Leftover Stew

Yesterday was a toss-up for reasons not to send the kids to school: on the one hand, it was a snow day, and on the other, they were both sick anyway. So I kept dinner simple and made a stew out of all of the leftover bits and pieces I had in the fridge. Honestly, a traditional stew (at least the way I learned it) is a bit of whatever you’ve got around anyway, so it seems fitting.

The stew contained beef, onions, garlic, carrots, baby potatoes, celery, homemade beef broth, store-bought beef broth, pearl barley, red wine, fresh thyme, fresh sage, a bay leaf, and salt. I whipped it up in the Instant Pot in about 45mins, including preheating/venting time. It wasn’t the best stew I have ever made, but it was tasty, hearty, warm, and went down easily for those with sore throats. I’ll consider it a win.

Instant Pot Beef and Guinness® Stew Recipe

After my success with the Instant Pot Beef Bourguignon, I really wanted to use my new toy to make some Guinness® beef stew for my husband, since it’s one of his favourites. Unfortunately none of the Instant Pot cookbooks that I bought after Christmas (because of course that was one of the first things I bought) contained this recipe. I’ve had fantastic luck with the Chef John’s Beef and Guinness® Stew, which creates a delicious stove-top version of this dish. To try and keep the flavour the same as the version we love, I adapted the preparation method for the Instant Pot. Here’s what I did:

Instant Pot Beef and Guinness® Stew
Serves 6

Cut* into small pieces:
4 slices low-sodium bacon
Peel and dice:
2 medium-sized yellow onions
Turn on the Instant Pot and select the Sauté program. If necessary, press the Sauté key repeatedly to toggle to the Normal setting. Wait until the LED displays “Hot”.
To the inner pot, add:
1 Tbsp olive oil
Stir the bacon and onions into the oil and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring often, until the bacon is cooked and the onions have begun to turn clear.
Add to the pot:
2 1/2 lbs (1.1Kg) boneless beef chuck**, cut into bite-sized pieces
Sprinkle the mixture with:
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
Press the Sauté key repeatedly to toggle to the More setting. Being careful not to burn the onions, cook until meat has browned, about 5 minutes. Stir often.
Press the Sauté key repeatedly to toggle to the Less setting.
To the pot, add:
1 can (440mL) Guinness® or other dark beer
1 cup low-sodium beef stock
5 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup tomato paste
4 sprigs fresh thyme OR 1/2 tsp dried thyme
3 carrots, cut into bite-sized pieces
3 stalks celery, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 tsp white sugar
Stir all ingredients together until evenly mixed.
Press Cancel on the cooker.
Place the lid and turn to lock. Turn the steam release handle to the Sealing position.
Select Pressure Cook, High Pressure, and set for 30 minutes. 10 seconds after settings are set, the cooker will beep three times and display “On” to indicate that it has started the preheat cycle.

While the Instant Pot program is running, you may wish to make:
4 cups mashed potatoes (OPTIONAL***)

When the cooking cycle has finished, the cooker will beep and enter the Auto Keep Warm mode. (If the Auto Keep Warm function has been turned off, it can be turned back on at any time.) Once the cooking is complete, allow the pressure to release naturally for 10 minutes, and then turn the steam release handle to the Venting position to let the steam out for a Quick Release. Once the steam is safely released, remove the lid.
Turn the cooker back on to Sauté > Normal and simmer stew until it has thickened somewhat, about 15 minutes. While thickening, stir regularly, and remove the sprigs of thyme, if using fresh.

Serve stew in soup bowls, either as-is or atop a mound of mashed potatoes with a divot in the middle to hold the toppings.

*I find that bacon is easiest to cut up using kitchen shears.
**Most kinds of beef are good in stew, so use whatever is in your budget. The pressure cooking (or slow cooking, in traditional stews) will transform even the toughest cuts into something you can cut with a fork. Whatever the cut, make sure to cut off the worst of the fat, since the texture can become off-putting.
***I prefer this stew served over mashed potatoes to soak up all of the lovely broth, but many people like it plain.

Instant Pot Beef Bourguignon

Yesterday I decided I wanted to try to make something a bit more complicated with my new Instant Pot (or, as my husband puts it, I wanted to play with my new toys). Since I had some red wine left over from Christmas that needed to be used up, and nobody in our household drinks wine, I Googled and found a nice recipe for Instant Pot Beef Bourguignon from Instant Pot Eats. I dug a couple of large chunks of beef out of the freezer the night before to thaw, and I had most of the other ingredients already at home. I did have to send the hubby out for tinned tomatoes and fresh carrots, and somehow we had run out of tomatoes.

I’d never made this dish before, but for all that I’ve heard that beef bourguignon is a complicated dish, I discovered that it’s really just a fancy kind of stew — and I’ve made many stews over the years. Making it in the Instant Pot really sped things up, but I could have done something very similar in the slow cooker, so long as I planned ahead. I really appreciated that I could saute the ingredients and pressure cook them all in the same device, though, since that saved me quite a bit of effort and clean-up time. Actually, I overestimated how long it would all take me, so I took advantage of the “keep warm” function as well.

I don’t exactly have a base for comparison, but I would deem it a definite success! The recipe’s serving suggestions are either with mashed potatoes, fresh bread, pasta, parsley dumplings, steamed vegetables, cauliflower rice, or cabbage with butter and pepper. I took advantage of my bread machine and served it with slices of freshly-baked white bread (page 66, Bread Machine: How to Prepare and Bake the Perfect Loaf by Jennie Shapter, 2002). While this combination was lovely, I think I’d like to try it over mashed potatoes next time, in the same style Beef and Guinness Stew. And yes, there will be a next time, judging by the family appreciation of this dish! The meat was tender, the sauce flavourful, and it was nice and filling on a cold winter’s day. My husband ate so much that he was groaning afterwards about how full his stomach was, and yet he regretted nothing.

