Monday, April 29, 2013

Beef Stew

It’s a foregone conclusion that texting while driving is dangerous. Cooking and driving though, is perfectly fine. Let me explain. So we’re heading to Falling water, the famous Frank Lloyd Wright house, and by the way, stop reading for a second, click a new screen, and book your trip for that place. It is beyond incredible. Secondly, get the best GPS app on the market, one that not only talks to you, but also grabs the wheel when you make a wrong turn.

“Should we bring the map?” my mother asks just before we depart on this adventure.

“Of course not, mom, I have this.” I say, this being my Ipad. I wasn’t five minutes into Southwestern Pennsylvania (which I will now refer to as Penny) before I was lost and staring at this.

Penny calls this her way of telling you where you are, and 3G is spotty at best in this part of Penny. So between my two teenagers moaning in the back and my mother suggesting we stop and ASK for directions ( Can you imagine, me, a grown man, asking for directions?  I mean, what was she thinking? This of course is the same person who suggested we bring a map) I point the car N/NW ( at least the car compass works ) and press on, stopping on top of every hill to reload the GPS on my Ipad.  And Penny, do you have some hills?  Who needs Hershey Park when you can simply drive that part of Penny for an adrenaline rush.

All the while I am still cooking, and thinking about Morels. I spent the previous day at my mother’s house in West Virginia foraging ( I mean looking) for them.  It was April, it was W Va, and her house is next to an old orchard. Perfect storm, right? Wrong. I don’t know what my deal is I just can’t find them.  I once went with a friend and he was finding them next to my shoes as I haplessly stared at the ground.  I press on, walking the woods, head down swaying back and forth, looking to find Morels and avoid Richard’s booby traps.  He is a helper around the house, who likes to set up such things.  I really didn’t want to step inside some noose suddenly to find myself hanging 16 feet in the air upside down staring at my Iphone which fell out of my pocket.  It’s not like my kids will come looking for me, not at least until they get hungry. 

So we arrive at the Duncan House, another Wright design, where we are staying for the night. It’s also the reason I’ve been cooking during this 2 hour drive that took me 3 ½. You see, they don’t allow anyone to use the kitchen ( a jail sentence as far as I’m concerned) they do have a microwave and a toaster oven, which means they have an outlet, and I, a crock pot sitting in the back seat plugged into the lighter socket, full of beef stew. 

It was either I cook and drive, or we eat at a place down the road sporting 1 ½ yelp stars and a tacky website boasting their 48th year in business, translation, the grandkids are running this joint into the ground. No thanks.

As much as I urge you to visit Falling water, I do recommend a stay at the Duncan house so you will need to mimic my version of  byobs (bring your own beef stew).  Another trick, duct tape the lid to the pot because Penny has rough roads.  It’s as if she hasn’t paid the last two bills to the paving company.

Or, you can simply make it for one of these last cools nights we have before summer.

Here goes. First of all, you can do this two ways, either in a crock pot or regular pot with a tight fitting lid.  It depends.  If you have 6 or so hours to let this guy cook, then crock pot it.  If you want to eat within 2 hours, go with the latter.

2 pound piece of beef chuck (shoulder)

 Warning:  failure to use chuck, charley is you will, may result in a beef stew that, “how do you say in English?” Blows. In fact, if I find out you used any other cut of beef for this recipe, you will find yourself on my axis of evil. Repeat, don’t send hubby out and let him bring back “oh it’s all the same” cut of beef.

2 medium onions, chopped
4 medium sized carrots, peeled and cut into logs
4 stalks of celery, slice them, don’t cut your fingers, but don’t hunk it either
6 cloves garlic, pasted of course
½ inch piece of ginger
1 cup white wine
1 can crushed tomato
5 medium Yukon gold potatoes, cut into large dice
6 sprigs of thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
2 bay leaves

4 oz button mushrooms, or if it’s a really good day, morels

Cut your chuck into chunks (I’ve been waiting to type that).

Season well with salt and pepper. Line a large sauté pan with oil and get it hot.  Brown the beef thoroughly, no skimping here. Once the beef is brown, transfer the meat to the cooking vessel of choice.

Now, turn you flame off. Turn it off.  Seriously turn it off unless you want to see a three foot flame in your kitchen. Good. Now add the wine to the pan you browned the beef in.
It should bubble and sizzle and you should be using a spoon to scrap those lovely brown bits about while thanking me for still having eye brows. Add some water if you need to. Now add this liquid to your beef.

Take note, don’t go adding extra water to the stew.  There is plenty of liquid from the canned tomatoes and wine, plus everything in the pot is going to release its water during the coming hours.

Add the rest of the ingredients (except mushrooms), cover, turn heat to low (conventional) or high (crock pot).  It should take up to six hours in the crockpot, and around 1 ½ to 2 in a regular pot, on low, with a tight fitting lid. 

Now, about those mushrooms.  I don’t add them in the beginning because I don’t like overcooked mushrooms.  Just before serving, brown the mushrooms well, just like you did the beef in the beginning.  This will allow them to bring a little texture to the stew  And if you are lucky enough to have Morels, then god bless you, you are in for a treat. Cook them as you would the regular mushrooms.

In either 2 or 6 hours, you should have something that looks like this.  See all that liquid?  Ladle this goodness into bowls, warm some crusty bread and enjoy.

Hmmm, it just stopped raining, maybe I should go look for Morels.

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