Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Beans and Beef Does Not Always Equal Chili.

There are too many times I stand and stare into the depths of the refrigerator and freezer wondering what to make for dinner. That is also how I come up with many of my spontaneous recipes; boredom, frustration and a "I wonder if..." attitude. Even Josh, the butcher at Blue Mountain Foods, has seen me staring at the meats and poultry, mumbling to myself.  “Can I help you with something?”, he will ask, and I usually respond with, “I am contemplating.”.

Holding a two and one-half pound package of stew beef (beef cubes) in my hand, I wondered what in the world to do with it. Not beef stew again, just did that two weeks ago; not chili, just not in the mood for it and just made it last month anyway. Too much same old, same old! Then I remembered my Taste of Home winning recipe, "Beefy Barbecue Macaroni", but dealing with making cheese sauce and cooking pasta seemed too much trouble.  Sometimes I am just my own worst enemy, especially when it comes to cooking.

Well, this recipe appeared in two separate issues of Taste of Home, and in two of their cookbooks, so guess they liked it as much as my family did.  So, not to be a tease, here is that recipe before I continue on.


Beefy Barbecue Macaroni 



3/4 lb. ground beef

1/2 cup chopped onion

3 garlic cloves, minced

3-1/2 cups cooked elbow macaroni

3/4 cup barbecue sauce

1/4 tsp. ground black pepper

Dash cayenne pepper

1/4 cup milk

1 Tbsp. butter

1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Additional cheddar cheese, optional


In a large skillet, cook the beef, onion and garlic until meat is no longer pink; drain. Add the macaroni, barbecue sauce, pepper.

In a small saucepan, heat milk and butter over medium heat until butter is melted. Stir in cheese until melted. Pour over the macaroni mixture; gently toss to coat. Sprinkle with additional cheese if desired.

Makes 4 servings.

Now back to the main meat (pun intended) of this article.


Still having no clue what to create, I decided to trim the stew beef cubes and maybe an idea would come to me, maybe.  Stew beef is essentially all the bit and pieces the butchers cut off steaks and roasts; sometimes there is a good bit of meat left, so they package it up for consumers to buy and make recipes such as chili, beef stew, maybe even kabobs.  However, you should always examine the beef before just throwing it into your pot, as many pieces may need to be trimmed of fat; some might be pure fat themselves.  If you do not want to deal with this process, then go ahead and purchase a nice lean roast and just cut it up into cubes.  With the beef I had, I needed to cut only a little fat off, but I planned on using a crock pot, so made sure they were of uniform size.

Looking around the pantry I found cans of red kidney beans; well just because I was adding beans did not make it chili, right?  These are the ingredients I finally centered on: barbecue sauce, beans, tomatoes, red onion and green bell pepper.  I was going to make a barbecue sauce-based beef stew, but without the traditional vegetables of carrots and potatoes.

Let me tell you that this concoction of mine came out amazing.  The beef was so tender, it basically melted in the mouth; and absorbed the barbecue sauce flavor well.  The tomatoes did not break down into complete mush; the onion and peppers became very soft; usually green bell peppers are harsh in flavor, but they melded in perfectly.  The beans did not become too soft, or remain too firm; as Goldilocks would say, "They were just right".  The smell was intoxicating; the taste was just as equal.  This is the kind of meal you can enjoy as is, or with a side of mashed potatoes, rice, pasta or polenta.  I did not have to add lots of seasonings, or even garlic, as the bottled sauce I used had everything I needed - Jack Daniels Hickory Brown Sugar.  I did not dredge the beef in the flour, then fry it as I did not want to add any more oil into this dish than the nonstick cooking spray added.  Also did not want additional liquids like beef stock as I knew the beef and vegetables would exude their own moisture.  One thing I notice with recipes like this is that the home cook will add pasta to the pot; all well and good, but remember that pasta is like a sponge and will absorb all excess liquids.  A yummy thick sauce was needed for this meal, not anything watery, or so firm a fork would stand up straight in it.

