Make it Monday | Making Beef Stroganoff

My husband loves beef stroganoff. I usually avoid it. Not because I don’t like it; I’m just allergic to one of the primary ingredients: mushrooms. So I embarked on a journey to find a delicious stroganoff that my husband would love and that I could eat.

Stroganoff is a perfect October meal. Whenever the weather turns blustery, I find it time to break out the soups and casseroles. In other words, I begin craving comfort food and what better type of dish that encompasses the essence of comfort than one that mixes creamy beef with pasta? As one writer puts it, Stroganoff is an “unapologetic excesses of Imperial Russia sautéed into one magnificent, rich, rib-sticking dish.”

As I mentioned before, I am wary of stroganoff because of food restrictions. But I also enjoy it nearly as much as my husband. That motivation has prompted me to explore ways to create this dish without the offending food. That means I’ve made variations of stroganoff before. Frankly, it’s easy to switch out cream of mushroom soup for cream of something else. Yet, it wasn’t the type of recipe that you copy into your own cookbook, knowing it is a family favorite to be made over and over again.

Crocktober

The first step in finding that type of recipe was to experiment with ways of letting the meat best absorb the seasonings. I’ve found crock-pots or slow-cookers accomplish that while also cooking up ultra tender beef. Plus they’re super easy to use.

I love slow-cookers. Always have, but now, a big reason for how often I use one is because I have the most energy in the morning. As someone who deals with chronic illness, learning how to manage my energy levels means creative solutions. Getting dinner in the pot to simmer all day is just the trick. By the time my energy has run out, dinner is ready all on its own.

Not only that, but using a crock-pot means the smell of dinner has filtered throughout the whole house, creating a cozy, welcoming feeling when fall’s bluster chases us in from outside at the end of the day. Perhaps that is why October is also known as Crocktober.

Creativity in Cooking

How does creativity fit into making stroganoff? For me, my Italian side tends to emerge when I cook. I can’t seem to follow a recipe no matter how hard I try. There is always an extra ingredient to add or an adjustment to be made. I’ve found Stroganoff to be a safe, simple recipe that allows for creativity without a big a chance of ruining it.

To begin, I always look up a couple of recipes. I compare what ingredients tend to show up in most of them and what ingredients are particular to a certain chef. I also scan a few reviews to see what others do to adjust a recipe. As these ideas begin ruminating, I form a plan of action.

Then, once I have all the ingredients and calculate the time it will take for the crock-pot to do its work, I am ready to flex my creativity.

Choosing the Meat

Since I’m all about simple, I usually grab a package or two of stew meat from the local grocery store to serve as the meat for my stroganoff recipe. Recently, I’ve been gravitating toward pre-tenderized stew meat since it tends to turn into juicy, tender beef chucks with no extra effort on my part.

However, if exploring various cuts of meat is an area where you’d like to exercise your creativity, go for it! Beef stew pieces tend to be chuck or round beef cuts that have been pre-squared by a butcher. Alternatively, you could purchase these same cuts of beef and cut it yourself. If you own a tenderizer, you could even take it a step farther and do your own tenderizing. For more tips on choosing the best cuts for stew meat, check out Emma Christiansen’s article on the topic.

I chose not to go this route at this point simply because that’s an extra step or two that I don’t have the time or energy to add to my day. But perhaps someday I’ll turn my creativity to the meat portion of my beef stroganoff.

Seasoning Stroganoff

Something I love about stroganoff is how easy it is to toss everything into the pot and let it cook. First the meat. Then the seasonings. Lastly the liquid that will turn everything deliciously creamy.

The seasonings are where the heart of this recipe lies. It’s also the place where my Italian side emerges the most. Particularly when it comes to the magic ingredient: garlic.

Can you really have too much garlic? Probably. But erring on the side of too much seems better than too little. At least to me. It enhances flavor and adds depth to a dish. I use garlic in most of my cooking and always make sure to use at least two or three cloves.

Wonders of Garlic

Garlic is a great October seasoning. Why? Well, because vampires hate garlic! Okay, okay, jokes aside. Protecting ourselves against Halloween creatures like vampires isn’t the only thing garlic is good at doing.

