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Recipe: HEARTY BEEF STEW

Winter is a great time to get out your Dutch ovens and make stew!  This one is a favorite, but the broth is thinner than I’m used to.  I’m sure it’d be easy to thicken with a bit of a cornstarch slurry if you desire!

HEARTY BEEF STEW

INGREDIENTS
2 lbs beef stew meat
4 ounces tomato paste
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 medium onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 medium carrots, diced
2 medium potatoes, cut into chunks

1/4 cup frozen peas
5 cups low sodium beef broth
salt and pepper (to season)

DIRECTIONS
1. First, prepare your meat by cutting it into chunks and making sure that it’s dry so it
browns well (just use a paper towel). Season it well with salt and pepper. Heat the
butter and olive oil in a large pot, then add in the meat and cook it until it has browned
on all sides. Remove it from the pot and set it aside (you may need to cook the meat in
two batches so it browns well and the pot isn’t too crowded).
2. Cook the diced onion and minced garlic in the same pot, just until the onion softens,
then add in the tomato paste and stir it in well (I used a whisk for this part), then let
cook for a minute or two. Still stirring, add in 4 cups of the beef broth (reserve the
remaining cup for later, in case you need to thin out the stew), then add in sugar and a
dash or two of Worcestershire sauce. Stir well and return the beef and all its juices back
into the pot, then cover and reduce the heat to low and just let the stew simmer for
about an hour and a half, stirring it occasionally.
3. In the meantime, prepare your vegetables. Peel and dice your carrots and potatoes (you can omit the potatoes and instead serve the stew with mashed potatoes). After the stew has been cooking for about an hour and a half, add in the carrots, potatoes and frozen peas, and let the stew cook for another half our, or until the meat and the vegetables are soft. If the stew is getting too thick, add some more beef broth at this point too, and check the seasoning. Serve hot with some crusty white bread!

 

Huntersville

Restaurant Review: Verde Mexican and Nuevo Latin Fusion

Need a vacation but are stuck here in Lake Norman? You need to check out Verde in Huntersville.  This great restaurant will transport you to Cuba, Argentina, Mexico…without leaving this beautiful area.

The front is deceptively small, once you get inside the restaurant goes back pretty far and seats plenty.  They have a great little bar area with high top tables, and booths and tables in the restaurant area.  There is room enough for a large party of about 10.  Service is great, our waitress was so kind and attentive.

We started with cocktails and drinks.  I had the peach margarita which was on special.  It was sweet yet strong!  Very good!


Next we ordered the guacamole which comes with chips and salsa.  They also refilled our chips when we ran out for no charge 🙂  The guacamole was very fresh, chock full of tomatoes, jalapenos and cilantro.  The salsa had a slight hint of chipotle to it, which isn’t my favorite flavor, but it wasn’t overpowering.  I liked it!

For my entree, I chose the paella with seafood.  It was as flavorful as everyone before has stated, but maybe a little heavy on the peas!  I could taste the smoky paprika, and most of the seafood was very fresh, but I did have one calamari ring that was a bit fishy, so I took the rest off.  The shrimp were delicious.

Ty had the Tacos Verde which were small but tasty.  He ordered a side of rice to accompany.  The tacos had tasty marinated steak and were topped with chipotle rouille, avocado salsa, Monterrey jack and cotija cheeses.  Yum!

We enjoyed our time there and will likely be back!

Mooresville

Restaurant Review: El Veracruz in Mooresville, NC

Photo Credit: Stephanie S on Yelp

The last time I visited this location was when it was the Prickly Pear years ago.  We loved it then, although the stairs can present a challenge to some.  There is handicapped parking in the back and a ramp for those needing access.  This building was once a church and is kind of off the beaten path right past downtown Mooresville, but that just adds to its charm.

The service was great on our visit, our food was brought very quickly and our waitress was very attentive and kind.  The chips were fresh and warm and the salsa was very flavorful and just spicy enough.  Also very fresh.  We ordered a cheese dip as an appetizer and it was thick and creamy, very good!

Our dinners were also delicious.  I got a platter with a taco, chile poblano and a tostada.  All was delicious, but the taco was my favorite.  The meat was spiced well and it surprisingly held together while I was eating it.

My kids got the Pollo con Crema and that was super good.  The meat was seared just perfectly to give you the crispy brown bits but the chicken itself was very tender.  The rice was also flavorful and fluffy.