Look Ma, I Cooked!

What with ComicCon prep taking up 99% of my time, it seems like forever since I’ve been able to spend any time in the kitchen. Well, last night I actually was able to squeeze in a quick meal: nachos.

That’s Tostitos (yes, I know, not very authentic, but this whole dish isn’t, so never mind that) topped with ground beef, green onions, homemade salsa, chopped tomatoes, cheddar cheese, with a large dollop of sour cream on the side. Of course, this being me it had to be lactose-free cheese and sour cream, but it was tasty nonetheless.

Crock Pot Sloppy Joes

I need to defrost my freezer at some point in the near future, so I’ve been trying to use up the remaining food that I stored there for winter. At the same time, I’m trying to use my slow cooker more often in order to give myself more time to work on ComicCon costumes. A quick Googling for recipes showed me that I had all of the ingredients to make Crock Pot Sloppy Barbecue Beef Sandwiches from The Spruce Eats, or, as my family has always called them, Sloppy Joes — which we’ve always served open-faced, I don’t know why.

Instead of buns, I let my trusty bread machine do most of the work and whipped up some Bread Machine Fluffy Herb Bread, this time using dried rosemary instead of fresh dill. I found that the robustness of the rosemary went really well with the vinegar tang of the Sloppy Joe sauce. If you like crusty buns for this dish, the ends of the loaf are great. Or you can always use the dough setting on your bread machine, then shape the dough into rolls, proof, and bake them in the oven instead. I went the easy route on this one.

As is my wont, I had to alter the meat sauce’s ingredients a bit. I omitted the sweet peppers because I’m not terribly fond of them, and I didn’t have any celery. However, I liked how the recipe had lots of hidden vegetables, so I upped the number of grated carrots to four. I also used about a cup of chopped frozen, thawed rainbow chard stems left over from last year’s garden crop.

Despite all of the changes, this dish turned out really well. The kids hoovered up their dinners and kept saying how much they liked it. I really think that you could add just about any vegetable to this dish if you want, so long as you cut it up small enough that it blends well with the meat and you give it the appropriate amount of time to cook. I will definitely be making this recipe again and I highly recommend it.

How to Fix Lumpy Gravy

I love gravy and I’ll eat it with just about any meat, steamed vegetable, or starch. It’s to die for on mashed potatoes and it’s fantastic over an open-faced hot turkey sandwich. However, it’s also really easy to get wrong. If it’s too thin, you can always dust in a bit more flour or simmer it for a while to reduce. But if it’s lumpy, it’s absolutely nasty. Those congealed lumps of flour and fat are just… Ew.

I’ve accidentally made lumpy gravy many times over the years — although the stuff pictured above was done on purpose to illustrate the point. I’ve tried pre-mixing the flour with water, I’ve thickened it with a roux instead, I’ve whisked until it feels like my arm is going to fall off. I’ve tried every tip and trick in my cookbooks, but sometimes the gravy still comes up lumpy, and it seems like the only way to salvage it is to strain it (which still can leave some tiny lumps).

When my mother taught me how to make gravy, she insisted that it be perfectly smooth, or it couldn’t be served. Lumps in anything make Mom gag, so potatoes were always mashed or whipped silky smooth, we never ate cream of wheat, and bubble tea was absolutely out. So if I messed up the gravy, we were out of luck even if it was intended to be a part of a major roast meal. Don’t ask me why, but this technique of fixing the problem never came up:

Just run the gravy through the blender. It comes out smooth every time. Not only that, but lumpy gravy tends to get really thick when you finally get it to an even consistency, so this is a great time to thin it out using a bit of the appropriate stock. The one in the photo above was loco moco hamburger gravy, so I thinned it with beef stock. There are probably a bunch of you who were using this technique for years and are agog that I’m thinking it’s revolutionary, but honestly it’s totally new to me. And if my crappy old two-speed General Electric machine from the 70’s with dull blades can do the trick, any blender can.

This works for all kinds of sauces, by the way. White sauce I find is also very prone to lumpiness if you’re not careful, but it does blend nicely. As with blending all hot things, do exert extra care to prevent burns!

The loco moco turned out great, by the way, even if I didn’t have any parsley or tomatoes for garnish. I find that it pairs rather nicely with steamed spinach, since you can combine it with the gravy and meat for a wonderful, rich flavour.

It Was Supposed to Be a Barbecue

Last night I had planned on barbecuing. It’s not really BBQ* season yet, but the snow has melted from around our barbecues (although without any grass growing yet, the ground around/under them is a morass of clay mud). The grills not being buried or frozen closed is pretty much all a Canadian needs to get started cooking in the back yard.

That being said, the temperature plummeted last night. Heck, it snowed off and on since Tuesday night, but it had hovered around freezing for most of that time. But once yesterday afternoon came around, the wind picked up and it started getting cold fast. By midnight it was -7° (-16° with the wind chill), and by morning it was -11°C and felt like -20°C. As winter temperatures around here go, that’s not too bad, but that’s really cold for April. Not only that, but the wind reached 90Km/hr gusts — you know it’s windy when you’re driving and debris is passing your car. With that wind, the cold just cut right through you… So yeah, I didn’t want to stand outside and cook. Not only that, but winds like that make it very difficult to get an even temperature on the grill!

So dinner wasn’t barbecued steak, it was pan-fried. It was very tasty pan-fried steak, though, cooked medium and tender. I served it up with a heaping side salad, which kind of felt summery if you didn’t look out the window…

* Yes, I am fully aware that what we call “barbecue” around here is what people in the southern USA would call “grilling”. We don’t really have a low-and-slow BBQ tradition around here, although those few times I have had it, it has been mouthwateringly delicious.