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 …
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.
After sautéing my mirapoix I add parsnip and brussels sprouts and let them get a little golden. Remember, caramelizing your ingredients helps intensify the flavor! Then I added in baby bella mushrooms, that I stemmed and quartered. Let them cook down a bit to release their liquid.
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 the potatoes and squash and bring it all up to a boil, lower to a simmer and cook for about 15 minutes, or until the potatoes become fork tender.
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.
- 1/4 cup Brie cheese, rind removed and formed into a ball
- 3 cups plus 2 tablespoons cream cheese
- 1/4 cup smoked sun dried tomatoes, finely diced
- 1 cup shredded Manchego cheese
- 3/4 cup finely chopped dried figs
- 1 cup shredded Gruyere cheese
- 1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped chives or scallion
- 1 1/2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- 3/4 cup dried cranberry
- 3/4 cup crumbled Gorgonzola or Blue cheese
- 1 1/4 cups walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
- 1 1/4 cups Chèvre cheese
- 1/2 cup almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped
- 1/2 cup pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped
- Crackers or sliced baguette, for serving
- Spread the top and sides (but not the bottom) of the Brie ball with 2 tablespoons of the cream cheese. Place on a plastic cutting board and firmly press the sun dried tomatoes into the cream cheese.
- Place the Manchego and 1/2 cup of the cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Beat on medium speed until combined, about 30 seconds. Using a rubber spatula, scrape the mixture into your hands and form it into a thin disk large enough to drape over and completely encase the tomato layer. (Don't bother cleaning the mixer in between layers.) Firmly press the figs into the manchego layer.
- Place the gruyere and 1/2 cup of the cream cheese into the mixer bowl and beat on medium speed until combined, about 30 seconds. Using the rubber spatula, scrape the mixture into your hands and form it into a thin disk large enough to drape over and completely encase the fig layer and press firmly on all sides so that it adheres. Combine the parsley and chives in a small bowl and firmly press the mixture into the gruyere layer.
- Place the cheddar and 1/2 cup of the cream cheese into the mixer bowl and beat on medium speed until combined, about 30 seconds. Using the rubber spatula, scrape the mixture into your hands and form it into a thin disk large enough to drape over and completely encase the herb layer and press firmly on all sides so that it adheres. Firmly press the cranberry into the cheddar layer.
- Place the gorgonzola and 3/4 cup of the cream cheese into the mixer bowl and beat on medium speed until combined, about 30 seconds. Using the rubber spatula, scrape the mixture into your hands and press it evenly over the cranberry. Firmly press the walnuts into the blue cheese layer.
- Place the chèvre and the remaining 3/4 cup of cream cheese into the mixer bowl and beat on medium speed until combined, about 30 seconds. Using the rubber spatula, scrape the mixture into your hands and press it evenly over the walnuts to completely encase the walnut layer. Combine the almonds and pecans in a small bowl and firmly press the mixture into the goat cheese layer.
- Using an offset or large, sturdy flat spatula, transfer the cheese ball to a serving plate, cover with plastic wrap and chill for about and hour to set all the layers.
- Allow the refrigerated cheese ball to sit at room temperature for 15 minutes before serving. Serve with crackers or baguette slices.
A simple and hearty vegetable stew that takes about an hour to make.
- 1 cup celery, about 3 stalks, 1/4" dice
- 1 cup carrot, about 3 medium, 1/4" dice
- 2 cups onion, 1 medium, 1/4" dice
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- Kosher salt
- Ground black pepper
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 1 cup parsnip, 2 medium, 1/4" dice
- 2 cups Brussels sprouts, trimmed and cut in half, 12 oz
- 1 1/2 cups baby bella mushrooms, stemmed and quartered, 8 oz
- 10 small stems of fresh thyme
- 1 32 oz container of vegetable stock
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 1/2 cups butternut squash, cut in 1" cubes
- 2 cups quartered Baby Gold or Red new potatoes, cut in 1" pieces
- 1 15 oz can of cannellini beans, thoroughly rinsed and drained
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
- In a heavy bottom pot, over medium high heat, saute the celery, carrot, onion and garlic with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Cook until golden brown, about 5 minutes.
- Add the parsnip, sprouts and mushrooms and continue to cook for another 8-10 minutes, mixing frequently so they don't stick and burn on the bottom.
- Add the thyme, stock and tomato paste and mix to combine the paste. Add the squash and potatoes bringing the pot to a simmer.
- Cover and cook for about 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are fork tender.
- Add the beans and cook another 5 minutes to heat them through.
- Just before serving over mashed potatoes or rice, mix in the fresh parsley.
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.
- 1 3/4 stewing beef, 2" dice
- Kosher salt
- Ground black pepper
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tabelspoon butter
- 8 oz baby bella mushrooms, stemmed and quartered
- 1 cup frozen pearl onion
- 1/2 cup celery, 1 stalk, diced
- 1/2 cup carrot, 1 medium, diced
- 3/4 cup onion, 1/2 medium, diced
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1/2 cup red wine
- 1 14 oz can beef broth, divided
- 2 sprigs of thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 1/2 cup small waxy potatoes, 2" dice/quarters
- 1 1/2 cup butternut squash, 2" dice
- Season the meat generously with salt and pepper and sear in a very hot, smoking pot, that has a thin layer of olive oil on the bottom. Cook in batches until all sides are caramelized. Remove to a bowl and continue until all meat is seared.
- Wipe the bottom of the pot and add the butter and mushrooms. Season with 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper and cook until they take on a little golden color. Add the onions and cook for another 3 minutes. Remove to another bowl.
- Add a tablespoon of olive oil and saute the celery, carrot, onion and garlic with a 1/4 teaspoon of salt and pepper and saute for 5-8 minutes, or until golden brown.
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
- Add the meat to the pot along with the wine and cook on high for 5 minutes to burn off the alcohol. Add in 1 cup of broth, thyme and bay leaf and bring to a simmer. Cover and place in oven for 40 minutes.
- Remove from oven and carefully take out the meat and herbs. With an immersion/stick or standing blender puree the stock until smooth. Add remaining broth and meat back to the pot, bring back to a simmer, cover and place back in the oven. Cook for 2 hours.
- After 2 hours add in the potatoes, butternut squash mushrooms and pearl onion. Cover and place back in the oven for 1 hour more. Check the potatoes and squash, they should be fork tender.
- Serve over rice, mashed potato or noodles.
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 .