Beef stew

Today’s recipe for beef stew arrived in my iTunes feed this morning from startcooking.com. And — clearly overstepping my meager cooking knowledge — I thought, “I bet I could modify that.”

You see, I’ve become enamored recently with Mark Bittman’s “Food Matters” cooking philosophy, in which you reverse the proportions of meat and vegetables in a dish. The meat is still there, but it’s supporting cast instead of the lead. It’s there to give flavor, a bit of texture, and the knowledge that the dish is still “meaty” without every bite needing to have a large chunk of animal flesh in it. It’s better for the health of both the eater and the planet, and I think it’s a reasonable philosophy.

So anyway. I planned to modify this recipe quite a bit, halving the meat (to 1 3/4 pounds), and adding a lot more vegetables. But I discovered when I’d added only slightly more vegetables that my crock pot wouldn’t hold the extras I’d bought! Oh, no! So instead, I think I managed to make 3/4 of the amount the recipe calls for, keeping the proportions more-or-less the same.

The biggest changes I made were replacing the fresh tomatoes with half of a 28-ounce can of diced tomatoes, drained, because that’s what I had on hand and it seemed a shame to waste it. (Montrealers: I have utterly failed to find 14-ounce cans of diced tomatoes. Do they even exist in this city?) I halved the amount of mushroom (I don’t like mushrooms but Marc does) and added about 50% more more baby carrots (because that’s what was in the bag). Also, I replaced the red wine with beef broth (cheaper, and we’re not big wine drinkers) and the tapioca with cornstarch (Google told me I could).

Finally, since I don’t have a Dutch oven, I decided to cook the whole thing in my crock pot. Put it in for five hours on high, ate my own dinner, and then turned it down to low until Marc gets home. Oh, one more change: I couldn’t find frozen pearl onions at my grocery store and settled on a 10-ounce bag of fresh cocktail onions. They worked out the same, flavor-wise, but they were so hard to peel! It took 45 minutes to peel a 10-ounce bag! Friends, help me! How do you peel cocktail onions? Clearly, my way (cut off both ends, cut in half, laboriously take off skin with fingernail) just doesn’t cut it.

By the time it was done in the crock pot, there was a lot more liquid in there. I’d started off with only two cups plus whatever hadn’t drained from the tomatoes. By the end, the liquid was all the way up to the top of my crock pot. But at least it was thick! Not quite as thick as I might have ideally liked it (I like really thick gravy), but certainly not a soup.

In any event, the final result is delicious. Rich, meaty, thick… the perfect autumn comfort food. I was a little worried about the turnips, since I think this is the first time I’ve ever cooked with them, but they turned out fine. Their flavor is pretty neutral, much like potatoes or parsnips. I sopped up all the gravy dredges with some slices of ciabatta baguette… heaven. I’ll definitely do this one again.

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