OPINION | FRONT BURNER: Beef and Vegetable Stew warms the heart, soul

Beef and Vegetable Stew (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)
Beef and Vegetable Stew (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)

When the weather first turns cool in the fall, my dinner thoughts turn to chili and casseroles, but by the time winter's chill really sets in — when the sky is so white it looks like it would spill snow if you only had a poker long enough to pierce it — I start craving beef stew. And this year is no exception. I tend to stick to the same recipe — with minor tweaks here and there — every time because it's always so satisfying. I'm sure there are other equally good or even better stew recipes out there, but this is the one I want when a beef stew craving strikes.

My most recent tweak was to forgo the fresh onion I normally use and add a teaspoon or two of sauteed onion base. I picked up a jar at a local drug/health food store a few weeks ago. I was shopping for vegetable broth bases and found sauteed onion base instead. I figured, why not?

I generally don't recommend specific products, but in this case if you happen to see Better Than Bouillon Sauteed Onion base at your supermarket, I highly encourage you to give it a try.

So far I've used in three different soups/stews with excellent results each time. It definitely won't replace fresh onion in my kitchen, but in recipes where I want onion flavor but not necessarily onion texture, it's quickly becoming my go-to.

If you're unfamiliar with Better Than Bouillon bases, they're essentially stock or broth concentrates that you dilute with water. Similar to bouillon cubes, but in paste form. Knorr makes similar products, although not in the same flavors.

I use bases in place of ready-to-use broth quite frequently because I can mix the precise amount I need for a recipe without having to deal with leftovers.

I also skipped the fresh celery and opted for a bit of celery seed simply because I forgot to buy fresh celery.

Both changes made a stew with a far superior texture, but feel free to make this recipe using fresh celery and onion.

I stuck with the classic vegetable combination of potatoes, carrots and lima beans this time, but sweet potatoes, butternut squash, parsnips, peas or fennel would be really good as well.

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Beef and Vegetable Stew

  • 1 ¼ to 1 ½ pounds beef chuck, cut into bite-size pieces (my store sells packages already cut)
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • Salt and ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • ½ cup dry red wine
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ¼ teaspoon celery seed OR 1 to 2 ribs celery, chopped
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced OR 2 teaspoons garlic paste
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons onion base OR 1 onion, cut into wedges
  • 12 ounces carrots, cut into 1 to 1 ½ inch pieces
  • 12 ounces small red or gold potatoes, halved or quartered
  • 12 ounces baby lima beans
  • Crusty bread or rice, optional for serving

Toss beef cubes in flour that has been seasoned generously with salt and ground black pepper. Shake off any excess flour.

In a large pot such as a Dutch oven, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the beef, working in batches if necessary, and brown on all sides. Transfer the browned beef to a plate.

Stir in the beef broth, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pot and then add the wine, bay leaves, celery seed (or celery), tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, garlic and onion base (or onion). Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes. Return the beef to the pan and simmer, stirring occasionally, until beef is tender, 1 to 1 ½ hours. Add the vegetables and enough water to barely cover. Increase to a boil; reduce heat and simmer until vegetables are tender, 20 to 30 minutes for potatoes and carrots.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

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