I have fond memories of coming home from elementary school and being greeted by a warm bowl of succulent stew -- tender beef and chunks of potato and carrots surrounded by a delicious brown sauce flavored with onion and bay leaves. Mom always ate her stew like soup -- in a bowl, with a spoon. Dad always piled his stew on top of the bread like a big, open-faced sandwich -- slicing through each bite and eating it with a fork. And me? Well, I remember eating all the vegetables first so that I could savor the few pieces of stew meat in the bottom of the bowl, and use my bread to sop up the delicious sauce.
Some things never change.
The weather has been sunny, but chilly, here in Wisconsin. When we ventured out to the farmer's market on Saturday morning we were surprised by the bone-chilling wind that greeted us when we got out of the car. Wow! Those farmers are sure dedicated folks! And we were glad. Our stash included loads of great stuff -- fresh mustard greens, red kale, end-of-season broccoli, winter squash, Ida Red apples, and rutabaga. The big question became "What would we make with our loot?" Well -- stew, of course!
The stew I make these days still resembles the one I grew up with... but I've taken a few liberties with the ingredients. Taking my cue from all the great chefs who remind us that a fantastic dish is contingent upon fantastic ingredients, we start off with a pound of our favorite grass-fed beef. This beef not only tastes better than your average supermarket meat, but it's seriously nourishing. Among its benefits, grass-fed beef is a great source of vitamin E, omega-3 fatty acids (7 times more than grain fed beef), vitamin C, and beta-carotene. Grass-based farming is also great for the environment (excellent article here at Mother Earth News, if you're interested). Healthy as it is, we're still judicious with our use of red meat. We use the beef primarily as a flavoring for the stew (rather than as the main event), so we can get away with using only about one pound of meat for 6-8 solid servings.
Another update to our beef stew involves... and you've probably guessed it... BEER! Yes, indeed. One of our favorite "stew brews" just happens to be one that's made right here in the Dairy State. Tyranena "The Devil Made Me Do It" Coffee Imperial Oatmeal Porter. Dark and sweet with plenty of coffee flavor, this beer really bumps up the flavor quotient in our stew. And it's mighty nice for drinking on the side too...
And now, the cooking begins.
Brown the stew meat in large, oven-safe pan (a Dutch oven, if you have one).
You'll notice all sorts of delicious browned bits developing as the onions cook. Feel free to giggle with delight -- all those crusty bits are going to impart some seriously amazing flavor to our stew.
Add a tablespoon of dried thyme to the onions, and stir well. Deglaze the pan with 4 tablespoons of red wine vinegar and a cup or so of the beer. Scrape up those crispy bits as the mixture comes to a boil. They should come off the bottom of the pan surprisingly easily as the vinegar and beer do their thang.
Recipe: Root Veggie Stew with Beef
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