This originally started as an easier and dare I say it healthier way of making beef stew.  Firstly, because I dislike what’s sold as “stewing” beef which is often tough and tasteless and secondly – and if I’m honest perhaps more importantly, because it’s a lot less work.  

Chuck or blade roast is gently simmered with root vegetables, red wine and herbs and the meat is cut up once it’s cooked – no individually browning little cubes of meat.

Alongside, I make a lighter version of scalloped potatoes using chicken broth in place of milk or cream. It’s an easy meal for a weeknight but also elegant enough to serve for company. 

Stove-Top Pot Roast

Stove-Top Pot Roast

Stove-Top Pot Roast

You will need:

• Olive oil

• Chuck or Blade roast, 5lbs

• Sweet Vidalia onion, 1 large, peeled & chopped

• Garlic, 3 large cloves, peeled & sliced

• Carrots, 3 large, peeled & cut into pieces

• Parsnips, 3 large, peeled & cut into pieces

• Fresh rosemary

• Fresh thyme

• Dry red wine, 1 cup (or an extra cup of broth)

• Beef broth, 2 cups

• Butter

• All-purpose flour

I used (and recommend using) an oval Le Creuset pot that is slightly larger than the roast.  Of course you can use a large saucepan but you may need to slightly increase the cooking time.

Heat a tablespoon or two of oil in the pot and brown the meat well on all sides then set aside (this is sooo much easier than browning stewing meat).

Add the chopped onions and garlic and sauté gently until they start to soften (don’t allow to burn), about 10 minutes. Add the carrots and parsnips, toss to combine and cook for another 5 minutes. Add a sprig or two of rosemary (if they are large, just use one) and 3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme; if you have kitchen string, you can tie the herbs into bundles making it easier to fish them out later.

Turn up the heat, add in the red wine and cook for about 2 minutes to thicken slightly. Add in the beef broth. Return the meat to the pot, bring back to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer gently, covered, for about 90 minutes or until the meat is tender and the vegetables are cooked but still holding their shape.

Remove what’s left of the stalks of rosemary and thyme and throw them away. Remove the meat to a chopping board and slice thickly then arrange on a serving platter. Remove the vegetables with a slotted spoon and arrange them on the same platter. Turn up the heat under the broth left in the pot. Make a paste combining an ounce of butter with a large tablespoon of flour then add it to the pot. Stir and continue to cook for a few minutes until the broth has thickened slightly.  Pour some of the gravy over the meat & vegetables and reserve the remainder.

Set aside leftover meat and gravy (not the vegetables) until cool then cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days.

A Lighter Version of Scalloped Potatoes

A Lighter Version of Scalloped Potatoes

A Lighter Version of Scalloped Potatoes

You will need:

• Yukon Gold potatoes, 6 large

• Chicken Broth (I used Campbell’s)

• Butter

• Fresh thyme

Wash but don’t peel the potatoes then slice them thinly; you can use a mandolin but it’s also easy enough to just use a sharp knife.

Place the potatoes in an ovenproof dish in overlapping slices (you’ll end up with about three layers in a 9×13 dish), season with salt and pepper, sprinkle over the leaves from 1-2 sprigs of thyme, pour over about a cup of chicken broth, enough to come halfway up the sides of the dish, dot with butter then cover with foil and bake in the oven for 30 minutes. Carefully remove the foil and continue to bake for another 5-10 minutes or so or until the top is golden. Serve immediately.

Individual Beef & Mushroom Pot Pies

Individual Beef & Mushroom Pot Pies

Individual Beef & Mushroom Pot Pies (2)

You will need:

• Leftover meat and gravy, 2 cups or more

• Olive oil

• Crimini or baby portabella mushrooms, 8oz

• Fresh thyme

• Butter

• All purpose flour

• Frozen puff pastry, thawed overnight in the refrigerator

• Egg, 1, lightly beaten

Pre-heat oven to 400F

Wipe (don’t wash) then thinly slice the mushrooms. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over high heat then add the mushroom slices; season with freshly ground black pepper and the leaves from 2-3 sprigs of fresh thyme. Cook for about 10 minutes or until all the moisture has been absorbed and the mushrooms are starting to caramelize. Add a knob of butter, swirl it around in the skillet to coat the mushrooms then remove from the heat.

