Where’s the beef?

If you met my grandmother, and asked her whether she loved to cook, I’d doubt she’d launch into a lengthy spiel about her various culinary experiments and jaunts to local farmers markets. In fact, I kind of imagine her giving you a wary eye and then tepidly responding with an “It can be alright,” or her signature disdain-indicating response of “It’s…interesting.”  Nevertheless, she’s been known to turn out some pretty good dishes and fabulous parties, whether she’d ever admit it or not. And more importantly, I will always cite her as one of my biggest culinary influences, simply because she allowed me into the kitchen while she prepared meals. She’s also responsible for teaching me two dishes which, for me, are synonymous with comfort food.

One is beef stroganoff.

Creamy and hearty, my grandmother’s beef stroganoff used to be the be all, end all as far as satisfying dinners went. For really special occasions, she and I would roll out a batch of homemade egg noodles, which we’d make in the morning and allow to air dry all day. 

Such love did I have for her beef stroganoff, I would crave it the minute I left her home after the few visits I made there each year.  Finally, we penned the recipe together on a scrap piece of paper, and I took it home with me, treasuring it, and yearning to cook the dish for myself and the family.

The recipe begins like any good grandma recipe does: with two cans of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup. Sometimes, I’d mix it up and use half Cream of Mushroom, half Cream of Chicken. In a cast iron skillet, I’d brown off cubes of bottom beef round or chuck, mushrooms and onions, then add in the condensed soups and a healthy dose of sour cream. Once combined, this would simmer for at least 45 minutes, allowing all the flavors to marry and meld together in one mighty delicious symphony of goodness (for a more…ahem…”updated” stroganoff recipe, look no farther than here.)

The simmering part, it turns out, was always the problem for me.

In culinary school, when instructors repeatedly emphasized that we should be tasting the food as we go along, I was never one to complain. One, because I love seeing how flavors change as you apply the tiniest bits of heat, salt or time, and two, because I really, really love to stuff my face.

It seemed that loving to taste as I cook was a skill I had acquired long ago.  When I would cook stroganoff as a young girl, it was requisite that I stand watch over the pot of simmering sauce and continually taste to “make sure it was okay.” Seduced by the deep, earthy flavors of the beef and mushroom, I would taste again…

So delicious. A stroganoff scented steam wafts gently into my nose, tempting my every taste bud. Too good to pass up. I taste again. Still delicious! And the creaminess! Oh, that unctuous pot of love, velvety in my mouth and gliding hot down my throat! I taste again. The mushrooms! The onions, caramelized, and still just barely crisp! Taste, swoon, taste, and swoon, taste, and I find myself swooning in a stroganoff reverie.

And then, it’s ready.

I bowl up the stroganoff in a fancy glass bowl. Noodles go in another. I bring both to the table, and call the family to gather ’round.

They enter the dining room, tantalized by the smell of the food, ooh-ing and aah-ing and anticipating what’s sure to be a satisfying meal.

We all sit down, and there’s a brief moment of silence. My stroganoff has lulled them into a complete sense of wonder.

Then, my mother speaks.

“Well?” she asks.

“Well what?”

“Well…where’s all the stroganoff?”

“What do you mean?” I say, “That IS the stroganoff.”

We all look at the bowl. There’s scarely a cup of sauce left, hardly enough for a meager ladleful for the three of us.

“Is there more in the kitchen?” she asks, confused.

“Um,” I hesitate, “No.”

There’s another moment of silence.

“I may have tasted it along the way to make sure it was okay for you guys.”


“Next time,” she says, spooning up a tiny bit of sauce onto her full plate of noodles, “Just make a double batch of sauce.”

Recipe for easy beef stroganoff: Two cans of Cream of Mushroom, two cans of Cream of Chicken, and a lot of sour cream. Try not to eat it all before you serve it.

Pork & Mustard Stroganoff

I helped test this recipe earlier this spring.  It was created by Lynne Char Bennett, one of the Chronicle‘s Wine staff writers, and a genius at writing decadent, satisfying recipes that pair amazingly with the wines at hand.  It’s a little more effort than my grandmother’s simple stroganoff recipe, but it’s hearty and elegant enough to entertain with.

  • 1 pound pork tenderloin, silverskin removed
  • — Kosher salt
  • — Freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, or as needed
  • 6 tablespoons dry sherry, Amontillado preferred
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 large onion chopped moderately fine
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1/2 ounce dried porcini rehydrated in hot water to cover
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3/4 pound cremini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
  • 1 1/2 cups beef broth or stock
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken broth or stock
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons minced thyme
  • 3 to 4 parsley stems
  • 1/4 cup brown/whole grain Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons softened butter
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 12 ounces medium-size egg noodles, cooked according to package directions
  • — Finely chopped parsley (optional garnish)

Instructions: Season tenderloin to taste with salt and pepper. Preheat a Dutch oven to medium-high; add just enough oil to coat skillet bottom, about 1 tablespoon. When oil shimmers and is just short of smoking, add tenderloin. Brown on all sides, waiting to turn meat until it releases from the pan when shaken.

Set pork aside to cool, about 15-20 minutes (keep Dutch oven with browned bits – the fond). Cut tenderloin in half lengthwise, then cut each half crosswise into thin slices, about 1/8- to 3/8-inch thick. Combine 2 tablespoons of the sherry and 1 tablespoon of the soy sauce in a bowl. Add the meat and turn to coat thoroughly. Refrigerate until ready to cook.

Meanwhile, in the same Dutch oven over medium heat, add 2 tablespoons oil and chopped onions. Cook until onions turn golden brown, about 6-8 minutes. (The moisture from the onions will help deglaze the pot) Add the garlic and cook a minute more until garlic becomes fragrant. Transfer onions and garlic to a bowl and reserve.

Meanwhile, swish porcini in the water to remove any grit; remove porcinis and chop moderately fine. Strain soaking water through a coffee filter; reserve porcini water.

In the same pan, add the butter and sliced cremini mushrooms. Season to taste and cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms have released their moisture and are almost half their original size, about 4-5 minutes. Deglaze with the rest of the sherry and cook briefly until liquid is reduced by about half.

Add porcini, reserved onions and garlic, reserved porcini water, beef and chicken broths, bay leaf, thyme and parsley stems. Simmer uncovered, about 20-25 minutes, or until liquid is reduced by one-third. Remove and discard bay leaf and parsley stems. The recipe can be prepared ahead to this point; reheat before proceeding.

Whisk in mustard, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, the remaining soy sauce and sour cream. Simmer for a few minutes to meld flavors. Meanwhile, combine the butter and flour in a small bowl. Whisk butter-flour mixture into the simmering liquid. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Add pork and cook until cooked through, stirring occasionally – about 5 minutes.

Taste and adjust seasoning once more before serving immediately over hot, buttered egg noodles. Garnish with parsley if desired.

Leave a Comment


  1. 8.26.08
    hivgal said:

    For me my oma’s apple cake is comfort food.I have her recipe make it all the time never taste’s like hers.Then l realized it cannot cause she is not making it l am.I think the secret is her love that goes in it.Great post.

  2. 8.26.08
    vmacandcheese said:

    So true. I often tell my gentleman friend that the reason the simplest dishes I make for him taste so good is because of the love that I pour into them. The same is true on the flip side: if you cook angry, or stressed out, it gets into the food. So cook happy, people!

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