26 Feb

Recipe Mastery: Beef Stew

Posted by Jenna, Under Food

I want to be a terrific cook and baker, but as I keep reminding That Husband, it’s going to take me a few years to get there. I’ve had a few successes, but more often than that some part of my attempt at a fabulous dinner is a fail. I rarely make the same thing again, and TH has been telling me for years to focus in on a few recipes and stop jumping around so much. The probablem with my approach is that whenever we have people over I agonize, make huge mistakes, and feel embarrassed when dinner is served because things didn’t go quite right.

Source

And so I’m embarking on my recipe mastery project. I’m going to pick classic dishes (think pot roast or chicken curry) and attempt the same dish once a week until I’ve found a recipe that turns out stellar results three times in a row. Once I’m conquer one dish, I’ll move on to the next. I thought I could create a blog series out of it by putting up an initial post asking for recipe ideas, and then putting up a recipe post once I’ve found the perfect fit.

My first pick is beef stew. I made this one on Sunday, and we want to try something else because neither of us really liked the mushrooms. Do you have a favorite beef stew recipe? Link to it below and I’ll work my way through your suggestions until I find the perfect fit.

43 Comments


  1. I actually just posted a couple of weeks ago about my family’s beef stew recipe! Give it a try, I absolutely love it and it’s really simple.

    http://julie101.com/2013/01/25/comfort-food-and-follow-friday/ – the image is the link to the recipe.

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  2. I love Pioneer Woman’s recipes as they always look amazing, once you get past dicing an onion, but rarely end up making them. Her Sunday night stew was one exception. My husband made it late one evening and I only ate it reheated and I LOVED it! I highly recommend it.

    http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/2013/01/sunday-night-stew/

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  3. I love the beef stew in this cookbook – http://www.amazon.com/Starting-Out-Essential-Guide-Cooking/dp/1552857069/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top/186-3147642-2270807 .

    It turns out wonderful each time. Every recipe I have made from this book is great and I haven’t had any problems following the directions. Each recipe also has information on how long you can store and freeze the dish and changes you can make to the recipe. It’s my go to cookbook.

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  4. I don’t have a link to the one I faithfully use, but I can give the recipe to you. It’s actually my mom’s recipe that I’ve adapted a little after a few tries to make it taste right. I’m not sure how it will fall in line with your diet, but it’s sooo good! :)

    1 lb. stew meat
    2 Cups carrots (I use baby carrots and just eyeball how much I think we’ll want.)
    2 cups potatoes (usually two russet)
    1/4 – 1/2 chopped or diced onion
    1/2 cup celery, sliced

    Sauce:
    1 can tomato sauce (15 oz)
    1 can beef broth
    2 tsp. salt
    1/4 tsp. pepper
    1/4 tsp. nutmeg
    1/4 tsp. basil
    1 Tbsp. cornstarch (you can use tapioca)

    Mix all the ingredients for the sauce in a large bowl. Put meat in the sauce, cover, and marinate overnight. When, getting ready to put in the oven Preheat it to 250°F. Place meat (not sauce) in a roasting pan. (We use a clay pan. It’s amazing!) Add vegetables in layers. Pour the sauce evenly over top and cover with lid (or foil). Bake for 5 hours. DO NOT REMOVE LID UNTIL FINISHED BAKING. Enjoy!

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  5. http://kickinitinthekitchen.blogspot.com/2010/11/its-that-time-of-year-again.html

    This is one of my favorite recipes from growing up. I even had it as my birthday dinner one time … in August. Yup! It’s that good.

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  6. This recipe is from the Five Ingredient, 30 minute cookbook. I’ve made it several times and everyone LOVES it. Plus, it cooks in the slow cooker, so it’s pretty impossible to mess up. http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/slow-cooker-beef-pot-roast-10000001896073/
    Bon Appetite

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  7. This is great! I’ve been looking for a beef stew recipe. I mostly cook routine recipes. It’s easier to grocery shop for, and I don’t have to worry as much about how it will turn out. I do try to experiment on the weekends, though, when I have a little more time to work through a recipe. Beef stew and a good curry recipe (preferably slow cooker) top my list right now!

