• 3 cups peeled and diced butternut or acorn squash
  • 1 lb boneless beef chuck cut in 1-inch chunks
  • 2 cups carrots cut in 1-inch chunks
  • 1 cup turnips cut in 1-inch chunks
  • 11/2tsp ground allspice
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp thyme leaves
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp ground red pepper
  • 3 cans (133/4-ounces each) ready-to-serve beef broth
  • 11/2 cups peeled potatoes cut in 1/2-inch chunks
  • 11/2 cups peeled sweet potatoes cut in 1/2-inch chunks
  • Yield: 4 quarts

    In a large covered saucepot, simmer squash in 2 cups water until tender, about 15 minutes; mash squash until smooth. Add beef, carrots, turnips, allspice, salt, thyme, garlic powder, black and red peppers, beef broth and 3 cups water; bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, covered, until meat is tender, about 1 hour. Add potatoes and sweet potatoes; simmer, covered, until potatoes are tender, 20 to 30 minutes. Serve sprinkled with parsley, if desired. 

    Some people think of beef as the epitome of plain "meat and potatoes" cooking, but it doesn't have to be that way. In fact, beef calls out for robust seasonings to accent its hearty flavor.

    Americans prefer beef over any other meat. Consumption has risen steadily in the past several years and is projected to reach 66 pounds per capita for the year 2000, well above the figures for chicken and pork.

    This trend dovetails nicely with America's growing appetite for spices and herbs. These days Americans are eating about a billion pounds of spices a year, according to the American Spice Trade Association. Interestingly, several of the spices on the fast track--including black pepper, red pepper and mustard seeds--complement the flavor of beef. Strong enough to solo with salt, these spices can also make a statement as part of a blend.

    Each of these spices comes in several varieties, which can be matched to the desired flavor profile of a beef dish. For instance, pungent black pepper from Malabar or Lampong would be an excellent choice for a steak coated with crushed peppercorns in the French style.

    Ground red pepper has shot up the popularity charts, with Americans now eating about 119 million pounds annually, nearly double the amount consumed 20 years ago. It is indispensable to many recipes, including a Cajun-style "blackened" beefsteak crusted with a mixture of ground red pepper, black pepper and white pepper. Because the capsicum peppers in ground red pepper can vary in their heat level and other characteristics, spice users should compare products to find the one best for their purposes.

    More mustard is consumed in America than anywhere else in the world, and this spice, too, pairs well with beef. In addition to widely available yellow mustard seeds, brown and Oriental varieties have a pungent aroma and bite that make them a great addition to dry rubs and marinades. Chef Allen's, a restaurant in Aventura, Fla., serves beef tenderloin crusted with a fragrant blend of toasted mustard seeds, fennel seeds, black pepper, thyme, cumin and salt (recipe included).

    New breeding practices are producing beef leaner on the whole than a few decades ago. Though this may be good for our waistlines, it poses a cooking dilemma because leaner beef is likely to be less tender and flavorful. Fortunately, long, slow cooking tenderizes beef, while a well-stocked spice cabinet can help compensate for any flavor deficit. A Colombian-style beef stew is seasoned with peppercorns, garlic, cumin, oregano leaves, turmeric and bay leaves, then simmered until the beef chunks are fork tender and permeated with flavor.

    For Indian-style flair, rub beef with a good-quality curry powder or make a customized blend with up to 20 spices and herbs, such as black and red peppers, cardamom, chiles, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, fennel seed, fenugreek and turmeric. Toasting the spices before grinding them helps wake up their flavor. Another blend that crosses ethnic boundaries with ease is Chinese five-spice powder, a pungent mixture of star anise, cinnamon, cloves, fennel seed and Szechuan peppercorns that can do wonders for the taste of a Western-style beef stew.

    The chiles, cumin and other spices in fajita seasoning (a cousin of chili powder) form a delicious crust on thinly sliced skirt or flank steak when the meat is grilled. As a dry rub for cuts ranging from steaks to stew meat, another good option is Caribbean jerk seasoning, which can be purchased or assembled as needed. This spicy-sweet blend, which includes ground red pepper, thyme and allspice, is featured in Jamaican Beef Soup (pictured).

    Recipes for "Bringing Out the Best in Beef" were developed for Prepared Foods by the test kitchen of the American Spice Trade Association. Additional beef recipes are available at www.preparedfoods.com.PF