Meme's Beef Stew.

24 September 2013

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My Meme is a good cook.  I remember watching her throw a handful of things in wondering how she knew it would taste good, she rarely measures anything.  She has this intuition and even more than that, a knack for using what she has on hand, making substitutions and experimenting.  That is probably both the result of growing up during the depression and having six children of her own to feed.  She still cooks for all of her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, though now, at 89 years old, she’s more than willing to pass along the tasks to others. 

Lasagna is her signature dish, she always makes one with meat, the other vegetarian, but that isn’t the dish I love the most.  My favorite is her beef stew.  On the best fall or winter days, we would come home from grade school and it would be waiting in the crockpot.  Lyndsey was always banned from getting her own because she’d pick out all of the potatoes and the meat, leaving veggies for everyone else.

It’s really one of those recipes that is so forgiving that it’s virtually impossible to screw up and you can really tailor it to your own family.  Once you get the basics down, feel free to experiment as much as you’d like.  For this one, I’m using all fresh ingredients from the farmer’s market since everything is in season right now, but you can use frozen with great results.

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You will need:

  • 1 – 2 pounds of stew meat, cut into chunks
  • 1 – 2 small white onions
  • 2 carrots {you can use baby carrots or the pre-sliced carrot chips if you like, or you can also use parsnip}
  • 2 – 3 cups potatoes {use any kind here or substitute in sweet potatoes, turnips, or Hubbard squash if you like}
  • salt, black pepper, and about 1 – 1.5 Tablespoons of herbs {I like thyme, rosemary, garlic powder and usually a pinch of nutmeg.  You can also use oregano, cayenne, or bay leaves.}
  • dash or two of Worchester sauce, optional
  • 1 cup of red wine {or a stout like Guiness, you don’t have to measure, just dump in the whole bottle}
  • large carton of beef broth {or homemade stock if you have it}
  • 2 –3 cups of veggies {corn, peas, green beans, lima beans, mushrooms, zucchini, even broccoli or cauliflower}
  • corn starch and water – or – a roux

First, you will want to brown your stew meat, seasoning with salt and pepper as you go.  Heat a heavy pot to medium high and sauté the meat in batches with a little olive oil so that all sides get browned.  You won’t need to make sure it’s completely cooked through at this point, you just need to get a great sear.  I use tongs to turn each piece and pull it out when all sides are browned.  Hint:  You’ll know when to flip when the meat releases from the pan, if it’s still sticking as you go to turn, wait a bit and try again.  If you’re wanting to be lazy, just throw all the meat in and brown it up a bit… doing small batches is best, but you’re not going to ruin it if you do it the lazy way.

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After the meat is seared and set aside, you will sauté your onion and carrots.  They will release liquid when cooking, to help deglaze the pan.  That just means it will loosen all the brown bits from the bottom of the pan when you seared the beef.  You can use a wooden spoon at this point to help scrape those off the bottom.  Cook for about 2 minutes, just enough to get the raw out of the onion.  Add some salt, black pepper, herbs, and a couple dashes of Worchester sauce if you have it. 

Add the meat back in and add your potatoes.  You will want to keep the potatoes slightly larger than bite sized.  If you cut them too small, they’ll fall apart and dissolve into the stew.  I used small white potatoes and just cut them in half after scrubbing them.  You can use a big potato and peel it, baby reds with the skins on or off, fingerlings, or really any potato you like.

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Then you will cover everything with a cup of red wine {or substitute a stout like Guiness} and the stock.  I used homemade turkey stock today because it’s what I had on hand, but beef stock is fantastic here.  Canned or carton is just fine, just try to get a low sodium version.  You can even add a little water if the stock doesn’t cover everything.

Cover and cook for one hour {or longer if you want} at a low simmer.  Next, add your veggies and cook for another half hour to 45 minutes on medium low.  When I’m using frozen, I usually just leave them out on the counter when the beef is cooking to thaw slightly.  You can also just throw them in frozen.  

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After everything has cooked, stick a fork into a potato and try one of the veggies to make sure everything is done.  TASTE the broth here to see if you need to add any seasoning.  Is it flavorful enough?  Does it need something?  Add a bit at a time, stir and re-taste until you’re sure the flavor is there.  The potatoes are tricky because they absorb a lot of the seasoning during cooking, I almost always need to add seasoning.

Once the flavor is good, turn up the heat slightly to keep it at a simmer.  Then, you’ll make your slurry of cornstarch and cold water.  {You can also make a roux instead, but it’s more involved and I am lazy.}  To make the slurry, in a coffee cup, put 2 – 3 heaping tablespoons of corn starch, add cold water and stir frantically until all of the cornstarch is combined, making sure to scrape the bottom.  You will feel like you screwed something up, just keep stirring until it combines and looks like milk.  Pour about half into the stew, stirring continuously.  I usually use a whisk here, but you can use a wooden spoon too, just make sure to keep stirring.  You will see the stew start to thicken, add more of the slurry if you need to, I usually have a big enough pot that I use all of it.  If your stew gets overly thick, you can always add more stock or hot water to thin it down a bit, just stir and it will loosen up.  If it’s not thick enough, let it bubble for a minute or two, it will likely thicken up.

Serve with buttermilk biscuits, dinner rolls, or a good, crusty bread.

It’s even better the next day.

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5 comments:

Mommy Lisa said...

Yes - those biscuts are a time-saver and give you perfect portions.

Yostee said...

Yummmmm. ... What time is dinner?!?! With the change in weather, soup is a must have! I can even make this for my mom who has to eat gluten free since you use cornstarch and the worchester sauce is optional!

Jessica @ Wanting Adventure said...

That sounds amazing!

Kathi said...

Hellooooooo Fall!!! Your recipe has been printed and I can't wait to try it out this weekend. Thanks so much for sharing!

Anonymous said...

Worcestershire! : ) Looks delish!

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