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Seasonal Chef: Pot Luck: Part 3, A Warm Hearty Stew
Posted By Maria Reina On December 26, 2012 @ 12:44 pm In Features,Recipes,Seasonal Chef | 1 Comment
My series on pot luck foods continues this week with stew. Another dish that could not be easier and adaptable to your own taste. But before I launch into that, I thought it might be fun to share an appetizer recipe with you. If you remember, last week I wrote about pot luck appetizers  giving you a few tips on things to make and take to a holiday party. Over the weekend Larry and I went to a pot luck party and together we made a very cool cheese ball as our contribution. I got the idea for it after noodling around on the internet looking for interesting appetizer recipes. The title for the recipe was Turducken of Cheese Balls . Honestly I’ve eaten an actual turducken only once and found pretty underwhelming, so I almost did not open the link; but glad I did. This cheese ball basically has no resemblance to an actual turducken, only using the name to refer to it’s layers.
I subbed out a couple of the ingredients from the original recipe and it turned out beautifully. I would encourage you to be creative and do the same, just stay true to the quantities. In particular the cream cheese. That is what will help provide the right balance of texture for the cheese layers.
(1) Brie Cheese, (2) Smoked Sundried Tomato, (3) Manchego Cheese, (4) Fig, (5) Gruyere Cheese, (6) Herbs
(7) Cheddar Cheese , (8) Dried Cranberry, (9) Gorgonzola Cheese, (10) Walnuts, (11) Chèvre Cheese and
(12) Almond and Pecan
Our cheese ball was quite a hit at the party, colorful and tasty!
OK … so let’s get back to the topic at hand: stews. Who doesn’t love a great stew? Stews offer an infinite possibility in ingredients, taste and texture. They are warm and filling, the ultimate comfort food. It’s a dish that stretches back to, well, as far back as humanity had fire. There is archeological evidence dating back nearly eight thousands of years ago of primative people cooking food in a tortoise shell (as their pot) over a fire. Written evidence appears in the 9th century and the rest, as they say, is history.
Over the centuries stews developed using local ingredients and spices to what we have today: Goulash, Coq au Vin, Boeuf Bourguignone, Chili, Bolognese and Burgoo – to name just a few. Essentially a stew is a meat that is simmered in some kind of liquid for several hours. That said, meat does not necessarily need to be your main ingredient, beans and grains are perfect substitutes for that protein.
More after the jump … more->
I decided this week I would do one of each, a beef and a vegetable version. Just like my soups, I always have my standard mirapoix of celery, carrot, onion and garlic, which provides the base level of flavor. Let’s take a look at the Vegetable version first, which took me about an hour start to finish.
Once my vegetables were sufficiently soft and beautiful I added the tomatoes, stock, tomato paste and herbs. I mentioned a few weeks ago that I like a relatively new brand of vegetable stock by Rachael Ray. It has a very nice rich flavor, but you can certainly use your favorite brand if you don’t have time to make your own.
Add in the beans and cook for another 10 minutes. Just before serving I mixed in some freshly chopped parsley and served over rice. You can easily serve this over mashed russet or sweet potatoes, polenta or even egg noodles.
The beef version takes a bit more time, but most of it is “non-active,” meaning it’s slowly cooking in the oven unattended. The first step is to brown your meat. You need to get “stewing” meat for this version. The cheaper cut is most ideal. You are going to cooking this for a long time and need the fat to help soften the meat.
Cook your meat cubes in batches so the don’t get crowded in the pot and don’t be afraid to get a nice crust on them. Once you are finished wipe out any residual beef juice and sauté your mushrooms in butter. I do this step next to get the mushrooms caramelized.
Then add the onions. If you have the time and inclination, fresh pearl onions are simply delicious, but I cheated this one out with the frozen version – which are completely acceptable. Remove the mushroom-onion combo when they finished cooking and then start your mirapoix.
Once the mirapoix became beautifully golden I added back the meat and the wine. Let the alcohol burn off for a few minutes. If you’ve ever eaten a stew, in particular Coq au Vin which uses a lot of red wine, and where it’s had the distinct aftertaste of gasoline that is because the alcohol did not have a chance to evaporate. I can’t tell you how important that step is, it will truly make or break your dish.
Add half the stock, bring to a boil, cover and place in a 325 degree oven for 2 hours. This next step is my particular version: remove the pot from the oven, fish out the meat and herb remains and puree the liquid and vegetables left in the pot. I use my immersion blender to make this quick and easy. If you don’t have one, then your stand mixer or food processor is fine. This little step will give you the ultimate thick and delicious sauce – no thickener will be necessary!
Add back the meat along with the mushroom-onion combo and the potatoes. Bring to a simmer, cover and place in the oven for another hour.
The beef version does take several hours as I mentioned earlier, but its all oven cooking while you do other things around the house. Just like it’s all vegetable sibling you can serve this over potatoes, rice or noodles. I even like topping the beef version with some freshly grated parmesan cheese.
My last thought on stew is that is this a perfect make-ahead dish. After you cool it down place in a container and into the ‘fridge. It’s literally better the next day after the flavors have time to mix and mingle. It’s the perfect pot luck dish for New Years Day! Just rewarm slowly and you are good to go.
As the holiday season and 2012 come to close I wish you all the very best and sincerely thank you for “following me” this year! I’m looking forward to an exciting 2013 filled with delicious food and friendship.
A simple and hearty vegetable stew that takes about an hour to make.
This stew tastes even better the next day, once the flavors have a chance to mix and mingle!
A delicious comforting stew to make ahead and serve at your next pot luck party.
Three hours of the cooking time is inactive. This stew is also excellent the next day, once the flavors have had a chance to mix and mingle!
Seasonal Chef blogger Maria Reina  comes to the world of food as a third career, spending a great portion of her adult life in the field of Human Resources. With her private company Bella Cucina Maria she is a personal chef, caterer and recreational cooking class teacher in Westchester. She’s an avid food television watcher and cookbook collector, always looking for a new take on a traditional dish. In her free time she loves hanging out at local farmers, chatting it up with the farmers and doing cooking demos with their seasonal ingredients. In addition to her blog , which is loaded with easy recipes, you can follow her on Facebook , Twitter  and Pinterest .
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URLs in this post:
 pot luck appetizers: http://food.lohudblogs.com/2012/12/19/seasonal-chef-holiday-party-pot-luck-part-2-bringing-an-appetizer/
 Turducken of Cheese Balls: http://TurduckenCheeseBall
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