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  8. Jenna’s Beef and Butternut Squash stew was a huge hit in our house: http://www.eatliverun.com/crock-pot-beef-and-butternut-squash-stew/

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  9. A friend posted this recipe years ago and I’m a huge fan, it doesn’t make a TON, usually I find it is enough for hubs and I to have a meal and a bowl or so leftover but hubs eats a TON so there is also that. My crock pot also cooks hot so I tend to double the broth so that there’s enough left.

    http://www.food.com/recipe/maxs-beef-stew-330871

    It’s very easy and IMHO has a great flavor.

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  10. Keestan Andersen says:

    My favorite is Grandma Lu’s beef stew:)

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  11. KittyConner says:

    I think the first and most important thing to determine, stew-wise, is whether you’re a tomato person, a wine person or a beef-y person. There are just SO many recipes for beef stew, but when taken as a whole, these are the three basic categories they break down into. There are exceptions, like a splash of wine in a tomato base, but for the most part, these classifications work.

    So, based on that, I know that when reading a recipe: I can safely skip any that call for wine (I don’t like the tangy flavor) and I know that I’ll probably love anything with a rich beefy base. If it calls for tomatoes, I have to be in the mood for that flavor and the rest of the ingredients have to be appealing.

    So, figure that part out for yourself! And that would be my big recommendation for learning how to master any recipe! What are the basic flavors you like and hate? Have a good sense of what your preferences are. Roast chicken is roast chicken and can be the simplest, most delicious thing ever, but if it turns out you don’t really like citrus with poultry, there is no sense in starting with a recipe that calls for stuffing the cavity with lemon!

    My other recommendation is to learn how to build a dish without using a recipe. Which sounds hard, but if you can do a few basic things you can build so many other things. As an example, here’s my beef stew “recipe”. Which isn’t a recipe at all, but a series of techniques that lead to a complete dish. (And, obviously, this is a beefy base. No tomato sauce, no wine.)
    ____________________________
    Toss two-ish pounds of beef stew meat (or a chuck roast, cut into cubes) in a cup or so of flour that’s been seasoned with…whatever you like. I go with salt, pepper and garlic powder. Before you toss, taste the flour. It’s not going to be yummy, but check you can taste the seasonings! Shake off some to most of the flour.

    Heat some oil in a large heavy bottomed pot until it’s pretty hot but not smoking or shimmering too much. Add the beef cubes, in a single layer if you can. Brown the cubes on as many sides as possible, but don’t stress perfection. Stuff is going to stick, some of the flour might not get brown and the pot is gonna look like a hot mess. Unless you’ve got your shit really together, take it off the heat at this point so nothing burns. Now, you have two choices, choose your own adventure style:

    1)More flavorful, a bigger pain in the tuchus: Remove meat, add veggies (large cubes of onion, potato and carrot) to pot, maybe add a little more oil, return to heat and brown them up a bit. If you really want to get fancy, add the onion first and let it get soft and then add in the potato/carrot to brown a little. Add meat back in.
    2)A little less flavor (esp. from the onions) but SO much easier: Leave meat in and proceed to next step.

    Deglaze the pan with a couple of glugs of worchestershire and a splash of beef broth/stock. Let it cover the bottom of the pan and loosen everything up. Scrape around and try to get everything up and dissolved. Add more liquid if it starts to get dry. (Either one is fine! Or both! But tend toward more broth.) Once the bottom of the pot looks pretty clean, add a couple of quarts of beef broth/stock and if you didn’t brown them, your veggies. Liquid-wise, it should be almost like soup. Season with anything but salt: a bay leaf, more garlic, pepper, rosemary sprigs, whatever YOU like.

