I'm back from my sojourn in Rhode Island. I'd like to say "back and better than ever" but that's not true as I have acquired both a broken toe and an eye infection since being away. While in the Ocean State, I cooked a number of little things but none were really particularly new so I won't go into them much. Caesar salad, sweet potatoes with curry, that sort of thing. But last night I really got it into my head to make a beef stew of some kind, so that's the first thing I did in the kitchen upon getting back home. Even if it is still a bajillion degrees here in the south and feels just like summer, in my mind, fall has begun, so it is time for stews, braises and things like that.
Chopped up about 3/4 of a package of cremini mushrooms into quarters or slices, depending on their size. If you have a whole package, feel free to use all of them--the only reason I used a smaller amount was because that was all that was left over in the fridge. I used my large, cast iron dutch oven pot to make this, so if you have one, use it. Otherwise any big, heavy pot will do. Sauteed the mushrooms in 2 tablespoons of butter until they became soft and were begining to exude their juices. Added 3 cloves of thinly shaved garlic--not chopped, actually go ahead and shave the garlic cloves with your knife to create thin slivers. After the garlic has lightly browned and the mushrooms are soft and getting a little brown, remove from the pot and set aside. Next I dredged small chunks of stew beef in 1/2 cup flour mixed with salt and pepper. I only bought somewhere between 1/2 to 1 pound of stew beef chunks from the butcher (actually, I think it was 0.72 lbs on the scale), so you don't really need all that much. Then when I got home, I cut the chunks into smaller little pieces before dredging them with the flour mixture. Heated 3 tablespoons of olive oil in the bottom of the pot over medium-high heat and when it was sizzly, added the floured chunks of stew meat. Turned them over to brown in the pot; it probably took no more than 5 minutes to brown all sides of the beef chunks. When they were browned, I added 3 shallots, thinly sliced. Stirred everything around over the heat until the shallots were softened (about 3 minutes) then added 2 small, diced carrots, 1 large, diced parsnip and about 4 tiny, diced Yokon Gold potatoes. Stirred all the veggies and beef chunks up together and let it cook over heat for 2-3 minutes, then added 1 package of beef stock. I used Pacific Organic beef broth--it comes in an aseptic package, looks like a soymilk container. The package size is 32 ounces and I used all of it. After I poured that in, I added back the mushrooms and garlic, along with 1/2 cup of pearled barley to cook along with everything else and brought it up to a simmer. Then I covered the pot, turned the heat down to medium and left it alone for about 30 minutes. When I returned, the liquid had reduced down somewhat and the barley had softened. I added 1/2 - 3/4 cup of lima beans (if you hate lima beans use green peas instead), let it cook for another 5 minutes, then added 3 tablespoons of tomato paste and 3/4 cup of red wine (I believe cabernet, but I don't think it really matters since it was 2-Buck Chuck. Sigh). Stirred everything in really well and added about 1 cup of water since the liquid had really decreased quite a bit. Cooked for another 10 minutes then removed from heat. It's really to taste at this point: if you think it is too thick--add a little more wine then a bit more water, let it cook off the alcohol and proceed. If it is too thin, simply turn the heat up a bit and let it cook uncovered to reduce. However, if you keep it over night it will not only improve in flavor but it will thicken up considerably so keep that in mind. You can always add a little more liquid when reheating. And this one last thing, I forgot to do this last night, but I will when I reheat it--at the end of cooking, add 2 tablespoons each minced parsley and chives. This will also freeze really well, if you're the kind of person who likes to cook ahead. Make sure you have more red wine to drink alongside and also some good bread.