Here is the recipe...


BBQ Beef Stew



2 ½ lbs. beef cubes; trimmed of fat and cut into 1-inch pieces

¼ cup flour

1 ½ cups chopped red onion

½ cup diced green bell pepper

1 cup red kidney beans

2 cups chopped tomatoes

1 (19 oz.) bottle BBQ sauce (hickory brown sugar)



Spray a 4-quart crock pot with nonstick cooking spray; set on low heat.  Spread beef cubes on bottom and sprinkle flour over all.  Spread other ingredients out in layers: onions, bell pepper, beans and tomatoes.  Pour BBQ sauce on top; cover and cook for 8 hours.

Makes 8 servings.



Recently, a good friend to our family, who was going out of town for a while, dropped off packages of elk, venison, beef and seafood.  Met this man when I worked, some time ago, at the San Juan Credit Union.  Basically, he took a good liking to Roy, and myself, simply due to, “You’re nice people, and always nice to me, and I want to be nice to you in return.”  Wow, if only this concept was felt, and exhibited, by more people.  Anyway, whenever he has an excess of stocked meat, or whatever, he makes sure to drop off a few packages our way.  Never asks for, or will take, anything in return; it is just what happens when being nice.

But I digress, my point is that my recipes in this article will work well with beef, elk or venison.  Cooking the same old, same old?  Now you can try out something new.  Oh, and have overstock?  Just be nice, and share with other nice people; it really will make you feel all warm and cozy inside your heart.

Mary Cokenour

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

A Roast, by Any Other Name

would taste as delicious, no matter which pot it was cooked in.  Of course, this is a rather clumsy rendition of Juliet’s speech, to Romeo, in, what else, Shakespeare’s play, “Romeo and Juliet”.  Since I have opened with something British, might as well continue on.

This article’s center piece is on pot roast, so very fitting to begin with an American classic, Yankee Pot Roast.  Originally the concept of pot roast was brought over by the British; a meal of corned beef and vegetables which were boiled or stewed. This became known as the colonial era "New England Boiled Dinner. However, with the availability of fresh game in the "New World" or what is now called the United States of America; and some cooking tips from our neighbors, the Native Americans, roasting the meat and vegetables together opened up a new culinary world for us. The name Yankee refers to the recipe coming from New England, or the Yanks as the mother country referred to us.


Yankee Pot Roast


1 lb. small red potatoes, peeled and quartered

1 (16 oz.) package frozen crinkle cut carrots, thawed

1 (28 oz.) plus 1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes

1 cup each chopped onion and celery

2 Tbsp. sliced garlic

1 tsp. each ground black pepper and fine sea salt

¼ cup flour

4 lb. chuck roast, trimmed of excess fat

1 cup beef broth

¼ cup soy sauce

¼ cup chili sauce


Spray a 6-quart crock pot with nonstick cooking spray; put the setting on low. Layer the ingredients following the list of Ingredients (sprinkle the salt, pepper and flour over the vegetables) until the roast is placed in last.

In a small bowl, mix together the beef broth, soy and chili sauces; pour over the roast. Lift roast slightly to allow liquid to get underneath. Cook for 10 hours.

Makes 8 servings.

Cooking Tip: To make a pot roast starter, at least 3-4 cups of extra liquid are produced during the cooking process. Spoon it out, strain it and put it in the freezer for an hour; any excess fat can then be scooped out before it is stored back in the freezer. This liquid can now be used as a starter for the next time Yankee Pot Roast is made, so the step concerning mixing the beef broth, soy and chili sauces together can be skipped. As you continue doing this, your starter liquid will become richer and more flavorful, making your pot roast sensational.

