Part Two of the beef stew adventures of Frugal Son.
With beef in hand, I went to Daniel's apartment and began to defrost the meat in a bath of lukewarm water. The recipe I used is actually a combination of two recipes I found on (a great website, by the way); neither recipe was exactly what I wanted so I took the desirable elements from each to create a recipe perfectly suited to my taste and, more importantly, the ingredients I had on hand. Once the meat was defrosted, I put it all in a bowl and added about three tablespoons of flour, salt, pepper, and a pinch of rosemary. I added a mix of olive oil and canola oil to a large pot and then browned the meat in the pot for a few minutes while stirring occasionally. I had some free time while the meat browned to chop the leftover vegetables—carrots, onion, scallions, and bell pepper—and two cloves of garlic. The flour began to brown in the oil, forming a flavor-intensifying roux of sorts and some of the flour and fats from the meat began to burn and stick to the bottom of the pot. While burning and sticking usually spell disaster and a ruined meal, in this case it is actually desirable because the burnt sticky bits, the fond, can be deglazed and incorporated into the stew to enhance and enrich the broth.
Once the meat was evenly browned on all sides I removed it from the pot and put it back into the bowl. Into the same pot that I cooked the meat in, I added a little more oil and then all of the vegetables. I stirred them occasionally but otherwise just let them cook and soften as they absorbed the intense flavors lingering in the crusty bits of flour and fat at the bottom of the pot. Once the onions had become translucent and the bell peppers were soft but not mushy, I added a single tablespoon of tomato paste (although I now know from my Frugal Mom that ketchup would have done the job) and stirred that into the vegetable mixture.
After letting the tomato paste cook for a bit, I added three cups of beef broth plus ¾ cups of water to the pot. I would have loved to have had a beef stock made from scratch, but both time and money were in short supply so I settled for beef bouillon cubes. Once the broth was in the pot, I added the beef, put on a top, and let the mixture simmer.
Apparently the classic method is to braise the stew by putting the whole pot into the oven for at least two and a half hours, but I misread the directions so I just let it simmer on the stovetop. While the stew gently bubbled and gurgled on the stove, I peeled, quartered, and washed a little over two pounds of potatoes. I put these into a pot with water and a bit of salt, covered it with a lid and set it on the stove to cook. With both items I finally had some time to sit back and relax, although the incredible scent coming from the stew pot was hard to ignore. I sampled the stew after about an hour and the meat was incredibly flavorful. Maybe the beef was actually no more flavorful than normal corn-fed, hormone injected, industrial beef and it was simply my mind wanting this local, free-range beef to taste better but to me, but it tasted so much more intense than any other beef I have had. I am normally relatively unenthusiastic about meat in anything other than a supporting role, but this beef really made me excited.
As soon as the potatoes were finished, I drained them and began to plate everything (on warmed plates of course). The only thing "wrong" with my stew was that the beef did not really soften up; perhaps this is a result of me not braising it in the oven, not cooking it long enough, the particular cut of meat, or maybe this is just the price one pays for a more natural beef. The texture, however, did not bother me and I don't think it bothered any of the other eaters. It definitely did not bother anyone enough to keep them from getting seconds and then thirds, until all that was left in the pot was a few tablespoons of rich broth. The vegetables added a fresh, clean taste to the broth and they also added a nice splash of color to the muddy brown stew. The stew broth, which had thickened considerably after an hour of simmering and because of the flour roux, was great when slathered on top of the boiled potatoes.
When I cook this again I will definitely let the meat simmer longer and maybe I'll even try braising it in the oven. Another change I might make when I cook this again is to use a bit less meat. Two pounds for four people was a lot of meat and I don't think the flavor of the stew would suffer at all if I used a half-pound less meat. A cheap and easy way to extend this meal to feed at least six people is to add more potatoes. My Frugal Mom says that this stew tastes even better the next day but I can't attest to that since it disappeared so fast! I can easily say it was the best beef stew I've ever had, and it tasted even better knowing that all I had to buy for it was the meat and local meat at that!
The Breakdown: Serves 4 college aged boys or 5 (maybe 6) normal mortals
2 pounds of stew meat @ $2.20 / pound: $4.40
1 leftover bell pepper: $1
4 leftover carrots: $0.50
2 cloves of garlic: $0.25
1 leftover onion: $1
2 ½ pounds of potatoes: $2.50
1 tbsp ketchup or tomato paste: $0.25
3 tbsp flour: $0.25
Olive and / or Canola oil: $0.50
3 cups beef broth from bouillon cubes: $0.75
Total: $11.40 or $2.85 / person assuming 4 people