Thursday, April 7, 2011

I'll Take the Beef Stew, Please

I cook my rice with bay leaf and pepper. I add a bit of fresh parsley, salt, and sometimes butter at the end.
On diner menus-- or even Crack Barrel menus--meals like chicken and dumplings, meat loaf, or beef stew are always favorites.  Even if they know the food won't taste like their grandmother's, people order it anyway.  Chicken and biscuits.  Ham and beans.  Homey comfort food that has its roots in what could be made out of local (as in back yard) ingredients and could fill up a bunch of hungry folks.  These meals were typically stretchable, meaning a little meat with a lot of vegetables or starch.  Even when the children of these I-can-feed-anyone-with-anything cooks left down on the farm, they took the favorite meals with them.  Which is why we have boeuf bourguignon in Paris, bangers and mash in London, ham hocks and sauerkraut (or corned beef and cabbage) in St. Paul and chicken and dumplings Memphis.  And so on.  Of course, with our transient world (and a great movie called "Julie and Julia"), we also have an American version of boeuf bourguignon in Minnesota.

Since these foods were casseroles or huge pots of food, it isn't easy to cut them down to one portion. (Though in some cases it is possible.)  But we don't have to make ten or twelve servings and die of boredom for two weeks.  We can make four servings.  If we're hungry, we might eat two servings at one sitting.  We share or freeze the other good-sized portion(s).  (Or just eat it for lunch.)
Making rice a la pasta.  Lots of water and drain the rice at the end.  Easy.
 I make beef stew in several ways and, while they all have something in common, they're each quite different.  The first involves cutting up meat, browning it, adding vegetables, broth/wine and seasonings, and letting it cook a couple of hours.   The second, the one my children know best, uses leftover pot roast, gravy, and vegetables (adding broth) for a second day (and some say better) replay.  A third is a typical boeuf bourguignon a la Julia, adding separately cooked pearl onions and mushrooms at the end.  Yet another is the following...where I throw in other root vegetables  sitting around the kitchen and add a scoop of rice or noodles to round out the meal the second day--or the first, if you like it that way.  See above photo.  Brown food:  it just doesn't photograph well.  Sorry.

 Solo Cook's Note:  In the interest of saving money, many people skip the butcher counter experience and opt for pre-packaged or frozen meat.   For solo cooks, there is no place better than the butcher counter.  You can buy one 6oz steak, 1/4 # hamburger, two boneless chicken thighs, 2 polish sausage, 1 4 oz salmon filet, please---and so on.  You can also buy 1-2# of pot roast, which is what you want for beef stew.  Unless you're having company or want to eat it for a week.  Cooked potatoes aren't great in the freezer, so eat this up unless you have no choice but to freeze some.
Beef Stew with Root Vegetables and Rice on the Side Later 4 - 5 servings

1T olive oil
1-2 lbs pot roast, cut up into 1" pieces
3 cups beef broth, unsalted or low-sodium (or 2 cups broth, 1 cup red wine)
1 tsp dried thyme, 1/2 bay leaf
1 onion, cut into 1 " pieces, divided
2 carrots, cut into 1" pieces, divided
2 stalks celery, cut into 1/2" pieces, divided
1 parsnip, peeled and cut into 1" pieces
1 small turnip, peeled and cut into 1" pieces
1 potato, peeled and cut into 1" pieces
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
 optional:  1 tsp flour and 1/4 cup water whisked together well**

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350*
  2. In your  4 qt pot (oven-safe, if possible),  heat the olive oil and place the pieces of pot roast into the oil to brown well.  Turn meat over and brown thoroughly on the other side.  At the same time, add a bit each of the onion, carrots and celery to flavor the meat.  Sprinkle with lightly with salt, but pepper generously.  Add a pinch each of thyme and bay.
  3. Add broth/wine and bring to a boil. Immediately lower heat, cover, and place in oven to cook for an hour or so.  (*Alternately, cook on stove top, covered, at a simmer.)
  4. Remove from oven and add  remaining vegetables and herbs.  Stir well and return to oven (or stove top) to cook another 30-50 minutes, covered, until meat and vegetables are tender.  
  5. Taste and adjust seasonings.    Ladle into large bowls (with rice at side, if desired or on second day) and serve with baguette (French bread).  A little salad would be nice, too.
**If you'd like a thicker stew, whisk together well the flour and water.  Add that mixture to the stew when you add the broth/wine.  You could also use some of the starchy water from the rice for a thickener.

Note:  For South Beach Option, skip potatoes.

Wine:  If you'd like wine with this, an Oregon Pinot Noir or an inexpensive (yes, they exist) French Burgundy would be best.  Ask your wine shop about some good values.  They do exist.  Good French Burgundies are out of most people's range; a French Cotes du Rhone might be a good substitution if you're bent on a French wine and there are no burgundies you can afford.  Cotes du Rhone is also a lovely cooking wine.
I know it's spring and spring foods are coming, but there are still a few cold days left for a warming stew. 

Have fun cooking and taking care of yourself,


  1. It is the ultimate comfort food in my opinion. Your recipe is delish and excellent suggestions for the lone cook, as always!


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