Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, The last of life, for which the first was made: Our times are in His hand Who saith "A whole I planned, Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!" - From "Rabbi Ben Ezra" by Robert Browning

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Italian Stew Beef with Cheese Grits

Italian Stew Beef with Cheese Grits and Collards
When I first started cooking in earnest, desiring to prepare tasty dishes, I studied recipes and watched cooking shows. I quickly learned that my mother's kitchen was severely lacking in a number of ingredients we'd never heard of, none-the-less used. Purchasing these ingredients was out of the question, some because of cost, but nearly all because we couldn't find them within 50 miles of our rural home, and we didn't have the internet back then to make everything available at the touch of a button. So quite a few interesting recipes were deep-sixed.

As my cooking skills increased, however, and my understanding of how various ingredients affect a dish grew, I learned to make substitutions for ingredients I didn't have. Experiments rendered successes and failures, and as I got better at it, the successes proved to be quite delicious!

Substituting ingredients certainly alters the outcome of a dish, but this is a significant step to take for anyone desiring to improve their culinary skills! Being able to make substitutions in a recipe is a leap away from being a cook, and a leap toward becoming a culinary creator!

And that brings us to today's recipe. Ree Drummond is The Pioneer Woman, and blogs about her life on an Oklahoma ranch. Now this woman knows how to cook! She prepares hearty, delicious meals for her family, and most of her recipes are her own, developed over years of standing behind a stove. Ree is so popular that she now has her own show on Food Network.

My recipe today, for Italian Stew Beef with Cheese Grits, is adapted from The Pioneer Woman's Spicy Stewed Beef with Creamy Cheddar Grits. Using what I had on hand, I recreated this recipe in a less spicy version since my dad can't handle spicy foods any more. Ree's recipe calls for Chipotle Peppers in Adobo Sauce, which I think was the thickener in her recipe. I substituted a simple cornstarch thickener in my recipe. Before I added the thickener, I used a wand mixer to break up the large diced tomatoes, but it also broke up some of the beef chunks. I thought this would create a thickened sauce, but it just made the beef mixture slightly soupy. So don't you do this! Also, my grits were not firm enough. I've made adjustments for my errors in the recipe below. Check out my recipe, and Ree's recipe, if you like, and see what you like and what you'd change about them. Cooking doesn't have to be a stressful chore. It can be a fun and creative pass-time!

Italian Stew Beef with Cheese Grits

Ingredients for Beef:

1 Tbsp Canola Oil
1 Tbsp Butter
2 lbs Stew Beef
1 tsp minced Garlic
2 cups chopped Rainbow Bell Peppers
1 can Diced Tomatoes
1 1/2 tsp Italian Seasoning
1 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Pepper
1 1/2 - 2 cups Beef or Chicken Broth

Cornstarch Thickener:
1 Tsp cornstarch with 1 Tsp water, mixed until fluid, not lumpy

Ingredients for Grits:

1 Tbsp Canola Oil
1/2 cup finely diced Onion
1 cup Nora Mill Stone Ground Grits
4 cups Beef or Chicken Broth
2 cups grated Cheddar Cheese

Preparation of Beef:

Heat 1 Tbsp Canola Oil and 1 Tbsp Butter in large pot over high heat. Drop in the stew meat and let it brown for 1-2 minutes. Add 1 tsp minced garlic, chopped rainbow bell peppers, diced tomatoes, Italian Seasoning, 1 tsp Salt, 1/2 tsp Pepper, and 1 can Beef or Chicken Broth. Stir all together, bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer 2 1/2 - 3 hours until beef is very tender. While the meat simmers, check the fluid level occasionally and add more broth as needed. Near the end of cooking, bring the mixture back to a boil, and add cornstarch thickener while stirring constantly. Reduce heat to low again. If the mixture is not thick enough, add additional cornstarch thickener.

Preparation of Grits:

About an hour before the beef is finished cooking, start the grits. Add 1 Tbsp Canola oil to a 3 quart pot. Add 1/2 cup finely diced Onion. Saute until onions are soft but not brown. Add 4 cups of Beef or Chicken Broth and bring to a boil. Add 1 cup of Stone Ground Grits, and stir. Reduce heat to low and simmer 20-30 minutes. Add 1 cup Milk, and continue simmering. When the grits are done, remove from heat and add 2 cups grated Cheddar Cheese. The grits should be firm, not runny. If they aren't firm enough, add more grits and adjust cooking time.

Serve the beef over the grits. Add a side of collards if yo need a green.

Nora Mill Granary and Grist Mill in Helen, Georgia

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