Beef Stew Comfort Food For A Gloomy Day

Happy New Year. Welcome to 2019. The first day of a new year. A time for a fresh start. Beef Stew is on the menu today. Some of my readers have noticed that I haven’t been posting much lately. As you may recall, my mother was quite ill over the summer. I’m sad to report that she passed away just before Christmas. So, I thought I’d like to honor her memory and share some of my favorite dishes that she made. I awoke to snow, rain and wind this morning. It’s an overall gloomy, humdrum of a day, so it’s a perfect day for one of my favorite comfort foods.

Mother like Daughter…not exactly

My mother made the most excellent beef stew and her gravy was always perfect. It was never lumpy and always had the ideal consistency. I’ve never quite mastered gravy. It’s usually too thick or more likely, too thin because I’m afraid of the gravy becoming too thick, so I undercompensate with the flour or corn starch.

One thing I never quite understood was why she cooked all the components of the stew separately and then mixed them together. It always seemed like a lot of extra work and a lot more pots and pans to wash. Since I’ve been attempting to duplicate her stew, I’ve tried various methods. I’m not a fan of cooking in the crock pot, but in the case of stew, it does seem rather obvious that would be the easiest process.

Trials and errors…many errors

I’ve attempted to just throw all the ingredients in the crock pot, but after 8 hours the potatoes and carrots weren’t fully cooked. Plus, I didn’t like the texture of the beef…it was still quite tough. And the gravy was way too thin.

On the second attempt, I seared the beef before adding the meat to the crock pot and upped the slow cooking time to 12 hours. To my dismay, the carrots and potatoes still were undercooked. However, the meat was much more tender and we’re on our way to a win on the gravy.

Well, I was determined, and on my third try, I started it the night before and let the crock pot go for 16 hours. Finally, it turned out pretty good, but I came to realization that it is really quite ridiculous to cook anything for 16 hours. 16 hours…No wonder my mom didn’t like using the crock pot. I eventually chalked it up to the crock pot not working at its peak performance and thought I would buy a new one before I experimented again.

Some Christmas Wishes Do Come True

I have a very generous friend who always gives the best gifts. She is thoughtful and apparently remembers everything you tell her. One day I mentioned in passing about my 16 hour beef stew and we had a little laugh over it. Well, wouldn’t you know, she got me a crock pot for Christmas. It really made my day and my next experiment of beef stew only took 5 hours in the crock pot.

I may be starting to warm up to the idea of experimenting with other recipes in the crock pot. Stay tuned.

Beef Stew

This comfort food has onions, celery, carrots, potatoes, stew beef and gravy. Chop the vegetables to your desired size. The smaller the chop of celery and onions, the more likely they’ll cook away. If you like a heartier stew, leave the pieces large. Either way, they’ll add a wonderful flavor to your stew.

Course Dinner
Keyword Stew
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 5 hours
Cooling time 1 hour
Total Time 5 hours 20 minutes
Servings 8
Author Lisa York

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds stew beef
  • 1 tbsp kosher salt
  • 2 tsp black pepper
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 medium onion chopped to desired size
  • 1 cup celery chopped to desired size
  • 1 pound baby carrots
  • 5 large potatoes chopped to bite size pieces
  • 8 cups beef broth
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce

Instructions

  1. Season the stew beef with salt, pepper and garlic powder.

    Beef Stew seasoned beef
  2. Chop the onion to desired size and layer on the bottom of the crock pot. (The order of the vegetables doesn’t really matter, but the vegetables should be at the bottom and the meat should be on top.) 

    Beef Stew onions
  3. Chop the celery to desired size and layer over the onions.

    Beef Stew celery
  4. Add the baby carrots.

    Beef Stew carrots
  5. Chop the potatoes to bite size pieces and add a layer to cover the carrots. You may need more than 5 potatoes depending on size.

    Beef Stew potatoes
  6. In a skillet, over high heat, melt the better and add the olive oil.

    Beef Stew prepared pan with oil and butter
  7. Add small amounts of the stew beef to the hot skillet, turn the pieces to sear each side. Be careful not to overcrowd the pan with the beef otherwise you’ll steam the beef instead of sear it. Searing the beef will lock in the juices and help the meat become tender during the slow cooking process.

    Beef Stew searing beef
  8. Remove the seared beef from the pan and set aside.

    Beef Stew seared beef
  9. Add a cup of the beef broth to the skillet to deglaze the juices and random pieces of beef from the pan. Pour the juices and broth over the vegetables in the crock pot.

    Beef Stew deglaze pan and add to crock pot
  10. Add one cup of flour to the seared stew beef.

