I’m sick. Again. For the second time this month. I don’t want to make too much of it, because two colds in a month is hardly a sign that the world is coming to an end. But it means bad sleep, and daytime raggedness, and not wanting to do a whole lot of anything. And I rarely get sick, so when I do — perhaps I’m a little prone to whining.
Please, though — don’t tell Sarah I said that. Her smugness at my admission will be almost as unbearable as this damnable sore throat.
Anyway, just because I am sick, it does not mean that I have been idle. In fact, my impending second illness has snapped me back into cooking mode. I had already planned to make a beef stew sometime this week, but as I felt my sinuses grow raw and my uvula hang just a bit uncomfortably low, I thought to myself: I need something hardy. I need something that will fill me up, fortify me, feel nutritious. And I need something that — after a bit of initial chopping and browning — I don’t have to think about for two or three hours as it bubbles away in the oven.
But while beef stew is always good, it’s sometimes a little bit on the workaday side. It is meat and potatoes, after all. And brown gravy. I like it. A lot. As I like pretty much anything that is braised or stewed. But as I am wont to do, I look at it and think: what else can I do with it, that will preserve the dish’s traditionality, but that might add just a little — I don’t know — oomph?
The answer? Dried fruit!
(This looks like a really long list of ingredients. But it’s not complicated. More or less, you just throw them together and let them cook.)
2 lb Beef Stew Meat, cubed
1 cup Dried Figs, chopped
1 cup Dried Apricots, chopped
.75 lb Yukon Gold Potatoes, cubed
1 pint Mushrooms, stemmed and quartered
1 Onion, sliced thinly
2 Carrots, cubed
4 Cloves of Garlic, Chopped
2 cups Stock (I used chicken, but it would probably be better to use beef)
1 cup Red Wine
6 tbsp Beurre Manié (equal parts flour and unsalted butter, mashed together really well)
3 Bay Leaves
2 Star Anise Pods
1 Whole Clove
2 tsp Ras el Hanout (you may need to find a specialty store for this, but it’s worth it)
1 tsp Cumin Seeds
1 tsp Dried Thyme
1/2 tsp Ground Cayenne Pepper
Cubebs (about 25 turns on a pepper grinder)
Black Pepper (about 25 more turns)
Preheat your oven to 275F. Add a little bit of olive oil to a heated dutch oven over a medium flame on your stovetop, and brown the beef cubes on all sides, adding a little bit of salt as they cook. Remove to a plate. Add the onions and carrots, along with a little more olive oil and salt, and cook until the onions just start to brown. Then add the cumin, cayenne, cubeb, black pepper, and garlic, and cook for about five more minutes, stirring to make sure that the garlic doesn’t burn.
Return the browned beef to your dutch oven, then add the rest of the herbs and spices, the dried fruit, the stock and the wine. Stir well, and be sure to scrape the bottom of the pan to dislodge any tasty burned bits. When the mixture comes to a boil, cover your dutch oven with a lid and place it in the oven for one hour.
At the end of the hour, remove from the oven, mix in the mushrooms and potatoes, then put it back in the oven — this time uncovered — and cook for another hour and a half.
Finally, at the end of that time, move the dutch oven to a stove-top burner on medium. Add the beurre manié, and stir thoroughly until it dissolves. Then let it bubble for about 10 minutes, to allow the gravy to thicken and the flour to thoroughly cook.
Serve over brown rice.