Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Budget Friendly Beef Stroganoff

My mother used to call this "Poor Man's Stroganoff", but with the cost of food these days, I don't think there are too many types of meat that I'd call a bargain anymore. I swear that even though it's just the two of us now, our grocery budget climbs higher every week! That being said, this dish is quite a bit more budget friendly than the original 1950's Russian dish that it's derived from. The classic version was usually made with more expensive cuts of beef, like tenderloin and top sirloin.

As is usually the case with so many of my mom's recipes, I do make this a bit differently than she did. She never used any of the extra seasonings that I do and the mushrooms were a definite no-go for this (or any other) dish. Now, it wasn't in any way because the majority of our family wouldn't have liked it that way. But as I've noted quite often before, when I've shared my versions of my mother's recipes, my wonderful, yet oh SO picky Daddy never cared for "extras" like the ingredients that I tend to add to dishes like this one.

No matter what little extras I might add to it, or how differently I season it, this is one of those true comfort food style meals, that's easy to prepare and to have on the dinner table in a hurry if needed. And the icing on the proverbial cake, is that this is exactly the type of food that always brings back happy and comforting childhood memories for me. And you know what we call a recipe that does all of that around here, right? Yup... We call that, a Win/Win!!

Budget Friendly Beef Stroganoff
(aka Poor Man's Stroganoff)
  • 1 & 1/2 Lbs Lean Ground Beef
  • 8 oz Button Mushrooms, thickly sliced or quartered
  • 1 Envelope Onion Soup Mix
  • 1 Cup Water
  • 1 10.5oz Can Cream of Mushroom Soup
  • 1/4 Cup Dry White Wine or Vermouth
  • 1 Tbls Worcestershire Sauce
  • 1/2 Cup Half & Half (possibly more)
  • 1/2 Tbls Beef Base (*Better Than Bouillon)
  • 6 Tbls Butter, melted
  • 2 Tbls Balsamic Vinegar
  • 1 Tsp Onion Powder
  • 1 Tsp Garlic Powder
  • 1 Tsp Kosher Salt
  • 1 Tsp Fresh Ground Black Pepper (or to taste)
  • 1-2 Cups Sour Cream
  • 1 12oz to 14oz Pkg Extra Wide Egg Noodles

In a heavy skillet over medium high heat, add the ground beef, a bit of salt and pepper and cook the meat until it's nicely browned, breaking it up a bit with a spatula or a spoon as it cooks.

Getting some nice brown color on the beef, will give the dish added richness and flavor, too.

Sprinkle in the package of French onion soup mix.

Unless you end up with a whole lot of grease left in the pan after browning, you shouldn't need to drain it. A bit of juice/fat from browned meats like ground beef or pork sausage, will add to the flavor of the finished dish. I had almost zero fat left behind using what turned out to be a very lean ground beef, so I didn't drain mine, but I'll leave that choice up to you.

Pour in the cup of water and stir it well to incorporate.

If you have an open bottle of dry white wine, by all means, use it in place of the vermouth. But just as an FYI, you'll almost always see me using dry vermouth in place of white wine in pretty much any recipe that calls for it. It is THE perfect substitute, because it's actually white wine that's been fortified and will keep ten times longer sitting on the kitchen counter, than any white drinking wine would after it's been opened - and do it without turning into vinegar. Any unfortified wine, will go sour, eventually, even if it's been in the refrigerator. Plus, dry vermouth is just plain old good to have around, for use in the occasional (not so dry) martini.

Add the vermouth/wine to the pan and turn the burner up a squidge, so that it will reduce to a slightly syrupy consistency. This will 1) burn off (evaporate) the alcohol and 2) in this more concentrated form, give a subtle yet important depth to the finished dish, that wouldn't be there without it.

Obviously, if you just don't want to use any alcohol, or if you prefer not to go out and purchase a bottle of something that you'll probably never use again, you can leave it out entirely.

Once the vermouth has reduced, add in the mushrooms and stir well to distribute them in the pan.

At this point, I add a pinch more salt and pepper. If you've been around here for a while and are at all familiar with my recipes, you'll know that I always season in layers, or during intervals of the cooking process. Remember: each ingredient deserves to get it's own fair share of these staple flavor enhancers too!

Now, it's time to add the balsamic vinegar. Two tablespoons might not seem like much but trust me... this sweet and tangy delight is already highly concentrated and it will add just the right touch to compliment and balance out the tang of the sour cream that we're going to be adding later.

Give the meat another stir to distribute the vinegar, but there's no need to do any more reducing at this point. As I stated above, Balsamic Vinegar is already reduced quite a bit during the aging process.

Once you have all of those savory seasonings in the pan, it's time to start adding the ingredients that will make this rich and creamy.

In a small bowl, add the cream of mushroom soup, Worcestershire and the half & half and use a whisk or a large fork to incorporate them thoroughly.

Add all of the remaining seasonings to the soup mixture and stir it all up with your whisk.

If this combination of meat and sauce is a bit too thick at this stage, you can thin it out a bit with a little more half & half or milk.

