Category Archives: beef, it’s what’s for dinner

Shepherd’s Pie

Today was the last day of the semester, and for that I was grateful.  As I’ve mentioned before, this semester has been particularly trying, and I am just thankful to have made it to the end!  I have the next two weeks off on holiday, during which I plan to rest, relax, and do a fair bit of cooking.  I started this evening with our dinner–we’d been eating out all week long as the end of the semester usually is so busy that I don’t have much time to cook, so we resort to going out.  This week we also had a few social engagements that involved dinner, so eating at home happened very rarely this week at dinnertime.

Sometimes you just want a meal that soothes and comforts.  And sometimes you just want something that is easy and quick to fix that doesn’t require a terrible lot of work.  This dinner is both.  We’d been out earlier in the week to one of our neighborhood favorite joints, the Allen Wickers.  It’s a great pub/restaurant that we frequent, and the food there is quite good and includes a few British pub favorites such as fish and chips and shepherd’s pie.  Their version is ground beef with mixed vegetables, topped with mashed potatoes and a bit of cheese.  There isn’t a gravy or sauce, so while it is good, there isn’t anything that really holds it together.  I decided I’d make a remixed version of their recipe for dinner tonight, with a few modifications to accommodate for SB’s onion allergy.

Comfort food at its best: shepherd's pie. Easy to make, full of vegetables, and sure to be a repeat guest at your dinner table.

Now I’d made shepherd’s pie before, but it had never turned out anywhere near as good as this one did.  As SB said while he ate, “This is off the chain.”

Here’s how I did it.  You will need:

  • 1 pound ground sirloin
  • 1 package steamable frozen mixed vegetables
  • 1 package Alexia Yukon Gold Mashed Potatoes (about 3 cups)*
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup 2% milk
  • salt to taste

*you can always make your own mashed potatoes; I used these because they were in my freezer and cut the prep and cook time significantly.  Additionally, this particular brand of steamable mashed potatoes is really good and tastes homemade–SB couldn’t tell the difference!

In a Dutch oven, brown the ground sirloin.  While the meat is cooking, steam cook the mixed vegetables according to package directions (about 5 minutes).  Drain the fat from the meat and add in the garlic.  Carefully open the package of cooked mixed vegetables, and add them to the pan, stirring them in with the meat to combine.  While you are cooking the vegetables with the meat, cook the mashed potatoes according to package directions (about 10 minutes).  Add the dried spices to the meat-vegetable mixture and cook for about 5-6 minutes to allow the spices to flavor the mixture.  Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

After this has cooked, sprinkle the flour evenly over the mixture to lightly coat it and stir to distribute the flour.  Stir in the milk so that a gravy is created, and turn the heat off of the meat and vegetables.  After the mashed potatoes have finished cooking, carefully remove them from the package using a rubber spatula and spread them over the surface of the meat and vegetables so that you create a mashed potato “crust.”  Sprinkle the cheese on top and bake at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes.  Allow the pie to set for about 5 minutes before serving.

This recipe made 4 large servings, but would make 8 small servings if eaten with other vegetables or side items.  We elected to eat it as a solo dish.


Beef Stew with Dried Thyme Dumplings

I’d like to apologize in advance for the huge gap in time between my last post and this one.  This school year has been particularly challenging–larger classes, fewer resources, needier students, and the specter of more cuts to come makes for a very stressful and busy work life.  It hasn’t stopped me from cooking, but it has put a sort of damper on my ability to create new things to cook.  Needless to say, we have eaten a lot of the same thing week after week.

This weekend, my local butcher, Hirsch’s Meats, had stew meat on sale, so I decided to use a Groupon for there that I’d bought a while back since it was due to expire.   I considered making chile verde, but really wanted something comfort food-y packed with veggies too.

Enter beef stew.  Many beef stew recipes have the usual beef dredged in flour, then browned in a bit of fat, stewed in stock until tender, and then have carrots, onions and potatoes added for a stick-to-your-ribs meal.  There’s nothing wrong with that, except the onions would aggravate SB’s allergies, so I set about making a stew that omitted the onions and ramped up the flavor in other ways.

