The first time I met Reda and Wib was at my mailbox on a scorching North Carolina day in June. “Man it’s hot here, note to self, never go barefoot. Acha, eacha, oocha!” I muttered as I walked tender footedly across my blazing stone aggregate driveway to the lop-sided mailbox. I felt I was being watched and that feeling verified when an old man yelled from his porch two doors down, “you must be the new Bride! Dan told us you would be here soon.” The man’s wife emerged on to their porch, barely visible though her huge signature hanging basket of impatiens, “Hello,” she hollered in a smoker’s, raspy Southern drawl, “I’m Reda and this is Wib. We couldn’t wait to meet you.” I was melting at this point but happy to make some new friends as I had only been in town two days, long enough for Himself to get my military ID card and show me where the bank was before he was off to the field for some “Classified” amount of time. “You’re on your own, I’ll be back in a couple of weeks, can’t call much.” My new husband said as he kissed me goodbye, patted our Rottie, Diamond Dog on the head, threw his rucksack over his shoulder and left to rendezvous with his unit at Fort Bragg.
Wib and Reda became great friends to Himself and I. They were older than we and had grown children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Young in mind and spirit, this golden couple was there for us through hot summers, hurricanes, home improvements, and our first baby.Reda was a wonderful cook and taught me some tricks of Southern Cooking. She hosted huge Pig Pickin’s each summer sending delicious aromas of roasted pig through the neighborhood. Reda said there are three secret ingredients she used for various dishes to enhance color and depth of flavor; they are chocolate, coffee, and beer. I was intrigued. I was already using chocolate in my chili but wanted to know more. Reda said she used chocolate, beer or both in her chili, and coffee in her gravy with these ingredients sprinkled throughout similar recipes. I have adopted the use of coffee in my own brown gravy. Lately, I am seeing more and more recipes out there calling for beer, chocolate, and coffee as flavor enhancers to many different kinds of dishes as well. Experiment with these secret ingredients in your gravies, stews, chilies, and soups, it only takes a small amount.
Dutch Oven Beef & Gravy
1 pound of leftover Roast Beef, diced
1/3 cup flour
2 1/2 cups chicken broth*
one sprig fresh thyme leaves
2 tsp. dried minced onion
2 T. butter
1/2 t. fresh cracked black pepper
1 t. kosher salt plus more to taste, use half if using regular table salt
2 t. instant espresso coffee, I use Medaglia D’Oro
Toss beef with flour in a medium bowl until beef is well coated. To a Dutch oven over medium-high heat add beef and flour mix, broth, thyme, onion, 1 t. salt and the pepper. Dot with butter and bring to a boil. Lower heat to low and cover. Cook for 2 hours, stirring frequently. If you started out with raw beef then cook one extra hour. Before serving stir in instant espresso and re-season with salt if needed. Cook one minute more. Serve over hot buttered noodles, rice, or big slices of toasted Texas toast. Serves 4-6. For Beef Stew- add cubed potatoes, onions, carrots, celery, and crushed tomatoes and cook as stated. For Beef Stroganoff- add shallots, dash nutmeg, and mushrooms and cook as stated above, add 1 cup sour cream at the end, heat through and serve. For Beef Bourguignonne- replace broth with Burgundy, add pearl onions, sliced carrots, garlic, bay leaf and cubed potatoes, cook as stated above. You can see this recipe is a good base to many things!
One other trick I use to enhance my brown gravy is a roux. Take one stick butter and 1/2 cup of flour and cook over low heat in an iron skillet, whisking constantly until mixture is chocolate brown, reduced and thickened. Cool and pour into a square storage container. Refrigerate. Cut a one inch cube and add to your next pot of gravy or stew. This gives your gravies a nutty rich flavor and with the addition of coffee, you cannot fail! Stores well in the refrigerator for one month. Or freeze for six.
* Why Chicken Broth?- I find that most purchased beef broths are hmm, how do I say this, industrial tasting, almost to MSG-ish or Maggi-ish. Yes they are improving but I find they are full of too many artificial colors or over-powered with onion. I either make my own or use a good quality, organic chicken broth, I love Trader Joe’s.
A Final Note: About the Garnish- If you are interested in my garnish it is an oldie but goodie we used to use in a family restaurant I worked in for four years when I was a teen. It is a simple Cinnamon Apple Ring with sprigs of fresh parsley pulled through the center. These rings can be purchased in the canned fruit isle of your grocer. They are especially nice at Christmas or with plain looking dishes as this one. And they’re RED!