Saturday, January 11, 2014

Herbes de Provence Crock-Pot Beef Stew

I often hear stories from friends who don't have much time to cook so they are always searching for Crock-Pot recipes. This is a recipe that you could put into a zip top bag and freeze the raw ingredients for future use. In the wintertime I think most of us long for a warm hearty meal and the thing I love about stew is that you can personalize it. Below you will see that I simply added potatoes and carrots but I also love green beans in my stew. My husband always suggests adding corn but with the potatoes I think it is a starch redundancy. Although there is tomato paste in this recipe you could add stewed or diced tomatoes. Just make sure whatever you add can stand up to an 8 hour cook time.

Since I buy most of our meat in the bulk section at Whole Foods I divide it up the day I bring it home. Since grass fed beef isn't easy on the wallet I like to divide it up so that I know how much is going towards each meal. We simply eat more vegetables, which is healthier anyway, so that we can also have grass fed beef instead of grain fed. While putting some stew meat into a zip top bag I decided to season it for stew the next day.

If you haven't yet discovered Herbes de Provence I insist that you buy some. It works with beef, pork, chicken and it makes cooking easy. One of my tricks to buying spices is to look for those that are sold without bottles. For example, you can buy cumin, coriander, oregano, and cinnamon (to name a few) in the Hispanic food aisle. Since they are sold in plastic bags they are $0.50-$0.60 each. Some grocery stores have a bulk spice section where you can simply buy what you need instead of a $4 bottle of spice that may go bad before you use it all. The Natural Grocery store is my favorite place to buy spices because they sell them in their bulk section pre measured by the 1/4 lb. A 1/4 lb of bay leaves cost me $1.08 and there are enough bay leaves to fill a quart sized mason jar. I have forgotten what I spent on Herbes de Provence, definitely not more than a few dollars, and I have enough to fill 3/4 of a quart size mason jar. So don't keep buying new jars, save your jars and refill them. Save money and reduce environmental impact at the same time.

Herbes de Provence Beef Marinade
1-1.5 lbs of grass fed stew beef
2 T olive oil
1t salt
2t Herbes de Provence
10 turns of the pepper mill

Zip the top of the bag shut and massage the contents until everything is equally distributed. Place the bag in a bowl, in the refrigerator, overnight. If I put a zip top bag with liquid contents into the refrigerator it usually leaks. If I put it in the fridge with a container to catch spills then a spill never happens. Murphy's law in the refrigerator I guess.

If you're going to turn this into a freezer meal I'd keep the meat and vegetables separate. Pull the meat from the freezer a day or two before you plan to use it and put it into the refrigerator to thaw. The contents can be dumped directly into the Crock-Pot but to add a flavor boost pull out a stainless steel saute pan and find 10 minutes. Turn the heat to medium high and give the pan time to heat up. When the meat touches the pan it should sizzle. If the pan isn't hot enough don't add the rest of the meat until it is. Back in 1912 Louis-Camille Maillard noticed that meat turned brown when heated in a pan and that is where the culinary world came up with the term the "maillard reaction". Technically it's a reaction between amino acids and sugars in the presence of heat. Why does this matter to you? During the maillard reaction flavor compounds are created. So, find a few minutes and brown the edges of your meat. You don't have to cook it through you're just looking for some browning on the edges. I promise you won't be sorry.

When the edges of the meat are brown dump it into the Crock-Pot. Return the pan to the heat and add 2 tablespoons of tomato paste and stir continuously for 60-90 seconds. Heating the tomato paste in the pan helps bring out the flavor of the glutamates which give dishes that "meaty" flavor. Do not let the contents on the bottom of the pan burn because you will need them in the next step.

Add a cup or so of water to the saute pan and scrape up all of the flavor bits from the bottom of the pan and add the liquid to the Crock-Pot. Dump in the vegetables, 1 bay leaf, 2 teaspoons of salt and fill the Crock-Pot with water until it's about 3/4 full. Set the Crock-Pot to low, cover with a lid, and cook for 8 hours or cook on high for 4 hours. In the first picture below you will see the contents and browned edges of meat just before I covered the pot with the lid.

Remaining Stew Ingredients

2T tomato paste
6 organic yukon gold potatoes
6 carrots
2t salt
10 turns of the pepper mill
1 bay leaf
Add water to fill 3/4 of Crock-Pot

Final result pictured below.