18 October, 2011

Hello Autumn!! I've Missed You....

My favorite season has finally made its presence known...Autumn!  I only take breath every other season of the year to make it to THIS point.  When I get to watch Mother Nature really show off her splendor and be at her finest.  This weather hits and something inside of me wakes up; I find myself living in my kitchen, singing while I stack up pot after pot and pan after pan and I churn out soups, stews, breads, cakes, cookies and candies until my Mister, neighbors and friends are BEGGING me to stop sending food to their house cause they've all gained 10 lbs.  (You know I love you though!!)

On one such day this week I woke up, looked out the window and KNEW it was a Stew 'n' Biscuits day!  There are SO many ways to have a stew but what really characterizes a stew from anything else is the slow cooking and the thickness of the sauce.  Some people would say "Well, but there HAVE to be potatoes!"  Not so.  When I make my stew with lamb I use parsnips in place of potatoes and shallot instead of regular white onion...there is also red wine in the mix.  My point is...you can make a stew out of ANY craving.  You can make an Italian themed stew with gnocchi instead of potatoes, Italian flavored sausage cut up into coins, baby carrots, pearl onions, and the appropriate Italian seasoning in the gravy.  These kinds of variations are easy to work, just use your creativity and most importantly make sure you are making something you WANT to eat.  Let's get started...

*By the time my stew was ready for the crock pot it was such an enormous batch that it came within 1 inch of hitting the rim on my 5.5 quart crock pot.  Before it graduated it to the crock pot I was doing my busy work in a very large pot on the stove.  Make sure you have something large enough to put this size stew into.  If you can't...scale down the recipe to half and see if that works better for you.

2 32oz cartons of unsalted beef broth
5-6 medium sized baby red potatoes (these can get quite large for "baby" reds)
1.5-2 lbs stew beef   *see note below
1/2 a bag of baby carrots
1 1/2 c. frozen peas
2 T. minced garlic
1/4 c. dehydrated chopped onion OR 1/2 c. diced fresh onion
1 6 oz. can of tomato paste (unseasoned and unsweetened)
1/2 c. all purpose flour
2-3 T. canola oil

Begin your preparation by chopping whatever vegetables you have to prepare.  I use the baby carrots as is out of the bag and I try to make my potatoes 2 inch chunks or smaller.  The onion can be diced or stripped like you'd have in fajitas.  I don't like onion strips in my stew so I dice them.

In a large pot begin browning your beef in the canola oil with the minced garlic.  When the meat is about half browned add the onion.  Allow this to cook until the onions are becoming translucent, add in your flour all at once; mixing thoroughly.  Make absolutely sure that the flour has been well incorporated into the juices and meat grease in the pan, you shouldn't see white anymore.  The flour should be the color of the meat juices and oil; completely coating the meat, onion and garlic.  Allow this to "roominate" for at least 1 minute, then slowly add the first 32 oz. of beef broth.  In 1/4 c. bursts at first, stirring after each addition.  You will start to see what looks more like gravy at this stage.  In a 16 oz glass measuring cup mix together the 6 oz of tomato paste and 1 more cup of your beef broth; a quarter of a cup at a time making sure the tomato paste is smooth before adding the next quarter cup.  When the glass cup is filled add it to the pot, stirring while adding.  Once well incorporated add another 2 c. of beef broth.  At this point, keep the remaining 1 cup of beef broth to the side somewhere.  (The thickness or thinness of your stew depends entirely upon you; some like it so thick the when you turn your spoon over it sticks to it like cement.  Some like it so runny it would really be classified as a soup.) Pour the contents of your pot into your large crock pot now if you had planned on it.  Once you do, add your carrots and potatoes.  Allow this to cook in your crock pot on low or medium for 2-4 hours.  If for ANY reason your stew doesn't seem thick enough to you at this point, add some cornstarch mixed with water; following the directions on the box/container.  Repeat until it is as thick as you like.  If it seems TOO thick for your liking, add some of the remaining 1 c. of beef broth until it is a consistency that satisfies you.  5 minutes before serving, add your frozen peas to the pot.  

*I would recommend at LEAST a half or three quarters of a pound of stew beef for this recipe.  Some will want MORE beef than 1 lb, some will want less.  I use less and add MORE vegetables depending on what I have on hand.  I had 2 parsnips so I went with a half pound of meat and extra veggies.  It really has to do with the crowd you're serving.  This can be for meat lovers or the meat can be left out COMPLETELY and vegetable broth can be used in place of beef broth for vegetarians.  The sky is the limit!!

I always have some kind of bread on hand when I serve stew.  If I ask my Mister, he usually requests biscuits.  But I've served it with yeast dinner rolls as well.  It is fabulous both ways...do what you like.  I made drop biscuits to go with this.

3 c. all purpose flour
1 T. aluminum free baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. sea salt
8 T. Earth's Balance vegan buttery spread, cut into 1/2 in. pieces
4 T. vegetable shortening, cut into 1/2 in. pieces
1 1/4 c. soured unsweetened soy milk   *see how to make below

Preheat oven to 425 degrees and make sure your rack is in the middle of the oven.

Grease your pan of choice, I use cookie sheets when i make biscuits but you can use a cake pan.  They all work.

Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in large bowl. Cut butter and shortening into flour mixture with a pastry cutter or a fork until mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in buttermilk until just combined.  Using a large rounded, spring loaded ice cream scoop (I use my Pampered Chef large scoop) or a large spoon portion out the dough into either 6 very large biscuits, 12 large biscuits or 18 medium sized biscuits.  I went with medium sized.  Whatever you do, don't handle the dough a great deal.  If you absolutely want to roll it out on flour and cut out perfect rounded biscuits you can.  Just remember, every time you do that the dough gets tougher and the biscuits will be more dense rather than light and fluffy.  Bake your biscuits for 20-25 minutes or until they are golden brown.  Let them cool on a wire rack for about 5 minutes before serving unless you like your biscuits piping hot.

*Making "buttermilk" out of any milk is doable.  Depending on what you have and what you are making will depend on which method you use.  My son and I can't have dairy, so I always sour my unsweetened soy milk.  For savory dishes and cakes I use white vinegar to do this.  If I am making the buttermilk for a cookie, I sour my milk with lemon juice.  Either way, to make it get a 16 oz. glass measuring cup and put in 1 T. of either lemon juice or white vinegar.  Fill the measuring cup to the line you need...in THIS recipe it would be to the 1 and 1/4 cup line.  Stir the mixture as the vinegar sours the milk and VOILA!  You have "buttermilk".

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