beef cubes with paper towels. Add salt and pepper to taste and sear the beef in the bacon fat in small batches. Do not crowd the pan, take your time and sear all the sides. Remove the beef and store it with the bacon for later.
  4. Add the onions, carrots and potatoes to the pot and allow to brown for 15 to 20 minutes, or until your desired doneness. Add the garlic and cook for an additional 2 minutes.
  5. Pour the bottle wine over the stew and add enough of the beef broth to cover the meat and vegetables.
  6. Add the tomato paste, thyme, salt and pepper. Add the reserved beef and bacon, and any accumulated juices from the pan into the pot. Bring to a simmer, cover and put into the oven for 1 ½ to 2 hours, until the vegetables are fork tender.
  7. When the stew is done in the oven place on the stove over medium heat. Combine 2 T of butter with the flour to make a paste. Add the beurre manié in small batches by stirring into the stew, it will begin to thicken immediately. Sauté the mushrooms in the remaining 2T of butter. Add the mushrooms and peas to the stew and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for an additional 15 minutes. Season to taste.