Beef


Guess what – some cooking actually happened this weekend!  Actually it was Friday.  After sitting in the ER all day with a friend I had promised myself some tasty sushi as a reward.  By the end of the day, I’d changed my tune.  Even huddled under my fleece jacket (and I was wearing layers, no ER novice, I) I was freezing!  Sushi just didn’t sound good anymore.  Instead, I finally got around to making a stew.  That poor stew beef had been sitting in the fridge for 3 days, and was about to get shoved in the deep freezer.  I kept meaning to make stew, but then finding some reason not to.  Friday night, I made it happen. 

Now, usually if I make a beef stew it’s topped with pastry.  Since I did not have the energy to even contemplate GF pastry, I decided a straight stew would be great.  Filled with potatoes and carrots, it would be cozy, warming, and filling.  I used a similar spice blend as I do in my Meat and Potato Pie, and added some nice red wine for extra richness.  It came out wonderfully, even though I wasn’t patient enough to let it simmer quite as long as it should have for really melt-in-your-mouth stew beef.  You could also throw it in the crockpot first thing in the morning, and then add the potatoes in when you get home from work. 

Beef Stew

1 1/2 lbs stew beef (I buy the pre-cut stuff because I’m lazy and cheap, but I do cut it up into slightly smaller pieces and trim the fat)
2 Tablespoons canola oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon garam masala
dash of cayenne
salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup dry red wine
4 cups beef broth (gluten-free, if necessary)
2-3 carrots, peeled and chopped (I used baby carrots I had on hand, and just cut them in half or thirds)
2 lbs red potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1 inch pieces

Cut the beef into bite-size pieces, season with salt and pepper.  Heat oil in a heavy dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Sear beef on all sides (you might need to do this in batches, it usually takes me at least 2 batches).  Set beef aside.  Add onion, saute until translucent.  Add garlic, saute for 1 or 2 minutes.  Be careful not to burn the garlic, as it will get bitter.  Add bay leaves and spices, stir until fragrant (it should smell heavenly at this point).  Pour in the red wine, and use a wooden spoon to scrape up all the brown bits from the bottom of the pan.  Return the beef to the pan, add the broth and carrots.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer.  Simmer, covered (if you want a really thick, gravy-like sauce you can simmer it uncovered – but keep in mind that it will reduce some when you add the potatoes) for at least an hour – the longer the better. 

Add in the potatoes, and return the stew to a boil.  Boil approximately 20 minutes, or until potatoes are fork tender.  Check the seasoning.  Adjust to taste.  Serve while still steaming, and watch people be happy.  This would be extra lovely with a nice crusty piece of bread for dipping.  I ate the final bowl of leftovers with a toasted slice of my very first gluten-free bread and it was quite yummy.

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This chili is not gourmet in any way.  I don’t care.  It’s delicious, it’s easy, ridiculously quick to put together, and it’s even better the next day. Plus, as with any crockpot meal, it’s lovely to come home at the end of the day and smell a delicious dinner bubbling away.

Growing up, I didn’t realize there were other kinds of chili.  Since I grew up in Northern Michigan, I only ever saw northern-style chili: tomato based, thick and stewy in consistency.  In my hometown, there was an annual chili supper held just before the big Homecoming football game.  I rarely went to this chili supper, but when I did, I was always slightly disappointed, because it didn’t taste like my mom’s.  Later, when I went to college in Texas, I was shocked by what they called chili.  This broth-based concoction looked nothing like any bowl of chili I’d seen.  I suppose if I’d grown up eating southern-style chili, I’d be posting a very different recipe, although, my husband (growing up in Texas) never liked chili until he had my mom’s.  So, it might just be that good.

The name of the game here is speed and convenience.  So, if you really want big chunks of stew beef, you can do that…but it will require more prep (ideally searing in batches before adding to the crockpot).  Pretty much everything comes from a can or a packet, and I refuse to apologize for that, because it is extremely tasty chili.  In my opinion it should always be served with corn muffins and shredded cheddar cheese.  Also, this is a very mild chili, so I serve it with a bottle of hot sauce for people who like a little more kick.

Mom’s Chili

1 lb. lean ground beef
2 15 oz. cans diced tomatoes
2 15 oz. cans tomato sauce
1 12 oz. can tomato paste
1 12 oz. can tomato soup
3 15 oz. cans kidney beans, drained (I prefer light, but it doesn’t really matter)
1 packet Chili seasoning (My favorite is French’s Chili-O, which is getting hard to find)
1 bottle beer, optional (a lighter beer is preferable to a darker beer, because a dark beer can get bitter cooking all day)

Brown beef in a skillet.  Drain.  Combine beef and all other ingredients in the bowl of a large crockpot.  Cook on low for 8-10 hours, or on high for 4-6 hours.

