Beef and Potato Stew à la Meg

I love to cook. I mean, I really love to cook. I’m the kind of girl that, if given the choice, I’ll bake bread the old fashioned way before using a bread machine because I genuinely find it fun and relaxing. Or I’ll dig through recipe books to find a complicated foreign cuisine type meal that takes 5 hours and about 7 different pots and pans to make and then try it. Yes, I’ve been told I’m crazy. But I’m ok with that.

I realize that stew is not the most exciting, most exotic, or most complicated kind of meal out there. However, it is a good basic recipe to have in your repertoire, and there are dozens of ways to make it. It doesn’t have to be boring old stew. I’m sure this basic recipe is nothing new… I like to find basic recipes and adapt and play with them to make them my own. I’m not rigid in following measurements unless I’m baking. And I’m NEVER rigid in following spices and flavors. I like to make recipes my own, and this stew recipe is no exception. Here it is, albeit in all of its not-so-exciting simplicity.

I start with these basic ingredients:

olive oil
2 to 2 1/2 pounds of stew meat or other beef cut into bite-sized pieces
2 small onions (I use yellow onions, but whatever kind of onion you like is perfect)
2 cloves of garlic
4-5 sticks of celery
4-5 large carrots
5-6 russet potatoes
1 can of condensed tomato soup
1 can of water
salt and pepper to taste

Begin by cutting up the onion. Don’t feel like it needs to be finely chopped. The goal here is a nice chunky, hearty stew. Large chunks of onion work well. Also mince the garlic at this time. (I LOVE garlic and put it in almost anything. Except this particular batch of stew, which I’m making for someone else….)

Now would be the perfect time to saute the onion in a little olive oil over medium to medium-high heat. However, to make a long story short, our oven and rangetop are currently out of commission, so I have to be a little creative. (God willing we’ll get a new oven tomorrow.) So in these pictures, I’m attempting at least to heat up the onion in the crock pot in a little olive oil while I chop up everything else. NOTE: don’t saute the garlic. It burns too easily. You can just add the garlic straight to the crock pot when you start throwing things in.

Also chop up the celery at this point and add to the onions to saute until translucent.

Ideally, now would be the moment that I would lightly brown the meat in a little olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. But again, I’m facing appliance limitations, so I just added it to the crock pot, which works just as well. I used stew meat here. The supermarket I buy it at cuts the pieces a little big, so I typically cut each piece in half. I want the stew to be chunky, but I also want it to be edible. Look at those pretty colors!

Next, wash the carrots and potatoes really well. Feel free to peel them if you prefer your vegetables to be skinless. I like to leave the skins on because they have so many of the nutrients, so I just make sure to scrub off the dirt really well.

Chop them up in good bite-sized chunks and then add them to the pot!

Alright, now it’s time for the liquid. I use a condensed tomato soup that, I have to be honest, I’m not entirely happy with. Don’t get me wrong, it tastes really good. But it also has a lot of high fructose corn syrup in it, which is not so good for you. Luckily, unlike their other soups, this particular flavor of Campbell’s does not have MSG. However, I’m still looking for a good condensed tomato without all the corn syrup. Suggestions are welcome! In either case, add the can to the pot, and then a can’s worth of water to the pot. I know it doesn’t look like a lot of liquid, but it is enough. Trust me. The point is good hearty stew, not watery soup.

Stir it all up to make sure everything is coated in the liquid really well.

Now you can start having fun. For this batch, since it was for someone else, I kept the seasonings fairly simple. Pretty much just salt and pepper. But you can do dozens of different things here depending on what you are in the mood for.

Some ideas:

Sweet and Sour

3-4 tablespoons of soy sauce
2-3 tablespoons of brown sugar
1/4 to 1/2 cup of white vinegar

BBQ….ish

a few shakes of worcestershire sauce
cumin
cayenne pepper
bay leaf

Asian

1/4 cup soy sauce
minced ginger (which you can saute with the onions, being careful not to burn it)
maybe a little cinnamon or rice vinegar depending on what you’re going for
peas

Simple, but richer flavor

1/2 cup sherry or dry red wine
OR beef broth (I wouldn’t do both…)
1-2 sprigs fresh rosemary
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme

My point is, there’s plenty of room to play with flavors! Once you have all your ingredients in the crock pot, cover and cook on low for 7-8 hours or on high 3-4 hours. If you’re nervous about the liquid not being enough (I am cooking at about 6,500 ft after all, so my liquid needs may be a little different than yours), check every couple of hours and add a little more whenever needed. Depending on your flavors, serve this with anything from crusty bread to corn bread to rice!

Happy cooking!
-meg

Basic Recipe

olive oil
2 to 2 1/2 pounds of stew meat or other beef cut into bite-sized pieces
2 small onions
2 cloves of garlic
4-5 sticks of celery
4-5 large carrots
5-6 russet potatoes
1 can of condensed tomato soup
1 can of water
salt and pepper to taste

1. Chop up onion and celery. Saute in olive oil over medium to medium-high heat until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add to crock pot.

2. Lightly brown meat in olive oil over medium-high heat. Add to crock pot.

3. Mince garlic and chop up remaining vegetables in large, but bite-sized, chunks. Add to crock pot. Stir in condensed tomato soup and can-full of water. Salt and pepper to taste.

4. Cook on low 7-8 hours or on high 3-4 hours until meat is done and vegetables are soft.

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