S and I made our annual pilgrimage to Dexter Cider Mill this past Saturday. It’s one tradition that we’ve never missed, rain or shine (though we prefer shine with a slight chill in the air), in the 11 years that he’s lived here. It’s such a Michigan thing to do, I’ve come to realize. Most of us grew up going to various area cider mills (right?) and I’ve certainly seen many of them, but as an adult, I without a doubt prefer the one in Dexter. Not only is it the oldest continuously running cider mill in Michigan, but they claim to still make cider the old-fashioned way, using an oak press (whatever that means). I prefer it because it’s all about the cider, the donuts and the apples, with a few locally made products, like honey and apple bread, thrown in for good measure. There are no hay rides, haunted houses or corn mazes (ergo not too many children) AND parking is free. In other words, this is no amusement park. They have added wine-tasting but I’ve never tried it and don’t think I will. I prefer to get my hot cider, my cinnamon-sugar donuts (1.5 for me, 3.5 for S, with one left over for breakfast) and head down to banks of the river. It’s the only real entertainment and it’s plenty.
The cider tastes perfect sitting on the banks of the river, but at home, I prefer to cook with it rather than drink it. The last several years, we’ve extended our ritual by making this comforting and delicious take on beef stew with the quart of cider that we always buy. And it’s incredible the next day, after it’s had a chance to sit in its juices overnight. I usually serve it with vinegary spinach salad to cut some of the sweetness, but it’s really just for show. Like me, you’ll probably just want to eat the stew. It doesn’t take too long either, since it comes from Rachael Ray’s very first cookbook, 30-Minute Meals.
Adapted (only slightly) from 30-Minute Meals, Rachael Ray
1-1 1/2 lbs. sirloin steak, cut into bite size pieces
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 medium to large white-skinned potato, thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups apple cider
Montreal Steak seasoning
Shredded cheddar or Gruyère cheese
1 Tbsp. cider vinegar
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
4 Tbsp. flour
a handful of chopped parsley
In a dutch oven or large skillet with a lid, heat the olive oil over a medium-high flame. Add the sirloin and brown on all sides for 3-5 minutes total. You may have to do this in two batches to avoid crowding the pan, so that it will properly brown. Add about a 1/2 Tbsp. or so of the Montreal steak seasoning and a couple of glugs of Worcestershire sauce. Mix and remove the meat from the pan.
Add thinly sliced potatoes in one layer, more olive oil if needed, and another shake of the Montreal seasoning. Again, you might need to do this in two batches. Cook potatoes, turning once, for about 3-4 minutes per side. Add olive oil if they seem to be burning (and adjust heat a bit). Remove potatoes to a paper towel-lined plate, and add the chopped onions and carrots. Cook for about 5 minutes, or until they begin to soften but aren’t mushy. Add the 4 Tbsp. flour and mix. Allow to cook for at least another minute to avoid a raw flour taste.
Add back the sirloin and the cider to deglaze, making sure to scrape the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Next, add the vinegar and the parsley and give it a stir. Rest the potatoes on top of the stew at this point and cover, reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove cover, add shredded cheese and broil for about 3 minutes or until the cheese is browned. Allow to sit for 5 minutes before serving.
A nice grainy baguette or rustic bread is essential for sopping up these delicious, cider-flavored juices.
I’ve still got quite a bit of that cider left in the fridge and am searching for equally inspiring recipes. Tonight it was Molly Wizenberg’s Salmon in Cider Cream Sauce (oh, my, yum). And, next week I just might turn the above recipe into a Shepherd’s Pie. Oh, the possibilities!