Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Beef Stew and Biscuits

Alas, it was too good to be true. Our warm 60 degree plus days of the past couple of weeks were chased away by strong winds and falling temperatures. I guess winter isn't quite through with us afterall. With a chill in the air, I immediately think of tummy-warming comfort food so I got to work making a red wine beef stew I like to call Cabernet Beef along with biscuits from scratch. My kids are crazy about biscuits and love to slather them with butter and drizzle them with honey. It is an occasional treat that makes everyone happy. The beef stew is really simple and can be altered in many ways. Sometimes I put in mushrooms, sometimes potatoes, sometimes carrots. The constants are stew beef and pearl onions. If I don't include potatoes I usually serve it over mashed potatoes infused with garlic and enriched with half and half, cream cheese and sour cream (good doesn't even begin to describe these potatoes. I'll give you that recipe another day. Those are the my good friend the Queen's mashed potatoes). But back to the stew...it cooks all day long in the crock pot, filling the house with a delicious warmth and aroma that is hard to beat. The biscuits, on the other hand, come together at the last minute as long as your oven is already hot. They are cream biscuits which I first discovered thanks to Sara Moulton's long gone "Cooking Live" show on the Food Network (if you never saw that show, she is an amazing teacher. I learned so much about cooking from her). I think, however, that the iconic James Beard is the one usually credited to bringing Cream Biscuits to light. They are light and fluffy. Heavy cream is used as the liquid, and due to the fat content, doubles as the butter, too. You can jazz them up with some fresh herbs if you wish, but I usually make mine plain.

Cabernet Beef

2 lbs stew beef
1 1/4 c. pearl oninons (frozen or blanched and peeled)
1 tsp. concentrated beef base
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 bay leaf
1 tsp minced fresh garlic
3 Tbsp. cornstarch
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 c. dry red wine, like a Cabernet
1/2 c. low sodium beef broth
12 mini (1 .5" diameter) gold fleshed potatoes, scrubbed clean (optional)
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme (optional)

Mix cornstarch together with red wine and beef broth. Set aside. Place all remaining ingredients into your crock pot. Pour in wine-cornstarch mixture. Cover crock pot and cook on low for 6-8 hours or until beef is very tender. Serve with warm biscuits.

Cream Biscuits
adapted from Gourmet Magazine

1 1/2 c. all purpose flour
1/2 c. cake flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1-2 tbsp chopped fresh herbs (optional, dill, thyme, parsley and rosemary are good choices)
1 1/4 c. heavy cream
1 egg

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Into a medium bowl, sift together, flour salt and baking powder. Stir in fresh herbs, if using. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in cream). Stir the mass just until a dough forms. If mixture appears too dry , you may need to carefully drizzle in some additional cream. Gather dough into a ball and knead gently 4 or 5 times on a lightly floured surface. Pat dough out to 1/2 " thickness. With a 3" floured cookie cutter, cut out biscuits, pressing straight down without twisting. Release biscuit to a parchment covered baking sheet. Gather up scraps and pat down again until you have cut out 8 biscuits. Beat egg with 1 tsp water and pinch of salt. Brush tops only of biscuits lightly with egg wash. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until biscuits are golden. Serve warm or at room temp with butter and honey.

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