Provencal Beef Stew – Slow Food, French Style

Rich, beefy, slow and satisfying

I’m a recently converted braising believer. I say recent because by nature and circumstance I’m more of a spontaneous, wait-until-the-last-minute, fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of cook. Planning and making lists can be drudging work for me, so when it comes to deciding what to have for dinner, I tend to rely on a well-stocked pantry, simple recipes and quick cooking methods like grilling, broiling or stir-frying.

Which is all well and good. But now that both of my kids are in school all day, I’m feeling like I have a tiny bit more time to think about our daily dinner plans – and nothing seems more luxurious to me then having the wherewithal to start cooking dinner 4 hours in advance.

I know, some of you are thinking – Hasn’t this girl ever heard of a Crock-Pot?

I do own one of those, but for some reason I haven’t yet developed enough of a relationship with it to consider having an affair. I reserve my affection for a heavy-duty Le Creuset Dutch oven.

Sliding that pot full of meat, vegetables and wine-rich broth into the oven for a few hours not only fills the house with amazing smells, but leaves me hands-free to do other things. I love the fact that dinner can be bubbling away in the oven, and all I’ll need to do later is either slice some bread or boil wide egg noodles and toss some baby greens with dressing for a salad.

This recipe resembles a French-style beef daube, which is just a fancy name for beef stew. Traditionally made in a very large earthenware dish called a daubiere, it’s slow food at its best – rich with tender beef, herbs and red wine. I throw in aromatic herbs like thyme and rosemary, and use a chopped fennel bulb in place of celery for a little Provencal twist.

Also, I prefer to cook the most of the vegetables separately from the stew; that way they retain their color, texture and flavor rather than turn into overcooked beige mush.

Bouquet of herbs, ready for the pot

For more braising ideas, check out my recipe for:

Moroccan Braised Lamb with Toasted Almond Couscous

Update – I just learned about my fellow blogger Lia’s Swirling Notions Braisy Chain – what a great idea! I just love that blue Le Creuset pot, too.

I’m tagging a few friends to join in the fun:

Jenny at Picky Palate

Janelle at Talk of Tomatoes

Annie at The Cheesemonger’s Wife

Happy Braising…

Provencal Beef Stew
makes 4 – 6 servings

2 – 3 pounds beef chuck, cut into 2-inch pieces
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon tomato paste
5 peeled whole garlic cloves
2 cups hearty red wine, such as Syrah, Merlot or Cotes-du-Rhone
1 –2 cups beef or chicken broth
2 bay leaves and 4 sprigs each fresh thyme and rosemary, tied into a bundle with string
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 cup chopped leeks
1 fennel bulb, stems trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch wedges

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Season the beef generously all over with salt and pepper.

Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven or heavy casserole over medium-high heat. Add the beef, in batches, and brown well on all sides. Remove beef to a platter.

Add onion to the pot and cook 5 minutes, stirring every now and then, until onion is softened. Return beef to the pot and sprinkle with flour. Stir in the tomato paste, garlic and wine. Bring to a boil. Add enough broth to just cover the beef; toss in the herb bundle. Cover the pot with a sheet of parchment or foil, then top with the pot lid.

Place in the oven to braise for 2 1/2 – 3 hours. The cooking liquid will be slightly reduced and the meat should fall apart when prodded with a fork.

Meanwhile, place the carrots, leeks and fennel in a large skillet with 1/4 cup water. Place over high heat until the water boils, then cover and lower heat to a simmer. Cook until the vegetables are tender but still colorful, about 10 minutes.

Just before serving, stir the vegetables into the stew; season with more salt and pepper to taste. Serve over wide egg noodles, mashed potatoes or with some crusty bread alongside.

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Kid-Friendly Food: Turkey Meatballs with Cilantro

I don’t know what it is about meatballs, but they seem to be the “it” food these days. I’ve seen recipes for meatball sliders teased on the cover of glossy food magazines and every Food Network personality seems to have a variation; Giada De Laurentis makes Mini Meatball Subs, Rachael Ray has her Spanikopita Chicken Meatballs, and Mario Batali, maybe most tempting of all, has a recipe for Lemon-Scented Meatballs.

Mario’s seem most like the meatballs I grew up eating, the Italian-style ones my mother would make for our Sunday gravy, with the exception that she used beef rather than veal – they were big, tender and simply seasoned with garlic, parsley and Parmesan cheese. I still haven’t nailed down her recipe (she never wrote it down, it seems), but these might come close.

I’ve been playing with the traditional Italian meatball ingredients; switching them out for Asian and Latin flavors. After all, every ethnic cuisine includes seasoned meat rolled into balls.

Even better, meatballs couldn’t be more family-friendly; I like to make a big batch and freeze some for a quick and healthy “emergency” meal, served with brown rice and sauteed spinach.

I use ground turkey thigh in this recipe, it’s a lower-fat alternative to beef and the dark meat produces a juicy meatball.

Turkey Meatballs with Cilantro

1/3 cup fine breadcrumbs
1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 pounds ground turkey
1/2 cup chopped green onions
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 garlic cloves, pressed
1 egg
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoons olive oil

Combine the breadcrumbs and milk in a small bowl; soak 10 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine turkey, onions, cilantro, garlic, egg, cumin, paprika, salt and pepper. Add breadcrumb mixture and mix until combined; form 1 1/2-inch diameter meatballs.

Heat the oil a 12-inch nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Arrange meatballs in pan and cook until browned on all sides and cooked through, 7-10 minutes.

Makes about 2 dozen.

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Cornish Hen for Two with Cranberry-Thyme Sauce

A meal for lovebirds

Sometimes, preparing a little holiday feast for two is just the ticket – maybe your whole family is stranded in Chicago due to a freaky snowstorm (don’t laugh – the forecast looks iffy), or you and your lucky love bunny are simply planning a cozy Thanksgiving this year.

This recipe is fairly easy and delicious…enjoy.

Cornish Hen for Two with Cranberry -Thyme Sauce
adapted from Bon Appetit, December 2007

3 tablespoons butter, divided
1 tablespoon golden brown sugar
3 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme, divided
1 1 1/2- to 1 3/4-pound Cornish game hen, halved, backbone removed, rinsed, patted dry
1/2 tablespoon all purpose flour
3/4 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup orange juice
1/3 cup frozen cranberry juice cocktail concentrate, thawed
1/4 cup dried sweetened cranberries

Preheat oven to 450°F. Blend 2 tablespoons butter, sugar, and 2 teaspoons thyme in small bowl. Pat hen halves dry with a paper towel and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper.

Spread skin of each with half of butter mixture. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add hen halves, skin side down. Sear until deep brown, about 4 minutes. Turn, skin side up, and sear 1 minute. Remove from heat. Transfer hen halves, skin side up, to a small rimmed baking sheet. Reserve skillet (pan juices will be dark).

Roast hen halves until cooked through and juices run clear when pierced with a fork, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, blend remaining 1 tablespoon butter and 1/2 tablespoon flour in a small bowl. Add broth, orange juice, cranberry concentrate, and remaining 1 teaspoon thyme to reserved skillet.
Boil until sauce is reduced to 3/4 cup, whisking often, about 7 minutes. Whisk in flour mixture and cranberries. Simmer until sauce coats a spoon, stirring often, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Transfer hen halves to plates. Spoon the sauce over and serve.

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