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Beef Stew Struggles {CtBF}

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Full Disclosure:  Beef Stew challenges me.  On the surface, it’s perfect comfort food with much in its favor, but I usually only like it, never love it.  One thing I’ve figured out is that I don’t like stewed vegetables, especially potatoes, so I tend to favor recipes with just meat and gravy.  This week’s selection for Cook the Book Fridays from David Lebovitz’s My Paris Kitchen, Belgian beef stew with beer and spice bread (aka Carbonade Flamande), met these criteria, so I was excited to try something new.

To start, chunks of beef chuck are browned.  Next, diced onions and bacon lardons are sautéed.  The pot is deglazed with some water before adding a bottle of beer.  I tried to find a European-style amber, but the only amber at the store was Dos Equis so that’s what I used.  Finally, all the ingredients along with thyme, bay leaves, and cloves spent some time simmering.

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Now it’s time for the secret ingredient: pain d’épices.  What’s pain d’épices, you ask?  It’s a honeyed spice loaf, not too sweet and fragrant with a variety of warm spices: anise, cinnamon, allspice, ginger, nutmeg and cloves.  The scent reminded me of my favorite holiday cookies, Basler Läckerli.

It seems unconventional, but this stew is thickened with slices of pain d’épices lightly spread with Dijon mustard.  The slices are laid on top while it stews for a few more hours.  Periodic stirring encourages the bread to dissolve into the pot, transforming the thin beery broth into a thick flavorful gravy.

I served the stew over a bed of mashed potatoes.  The stew had the simple style I prefer with an unusual and enticing aroma and taste.  While I enjoyed this more than many other versions of beef stew, I still just liked-not-loved it.

Tricky to photograph -- it was more appealing in person

Tricky to photograph — it was more appealing in person

I enjoyed the leftover spice bread more.  I brought it to my sister’s.  It was a bit dry, but improved when we toasted it for breakfast.

Meanwhile, I’ve become obsessed with last time’s dukkah.  I made the dukkah-roasted cauliflower 3 times in the past two weeks. I also gave broccoli the same treatment.  Equally delicious.  And I used dukkah to coat fish fillets when I made Dorie Greenspan’s almond flounder meunière (or should I call it dukkah flounder meunière?)  I’m going to have to make another batch.

We just returned from a long weekend in Florida for a family celebration.  Here’s my favorite nature shot from the trip.  We saw this 15-to-20 foot alligator floating in the water beside the fishing pavilion when we took a walk at Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge.

Alligator

And closer to home, despite a snowstorm predicted for the weekend, spring is in the air.  This morning I caught half a dozen turtles sunning themselves on a log during my late-morning walk with Bella.  They made me smile.

Turtles

And this evening, we spied a beautiful full rainbow in the backyard!

Rainbow

If you want to know how my friends enjoyed their stew, check out their links here.  Due to copyright considerations, I don’t publish the recipes here.  You can find the stew on page 198 and the pain d’épices on page 293 of David Lebovitz’s My Paris Kitchen.  Or feel free to drop me a line and I’ll share with you.

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The Beef Stew Trials

Beef Stew

I want to like beef stew, I really do. I try different recipes, all different variations, and more often than not, I’m underwhelmed. With another cold winter ahead, it seems like I should figure out how to make a beef stew I enjoy.

Did I mention that we bought a winter CSA share? Because it was all storage vegetables, it was a one-time pickup. In early December, we picked up bags and bags of onions, shallots, garlic, potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, rutabagas, beets, carrots, parsnips, celery root, and (new to me) black radishes.

Filthy Vegetables

I thought hard about what I do and don’t like about stew. For one thing, the vegetables in most stews are just carrots and potatoes, and I realize I don’t like potatoes that have stewed for a long time. I also don’t usually like stews that are just meaty soups with a thin soupy broth.

I came up with a stew with lots of root vegetables (no potatoes) and a lovely thick gravy. Much to my surprise, I really enjoyed it. The meat was perfectly tender, and the meat-to-vegetable ratio was exactly the way I like it. Howard liked it too.

Don't We Clean Up Well?

Don’t We Clean Up Well?

I served the stew over the celery root puree I made for French Fridays. The texture of the creamy puree complemented the chunky stew in every bite. I might be sold on stew this time. There’s plenty of winter ahead and lots of root vegetables in the fridge, so I’ll definitely be trying this again.

Beef Stew
Adapted from The Commonsense Kitchen
Serves 8

1¾ lbs beef stew meat, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 Tbsp olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
Pinch of cloves
1 cup fruity red wine
3 cups chicken stock
1 bay leaf
Leaves of 2 sprigs fresh thyme, chopped
3 cloves garlic
1 large onion, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
5 carrots, peeled and sliced into 1-inch slices
2 turnips, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
2 parsnips, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
2 black radishes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks (or 2 more turnips or parsnips)
1 small celery root, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
¾ cup cold wter
1/3 cup flour

Preheat the oven to 300F.

Dry the meat with paper towels. Heat a large skillet over medium-high. In a large bowl, toss the meat with 1½ teaspoons kosher salt, ½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper, and the cloves. Heat 1½ tablespoons of olive oil in the skillet. In two batches, brown the beef on all sides. Add each batch to a large Dutch oven as it finishes browning. Add more oil, if needed.

Add the wine, stock, bay leaf, and thyme to the Dutch oven with the browned beef. Bring it to a simmer (not a boil). Taste for seasoning. Cover the Dutch oven and place in to the oven. Cook for 30 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 250F and cook for another hour.

About 15 minutes before the hour is up, in a skillet over medium heat, add another 1½ tablespoons olive oil. Gently cook the onions, garlic, celery, and carrots sprinkled with salt, stirring frequently, until they start to soften, but not brown (about 5 minutes). Add the remaining vegetables and another sprinkle of salt, and cook another 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

Place the cold water and flour in a jar. Shake well until it is well-combined.

Add the slurry along with the vegetables to the Dutch oven. Stir everything together, and replace the pot in the oven. Cook for another 40 minutes. The gravy will thicken as the vegetables cook through. Taste and adjust seasoning, as needed.

Serve over celery root puree or another accompaniment of your choice.