Garlic’s Latin name is Allium sativum and this bulb belongs to the Lily family. It has traditionally been used to the betterment of human health. And is still often used that way today. Whether using garlic supplements is helpful or not is up for debate, however, most agree the garlic bulb works great to season foods. (source)

The Cleveland Clinic does list several ways garlic might be helpful to your health, including boosting immunity, working as an anti-inflammatory, and protecting against food poisoning. All great things as we head into the winter cold season. Of course, garlic works best raw, so adding it to a crock-pot recipe may off-set some of these benefits.

What is it about garlic that both protects against vampires and might aide in lowering cholesterol? Garlic causes red blood cells to produce hydrogen sulfide. Though toxic in high quantities, hydrogen sulfide is something our blood creates naturally. However, it appears to require eating quite a bit of garlic to see any benefit. Cooking with it every day increases the amount of garlic ingested, which may be why certain cultures with a high garlic diet, such as Italy, Korea, and China seem to reap the health benefits of garlic. (source)

Creating Creamy

Once the meat and seasonings having been added to the crock-pot, it is time to create the creamy goodness that stroganoff is known for. Using cream of whatever (mushroom, celery, or broccoli are good alternatives) is an easy way to accomplish that creaminess. However, canned is rarely as good as homemade.

To make homemade stroganoff sauce, the key is using evaporated milk. It contains only 40% of the water that regular milk does and the process of canning it makes it even creamier. That’s why this has become my preferred canned good to use instead of cream of whatever.

Toward the end of cooking, if the sauce still seems too thin, then using a thickening agent such as cornstarch and water or flour and water will fix that problem. Cornstarch and water is the quick fix where as the flour and water mixture requires heating them together and adding some of the cream from the crock-pot to the flour mixture before returning it to the crock-pot. Personally, I like the flour and water mixture, but when I’m in a hurry, I reach for the cornstarch.

Lastly, to finish the richness of cream for stroganoff, you can use either sour cream or Greek yogurt. I used Greek yogurt in my recipe and loved it. As a side note, plain Greek yogurt can also be used as an egg substitute in boxed cake. But that’s a post for another time.

Pasta or Noodles

Egg noodles are the usual noodles the creamy beef sits on. According to Dream Kitchen Solutions, “Noodles and pasta may, at first, seem interchangeable. It’s clear, though, that they stem from very different origins and have separate purposes in our culinary world.” Egg noodles work well with creamy dishes whereas pasta can be mixed with sauce or stuffed. Thus, I recommend sticking to egg noodles.

In this recipe, instead of adding the egg noodles to the crock-pot, they are simply cooked up on the stove according to the package directions. Then the creamy beef is ladled on top when it is time to plate the meal. The nice thing about egg noodles is they cook up nice and quick.

The Recipe

With that background, let’s turn to the actual making of Beef Stroganoff. First we’ll list the ingredients, then go step-by-step through making it. Just remember, this is a blog about exercising creativity, so feel free to experiment! This recipe makes 4-6 servings.

The Ingredients

  • 3 lbs stew meat
  • 2 cans Evaporated Milk (15 oz, ea)
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 3 large cloves of garlic, minced
  • Salt and ground pepper to taste
  • Dried parsley flakes, to taste
  • 2 Tablespoons flour and 2 Tablespoons water OR 2 Tablespoons cornstarch and 2 Tablespoons water, optional
  • 1 small container of plain Greek yogurt (approximately 1/2 cup)
  • 1 package egg noodles

The Instructions

  1. In a bowl, combine meat, evaporated milk, onion, garlic, salt, ground pepper, and parsley, stir together
  2. Pour mixture into crock-pot, cook on high for 5 hours (6 hours if step 3 is skipped)
  3. If cream is too thin, mix flour and water in saucepan on stove over low heat until smooth, add two cups of liquid from crock-pot, stir continuously for 2 minutes. Return mixture to crock-pot, let cook for another hour (alternatively, mix cornstarch and water in a bowl before stirring it into the stew)
  4. Remove lid for final 30 minutes, then, once beef is cooked, turn off and add Greek yogurt
  5. Cook egg noodles according to package directions
  6. Serve meat over noodles and garnish with parsley flakes (or fresh parsley)

Conclusion

If you’re looking for a cozy meal to enjoy during the cooling temperatures of October, then break out your crock-pot to celebrate Crocktober and mix up a delicious stroganoff to warm the entire family.

In the comments below, be sure to share your creative endeavors with Stroganoff. Or tell us other Crocktober recipes that have become your fall favorites. Perhaps you’ll spur someone else on to create something new!

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