Thursday, October 8, 2015

Friendly Fire - Heart to Heart - The Offal Truth About Beef Stew

Wednesday - We've all heard the term "friendly fire." I have no idea what is friendly about bombing your own troops, or those of your allies, so that makes it an oxymoron, "moron" being the operative word. So speaking of morons,  President Obama calls Doctors Without Borders today and apologizes for bombing their hospital in Afghanistan.  "Sorry" don't get the cows milked, Barack old boy. No wonder we can't take out ISIS; we can't differentiate between the good guys and the bad guys.

The price of beef is giving me heart palpitations.  I've never been one to buy expensive steaks and prime ribs for home consumption - I like to enjoy them on those rare occasions we eat out at a good restaurant - but as you all probably know by now, even the so-called cheap cuts have gone sky high.  I am always looking for a way to lower my food budget I (I can hear my husband's guffaw), which has led me to explore the use of offal. You know, those nasty bits that every animal has, like liver, heart, brains (Happy Halloween!), tongue, tripe, kidney, etc.  Some I eat, like liver and tongue, and others I give wide berth.  Lately, I've been wondering about beef heart - after all, it is a muscle just like the meat we normally eat. There is nothing inherently nasty about it, like an intestine. Or brains. And my go-to guy for weird foods, Andrew Zimmern, recommends it highly. (Andrew also recommends insects, eyeballs, and field-dressed squirrels.  On behalf of all the squirrels living in those ginormous trees next to the courthouse, I just say no.)

I love beef stew.  Who doesn't love beef stew? Besides vegans and practicing Hindu, I mean. I have some strong feelings about beef stew. In my mind, a proper beef stew should be able to feed a dozen hungry people with nothing else on the table but napkins and forks.  That doesn't mean I wouldn't load the table up with three kinds of breads, seven sweets and seven sours, a big pile of kraut sveckle or kasha varnishkes, and a 14 pound roast turkey with stuffing. Because I would. I just can't stop myself.

I like a beef stew to be loaded with vegetables, and potatoes that don't disintegrate and disappear.  I like a lot of unthickened gravy made with a pile of onions. So I like this recipe, enough to share it with you. 

And here's the point of my invocation of Andrew Zimmern - do not be put off by the inclusion of beef heart. It makes up about one-third of the meat in the stew, and helped me keep down the price a bit. Beef heart is $2.49 a pound; there is almost no fat or other waste; it smells exactly like the other stew meat, and it tastes divine.

Just do it. There is no try.

1 - 12 oz. package center-cut, thickly sliced bacon, cut crosswise into squares
3 large onions, chopped
1/2 stick butter
kosher salt, ground black pepper, a pinch of sugar
2 large cloves of garlic, chopped
1 jalapeño, seeds and veins removed, minced
1 tablespoon dried thyme
2 pounds beef for stew
1 pound well-trimmed beef heart, cut same size as stew beef
garlic pepper
1 - 32 oz. box beef stock
2 cups red wine
4 cups water
2 medium stalks celery, with some leaves, left whole
1 large carrot, cut in half crosswise, then halved lengthwise
2 bay leaves
1 - 6 oz. can tomato paste
2 Knorr chicken bouillon cubes
1 1/2 pounds yellow baby potatoes
1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into large cubes
1 pound zucchini, sliced
1 cup frozen peas and carrots, rinsed under warm water to defrost
1 cup frozen cut okra, rinsed under warm water to defrost
2 cups frozen broccoli and cauliflower combination (e.g. Publix "Alpine Blend"), rinsed under warm water to defrost

Place the stew beef and the beef heart in a large bowl. Season well with the garlic pepper and set aside.

Render the bacon in a large deep pot. Remove the cooked bacon with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the butter to the bacon fat in the pot, and then add the onion.  Season with the salt, pepper and sugar. When the onion is well-softened, add the garlic, jalapeño, and thyme. Cook on medium high until the onion is just turning brown around the edges.

Add the beef and beef heart, stir and cook a few minutes on all sides. Add the beef stock, wine, water, celery, carrot, bay leaves, tomato paste, and chicken bouillon and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat to simmer, cover the pot and cook for 2 hours.

Taste the sauce and adjust your seasoning, if needed. Discard the celery. Add the potatoes and butternut squash; bring the heat back up to a boil, then lower to simmer, cover and cook for 30 minutes. Add the reserved bacon and zucchini and cover and cook for 15 minutes. Finally, add the defrosted vegetables, cover and cook another 15 minutes.

Now, check the meat and each type of vegetable for doneness, and cook a little bit longer if needed. You can overcook stew, so don't give it too much more time.

If you have the time and the space in your refrigerator, chill the stew overnight.  Next day, before reheating, remove the hardened fat that has risen to the top. Reheat slowly to avoid scorching the bottom. Add a little bit more water if needed. Taste the reheated stew and adjust the seasoning.  Serve in oversized soup bowls.  Take pictures of happy eaters and post on Facebook.

You may ask, "why those particular vegetables?" Ha, why not? Here is where you get to be creative, by subbing your favorite veggies in or yanking your least favorite out.

More on this tomorrow.

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