While the mushrooms are cooking, tear or cut the meat into small pieces, removing any fat or gristle. Re-heat the leftover meat and sauce in a pan. Add the sautéed mushroom mixture and stir together; this now becomes the filling for your pies. Leave the filling over low heat while you make the pastry toppings.

Lay each sheet of pastry on a surface that’s lightly dusted with flour (I used my granite counter-top). Place the ovenproof bowl on the pastry upside down and cut around it, leaving about a half inch of extra pastry. Repeat. (I used both slices of pastry).

Ladle the beef and mushroom filling into each bowl then top with the puff pastry, pressing the pastry around the rims to seal, then brush with beaten egg. Score a vent in the top of each pie then set the bowls on a baking sheet. Place in the oven and cook for about 30 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown and the juices are bubbling. Let sit for a few minutes before serving.

Coq au Vin Reisling chicken

Coq au Vin Reisling chicken

Coq au Vin Reisling, serves 4 with leftovers

A new twist on an old favourite – Reisling replaces the more traditional Burgundy; it’s also quicker and easier to make than traditional coq-au-vin.  The original inspiration for this recipe came from one of my favourite cookbook authors Nigel Slater.  His philosophy towards cooking “use simple ingredients…” is one I embrace.  In my version, leeks and crimini mushrooms replace pearl onions and button mushrooms.  You will need: 

• Pancetta, 4 thin slices, chopped

• Extra virgin olive oil

• Chicken, organic if possible, 6 bone-in, skin on breasts

 Vidalia Sweet onion, one large, peeled and chopped

 Leeks, 2-3 (one bunch), trimmed, whites only, thinly sliced

• Crimini mushrooms, 1 pound, sliced

• Riesling, (or other medium-dry white wine), 1 bottle

I use a Le Creuset pot for this recipe but if you don’t have one, use any ovenproof pot.

Place the pot over medium-high heat and add the pancetta; cook until the fat is mostly rendered and the bacon is starting to crisp.  Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Add some extra virgin olive oil if necessary then brown the chicken well on both sides, in separate batches if the pot is crowded.  Remove from the pan and set aside.

To the remaining oil, add the onions and leeks, season liberally with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and cook until translucent being carefully not to brown, about ten minutes.  Add in the mushrooms and cook for another minute or two.

Raise the heat and add in the riesling, stirring to get up any bits from the bottom of the pan and allow the vegetables to boil for about 2 minutes or until the wine is slightly reduced.  Return the bacon and chicken to the pot, cover, reduce the heat and cook at a gentle simmer for about 30-45 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.

Though not shown in the photo, I like to serve this with crunchy roasted potatoes and steamed green beans along with a glass of the chilled riesling that I use to cook with.  To continue on the French theme and to turn this into an elegant dinner, start with a smooth chicken liver pate and cornichons and end with a chocolatey pudding.

When the extra chicken breasts and sauce have cooled down, put them in a smaller container, cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days.

Penne Pasta with Chicken in a White-wine Cream Sauce

Penne Pasta with Chicken in a White-wine Cream Sauce

Penne with Chicken in a White-wine Cream Sauce

You will need:

• Penne pasta, ½ box (I like deCecco brand)

• Leftover chicken and sauce, separated

• Whipping cream, 1 cup

Cook the pasta in salted boiling water according to the directions on the package; drain then return to the pot it was cooked in.

Meantime, in a separate pot, heat the leftover sauce then add in the cream and simmer until heated through and reduced slightly without bringing it to a boil.  Taste and check for seasoning, adding sea-salt and freshly ground black pepper if necessary.

Remove the skin from the chicken breasts and roughly tear the meat into chunks; add to the cream sauce in the pot.

When heated through, add the chicken and sauce to the pot with the cooked pasta and combine.  Let sit for a minute or two, covered, so that the flavours absorb into the penne.  Ladle into bowls and garnish with chopped fresh Italian parsley.  If you’re lucky enough to have another bottle of riesling then a glass or two served alongside would be a great accompaniment for the meal.