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'Tis the season to make comfort food

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Considering the cold weather to the north and east of Arizona, now is a good time to make things like Beef Stew. I prefer to make it because overall you end up eating less red meat than you would eat with a piece of roasted or braised beef. You can also be very elastic with ingredients, beginning with lots of potatoes and carrots and less beef, or vice versa.

If you get into it, you might want to buy a piece of meat anyway and cut it up yourself. The tougher and cheaper cuts are recommended, and the stewing process has rescued many a piece of "inferior" meat and allowed it to develop the flavor that stew meat is known for. I must say that I usually buy stew meat in pieces myself, and in this article I will relate the on-the-fly method that I have for making a standard recipe.

Aside from the stew meat, it is also recommended that you use "new potatoes," which can be red, white or Yukon Gold. They hold up better to the cooking process, although you need hardly cook them as long as you have to stew the meat. The other main ingredient in a beef stew is carrots, and the great divide in this dish comes when you consider whether to add tomatoes to the stew, or prepare it strictly with beef broth or stock. I prefer stock myself, so that is in my method.

You can feed 3-4 people on a typical package of stew meat, and if you want the good stuff I recommend shopping for it at Sprouts or Whole Foods in Tucson. Both places have butcher counters and good, clean meat. After that you pick up your potatoes in a small bag and a standard pack of carrots from the produce section.

You will also want to have an onion and some fresh garlic back at home, and if you do not, get some at the store. Likewise with the beef broth; you may have to pick up a couple of boxes. There is also a product that is called Better Than Bouillon, which is a concentrate and can be found in most supermarkets. It comes in beef, chicken and vegetable and all three are very good.

EVER-LOVING BEEF STEW

From Cafe Margot

Ingredients:

1 standard package of beef stew meat
4-6 waxy-type potatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes
5 carrots, cut into chunks
1 medium yellow onion
5-7 cloves of fresh garlic
4-6 cups of beef broth or equivalent
All-purpose flour or cornstarch, for thickening
Prepared seasoning or herbs
2 stalks of celery, sliced (optional)

So once you are at home, heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven and chop the onions and garlic. Empty them into the pot and let them soften, about 5 minutes while you keep stirring them. Keep the heat under the pot to medium-high.

Once the onion and garlic have softened, you could add the celery if you want it. But go ahead and add the meat, letting it brown and also acquire some flavor from the vegetables.

At this point, if you wish, you can set your oven to 350 degrees and let the meat heat with the vegetables until the oven is hot. At that point, add the broth and stir everything up, and then place it in the oven for 2 hours.

After an hour, you can chop up the potatoes and carrots, chunky or small, and get ready to add them into the stew.

After two hours, check the meat and make sure it is tender. If it is--and it should be--add the potatoes and carrots, stir it and remove it from the oven to the top of the stove. Place it over low-medium heat and let it cook for half an hour, which ought to cook the potatoes and carrots.

At that point, check the stew for seasoning. I like to add prepared Greek seasoning, but you can also add Italian or Herbes de Provence or just a few selected herbs like thyme, ground bay leaf, marjoram and parsley. Add the pepper as well, and some more salt if it is needed.

The stew is done when the carrots and potatoes are cooked. At that point, turn off the heat and prepare a thickening solution. It can be 3 Tablespoons of cornstarch or the same amount of all-purpose flour, which you place in a jar and shake it vigorously to mix it up. DO NOT use the hot liquid for the stew because it will thicken flour instantly, before you ever get it to the stew. Use a half-cup of cold water and when the mixture has no lumps, add it to the stew and stir. You will see it thicken up in a moment and you are ready to serve with some crusty bread, butter and a light red wine.

A fruit dessert would go well with this. I have some ideas. Tune in tomorrow.

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