All the predictions for 2013 include increasing food prices, so the "frugal" part of this blog is going to be getting a lot more emphasis. Unfortunately, beef prices have already started the climb upward and onward. Since our household eats very little beef, that has not impacted us very significantly, but for many of my friends, satisfying a taste for occasional beef dishes has become harder and harder.
One of the best ways to reduce the cost of meat (or any expensive ingredient for that matter) is to decrease the amount of it used per serving. A stir fry that includes beef (or chicken or shrimp or pork) can use only an ounce or two of the meat per serving, filling the plate with tons of vegetables and perhaps even a complementary legume or grain.
But maybe that is too little to satisfy the meat craving. Today I want to give you a beef-stretcher recipe that has been a mainstay for our family for years: Italian hot beef sandwiches. The original recipe is one I developed in an effort to copy a popular sandwich served in the little town where I started college.
What makes these sandwiches really special is attention to detail. First, use the best quality hard rolls you can afford--or better yet, make your own homemade rolls. Second, have some garnishes that your family likes. Pepperoncini is the very real key for our family, but dill pickles are a good second best. Hot sauce is a nice touch for many, as are chopped onions. And keep the recipe frugal by not layering on the meat too heavily. Instead, increase the flavor of the final sandwich by spooning some of the juices on to the rolls prior to adding the meat. (That's the reason why you want to have a good hard roll base, to hold together with all that moisture.)
If you are really in a hurry, you could skip the sauteeing step and just put all the ingredients into the slow cooker right away, but the added flavor from the pre-cooking is well worth a few minutes. And check out the NOTE at the end of the recipe for another time-saver.
This filling is excellent the second (or third or fourth) day and can be frozen in serving size portions as well, and it is also easily doubled if your slow cooker is large enough. This can be especially helpful for packing lunches (where microwaves are available) or those nights when everyone has different schedules: Just keep the filling in the refrigerator with the rolls on the shelf. It takes less than a minute to assemble the sandwich and get it piping hot.
Italian Hot Beef Sandwiches
2 1/2 to 3 pound boneless beef roast--use whatever cut is cheapest; the long cooking here will tenderize whatever cut you use (and these cheaper roasts often have a lower proportion of fat, also an advantage for this recipe)
1 to 2 T canola oil
2 c chopped onion--1 large or 2 small to medium
1 T chopped jalapeno (optional)
6 cloves minced garlic, divided
1 1/2 t salt or to taste
1 t Italian seasoning
1 t dried oregano
1 t dried basil
1 to 2 c water to deglaze pan
sliced pepperoncini or good quality dill pickles
1. Put the roast into a 3 1/2 quart slow cooker on low.
2. Saute the onion, jalapeno, and half the garlic in the oil until the onions are translucent and starting to brown slightly. Use medium high heat and stir often.
3. Stir in the salt and herbs and continue to cook for another minute or two. Turn the vegetable mixture into the slow cooker, spreading evenly over the meat.
4. Put the water into the hot pan and scrape the drippings from the bottom. Pour this deglazed mixture over the meat and vegetables. Cover and cook on low heat 6 to 8 hours, until the meat is falling apart.
5. About an hour before serving, add the remainder of the garlic and stir it down into the liquid. Using two forks, pull the meat into shreds. Alternatively, you can take the meat out of the slow cooker and chop into small pieces. Return the meat to the liquid, stir well and taste, adjusting for salt as desired.
6. Continue to cook for another hour or so, to allow the seasoning to reach into all the cut surfaces.
7. To serve, split the rolls and spoon a teaspoon or so onto one side of the roll. Then add a tablespoon or so of the meat filling to each roll. Serve with pepperoncini or dill pickles.
NOTE: I know there are no longer many stores with butchers available for custom cutting. However, if you do have this service available, have the roast cut in thin slices across the grain before you bring it home, and it will take much less time for the flavors to meld. You can also slice the uncooked meat yourself. This will be an easier task if you freeze the roast for an hour or two, until it is firm but not so solid that you are going to risk bodily harm by trying to cut a rock!