    Beef Stew added flour to beef
  11. Stir the beef until each piece is well-coated with flour. The flour will thicken the broth while it cooks. 

    Beef Stew beef coated with flour
  12. Add the flour-coated beef to the crock pot. 

    Beef Stew beef coated with flour added to crock pot
  13. Add the remaining beef broth to the crock pot.

    Beef Stew added beef broth
  14. Be sure to cover all the ingredients in the crock pot. Add the Worcestershire sauce and bay leaves. Resist the urge to stir the pot. It’s best to keep the vegetables at the bottom of the crock pot where it will be the hottest.

    Beef Stew added beef broth to cover all ingredients
  15. Cook on high for 5 hours or low for 8 hours . Turn off approximately 1 hour prior to serving. The stew will remain hot, but the gravy will continue to thicken. Stir prior to serving. (Cooking times may vary depending on manufacturer make and model.) 

    Beef Stew cook on high

What’s your favorite kitchen gadget or appliance that you got for Christmas? Tell me in the comments below and don’t forget to follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest by clicking on the links provided.

Mainely Salsa-tional

Salsa ingredients
Salsa ingredients

Pico de gallo or Salsa?

They are both basically salads, but classified as sauces. Salsa is made with tomatoes, onions, and one or more varieties of peppers. Depending on what recipe you follow, there may also be other ingredients, but they’re chopped and mixed together.

The actual definition of salsa is a spicy tomato sauce. Salsa is sometimes cooked, sometimes not, again it depends on the recipe. It will have more liquid and has a thinner, soupier texture than its counterpart. 

Pico de gallo literally translated from Spanish is Rooster’s Beak. It is also known as salsa fresco. Pico de gallo is not cooked, this seems to be a standard rule. The chopped vegetables are clearly visible in the mixture. It’s chunkier and more rustic. It doesn’t require much seasoning other than salt and cilantro.

With all that said, I call my recipe a “Salsa” even though I use all fresh ingredients, don’t cook it and you can clearly see all the vegetables in it. But, I do add seasonings and other non-traditional ingredients which gives it more liquid than a traditional salsa.

Don’t worry, though, by non-traditional, I don’t mean you’ll find any rooster beaks in this recipe; but what you will find, however, is a lot of flavor. You can control the amount of heat, by selecting milder peppers and reducing the amount of ground cayenne. But, if made as the recipe calls, you’ll find a pleasant refreshing, almost sweet-tasting salsa followed a moment later by a little spicy kick.

 

Too Many Players On The Field

This particular recipe is slightly different than my very first version made many years ago. I once had to make an emergency alteration to stretch the recipe.

Has this ever happen to you? You’re only expecting a few people to show up for a gathering, but next thing you know, you have twice as many people than you’re prepared for. What do you do? I mean besides freak out about whether or not you have enough food for everyone. Well, this happened to me once and necessity became the mother of creativity.

I invited some friends over to watch football. I was only expecting 6 people, so I only made a small batch of salsa. It was kind of an unwritten rule that I would strategically put out bowls of salsa and chips within reach so my guests could nibble throughout the game. Next thing I knew I had twice as many people than I expected. I did not have enough salsa to place around for everyone and I couldn’t place a skimpy bowl of salsa in front of my guests.

I scrambled for ideas, I fumbled at the thought of adding the salsa to a big brick of melted cheese and just making a dip instead. But, I recovered and decided to just add some random vegetables from the crisper drawer. That move ended up winning the game..I mean the approval of my guests. They liked it better than the first draft and I still make it that way to this day.

I debated for a long time about sharing this recipe. This is the recipe that was going to make me rich and famous. I made it for an office party once and a few people offered to pay me to make it for them again. At that time I offered to share the recipe, but for one reason or another they thought it was just easier for them to pay me to make it. So, for a while, word got around and I was making gallons of this salsa every week. I brought it to the office, craft fairs, made gifts for friends and it was requested often for parties or just when we were hanging out for no special occasion. 

So, finally, that brings me to the name. Mainely Salsational. I had some very clever co-workers who would be gracious enough to sample my experiments while I was trying to come up with some new varieties. Some of those experiments were successful and others, eh not so much. These clever co-workers used a play on words making salsational out of the salsa is sensational. And, of course, Mainely because we’re from Maine and no one expects salsa from Maine to be a thing. Today I’m just going to share what is now called my “Original” salsa. I’ll share the other successful recipes another time.