    Bring it all up to a bubble (not a roiling boil, just a simmer/bubble/whatever). Cover, turn the heat down to low and let cook for a couple of hours. Stir and taste every so often. Remove the cover the last 30-40 minutes to thicken it up. Salt to taste when it’s juuuust about done. (You’re probably going to need more salt than you feel comfortable adding. Add it anyway.)

    Done is when the meat is falling apart and the veggies are soft to the point the potatoes should be helping thicken. If it isn’t thick enough, just mix a tablespoon or so of cornstarch with some cool broth or water or milk and add to the pot. Et voila! Stew!

    Notes:
    Time: I can’t give you an exact time for this. It’s really going to depend on the size of your various cubes, your pot, the stove, etc. It’ll take a couple of hours or so. If it feels like it’s cooking fast, reduce the heat as much as possible, take the lid off and add some extra stock (re-season!). If it’s cooking slow, bump up the heat, just stir a little more frequently so you don’t burn anything on the bottom.
    Stock/Broth: I usually use Swanson’s Cooking Stock or the store brand stock, but broth is just fine and I’m sure if you want to go the organic route, it’ll be delightful.
    Techniques Used: Dredging, browning/roasting, deglazing, braising, thickening.

    Jenna Reply:

    This comment is awesome. Thank you!

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  12. Cook’s Illustrated (aka America’s Test Kitchen) is incredible if you haven’t already discovered it. I recommend getting one of their cookbooks, the magazine, or a subscription to their website–or you can at least do a free trial for the website and collect a bunch of recipes. I just looked at their most recent beef stew and it includes wine, which you don’t use, right? but maybe you know of a good substitute.

    Best Beef Stew

    Published January 1, 2010. From Cook’s Illustrated.

    Serves 6 to 8

    Use a good-quality, medium-bodied wine, such as Côtes du Rhône or Pinot Noir, for this stew. Try to find beef that is well marbled with white veins of fat. Meat that is too lean will come out slightly dry. Four pounds of blade steaks, trimmed of gristle and silver skin, can be substituted for the chuck-eye roast. While the blade steak will yield slightly thinner pieces after trimming, it should still be cut into 11/2-inch pieces. Look for salt pork that is roughly 75 percent lean. The stew can be cooled, covered tightly, and refrigerated for up to 2 days. Reheat it gently before serving.
    Ingredients

    2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
    4 anchovy fillets, finely minced (about 2 teaspoons)
    1 tablespoon tomato paste
    1 boneless beef chuck-eye roast (about 4 pounds), trimmed of excess fat, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces (see note and step by step below)
    2 tablespoons vegetable oil
    1 large onion, halved and cut from pole to pole into 1/8-inch-thick slices (about 2 cups)
    4 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces (about 2 cups)
    1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
    2 cups red wine (see note)
    2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
    2 bay leaves
    4 sprigs fresh thyme
    4 ounces salt pork, rinsed of excess salt (see note)
    1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1-inch pieces
    1 1/2 cups frozen pearl onions, thawed
    2 teaspoons unflavored powdered gelatin (about 1 packet)
    1/2 cup water
    1 cup frozen peas, thawed
    Table salt and ground black pepper

    Instructions

    1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees. Combine garlic and anchovies in small bowl; press with back of fork to form paste. Stir in tomato paste and set mixture aside.

    2. Pat meat dry with paper towels. Do not season. Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in large heavy-bottomed Dutch oven over high heat until just starting to smoke. Add half of beef and cook until well browned on all sides, about 8 minutes total, reducing heat if oil begins to smoke or fond begins to burn. Transfer beef to large plate. Repeat with remaining beef and 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, leaving second batch of meat in pot after browning.

    3. Reduce heat to medium and return first batch of beef to pot. Add onion and carrots to Dutch oven and stir to combine with beef. Cook, scraping bottom of pan to loosen any browned bits, until onion is softened, 1 to 2 minutes. Add garlic mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, until no dry flour remains, about 30 seconds.

