Keepin’ It Simple

As you know by now, the other day was my father’s birthday. It was also the birthday of my new brother-in-law, Ralph.  We wanted to do something to acknowledge the occasion but my father is… let’s call it “eccentric” regarding birthdays and gifts.  He feels that gathering as a family to celebrate the event is ample gift enough and that if he needs (or wants) a new shirt, pair of PJ’s or a music CD, he is quite capable of picking it up on his own.  In reality, there is a touch of logic to his thought.  As far as he is concerned, his children need not waste their money on such silliness.  He feels so strongly about it, that the last time I tried to give him a birthday gift, he refused it. He wouldn’t even take it from my hand!

So with this in mind, I pondered what I might be able to do for him to make the day special. Then it hit me… I could prepare one of my mom’s old comfort meals that he hasn’t had since she passed away.  My mother had some great comfort foods in her arsenal and to me; nothing says “I love you” like the one pot concoction of her slow cooked beef, rice and string beans. It’s like a hug in a bowl!  It’s also inexpensive and easy, making it a perfect recipe for a busy mother-of-five to have in her apron pocket.  Although we have always enjoyed this meal very much, it was never actually given a cute name like “Trudy’s Baked Mac,” it was always called by its three basic ingredients, Beef with rice and string beans. No matter what you decide to name it; one thing is for sure, everyone will call it delicious!

His family by his side and this simple bowl of food was all that was needed to make my dad have a successful celebration in honor of his 80th Birthday.  Nothing could have touched him more than sparking the memory of my mother.  I remember all those years ago when dad and I worked together, after spending a long winter’s day outside on the truck we would be wishing to go home to mom’s “hug in a bowl.”  It makes me wonder, did I really think of this on my own or did her spirit somehow “plant” the thought in my mind so she could also be a part of the celebration?  In any case, she clearly was a big part of the day for all of us.

As for the birthday cake?  Dad’s favorite… Strawberry cake made with “Aunt Lucy Cake” prepared in (2) 9” layer pans, split in half. A hearty helping of fresh sliced strawberries mixed with just enough preserves to keep them together separates each of the four layers. The entire cake is then frosted with clouds of slightly sweetened, fresh whipped cream.

 Trudy’s Beef with Rice and String Beans:

Ingredients:

2 ½ – 3 lbs. of stew beef – cut in ¾ inch cubes

(1) medium onion – chopped

3-4 tablespoons of Canola oil (for searing)

4-6 packets of Beef seasoning – Mom used “G. Washington Rich Brown Seasoning and Broth” *See cook’s note below

Water (about 6- 8 cups)

 Salt & Cracked black pepper

(2) Cans French Cut green beans or (1) 32 oz. package frozen French Cut green beans Whether you use canned or frozen, it is important to the dish that the beans are “French Cut.” It’s crazy – but it effects the overall flavor of the dish.

6-8 servings of cooked white rice

Grated Parmesan cheese

Instructions:

Heat oil in stock pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Sprinkle beef with salt and cracked black pepper.  Brown off the beef in the hot oil.  Remember, you just want to sear it a bit and give it color to get some nice tasty brown-bits for deglaze from the pot.  Remove beef to bowl or platter using a slotted spoon.  Add onion into the pot and stir to deglaze. If you need to help it along, add about a quarter cup of water.  Sprinkle onion with a teaspoon or so of salt and sweat down.  Cook onion just until tender not browned.  Return beef (along with any juices that may have settled into the bowl) back to the pot with the onion.  Pour in the 6-8 cups of water until beef is about an inch or two below the liquid.  Add the beef seasoning and about a tablespoon of cracked black pepper, stir.  You may or may not need additional salt as the beef seasoning packet have quite a bit.  Bring pot to a boil and immediately reduce to simmer.  Simmer for about 90 minutes stirring occasionally and watching to see that your liquid never reduces by more than 1/3.  Add water if needed to keep beef under broth. Taste broth to see if additional salt is needed.  Once meat is cooked and tender, add the French cut green beans.  If using canned, drain one can and add the liquid from the other.  If using frozen, increase heat for about a minute to heat beans through and avoid “cold spot.” Meanwhile, prepare white rice according to package directions.  I know there are some “rice-snobs” out there (regretfully I can be one myself) but Minute Rice works delightfully in this recipe holding up well to the broth without getting overcooked or mushy as it sits. (Think leftovers!).  I confess, James and I often stop by the Chinese takeout and pick up a quart of their white rice… shhhhh! Don’t tell on us!!  Add the rice to the beef mixture and ladle into soup bowls.

As kids, we liked it just as is but I strongly recommend adding a heaping tablespoon of grated Parmesan and a couple of turns from the grinder of fresh cracked black pepper.  Now be aware that you can make this as “soupy” or “ricey” as you prefer.  My dad likes a lot of broth as he enjoys dipping crusty bread into the parmesan infused broth in his bowl.  James and I on the other hand, like to add additional rice to our bowl for a heartier meal sans bread.

 *Cook’s Note: I use the foil packets of liquid beef stock starter I purchase from a catering supply company on line.  Swanson’s has just recently come out with what appears to be the same product although I have not had the opportunity to try it yet.  Whether I used the G. Washington’s – as my mom did – or the liquid starter (or even in a pinch, 2 cans of Campbell’s Double Strength Beef Stock) I find no difference in the taste worth mentioning.

Just a footnote: this meal works perfectly in a slow cooker as well. You don’t even need to brown the meat first (but I like to anyway). I start off in the Dutch oven as above and once I reach the step where the onions are done, I pour it all off into the slow cooker with the beef, seasoning and water and set my cooker to “auto.”  Eight hours or so later when the beef is done, add the green beans, rice and serve!  I do hope that you try this simple recipe with your family. Even kids love it!

Until next time,

Don

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