Monday, March 3, 2014

Fantastic Beef Stew with Sour Cream

I was inspired yesterday. I knew I was going to make a stew. I asked my husband what he'd like and he said "beef stew, with lots of potatoes". Okay, I could do that. I got 2 (1-pound) packages of beef stew meat from the freezer early yesterday. By 2 o'clock it was just barely thawed enough to break apart. Then I was pondering what sort of stew to make. I need to go grocery shopping. My vegetable drawer was almost empty - not something that happens often. Did i want to just follow a tried and true recipe or try something new? I looked through some recipes but nothing really called me.

Beef Stew with Sour Cream
Basic ingredients
I figured I would just start with the meat and add whatever sounded good! I started with all the vegetables left in the fridge - bell peppers and celery, and some garlic and thyme and a little parsley. I don't use celery in stew very often, but it is a good filler. I had 2 onions left and potatoes in the pantry. I thought I would use mushrooms, since I had cans of them, and frozen peas. And then I thought about the sour cream in the fridge. Okay, I had basic ingredients, and I was ready to start. I like some of the quasi-Hungarian types of goulash, though any recipe for "goulash" I have tried to make has failed to please my husband. We used to frequent a German restaurant in Orlando, which had something they called "goulash soup". It was slightly thickened, had a lot of shredded beef and potatoes, and was deep in color with an obvious tomato base of some kind. No recipe I have ever tried - and I have tried many ways to duplicate this "soup" - has ever remotely satisfied my husband's memory. Oh well.

So, that was not the goal for last night's stew. 

Steps 2 & 3: Brown meat - add to stew pot
Still, the thought of a tomato base with the sour cream at the end was sort of there in my mind. Proceeding with that idea, I browned the meat. I have a wonderfully large braising pot with a lid, and love to use it for stew. It is wide and low, so it has a lot of surface area. Somehow, stews just seem to get done nicely in that pot. I got it out and set it next to the stove. I used a large nonstick skillet to brown the onions and then the meat. I added flour after the last batch of meat was browned, for a little thickening. All that went into the braising pot once done. Adding in the celery and peppers, thyme, some salt and pepper and bay leaves, I thought of Hungarian paprika. I love paprika; it is another spice that was often used during my childhood. Once the skillet was emptied, I added water and stirred up the browned bits, then added tomato paste. I had first thought of canned petite diced tomatoes or maybe tomato sauce, but ended opting for the paste. I stirred that into the water in the skillet and poured it over the meat and vegetables in the braiser. Into the oven went the covered pot and the stew simmered for 2 1/2 hours.

To finished the stew, I cooked cubed potatoes on top of the stove, added frozen peas to the stew straight from the oven, so they thawed nicely. Sour cream at the end was the perfect final touch. The stew was so amazingly delicious. My husband loved it, too, which makes it just that much better. Comfort food at its best.

Beef Stew with Sour Cream

Serves 6 to 8

olive oil or bacon fat for browning, as needed
2 onions, in 1/2-inch cubes
3 - 4 cloves garlic, smashed
2 pounds beef stew meat, in 1 1/2-inch cubes
2 green bell peppers, in cubes
3 large stalks celery, sliced
Steps 4 & 5 add flour to pan, remove to stew pot
1 large can (about 13.25 ounces) mushroom stems and pieces, drained
1/2 cup chopped parsley 
2 tablespoons Hungarian paprika
1 - 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
1 - 2 bay leaves, depending on size
1 teaspoon sugar to round out flavor
2 - 3 teaspoons salt
freshly ground pepper, to taste
3 tablespoons flour
4 cups water
1 small can (6-ounces) tomato paste
2 pounds potatoes, peeled, about 1 1/2-inch cubes 
1 tablespoon salt
2 cups frozen peas
1 1/2 cups sour cream  

Have ready a large stew pot or braising pot, with tight fitting lid. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
Steps 6 & 7: Add water and tomato paste

Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add in some oil or bacon fat. Add the onions and saute until they are just translucent. Add the garlic and continue to saute for another minute, until the garlic is fragrant. Remove the onions and garlic to the stew pot. Add more oil to the skillet if needed and brown the meat in 2 or 3 batches (Steps 2 & 3), taking care not to over crowd the pan or the meat will not brown properly. Brown all the meat, removing to the pot with the onions once done. With the last batch of meat (Steps 4 & 5), add in the flour and toss to completely moisten, then remove the meat to the stew pot. 

Steps 8 & 9 all ingredients mixed together, ready to cook
While the onions and meat are cooking, chop the peppers and celery and add them to the stew pot, along with the mushrooms, parsley, paprika, thyme, bay leaves, sugar, salt and pepper (Step 8). Once the last batch of meat has been added to the stew pot, add some of the water to the skillet, stirring to pick up any browned bits in the pan. Add the tomato paste and stir until completely blended (Steps 6 & 7). Add this liquid to the stew pot, along with the remaining water. Set the stew pot on the stove to bring up to a bare simmer (Step 9), then cover the pot with a tight fitting lid and place the pot in the oven at 300 degrees, or whatever temperature will just maintain a simmer, for about 2 1/2 hours, until the meat is tender. 

Just before the stew is done, prepare the potatoes and cook them in water to just cover, with 1 tablespoon of salt until they are tender when pierced with a knife. Drain the potatoes. Remove the stew pot from the oven. Remove lid carefully and add the cooked potatoes and the frozen peas and stir to combine. Allow the peas a few minutes to completely heat through. Stir in the sour cream, garnish with more parsley, if desired, and serve.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.