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Follow this recipe to make perfect homemade beef and noodles – your family will thank you.
Every time I smell the rich aroma of the beefy broth or feel the tender dough under the pressure of my rolling pin, I can feel my mother’s love embrace me. Our family, ever stoic and never big with hugs and “I love you’s,” expresses love through our taste buds; through the home-cooked meals made from recipes handed down through generations. My mom’s recipe for homemade beef and noodles is my favorite midwest meal ever.
It’s an Iowa thing
Beef and noodles, the kind I am going to show you how to make, seem to be a 100% Iowa thing. My Iowa friends often recall them, but I have never seen them on a restaurant menu, not even in Iowa, where I grew up. These are as homemade as homemade gets.
But what are beef & noodles, exactly?
Beef and noodles, Iowa style, is an almost stew consistency dish of homemade thin, soft egg noodles, cooked in a savory, rich beefy broth. To serve authentically, spoon them over mashed potatoes. Yes, mashed potatoes. I never said this was low-carb. The preferred side dish is buttered peas. Yes, I know, more carbs. But it is so tasty.
My mother made this recipe on weekends, usually Sundays, because, while easy to make, it took several hours for the noodles to dry. She also made them on my birthday – they were and are my favorite meal.
Thank you, Aunt Helen
I am not sure of the origins of the recipe, but according to my father, my paternal great-Aunt Helen taught my mother how to make beef and noodles. Thank you, Aunt Helen, who was a fantastic cook.
I remember going over to Aunt Helen’s midcentury modern ranch home and watching her cook holiday meals. She looked exactly like a blond June Cleaver of Leave it to Beaver fame. She wore the same style dress, with a cute little apron. And her kitchen always smelled fabulous (and was never a mess even when she was in mid-meal prep).
Some of my earliest kitchen memories are of helping my mother make beef and noodles. I would perch on our red kitchen stool and watch her meticulously cut the meat into small pieces, then dice onion “her” way. She could get the teeniest, tiniest dice with a paring knife and holding the onion in her hand. I have never measured up on the onion-dicing front.
The meat and broth were cooked into tender deliciousness in an old-style stove-top pressure cooker. My heart frantically raced each time the moment came to release the steam – I always braced for the pot’s explosion. If there was ever a monster in my childhood dreams, it was this pressure cooker belching steam and threatening to explode.
My mom would fearlessly release the steam with a 2-pronged meat fork, gently tipping the valve. Ever-ready for that explosion, I watched the steam flow out – my mother never looked as brave as she did facing that monster.
It never did explode.
It just gave us the tenderest pieces of meat in the most savory, umami-rich broth, ever.
My favorite part of the preparation, though, was making the noodles. I can’t even contemplate this dish with store-bought noodles. They must be home-made.
My mom mixed up the noodle dough without a recipe and rolled the dough out as thin as humanly possible. The rolled-out sheet of noodle dough dried and rested for several hours covered by one of her hand-embroidered tea towels.
I could never wait for the finished dish, though. Not ever. Throughout the day, I snuck into the kitchen to tear off little bits of dough.
and I never got worms
Note – I love raw dough. Yes, eggs and all. Always have and always will. Please, no shaming. My grandmother, if present, would reprimand me with, “You’re going to get worms if you keep doing that!”
I had vivid visions of spontaneous generation ongoing in my gut, but the warnings never stopped me from nibbling the dough. And I never got worms. And I still snitch dough.
My mother always planned out meals. Part of our family culture is talking about what is on the upcoming menu. After we grew up and before trips home, she would poll us to get a list of the meals we wanted her to prepare. Top on my requests was beef and noodles. Always.
Because there was no written recipe, I was terrified her method of making beef and noodles would be lost someday. Accordingly, I took great care to watch my mother make them every time I had the opportunity. When I lived far away, as I have most of my adult life, I called Mom when it was time to mix the noodle dough so she could walk me through it. I needed her reassurance that I was doing it right.
The last time
My last opportunity to watch Mom make noodles was back in 2015. Fortunately, I had grand plans for a family recipe book (I’ll finish it someday, I promise), so I took photographs of her making the noodles. I had no idea at the time that she would soon become too ill to cook and that she would pass away two years later.
Today is the second anniversary of my mother’s death. I miss her so much. I still think about picking up the phone to call her when I start making noodles. Then I remember I cannot. Every time. And I cry.
This photo of my mom’s hands rolling out noodles is one of the most precious pictures I have of her.
