Whiny Beef Stew

A little while back we had family coming over from out of town, so I put some extra effort into dinner (with two kids 4 and under, food at home tends to be pretty simple these days!). Not too much effort, mind you–this is still a one-pot meal with lots of hands-off time! But it’s also very appealing to grown-up palettes. A welcome break, when I have an excuse!

And hey, I figured that if the kids wound up eating yogurt and fruit pouches for dinner, it wouldn’t hurt anything! The basic rule is that anyone we can manage to carry on a rational conversation with (this doesn’t always apply to our youngest, so he still wiggles out of it sometimes… :P) has to try a couple bites of the main meal; then he can fill up on whatever other (reasonably healthy) options we have readily available (I don’t cook more than one meal for us!). This often leads to some whining, but also a gradually increased ability to adult, so you know… part of the parenting job.

With that premise, then, I present to you:

Whiny Beef Stew

Because what better opportunity to smush together so many synonyms for being out of sorts?? 😀 This stew will fix that right up!

This is a recipe that I adapted from a Williams-Sonoma magazine article of several years ago. It’s a favorite with my husband’s family, who introduced me to the original recipe, and now my version is a standard favorite in our home (well… at least amongst the adults).

You start by grabbing your big Le Creuset knock-off Dutch oven from Walmart, chopping up two strips of thick-cut bacon, and frying them in some olive oil.

Leave the heat on high, walk away for 60 seconds to attend to something else, then return to frantically scrape the sticking pieces of nearly-charred bacon out of the pot before they completely burn to a crisp.

Or–don’t. Just don’t do it. That’s what I did, and this is what the pot looked like after the fact:

I had to wash it all out in order to be able to continue using it, and I ruined all the delicious bacon drippings that would have otherwise flavored the broth. 😦 Not to worry, though!

Mmmmmmmm BACON.
…but I managed to save the bacon!! Har har…

The bacon itself was saved (ha, ha!), and I still had plenty of opportunity left to develop a flavorful stock, as follows…

Add a couple tablespoons of olive oil to a clean pot and heat it over medium-high for about 30 seconds. Then drop in chunks of beef stew meat, liberally salt and pepper them, and sear them on all sides. Do this in a few batches: if you fill the pot with meat, leaving no gaps, it won’t brown properly, and all the flavor created by the marvelous Maillard reaction will be lost and your stew won’t taste amazing–fine, but really not amazing.

Once you’ve seared a batch no larger than what I’ve done in the picture above, scoop the meat out onto the plate with the reserved bacon. Add another tablespoon of oil and brown the second batch, then the third (it took me three batches to brown two pounds of meat). Season these batches, too! And remember, you’re just searing, not cooking through, so do this on medium-high heat and keep an eye on it, stirring as needed–it goes quickly.

Check your pan in between batches to make sure none of the pan drippings are sticking too much and starting to burn. If they are, wipe them out (carefully!!) with a damp paper towel; don’t clean the pot obsessively. You want to keep as much of that meaty goodness as possible!

I’m drooling just looking at the sear in that last photo. Whewee!!

Ok. After you’ve finished the last batch, dump the rest of the meat and the bacon back into the pot…

Dump in any juices that have collected on the plate, too!
Dump all the meat and the bacon back into the pot.

…and add two cups of meat stock. Either chicken or beef is fine, and it can be homemade or store bought. I just happened (for the first time in my life!) to have leftover beef stock from a roast I’d made the week before that I could use, so I dug that out of the fridge and attempted to scoop the layer of fat off the top before dumping it in. That didn’t go so well.

I ended up sloshing stock all over the counter and floor, losing half a cup of rich, meaty goodness to my own clumsiness. Grrrrrr…itty! Ugh.

So I added a bunch of chicken stock to make up for the loss, and that worked just fine. 🙂

Then pour in a cup and a half of red wine. Again, I had some old stuff I needed to use up because I decided I didn’t much like it for drinking, and then I just used some regular cooking wine from the grocery store for the rest.

Take a minute here to move your oven racks to their lowest position and start preheating your oven to 350. Next, grab an onion and some fresh garlic and get to hacking:

Check out the captions and alt-text for more detailed instructions on how to easily dice an onion and peel garlic cloves. 🙂

Looks good already, doesn’t it?? But we’re not done yet! Add yet more seasonings: salt, pepper, bay leaves, and fresh thyme.

Mmmmmmm THYME!
Now for the thyme.

