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The Best Beef Stew

Beef Stew 1 The Best Beef Stew

When we were kids, my dad fancied himself a pretty good beef stew maker. I did not agree – he used big chunks of flank steak, which I suspect weren’t cooked quite long enough to break down in its tomato-ey sauce, because while it was certainly lean and healthy, it had the texture of chewy meat rope. (Sorry Dad – it’s not you, it’s me. And the meat rope.)

Fortunately, he’s so fantastic that it’s easy to overlook his stew.

Beef stew Collage The Best Beef Stew

But it’s funny how childhood food preferences stick with you – I keep thinking I don’t like beef stew, but really I do. (So long as the meat is cooked long enough.) Any tough cut of beef (or bison) makes a good stew – even those chunks of “stewing beef”; the trick is to simmer it first, giving the connective tissues time to melt and the gravy a chance to develop, before adding the potatoes and carrots, which you don’t want to break down to the point where chewing is unnecessary. These days, I make beef stew in the big red Le Creuset braiser I bought for myself, browning the meat first on the stovetop to create all those deep browned crusty bits that add so much flavour. (One day I made boeuf bourguignon for fifty, and browned so much beef that our kitchen was like a steamy meat sauna.)

Beef Stew 6 The Best Beef Stew

Once I have that foundation of browned bits, I add the onion and celery to the pan to loosen them (and create even more), then some beef stock, tomato paste, balsamic vinegar (because: yum) and red wine and let the whole thing simmer for a good couple hours, until it looks something like this:

Beef Stew 4 The Best Beef Stew

Then the potatoes (small, with their skins) and carrots (ditto), and even parsnips, if you’re into alternative root vegetables, get into the pool. Toss a handful of frozen peas in too, if you like.

Beef Stew 3 The Best Beef Stew

They get the chance to cook in the dark, sticky gravy, leaving everything awesome and not at all watery; enough to stand up to these neverending cold-snowy-icy days.

Beef Stew 2 The Best Beef Stew

Or for nights when you want to invite your dad over for dinner.

The Best Beef Stew

3-4 lb beef chuck or stewing beef, cut into 2-inch pieces
salt and pepper
canola oil, for cooking
1 large onion, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped (optional)
2-3 garlic cloves, crushed
3 Tbsp. tomato paste
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
4 cups (1 L) beef stock
1/2 bottle red wine (about 2 cups)
a few sprigs of fresh thyme
2 lb. small, thin-skinned potatoes, halved
3 carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1-2 parsnips, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces (optional)
1/2 cup peas, thawed (optional)

Preheat oven to 300°F. Pat the beef dry with paper towels and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Place a heavy, ovenproof pot over medium-high heat, add a generous drizzle of oil and cook the meat in batches, without crowding the pan, browning it well on all sides. Remove from the pot and add the onion and celery, if using. Cook for 3-4 minutes, until soft and starting to loosen the browned bits in the bottom of the pan. Add the garlic and tomato paste and cook for another minute. Add the vinegar and cook for another minute.

Add the stock and red wine, cover and cook for 2 1/2 hours, until the meat is very tender. Add the potatoes, carrots and parsnips, stir to coat everything well and return to the oven for 30-40 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. (If you’re adding peas, stir them in for the last 5 minutes.) Serve hot.

Serves 6-8.

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February 06 2014 | beef and one dish | 14 Comments »

Penne with Pancetta, Grape Tomatoes, Peas and Romano

Barilla 1 Penne with Pancetta, Grape Tomatoes, Peas and Romano

I’m officially ready for a long winters’ nap. This past weekend was the official start of the season of leftover party food, mince tarts, cheese balls and Christmas crack for breakfast, lunch, dinner and all snacks between – however, I am responsible for the care and feeding of another human, and feel like I should give him the occasional proper meal.

Also: I find we all get a little squirrelly when we subsist on shortbread and Toffifee.

W and I just taped a cooking segment together in my mom’s kitchen, cooking with Barilla pasta – and I tried a recipe I likely wouldn’t have otherwise made, and the results were devoured by everyone present, including W and his cousins, who were still there from a sleepover and watched, giggling, from under the camera stand and lights. W hadn’t slept and intermittently burst into tears, but was excited to get to be in the kitchen with me – he wanted to call it the crazy pirate cooking show and came up with a Jolly Roger logo where a knife and fork replaced the crossbones, and the skull is wearing a chefs’ hat. Pretty genius, I think.

I usually don’t go for whole wheat or grainy pastas, as they tend to be as tweedy as an Oxford suit jacket. But this has a smooth mouthfeel, and the added fibre and protein comes from chickpeas and lentils, and barley, flax and oat fibre along with the traditional semolina. Pasta made with prairie ingredients! It has 14 grams (!) of protein per serving – which is pretty amazing for pasta. I admit I’m as guilty as anyone of opening jars, but this is a little more interesting than the usual ground-beef-and-tomato-sauce-pasta, and it takes less time than cooking the pasta itself – the whole thing is done in under 15 minutes. One bowl and fork. One couch. One Christmas movie. All good.

Barilla 2 Penne with Pancetta, Grape Tomatoes, Peas and Romano

Penne with Pancetta, Grape Tomatoes, Peas and Romano

Adapted from Barilla.

1/2 box Barilla PLUS® penne or other chunky pasta
1/2 cup thinly sliced prosciutto or pancetta
extra virgin olive oil, for cooking
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
1/2 cup grated Romano or Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
salt and black pepper, to taste

In a large pot of water, cook the penne according to package directions. Before draining, reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Drain and set aside.

In a large, heavy skillet, sauté the prosciutto or pancetta in a drizzle of olive oil over medium-high heat until crisp. Add the tomatoes and cook until the skins are slightly blistered. Add the peas (they can go in straight from the freezer, even) and cook for a few minutes. Return the pasta to the pan, season with salt and pepper and add the cooking water, tossing to combine everything and create a bit of sauce. Add the Romano, too.

Serve immediately, passing extra grated cheese at the table. Serves 4-6.

pixel Penne with Pancetta, Grape Tomatoes, Peas and Romano
button print gry20 Penne with Pancetta, Grape Tomatoes, Peas and Romano

December 17 2013 | one dish and pasta | 5 Comments »

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