February 27, 2015

Snow Day Beef Stew

With 19 of the last 26 days in Boston experiencing snow, and records broken in every category, we've all been cooking a lot in these parts! And when the going get's tough, the tough get going and cook up some comfort food!
The recipe here is one that's battle-tested and football team-approved. My son used to play football in high school and I was responsible for many a team dinner for…60! You know, that easy number to feed where you can just go to your pantry and whip something up? Well, I knew that growing teenage boys were always hungry, but when they rushed to the table saying things like, "Mrs. Noyes, I can't wait to see what you made" and "I loooove your food", it aways made my heart grow bigger, even if I was already smitten with these man-children anyway.
So, when the harbor looks like this...
…and the National Guard from Maine and New York come to clear the roads...
…and this is what you see when you open your door, it's easy to see why I was getting sentimental.
Don't you just love the moulding imprint?
Even my Christmas decorations were crying "uncle".
But one great thing I learned to do this winter, was how to drive a tractor to plow snow!
The cocoon feeling was fun, at first...
...until Mr. Squirrel came down the chimney to escape the cold.
The parties just keep rolling at my house! You should have seen my husband and me chasing the thing around the house using lax sticks and squash rackets! OMG!
So, on a sunny morning, I hatched my plan...
And with the memory of that yummy stew I used to make for the eager boys in my head, I shook the cobwebs out of my brain and went shopping (after I plowed the driveway, of course). 
The secret of this perfect stew is wine!

To originally come up with this recipe, I pored over many a cook book and tried different versions. I played with ingredients and ratios until I came up with what I thought tasted really yummy. But to make it to the sidelines to feed those hungry boys, the recipe had to meet certain criteria: flavorful, super easy to make, filling, and reproducible in large quantities. (I am now the proud owner of many huge crock pots should anyone need to borrow one :)
After amassing the ingredients, including the necessary hyacinths to remind me that one day flowers will bloom again, I set to work. 
(The recipe is at the bottom of this post, just fyi)
 Because we've had so many storms lately, the meat section of my grocery store can be hit-or-miss and either have nothing or a lot, panic being what it is. In this case, they didn't have any thicker beef round steak or good meat, other than these thin cuts. It worked just fine and I cut the steak first into strips,
and then into bite-sized pieces and set the beef aside.
 Then, in a large bowl, I mixed 1/4 cup of all-purpose flour,
 with thyme, rosemary, basil, garlic powder, salt and pepper,
and mixed it all together. 
Then I added the beef to coat well in the flour mixture.
 It should look something like this when you're done.
 In a heavy pot, dutch oven or one my favorite Le Creuset pots (I got at Home Goods!), I poured a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and let it heat up. You'll probably need to add more oil as the meat cooks.
Split the big pile of meat into two piles and cook one half and then the other.
Stir the meat as it cooks so it browns on all sides. This will probably take around ten minutes per batch. Don't forget to add more oil as you need it.
Once cooked, remove the beef from the pot and let it rest on a plate while you get the veggies ready.
 First up, onions - yum! You only need one for this recipe. Just cut it in half down the center and then place the halves on their sides...
…and cut across the grain so you instantly have a good dice with barely any effort. 
Any speedy tips are crucial when you're making stew for 60!
 Next come the carrots. Peel four carrots and then chop them into bite-sized chunks. I like to rotate the carrot as I cut to have fun, irregular shapes. For some reason, it just tastes better to me that way, but then again, I know I'm weird.
Once the carrots are cut, you can move on the the other goodies like 
 Garlic! There's just enough, but not too much so if you're husband metabolizes garlic like mine does, you can still sit next to him and breathe :)
I slice the bottom of the clove off,
 and then using the flat side of my knife, I place it right against the clove and smash down with my hand,
 and voila! The cloves skins fall right off, making it MUCH easier to peel and chop up.
When I have the four cloves chopped, I get ready for the fun.
First, I move the beef from it's resting plate back into the pot. Then I dump all the yummy chopped veggies on top. And all those bits of flavor from cooking the meat are still in the bottom and will only add even more flavor.
First I cover this combo of yumminess with beef stock,
and then at LEAST 2 cups of red wine, whatever kind is handy. I actually don't like red wine at all, except when cooking. Then watch out. 
If I had smellivision at this point, you'd all be happy campers!
Bring this mixture to a boil and then reduce the heat to a low simmer and let it simmer, covered, for about an hour. After waiting, take the lid off because we're going to add even more!
 Next up, yellow little golden potatoes or new potatoes, about 2 pounds or so. And if you can't find little potatoes, you can always chop up bigger ones. I just like the flavor of the smaller ones. 
Chop them into yet even more bite-sized pieces.
 Chop a green bell pepper, first by slicing the top off...
 ...like this.
 Then insert the tip of a paring (or other small sharp knife) into the pepper, slicing around in a circle to cut the core from the edges.
 Then cut the pepper into strips and then cut the strips into a smaller dice.
 Ahhh, now we get to add the mushrooms! You didn't think I'd have a recipe without mushrooms, did you? I always like to snap off the stems after I clean them.
I simply chopped the little things into, you guessed it, bite-sized pieces!
Once you have all the goodies combined, then cover and cook the whole pot of to-die-for-stew until the meat, potatoes and veggies are tender. 
This will probably take about a half an hour longer, but it's totally worth it!
 While I was waiting for the stew to cook, I thought about my fine feathered friends and put some bird seed out...
…I'm sure to be eaten by Mr. Squirrel since he's no longer a welcome guest in our house.
But this robin seemed to find the birdseed all right, because she pretty much lives by my door now.
 I also killed time with some winter staples - bright flowers, candy, a pretty Meg Carter necklace, a notepad and a new Jackie O book.
Then, finally when the drool was pooling around my feet, I was able to dig in! 
Wine, flowers and crusty bread are the perfect accompaniments.

Snow Day Beef Stew

(serves 4 hungry or 6 less hungry people, cooking time approx. 1 1/2 hours)

1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 1/2 teaspoons (or so) salt
1 teaspoon (or more) pepper
2 pounds of beef round steak cut into bit-sized pieces
3 tablespoons of olive oil or more as needed
1 large yellow onion, diced
4 carrots, chopped into bite-sized pieces
4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 cups of beef broth
2 cups (at least) of red wine (I use cabernet or merlot, just not the fancy ones)
2 pounds of little golden potatoes or red new potatoes, quartered
8 ounces of mushrooms cut into bite-sized pieces
1/2 green bell pepper, diced

In a large bowl, mix the flour with the spices. Add the beef and mix all together making sure the beef is fully coated.

In a large pot or dutch oven, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and put half of the total amount of beef into the pot. Cook until brown, about 10 minutes. Then repeat with the other half of meat, adding oil as needed. Remove the meat from the pot and let it rest while you chop the veggies.

Then put the meat and veggies back into the pot. Add the beef broth and red wine and simmer, covered for one hour. Then, remove the lid and add the potatoes, pepper and mushrooms and cook covered for about 30 minutes more or until the meat, potatoes and veggies are all tender and yummy!

Serve with crusty bread :)

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