January in Seattle is a time for comfort food. I’m sure there are drearier climates out there, but this one is pretty oppressive. It is chilly and drizzling. Every day. For months. It could be worse. I could be up to my neck in snow drifts. But, there is something about the constant grey sky and constant drizzle of rain that just makes me hunger for some hearty home cooking. Maybe it has just been too long since I’ve seen the sun.
Last night, I decided to appease my desire for something comfortable to eat. I made a really tasty beef soup. What I really wanted was to make a beef stew, but was sad to find that I had no flour in my house. I think that is the difference between a soup and a stew, some kind of thickening agent.
Despite my initial disappointment, I pulled it together and made something wonderful.
On your average night, I don’t use recipes. If I want to make something that I’ve never made before, like a beef soup, pot pie, or whatever, I usually find a few recipes on the subject. I scan over them and get a basic idea. I find out what the core ingredients are, how long you cook something, that kind of thing. Then I just go to town. So, my measurements when I write out a recipe are general guidelines. That is why I’m writing in more of a casual paragraph/story style. If you like something, add more. If you don’t, add less. When it comes to something like soup, just toss in whatever you have on hand. (The exception to this attitude is baking. Precision is important when it comes to baked goods. Perhaps that is partially why I don’t bake often.)
Katie’s Spicy Beef Soup
This is easiest if you prep everything ahead of time and just toss it in as you go. Please read all the way through the recipe before you start. I list ingredients as I go. It would be unpleasant to reach the final step of a recipe and realize you are out of something.
In one bowl, combine 3 large cloves of garlic- chopped and one shallot- chopped. (You can use half an onion. I happened to have shallots on hand and prefer them.)
In a larger bowl, combine 3 small potatoes- cubed, 3 large carrots- sliced, and one small yellow squash. The size of your pieces doesn’t really matter. I like mine small, so that there are many different ingredients in each spoonful. But, if you prefer, do big chunks. The key is to just make sure that all your ingredients in this bowl are about the same size.
Then take one pound of stew meat. Trim excess fat and cut down to the same size pieces as your vegetable bowl. When that is done, pour a splash of olive oil in your soup pot and heat to medium high.
Brown the meat in your pot in small batches. Give the pieces a little room from each other. As soon as a batch browns, remove it from the pan, add some more oil if necessary, and do the next batch until all is browned.
When all the meat is browned and removed from the pan, toss in the garlic and shallots. Let them cook until they begin to turn golden brown. (note- This will not take long. Keep an eye on it and keep stirring. There is nothing that can ruin a dish faster than burnt garlic.)
Now, the pan is probably looking a little crusty on the bottom. Pour in about half a cup of red wine to deglaze the pan. Stir up all those crusty brown bits off the bottom. Once the wine has bubbled for a minute or two and it looks like it has reduced a bit, toss your meat on in. Stir it all around, getting everything coated. Then, toss in your bowl of vegetables.
Once all that goodness is in your pot, stir everything up to get it nice and coated. You’re almost there! Now, add a small can of crushed or diced tomatoes. I prefer the “fire-roasted” variety for flavor. Also, pour in 48 oz box of beef broth. Stir to combine.
Now, this will make you an excellent soup. But, last night, I wanted to “kick it up a notch”. So, I added a tablespoon of Emeril’s Essence and floated 2 dried chilies on the top. This gave the really rich soup a nice extra warmth.
Once everything is in there, bring it to a boil. Once you get those first bubbles pushing up against all the ingredients, making it look like something is trying to climb out from the bottom of the pot, turn the temp down to a simmer. That’s it. It will be ready in about an hour. You can eat it at about 40 minutes if you are really, really hungry, but it won’t be as good. Everything will be done, but I find that if you wait until that hour mark, the meat will be much more tender and lovely.
Taste for salt and pepper levels frequently. Salt is easy to gauge and I find I can never have too much black pepper. Keep in mind that many store bought broths can be really salty. So, use salt sparingly until everything is added together.
In terms of sides, I enjoyed this tasty delight with a biscuit. I think cornbread would have been perfect though.
If you wanted to turn it into a stew instead of a soup, before you brown the beef, dredge it in flour with some salt and pepper and leave out the tomatoes. Other than that, you’re good to go. The flour on the meat helps it thicken nicely.
This is definitely a dish that will get you through those winter months.
Stay warm and enjoy!