A really easy beef stew with tons of veggies, lean stew beef, and lots of flavor! This is a really hearty meal, and is low in fat.

The recipe I made is going to be dinner for us for the next 3 days (including tonight).  Hooray leftovers!    It’s a really easy recipe, and for the most part, is one you can set on the stove to cook and walk away from.  Here’s how I did it.  You will need:

  • 2 pounds lean stew meat (ideally, all the fat is trimmed from it, as mine was)
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 4 cups beef stock
  • 2 tablespoons beef base (I use Better Than Bouillon)
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 2 teaspoons granulated garlic
  • 2 teaspoons dried basil
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon white pepper, finely ground
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper, finely ground
  • 1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 bag frozen cut green beans
  • 1 bag frozen cut carrots
  • 3 large red potatoes, peeled and diced into 1/2″ cubes
  • 2 cups diced celery
  • 6 cups water

For the dumplings:

  • 2 1/2 cups Heart Smart Bisquick
  • 1 cup 2% milk
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme

In a large stockpot (8 quarts is best; I have a 6 quart one and everything barely fit), heat the oil and then add the stew meat.  Cook the meat over medium-high heat until it is browned on all sides.  Once the meat is browned, add the beef stock, beef base, 3 cups of water, the Worcestershire sauce and the dried spices.  Stir the spices in and mix them in well and turn the heat down to medium.  Allow the meat to cook in the broth for 90 minutes.  Once the 90 minutes has passed, add the vegetables plus 2 more cups of water, stirring everything thoroughly so that it blends together well.  Allow this to cook for about 35-40 minutes, stirring periodically, or until the potatoes and carrots are cooked all the way through.  In a small mixing bowl, stir the 1 teaspoon of dried thyme into the dry Bisquick mix.  Whisk the milk into the seasoned Bisquick with a fork until you have a sticky batter.  Use a teaspoon to drop blobs of batter into the hot soup.  You may have to push the dumplings down to fit all of them in the pot.  I found that because my pot was small, I had to do this, plus I had to ladle some of the soup over the dumplings as they cooked.  Place the lid on the pot so that the dumplings steam cook, being careful to watch so that the pot does not boil over.  The dumplings will help thicken the stew, so adding a flour slurry (as is sometimes found in many stews) is unnecessary.

Serve once the dumplings are cooked through, about 10-15 minutes.  This recipe will make quite a lot of really tasty stew–I dished it up into bowls that held about 2 cups’ worth per serving.  We had seconds, and have plenty for the next two days’ worth of dinner.

Brisket Tacos and Borracho Beans

I hope everyone had a fantastic 4th of July.  Ours was really low-key:  we got up super early, went for a walk at a local park, came home and were like slugs all day.  I napped, but before I napped, I put a brisket in the oven for us to have for dinner last night.  After all, it was the 4th of July, and well, brisket is holiday food.  At least it is to me.

Anyway…we had a substantial bit of brisket left over, because well, you can’t buy a brisket for 2.  You can get pretty close, but it’s tough.  Thankfully, the butcher I shop at had smaller cuts of brisket and I was able to get a brisket that was a bit under 6 pounds.  I didn’t really do anything special to it:  just poured a couple of Mexican Cokes (no corn syrup) into a 9-quart Dutch oven, rubbed the brisket down with some rub I have, and placed the meat in, fat side up.  I put the lid on it, put it into a 250F oven and let it cook from 9 until 5 that evening.

The result was a super moist, fork-tender brisket.  In lieu of a smoker, this is how I’m going to cook brisket from now on.

Anyway…since we had so much leftover brisket, I decided that we’d have brisket tacos for dinner tonight, which turned out to be a brilliant idea:

Got leftover 4th of July brisket? We did. Here's what we did with it...mmm, brisket tacos! Almost like barbacoa, but a bit less fatty and just as tasty!