But wait, there is more to tantalize your desire for meat.  Pot Roast is actually an example of braising; the searing of meat and finishing it off in liquid, cooked low and slow. Italian Osso Buco and traditional American Yankee Pot Roast are prime examples.  If you have prepared and/or eaten either of these dishes, you have eaten braised meat.   I have already introduced you to Yankee Pot Roast, so now we are off to Italy and their version, "Beef Brasato".  The origin of this dish is Barolo, located in Northern Italy where a deep, rich red wine is made and used in the making of "Brasato al Barolo" or beef braised in Barolo (wine).  A side note, if you cannot find Barolo wine, a full-bodied red wine such as Merlot will do nicely as a substitute.

What is truly unique about this braising process is instead of using water or broth, the liquid is wine. The alcohol completely cooks out, so no need to worry if ingesting alcohol is not in your diet for whatever reason.

When choosing a roast for braising, I usually go with rump, eye round or sirloin tip for the leanness, and any outside excess fat is removed while a little marbling is perfectly fine.  Normally though, for pot roasting, a cheaper, tougher cut, such as chuck roast, is the norm.  However, this cut is also loaded with sections of fat running throughout it; this fat tenderizes the meat, but causes your gravy to become very greasy.  If this is the only roast you can find at an affordable price, do not panic as there is a way to fix that gravy.  One hour before getting ready to serve the meal, ladle out however much gravy you think you will need plus one cup into a plastic container.  Put the container into the freezer; in an hour the fat will have risen to the surface and solidified.  The fat is still soft enough to spoon out and will leave a gravy that contains little to no grease in it.  While heating up the gravy, the meat should be resting before slicing and both be ready at the same time for serving.  See, told you not to panic.


A traditional base for soups and stews is the "mirefois", the combination of onions, celery and carrots.  If cooking were a religion, this would be known as "The Holy Trinity".  Here is a little tip:  Carrots give a natural sweetness to a dish, especially if it contains tomatoes which can be bitter or acidic, so do not hesitate to add them when cooking pasta sauce or chili.  The mirefois will be softened up before adding to the recipe to ensure the vegetables do not remain "hard" after the entire cooking process is done.


 Time to cook Italian style pot roast!


Brasato al Barolo



Sirloin Tip Roast
1 cup each of diced onions, celery and carrots

4 Tbsp. olive oil, divided in half

2 Tbsp. minced garlic

1 (3 lb..) lean roast, cut in half

1/2 tsp. each salt and ground black pepper

4 cups diced tomatoes

1 (6 oz.) can tomato paste

2 Tbsp. Italian seasoning mixture

2 cups wine (Barolo or Merlot)


In a large skillet, medium heat, put 2 tablespoons of oil and mix together the onions, celery, carrots and garlic.  Let the vegetables cook for 10 minutes to soften, stirring occasionally to make sure they are not sticking, browning or burning.  Remove to a bowl when done and wipe out skillet.

Return the skillet to the burner, but turn the heat up to medium-high and add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. Season the roast halves with the salt and black pepper; place into the skillet and sear both sides of the meat and all edges. While the meat is searing, turn on a 6-quart crock pot to low and spray the inside with nonstick cooking spray. Once the meat is seared, place it inside the crockpot.

Now, start a layering process: on top of the meat spread out the softened vegetables, mix the tomatoes with the tomato paste and spread this over the vegetables; sprinkle on the seasoning mix before pouring the wine over it all. Place on the lid and let it cook for 10 hours. Remove the meat to a serving platter to rest; use a hand blender, or transfer the liquid to a stand blender. Pulse quickly 4 to 6 times and the gravy will thicken up, but you want to leave some of the vegetables intact for taste, texture and eye attraction.

 Makes 8 servings.

Side suggestions: Pappardelle, a long ribbon like egg pasta made with semolina flour, or extra wide egg noodles. Garlic mashed potatoes would enhance the flavors of the gravy. Polenta is very Italian indeed and can be served in a soft texture, like mashed potatoes, or in a firmer texture which has been fried up to a golden brown in olive oil, butter or combination of both.

Mary Cokenour