The countdown to Christmas seems to have begun in earnest. Am I ready? Heck no (the photo of Conor up top sums up my current mental state). But as my mother-of-four friend and neighbor reminded me at the bus stop this morning, “Caroline, it’s crunch time.”
Besides planning the meals for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (more on these menus later), what could easily stress me out more are preparing the meals leading up to the holiday. Making dinner every night can seem almost impossible in the midst of school parties, adult parties, last minute shopping (although thank goodness for the interweb, where else can you locate vintage football jerseys, sold-out Lego advent calendars, and heirloom buffalo jerky?), cookie-baking, wrapping, and shoveling.
But when the weeknight-supper-routine becomes more challenging than usual, this is when (get ready for a little plug) I’ve been turning to KEEPERS pretty much on a daily basis. It may seem odd that I’m using my own cookbook to make dinner, but I can’t tell you how freeing it is to have all of your own favorite recipes located not just in your frazzled noodle, but actually neatly displayed in print, between two covers. Also, since half of the recipes originated in my co-author’s kitchen, I now have access to her wonderful weeknight dishes whenever I like. Case in point, her recipe for Japanese-Style “Meat and Potatoes”, which was inspired by her own mother’s Japanese home-cooking.
This is easily one of my favorite recipes from our book, a perfect representation of what makes a KEEPER recipe a “keeper”: It’s simple, classic, nourishing, extremely-tasty, budget-friendly, with definite crowd-appeal. When we prepared it during the KEEPERS photo shoot, we left it on the lunch table for the crew and it was devoured within seconds. It seems so basic on the page, but when you put all of the ingredients and techniques together, you have an extraordinary everyday dish. It’s also perfect comfort food during pre-holiday madness time because it fits into a category we call “staggered dinner”, which is a dish that you can make ahead of time and then leave happily on the back burner over low heat to serve family members coming home at different times.
For the rest of the week I’ll be sharing one KEEPERS recipe a day that I’ve chosen specifically for this holiday-dinnertime season (meaning it will be seasonal, easy, and restorative). Consider it my gift to you! First up:
JAPANESE-STYLE “MEAT AND POTATOES”
This recipe is based on a popular Japanese stewed dish called nikujaga (niku means “meat”; jaga means “potato”), which Kathy’s mom often made when she was growing up. It’s home cooking at its best, the kind of food you want to eat when you’re tired or in a funk or under the weather.
Unlike in America, stewed dishes in Japan tend to be very light and contain only a small amount of liquid, which is more of a flavorful broth than a “sauce.” Like most stews, though, it reheats wells and tastes even better when the flavors have had time to meld, so don’t hesitate to make it in advance or to double the recipe to ensure leftovers. This is also a good dish for nights when people will be eating dinner at different times; just leave it on the back of the stove and spoon it out when needed. Serve with steamed rice, if you like.
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3/4 pound ground beef
1 yellow onion, halved lengthwise and thickly sliced
1 large carrot, halved lengthwise and cut on the diagonal into 1-inch chunks
11/2 tablespoons minced peeled fresh ginger
1/4 cup dry white wine
11/2 pounds potatoes (russets hold up well here), cut into 1-inch chunks
2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal (optional)
–In a medium saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Add the beef and cook, stirring often and breaking up the meat, just until it’s no longer pink, about 2 minutes. Add the onions, carrots, and ginger and cook, stirring often, for about 2 minutes.
– Add the wine and briskly simmer, scraping up any caramelized bits from the bottom of the pan, until almost evaporated. Add the potatoes, brown sugar, broth, water, and soy sauce and stir to combine. (The liquid won’t quite cover the solids.) Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered and stirring occasionally, until the potatoes and carrots are tender, about 30 minutes. Check the seasonings, adding salt if needed. Serve hot or warm, sprinkled with scallions, if you like.
TIP: Ground beef that is 85 percent lean is preferable here. You can also use thinly sliced beef instead. Well-marbled cuts, such as rib eye, work best. Ground or thinly sliced pork is also an option.