Pretty Good Beef Stew.

This beef stew is better that Dinty Moore's variety, and much cheaper, if your time isn't worth anything (making it is fairly good light exercise, and you don't have to pay a gym for the privilege of burning the calories, so it all works out in the long run). It's quite low in fat, and that fat is mostly the good kind, olive oil.

This one is fairly labor intensive, what with all of the cutting up of the ingredients and sauteeing, but the recipe makes enough for several meals. What you don't eat the first night, you can freeze and enjoy with minimal preparation in the future. Allow about an hour and a half, and you'll get a fairly good, gentle upper body workout from it all. Stewing takes another 4 hours, add another half hour for making the gravy, just prior to serving.

It's a good thing to do with a Saturday morning.


Here are the ingredients:


Making the Stew

Cut up the meat into 3/4 inch cubes, getting rid of as much fat as possible. Put the cut up meat in a bowl, and let it marinate in the wine and salt until you saute it.

Wash and slice the mushrooms, and put them into their own bowl.

Peel the onions, and cut them into small pieces (~1/2 inch on a side). They too go into a bowl.

Scrub, with a scouring cloth, the potatoes, and cut them into 1 inch cubes. I don't bother to peel them, but I do cut out any bad spots. Put them into a bowl, and we're ready to start the sauteeing process.

Start your crock pot/roaster (Crock) to around 200 degrees farenheit. Don't trust the dial on the appliance, measure it with an oven thermometer. 200° F will kill any bacteria, and not overcook your stew.

Sauteeing is best done in a large metal (cast iron or stainless steel) frying pan. These are getting hard to find these days, but they don't scratch easily, if at all, and they don't emit mildly toxic fumes at high temperatures as does overheated teflon. Heat the pan well, pour in a tablespoon or two of olive oil, and enough of whatever you're sauteeing to cover the bottom of the pan. Turn the stuff over and over, continuously, until it's done. This should be in less that 5 minutes. Sauteed items are placed in the crock. Unless you have an enormous frying pan, sauteeing a given ingredient will need to be done in several panfulls. The bottom of the pan should be covered with veggies or meat, but all of the pieces should touch the bottom.

Saute the onions. They're done when they look transparent, but before they start to brown.

Saute the mushrooms. They are done when they have shrunk by about 50% in size.

At this point, drain the meat in a colander, saving the wine/salt/meat juice mixture into another bowl. This is poured into the crock as the last thing you do.

Microwave (or boil) the potatoes for half the time you'd use if you were cooking them fully. I let mine go for 15 minutes simmering in water, or 10 minutes on high in the microwave. This is necessary, as the potatoes won't cook very well at 200° F, and hotter temperatures will dry out the beef. Alternatively, you could slice the potatoes into 1/4 inch strips and saute them, but this adds to the overall fat content. As with the other vegetables, put the potatoes in the crock.

Saute the beef. It is done when most of the red has turned brown. It is easy to over do this. The idea is to sear the outside of the pieces, and not cook the inside.

Pour the wine/salt/meat juice into the crock. Add the carrots. Stir well. At this point the crock should be about overflowing, so you'll have to be careful stirring here.

Finally, put the celery tops on top of the stew, and replace the cover. I usually cover the crock with a towel, as it allows the interior of the crock to achieve a more uniform temperature. Obviously, if you are cooking over an open flame, this is a very bad idea.

If you haven't calibrated your crock, after two hours of cooking, check the temperature with a quick reading thermometer at the center of the stew. It should be around 160-180° F. If not, adjust the thermostat on the crock. Once you've done this, you'll know where to set the dial and can just ignore it until you're ready to make the gravy. This is done about half an hour before you plan to serve the stew.

Note that while an empty crock should be at around 200° F, the center of the stew should be at about 160-180° F as it cooks.

Phew! You're done, for a couple of hours at least. Clean up that mess you've made of your kitchen, and take a break!


Making the gravy

Drain the liquid from the stew and remove the celery tops. These have done their job, and can now be thrown away. Get your biggest bowl and a friend, this is a two person job, at least in my house. With a lot of strength and hassle, a single individual can do this, but I tend to call upon someone who is about to enjoy the stew. Holding the lid slightly askew on the top of the crock, pour the liquid into the big bowl. I let mine drain for at least a minute. Cover the bowl and put it aside while you make the gravy.

You'll need 2 tablespoons of white flour for each cup of liquid. 2 tablespoons = 1/8 cup.

In a pan, put double the amount of cold water as you have flour. For example, if you're using a cup of flour (you had 8 cups of broth), use 2 cups of water (add another couple of tablespoons flour, if you're feeling picky about the thickness). Now use the wisk to throughly mix the water and flour. The idea here is to crush any and all lumps that appear in the mixing process. Once you've achieved a uniform mix, slowly add the liquid from the stew, stirring constantly. Put the pot on the stove, turn it to medium high, and stir until the gravy boils. This seems to take forever, even if it's only about 10 minutes. It's nice to have someone around to spell you on the stirring.

Once the pot boils, turn the heat off, and stir in the 2 teaspoons of kitchen bouquet and the tablespoon of soy sauce.

Finally, mix the gravy back into the stew, again stirring it up well. You're ready to serve. Enjoy!

You can freeze the remainder, or it will keep for about a week in the 'fridge.


Notes

A very sharp chef's knife (8-10 inch blade) makes the vegetable cutting much easier.

The 4 hour cooking time is a minimum. If you were to do this in the evening, and let it go all night, the stew would not be badly overcooked, although it's a bit weird having it for breakfast!

I've found that it goes well with good red wine, tossed salad, and dinner rolls.

I suppose that whole wheat flour would work OK for the gravy. I've just never tried it. It would be better for you, of course.

The seasonings listed above are fairly minimal. Such things as unsweetened chocolate, worcestershire sauce, and wine vinegar can add some interesting pizazz to this stew.