WND – And the moral of the story is . . . .

March 18, 2010

I’m not the kind of cook who invents recipes. If I want a specific flavor combination I tend to go in search of a recipe that will provide that for me. I edit recipes on the fly sometimes – more cinnamon, less stock, a little heavier on the paprika – but I don’t do a lot of wholesale inventing. Usually if I think a recipe needs that much help I’ll go find a recipe that I think will actually work as written. However, this week I was well into my recipe before I realized how unworkable it was, and what I ended up making bears so little relationship to the recipe I started with I might as well have started from scratch.

I found a recipe for Apricot-Orange Lamb Stew on a blog while I was running google searches for recipes involving ras el hanout because I have a jar full of it now and it smells amazing and I want an excuse to use it. I figured I’d swap out the lamb for beef and I’d probably use beef stock instead of water, but otherwise at first glance the recipe seemed sound enough. This, as it turned out, was a wildly mistaken assumption on my part.

The original recipe starts with caramelizing orange rind – which honestly, is one of the things that sold me on it to begin with so I’m a little annoyed that it didn’t pan out in my kitchen. In the original recipe you candy the peel of 6 oranges with butter, sugar and salt, you use the left over butter to sauté the onions and you reserve the candied orange rind as garnish for the finished dish. Sounds good, right?

In reality six oranges is yield a ludicrously large quantity of orange rind and I stopped at four. I eyed the melted butter, sugar and salt dubiously because I’d never heard of candying anything in butter, much less with 4 tsp of salt (to 4 Tbsp butter/4 Tbsp sugar), but it was supposed to be a garnish for a savory stew so I figured I’d give it the benefit of the doubt. The orange rind eventually caramelized, but it was so unbearably salty that when I ate a piece I couldn’t imagine actually using it. In the end I added about a quarter of it to the stew as I turned off the heat under it on Monday night because I hadn’t salted the stew yet and I figured it would give the stew a nice depth of orange flavor and the salt and sugar on the rind would melt away into the sauce. Then I woke up on Tuesday morning with the paranoid conviction that if I left the orange rind in the stew until Wednesday it would make for an unpleasantly bitter sauce and wound up fishing most of the candied rind out of the stew before I left for work.

Next time I’ll skip the caramelizing process and just use the rind of one orange and add some honey or brown sugar when I’m sautéing the onions to replace the sugar from the caramelizing process. The orange butter that was left over from caramelizing the orange rind was actually really good, and I’d keep that part of the recipe if I could figure out how to do it without caramelizing orange rind that I’m then just going to throw away and without getting another pan dirty.

The original recipe also calls for the juice of six oranges and enough water to cover the beef. This is a lot of orange juice. I juiced four oranges and 2 limes and ended up with a little over a cup of liquid, of which I used about ¾ cup. I also substituted beef broth for the water to try and balance out the sweet of the orange juice. The stew ended up being just on the right side of too orangey, but I can’t quite imagine how orangey it would have been with the full quantity of orange juice and just water to balance it out.

The original recipe also called for 4-6 tsp of cinnamon and 8 cardamom pods. Again, that’s a lot of cinnamon, and I cut it back to 3 tsp, and seeded the cardamom pods so that I wouldn’t have to go fishing for them before I tried to serve the stew. I think next time I’d also stud a piece of the orange rind with a few whole cloves and maybe throw in a cinnamon stick.

I tasted the stew on Monday night after I added the incredibly salty caramelized orange rind, and it was okay but nothing to write home about. I spent Tuesday fretting about whether it was going to be even remotely edible and by the time I got home on Wednesday had managed to convince myself that it was going to be terrible and we’d have to order pizza for Dinner. But, when I tasted it again, steeling myself for bitter overwhelming orange flavor, it was actually really good – even cold. Whether this flavor can be achieved without all the things I decided I wouldn’t do next time is up for debate, but the moral of the story is that beef stew is pretty hard to screw up even if you’re really trying.

Apricot-Orange Beef Stew
Roasted Broccoli & Cauliflower

Apricot – Orange Beef Stew
(serves 8 )

4 lb stew beef
5 oranges
2 limes
1-1 ½ cups beef broth
2 Tbsp olive oil
4 medium onions, sliced thin
2 cups assorted dried fruit*
3 tsp cinnamon
10 cardamom pods, seeded
1 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp cornstarch

Thinly peel one of the oranges, being sure just to get the zest and not the pith (I recommend a vegetable peeler for this).

Brown the beef in the olive oil in batches and set aside.

In the same pan, sauté the onions until they are starting to caramelize, using them to scrape up the fond on the bottom of the pan.

Juice 3 oranges and the limes (about ¾ cup of juice) and use ½ cup to deglaze the pan. Simmer until slightly reduced (1-2 minutes).

Return the beef to the pan and add the rest of the orange juice and enough beef broth to just cover the meat. Simmer with the lid on for 1 ½ hours until the meat is tender.

Add the dried fruit and orange rind and honey. Stir to combine.

At this point you can either turn the heat off, allow it to cool and refrigerate for up to 2 days, or you can continue to simmer the stew for 30-40 minutes with the lid off allowing the sauce to reduce slightly.

Depending on how thick you like your stews you may want to thicken the sauce. If you do want it thicker/glossier, remove a ¼ cup of liquid and whisk the cornstarch into it until smooth (if you try and stir the cornstarch directly into the stew you’ll just end up with unsightly lumps). Return to the pot and stir to combine. Cook for about 10-15 minutes to allow the sauce to thicken.

While the stew is simmering, cut remaining 2 oranges into supremes (slice the pith off the orange, and then slice the segments out so that you don’t have any skin or pith on them).

10 minutes before you plan to serve the stew add the oranges and cook until they are warmed through and just starting to break down.

Serve with couscous or bread.

* I used half apricots chopped into quarters, and half whole dried cherries because they are what I happened to have on hand. I think it would work with pretty much any combination of dried fruit – dried peaches or dried apples would probably be really good.

Roasted Broccoli & Cauliflower
(serves 3-4*)

8 oz cauliflower
8oz broccoli
2 garlic cloves
1 tsp whole coriander seeds
2 Tbsp olive oil
¾ tsp salt

Preheat the over to 400°F (200°C)

Mince the garlic. Place in a small bowl with the salt and coriander seeds. Crush the bottom of a heavy glass until the garlic and salt have formed a paste and the coriander seeds are lightly crushed.

Trim the broccoli and cauliflower into florets about 1 inch in diameter and place them in a mixing bowl. Sprinkle in the salt/garlic/coriander mixture, add pepper to taste. Add the olive oil and toss until evenly coated.

Arrange the florets on a roasting tray and season with salt and pepper. Bake for 25-35 minutes or until crispy and tender when tested with a skewer.

Serve straightaway.

* I made 2.5 lb total (about 1.5 lb broccoli and 1 lb cauliflower) and served 8 without a floret left over.



  1. Hmm. I’m thinking of stealing your broccoli and cauliflower recipe to use with Easter lunch. I’ll also be serving a rosemary-dijon leg of lamb. I’ve never tried twice-baked potatoes. Do you think they’d go with this menu?

    Advise me, oh wise one!

  2. I think they’d be great with this menu. Actually, can I come to Easter Dinner with y’all because that sounds really yummy. Just . . . do these all need to be in the oven at the same time?

  3. I’m thinking I can do the second bake of the potatoes while the lamb rests and farm the vegetables out to one of the guests — most likely my mother. Judy will bring dessert and Uncle Al will do salad.

    I’ll report back and let you know how it all turns out. If it’s any good, you can come next year (we’ll consider this a test run).

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