This little bit of serendipity in the kitchen really falls into the “Why didn’t I think of this earlier?” category.
I have a fabulous recipe for spaghetti sauce that a neighbor gave me many years ago, and it has been my “go to” spaghetti sauce recipe ever since. It is thick and rich and the blend of spices is just right for us, not only with spaghetti but also in my homemade lasagna recipe. Fearing that I would mess it up if I ever strayed from the original recipe, I never attempted any variations of it whatsoever, until yesterday.
In thinking about some nice, easy meals for the summer months, I have decided to prepare a pasta dish for us one night each week during the summer. We don’t actually eat pasta all that often, mainly because we are quite spoiled to this great homemade sauce, and I don’t always have the time or the ingredients on hand to make it, even though it is easy to prepare. It just needs two or three hours to simmer on the stove for the best result. Fortunately, I made a big batch of sauce last month and put half of it in the freezer, which made last night’s dinner quick and easy to prepare. The basic sauce freezes well and is easily defrosted in the microwave using the automatic defrost setting.
I was feeling especially brave yesterday, so after I defrosted the sauce, I added about a quarter cup of heavy cream to it while it was still cold. A little cream goes a long way, so it didn’t take much. I had the cream and needed to find a way to use up the little dab that was left over from making homemade ice cream a few days ago. I mixed the sauce and the cream well and just warmed it on the stove until we were ready to eat. I plated the penne pasta first, then topped it with a mix of sautéed mushrooms, sun-ripened tomatoes and a few canned artichoke hearts. Finally, I topped it all off with a generous portion of the sauce, some freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and a side of Texas garlic toast. I even tossed a few pine nuts on top of mine, too.
Oh my, was this ever good! It was definitely a hit! I’m sorry that I didn’t take a picture of the plated dish. We ate it too quickly. Of course, anything with Parmigiano Reggiano cheese is good. It is the best cheese ever. This dish was just over the top with this great, rich sauce on it.
After dinner, I searched online to see if anyone else ever gave this sauce a try, and sure enough, I believe it actually has a name – Rosa Sauce – since it is a slight reddish-pink color after adding the cream. Some people also mix marinara sauce with alfredo sauce for a similar sauce, I believe. I think I could definitely live with that combination, too.
Not every little adventure in the kitchen turns out this good, but I’m happy to say that this one most definitely did!
It’s not St. Patrick’s Day. I’m not Irish. It’s not even remotely cold outside. So, why am I so excited about making Irish Stew for the first time?
I have decided to prepare a little surprise dinner to take to a friend and her husband next week on the night before they leave on a long anticipated vacation to Ireland for the first time. Of course, I needed to make a test batch ahead of time so that I wouldn’t run the risk of taking something less than desired, and it sounded so good that I just couldn’t resist making a batch for us right away.
While looking at some traditional Irish recipes, it didn’t take long to decide on a good Irish stew as the main course for our friends’ special dinner. I spent quite a bit of time looking at recipes and, ultimately, I decided on a recipe that I thought would be good and only slightly modified it to our taste. It is hands down the best stew I have ever eaten, too. Usually when I try a new recipe, I have to prepare it two or three times until I get it just the way I want it, but this one was just perfect the very first time for us.
I opted to use half lamb cubes and half beef cubes in this recipe. While I didn’t actually see a recipe with the meats combined, I found plenty of recipes that used one or the other. Lamb is the more traditional choice, but beef is often used as well. I just couldn’t resist giving it a try with the beef. Initially, I thought that I would just see which one my husband and I liked better and use it in future preparations, but we loved both meats in this dish and thought the dish was perfect this way. I just browned each of the meats separately in the fat, since I needed to brown them in my enameled cast iron pot in two batches anyway.
The butcher also cubed each of the meats for me. I purchased a chuck roast and leg of lamb and had a little more of the fat removed from the lamb cuts. I think most butchers will do this for free, and it’s certainly worth asking your butcher if you don’t know for sure because it is a big time saver.
Here is the recipe! It serves 3-4 people.
5 slices bacon (fattier pieces – inexpensive bacon works great)
In a large pot, (I used a large enameled cast iron pot), cook the bacon slowly over medium heat on the stove until well done to render out as much of the fat as possible. Remove the bacon to paper towels to drain, leaving as much of the fat in the pot as possible. (This is a step that I added. If you prefer, just add some canola oil to the hot pot to brown the meats and omit the bacon completely. I won’t be doing that, based on how well this came out with the bacon.)
1 1/2 pounds of cubed meat (either lamb, beef or both)
1 c. flour
salt and pepper
While the bacon is cooking in the pot, season the meat cubes well with salt and pepper, then dredge in flour until completely coated. After removing the bacon, brown the meat in two groups in a single layer in the pot over medium to medium high heat, turning with tongs as needed to brown evenly. After the meat is evenly browned, remove it to a plate, leaving the bacon drippings in the pan. The meat will not be cooked thoroughly at this point, only browned on the surface.
1 medium sweet onion, cut into slices and separated into rings
2 Tbsp. canola oil
After removing the meat from the pot, add some canola oil, if needed, to saute the onions. Cook them over medium high heat until they are just soft. Chop the bacon into small pieces and add it back into the pot, along with just a dash of salt.
