COOKING ADVENTURE #62: Beef Stew
Ever had one of those moments where you see a recipe and think, “Oh, that looks delicious! I’ll make that tonight!” So you look at the list of ingredients, write it all down, go to the store and pick up your groceries… You come home and look up the recipe again… only to find out that it isn’t at all how you thought you’d be preparing it? Yup. That happened here. I tracked down this delicious recipe for a pot roast that looked hearty, and quite flavorful. But I skimped on paying any attention to the actual preparation of the dish. In the end, it called for a dutch oven (something I don’t own) and a mere three to four hours of cooking. I was assuming that I’d have this recipe all set up in the crockpot and set on the lowest setting so that it could cook while I went to work for eight hours. So, I had to modify the recipe. And in doing so, I just basically created my own. Although I’m not sure I’d describe this beef stew as a runaway hit, it was pretty tasty and with a little more tweaking, could very well be a cold weather treat that I make next winter. If not for that blasted rosemary…
I can very well say that I’ve had issues with not paying attention to all the details on a recipe before. In fact, several times. Before I even got home and looked at the recipe again, the idea of a pot roast in my head somehow got transferred into beef stew. I was thinking that trying to shove a giant pot roast into the crockpot with all of these other ingredients wasn’t going to work. My crockpot is small and wouldn’t accommodate that much food. So, I opted for stew meat instead of a giant roast. When I got home and looked over the recipe that night, thinking that I’d prepare some of it then so that I wouldn’t have to do as much in the morning, I was discouraged by what I noticed later on in the instructions. After cooking the meat, carrots, and onions and making a beef stock with some red wine in the pan, all of it needed to be put in a dutch oven and then baked for three to four hours. This wasn’t going to work.
Even worse, I was worried that if I cooked everything ahead of time and then let it languish in a crockpot for eight hours that the flavors would be strange and the meat tough. So I opted for the insane approach. In the morning, I pulled my crockpot out and then slid all of the ingredients out onto the counter. I call this method “huck and chuck”. You heard it here first, folks.
I slid five carrots out of a bag and set about peeling them. Then after cutting them into sizable chunks, I tossed them into the crockpot. I did the same thing with an onion, except that it wasn’t as easy and I didn’t put the entire onion in. I had started to, but then the entire kitchen smelled like onion. Based on my experiences with this nefarious bulb in the past, I decided that less would be better and removed a bunch of it from the crockpot. All I can say is that somehow, I still ended up with too much onion. I swear it multiplies when cooked.
Now, it was time for some potatoes. I’d grabbed some of those steam-in-the-bag red potatoes from the store. Cutting that open, I skinned them, sliced them in two and tossed those in. I didn’t put as many in because I was worried about space. When that was all done, I turned to the stew meat, ripped the package open like a werewolf under a full moon and threw it in to join the veggies. At this point, I was supposed to add some beef broth, something which I recently discovered I can’t say out loud. Every time I tried to explain to my friends my latest episode in the kitchen, I swap the “f” in beef and the “th” in broth without meaning to. Apparently this phrase is my Achilles heel when it comes to language.
I didn’t purchase any of this at the store because I was confident that I had a can. As I opened the cupboard and plunged my hand into the darkness there, I was eventually rewarded as my fingers wrapped around the metal and pulled it out. And even more excited when the expiration date revealed that it wouldn’t expire until next month. So fortunate… Then I looked at the year. Oops. April 2012. Some people that I told just scoffed and told me that I still could have used it but frankly folks, I like to be safer than sorry. I chucked it. I had to come up with something else and fast. I had only ten minutes before I needed to leave for work. I rooted around, hoping I had some beef bullion cubes but everything was chicken. I finally decided to just fill the pot with water. As I dove into the fridge to grab some herbs, I noticed a bottle of special Bavarian IPA sitting inside. I yanked it out, popped the top off, and let the bitter brown liquid slosh into the water. That would give it some flavor at least.
I returned my focus to the spices. Salt. I poured some in but not enough. Pepper. I ground it over the meat and veggies for what seemed like an eternity and still it wasn’t enough. And finally the coup de gras, rosemary. Instead of just using one sprig, I used a bunch and because my mind was apparently not completely in this dimension, I ripped a bunch of the needles off and dropped them into the stew along with a few sprigs. The entire kitchen now smelled of fresh rosemary and onion. I also was supposed to use some thyme but discovered that it is not among the five thousand spices already in my arsenal. I put the top on the crockpot, gathered my stuff for work, and flipped the switch onto the low setting as I went to work.
The entire day, I worried about it. I told a colleague that I was hoping it would turn out well. He said, “It’s pretty hard to mess up beef stew.” I looked at him out of the corner of my eyes and said, “If anyone could do it, it would be me.”
When I returned home, I was greeted with a warm apartment, a hungry cat, and an intoxicating and delightful aroma of beef, beer, and rosemary. I ladeled myself a bowl full. Onions hung like limp ropes from the ladel and seemed to infest the stew everywhere I looked. The rosemary was floating everywhere. I took a sip and while it tasted great and was the perfect thing after a long day of work, I noted that I hadn’t added enough salt. All in all though, I’d say that it was pretty good. If its edible, then its a victory for me. I’d really like to play around some more with the ingredients, the broth, and how the meat is prepared, but I’d say this is probably one to keep on my short list of satisfying winter meals.
Next week, we’ll be looking at something a little more in tune with spring and warm weather as I tackle this scrumptious recipe for a strawberry pie! Stay tuned!