"Screw seasonality," I thought. "What we need here is a nice hearty warming beef stew."
This one is a little less heavy than many of the varieties out there. I didn't put any potatoes in--instead, we served it over mashed potatoes. (Yeah, there goes the "less heavy" right there. Oh well.) And the cider used as braising liquid gave everything a welcome fruity lightness without being overly sweet.
If you don't have hard cider on hand, or if you're for some reason philosophically opposed to cooking with the Devil's Own Suds, then you could certainly substitute apple juice or soft cider. I would cut it down to just 3/4 cup, though, and increase the broth to 2 cups. Good hard cider isn't nearly as sweet as apple juice.
Beef Stew with Cider and Bacon
Serves six, maybe. You could easily double it, and I bet it would be even better the next day. I won't get to test that theory out, because it's all gone already.
1/4 pound hardwood-smoked bacon, diced
1 pound boneless beef chuck, cubed (about 3/4" cubes?)
Salt and pepper
1-1/2 large-ish onions, chopped
1 to 2 Tbsp Montreal steak seasoning (or coarse salt, ground black pepper, a little cayenne and some paprika)
1 12-ounce bottle hard cider, either pear (which I used) or apple (which would be fine)
1-1/2 cups beef or chicken broth (I didn't have beef, so I used chicken, and I really liked how it turned out... plus having 3 animals in 1 dish is sort of awesome in a gluttonous carnivorous sort of way)
4 or 5 carrots, well scrubbed but not peeled (unless they look ugly... then peel them), halved lengthwise and sliced
2 bay leaves
3 Tbsp butter
3 Tbsp flour
Optional: chopped fresh flat-leaved parsley for garnish
Put the bacon in a cold soup pot over medium heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until crisp; remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.
Brown the beef in the bacon fat, turning as required (but not sooner than necessary) until all sides are nicely darkened. Don't rush this process. As beef is finished, remove it with a slotted spoon to another plate.
If there's an inordinate amount of fat left in the pot, pour some of it off. I did not have this problem. (You'll want about 3 to 4 Tbsp.) Return to medium heat; add onions; cook, stirring regularly, until onions are translucent, about 7 minutes. Add steak seasoning and cook for another minute, stirring vigilantly.
Add cider, broth, bay leaves, bacon and beef. Bring almost--but not quite--to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer 1 hour. (Or more. Up to 2 hours would probably be OK.)
Stir in carrots. Cover, reduce heat and simmer another 45 minutes to 1 hour.
A few minutes before serving: Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in flour. Cook, stirring constantly, until flour smells toasty and mixture has colored slightly, about 3 minutes. Whisk mixture into soup. Stir it in really well.
Serve forth, preferably poured over some ridiculously creamy mashed potatoes.
Image by Flickr user Auntie P. Used under a Creative Commons license.