Monday, November 14, 2011

Succulent Beef Stew - The Mealtime Cure When Life Is Chaos

Succulent homemade stew tucked in the freezer in individual portions can save the day when life becomes too hectic.

Have you ever had that experience where you feel like you are living in a blender? Your time is not your own. You are juggling many responsibilities, not to mention the odd unplanned crisis or two. On top of that, you may be trying to make 3 healthy meals a day for yourself and your family.

Our lives have had an unpredictable rhythm to them this year. Nothing gets me feeling more defeated than eating fast food, takeout, or dinner from a can out of some sense of coping. I just can't do it. Give me toast, a glass of water and send me to bed hungry.

As I like to tell my family, based on our packed freezer, we are now ready for Armageddon. Well, except if the power goes out.

When I catch a moment and find a great deal on groceries, I have been jumping at the chance to put some great treats into the freezer that will reheat well and reheat quickly. I package in single servings, ready for any size group, which of late is often just one.

Recently, while reading Ron Eade's Thursday grocery special column, I saw that the Metro was advertising roast beef on sale. Two for one. I picked up two pieces just cents apart in price, yielding me a little over 4 pounds of outside round for what worked out to be about $3.65/lb.

I still had colourful carrots of white and purple left from my CSA share from Roots and Shoots Farm. Plus their onions and garlic. I had also picked up a small rutabaga at the Ottawa Farmers' Market from the stand of Needham's Garden Market of Arnprior. My beef stock was made by the Glebe Meat Market. I often keep supply on hand in the freezer.

With these basic ingredients on hand, it was succulent stew that was going to add to our freezer bounty. (Cross rib or blade are more typical cuts for stewing beef but I decided to use my outside round and handle it tenderly.)

Stew is also great for gifting to others with busy, chaotic lives. I have already snuck some into one of the hospital campuses this past week for a loved one's dinner. Dare I confess? I also know of a diligent student now residing at one of our local universities that appreciates an impromptu food rescue when it comes her way.

I asked her for a picture of the gifted stew and mashed potatoes. Also riveting comments.

Her 'riveting' comments: "The food is delicious as always. Thanks so much!" She knows I fuss over plating and when the picture came: "Yummy! But not very artsy."

For what it's worth, plating can really make a meal. I shared with her the picture from my plate. We agreed the differences in look must be about 'lighting'. Yeah, that's it, the 'lighting'.

[photo credit: Starving Student]

By the way, stew tastes even better the next day!

Succulent Beef Stew

4 pound roast suitable for stewing
4 cups carrots, chopped into 1" pieces
2 stalks celery, chopped into 1" pieces

1 small rutabaga, chopped into 1" cubes

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 onions, diced

2 large cloves garlic, minced

fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

fresh marjoram or 1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram

1 cup red wine
28 ounces diced tomato

4 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups beef stock
1 cup frozen peas (optional)
1/2 cup corn (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

Cut roast into bite-size pieces about 1 1/2" cubes.

Peel and chop carrots. Chop celery and set the two aside.

Peel the rutabaga and cut into chunks. Set aside.

Dice the onions and mince the garlic.

In large Dutch oven, heat oil over high heat. Sear the meat on all sides in batches (season with salt and pepper just before going into the pan). Then transfer to plate.
Make sure you don't sear it too long or you can actually dry it out.

Reduce heat to medium and cook onions and garlic for 1 minute.

Add carrots and celery. Cook until onions are tender and vegetables perhaps are just starting to brown.

Stir in thyme and marjoram and cook a minute more.
Add wine to help deglaze pan. Add the can of diced tomatoes.

Move mixture to large stock pot. Add meat and rutabaga.

Meanwhile in dutch oven make a roux. Melt butter. Add flour and cook for about 1 minute. Add the beef broth slowly to make a gravy. Add to the stock pot. Add the remaining beef stock not used in the gravy. All vegetables and meat should just be covered in liquid. If not, add more beef stock and/or wine.

Simmer on very low for 3 hours. Just before serving, if using, add the peas and corn and warm through. Also add salt and pepper to taste.
If I am freezing the stew for later, I don't put the peas in until just before serving. I find they don't freeze and reheat well. (They turn a sad, hospital food green.)

Serve stew over mashed potatoes or egg noodles.
Garnish with chopped fresh parsley if you would like to add a bit of colour.

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