Wednesday, December 9, 2009

I love a ba-raise!

Comfort food. Nothing conjures up more memories in the brain than comfort food. For me, comfort food involves two things... braised meat and mashed potatoes. Whether its pot roast, Beef Bourguignon or short ribs, for me, there is nothing like meat cooked for hours at low heat in a wonderful gravy served over mashed potatoes (horseradish or garlic preferably). It starts with the smells wafting through the air of the preparation -- onions and garlic sauteing in butter -- yummy! Then, the aroma coming from the kitchen as the braise works it magic. Culminating in that wonderful, warm and homey meal.

When I braise, I turn to my trusty Le Creuset dutch oven. I prefer the way that the cast iron maintains the heat and is seasoned just right from many a meal cooked before it. I know I've recently gone on about the right tool for the job and all, but I started braising in my dutch oven before I had a braiser and it just works for me. So I stick with it.

The funny thing about braising is that I was doing it long before I knew what it was called. My Grandmother used to make her famous "Beef Cubes". She took stew beef that she browned and then cooked in a gravy for hours until the meat was fork tender. She also made a Beef Burgundy that ran a close second in my book. My Grandmother was a product of the depression and raised in a German household. Her cooking was simple and not very inventive, but she cooked with love and I have fond memories of many of her meals. Before she passed away, I asked her to teach me how to make her "Beef Cubes" and that has been the foundation of my Beef Stew, Beef Tips and Beef Bourguignon. This recipe is the foundation of my braising repetoire.

Oil (olive, canola, whatever you prefer that can stand high heat)
Small onion, finely chopped
A few cloves of garlic, minced
Stew beef (enough to feed your crowd, I usually use about 1 pound for my family)
1 Tablespoon of flour
Beef broth

  1. Cover the bottom of a braiser or dutch oven with oil. Just enough to cover the bottom of the pan. Be sparing. Cook over high heat until oil is heated through.
  2. Add chopped onions to the pan and cook until translucent.
  3. Add minced garlic and cook briefly. Just until it becomes fragrant.
  4. Add beef and cook until brown all over.
  5. Add flour and stir until flour absorbs liquid in pot.
  6. Add enough beef broth to cover the meat and stir to form a sauce.
  7. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to low and let simmer for a few hours with the pot covered.
There's the foundation! Here's where the recipes will diverge.
  • For Grandma's tradition, beef cubes, I add salt, pepper and paprika and let it go.
  • For Beef Bourguignon, I add pinot noir or burgundy, thyme and mushrooms to the above.
  • For Beef Stew, I start from Grandma's and add veggies
And, on and on, and on... The possibilities are limited to your imagination and your palette.

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