(I'd forgotten to add in the beef base earlier, so I stirred it right into the 2/3 cup of half & half before pouring it in. If you've read through this recipe before starting to cook, you can add it into the meat mixture at the same time you add in your balsamic vinegar.)

It turned out that my sauce was a bit too thick at this stage, so I went with 2/3 Cup of additional half & half to thin it out a bit. I did this by eyeballing it. I've been cooking this dish for so long now, that type of thing just comes naturally. If you're more of a newbie to the process, never fear. You can start out with smaller amounts of liquid and add it in a bit at a time, until you feel like the sauce is at a "pourable" consistency. If you end up adding a bit too much, it's not a big deal either... it will reduce or evaporate on it's own with just a bit more cooking time.

These "soup base" versions of bouillon will dissolve quite easily, even in liquid that isn't very hot. I prefer this style so much more over those old crumbly, uber salty cubes and packets of powder and I honestly don't know how I lived without it in the past! There are a few of these paste style bases on the market now, so I'm sure you can find one pretty easily in most grocery stores.

The reason I felt that my sauce needed to be a bit thinner, was because I wanted it to pour/ladle nicely over the cooked, buttered noodles. It's just not the same if the sauce mixture just sits on top of your noodles. You really want to be able to mix it all up together as you eat and if it's too thick, that just doesn't happen as easily.

When you're done mixing the soup and other ingredients, put on a big pot of water and bring it to a boil for your noodles. I think that most people have cooked a pot of some type of pasta or noodles by the time they try out a more complex cooking experience, but just in case you haven't done it before, all you have to do is to follow the directions on the package and you're good to go. I start testing my noodles about 2 minutes before the instructions say that they should be done, because mushy pasta (of any kind) is a major no-no in our house! The Hubbs does not like even slightly overdone pasta! LOL

I like the "no yolk" extra wide egg noodles for their firm texture, but you can use your favorite brand.

I know I say this all the time, but whenever you are cooking pasta of ANY kind, whether it's spaghetti, egg noodles, macaroni, etc. ALWAYS make sure that your water is properly (which in this case means liberally) salted. As any true Italian chef will tell you, it should taste like sea water. OK. Don't be scared. I'll explain.

You see, pasta on it's own (especially dried, store bought pasta) is very bland and the only opportunity that you're gonna have to add flavor to it, is during the cooking process. We're working with very bland ingredients when we make pasta dough, so even if it seems like a lot of salt, the pasta is not going to absorb the salt to a point where it will taste overly salty or do you any harm. I promise. This is also one of the reasons why you should never rinse pasta after draining it. Believe it or not, by rinsing, you'll actually remove a fair amount of the flavor that you just infused with the salted water... not to mention you'll be removing all of the starch, which is what helps any sauce that you are using, cling to your pasta, instead of sliding off and being left behind on the plate.

What I do to keep my noodles from sticking together, is to toss in a little butter. OK... So it's more like a lot of butter. I mean... what's a li'l ole stick of butter between friends anyway? Besides, this IS for an entire bag of noodles ya know... Plus, it's gonna feed a whole bunch of people! Hmm, I hope that was convincing enough. Uh... it was? Phew! That's a relief! ;)

In all seriousness, I like to toss about half of the butter right into the empty pot because the residual heat left over from the cooking process helps to melt it more quickly and that way, it doesn't cool the noodles down as fast either! (So, have I justified it enough yet? LOL)

I add in the rest of the butter in tablespoons, as I add the drained noodles back to the pot, giving it all a good stir as I go. This way, all of the noodles are coated well and nothing sticks together.

Now comes decision making time...

You can do a couple of things here, depending on your personal preference or needs. You can either:

1) Dump all of the sauce right into the the noodle pot, add in a heaping cup (or two) of sour cream, mix it all together and serve it immediately in a lovely bowl, garnished with a bit of fresh chopped parsley. Or,

2) Put your hot buttered noodles in a pretty serving dish with a cover, (to keep them hot) place the meat and sauce mixture in another covered serving bowl and place that on the table as well, then pass a pretty little condiment bowl filled with sour cream at the table so that people can add what they want to the food on their plates. (This is what we do, as you can see in the photos below)

As you can see, we use option number two in our house, but my methods might not be what work best for you. Only you know the taste and preferences of your own families, so that's why I try to give you the option to choose for yourselves in the recipes I post here. You might even have a third or fourth option that you'd prefer to use. If so, please do share your ideas in the comments, because I know that I'd love to hear them and I'm sure that other readers would as well!

Just as an FYI, there are specific reasons that I serve this dish in the manner that I do. They are:

1) The sauce reheats much better when the sour cream has not been added to it. I've found that sour cream tends to create a sauce that in the reheating of any leftovers, will separate and turn a bit oily or greasy in the microwave. Uh, yeah. Yuck!

2) My family members all have different preferences when it comes to the sour cream itself and also to the proportion of "sauce to noodles" on their plate. Some like a bit more sour cream than others and some prefer to have fewer noodles and more sauce mixed together. This way, everyone at the table can "customize" their own Stroganoff! And the best reason of them all... I don't get any complaints! Now that's certainly reason enough for me!



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