Tip for preparing fresh thyme: those stems can be pretty woody, even after a good braise (which is exactly what’s gonna happen to this stew, btw). So, to cut out as much stem as possible, grasp a sprig in one hand, hold it over the pot, and pull it through the fingertips of your other hand, against the way the leaves grow. This will peel them off the stem, and if you get a bit of that in the pot, it’ll mostly be the tender parts. No biggie.

Now, if you want to do this just like me, promptly forget that the barley you’re going to add will in fact take an extra hour of cook time and assume that it should just go in with the vegetables 20 minutes before serving time. D’oh!

Mmmmmmmm BARLEY!
…and don’t forget your barley, like I did.

Don’t be like me. Add your barley NOW, before you throw the pot (with lid on) into the oven for an hour to braise. Otherwise dinner will be late, barley will be al dente, and the veggies will be mush. :-/ (But, never fear, that Maillard reaction will still cover a multitude of sins!)

Now, as I said, the pot goes into the preheated oven for an hour at 350 degrees. Set it and forget it! While you’re waiting, prep your veggies…

Mmmmmmmm CARROTS!
Peel and chop up your carrots.
Mmmmmmmm PARSNIPS!
And your parsnips.

…then once the hour’s up, add them to the pot and return to the oven for 20 more minutes. Or, do what I did and finish cooking on the stovetop so you can use the oven to bake some biscuits! 😛

Don't worry about the scum around the inside of the bowl--that's how you know it's GOOD!
Add the carrots and ‘snips to the pot.

For the last half-hour or so of cooking, double-check your liquid and your seasoning: barley soaks up a LOT of water, so add another cup or two of stock if things seem to be getting sticky. Sprinkle in a little extra salt and pepper if you do to keep the flavor from diluting.

Annnnnnnnnd here’s the close-to-final product!

Really, how can you say no to this gorgeousness?
All together now!

…I didn’t actually get a shot of the final product because dinner was rather late due to my barley miscalculation and people were HUNGRY. I knew the stew was actually tasty, though, because they went back for seconds. 🙂 In fact, they ate it ALL.

This was all that was left after dinner! It disappeared THAT FAST!!
I didn’t get a single stylish shot of the finished product.

This is all that was left! O.O I didn’t even get a chance for a decent picture!

Well, I did get this one: the untouched kiddie bowl that my almost-2-year-old refused to touch. 😀

And that's why it's called beef and WHINE stew! ;P
…except for the boys’ bowls, of course. 😛

I made biscuits and a salad to go with the whiny stew, and it was a perfectly hearty, comforting, wholesome meal on a cold, rainy February day.

J even took a bite with minimal whining. 🙂



Really, how can you say no to this gorgeousness?
All together now!

Whiny Beef Stew

*Note: this recipe can be made gluten free if you omit the barley! It is also egg and dairy free.

2 strips thick-cut bacon, diced
2 lbs. beef stew meat
4-5 tbsp olive oil, divided
salt and pepper
1 1/2 cups red wine
2-3 cups meat stock (chicken or beef)
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
3/4 cup medium barley (don’t use regular–it’ll take much too long to cook!)
3-4 carrots, peeled and sliced
3-4 parsnips, peeled and sliced

Move your oven racks to their lowest positions and preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

In a large, oven-proof stock pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat, crisp up the bacon. Add a little olive oil if it starts to stick, and stir it around plenty. Remove the bacon to a plate with a slotted spoon.

Add another tablespoon of oil to the pot, then about a third of the beef. Don’t crowd it, or the meat won’t sear properly. Liberally season the meat with salt and pepper and allow it to sear over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally to brown all sides. Scoop the seared beef out onto the reserved bacon plate, then repeat the process with the remaining two thirds of beef in batches. Keep an eye on the bottom of the pot–don’t let the pan drippings burn!

Once all the meat is seared, return it, the bacon, and any collected juices to the pot. Add the wine, the stock, a teaspoon more of salt, several good grinds of fresh pepper, the bay leaves, the fresh time, the onion, the garlic, and (if using) the barley. Replace the lid on the pot and pop it into the oven; let it braise for an hour, checking after 45 minutes to ensure there is still enough liquid and nothing is trying to dry out and burn.

Prep your vegetables and add them to the pot after the hour is up. Cook for another 15-20 minutes.

Serve with crusty bread, salad, and the expectation that your littles might not appreciate your cooking now… but they SO will in 15 years. ❤

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