I served them on whole wheat tortillas, along with a bit of shredded Chihuahua cheese and lime wedges.  The avocados we had were not quite ripe enough, or I’d have sliced them up and stuffed the tacos with them.

But man cannot live by tacos alone (or can he?  That’s debatable).  To round out our dinner, I fixed a pot of borracho beans, in the style of a local joint we frequent whose beans are off the chain.  Borracho is the Spanish word for “drunk,” and these beans are so named because you add a bottle of beer to them as they cook.  Of course the alcohol cooks out during the cooking process, so no drunkenness ensues.  Be sure you choose a good quality beer for this, as you really don’t want skunky beer flavoring your pot of beans!

Borracho beans: easy to make, filling to eat, full of veggies and...bacon. Which you can leave out if you like, but which does add flavor.

So I’ll cut to the chase and tell you how I made this evening’s dinner.  You will need:

For the tacos:

  • about 1 1/2 cups chopped brisket
  • 4 tortillas
  • Garnishes:  lime wedges, shredded cheese of your choice, salsa, avocado slices, cilantro, chopped onion…you get the idea

Warm the brisket in the microwave.  While the brisket is warming, heat your tortillas either in a skillet on the stove, or you can go all Mexicano and do it on the stove eye, like I do.  Just don’t burn yourself.  Once your tortillas are warm, stuff each taco with about a half cup or so of brisket and garnish as desired.

For the beans:

  • 1 pound dry pinto beans, rinsed and sorted (basically, make sure there are no rocks)
  • 3 tablespoons ham base*
  • 1 cup chopped green bell pepper
  • 2 cans diced stewed tomatoes
  • 4 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1 large jalapeno pepper, sliced (remove the seeds if you want less heat)
  • 2 slices bacon, cut into lardons
  • 1 12-ounce bottle lager style Mexican beer, like Corona
  • 1 cup chopped cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons Mexican oregano (it has a more intense flavor than Mediterranean oregano, found in Greek cuisine)
  • 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
  • hot water

*If you do not have ham base available to you or cannot consume pork products, you may substitute chicken stock and leave out the bacon.  To make this completely vegetarian, use vegetable stock.

Once you have rinsed and sorted your beans, place them into a large pot (like a 5 or 6 quart Dutch oven) and cover them with hot water so that the water is 2″ above the beans.  Cover the beans and put them on a stove set to medium-high heat.  Bring the beans to a boil, and then add the ham base.  Stir thoroughly so that the ham base dissolves in the liquid, then reduce the heat to medium-low and allow the beans to cook for 90 minutes, stirring periodically so that they do not stick to the bottom of the pan.  Once the 90 minutes has passed, add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine.  Allow the soup to cook for an additional 60-90 minutes.  At the end of the cooking time, use a potato masher to mash the beans up slightly so that your soup is thickened a bit.  Serve while piping hot.

To reduce the heat, you may omit the jalapeno.  Our beans turned out to be quite spicy, but really good!  The pot makes about 10 1 1/2 cup servings.

The Untidiest of Sandwiches

One of my favorite easy, one-pan meals to fix is Sloppy Joes.  A friend of mine from high school once told me that her mother used to call them “untidy Bartholomews” instead.  Quite a mouthful for a simple, messy and tasty sandwich.

Generally, when people make Sloppy Joes, they buy that stuff in a can that you can add to ground meat to make them.  That’s all good and well if you’re pinched for time, but truly, this version is far superior.  Not only does it get in the half cup of vegetables the canned stuff claims to provide per serving, it eliminates the corn syrup the canned stuff adds.  As corn syrup is a no-no in our household (as are onions), the canned stuff isn’t an option.  So I developed my own version of the Sloppy Joe.  Et voila:

The untidiest of sandwiches, this recipe mimics the stuff you can get in a can, but minus the corn syrup, and full of flavor.

