Old-Fashioned Beef Stew and Biscuits

Sometimes, when it’s damp or raining or even just overcast and cool — and even April days can be like this — you just want a bowl of something hale and hearty like beef stew. When you complement the rich broth, tender meat and delicious vegetables with flaky biscuits, you have a winner of a meal. And neither one is hard to make!

I would start with the stew because you can make the biscuits later while the stew is stewing. This version has beef, carrots, potatoes and edamame (soy beans that taste kinda like lima beans). I always feel better if a stew has some green in it, and the package of edamame was the first thing I saw when I opened the freezer, so that’s what went in the stew!

in bowl.jpg

Peas would work too, or green beans, or lima beans, or any other green you want.

Or no green. You are free to add no green. That’s what I love about cooking. You make it the way you like it.

Naturally, though, you start with an onion – everything is better started with an onion. Well, maybe not everything. But in this case onion is good, and I added a can of petite diced tomatoes besides. That’s a fairly new ingredient for me, but I keep doing it, so it must be good.

Put a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a Dutch oven over a medium flame and add one chopped onion. It doesn’t matter how big the onion is or how small you chop the pieces, but the bigger the onion, the more onion flavor your stew will have, and the bigger the onion pieces, the more you will see them once it is cooked. Some people don’t want to see their onion; I cannot explain this.

I used about two pounds of  bottom round beef. This is going to cook for several hours, so it does not need to be a prime, expensive cut. You can buy it as a roast and cut it up yourself, or you can buy it already cut up as “stew beef.” Obviously, you decide how much meat you want in proportion to the rest of the ingredients. If you want it mostly meat, then add just a few vegetables. If you want the meat to be a background ingredient, then load on the veggies.

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Let the meat cook on a medium flame until it has browned. It will make some juice of its own, like this…

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but you want it to simmer for a while in liquid, so add enough water so that the meat is almost covered. Cook on a low flame, covered, for about an hour and a quarter. An hour and a half won’t hurt anything. Then add your veggies. I peeled and cut up five big carrots and three big potatoes. Let that simmer, covered, again with enough water that the veggies are almost covered (a little more than in the photo below, remembering that if you decide to add tomatoes later, they add liquid too). 

(By the way, this works really well with pearl barley instead of the potatoes, but you will need more liquid.)

carrots and potatoes added and mixed.jpg

I let the carrots and potatoes cook about another 45 minutes. During this time I prepared the biscuits and put them in the oven, then added my frozen green vegetable, the can of diced tomatoes and my flavorings – salt and pepper (to taste) and whatever else appeals to you. This time I used about a tablespoon each of dried basil and parsley and a teaspoon of oregano. The time it takes for the biscuits to bake is about how long the green veggie needs to soften a bit. I never want my green too mushy. If you want yours mushy, add them sooner. Turn up the flame a bit — adding frozen anything to this pot will lower its overall temperature, and you do need the green stuff to cook a few minutes, not just warm through.

You can also add the herbs sooner. A case could be made for that.

with edemame.jpg

The biscuit recipe I use comes out of my old Fannie Farmer cookbook. I do it a little differently though. First of all, I use butter, not vegetable shortening. Goodness! I use six tablespoons of butter. And I use buttermilk (or milk with a teaspoon of vinegar added) instead of the plain milk. (I don’t mean I follow what it says below for “Buttermilk Biscuits” though I expect that would work too. I just mean I use buttermilk instead of the plain milk.) Also I definitely don’t knead it 14 times. I handle it only as much as necessary to make a flattened dough. And I make mine 1″, not 1/2″ high.

I guess I change it more than I realized…

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The dough is one of those you can’t play with too much or your biscuits will be tough. Mix all the dry ingredients with the butter, get that all looking like “coarse crumbs” before you add the milk.

biscuits pre milk.jpg

 

 

Then add the milk and stir just enough to combine.

dough mixed barely.jpg

 

 

What’s in the bowl doesn’t look like a ball, but it comes out in one blob, so turn it out onto a floured board, sprinkle a little flour on it and flatten it to about an inch thickness. You can flatten it with your hands or a rolling pin. I like the irregularity of using my hands. I don’t want them perfect. These are not Pillsbury, not manufactured, not factory-made. I love them looking homemade. That’s good.

dough flattened.jpg

 

 

To cut them up I use a cutter from a set Kim gave me years ago. I love being able to pick the size that seems best that day. Sometimes you feel like a big biscuit. Sometimes you don’t.

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Thank you, Kim. I chose the fifth from the center this time. It helps if you dip the cutter in your flour canister — just coat the edges with a little flour — so it doesn’t stick to the dough as much when you cut through.

If you don’t have a biscuit cutter, you can use an upside down drinking glass or a jar. Or any cookie cutter with high sides. You can make stars or dog bones or hearts or anything you want.

cutting biscuits.jpg

When I have cut as many as I can, I gently bring together the remaining dough and cut a couple more. Then with the bit leftover I make a ball and stick it on the pan. Waste not. Someone will eat it.

Bake them for 15-20 minutes until they are as brown as you like them. See what I mean about them looking homemade? I think they have character 🙂

baked.jpg

By the way, this stew will taste even better the second day, so it there’s leftovers, all the better.

2 thoughts on “Old-Fashioned Beef Stew and Biscuits

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