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Saturday, May 9, 2009

A Beef-Stretching Meal

As you may have noticed in prior posts, one of the ways that I like to keep food costs under control is by reducing the amount of meat in recipes. In addition to the positive effects on the budget, these kinds of adjustments can often make the dish much healthier as well.

The following recipe served almost 20 people with only three pounds of a very inexpensive cut of beef, resulting in almost seven servings from each pound of the roast. At least three things worked to make the final dish seem full of meat:
  • The meat was cut into a relatively small dice, so each forkful was likely to have at least one piece.
  • The browning of the meat and then using the drippings from that step to flavor the vegetables extended the meaty flavor throughout the entire dish.
  • Finally, adding barley gave an overall meatier mouth feel; combined with a good mix of hearty vegetables, the dish satisfied even the most confirmed carnivores among the group. No one was asking "where's the beef" after this meal.

This dish reheats well, so it is a good one to prepare on a weekend and then freeze in meal-sized portions for quick reheating on busy weekday evenings.

Inspired-by-Mexican-Cooking Beef and Vegetable Stew

Canola oil
3 lb boneless chuck roast, cut in 1/2 inch cubes (see NOTE)
4 c onion, chopped—about 3 medium
3 c diced or thinly sliced carrots (about 3 large carrots)
1 to 2 c diced celery
1 c pearl barley
water
6 large garlic cloves, minced
4 c finely shredded cabbage
2 15 oz cans diced tomatoes and chiles
1 4 oz can diced green chiles
8 to 12 oz frozen corn
1 to 2 T Worcestershire sauce
2 T sugar
2 T mixed dried herbs (my usual mix of basil, thyme, rosemary, and marjoram)
2 t cumin
1/4 c dried parsley (optional)
2 T chopped cilantro or to taste
salt and black pepper to taste

1. Heat the oil to almost smoking in a cast iron or other heavy pan. Brown the beef cubes on all sides. You don't want to crowd the pan, so you may need to do this in batches.
2. Remove the meat from the pan, turn the heat to medium, and add the onion, celery and carrots. Cover and stir occasionally until the onions are golden and the onions are beginning to get tender. Return the meat to the pan.
3. Stir in the garlic and cabbage, cover, and simmer for another 5 to 10 minutes.
4. Stir in the barley, the tomatoes and green chiles and about 3 to 4 cups of water. Add the seasonings and turn heat to low. Cover and simmer for 25 to 35 minutes. Taste for seasoning and add more water as needed (you will probably end up using a total of at least 6 cups of water). Continue cooking until the barley is softened, perhaps another 30 to 45 minutes.
5. Taste again for seasonings. Some adjustments you may want to make could include adding more salt or dried herbs, more Worcestershire sauce, a little sugar, maybe even a little more onion or another can of chiles. More cumin or even hot sauce might be additions that will suit your own tastes too.
6. About 15 to 20 minutes before serving, stir in the corn.

Provide grated cheese, chopped cilantro, diced onions, and hot sauce as desired for toppings.

NOTE: To cut the meat into even pieces, use a frozen roast. Remove it from the freezer an hour or so before starting to cook, long enough for it to begin to still be quite firm but not so hard that it can't be cut. Then just slice it in half inch or so slices, turn each on the side and dice.


And to go with the stew, serve lots of rice. Here is an easy method to follow when you are planning to cook a large quantity and don't have a rice cooker.

Brown Rice for a Crowd

Brown rice (I used 2 pounds for 20 people and had about 3 cups left over)
Salt- about 1 to 2 teaspoons per pound of rice; if you will be serving the rice with a highly seasoned dish (for example, some Chinese dishes with a lot of soy sauce), you may omit the salt or reduce it substantially)
Water to cover (you will need two to two and a half times as much water by volume as rice)
  1. Put the rice and salt in a large pot and cover with the water. Cover and let it sit for about 30 to 45 minutes.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and put the rice in the oven. Bake for about 30 minutes. Check for doneness and fluff lightly with a fork. Add a little more water if necessary to be sure rice is not too dry. Return to oven if needed for another 10 to 20 minutes.

(For white rice, just put the rice and salt in the pot, measure out about twice as much boiling water as rice, cover, and bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 45 minutes, checking about halfway through to be sure there is enough moisture.)

"Taste and Dump"--The "professional" way to cook

This stew is a good recipe for the "taste and dump" approach that will help you become known for your wonderful cooking! As noted in step 5, your own preferences may guide you into all kinds of adjustments to the original recipe. Some days you may find yourself choosing a little more of the herbs, another day craving even more garlic. Never be afraid to taste your recipes like this after the ingredients have had a chance to begin cooking together. Better to do the checking at the stove than getting the dish to the table and then discovering that you really would have liked just one more dash of Worcestershire in the mix.

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