I make mine using either 93/7 ground turkey (99% lean is too lean here) or ground sirloin.  Certainly ground chicken or pork could be substituted, but I feel that for this particular rendition, beef is best as it holds its own against the spices I use to flavor this sandwich filling.  The cayenne and red pepper flakes could be left out to make it kid friendly, unless your kid is a connoisseur of spicy foods, and then by all means, leave them in!   I also add celery and bell pepper to boost the veggie content, and they are a great addition here.  Here’s how I make this particular dish.

You will need:

  • 1 pound ground sirloin*
  • 1 cup diced bell pepper
  • 1 cup diced celery
  • 1 8 oz. can no salt tomato sauce
  • 1 6 oz. can tomato paste
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 teaspoons low sodium soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika (also called Spanish paprika)
  • salt to taste

*ground chuck, regular ground beef or ground turkey can also be substituted here.

Brown the ground sirloin in a large skillet, then drain and reserve.  Heat the olive oil in the same skillet, and once the oil is hot, toss the bell pepper and celery in.  Cook them over medium-high heat until they soften a bit, about 7-8 minutes.  Near the end of this cooking time, add the garlic, ground sirloin, tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce and water.  Stir to combine, and then add the tomato paste, stirring in the paste thoroughly so that there are no chunks of it remaining.

Add all your seasonings, adding salt to taste.  Once the mixture begins to bubble, reduce your heat to just below medium, cover the pan and allow it to simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring periodically to ensure that it does not stick to the bottom of your pan.

When the cook time ends, serve with crusty hamburger rolls.  I served mine on whole wheat bakery buns, but I have also eaten it as a baked potato topping.  This recipe made approximately 6 1-cup servings.

Chile Verde

A couple of weeks ago, I made chile colorado, which was quickly gobbled up by SB and me.  I’d been wanting to replicate the green chile stew I periodically ask my mom to make, and when I asked her how to make the chile colorado, I was sure to ask her how to make the chile verde as well.

It turns out that it’s just as easy to fix as chile colorado.  First, you need some green chile:

When you can't get Hatch chiles, this is a good substitute.

Since I didn’t have any Hatch on hand, as my mom always does (she buys 50+ pounds when they are in season and freezes it to use all year long), I had to settle for a tub of Bueno, which I found in the frozen vegetable section at Central Market.  It had a little bit of a bite, but not as much as I like my green chile to have.

Green chile puree adds heat to this simple beef stew.

This stew is rather easy to fix and requires little attention while cooking.  It does take quite a bit of time to cook, though, so be sure you either start it early on in the evening if you plan to have dinner on the table by 6, or make it on the weekend and reheat.

Here’s how I did it.  You will need:

  • 1 13 ounce tub frozen green chiles, pureed (canned green chiles would work here as well), about 2 cups
  • 2 pounds stew beef or chuck roast, cubed into bite-size pieces
  • 2 large russet potatoes, peeled and diced into bite-size pieces
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • black pepper
  • salt to taste
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 onion, diced (NOTE:  I did not add onion to my version, but this dish really needs onion to add more complexity to the flavor)

In a large Dutch oven, heat 2 teaspoons of canola oil.  Add the beef and stir, being sure to brown all sides of the meat.  Cover and cook the beef until most of the liquid has cooked off.  If you are using onions, add them here.  Next, add in the garlic cloves and powder, chile puree, black pepper and salt with enough water to cover the meat by about an inch and allow this to simmer for an hour to an hour and a half, stirring periodically.  You want the meat to be fork tender at this point.

During the last 30 minutes of cooking time, add the potatoes with a bit more water.  Allow the potatoes to cook until they are easily pierced with a fork.

Serve with warm tortillas and cheese.  I served a pot of spicy pinto beans alongside ours.  This makes an outstanding burrito filling, and is how I usually eat it when I have it at my mom’s.

This recipe makes about 10 1 1/2 cup servings, or thereabouts.  We have dinner for tomorrow night, with scant leftovers for a third night’s dinner.