Serve with shredded cheese and sour cream for topping, and corn muffins on the side.  Have a bottle of hot sauce on hand for those who like their chili spicy.

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Ok…so it’s not really a makeover.  But I did make a couple changes to my traditional beef roast.  I decreased the mushroom soup by one can, and added a bottle of Guinness and about a cup and a half of beef stock.  I also served it with mashed sweet potatoes (with just a touch of butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon) instead of white potatoes, and sweet peas.  It was tasty.

Ah…roast beef.  There are about a million “traditional” roast beef recipes out there.  I grew up not knowing that any roast beef existed except for my mom’s.  When I would occasionally order roast beef at a restaurant, I was invariably disappointed by a greasy, dry, stringy roast with weak gravy.  Mom’s roast ruled.  I’m pretty sure this roast originally came from one of my grandmas, but which one is a bit of a mystery.  Either way, it became a staple in my house, and since growing up and getting married, it’s become a staple in my in-law’s house as well. 

 So, imagine my surprise when, talking to a friend in graduate school, I told her about my favorite, family secret roast beef….and was greeted with, “Oh, you guys make white trash beef roast too?!”   I was a bit confused.  I knew my roast was easy to prepare…but I’d never thought of it as “white trash.”  Now that I’ve tested and made a number of other “real” roast beef recipes, I admit it: this is a White Trash roast.  But, I defy you to make a more tender roast, or a more flavorful gravy.  And, in terms of work, it’s no contest.  Now, as my food tastes have “matured,” I’ve tweaked this recipe and played with it.  Ultimately, as good as the innovations are, I come back to the original.  I lovingly embrace the white trashiness of it.  I’ve included a couple variations below, but I suggest you try the original first. 

For ideal preparation you’ll need either a roasting pan and some heavy duty aluminum foil, or a slow cooker.  Using the foil does two things – it makes cleanup a lot easier, and it keeps the liquid up around the beef, so the meat becomes very tender and flavorful. 

Traditional (White Trash) Beef Roast
Ingredients:
1 – 3lb beef bottom round roast (not the flat roast, the hill shaped roast)
2- 14.5 oz. cans condensed Cream of Mushroom soup
1 pkg. dry onion soup mix

To Prepare: Line a heavy roasting pan with enough aluminum foil to completely enclose roast.  Place roast in the middle of the foil.  In a small bowl, mix mushroom soup with dry onion soup mix; pour over roast.  Seal foil around roast.  Bake, in a 350 degree oven for 3-5 hours.  The longer the roast cooks, the more tender it will become.  When the roast is finished, place on a platter to cut.  Drain the gravy into a container by poking a hole in the bottom of the foil and allowing it to drain.  This will also strain the gravy somewhat. 

In a slow cooker, prepare as above, except pour soup mixture into slow cooker, then add roast.  You may want to add additional liquid (water or low sodium broth).  Cook on low for 8-10 hours.  This is wonderful if you start it in the morning before work…when you get home the house will smell wonderful and you’ll have a perfect roast. 

*Variations: Add one bottle of dark beer (I like using a cream stout or a porter) when cooking.  You can also add a large sprig of fresh rosemary to the mixture, which will flavor the gravy nicely. 

I have been eating pasties all my life (past-eez, not paste-eez).  One of the highlights of my trip to Europe was getting to eat real Cornish pasties at a shop in England (they were a little fru-fru, but oh so good.)  Pasties take a lot of prep and some time to put together, but the payoff is wonderful.  And, they freeze really well, so make a big batch and freeze some.  Pasties were originally a working man’s food.  They were designed so that they were an entire meal contained in a nice little pouch; women would get up early in the morning to make them, and men would take them to work in the mines.  My grandma told this bit of history every time she made pasties.  She also told stories about getting up at 3 or 4 am before a trip so that she and her mother could make pasties to take in the car.  “This was before there were such things as drive-thrus, kids.” 

Now, I have to say that I’m a bit of a pasty snob.  I grew up in Northern Michigan, where there is apparently a large Scandinavian influence.  They make pasties with ground beef and turnips, and eat them with ketchup.  My grandma was disgusted.  Ours have always been made with cubed round steak, onions, and potatoes.  Grandma felt very strongly that they should only be eaten with malt vinegar, hot mustard, or (grudgingly) beef gravy.  I’ve been experimenting with a steak and Guinness version, and that recipe may follow.  For now, though, here is the tried and true.  Depending on the size of your potatoes and the amount of beef you end up with, you may have extra filling.  I usually start with one batch of dough and continue to make more until I’m out of filling or I’m exhausted, whichever comes first. 

To freeze, bake pasties, then cool completely.  Wrap individually in aluminum foil.  Seal well.  Reheat in a low oven or in the microwave (sans foil).

