Tonight - it's peasant food again! This is my everyday go-to standard beef stew, that I throw in the pot and ignore for a while. It uses some ingredients that I call 'by-product' ingredients: bacon fat, ketchup swish (more on that later), and beef stock.
Ok, beef stock may not be a by-product to everyone, but I found a great cookbook at a garage sale, called "Hazel Meyer's Freezer Cookbook". This is an excellent book for learning to extend the table, so to speak, or to cut back on grocery bills. Hazel says in her book that pretty much everything can be frozen; just fried hamburger in the pan? Well, add a cup or so of water to the 'empty' pan, give it a stir, and you've got stock! This works if you're browning or roasting anything - leftover gravy also makes an excellent base for stock. Put it in a container or freezer bag, and thaw it out next time you need a bit of stock. Ketchup swish is the same idea. It's about a 1/4 cup of water swished around in a nearly empty ketchup bottle. Perfect for this recipe, and lots of other things!
We're all tight for money these days. Groceries are an easy way to help cut back on living expenses, and using ingredients you don't have to buy makes it even easier. Next year I think I'm going to start scavenging for food, although scavenging food for a beef stew could be a bit challenging. I'll keep you posted anyway :)
Easy Everyday Beef Stew
approx. 1 1/2 hours (longer or shorter works, but not less than an hour)
stovetop, or crockpot, or oven
serves 4 or so
2 Tbsp bacon fat (see note)
1/2 Tbsp cooking oil
1 lb stewing beef
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
1 cup water
1 cup beef stock (see note as well), or water
1/4 cup ketchup (or ketchup swish)
1 tsp. thyme OR basil
1 Tbsp molasses (more or less - I don't measure it, I just add a drizzle to the stew)
2 stalks of celery, sliced thick
2 carrots, peeled and sliced thick
2 medium sized potatoes, cut into chunks - I leave the skins on, but whatever you prefer
1/2 cup frozen peas (optional)
Melt the bacon fat and oil together in a dutch oven. Brown beef and onions in the fats, and add salt.
Add the water, stock, ketchup, thyme and molasses; reduce heat to low, and simmer, covered, for 45 minutes to 1 hour 15 minutes.
I simmer the stew until I'm getting hungry, or until I remember I have something on the stove. If you think of it, stir the stew every once in a while, and check on the water/stock level - on occasion, usually if I've forgotten to turn the temperature down and its boiled madly for 25 minutes, I find I need to add about another 1/4 cup of water.
Add the carrots, celery and potatoes; simmer, covered, until vegetable are as done as you like them. I simmer the stew for about 20 to 25 minutes, but a little more or less works here too. If you didn't add more water before adding the veggies, you may need to check to make sure its not getting too dry. In the last few minutes, add the peas and simmer about 5 minutes or so, uncovered.
As far as thickening it goes, I've never had to add any thickener to this - I think the potatoes thicken it up or something like that. If it looks too thin, try simmering for a couple of minutes with the lid off. Crockpot and oven instructions below the note.
NOTE: bacon fat and beef stock
Bacon fat: yes, it will probably clog your arteries, but so does chocolate cake. I like bacon fat - it's a free byproduct of cooking bacon (yum), and it adds a great, smokey flavour to things like beef stew. No sense wasting something that can be so useful. Oil costs money; bacon costs money, but then you get bacon fat too.
Beef stock: use whatever you have. Powdered stuff, liquid stuff, the pre-made in the box stock - or the 'hamburger pan rinsed with water' stock. It all works here. Personally, I really like to use a bit of leftover gravy mixed in to water to make a cup or so - that tastes really good!
CROCKPOT: brown the beef and onions in the oil/fat. Wait for it ... rinse the pan with water with two cups of water, scrapping up the bits from the bottom of the pan (stock!), and put it all in the crockpot. Set on low for 6 to 8 hours (or however long you're at work). Add the veggies when you get home, if you like them with a little bite, or throw them in with the beef if you don't care if they are softer. Can also cook on high for 3 or 4 hours.
OVEN: Same as all the others, but bake the beef mixture, covered, in a 350 degree oven for about 1 hour; add the veggies and bake for another 30 minutes or so, until they are as done as you like them. Just a note though, that the water should be at boiling point before putting it all in the oven.