Here's my stab at finding a silver lining in almost everything.
Full-time daddyship of the twins has taken me out of circulation for the most part, so instead of writing about restaurants, I'm writing more about what I'm cooking at home. I won't begin to chronicle every damn thing I make; not every dinner is a winner, nor even that interesting. But every once in a while I stumble upon a success (like the previous posts about garlic shrimp and tzatziki) that I want to share.
The winter winds are already here, despite the weird fluctuations in New Jersey weather. So out comes the big soup and stew pots, and it's a Sunday afternoon of chopping veggies and football on the radio.
I make big pots of beef stew a lot during the cold weather months. It's a 2-3 hour project that pays dividends for a couple of weeks. It contains no flour (I made it this way even before the Queen discovered she was gluten-allergic, more about her later) but makes a terrific gravy, it reheats easily, the kids seem to like it (Sophie doesn't care for the beef sometimes, I can never figure out why) and this version looks great on the plate (I'll get a photo done, I promise).
And the recipe is easy to remember: 3 pounds of cubed beef, 3 pounds of onions, 3 pounds of carrots, 3 pounds of potatoes---the 12 pounds. Everything else in the recipe is the end result of years of tweaking and playing with other accent ingredients. Sourcing a jar of Herbes de Provence, with which the meat is seasoned, does add a terrific flavor to the whole dish, but you can also use Italian Seasoning mix, or an herb mix of your own design. Play with it like I did. But it's the symetry of those 4 kitchen staples that make this stew sing. So turn on the radio and start choppin'!
3-4 tbs olive oil
3 lbs stew beef, trimmed and cut into small cubes
3 lbs carrots, peeled and sliced to taste
3 lbs onions, roughly chopped
3 lbs white, red or Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut like beef
3-4 tbs Herbes de Provence
salt and pepper to taste
2-3 dried bay leaves
12 oz btl beer, preferably porter or stout
1 bunch flat parsley, chopped
6 oz Dijon mustard
Trim the beef of gristle and as much fat as possible, cut into 3/4-1 inch cubes. Place meat in a large bowl or zip-lock bag and toss with salt , pepper and herb mixture. Allow beef to marinate in refrigerator for 2 hours or as long as overnight. As beef marinates, peel and chop carrots and onions, and peel potatoes. The beef , carrots and onions may be done in advance.
In large dutch oven or stew pot, heat olive oil over medium high heat. Brown beef cubes in 2 batches, remove beef with slotted spoon and place in a bowl. Add onions and carrots, toss in the oil that remains in the pot, and stir frequently until carrots begin to soften and onions are glistening.
Return beef cubes to pot and combine with vegetables. Add bay leaves and porter/stout. Yuengling and Sierra Nevada porters work well, as does Sierra Nevada, Guiness, Beamish or Murphy's stout. Stir to circulate beer and evenly mix the meat and veggies. Raise heat to high and add water to the pot to a level 1-1.5 inches above the mixture. Cover the pot and heat to a vigorous simmer. Remove the lid and lower heat to medium. Simmer for at least 1 hour. Add peeled, cubed potatoes and stir to blend all ingredients. Add salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 30 minutes more. Add chopped parsley and stir in. Add mustard and stir in. Simmer 20-30 minutes more, until sufficiently thickened.
Ladle into warm bowls. Serve with a green salad, cucumber-tomato salad and some crusty bread. And some pints of porter!
TWEAKS/VARIATIONS: Add 1-2 lbs of acorn or butternut squash, cubed, and then that much less potatoes or carrots. Use 12 oz of red table wine in place of beer. Use spicy brown or horseradish mustard instead of Dijon mustard.