Tuesday, September 18, 2007

In preparation of the long dark cold heading our way

I admit it freely - I'm scared of the winter here in Portland. I come from a desert - I'm used to sunshine ALL the time. And while I don't like it, it's what I mostly expect.

Earlier this week, though, there was a sudden change in the weather here - it clouded over and got cold, and it's now officially fall. And I am taking full advantage of the change to start on the cold-weather culinary range, starting with this Beef, Mushroom and Caramelized Onion stew I made a couple of days ago.

I'm afraid that I have fewer photos around on this one - Matt was still at work when I got started, and I spaced having the camera on hand. I'm not used to this documenting cooking thing, yet!

The recipe itself is inspired by one I read in a book at work, but I didn't exactly follow it. I have developed my parents' habit of rarely measuring anything when I cook (I'm pretty scrupulous about it when I bake, though), so Matt finds it faintly frustrating to learn recipes from me. A simple "how much do I add?" always gets a not so simple answer: "I don't know - enough." So the measurements below are approximations. I find that stew is pretty much a DIY thing, anyway - you just add what you want, let it cook, and taste it on occasion to make sure nothing terrible has happened.

Beef Stew with Mushrooms, Onions and Red Wine

2lbs beef stew meat, cut into smallish pieces
2 medium onions, sliced thin
1/2 lb crimini mushrooms, quartered
1 tsp thyme, dried
1/2 tsp marjoram, dried
2 Tbsp. flour
1/2 bottle red wine
1 cup chicken/beef broth
freshly ground black pepper

In a large cast iron frying pan/dutch oven over medium high heat, heat a little olive oil and add the beef. Brown it well, seasoning with salt and pepper as you go. I did mine in several batches - make sure you can keep the meat in a single layer. When all of it is browned, put it in a large bowl and set aside.

Add a little more butter to the pan and then put the onions in. Let them soften slightly, then lower the heat to low or medium, depending on your stove and how much time you have and let them cook until soft and brown. Remove from pan and reserve (use a separate bowl from the meat).

Bring the heat back up to medium-high, add the mushrooms to the pan and saute, adding the thyme, marjoram and plenty of salt and pepper as you go. You can also add a little more olive oil or butter if you need to. When the mushrooms are brown and juicy, return the onions to the pan and sprinkle the 2 tablespoons flour over and mix it in. This is something from the original recipe, but hey - it worked. You could also dredge the meat in flour before browning it, if you were so inclined. I was not.

This was the point in the cooking where things got complicated for me. My kitchen is still a work in progress, so I don't have a dutch oven yet. I know, I work at a kitchen store, but even with my discount a plain old cast iron 5 quart would set me back a pretty penny, and if I'm going to spend the money I want a red Le Creuset, thank you. So once the onions and mushrooms are done and combined and ready to go, I transferred them to a 4 quart Cuisinart saucepan. It's not ideal, but it works. Then I deglazed the frying pan with a bit of the red wine and poured it over.

I got the mixture started over medium-high heat again, then added the reserved beef and the accumulated juices, the half bottle of red wine, and about a cup of chicken broth. If you are fortunate enough to have a good-sized dutch oven in your life, you can skip all of these steps and simply return the beef to the same pan and add the wine and broth.

Let it come to a boil, then cover, reduce the heat to medium-low and let simmer for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or as long as you can stand before you eat.

I served this over egg noodles, a la my grandad's boeuf bourguinon, but you can also just have it in a bowl and use bread to sop up the remaining broth. You could also add potatoes and carrots and anything else that sparks your interest to the stew while it's cooking - this is kind of a base recipe for me - the beef and onions are the starting point, and I wanted very specific flavours and textures, so I kept it simple. The mushrooms were mainly just because mushrooms make everything better.

Good luck with your own version!

Gratuitous kitty picture - Chuck is glad it's fall, too.


clever gretel said...

hey lady, it's Shenoa (remember me?) I am going to have to try some of your recipes. they look great! I dont cook much because i live alone, but i'm trying to learn.

Your kitty is adorable!!!!

Shannon said...

Hey Shenoa - of course I remember! I wish we'd gotten a chance to play Scattergories before Matt and I left Albuquerque....

Cooking alone is really difficult - I've been cooking so much more since Matt and I got together. It's just not as nice when you don't have an audience, and it's just harder to put the effort and time in.

I'm glad you think Chuck is cute, though - I'm partial to him myself ^.^

dana said...

dutch oven dutch schmoven...i find them overrated but then, i like to complicate things when cooking :) ...cant wait to try this recipe, esp. the marjoram -which i am inexplicably curious about using since i cannot recall its specific taste...