Saturday, February 26, 2011

Brewin' a Stew

It's been a long time, friends. We've had some pretty life-changing stuff going on around the Ogle homestead, so I just haven't had time to dedicate to blogging and cooking the way I'd like to. But never fear! I think I've worked out a schedule to give this project the time it deserves, and the food that you all deserve!

A while back, on a cold and rainy day,  I thought there would be nothing better to warm us up than a hearty beef stew. Now, I employ a few techniques that I've learned over the years that make this take a little longer, but it's Beef Stew for crying out loud. Besides, I have never claimed to offer speedy recipes - only tasty ones. Also, note the word "brewin' " in the title above. Yes, my children, that means there's beer involved (mostly because I didn't have any wine...I know, shocking).

There's two main things I do differently from others here: 1) I dry off the meat before browning it, and 2) I cook it in the oven.

Why dry the beef? Because Julia- yes, that Julia - said so. When you are searing the chunks of meat, you are mostly trying to develop flavor. It won't get a rich brown crust if there's too much moisture, so dry it off with paper towels.

Have I told you what a joy it is to have a dutch oven? It doesn't have to be an expensive Le Cruset (like mine, which was a gift from a dear friend, and was apparently free- I didn't ask questions.). You can find a good one at WalMart these days. Just make sure it's enameled cast iron and you will be good to go. It is the workhorse in my kitchen. In mine I've baked macaroni, made chicken stock, braised meats, made stews and chili, even baked bread. My favorite thing about a dutch oven is that it can go from stovetop to oven to table, which means less dishes to wash. Oh, and enameled cast iron is the EASIEST thing to clean EVER.

OK! Lets brew up some stew !

Classic Beef Stew

1 1/2 lbs beef for stew (it's already cut into large chunks for you! Or you could buy a small boneless chuck roast and cut it up, which I have done before)

1/2 cup flour mixed with 1 teaspoon Lawry's, for dusting

1 Tablespoon vegetable oil, plus more as needed

1/2 can beer (drink the rest. Duh.)

1 can beef broth

1 can stewed tomatoes

3 celery stalks, cut into 1 inch pieces

2 carrots, peeled and sliced into 1/2 inch pieces

1 Onion, quartered

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

Salt & Pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 325.
Dry the beef thoroughly with paper towels. Toss in the flour to coat lightly. We aren't breading here, just getting a light dusting of flour to help give the meat a nice brown crust. Heat the oil (which should be just enough to coat the bottom) in a large dutch oven over medium high heat. You want the oil almost to the smoking point. Brown the meat in batches, turning once, until you get a nice crust (you may need to add a touch more oil between batches).

It's important not to crowd the pan or the meat will steam instead of brown. I usually end up doing about 5 or 6 chunks per batch. Remove the meat to a bowl as each batch finishes. What you're looking for here is a crisp, dark crust on at least 2 sides - it will help enrich the flavor of the finished product.

Once the meat is all browned and out of the pot, add the beer and bring to a simmer, scraping up all the browned bits of goodness from the bottom of the pan. Add the beef broth and tomatoes then return your attention to the meat.

If you've purchased beef for stew, chances are the meat is in pretty huge chunks. Cut it into bite size pieces as needed (around 1 inch or so). Return the meat along with any juices to the pot, along with the celery, carrots, onion, garlic, and Worcestershire sauce. Bring it all to a boil, stir, cover, and place in oven.

Cook for about 2 hours, but check it every 45 minutes - you may need to stir in a bit of water if it gets too thick. After 2 hours, the stew should be thick, the vegetables soft, and the meat meltingly tender. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve.

I know, right! It's so hearty & warming!

I like to accompany my beef stew with crispy egg noodles. It's also good over rice or smashed potatoes.

I know spring is almost here in the Lowcountry, but I have readers in colder climes that I'm sure will enjoy this while waiting for the snow to melt - I'm talking to you, Idaho.

Hope you love this as much as my husband did - and if you don't have a husband, make some of this and you will surely have one by the end of the week.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Kitchen Queries: Bad Fruit

Krystal E. in Texas shot me a text the other day and I just had to share this with you all. Once we got to the bottom of things, I knew it would be an issue that others might have.

"I seriously cannot keep fruit in my house for longer than a day without it getting moldy. I think it's the humidity, any suggestions?"

I had more questions for Krystal before being able to help her. I found out that the offending fruit was primarily berries and they were local and fresh. She was keeping them in green bags, which allegedly keep your produce fresher for longer. No problems yet, right? Well apparently the instructions for the green bags tell users to wash the produce before storing it in the green bag. Which is fine, unless you're talking about berries.

Berries are pretty delicate fruits to begin with, and you want to eat them soon after purchase. If they will be hanging around the fridge for a few days though, don't wash them until you are ready to eat them. The residual moisture will sit on them and speed up spoilage. I'm all for being efficient and pre-washing my produce when I get home, but the one thing I don't do that with is berries.

Krystal said she'd try not washing them in advance, and I haven't heard back from her so I'm assuming it worked out :)