Original Salsa

A fresh salsa with a touch of sweetness and a slight kick

Course Snack
Prep Time 20 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
Author Lisa

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pounds Roma tomatoes seeded and diced
  • 1 cup cucumber seeded and diced
  • 1/2 cup red onion diced
  • 1/2 cup red bell pepper seeded and diced
  • 1-2 jalapeno peppers (medium size) seeded and minced
  • 2-3 medium cloves garlic minced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 lime juiced
  • 2 tsp Balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp ground cayenne pepper
  • sugar as need optional
  • cilantro optional

Instructions

  1. Set a strainer in a small bowl. Cut the stem end off of each tomato and cut in half. Squeeze the tomato over the strainer to catch the seeds. Reserve the juice to the side. If you have the handy chop wizard kitchen gadget, you can use it to dice the remainder of the tomato and other veggies to get a nice, uniform size. Otherwise dice the tomatoes as usual. Add the diced tomatoes to a large bowl that has a lid.

    Chop Wizard
  2. Peel the cucumbers, cut in quarters lengthwise then cut off and discard the sections of seeds. Dice the remainder of the cucumber then add to the tomatoes.

  3. Remove the seeds from the peppers and discard. Dice the remainder of the peppers then add to the tomato mixture. (NOTE: If you want to add a little heat to the salsa, leave some of the jalapeno seeds and membrane. If you want a milder salsa, be sure to remove all the seeds and the membrane.)

  4. Mince the garlic then add to the tomato mixture.

  5. Add the remaining ingredients (except the sugar) to the reserved tomato juice. Stir well until the dried seasonings are well dissolved.

  6. Pour the mixture over the tomato mixture and stir until all the vegetables are well coated. Cover the salsa and refrigerate. (Trust me, you want to cover this dish. Otherwise everything in your fridge will taste like salsa.)

    Salsa
  7. This salsa will taste even better the next day, so if you have time, I would suggest making it the day before you want to serve it. 

  8. Adding sugar to this recipe is sometimes needed depending on your taste. Sometimes, after the vegetables have had time to infuse with the sauce, it will become a little sweeter. I would recommend not adding the sugar until the next day. And if you do need to add the sugar, start with a 1/2 tsp at a time. Stir until the sugar is dissolved and well blended. Repeat if necessary.

  9. I listed cilantro as optional because I am not really a fan of it and I do not miss it in the salsa when I make it, but others feel that it is needed and have enjoyed it when I’ve made it with the cilantro. So, it is up to you. Use as needed.

Do you prefer your salsa cooked or do you like the freshness of uncooked better? Let me know in the comments below and don’t forget to follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest for more recipes.

Sweet and Tangy Barbecue Sauce

The snow is almost gone…finally. Summer will be here in no time and you know what that means? Time to break out the grill which means we’ll need to make homemade barbecue sauce first. First up for the season is my Sweet and Tangy Barbecue Sauce. It’s one of my favorites, but if you like it a little spicier, you can add cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes. Don’t worry if you don’t have apple cider vinegar in your pantry, distilled white vinegar works too, it’ll just give a different tang, but is very good too.

When I first started making this particular barbecue sauce, I noticed that I used some of the same ingredients as the dry rub I recently wrote about here, which is made, in part, with the seasoned salt that I wrote about here. So, I figured rather than measuring out the ingredients every time I wanted to make barbecue sauce, I would just use the dry rub mix instead. I was not disappointed. I would recommend making both of these mixes in larger than needed quantities. They’ll keep for a long time in airtight containers and you’ll be surprised how many uses you’ll find for them.

If you just want to make a small batch of barbecue sauce without having to make the other seasoning mixes, start by adding a pinch of salt, pepper, paprika, garlic powder, chili powder, ground cumin, cayenne pepper, curry and ginger. Just add a little at a time, you can add more if needed, but you can’t remove it if you put add too much.

Sweet and Tangy Barbecue Sauce

This easy to make barbecue sauce can be easily adapted to suit your tastes. If you like it smokier, add a little liquid smoke. If you like it hotter, add some cayenne pepper.

Course Sauce
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes
Author Lisa

Ingredients

  • 3 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 2 tbsp dry rub mix

Instructions

  1. Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan.

    BBQ Sauce ingredients
  2. Using a whisk, stir until well blended.
  3. Heat over medium/low heat until a low boil.

  4. Reduce heat to a simmer, stirring occasionally, allow to simmer for at least 30 minutes to allow those spices to cook together. Sauce will thicken a bit upon standing. 

    BBQ Sauce closeup

Recipe Notes

See my recipe for Dry Rub here.

What’s your favorite barbecue sauce? Let me know in the comments below and be sure to check back often for more recipes.