We truly enjoyed our experience and can’t wait to return.

Columbia SC

Restaurant Review: Big Bulls Bang’n BBQ &Southern Comfort Food in Columbia, SC

While on the way to a girls weekend in Savannah, we stopped in Columbia SC for lunch and gas.  We pulled up yelp and using the tool to tell us what was nearby, we chose this place for lunch.  Now, without this app on my phone I would have never known about this out of the way spot and probably prejudged it because of its humble appearance.  That would have been a huge mistake.  This, folks, is the real deal.  And I’ve been telling everyone I know.

I got the vibe from the owners that they knew their food was good and they weren’t putting up with any crap.  Order, sit down and be patient.  Our food came out in record time, but there are signs alluding to the fact that this food is home cooked and that takes time.  It is worth it, no matter how long it takes them.  This is some of the best home cooking I’ve ever had in a restaurant.  And if anyone knows restaurants…

There were so many delicious choices on the menu I just couldn’t pick.  I took a cue from food celebs and asked one of the diners. And it was the best choice, even though it was WAY too much food.

I got the pork chop plate, which came with TWO pork chops, two sides and bread.  They said I could have one of each style of pork chop, so I chose one smothered in gravy over rice and one fried.  I love gravy and rice, and that pork chop that was simmered in it was fall apart tender and was so delicious with the fluffy white rice. The gravy had whole slices of green pepper and onions, adding another layer of flavor.  The fried pork chop was simpler, but I think it was my favorite.  So often when people fry things, they forget to season when it comes out of the fryer so the food is bland.  You will NOT experience this here.  Their food is a flavor bomb.  For my sides I chose macaroni and cheese and lima beans.  The macaroni and cheese reminded me of my great grandmother’s, and I almost teared up.  My childhood came flooding back over me with just one taste!  The lima beans were seasoned with smoked ham chunks and seriously could have made me full with just a bowl of these and this amazing cornbread they serve.  It was so dense and sweet, almost like cake.


Jennifer chose the beef brisket and it was another amazing choice.  The beef was smoked perfectly and so tender, you could cut it with a plastic fork. The sides that she chose were collard greens and cornbread stuffing.  The collards were some of the best I’ve ever had, again seasoned perfectly and cooked well.  The cornbread stuffing was different than I’d had before, a little sweeter and a smoky flair, but delicious nonetheless.

This place is a real diamond in the rough and deserves a ton of foot traffic.  It is off the beaten path, and there is some construction on that road (at the time of our visit) but persevere!  You may just have one of the best home cooked meals of your life!

Find them online here:

 

 

 

 

Recipe

Recipe: Creole Shrimp and Lobster Bisque

I don’t get the chance to cook too many seafood dishes because I’m practically the only one in my household who actually eats seafood these days.  I decided this weekend to cook something from Paula Deen that I found in one of her magazines, JUST FOR ME!  It was actually pretty easy, all things considered, and very tasty.

Creole Shrimp and Lobster Bisque

Ingredients

  • 2 cups half and half
  • 1 teaspoon Paula Deen’s Creole Blend Seasoning
  • 1/2 lb steamed medium size peeled, deveined, steamed and chopped fresh shrimp
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 1/3 cup all purpose flour
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 2 stalks finely chopped celery
  • 1 small finely chopped white onion
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 2 steamed fresh lobster tails

Directions

Remove lobster meat from shell; coarsely chop and set aside.

In a large saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add onion, celery, and garlic; cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in flour, and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in chicken broth; cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until thickened.

Add lobster meat and shrimp. Stir in half-and-half and Creole seasoning; cook for 10 minutes, or until heated through, stirring occasionally. Serve immediately.

Charlotte · Restaurants

Restaurant Review: Big Ben Pub in Charlotte, NC

I wrapped up restaurant week with a visit to Big Ben’s with a couple of friends.  Man do these restaurants get busy during this week and the servers really hustle! We had a pleasant time and it’s a cool place to come to watch a soccer game.

Parking is intense here, few spots and lots of folks going in and out, swinging around other cars, so be careful.  I did see a Valet, but did not use.  There was no one at the stand so I can assume he was parking or fetching another car.  There were a few cars in line to use him, so everyone was swinging around them to get in and out.

When you walk in, it really has the air of a British pub…or at least what I imagine one looks and feels like.  There are flags hanging from the ceiling, a bar and television sets everywhere.  The atmosphere was cool and lively.

