A Cut Above: A Touch of the Irish

Every month, discover new ideas to enjoy the simple but elegant pleasures of a delicious, easy-to-prepare meal.
columnistsA cut Above

Busy or not, here we come. Every month “A Cut Above” serves up new recipes, cooking tips and ideas for dishes that are elegant in taste and presentation, yet simple enough to prepare and enjoy in a snap.

This month, here's our take on a healthier beef stew and delicious Irish soda bread.

In culinary terms, beer is a ready-made sauce: long-cooked, properly layered, a complex blend of sweet, sour, aromatic and earthy. And no beer does the job better than Dublin's best, Guinness stout.

Drinking this Irish favorite may be an acquired taste, but there's no debate that it brings the essence of Saint Patrick's Day to a rich stew of beef, brown rice and mushrooms. Served with a loaf of whole-wheat Irish soda bread, you've got an ideal feast for this between-season moment when spring's not quite here, but winter is definitely growing ragged and toothless.

The stew, a baked concoction, can be made ahead. Refrigerate for up to 3 days and reheat over medium heat, or freeze in plastic containers for up to 3 months. The soda bread, of course, is "of the moment," best within a few hours of being made.

Beef, Brown Rice and Mushroom Stew
Although a rich stew like this is often made with fatty chuck, bottom round provides a healthy alternative without compromising flavor.

Beef, Brown Rice and Mushroom Stew

Makes 6 1-cup servings

PointsPlus™ value per serving: 7

Ingredients

  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 1 1/2 pounds bottom round, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 2 medium onions, halved and thinly sliced
  • 1 pound cremini or white button mushrooms, cleaned and thinly sliced
  • 2 tsp stemmed fresh thyme or 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp caraway seeds
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 2 cups reduced-sodium vegetable broth
  • One 12-ounce bottle Guinness stout
  • 1/2 cup uncooked brown rice

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
  2. Spray a large casserole or oven-safe saucepan with nonstick spray and set over medium heat. Add the meat (working in batches if necessary) and brown on all sides, turning occasionally, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
  3. Spray again with nonstick spray and add the onions. Cook, stirring often, until softened, about 4 minutes. Add the mushrooms and continue cooking, stirring frequently, until they release their liquid, about 4 minutes.
  4. Stir in the thyme, caraway seeds, salt and pepper; cook until aromatic, about 15 seconds.
  5. Pour in the broth and beer, stirring until the foam dissipates. Stir the beef back into the stew and bring to a simmer. Cover and place in the oven to bake for 30 minutes.
  6. Stir in the rice. Cover and bake until the meat and rice are tender, stirring once or twice, about 1 more hour.

Whole Wheat Irish Soda Bread
Baking soda was the boon to home bakers in the late 18th century. No more yeast! Irish soda bread celebrates this quick-and-easy heartiness: Here's a raisin-and-caraway studded loaf with no fuss and big taste.

Whole Wheat Irish Soda Bread

Makes 1 round loaf (8 slices).      Serving size: 1 slice (1/8 loaf)

PointsPlus™ value per serving: 5

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup low-fat buttermilk
  • 2 Tbsp canola oil
  • 1 cup plus 1 tsp all-purpose flour, separated
  • 1 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1/3 cup golden raisins
  • 4 tsp caraway seeds
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Nonstick cooking spray

Instructions

  1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 325ºF.
  2. Whisk the buttermilk and oil in a medium bowl; set aside.
  3. Whisk 1 cup all-purpose flour, the whole-wheat flour, raisins, caraway seeds, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Stir in the buttermilk mixture with a wooden spoon until thoroughly moistened.
  4. Dust a clean, dry work surface with the remaining 1 teaspoon flour. Turn the dough out onto work surface and knead for 30 seconds, just until it coheres. Shape into a round loaf about 6 inches in diameter and 1 inch high. Use a sharp knife or a new razor blade to cut an "x" about 1/2 inch deep in the top of the loaf.
  5. Lightly spray a baking sheet with nonstick spray, place the loaf on it, and bake until lightly browned and crusty, about 45 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for at least 15 minutes before slicing.

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