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Grandma Sally’s Pasties (makes approx. 4 large pasties; 6 medium pasties)
Crust:
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup cold shortening
3 Tbs. cold butter
5-7 Tbs. ice water

Filling:
1 package (about 1-1 1/2 lbs) round steak, cubed
6-8 peeled, sliced potatoes (russet, you want them to hold up in the oven)
1/2 onion, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
beef gravy, hot mustard, or malt vinegar for serving

Place flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor.  Pulse to combine.  Add shortening and butter.  Pulse until crumbly.  Sprinkle 4 Tbs. water evenly over mixture (or stream in using the tube).  Pulse 1-3 times, until mixture pulls away from sides of the bowl and dry ingredients are moistened.  Add additional water if necessary.  Divide mixture into 4 or 6 equal portions, depending on desired pasty size.  On a lightly floured surface, shape each portion into a ball.  Roll each ball into a circle, about 1/4 inch thick.  Layer beef, potato, and onion on one half of each circle, season with salt and pepper.  Fold other half of crust over; crimp edges to seal.  Poke holes in top to vent.

Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour at 350 degrees.   Serve with beef gravy.

My latest experiment in cooking was a made-over meat and potato pie.  For those of you who don’t know what this fabulous creation is, let me explain.  I grew up eating mostly British cooking (don’t laugh!), my grandmother’s father was directly from England, so he demanded all the traditional foods: pasties, meat and potato pie, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding (more on that in another post).  So, growing up one of my favorite comfort foods was meat and potato pie.  The English make all kinds of pies, but the one my grandmother and mother both made was simple: cubed round steak, onions, potatoes, covered with a pastry crust and baked.   My grandmother’s was a little different from my mom’s: grandma used Worcestershire sauce and pearl onions, which my mom did not (she swears grandma conveniently left these details out when teaching my mom to make it as a newlywed). 

So, this is a very traditional, meat and potatoes (and nothing else), comfort food, and what better on a 15 degree day in the midwest than pie shaped comfort?  But – how to make it healthy while still retaining it’s essential character?  Well, I’ve had a wonderful steak and Guinness pie that is a variation, so I knew that it could be tinkered with and not ruined.  I started by just thinking of unobtrusive ways to add nutrition.  As someone with an autoimmune condition, I am supposed to be avoiding things like refined starches, white potatoes, etc.  So, I started by adding sweet potatoes and carrots.  I left in some white potatoes for that comfort angle, but not nearly as many as I would normally use.  I also used a different spice blend (my mom’s was just flour w/ salt and pepper, and maybe paprika), and a whole wheat crust.

Overall, I’m pretty happy with the results, but I used an entirely whole wheat crust, and I have to say that it was a dismal failure.  It tasted wonderful, but it was impossible (at least for someone as impatient as me) to work with and I ended up making a “patchwork pie.”  So, I’m linking the recipe I used, but I would probably recommend using 1/2 all purpose and 1/2 whole wheat.  For those of you who are appalled by the shortening – another thing I’m supposed to avoid is animal fats/cholesterol.  So, although I would normally use a combination of shortening and butter, I used all shortening this time. 

I’ve tried to give good measurements, but honestly I mostly “eyeballed” it.  Adjust the veggies and potatoes to your taste, as well as the spices.  I wanted a warm spice blend with just a hint of heat, but if you like really spicy things, more cayenne would be good.  As for cooking vessels, if you choose a good frying pan with straight sides, you can do all the cooking in one pan.  If you don’t have one, you can transfer the cooked mixture into a casserole dish at the end, before topping it with the crust.

Made-Over Meat and Potato Pie
Ingredients:
2 Tbs. canola oil
1- 1 1/2 lbs cubed stew beef
1/2 c. whole wheat flour
1 tps. ground coriander
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cayenne
salt and pepper to taste
1 large onion, thinly sliced
2-3 carrots, peeled and sliced
2-3 cups good quality beef broth
2 large sweet potatoes (approx. 3 cups)
2 large white potatoes (russet, red, gold, whatever you’ve got)

To Prepare: Heat oil in a large pan over medium-high heat.  Combine flour and spices in a medium bowl.  Toss cubed beef (try to trim as much fat as possible) in the mixture, shaking to remove excess.  Sear beef on all sides (you may need to do this in a couple batches – if you crowd the pan the beef will just steam).   Remove beef from pan; reserve on a plate.  Add onions and carrots, cook until onions are translucent and slightly browned.  Add broth to deglaze the pan, scraping bottom with a wooden spoon to loosen all the bits.  Return beef to the pan, bring to a boil.  Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 1-2 hours (really the longer it simmers the better, it just depends how patient you are).  When beef is tender (or you can’t wait any longer), add potatoes.  If necessary, add more broth or water to cover.  Simmer, uncovered, until potatoes are fork tender (10-15 min).  Check the seasoning – adjust to taste.  Cover with pastry crust, pierce with a fork, and bake at 425 degrees, until crust is browned (approx. 15 min).