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Friday, April 12, 2013

Random Food Fridays - Beef with Red Wine Gravy Crock Pot Style


I love my Crock Pot. I don't use it all the time, but for some things it can't be beat. I took a day off today. I worked in my garden, got my hair cut and picked up some groceries. Today's dinner was set to simmer by 10 AM and was done by about 4 PM. Easy peasy!

The recipe and method I will give you can be used for any of the cuts of beef that benefit from braising.  This time I used short ribs. Here are the secrets that make this come out super yummy every time:

1. Season and brown the meat before placing in the crock pot. The meat will have a better texture and appearance and there will be swell fond to add flavor to the gravy.

2. Deglaze the pan with sliced or chopped mushrooms. Do not add more oil to the pan. The liquid will be released from the mushrooms and help you capture all the yummy bits on the bottom of the pan.

3. Use dried chopped onions rather than fresh. For some reason, raw onion, placed directly in the Crock Pot gives the gravy a sour flavor. By using dried onions and beef base, you are adding some of the flavor components of a very famous onion soup mix, but without all the added salt.

Look at the fancy mushrooms I got in my farm box!

Ready for the wine and slow cooking.

Beef with Red Wine Gravy
3 lbs. short ribs or chuck roast
Salt and Pepper
Granulated garlic
1 tbsp. peanut oil
2 cups mushrooms, roughly chopped
5 carrots, roughly chopped
2 ribs celery, roughly chopped
1 bottle red wine (I used a decent cab)
1 tbsp. beef base (I like Better Than Bullion Organic)
1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 tbsp. chopped dried onion

Heat the oil in a very large skillet. Wash the meat and pat dry. Sprinkle both sides of the meat with salt, freshly ground black pepper and granulated garlic. Brown the meat on all sides. Do not over crowd the pan. While the meat is browning, wash and chop the vegetables and place the carrot and celery in the bottom of the Crock Pot. Remove the browned meat from the skillet to the Crock Pot, placing it on top of the veggies. Add the mushrooms to the skillet and cook, scraping the bottom of the pan and allowing the mushroom liquid to loosen up the yummy bits. Once the mushrooms are cooked, scoop them out of the skillet into the Crock Pot. Add the wine, beef base, Worcestershire sauce and dried onions to the pan. Stir to combine and bring to a brisk simmer. Pour over the other ingredients in the Crock Pot. Cook on low for about 6 hours. Close to serving time, scoop the solids out of the Crock Pot and keep warm. Add the broth to a large sauce pan and bring to a boil. Thicken by your favorite method. I like to make a slurry of flour and water. I even have one of those old fashioned shaker cups. I used about 1/4 cup of flour dissolved in cold water. Stir the slurry into the boiling broth and wish until the gravy thickens to your liking. Serve with mashed potatoes. 

Serves 6 polite people or 4 hungry people. 

Friday, April 5, 2013

Spiced Plum Jam and Spiced Plum Mustard

Whenever I am stressed, I find great comfort in simple chores. Spring has given me the urge to purge but my time has been most limited. My two great Spring Cleaning accomplishments have been cleaning out and re-organizing my spice cabinet and cleaning out my freezer.

This shallow cabinet used to be the built-in ironing board. It makes a great spice cupboard. How do you   like my old-school-step-stool-media center? I've played many a TED talk on my lap top while stirring jam. The fancy speakers are out of frame on the floor.

The older I've gotten, the wiser I have become about riding the waves of life. There are very many things I cannot control, change or fix - although it is my impulse to try. Something greater than my mind is in charge of things. This is a good thing, because my mind is extremely imaginative - and not always in a way that I enjoy. When I feel overwhelmed or worried, I know what to do to bring my mind back:

Get dirty in the garden
Clean house
Make jam or pickles
Prepare a great meal
Take a walk in Nature
Journey and/or pray
Take a nap
Do yoga
Have a reality check with my smart and loving people

This list is not presented in any particular order. All of them work for me. One thing I've left out are the efforts I make to bring comfort to those who are suffering. I think I'm pretty good at it. The things I've listed here are the things that restore me. These are the ways I bring comfort to myself. This is a worthy and necessary pursuit. Maybe you don't need convincing, but sometimes I do.

This jam is a result of Spring Cleaning therapy. I found a bunch of frozen plum pulp in the bottom of my freezer and decided to make jam with some of the spices. I used the reduced sugar Sure Jell in the pink box. While I've enjoyed learning the ins and outs of natural pectin, sometimes I want the brighter flavors that come with a shorter cooking time. This jam is simple but sophisticated. It's very tangy and makes a perfect complement to cured meats when mixed with the mustard of your choice. I must admit, I love plain old yellow mustard.

Chicken Mango sausage on whole wheat with mayo and spicy plum mustard.

Spiced Plum Jam
6 1/4 cups plum pulp (I am lazy and cook the plums whole then put through a food mill)
4 whole cloves
1 tsp. rainbow peppercorns
2 cardamom pods
3 sticks cinnamon
3 slices fresh ginger
4 1/2 cups sugar

Place the plum pulp, cinnamon cinnamon sticks and ginger in a large pan. Bash the cardamom pods to expose the seeds. Place the cloves, peppercorns and cardamom pods in a mesh tea ball and add to the pan. Mix the pectin with 1/4 cup of the sugar and stir into the fruit mixture and bring to a full rolling boil. Stir frequently to prevent scorching. When a full rolling boil has been reached, stir in the remaining sugar. Return to a boil and boil exactly one minute. Remove from heat and scoop out the spices. Skim any foam. Carefully ladle jam into hot, sterilized jars. Wipe the rims with a clean, damp cloth or paper towel. Cover with lids and rings. Process in the boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Carefully remove from the boiling water bath to a towel lined tray. Allow to cool and seal before labeling. 

Makes 8 half-pint jars.