Monday, January 2, 2006

Stew rediscovered

I love stew. It is another one of those comfort food things. My only problem is that I don't make a fine stew. Except for my chicken stew, but since that is really my pot pie filling without the crust, it doesn't really count. In the January issue of Cooking Light magazine they have a feature on stews. At first I looked past those recipes. Who needs a recipe for stew? Isn't it just dump in the pot and cook? Guess what- it isn't. They provided some very good information on the different steps of stew making, and they are right on the money. After a second glance, I thought, why would I want to make a plain old beef stew? Well, after a trip to our butcher resulted in two pounds of gorgeous looking stew meat, I changed my mind.

Basic Beef Stew with Carrots and Mushrooms is exactly what I was looking for in a hearty beef stew. I was leary about it on several layers. The first being the cup of red wine. I really don't like dishes where you can taste the wine. I like to drink a glass of wine- but I really don't care for wine flavored meats. Blech. But when I saw that the wine cooked down for 2+ hours, I thought I should try it. I was also leary about the stew thickening up, I didn't want a stew flavored soup either. But I tackled it anyway- trusting the wisdom of the Cooking Light staff. And yes, it was very good. Delicious in fact. My few changes I am sure did not change the integrity of the dish in any way. I could not locate cremini mushrooms, and for some reason my store was out of all mushrooms execpt for large button mushrooms, so I used those. Next time I would like to try the cremini's as they have that hint of woodsiness to them that I think would have punched up the stew a bit. The other change I made was in the amount of oil called for. I really wanted to give my new stainless a whirl, so I had to use more oil than called for, and eliminate the cooking spray.

All in all, I thought the stew was very good, and will deinfitely be repeated. It will be a fantastic make ahead dish, and while I suspect would freeze nicely, I won't be able to find out as my sister took the leftovers home with her. I will most definitely be meandering my way through the remaining stews in this issue of Cooking Light. Here is the recipe, courtesy of the CL website. A nice loaf of a crusty artisinal bread makes this a fabulous meal. Enjoy.

Basic Beef Stew with Carrots and Mushrooms
From Cooking Light

A crowd-pleaser, this recipe is justifiably a classic. Purchase precut lean stew beef, or cut lean beef sirloin or chuck into bite-sized pieces. White potatoes, not to be confused with baking potatoes, are waxy in texture and hold up well in soups and stews; you can substitute red potatoes. Halve any mushrooms that are larger than 1 1/2 inches.

1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
1 pound small cremini mushrooms
Cooking spray
2 cups chopped onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 cup all-purpose flour (about 1 1/2 ounces)
2 pounds lean beef stew meat, cut into bite-sized pieces
3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
1 cup dry red wine
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
2 (14-ounce) cans less-sodium beef broth
1 bay leaf
2 cups (3/4-inch) cubed peeled white potato (about 1 pound)
1 1/2 cups (1-inch) slices carrot (about 12 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Fresh thyme sprigs (optional)

Heat 1 teaspoon olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms, and sauté for 5 minutes or until mushrooms begin to brown. Spoon mushrooms into a large bowl. Lightly coat pan with cooking spray. Add onion; sauté 10 minutes or until tender and golden brown. Add garlic; sauté 1 minute. Add onion mixture to mushroom mixture.
Place flour in a shallow bowl or pie plate. Dredge beef in flour, shaking off excess. Heat remaining 2 teaspoons oil in pan over medium-high heat. Add half of beef mixture; sprinkle with 1/8 teaspoon salt. Cook 6 minutes, browning on all sides. Add browned beef to mushroom mixture. Repeat procedure with remaining beef mixture and 1/8 teaspoon salt.
Add 1 cup wine to pan, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Add thyme, broth, and bay leaf; bring to a boil. Stir in beef mixture. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer for 1 hour or until beef is just tender.
Stir in potato and carrot. Simmer, uncovered, 1 hour and 15 minutes or until beef and vegetables are very tender and sauce is thick, stirring occasionally. Stir in remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper. Discard bay leaf. Garnish with thyme sprigs, if desired. Yield: 8 servings (serving size: about 1 cup)

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