Sunday, December 5, 2010

Warm Your Belly with Beef Stew for this Sunday's Dinner!

With my family's busy schedules during the week, Sunday meals are sacred in our house. Sunday, for us, is about unplugging from the outside world and plugging into each other. It does not always work out perfectly. Often there is begging for TV, video games or a play date. I remember doing the same thing to my grandmother, who is the inspiration for this precious day of the week, . Last Sunday I felt completely bored with my standby meals and went back to my childhood memory of my grandmothers' beef stew. Unfortunately, I did not have the recipe, but knew she was a huge fan of the great Jacques Pepin. After a little searching, I found this recipe on Food and Wine's website. I modified the recipe and language a bit but tried to keep the integrity of this great meal intact. My family loved it and I had fun paying tribute to my grandmother and a chef that she greatly admired. I hope you try it and enjoy!

2 Pounds of stew meat
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onion
1tablespoon finely chopped garlic
1 tablespoon flour
1 bottle of red wine (yes, I said a whole bottle!)
2 bay leaves
1 sprig fresh thyme
15 pearl onions (blanched in boiling water for 3 minutes)
15 cremini mushrooms (I used white but cremini would have been even better!)
15 baby carrots
5-ounce piece of pancetta (a slice about an inch thick)
1/4 cup water

1. Preheat the oven to 350*. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter with 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a cast-iron pot. Arrange the meat in one layer in the pot, and season with salt and pepper. Cook on top of the stove over high heat for about 8 minutes, browning the meat on all sides.
TIP for browning meat: Make sure the meat is nice and dry before adding to the pan and DO NOT overcrowd the meat. It takes a bit of patience to make sure all the sides are nice and brown but well worth it in a few hours!

2. Add onion and garlic and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes remembering to stir occasionally. Add 1 tablespoon of flour mixing well so the flour does not burn or get lumpy. Pour in that glorious bottle of red wine taking a sip if needed. Add 2 bay leaves, a sprig of fresh thyme, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Give it a stir, cover and put it in the oven.

3. This recipe calls for 1 1/2 hours of cooking time. I recommend checking after an hour and fifteen minutes. My stew was beautiful and yummy but could have used a few minutes less in the oven. 

4. Bring Pancetta and 2 cups of water to a boil in a saucepan and simmer for about 30 minutes; drain. Cut the pancetta into 1/2-inch slices and cut slices into 1-inch-wide lardons. What is a lardon? I had to look it up! Lardon is a small strip or cube of pork fat (usually subcutaneous fat) used in a wide variety of cuisines to flavor savory foods and salads. In French cuisine, lardons are also used for larding, by threading them with a needle into meats that are to be braised or roasted. Lardons are not normally smoked and they are made from pork that has been cured with salt. -Wikipedia

5. Combine the onions, mushrooms, carrots and pancetta in a skillet with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, 1/4 cup of water and a good dash each of sugar, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, for about 15 minutes; at this point there should be practically no water left (this was true for me). Uncover and cook over high heat, sauteing the veggies until nicely browned on all sides, about 4 minutes. 
 Ahh, bingo! This is what my grandmother was always talking about! "Tasting the veggies". I have always combined my veggies into my stews at the beginning. It's true, if you do this later, you CAN really taste everything individually!  

I did the last step a little differently than recommended. After I cooked my veggies, I stirred all of them into the yummy stew instead of stirring them in with each serving. I have four boys in my house and there is little time for proper serving of meals! I put this in a pretty soup terrine and to the table it went! I served it over some mashed potatoes, a simple salad an watched my hard work disappear in roughly ten minutes. True happiness for me.
Posted by Marlo

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