    4. Slowly add wine, scraping bottom of pan to loosen any browned bits. Increase heat to high and allow wine to simmer until thickened and slightly reduced, about 2 minutes. Stir in broth, bay leaves, thyme, and salt pork. Bring to simmer, cover, transfer to oven, and cook for 1 1/2 hours.

    5. Remove pot from oven; remove and discard bay leaves and salt pork. Stir in potatoes, cover, return to oven, and cook until potatoes are almost tender, about 45 minutes.

    6. Using large spoon, skim any excess fat from surface of stew. Stir in pearl onions; cook over medium heat until potatoes and onions are cooked through and meat offers little resistance when poked with fork (meat should not be falling apart), about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, sprinkle gelatin over water in small bowl and allow to soften for 5 minutes.

    7. Increase heat to high, stir in softened gelatin mixture and peas; simmer until gelatin is fully dissolved and stew is thickened, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste; serve.

    Sarah Reply:

    I second that suggestion! America’s Test Kitchen is a phenomenal resource for learning the reasons behind different cooking techniques. Then you are learning how to cook, not just how to follow a recipe.

    Sheila Reply:

    I’ll third this sentiment. America’s Test Kitchen is a gem!

    Jenna Reply:

    Guess what? I bought the American’s Test Kitchen cookbook from the grocery store checkout line, and gave this recipe a try after several weeks of trying other options. Their recipe was far and away the best one! Thanks so much for typing this up for me (or for copying and pasting it!) because it saved me a lot of work for when I write up my review post. :)

    lala Reply:

    Glad you liked it! (And yes, I copied and pasted from their website.) Almost all of their recipes have become my go-to versions. Plus I love the way they test recipes and give scientific explanations for everything. Just made their banana bread and it was one of the first loaves I’ve made that was not too dense and rubbery.

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  13. This is a great idea. I usually stress when I’m cooking for other people too. I’ve learned not to make more than one (small) thing I’ve never made before. With two little ones (almost 3 and 1), I try to keep it way simple–like homemade pizza–something that everyone likes.

    I look forward to “stealing” your winningest recipes.

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  14. I’m not sure about beef stew, but add bolognese sauce to your list of recipes to perfect. It freezes really well and can be used in a variety of dishes (pasta with bolognese, polenta with bolognese, lasagna with bolognese and a bechamel sauce, etc)

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  15. I love this idea! I’m also still learning how to cook, and really wish I had a stack of “staple” recipes. My husband and I have been looking for / trying lettuce wrap recipes and keep failing… I think I might try your strategy.

    (Sorry I don’t have any stew recipe to contribute – I don’t eat meat – but maybe I’ll make the winning recipe for my husband!).

    Jenna Reply:

    I think I’ve decided lettuce wraps is going to be my next attempt.

    Jen Reply:

    Yay! I can’t wait to try some of the suggestions – and your ‘final’ recipe!

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  16. What happened to your once a month cooking meals? That looked pretty great!

    I love the beef stew in the red and white check-covered Betty Crocker cookbook. That book is really great for basics. I thought it was too Midwestern, if you know what I mean :), but I have been using it a lot lately and it’s really helpful. How to Cook Everything is a great resource too. I’m realizing that cookbooks are so much better than random recipes you find online, which may or may not be tested.

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  17. This is a very, very sensible way to approach things: my mother, grandmothers, aunts (and of course myself after seeing them) always had “company dinners”. Not necessarily fancy, but something they felt completely confident in making. Read some of the Barefoot Contessa’s books–wonderful philosophy on entertaining and being able to have fun at your own parties.

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  18. Do you have a slow cooker? That’s how I do all my beef stews. I flour and brown the meat, sautee onions with garlic salt and pepper, and then throw em in a slow cooker w halved red new potatoes, carrots, celery beef stock and red wine (but you can skip the wine!) I use just the beef chunks from the store. I set it on low overnight usually, and the next day you have delicious beef stew that takes NO time.

