The ABCs of Beef Stew

Maybe more stewing in that red cauldron than beef? Marilyn's apron, bought in Salem last month, says "Witchy Women"!

Even while feeling pretty lousy, sometimes one has to cook. Aside from the great chicken-based soup that my friend Judy brought over (having read on Facebook how a nasty bug had me by the throat) – maybe because her gift gave me the energy! – I still had to brave the kitchen once the 102 degree temperature subsided. And there was this fabulous, new, bright red, heavy-bottomed Dutch oven just waiting to be filled with something delicious. (I’d been eying the more expensive pots, priced upwards from $100, when I came across this not-to-be-missed deal at $40 in BJ’s!) Plus I hadn’t gotten around to freezing some stew beef that required consumption pronto.

So I rallied long enough to first peruse a few cookbooks for ideas about “slowcooking” the stew without using my slowcooker. Not that I was averse to the slowcooker– love it — just that I HAD to get that red beauty into my oven! My two main research books turned out to be The Slow Cooker Bible: Your All-in-One Guide to Successful Slow-Cooking (a Publications International, Ltd. edition, no author noted), out of which I’d recently made something called Mexican-Style Shredded Beef, and a favorite of mine, Make it Fast, Cook It Slow: The Big Book of Everyday Slow Cooking by Stephanie O’Dea (Hyperion, 2009). I probably glanced through a few more, but who remembers when the brain was more concentrated on an irritating cough? Besides, I was likely going with my usual basic beef stew, only desiring some idea about how to start it on the stove and then move it to the oven – temps and time frames were crucial.

Here’s what I came up with, which was much appreciated by Bill. I’d love to say I adored it too but must confess that my taste buds were a little muted at the time. Still, I enjoyed it, the aroma – while simmering – permeating whatever smelling sensors were still working! That’s got to say something…

As for the ABC title of this blogpost– well, this time I remembered to take pictures at almost every stage of the recipe, so it reminded me of the step-by-step ABC books of childhood. Maybe A is for Appetite, B for the Beef and C for Cooking as Healer (it sure felt good to be doing it). On the other hand, you could say I left out the last letter, poor ol’ Z, because we were so anxious to sit down to indulge our appetites that I forgot to snap a last shot of the served-up stew! (Don’t worry- there IS a photo of the finished stew in the pot!)

Ingredients:
– 1.5 lb. boneless chuck stewing beef
– ½ cup flour (can be gluten-free flour)
– ¼ tsp sea salt
– ½ tsp. pepper
– 1 tsp. dried parsley
– ½ tsp. dried thyme
– 1 tbsp. olive oil
– 2 tbsp. butter (salted)
– 2 medium-sized onions
– 2 tsp. celery seed (or 1-2 stalks celery, diced)
– 2 tsp. garlic paste (or 2 garlic cloves, minced)
– 1 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes, plus 2 diced tomatoes (latter is optional; I had them on hand)
– 8 oz. baby-cut carrots (or 4-5 medium carrots cut to “baby-cut” size)
– 20 oz. “baby” Yukon Gold potatoes (or potatoes of choice)
– 1 cup frozen green beans, slightly thawed
– 1 cup frozen or 1 15 oz. can corn

Pulling the stew recipe together barely needs words to describe it along with these pictures, but here goes…

Pre-head the oven to 300 degrees. Make sure your cubed stewing beef is of fairly equal size- about 1-inch cubes are best.

Combine flour, sea salt, pepper, parsley and thyme in a plastic ziplock bag. Add the beef. Zip closed and shake until beef cubes are well-coated.

Add olive oil and butter to a warmed Dutch oven, melting the butter. (I like using heart-healthy olive oil but have read it has a lower heat ceiling than other “oils” so I add butter. OK, I just like using butter. I love butter, although perhaps not as much as a famous Southern Food Network star who happens to be a favorite food idol of mine, especially for her creativity.)

Brown the beef in the oil/butter (note that you should have a empty bowl ready for when you’ll remove the meat for a short while). Make sure you reserve any leftover flour mix for later thickening.

While beef is browning, chop onions and tomatoes (if using) into large chunks.

When browned, remove beef from the pot to bowl. Add onions to the pot (can add a little more oil or butter if there’s not enough moisture left) and sprinkle with a little more salt, if desired. Add chunked tomatoes, garlic paste (or minced garlic) and celery seed. Stir and let saute for about 2-3 minutes, then add canned diced tomatoes. Stir and let come to a simmer.

Meanwhile, with a fork or whisk, mix together the flour mixture left from coating the beef (about 2 tablespoons worth), 2 tablespoons of water and 2 tablespoons of the the sauce from the pan – until smooth. Add this to the pan while stirring. This will slightly thicken the sauce as it cooks throughout the process.

Once brew returns to a slight bubbling, return the meat to the pan.

Add potatoes and carrots.

Cover the pot.

Remove from stove and place in pre-heated 300 degree oven. After about 1.5 hours, reduce oven temperature to 275 degrees. Cook for another hour.

At the end of the hour, take the Dutch oven out of the oven, open and stir in green beans and corn. Add up to a quarter or half cup of water (or beef broth) if stew appears to need it (mine didn’t). Check to determine doneness of potatoes. Re-cover and return to oven for an additional 15 to 30 minutes, depending upon doneness of potatoes. Then remove pot from the oven, add additional salt and/or pepper seasoning if desired, and serve it up!

Of course, the cook gets to substitute items in her own cauldron. Maybe you’d like to add a little rosemary to the brew, or a pinch of cinnamon (which, in my opinion, always goes with a tomato sauce!). Peas instead of green beans, or use both. Be your own KitchenWitch – cast a spell over your family and guests with whatever creative innovations you might come up with!

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