Saturday, October 4, 2014

Country Beef Stew

Good evening everyone! With the cold winds of fall fully taking hold of the Midwest, we thought this week would be a great one to continue exploring stew recipes. I discovered a recipe for “Irish Penicillin” this week (AKA Lamb stew) that looked like it would be a fun one to try – so we set out to the grocery store to acquire all of the provisions…where we ran into a problem.

Apparently, unless it’s Easter or Christmas, lamb is tough to come by in your local grocery store. The friendly butcher at the Hy-Vee counter told us, “we just throw it out, unfortunately”.  It seems that lamb just doesn’t sell unless it’s a major holiday, so the grocers just don’t stock it. Of course, they can special order it – but we politely declined.

If you’ve learned anything from this blog, I’d hope it’s this: adaptation and flexibility are the biggest tools in your kitchen arsenal. No lamb? No big deal. We’ll adapt. Now we’re making beef stew!

The Recipe: Country Beef Stew

What You’ll Need:

2 Pounds Stew Meat / Beef Tips*
1 Pound Baby Carrots
1 Pound Russet Potatoes (Peeled, diced into 1 – ½ inch cubes)
1 Large Leek (Diced, rinsed)
3 Celery Ribs (Diced)
15-18 Ounces Low Sodium Chicken Broth
½ Teaspoon Dried Thyme
1 Teaspoon Dried Parsley

* Most grocery stores will carry some form of stew meat in their meat department. The key is looking for the proper kind. Most stew meats are made from diced roast or steak tips, but some grocery stores can cut corners and serve ubiquitous “stew meat” from a unnamed source (I.E. leftover cow parts). Ideally you’re looking for a roast cut, that’s been cubed into 1 inch pieces for you – most of the time the price will be similar if not identical – even if there’s a slight premium, the time saved is typically worth the slight markup, in my opinion.

Some stew recipes call for all of the ingredients to be cooked in the pot – simply throw everything in and let it go. Depending on the recipe, this works just fine, but I’ve found that taking a few minutes of additional prep can go a long way in enhancing the flavor of a stew. As such, we’re browning our stew meat before adding it to the slow cooker.

Place a large (12 inch) skillet over medium high heat until it becomes roaring hot. Add the beef to the skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until all edges are browned. We’re not cooking the beef through here, so don’t be concerned if there are still some pink spots on the beef – the high heat of the skillet will make a nice sear, however, and the browning of the beef enhances the flavor in a way that simply boiling the beef could not.

Once the beef is browned, add it to a large (5 to 6 quart) slow cooker (make sure to scrape all browned on bits from the skillet into the slow cooker as well – that’s flavor you don’t want to leave behind!). Add in the baby carrots, potatoes, celery and enough chicken broth to cover the entire mixture. Give it a good stir before covering and setting the slow cooker to “low”.  Allow the stew to simmer for a good 8 hours before serving.
You may be asking, “If this is beef stew, why are we using chicken broth?” Good question! Beef broth carries a very strong and distinct flavor. For some soups and stews, it works well as a flavor enhancer or main component of the dish’s flavor. In this dish, however, the browned stew meat is the star of the show and brings a lot of flavor to the dish. Using beef broth would overwhelm our stew meat’s natural flavors and may make things a bit too…stout. Chicken broth, however, is relatively neutral. It brings flavors that enhance carrots and potatoes (thus why it’s so good in vegetable soup) but it won’t really disrupt the natural flavors of the dish. In this case, that’s a good thing.

After 8 hours, your stew should smell fantastic and the veggies should be delightfully tender and flavorful. Before serving, stir in the thyme and parsley and a salt and pepper as needed (to taste). Serve and enjoy!

The Results:

For a dish that’s designed to feature lamb, this beef “audible” worked quite nicely! The beef’s flavor was fantastic and after a full 8 hours in a slow cooker, it moved into the carrots, potatoes and broth evenly, creating a big warm bowl of beef goodness. This recipe makes for a fantastic weekend meal. Simply throw it together in the morning and reap the rewards that night. As a bonus – you’ll have leftovers for the next few days, and the stew seems to get better and better with each reheat!

That’s all we have for you this week. It was a short week (recipe wise) because we’ve been holding back a few recipes in order to present you with a theme week next week. Maggie has been busy over the past week and half, and she’s created stockpile of recipes featuring fall’s best flavor – PUMPKIN. We’ll have a week chocked full of pumpkin dishes coming your way, so be sure to stop back for that! Until then,

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