    Other things I make on the regular that are crowd pleasers: lemon “engagement” roast chicken, veal or pork scallopini, braised chicken thighs, stovetop/broiler steak, and roasted kale chips (you can put them in salads or eat it alone, its AMAZING). Then we always roast whatever veggies are on hand– toss em in olive oil, put the oven on high (400 or 425) and stick whatever you want in there for 20 mins and you have a great side dish.

    ALSO! (Sorry if this is too much info, just in a big cooking stage lately), learn to make basic risotto. It’s good, relaxing, hearty, and you can make a million different varieties once you get the basics down, and it’s always a crowd pleaser. Good luck!

    p.s. I’m a first time commenter here, just really liking your blog lately :)

    Jenna Reply:

    Thanks for the meal suggestions! What does the “engagement” before roast chicken mean?

    Anna Reply:

    I read it in a magazine a while go– it’s called “engagement” chicken because ostensibly when you make it for a man he immediately wants to marry you :) Totally dated and silly but it really is good!!! It’s basically a roast chicken with lots of lemon. You can play around with it, it’s pretty easy to do and looks impressive. Plus a great meal for leftovers.

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  19. Love the idea of this series! Can’t wait to see your progress and follow along in making your winning recipes.

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  20. I’m a huge fan of the Fannie Farmer cookbook for all American favorites like stew. Here’s the recipe: http://www.grouprecipes.com/51316/fannie-farmers-all-american-beef-stew.html

    My mom has been making this one for years.

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  21. I definitely recommend having a few recipes that you feel really confident with. Being adventurous is great, but it’s good to have stress-free recipes you know will turn out well helps when entertaining and when you want to make dinner without too much thought.

    Husband and I have about 10 meals we make on a regular basis and then a few “special” recipes for company or with expensive ingredients.
    We frequently make burritioes, bacon and egg pie, thai beef salad, pizzas, thai green curry, calazone, chicken or beef nachos, lasagne, spaghetti bolognese, self-basing quiche, fettuccine carbonara, lamb curry (taught to me by a Fijian Indian friend), and various grilled meats with salad or potatoes.

    I also recommend getting a cookbook by a chef who’s meals work for you (for us this is Annabel Langbein, but we’re in New Zealand) as this can help you find good recipes that you might not normally try. While I do find great ideas on the internet I find the quality is very mixed.

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  22. Everyone should be able to make a good roast chicken, but it is so much harder than folks think. You don’t want it too dry, etc. After trying DOZENS of recipes and techniques I have found the most perfect and amazing recipe for roast chicken. The skin is crispy, the meat moist and the flavor is unreal. The secret is the bed of rock salt and it sounds weird but it is incredible. No, it doesn’t make it too salty, but helps keep the moisture while also crisping the outside. Try it and I swear you won’t be disappointed. My husband and daughter now ask for this all the time. http://www.primallyinspired.com/rock-salt-roasted-chicken/

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  23. A 10 year-old could make Thomas Keller’s roast chicken, and you’d have leftovers.
    http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/My-Favorite-Simple-Roast-Chicken-231348

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  24. Ooh! OOH! I have a great beef stew recipe; I cobbled it together from an old Norwegian family recipe and some internet searches a few years ago and have been perfecting it ever since.

    Anya’s Labskaus

    This recipe serves 6, but the quantities are really easy to adjust.

    1.5 lbs. beef for stewing – cut into appx. 1″ cubes
    6 potatoes, also cubed
    1 onion, chopped
    4 carrots, chopped
    1/2 cup peas (optional, add at end)
    2 cloves garlic, chopped
    4 Tbsp. butter
    3 cups beer (I used Guinness Stout in the can for the longest time but have recently had even better results with pumpkin ales and wheat beers–less bitter. Note this cooks long enough that all the alcohol should be gone by the end.)
    3 cups prepared beef stock/boullion (I love the Better Than Boullion paste in a jar)
    2 bay leaves
    ~1/2 tsp ground coriander
    ~1/4 tsp ground cloves
    ~1/2+ tsp ground nutmeg
    Salt and black pepper to taste (lots of pepper – its supposed to be spicy)

    Melt the butter and the garlic in a big stew pot, salt and pepper your beef, and brown it a bit. Add everything else EXCEPT the frozen peas, and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook for at LEAST 3 hours, but longer is better. 30 min before you want to eat, add the peas, check the spices, and thicken with cornstarch if needed. (I like mine nice and thick — mix about 1 Tbsp cornstarch with a little cold water to make a thin paste then add to the stew. Repeat as necessary. NEVER add cornstarch straight to hot liquids.) Leave uncovered from this point and increase the heat if needed to keep it at a nice low simmer. Enjoy!

