Beef with Red Wine and Mushrooms

My apartment smells like McDonald’s.

You see, I have roommates. And one of them, Kelly*, has a penchant for inviting this smell into our home. No, he isn’t packing bags of big macs and fries-the smell is one he produces on his own. Kelly, bless his heart**, is a terrible cook.

*Names have been changed to protect privacy. You’d think I could come up with something more interesting than “Kelly.”

**Saying “Bless his heart” excuses the super judgy things I’m about to say, right? Oy. I’m in for it.

Kelly has used his slow cooker thricely since we’ve lived together, each time with the same olfactory results. He made meatballs twice (more on that in a bit) and once attempted a beef stew. Both of these recipes come from the cookbook that was conjoined to his appliance upon purchase. So far, so good-yes?

I noticed the smell after his first outing in the slow boat and so inquired about the ingredients. He was making his beef stew: beef, ketchup, raw white onion, splash of red wine, corn starch. Ah hah! The trails of a scent. McDonald’s will forever smell to me like their quarter-pounders. And what, pray tell, is on that bun? beef, ketchup, chopped white onion. Eureka! Kelly had successfully created a scent I’ve worked hard to avoid and like a classless Proust the smell kidnapped me decades into my past.

Now to the meatballs and the heart of our disaster. Kelly made his meatballs this past week and once again stunk up the house with what is quickly becoming my own personal hell-scent. I happened to be in the kitchen at the same time, cranking on this week’s recipe, and so set to work being an imp.

  • Me: Kelly, what’s in your meatball recipe?
  • Kelly: Meatballs, ketchup, white onion, red wine, two packets of beef gravy mix.
  • M: Oh, cool. What’s beef gravy mix?
    I’m great at pretending to be innocent. NOT.
  • K: I don’t know.
    Kelly walks to the trash and pulls out the spent envelopes of beef powder.
  • K: Wheat starch, enriched wheat flour, beef broth, beef fat, salt, onion…
    Throughout these ingredients Kelly gets increasingly proud, as if he’s caught me at my own game. He’s beginning to think this gravy mix is made of real food.
    …Maltodextrin, corn syrup solids, beef extract, caramel color…
    Confidence waivering.
    …And some other stuff.
    TIMBER. He won’t even read the rest of the list. For shame. Suffice it to say, this gravy mix is on par with household beef meth and should be regulated by the government accordingly.

We spent the rest of our mutual time in the kitchen in silence, my trouble-making having made things awkward. But there was one more thing I wanted to investigate. Underneath all those McDonaldian ingredients lay Kelly’s beloved frozen meatballs. I needed to know their pedigree.

When he left the kitchen I stole a glance at the package. Gasp! Could something be worse than the beef meth he used in the sauce? Yes. Dear god, yes. I’m sure you’re aware when reading ingredient lists that if an ingredient has ingredients they’re listed in parentheses. Follow me?

First ingredient in his meatballs:Beef
So far, so good.
Parenthetical ingredients in that beef: Beef, Beef Broth, Potassium Lactate, Salt, Potassium and Sodium Phosphates.
Continuing on: Pork, Beef (I suppose this time for real), Mechanically Separated Turkey…
Don’t know what that is? You know you want to click…
Finishing the hat: Three types of bleached wheat products, Cheeses, Spices, Chemicals, Vegetable Shortening, Chemicals, Corn Syrup.
This makes a meatball?

Look I know I’m a food snob. I’m judgmental and picky and I’m aware that most of America has little to no interest in my food opinions. But seriously? Kelly can do better than this. We all can do better than this. Food labels shouldn’t resemble high school chem labs. I was being obnoxious in the kitchen but I think it’s important to know what we’re putting in our bodies. Did I mention Kelly is a doctor?

“I don’t know” is not an appropriate response when asked what’s in your dinner.

Silver lining: Inspired by Kelly’s multiple attempts at something containing red wine and beef I’m posting a recipe for a dangerously easy beef stew. Simmer it in a wide, deep skillet and serve over roasted potatoes. Maybe Kelly will make this next time***.

***He will not. Despite my reminders, he doesn’t even know I have a website.

I promise this won’t make your house smell like McDonald’s.

Free of Gluten, Dairy, Soy, Corn, Nuts, Tree Nuts, Fish, Shell Fish.

  • 2 pounds Beef Stew Meat
  • 3 tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 1 pound Cremini Mushrooms (or button)
  • 1 large Yellow Onion
  • 6 cloves Garlic
  • 4 sprigs Thyme
  • 2 sprigs Rosemary
  • Handful Parsley
  • 3 tablespoons Tomato Paste
  • 2 cups Red Wine
  • 1 cup Beef, Mushroom or Veggie Stock
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Get Busy

  1. Season the beef with salt pepper. Heat the oil in a wide, deep skillet and brown the beef in batches.
  2. While the beef is browning slice the mushrooms and onion thinly. Mince the garlic and herbs.
  3. When the beef is done browning remove it to a bowl. Toss the mushrooms and onions into the hot pan and saute until reduced by half (~5-8 minutes).
  4. Add the garlic and saute for another five minutes then toss in the chopped herbs and saute until they are fragrant.
  5. Stir in the tomato paste and cook with the veggies for a few minutes.
  6. Pour in the red wine and stock and stir everything to combine. Bring the liquid to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer.
  7. Return the beef to the simmering liquid and cover the pan. Let the beef simmer for at least 2 hours and up to 5. It will continue to get more and more tender.
  8. Spoon the beef, veggies and sauce over some roasted potatoes or serve it on its own. I swear it won’t smell like McDonald’s.

Prep. Time: 45 minutes
Cooking Time: 2-5 hours
Yield: 6 servings