We were seated at our table which had to be bussed first, so we hung around the hostess station while that happened.  I had reservations, but it was no big deal as they were crowded and busy.  After being seated it took a minute for our server to acknowledge us and he was clipped and curt.  Still, not a huge deal, but did dim the experience a bit.  Our drinks were brought out and the sweet tea was really good.  My friends had a mixed drink and a chardonnay.

For starters I ordered the Ploughman’s Platter off of the regular menu.  That was the biggest disappointment of the night.  A few cubes of cheese, crackers, big pile of lettuce in the middle of the plate with a spoonful of cole slaw, a pickle and 2 spoonfuls of relish along with a boule of brown bread.  It felt like stuff I’d grab out of the fridge to feed popcorn visitors!  Don’t waste your money on that, it was truly ridiculous.

We also tried the sausage rolls and those were delicious.  These are kielbasa sausage wrapped in puffed pastry and served with spicy mustard and their house-made relish.

Jennifer was trying to be healthy and ordered a garden salad.  It was fine.  I thought the dressing was good.  She gave me some to eat with my lettuce on the ploughman’s platter.

Our entrees arrived swiftly…too swiftly.  We were still trying to eat our appetizers and had to shift things around awkwardly. The meals were good. We sampled Haddock and Chips, which was a HUGE amount of food!  Very impressive looking. The fish was well cooked, it simply lacked seasoning.

I had the Cornish Pasty which was a puff pastry filled with ground beef, onions, gravy, peas, carrots and potatoes.  It was so darned good!  I truly enjoyed it, very flavorful and seasoned perfectly.  It was served with delicious mashed potatoes and they poured more of that brown gravy on top of them and the pasty.  The only problem was that the gravy and mashed potatoes were cold on top and barely warm on the bottom.  I guess mine had been sitting in the window awhile.  Also accompanying was mixed veggies, which were barely cooked and not seasoned at all.  I LOVE veggies, and first dove into the squash and zucchini only to find it terribly bland.  So disappointing.

We also had the Steak Diane, and it was good.  Nothing special but very good.  It was a well cooked steak with a creamy sauce, accompanied by roasted potatoes and those same flavorless veggies.  I had a bite of the steak and determined it was nicely grilled and cooked to temperature.

The Queen’s Feast came with dessert, so my friends chose the Sherry Trifle and the Bread and Butter Pudding.  The waiter actually brought the apple crisp (you couldn’t tell because the thing was covered with so much stuff).  By the time we realized the mistake, we didn’t see the waiter again to ask him to correct the mistake.  The one bite I had of each was enough for me.  Both were sub par, lacking flavor and finesse.  They were both topped with Cool Whip and it kind of ruined the dessert.

While I was not wowed by the restaurant, I do think it is a good representation of an English pub.  I think if you go there expecting pub food, you will be pleasantly surprised, especially if you are drinking 🙂

Concord · Restaurants

Restaurant Review: Basilico Italian in Concord NC

Photo credit: adrixipali

Restaurant Week is cause for celebration!  Basilico is on the list and one that I’ve had on my list for a good long while to try.  I should tell you we didn’t order off of the Restaurant Week menu while we were there, but their offerings were amazing.  They just didn’t have the salad and dessert I wanted.  Even ordering individually, we came out just as well or better by ordering individually.

When we arrived, the place was packed.  They seated us right next to the singer for the night, and I was apprehensive. I was concerned that it would be too much, I wouldn’t be able to hear my partner and frankly lots of different noises at once is distracting.  And it did get a tiny bit much at times, with customers coming up to sing with the singer, but this place had such a family vibe I didn’t even mind, and actually enjoyed it!  We all sang happy birthday to 3 different people that night, and you could see in their faces they loved it.

Our server was great!  She earned her money too, because this place was full!  She took our drink orders quickly and checked on us frequently.  Other servers jumped in when necessary to help, too.  Love that family atmosphere.

Complimentary Rolls with Marinara for dipping

They bring you complimentary rolls with marinara sauce to begin your meal.  These might have been my favorite part of the meal!  They are just amazing!  Warm, crusty on the outside but so tender inside.  They are dusted with Parmesan cheese which makes them just a little bit salty.  A perfect foil for that tangy marinara sauce.

The Wedge: Crisp wedge of iceberg lettuce topped with tomato, red onion, bleu cheese dressing and crumbled bleu cheese and crispy bacon bits.