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  25. I found that when I was learning how to cook, cookbooks aimed at teenagers and college students were a godsend. Simple but tasty recipes, clear instructions, troubleshooting, variations, and easy-to-find ingredients are the hallmarks of a good cookbook for the beginning cook or baker. “College Cooking” and “Starting Out” are two of my favourites: there is a wide variety in terms of recipes, but I found that these books helped me to become a more confident cook. Personally I don’t think I would approach mastering a recipe the way you are doing it-I would probably get too bored from eating the same thing, all the time, and I like variety even in my basic recipes.

    Right now, I find setting small goals to be incredibly helpful: I make one new meat-based and one new vegetarian dish per week, and the rest is my old standbys. This has allowed me to grow my tried, tested, and true recipes in a slow fashion. I also make plenty of notes in my cookbooks-what worked, what didn’t, what I changed, what I loved.

    I’ll also add to the list of people suggesting Cook’s Illustrated or America’s Test Kitchen-you cannot go wrong with them! And they also make great suggestions for brands and equipment, plus the narratives are wonderful to read.

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  26. This is very close to my go-to stew recipe:
    http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/2013/01/sunday-night-stew/
    I don’t use turnips or Worcestershire, though. And sometimes I throw some celery in it. :)

    Also, one of my favorite basic recipes is one passed down in my family for generations: chicken in the oven:
    Slice an onion or two into thick-ish rings, cut up a couple potatoes into big chunks and stick them in an oven safe dish (pyrex). Pour a bit of water or chicken broth over them (enough to cover the onions & potatoes). Salt & pepper a whole chicken (we like both seasoned pepper & salt) and place the chicken on top of the potatoes & onions. Stick it in the oven for about an hour at 350. To serve, cut pieces off the chicken and spoon the broth/potatoes & onions over it. Our family usually serves it with lima beans and has enough for leftovers the next night (or for chicken enchiladas) :)

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  27. I LOOOVE this recipe. I make it often, and always freeze some for a quick night. it reheats great.

    http://www.marthastewart.com/316991/irish-beef-and-stout-stew

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  28. Hi! I wandered on over here after seeing you had a new post. How did you like the beef stew? (I’m the one who sent you the recipe on Twitter!)

    I have to agree with a couple of the above comments. Once you have about a dozen basics mastered then you should move on to learning how to make a recipe from “pantry”. Basically once you have cooking techniques down you can take anything from your pantry/freezer and turn out a delicious meal! (BUT first you need to follow recipes to the letter.)

    The cookbook I recommend for you to start with is the Better Homes and Gardens New (big red) cookbook. The recipes are basic. Very American. (I’m a firm believer in mastering basic simple americanized recipes first…then start adding some fantastic worldwide recipes.)
    They even show you how to turn a main dish recipe into two completely different meals and have a page in each section on “making a recipe yours”. It’s the good basic tutorials you can use to create confidently that make it an essential on your shelf.

