Beef Stew And the Art Of Deglazing

Despite the fact that fall is still technically a day away, it’s actually felt like fall here for the past week or so — I’ve even been wearing a coat and a scarf, which seems crazy for September. (Ok, it’s a decorative leopard-print scarf, but still.)

This weekend Shaun and I were both feeling a bit under the weather so Sunday night called for warm, fall-ish, comfort food. In the form of stew.

I googled a few recipes, but they all seemed to recommend a dutch oven, which I don’t have. So, in the end, I just went with no recipe at all. My favorite. :) Despite the fact that it doesn’t use a dutch oven, this is still a pretty typical way to make up a stew – feel free to improvise with the ingredients, because it’s pretty hard to go wrong.

In the instructions, I talk about a technique called deglazing — even though this sounds like it might be a bit fussy, I still use it whenever I make a stew. It adds a ton of flavor, without adding extra ingredients. A winner in my book. :)

Beef-Stew

Beef Stew With Nut Brown Beer

• 1 lb stew beef, cut into bite-sized pieces
• 1/4 cup flour
• 1/2 tsp salt
• 1/2 tsp pepper
• 1 tbsp olive oil
• 1 large cooking onion, chopped
• 1 packaged mushrooms, sliced
• 3 medium potatoes (any kind), cut into bite-sized pieces
• 1/2 a bag of baby carrots, each carrot chopped in half
• 1 bottle nut brown ale (or other dark beer)
• 4 cups beef broth
• 3 tbsp cornstarch, or more flour (optional)

Don’t let the large list of ingredients fool you — use whatever veggies you like in this. No fuss, remember?

The first step is to brown the beef, and even though it’s technically unnecessary, I don’t recommend skipping it. It adds a lot to the flavor of the dish.

Chop your stew beef into bite-sized pieces. Mix your flour, salt, and pepper in a large freezer bag, and then throw in the pieces of beef. Shake well to get everything coated with flour.

Heat olive oil in a large pot. Do NOT use a non-stick pot. Once the oil is hot, add the flour-coated beef. Let the beef sit in the hot pan for a few minutes without moving if – you want the underside to brown. When you can see the bottom of the pot getting messy looking, flip the beef to brown on the other side. You WANT the pan to get kinda crusty and brown – when it starts looking like it would be a pain to wash out, that’s when it’s good.

Soon you will notice the beef starts to give off more moisture and the pan is filling with juice. At this point, use a rubber slotted spoon or spatula to remove the beef and put in a separate bowl.

Deglazing

Deglazing

Your empty pot should now be quite messy looking. Here’s where the “deglazing” comes in — that’s when you use a liquid to stir up all the brown bits. Add a small pour of your beer, just enough to cover the bottom of the pot. Using the rubber spatula, scrape away at the brown bits, stirring them into the beer as it heats. Get the bottom of the pot pretty clean, and the beer looking more savory – congratulations, you’ve just deglazed your pan!

Now add your mushrooms and onions into the same pot. Cook until onions are translucent. Then add your beef broth and the remainder of your beer. Add the beef back in. Cover and let simmer at about “medium” for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, add in your potatoes and carrots. Cook another 15 minutes.

I like my stew quite thick, almost gravy-like. So at this point, mix your cornstarch with a few tablespoons of water, and stir to dissolve. Add to the stew and stir around. Let cook another 5 minutes or so until nicely thickened. If you prefer a thinner, more broth-ier stew, cut back on the cornstarch or omit entirely.

Note: For a very different flavor, you can substitute red wine for the beer. Or if you prefer, just increase the amount of beef broth and skip the alcohol altogether.

Having trouble with the deglaze? Here’s how it’s done

 

Banana Nut Bites: Dead Simple Snacking

Banana-Walnut-Snack

The next time you want a snack,  think beyond the granola bar. Think banana nut bites.  This banana and nut combo has quickly become one of my favorite snacks. It’s delicious, portable, and provides a great combo of carbs, protein, and fat.

All you need is a banana and small handful of nuts. I used walnuts here, but I also like pecans, hazelnuts, and almonds.

Of course, you could eat them separately – a banana, followed by a few nuts – but bananas and nuts are a great flavor combo, so I recommend getting a bit of both into each bite. :)

For this photo, I sliced up my banana and squished a piece of walnut into each slice, but if you’re on the go, you can make this even simpler. Bite off the top of the banana, and press a walnut piece into the soft center. Eat that bite. Press another walnut in and eat that bite. Keep eating and adding walnuts as you go. This is great if you’re out and about because a banana and a little baggie of nuts will hold up pretty well in your bag, even for a couple of days.

You see, snacks don’t have to be complicated, but they don’t have to be boring either. These banana nut bites make a fun finger food and I bet you could make it even more fun by adding a raisin or two to each bite, a couple chocolate chips, or a sprinkle of shredded coconut. You won’t even miss that granola bar.

Strawberry Cheesecake In A Bowl

Strawberry Cheesecake

This version of an old favorite was inspired by the bodybuilding world where every calorie counts and dessert is taboo (along with just about everything else).  What’s great about this recipe is that not only does it provide a balance of protein and carbohydrates, so that you have a complete meal, but it tastes good to ordinary folks.  I eat it for breakfast on days where dessert has to come first.

