One way I’ve found to live sustainably, even a little bit green, is to cook only using local ingredients as much as I can. During the summer it’s fairly easy, as I can shop the various farmers markets here in the Puget Sound area for local produce, meat, eggs, even salmon and halibut.
But it’s winter and all those fresh veggies are not available locally. So one must adapt and change. My CSA, Spud.com, does a good job in providing locally grown fruits and vegetables, but right now the pickings are kind of slim. Lots of potatoes and onions, some parsnips, and leeks. But not much else.
That means I have to look back in history for a pointer: Cook for the season. So that means soups and stews with meat and potatoes. Luckily Spud.com does have access to local meat through Thundering Hooves, allowing me to still eat locally. So here’s a quick little recipe for a simple winter’s beef stew:
2 cups of diced potatoes
2 cups of sliced or diced carrots (when in season or if you really want them.)
1.5 lbs stew beef, browned
1 cup of beef broth or stock/ or red wine
2 bay leaves
4 cloves of garlic minced
2 cups of diced onion
1 14 oz. can of stewed tomatoes
4 cups of vegetable stock
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
salt, pepper to taste
A 6-quart slow cooker or Dutch oven. I prefer to use the slow cooker, as it’s easier to control and you get more consistent results. With a Dutch oven, you have to play with the temperature of your stove to get the temperature just right. Slow cookers also let you start the dish in the morning and have it ready when you get home in the evening.
Putting it together:
The order of the ingredients is also the order in which you put them into the pot. When you slow cook vegetables, you want to the ones that take the longest to completely cook at the bottom of the pot, with the easiest on the top. So put a layer of potatoes down first, followed by the carrots.
You can go two ways with the stew meat. You can buy the package of stew meat on the grocery store’s shelves, which consists of the odds and ends meat that the butchers trim off of cuts, or you can buy a nice piece of meat with good marbling and cut it up yourself into cubes. To be honest, the stew meat is cheaper and the quality is just as good.
The other thing you want to do with the meat is to brown it before you put in the pot. I use my cast iron skillet to brown the meat is batches, so not to overload the skillet, and make some delicious brown bits for deglazing. More on that later. Put the browned meat directly into the pot right on top of the potatoes and carrots.
Deglaze the skillet with either beef broth or a cup of red wine. And the rule for using wine in cooking is to use a wine that you would drink, not that nasty cooking wine. Besides, when you serve the meal that night, you’ll know which wine to serve with it. After you deglaze the skillet, pour it on top of the meat in the pot. Deglazing loosens up all that goodness at the bottom of the skillet a put it into the stew. Don’t skip this step.
The vegetable stock is homemade in my case. I save all the odds and ends of vegetables as I cut them up for cooking and freeze those trimmings. Then when I need some stock, I toss them into a pot and let them simmer for a couple of hours, extracting all their veggie goodness. Now, mine aren’t strictly vegetarian, as I toss in meat bones into the same pot, you don’t have to. But this is a great way to stay sustainable in your cooking.
As for the stewed tomatoes, to be honest, you can’t get fresher, riper tomatoes unless you grow your own. I’m partial to S&W tomatoes, but you can buy or even make your own if you so inclined.
Add the rest of the ingredients, spreading them around in layers if possible. Put on the lid and if you’re going to be around for the next hour or so, set the slow cooker to High for an hour and then down to Low for the rest of the cooking time. About 7 to 8 hours or when you get home. If you don’t set it to High first, you’re looking at cooking the stew for about 9 ½ to 10 ½ hours. See why I said use a slow cooker. If you’re blessed with one of those fancy slow cookers with a built-in timer, use it to do this.
Serving size is between a cup and 2 cups depending on whether this is an accompaniment or a main dish.
Now this isn’t much of a recipe, and it isn’t. I typically improvise my dishes, just grabbing what’s in the fridge and freeze and whipping up something to eat. It does help to have a well stocked pantry, so I’ve been keeping more staples in mine to help me in creating meals.
Oh, and when it comes time to store your leftovers, don’t use those supposedly “reusable” plastic containers. Either use the pot you cooked the stew in, or glass jars with either hinged lids or mason jars. Why?
Those plastic containers can’t be recycled, since they have been exposed to food. If you forget and leave one in the fridge just a little to long, you just toss the entire container. All in all, I found that I was spending more on the containers made from non-renewable resources than on my collection of glass containers made of 90% recyclable material. The bit that isn’t recyclable on my containers is the silicone rubber seal. If it gets contaminated it’s a lot cheaper to replace than a whole ‘nuther set of plastic containers.