    I grew up in a family of excellent cooks. I just always made things underneath the watchful eyes and hands of my mom or oldest sister (and sometimes my dad -he’s an amazing cook too!). After I went to college I realized I didn’t actually know how to do the important things like plan meals, make leftovers “over”, use up the stuff in the pantry, or make the ‘real’ basics such as homemade stock. My oldest sister was clued into this and gave me some cookbooks of my own while my parents encouraged me to study my mom’s collection of cookbooks.
    Now almost ten years later…I always recommend beginners buy these two: BHG’s New Cookbook
    http://www.amazon.com/Better-Homes-Gardens-Cook-Binder/dp/0696000121/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1362002153&sr=1-3&keywords=better+homes+and+gardens+cookbook

    and Linda Carruci’s Cooking School Secrets for Real World Cooks
    http://www.amazon.com/Cooking-School-Secrets-Real-World-Cooks/dp/B000PD3MHU/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1362001821&sr=1-1&keywords=linda+carucci

    Since you have children I also recommend Kids in the Kitchen:
    http://www.amazon.com/Kids-Kitchen-Independence-Confidence-Montessori/dp/1477542043/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1362017473&sr=1-1&keywords=kids+in+the+kitchen

    My next thought is to stick with flavors and foods YOU and your family love. Personally my husband and I LOVE tomatoes, mushrooms, garlic, beef, chicken thighs, thyme, spinach, mustard, cream, cheese, butter, chocolate, bread, and wine. (Because we’re LDS we use a brand of non-alcoholic wine called “FRE”. I use the Premium Red for any red wine called for in a recipe. It’s very good.)
    So most of our favorite recipes include 1 or more of these ingredients. Now there are things that each of us like that the other doesn’t so these things I (or he) just make less often or try to combine them with something we do enjoy.
    When I’m looking at a recipe I look for similar ingredients to recipes we’ve tried and liked. I can usually tell this way if we’ll like it and if I should add it to our menu. Another thing I’ve done is try to find homemade versions of my favorite restaurant/grocery recipes. Example? Currently I’m working on a blue smoothie to replicate Blue Machine for my husband and a creamy tomato soup without cream to replicate classic Campbell’s for me.

    When starting out…I did pretty much what you’re doing. I found 5-10 recipes for each of the basics to try and then tried each one out to see which one we liked the best.
    (I’m still doing this! Though now with smaller categories, such as “a perfect green beans side dish for Thanksgiving/Christmas”. Last year it was cranberry sauce recipes I tried, year before that -pumpkin pie recipes, if you do just one recipe from each category a month then at the end of the year you should have tried quite a few!)

    So if you love mac and cheese or fried chicken? Find 5-15 recipes for each. Make each one. Record what you liked or didn’t like about them. (This is the most important step!) Is there a clear favorite? Found a five star, over-the-top, knocked your socks off recipe? Experiment with these first.
    Mac and cheese can be so elegant with the addition of seafood (lobster is good!) and a side of green veggies such as grilled asparagus. Fried chicken is incredible with blue cheese mashed potatoes, spring greens salad and a touch of cayenne and parmesean in the breading. See? Start with basics and then make them work for you and your favorite flavors.

    It is a long process but well worth it.

    I’m pretty evenly divided on which I prefer most: magazines, cookbooks, and food blogs.
    The magazines are amazing for cooking seasonally as well as finding a recipe far out of your comfort zone. However MOST of them have websites from which you can get the recipes for free. So are they worth the subscription fee? America’s Test Kitchen IS WORTH it. Except it really is (mostly) for the very serious/professional cooks. (If you aren’t…then skip it!) You will do just as well with a 5 step -20 minutes recipe with good results as with a 10 step-1 hour recipe with foolproof results. I PROMISE.
    (Mags I love: Food & Wine, Bon Appetit, Cooking Light, Cook’s Illustrated, and Fine Cooking.
    Websites I frequent: Vegetarian Times, Gourmet, Saveur, America’s Test Kitchen (current season is free!), and Food Network.)

    Cookbooks…well I’m very slowly building my collection. I don’t buy one until I’ve borrowed it from the library or someone I know to make sure it’s worth the $20-50 investment. I have about 5 I could do without (bought before I decided on this rule)…if there are less than 15 recipes you love in it? Not worth it. I’m slowly but surely working my way through Cooking Light’s 100 best cookbook list to expand my collection. Maybe I’m just really a fan of the same foods as their editors but so far? It’s been a gold mine of good books with great recipes. Try another top ten list too: Amazon’s or NPR’s…they’re all a good start to find something new.