We both had the Wedge salad.  I don’t know what it is about the wedge, but I love its simplicity. This was a great example of a Wedge, not too much blue cheese, plenty of bacon, very fresh.  On this occasion my wedge of lettuce did have the core still in it, but I swiftly removed the offending piece and proceeded to enjoy.

Chicken Marsala:
Baby bello mushrooms in a traditional Marsala wine reductions over linguine.

Our entrees were just amazing.  My Chicken Marsala was so tender and juicy!  I asked for a little side of the marinara to eat my noodles with and mixed with that sweet Marsala sauce for a perfect bite!  My friend had the linguine with clams and it was equally delicious!

Signature Zeppoli:
Fried sweet dough tossed with powdered sugar.

Even though we were so stuffed we ordered the famous zeppoli.  This fried dough with powdered sugar sprinkled on top comes with two dipping sauces: chocolate and caramel.  It was so darn good, people were looking and pointing and the table next to us asked us what it was!  I gave her one to try and she ordered one for her table, too.  It was just a comforting delight.

This restaurant is high on atmosphere and fun and the food is really great, solid Italian fare.  I know I’ll be back!

Recipe

Spaghetti Carbonara

Pasta is from God.  It can’t be bad, I refuse to believe it.  Dinner the other night for us was Spaghetti Carbonara.  Delish!  I clipped the recipe from a magazine a few years ago, but found a link to it online: Spaghetti Carbonara

Spaghetti Carbonara

Ingredients

Kosher salt

12 ounces spaghetti

6 slices thick-cut bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

4 large eggs, lightly beaten

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (about 4 ounces), plus more for topping

Freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Directions

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook as the label directs. Reserve 1/4 cup cooking water, then drain the pasta.
  2. Meanwhile, cook the bacon in a large skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until crisp, about 8 minutes. Add the spaghetti and reserved pasta cooking water to the skillet and toss to combine.
  3. Add the eggs, Parmesan, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper; toss to coat. Cook, tossing continuously to avoid scrambling the eggs, until the sauce is creamy, about 1 minute. Stir in the parsley. Serve topped with more Parmesan.
Recipe

Tex Mex Dip

When we lived in Osceola, Arkansas we attended the First Presbyterian Church and each Wednesday night we had a fellowship supper.  Each family brought a dish to share and we enjoyed each others company and broke bread together.  Sue Moody brought this one night and I just loved it.  She graciously shared her recipe with me over 20 years ago and I still make it often!

TEX-MEX DIP

INGREDIENTS

  • tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1teaspoon salt
  • 3 medium avocados
  • 1teaspoon pepper
  • cup sour cream
  • 1cup mayonnaise
  • (1 1/4 ounce) packet taco seasoning mix
  • 21 ounces commercially prepared bean dip (plain or jalapeno)
  • 1 cup green onion, chopped
  • 3 tomatoes, seeded and chopped
  • 7 ounces olives, chopped
  • 8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated
  • tortilla chips

DIRECTIONS

Peel, pit and mash avocadoes in medium bowl.

Add lemon juice, salt and pepper.

In separate bowl, combine sour cream, mayonnaise, and taco seasoning.

To assemble, spread bean dip on a large, shallow platter.

Top with avocado mixture.

Put on sour cream and taco mixture.

Sprinkle wit chopped onions, tomatoes, and olives.

Cover with shredded cheese.

Recipe

CREAMY AUTUMN POTATOES

I have a TON of potato casseroles in my recipe files.  You need them.  Perfect for taking to potlucks, always welcome at cookouts, and the perfect comfort food to take to new parents or sick loved ones.  This one is creamy and delicious and I’d even eat it with eggs and bacon the next morning.

CREAMY AUTUMN POTATOES

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 12 – 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 (3 ounce) package cream cheese, cut in cubes
  • 1 (10 1/2 ounce) can condensed cream of mushroom soup or (10 1/2 ounce) can cream of celery soup
  • 3 -4 cups southern style hash browns
  • 12 cup shredded cheddar cheese

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 400°F Butter a 1 quart casserole dish. In sauce pan, sauté onion and garlic in butter over med heat until tender. Stir in cream cheese cubes and undiluted soup; cook, stirring constantly, until smooth and hot. In casserole, alternate layers of frozen potatoes and cream cheese sauce, ending with sauce layer. Cover and bake 45 minutes or until sauce is bubbly and potatoes are tender. Remove from oven and sprinkle with shredded cheese.