By / Food / February 23rd, 2010 / 1

Celebrations don’t always have to be grandiose affairs. One of the nicest holiday dinners I ever had consisted of a simple beef stew with salad and a loaf of homemade bread. The food was delicious, but what made the evening special was the great conversation and laughter shared among good friends.
To me “simple” means either a long, slow and savoury braise or a fast and furious sauté. With the former, dinner goes into the oven and you settle back with a glass of wine. With the latter, your guests come right into the kitchen to help with the preparation. Either way, the focus is on fun and good food, not cooking and cleanup.


winter beef stew with noodles

Serves 4

When browning beef stew meat, be sure not to crowd the pan or the meat won’t sear properly. Cook in batches, removing the meat as it browns. This stew starts off on top of the stove but does most of its cooking in the oven, leaving you time to enjoy your company. Be sure to remove the bay leaf before serving, as it is not an easily digested herb.

1 tbsp canola oil
2 lb beef stew meat, trimmed
1 large onion, chopped
1 tsp dried thyme
1/4 cup soy sauce
3 tbsp flour
1 tbsp sweet Hungarian paprika
1/2 tsp salt
3 cups beef stock
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 cup baby carrots
1/2 lb small cremini mushrooms, cleaned and trimmed but left whole
2 cups thick egg noodles

1. Preheat oven to 350˚F.

2. In a large Dutch oven, heat oil over medium high heat. Add beef and cook until browned, about 5 minutes. Remove meat. Add onion and sauté until translucent. Return meat to the pan. Sprinkle soy sauce over meat.

3. Mix together the flour, paprika and salt. Sprinkle over meat. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add beef stock and bay leaf. Bring to boil. Remove from heat.

4. Bake in oven, covered, for 1 hour. Add carrots and mushrooms. Cover and bake 1 1/2 hours longer, adding more stock if needed.

5. Add noodles and cook until noodles are tender, about 10 minutes. Remove bay leaf. Serve stew in shallow bowls with crusty ciabatta for sopping up the gravy.

A voluptuous Australian Cabernet Sauvignon is a nice pairing with the stew.

endive and apple salad with maple mustard dressing

A great first course to serve before the beef stew.

2 tbsp cider vinegar
1 tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp Dijon mustard
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Salt, to taste
2 heads endive, sliced
1 Granny Smith apple, sliced
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 tbsp minced fresh parsley

1. In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, maple syrup, and mustard. Whisk in olive oil and salt.

2. In a large salad bowl, toss dressing with endive, apple and celery. Garnish with parsley.

spinach cheese tortellini with roasted tomatoes
Serves 4

Half the work is done for you by the nice folks who make delicious fresh tortellini available at most supermarkets. When tortellini is on sale, I buy several packages and freeze them. Lately I’ve been using jarred minced garlic to save time. I highly recommend it.

2 lb plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp finely minced garlic
1 tbsp Italian seasoning
1 tsp brown sugar
Sea salt and pepper to taste
1 package spinach cheese tortellini

1. Preheat oven to 400˚F.

2. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray. Place tomato halves, cut side up, on baking sheet.

3. Mix oil with garlic, Italian seasoning, sugar, salt and pepper. Spoon over tomatoes. Roast tomatoes until soft and browned, about 50 to 60 minutes.

4. Prepare tortellini according to package directions. Drain. Place tortellini in large pasta bowl.

5. Place tomatoes in a large mixing bowl. Mash with fork. Spoon over tortellini.

Serve with garlic bread and a mixed green salad garnished with black olives.

Serve with a rustic Chianti Classico.

wild wings and blue cheese dip

Bring out the wings and watch the party begin. These are wildly delicious — I could never make up my mind if I liked spice-rubbed wings or Buffalo wings better, so I just combined the whole kit and caboodle into one tasty mélange. The blue cheese dip makes a great salad dressing when thinned with a little cream or buttermilk. Serve it over wedges of iceberg lettuce with chunks of smoky bacon and grape tomatoes.

2 tsp sweet Hungarian paprika
2 tsp dry mustard
2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp barbecue seasoning (I like LaGrille)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cayenne powder
3 lb chicken wings, patted dry
Frank’s Red Hot Sauce
Celery & carrot sticks

1. Preheat oven to 400˚F.

2. Place spices in a plastic bag. Add wings a few at a time, shaking bag to coat wings.

3. Line a baking sheet with foil and coat with cooking spray. Bake wings for 30 minutes. Flip wings, sprinkle generously with Frank’s Red Hot Sauce and bake 20 minutes more or until cooked through.

Serve with blue cheese dip (see below), celery and carrot sticks.

blue cheese dip

For the weight-conscious (count me out), use low-fat or non-fat mayo and sour cream.

1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese
2 tbsp minced scallions
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp cider vinegar
Salt and pepper, to taste

1. In a medium bowl combine all ingredients. Serve with wings.

Serve with icy cold Canadian beer and plenty of napkins.

green curry chicken with basil
Serves 4

Of all the curries in the world, Thai green curry is my favourite. This dish comes together quickly if your guests lend a hand with the prep work. For something different, substitute sliced pork tenderloin for the chicken. Add fresh pineapple chunks instead of water chestnuts.

1 tbsp canola oil
1 onion, sliced
2 tsp fresh gingerroot, minced
1 lb chicken fillets, sliced into strips
1 can coconut milk
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 tbsp Thai green curry paste (or less according to taste)
1 bunch basil, stems removed and leaves sliced
1 tbsp chopped cilantro
1 1/2 cups snow peas, trimmed
1 can sliced water chestnuts, drained and rinsed
Basmati rice, cooked

1. In large skillet or wok, heat oil. Sauté onion and ginger until onion softens. Add chicken. Sauté 3 minutes or until cooked through. Remove and keep warm.

2. Add coconut milk, broth and curry paste to skillet. Stir until smooth. Add half of the basil and all of the cilantro. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 7 minutes.

3. Return chicken mixture to skillet. Add snow peas and water chestnuts. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes. Serve with Basmati rice, garnished with remaining basil.

Serve with Thai beer or ginger-infused green tea


Quench Food Editor, Nancy Johnson, minced, sliced, chopped, sautéed and sipped her way through George Brown College’s culinary program with a focus on food writing and wine. Nancy cooks by the code her Italian grandmother taught her: For the best results, always use the freshest, best ingredients. She writes for Ohio-based Wine Buzz Magazine and recently published a short story in Woman’s World Magazine. She is always on a diet.

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