    I ADORE food blogs. Love them, love them, love them!
    Check out Simply Recipes, Smitten Kitchen, David Lebovitz…those are some of my favoritest of favorites.

    Have you decided which basics you’d like to learn to cook?
    This was my list many years ago, maybe it’ll be helpful?

    Macaroni and Cheese
    Marinara Sauce (for pizza or pasta)
    Bolognese Sauce
    Alfredo Sauce
    Lasagna
    Rice
    Mashed Potatoes
    Potato Salad
    Roasted Winter Squash
    Grilled Vegetables
    Applesauce
    Tomato Mozzarella Salad
    Sauteed Spinach Salad
    Salad Dressing
    Hard and Soft Boiled Eggs
    Roast Chicken
    Braised Chicken
    Chicken Soup
    Fried Chicken (the one I use is baked actually)
    Brined Turkey
    Pan-fried Fish (white)
    Fish in Parchment
    Salmon Patties
    Hamburgers
    Rib-eye Steak
    Pot Roast
    Chili
    Glazed Ham
    Apple Crisp
    Cheesecake
    Brownies
    Chocolate Cake
    Cornbread
    Dinner Rolls
    French Bread
    Banana Bread
    Pancakes

    Since then I’ve added curry, cioppino, gumbo, salmon, bread pudding, tomato soup, eggplant parmesean, roast lamb, graham crackers, cheese crackers, biscuits, and ravioli.

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  29. While I don’t have a beef recipe for you, this lemon chicken is a weekly MUST in my family. Everyone who has it goes bananas, because it is that good and it’s super easy to make.

    http://simplyrecipes.com/recipes/lemon_chicken/

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  30. This is a great idea, Jenna! I’m not great with red meat but I have chicken pretty much in the bag these days. My go to favourites are:

    - Chicken Piccata
    - Garlic Roast Chicken
    - Poached Chicken Breasts
    - Green Chicken Curry (I cheat a little with Thai Kitchen store-bought curry paste but other than that it is all from scratch)
    - Chicken Cacciatore

    Ground Beef Recipes:

    - Shepherd’s Pie with Cauliflower Topping
    - Meatloaf with Homemade Ketchup

    If any of those pique your interest I can email you the recipes. I have hacked all of them to be low carb/primal/paleo-friendly which I know is important to you. I do use xylitol/stevia sweetener because of my insulin issues making honey largely no-go but you could switch that out I think.

    I think my issue is that when I master a dish I make it week in and week out, boring everyone. I am trying to be more creative in the kitchen but still want to master a wise range of options so we don’t end up eating X Chicken every freakin’ night!

    HRC Reply:

    Derp, I just read your post again (properly) and you’re asking for beef stew recipes specifically, so ignore me. When you get to chicken, I’m totally your gal, haha.

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  31. If you are trying to master a few great basics, I find Jamie Oliver AMAZING for no-fail recipes (and most are quite healthy as he is into “real food”.

    Here is a link to his best book for learning how to master a few great healthy meals (I found it at my library, so you may too! Mine has an amazing cookbook selection- I did end up buying it as it was so great). http://www.amazon.co.uk/Jamies-Ministry-Food-Anyone-Learn/dp/0718148622

    Jamie also has a lot of his recipes on the web for free! He posts new ones on instagram most days too. http://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes

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  32. Annie @ Marry You Me says:

    I have some good beef stew recipes we love but I didn’t know if you cook with red wine or not?

    Annie @ Marry You Me Reply:

    My comment got cut off but I was going to say if not I’m not sure what a good substitute ingredient would be, I like the flavor the r.w. gives the stew though!

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      I'm a farm-raised almost-crunchy stroller-pushing picture-taking lifestyle-blog-writing gastronomy-obsessed divine-seeking thrift-store-combing cheese-inhaling pavement-pounding laughter-sprinkling lover of individuality and taking chances.
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