1 1/2 tsp. dried thyme (or more to taste)
1 1/2 tsp. garlic powder (or more to taste)
1 – 11 oz bottle Guinness
1 – 14 oz can beef broth
Add the meat back into the pot, along with the thyme, garlic powder, Guinness and beef broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a low simmer, cover, and cook on the stove for 30-45 minutes, making sure that the meat is thoroughly cooked. There should be just enough liquid to just cover everything in the pot. If not, add more beef broth. Stir often to prevent any scorching on the bottom, about every ten minutes.
6 or 7 medium red potatoes, peeled and cubed (larger cubes work best)
8 oz peeled baby carrots
After the meat is thoroughly cooked, add the potatoes and carrots to the pot and continue cooking until they are just tender. I left the baby carrots whole and cut the potatoes into larger cubes about the same size as the carrots. After about 30 minutes, they were done and not overcooked.
1 – 2 Tbsp. uncooked white rice
Pearl barley is the more traditional option for this dish, but since I didn’t have it on hand, I simply used a bit of uncooked white rice. Just add it into the pot and let the stew cook covered on medium low heat until the rice is soft, about 5 – 10 minutes. The rice will thicken the stew a lot, which makes this dish just as it is supposed to be, thick and rich. Just be careful to not add too much rice or barley, but feel free to add a bit more, if needed, if the broth is still soupy. Add the rice a little at time if in doubt.
When the rice is soft, keep the stew warm in a 250 degree oven until ready to serve.
Fresh parsley (green tips only, no stems)
Just before serving, add the fresh parsley to the stew to brighten it up, stirring it into the stew well. Serve the stew hot with a good Irish soda bread or any other crusty bread you like.
This is such a great, classic dish, even in mid-May in 90 degree weather. I can’t wait to surprise our friends with this special dish next week to help kick off their wonderful vacation!
Not long after we purchased our RV in 2011, I began looking into activities that are part of a fun camping experience these days, including creative camping recipes, interesting hikes, bicycle trails and camp games. When looking at the Texas Parks and Wildlife site one day, I read about a geocache challenge that they sponsor and read up on it for a bit. It sounded like something fun to do, but I mostly put that idea off to the side at the time in favor of those more traditional camping activities.
A few weeks ago, I checked out all things geocaching again and decided to explore it on a broader scale, and I’m so glad I did! My husband and I have most definitely discovered the fun of geocaching now. I purchased the $10 app from Geocaching.com for my phone (very much worth that small amount of money for the convenience it offers), and I also registered as a premium member for a year at a cost of $30, just to give it a try to fully check everything out. I have been amazed at how accurate the GPS is on my Samsung Galaxy S3, too. It basically points right to the spot where the hidden treasure is hidden via Google Maps, although we’ve found that we still have to look a bit to actually find where it is hidden. And to our great surprise, we actually found a “travel bug” in the third cache we found, too.
We recently returned from a nine-day/night camping trip, visiting four different state parks, and we had a great time looking for geocaches during a part of our time in two of those parks. Five other family members accompanied us on this trip in their own RV, and the teenagers immediately took to geocaching with a passion and wanted to look for them even more than we did much of the time. So, my plan to find a new activity that we could all enjoy on our trip together was a huge success. In fact, I do believe they are now hooked on geocaching themselves, even after we all got a bit lost at night in the woods after locating a fun night cache. We eventually made our way to a road and just followed it back to our campsites, but we most definitely learned that we need to be better prepared when making such a trek in the future. We also dropped the “travel bug” that I had found back at home at a big cache in one of the parks. As of the time of this post, it is still sitting in that same cache, too.
At this point, we’ve found 24 geocaches, including some in our own area and those we found while on vacation. I now find myself pulling up the geocaching app on my phone when out running errands to see if there is a geocache in that area, too. For me, it’s not really about the treasure inside the cache but rather just the fun of the hunt and the stealth to keep from being noticed by the “muggles.” I ordered some nice swag from Amazon to leave in a cache if I take something out, and so far, I’ve only traded items in six caches. Some of the caches (especially the micro caches) only have a log in them, and sometimes in other larger caches, I opt to just leave the existing swag for someone else to claim and trade. My husband and I also found our first official Texas State Park cache while on our trip, too. Unfortunately, that find was after the rest of our family members had left to go home. That was a very interesting find, as it was a pretty large cache with a collectible card to take, and there was also a special hole punch to punch a separate card to verify that we had found the cache. I had not printed out those particular cards ahead of time from the website, but before we go geocaching again in the state parks, I will definitely do that, as they can be sent in to earn a special prize, with the lowest prize level starting at ten official cache finds.
Our next step is likely going to be the purchase of a decent handheld GPS unit. Right now, we are looking at aGarmin Etrex20 for less than $200. That little episode of getting lost in the woods at night pretty much made believers out of us to have better equipment along, if we are going to do this in areas where my phone’s GPS will not work. We had no trouble finding the cache at night with the luminescent trail to follow, but we definitely had some issues getting back to camp from there. What a fun experience that was, though. The teenagers are still talking about it, too. We will just be smarter about all this in the future.
To find out more about geocaching, just go to Geocaching.com to get started by registering for a free account. That is how we got started before we upgraded to a premium membership that opens up even more caches to find and offers some specialized search options. You can read their Geocaching 101 page to learn the basics, and we also purchased an inexpensive book to read a little more about it, too. That book is already a little dated, though, so I would recommend buying one that has been published in the last year or two, if possible.
We had a fabulous time on our nice, long camping trip, and our geocaching adventures just added to the fun and great memories!