2 pounds boneless beef stew meat cubes
fresh-ground black-and-white peppercorns
3 1/2 cups chicken stock
3 large potatoes
1 large onion
3 celery ribs
4 fresh sage leaves (about 1/2 tablespoon minced)
8 fresh thyme sprigs (about 1/2 teaspoon minced)
2 fresh oregano sprigs (about 1 teaspoon minced)
8 small fresh lemon basil leaves (about 1 tablespoon minced)
1 bay leaf
Put 2 pounds of boneless beef stew meat cubes into a crock pot. Sprinkle with fresh-ground black-and-white peppercorns and sea salt to taste. Pour in 3 1/2 cups chicken stock. Cover and turn crock pot on Low.
Scrub and peel 3 large potatoes. Cut into bite-sized chunks and add them to the crock pot. Peel and coarsely chop 1 large onion; add it to the crock pot. Peel 2 carrots and cut them into thick coins, then add to the crock pot. Rinse the celery ribs, remove ends, and cut stalks into thirds. Split the lower third of each rib so it’s not too wide. Slice the celery into crescents and add them to the crock pot. Stir the vegetables and meat together.
Take 4 fresh sage leaves and cut them in half lengthwise, removing the big ribs. Use kitchen scissors to snip them into tiny pieces over the crock pot. Fold up 8 fresh thyme sprigs and snip them into the crock pot. Strip the leaves off 2 fresh oregano sprigs and discard the stems. Roll the leaves into a wad and snip them into the crock pot. Roll up 8 small fresh lemon basil leaves and snip them into the crock pot. Add one bay leaf. Stir the herbs into the vegetables and meat.
Cook on Low for 4-5 hours until done. Meat should be thoroughly brown and separate easily; vegetables should be tender but not mushy.
We bought a big package of boneless beef stew meat pre-cut into nice cubes, which we divided into several 1-lb. packages. Two of those went into this dish. Remember that cubed stew meat will cook faster than a solid roast, so keep an eye on this.
If you don’t have fancy peppercorns, plain black pepper will do, preferably fresh-ground pepper. Plain table salt instead of sea salt is also okay. If you can’t get chicken stock, broth should work, but the stew won’t be as thick.
Use whatever root vegetables you have, in the proportions you like. Baby potatoes would be great, I just happened to have these big ones. I went light on the carrots because one person here dislikes them.
Use fresh herbs if at all possible. If using dried herbs, start with 1/3 the amount and then taste the stew; you can add more if necessary.
The lemon basil is crucial to this recipe. It adds a wonderful high, bright, spicy note to the savory flavor of the stew. If you can’t get lemon basil, try substituting spicy basil or sweet basil plus a teaspoon or so of lemon juice.
Why lemon basil with beef stew, not a place one would ordinarly put a sweet herb? I was picking the sage, and the lemon basil just looked and smelled SO good, I had to throw some into the stew. I’m glad I did, because this is way better than previous beef crock pots I’ve made. This is the first year I’ve succeeded in growing basil, and I am really enjoying the extra dimension that fresh basil adds to my cooking.
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8-10 giant jalapeño peppers
6 slices thick-cut smoked bacon
8 oz. cream cheese
10-12 fresh chive leaves (about 1/4 cup chopped chives)
about 1/4 cup grated aged sharp white cheddar cheese
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black-and-white peppercorn mix
1/8 teaspoon smoked salt
Set out the cream cheese to soften at room temperature. Preheat oven to 450ºF.
Wash and pat dry the jalapeño peppers. Push or twist the base of each stem with your thumb and it should pop off. If you have to cut the stems off, cut them carefully right at the base so as not to make a hole in the pepper. Lay each pepper on the cutting board and move it around until you find the way it lays flat, because you don’t want them flopping around after their stuffed. With the pepper on its stable flat side, carefully slit the upward-facing side from stem to tip, following the curve if the pepper is not straight. Use a spoon and your fingers to pry open the slit, being careful not to tear apart the pepper. Scrape out the core and as many of the seeds as you can get. Put the peppers in a bowl and set them aside.
Start cooking 6 slices of thick-cut smoked bacon. They will need to cook for several minutes, until crispy, and then be drained and cooled; meanwhile you can work on the cheese filling.
Cut down the chive leaves into sections about 4-6” long and bundle them together in your hand. Hold them over a medium mixing bowl and use kitchen scissors to snip them into tiny bits.
Grate some aged sharp white cheddar cheese over the chives until you have about 1/4 cup of cheese shreds.
Add 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder, 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black-and-white peppercorn mix, and 1/8 teaspoon smoked salt to the mixing bowl. Cut the cream cheese into chunks and add it to the mixing bowl. Crumble the crisp bacon onto the cream cheese. Mix the filling thoroughly by hand kneading or with an electric mixer.
With one hand, open the slit in a pepper and use your other thumb to push in small amounts of filling, mashing it towards the stem end and gradually working down toward the tip until the pepper is all full. It’s okay if some filling sticks out the top, but don’t overfill the peppers or it will ooze out everywhere.
Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray. Arrange the stuffed jalapeño peppers on the sheet so they are not touching each other. Bake at 450ºF for 20-25 minutes, until peppers start to wrinkle and filling is brown on top.
We had 6 enormous jalapeño peppers, about 4” long, not very hot ones. Get the biggest ones you can find. I had some stuffing left over, so I’m guessing that 8-10 this size would’ve been enough. If you’re using little jalapeños, you may need more of them; try 10-12. Also little ones would need to cook less, so put them in for 15 minutes, then check for doneness.
Don’t obsess over getting every last seed out of the peppers; there usually isn’t room for that. A few seeds won’t hurt anything. In fact, if you want to make the filling hotter, you can separate the seeds from the pith and add the seeds to the cream cheese.
Any kind of flavored bacon should work great in this recipe, like hickory smoked, apple smoked, black-pepper coated, etc. Plain bacon should also do fine. If you can’t find thick-cut bacon, add a couple extra strips.
I cooked my bacon in the microwave for about 7 minutes total. You can microwave or fry yours, as you prefer. Just aim to make it crispy when done. Putting it in the refrigerator for a few minutes will cool it down faster.
Chives are like just the green part of green onions, only narrower. Mine are so strong this year, they made me cry when I chopped this many. So if you don’t have fresh chives, I recommend substituting one green onion; mince the whole thing and mix it into the filling. Use dried chives only as a last resort.
We had a brick of aged sharp white cheddar cheese. Any relatively hard and dry white cheese, with a good strong flavor, should work in this recipe. You need something that will grate nicely, not smear or crumble.
If you don’t have a fancy peppercorn blend, use plain black pepper, freshly ground if possible. If you don’t have smoked salt, use sea salt or plain table salt. But the “smoked” flavor in the bacon and the salt really add a lot of character.
If you have very sensitive skin, you may want kitchen gloves while handling the jalapeño peppers, and maybe use a wide-mouthed pastry pipe or a spoon to fill them. These were very mild peppers and they still made my skin sting.
This dish was a hit with my human guinea-pigs, who devoured the entire batch between the two of them. I tried a bite and found it not bad, even though I am not a pepper fan. The jalapeño peppers came out very tender, and the filling was terrific.
This filling should work equally well with other types of stuffed vegetables, such as tomatoes. We plan to try the leftover filling in portabella mushroom caps.