(Ed. Note: Isn’t that every day?)

Strawberry Cheesecake

• About 2 tbsp. graham crumbs, or two graham crackers, crushed
• 1 container non-fat or 1% M.F. cottage cheese
• 1 large container non-fat or 1% M.F. strawberry yogurt
• strawberries for garnish (optional)

 

Strawberries

If you don’t have graham cracker crumbs, then crumble one row of graham crackers in a food processor (or crush them in a bag with a rolling pin). Set aside.

In the same food processor (or professional quality blender), blend the cottage cheese until smooth.

Remove the now silky smooth cottage cheese from the food processor/blender into a large bowl and mix in your favorite strawberry yogurt (lower fat results in a better nutrition profile). Whatever you do, DO NOT BLEND the yogurt into the cottage cheese in the food processor – it will break down the texture and make it runny, which will ruin the effect we’re going for.

Spoon one cup of the blended cottage cheese and yogurt into dessert sized bowls and add a couple of tablespoons of the graham cracker crumbs just before serving. Decorate with sliced strawberries.

Voila!

Highs And Lows And Sweet Potatoes

sweet potato

You probably don’t need me to remind you of this, but: it’s the middle of February. I don’t know about you guys, but for me that means that cold, snow, slush, frost, short days, salty boots, slippery sidewalks, and kooky hats with ear flaps and pompoms have OFFICIALLY lost all their charm. I am, as they say, totally over this winter.

I feel like the cold has sapped all my energy. When I get home from work all I seem to want to do is curl up under a blanket and watch Glee and maybe have a hot toddy. I haven’t wanted to spend that much time in the kitchen, or even on the computer, for that matter.

That is partly why I haven’t been blogging much lately. I mean, who can type and hold a scalding hot alcoholic beverage in their hand at the same time? Not I, it seems. I think about this blog all the time, though, and a few things have happened over the last couple of weeks that have been bringing me back to these pages.

The other day I was looking for a post to forward to someone, and poking around through the recipes I’ve posted really made me realize how much I’ve missed it, and how much fun I had coming up with ideas, taking pictures, writing posts, etc. Then on the weekend, a friend mentioned to me that she’d made the beef stew I posted, and she said it was actually the best thing she’d ever made. The best thing she’d ever made! Can you believe that? I honestly don’t think there’s a higher compliment as a food blogger.

And then something else cool happened this week — I found out I was one of five finalists in Best Health Magazines 2011 Blog Awards, in the category of ‘Eating Well’. Seriously!

It was a total shock — I know a friend had mentioned nominating me but I honestly didn’t think anything of it. What were the odds, I figured? And yet yesterday I got the email, and today I was stunned to find myself in the company of Angela from Oh She Glows, and Meghan from Making Love In The Kitchen, and two others that I’m not as familiar with but look forward to getting to know.

The finalist will be determined based on votes, so please feel free to head on over and vote for me! You can vote once a day until March 21, and you only have to enter your name and email address (even just a first name seems to work fine.)

Anyway, I’m posting today not because I desperately want you to vote for me (although, hey, I wouldn’t mind!) but because all these things just seem to have conspired to draw me back in. What can I say, I love blogging, and I guess I’ll just have to put down the hot toddy and pick up the camera again.

This meal and variations of it have saved my ass on many a Monday night. The whole thing roasts up in one pan, in about 20 minutes. You can do the chopping while the oven preheats. And when it’s done cooking you can turn off the oven and leave the door open a smidge (assuming you don’t have small children) and enjoy that extra bit of run-off heat. Ahhhhhh.

Sweet Potato, Pear and Tofu Bake

Sweet Potato, Pear and Tofu Bake

(serves 1, with a small portion for leftovers*)

• 1 large sweet potato, scrubbed and cut into 1” chunks
• 1 pear, scrubbed and cut into bite-sized pieces
• ⅓ a block of firm or extra firm tofu, cut into bite-sized pieces
• 1 small onion, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
• 1-2 tsp olive oil
• ½ tsp cayenne pepper
• 1 tsp minced garlic (one clove, or buy the pre-minced kind that comes in a jar)
• 1 tsp minced ginger (use fresh or the pre-minced kind that comes in a jar, or substitute ½ tsp dried ginger)
• splash of balsamic vinegar (optional)

Preheat oven to 400*. Chop the potato, pear, and tofu and dump into a big bowl. In a small bowl mix oil, cayenne pepper, garlic, and ginger and give it a good stir. Dump on top of sweet potato mixture and use your hands to toss so that everything is well coated.

Spread out onto a baking sheet, and bake for 20-25 minutes, until potatoes are fork tender, tossing once after about 10 minutes.

As always, none of these ingredients or measurements need be exact. Substitute a regular potato for the sweet potato, swap in an apple for the pear, or trade chickpeas for tofu. If you like it spicy add extra cayenne pepper, and if you don’t, go for a milder chili powder. I enjoyed topping mine with a splash of balsamic vinegar.

*You’ll probably end up with a bit of leftover with this, depending on the size of your potato. I dumped mine on top of a bed of spinach the next day, topped it with an olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette and it made a seriously fantastic salad.

Here are 4 other ways to cook sweet potatoes