When we decommissioned the homestead, her old rolling pin went home with me. The quality is better than any I ever owned. It is the only one I now use.
The gadget you must have to make perfect noodles
And that brings me to THE secret “gadget” that you must use to make these noodles. Oh, I tried for years without and always came up short.
Yes, I have all the bougie tools a kitchen “needs.” The silicone rolling mats, a stone counter, a wooden cutting board. But, bougie tools and all, my noodles ALWAYS stuck.
I would use ample flour and extreme care, but when it came time to jelly-roll the dough before cutting the noodles, I was left gently scraping up the noodle dough bit by bit. My noodles ended up all sorts of thicknesses – often, they became glob-noodles. And I was left in tears.
Sometimes daughters need to listen to their mothers
Sometimes daughters are dense and don’t do “what mom did” just out of principle. One day though, I finally had an epiphany. “I wonder if you can still buy a pastry cloth?” Mom always rolled them out on her pastry cloth. After all, you never see them used by “real” chefs. My mom’s cloth was as old as her 60-year marriage. I thought they had gone the way of the rotary dial phone.
But thank goodness for The Google. Seek, and ye shall find. Pastry cloths are still a thing. Who knew?
Pastry cloths are still a thing
A pastry cloth is not to be confused with a silicone baking mat – it is not interchangeable. It is a thick linen canvas cloth perfect for rolling out noodle, pastry, biscuit, and other dough. Nothing works as well.
My next attempt at noodle making, thanks to my new pastry cloth, was a roaring success.
The dough rolls out perfectly, and it does not stick. Voila!
My mom would be proud of me and my noodles.
And we are all still trying to make our moms proud, aren’t we?
Most recently, I made Beef and Noodles for my dad when he visited – and they hit the spot. It felt just like Sunday dinner back in Iowa.
Today by sharing this treasured family recipe with you, I honor my mother and my home state of Iowa.
With COVID-19 raging and most of us on home arrest, there is now ample time to prepare and savor family meals. I hope this dish ends up on your table.
Now – let’s get cooking those homemade beef and noodles!
The beefy broth is pretty standard. Pick a 2-3 pound beef chuck roast, and cut into 1/2-inch bits. Brown it and add it to an Instant Pot or electric pressure cooker with 8-10 cups of water, half a medium diced onion and salt, and pepper to taste. Pressure cook for an hour with a natural release.
Transfer the beefy broth to a larger soup pot or Dutch oven on the stovetop. Don’t use the Instant Pot – it just doesn’t work to finish the dish. Trusty me. You can save the beefy broth in the refrigerator or freezer and use later if you wish.
It’s egg noodle-making time
The homemade egg noodles are THE special part of this dish. And they are easy to make. Really.
Add the flour, eggs, and salt to a medium mixing bowl. Stir to combine. It will be rather dry and crumbly.
Add 1/4 cup of milk and mix by hand or with a fork until combined. Continue adding milk one tablespoon at a time until the dough ball looks like this. It will probably take 1-3 Tablespoons more. I use 2% or whole milk whichever I have on hand.
Now roll them out
Place the dough on a floured pastry cloth and pat it into a rectangular shape.
Now, roll the dough very thin into a large rectangle extending to the edges of the pastry cloth, sprinkling flour as needed to prevent sticking to the rolling pin.
Once the dough is rolled out, sprinkle it very lightly with flour and cover it with a hand-embroidered tea towel. Ok, any clean light cloth will do if you don’t have a hand-embroidered tea towel.
and finally cut them just so
Let the noodles dry for several hours. they should be drier but not stiff, as you will roll the dough like a jelly roll.
Leave the cut noodles to dry for another couple of hours. Ok, one-three. It is pretty forgiving at this point.
When you put the soon-to-be-mashed potatoes on to cook, heat up the beefy broth. When it comes to a boil, turn it down to simmer. Pick up the cloth by the edges and gently pour the noodles into the broth. The extra flour will help thicken the broth. Cook the noodles while the potatoes are cooked and mashed. Prepare peas in the microwave or however you do them.
Once the potatoes are mashed into deliciousness, serve it all up. Put a hearty pile of potatoes in the middle of the plate and use a ladle to add the beef and noodles on top — like gravy.
I love the leftovers for lunch. The noodles will continue to absorb the broth, and the next day’s version will be much thicker. These are not el dente but softer.
There you go – a fabulous, genuine midwest meal of homemade beef and noodles that would make my mom proud and your family happy.Print
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