Cast Iron Dutch Oven Beef Stew

The New Year always brings me a step back. Step back and look at the big picture. What is really going on here? First off, and I happy with the way life is going? Why? Does something need to change? How can I make that change, if one is needed? What are my dreams for the next few years? Am I taking steps to achieve them? In the overall scheme of life, am I letting the little things trip me up?

Bright and early on New Years Day, my brother and I embarked on a 12 Hour Holiday Run. At the top of every hour we ran for 10 minutes. Starting at 8am, we ran for a total of 2 hours over the course of the day. During each of these 10 minute periods of time, I had plenty of time to reflect on those above questions. And I am happy to announce that yes, I am happy with life. Things always need to change. Being proactive is the way to see those changes through. I am absolutely taking steps to achieve my dreams. And finally, a little reminder of learning to live with the little things is all I needed to reset my forward motion. 14.87 miles later, I was officially ready for 2011 to throw everything its got my way.

One topic that became prominent in my life in 2010, and will continue to be prominent throughout the rest of my life, is nutrition. Stumbling on the realization in late 2009 that I had gained around 30 pounds during college, lost most of the mobility and strength I developed growing up, and was starting to buy new, bigger clothes, I embarked on a weight loss journey early in 2010. This journey lead me through many stages, starting with logging my calories and researching better ways to improve my diet. Coincidently my brother became a CrossFit Level 1 Trainer, which opened the doors of the Zone Diet to me. Within 6 months, combined with a Cardio Kickboxing program and a fabulous program called Lose It!, I successfully lost the 30 pounds, regained much of my mobility, and fell back in love with my body.

It did not stop there though. Next thing I knew I was researching everything I could about nutrition and eventually found myself closely transform from Zone into Whole Foods; I have never looked and felt better. Eating and cook with real, whole, fresh ingredients is my New Years Resolution!

Cast Iron Dutch Oven Beef Stew

The Food
- 1 lb beef, trimmed of excess fat
- 1 onion
- 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 carrots
- 2 stalks celery
- 1 pepper (red, green, orange... doesn't much matter)
- 6-8oz mushrooms
- 2 cups beef broth, homemade if you have it! Shoot for low sodium and/or low fat if using canned
- 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- Dried Oregano
- Savory
- Dried Thyme

The Prep

Preheat oven to 375°
Heat cast iron dutch oven on stove-top over medium-high heat until water droplets dance around 
Cut meat into 1-2" chunks, pat dry with paper towel and season with salt and pepper
Cut vegetables into smaller sizes; slice, chop, chunk... however you'd like!

The Method
Once cast iron is heated, add about 1 tbs olive oil
Brown meat on all sides, about 2-3 minutes, then set aside
Heat more oil as needed
Turn heat down to medium and add onion
Once sweated out a bit, add garlic
When onion and garlic are fragrant and soft, add carrots, celery, pepper, and mushrooms
Stir and let veggies start to get barely soft, about 4-5 minutes
Add meat back to pot
Season with herbs to taste (I used about 2 tsp each)
Add broth and red wine vinegar, stir
Put in oven
Check in about 1 1/2 hours; vegetables should be soft and meat should shred easily with fork
Remove pot from oven and let sit for about 20 minutes before serving
**keep in mind that cast iron gets very hot and is already heavy**

Enjoy :)

A few end notes on why to cook with cast iron cooking in case you have never done so before...
1. GREAT way to add extra iron to your diet
2. The pan/oven/skillet heats up thoroughly and evenly
3. Cast iron can go straight from the stove top to the oven
4. Cast iron, when seasoned correctly, is non-stick cooking at its best

A few tips on cooking with cast iron...
1. Always heat the pan first- you will know it's ready when water droplets dance on the surface (not too hot, not too cool)
2. When finished cooking, either simply wipe clean with paper towel/rag, or lightly rinse with mildly soapy water and pat dry quickly. Do not submerge cast iron in water. Also, it is a good idea to let fully dry in the cooling down oven or stove top to ensure all water has evaporated.
3. If you need to re-season your pan (food is sticking, rust showed up, general maintenance...), first preheat your oven to 300 degrees. Wash the pan with hot mildly soapy water and dry completely. Rub lard, Crisco, or coconut oil over the surface to form a light coating. Put the pan in the oven upside down for about an hour. Remove from oven and immediately spray with canola oil. Wipe the pan down and let fully come to room temperature. For best results, repeat seasoning process several times.

**1/5/2011** Notes- In eating this dish left over I have come to the decision that it is very vinegar-y. Next time I make this dish I will either a) use less red wine vinegar or b) use red wine or c) use burgundy. Additionally, I will either use a homemade beef broth or gluten free beef broth since the one I used had wheat in it (silly me! I should have known!) which made me break out :(

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