Thursday, February 12, 2009

We interrupt "the 11" for a hearty beef stew

Rain, rain, don't go away until I've finished my beef stew.

Don't get me wrong. I love to cook, but there's one thing I love even more: when someone else cooks for me.

I've never met a home-cooked meal I didn't like. Well . . . except for an unforgettably tragic beef stew.

A new friend once invited my husband and me to her apartment for dinner. I was excited when I found out she was making beef stew, one of my favorite cold-weather comfort foods.

She ladled steaming hot stew into bowls for her three guests. I'm sure my face fell when I peeked into my bowl. The beef was charred black, but the potatoes and carrots were raw. The liquid was a starchy, tasteless goop the color and texture of wallpaper paste.

We all tried to eat it. We really did. After five minutes of pushing around the undercooked/overcooked chunks in hopes that they would magically disappear, the cook dropped her spoon. "I'm sorry. I can't eat this."

At first, we protested, "No, really, it's fine. I like my veggies crunchy." And then her boyfriend spoke up. "Are you kidding? This isn't edible." He was right (even though he wasn't "Mr. Right.") Instead, we spent the evening munching on Saltine crackers and sipping the fine cabernet that boyfriend brought. You can never go wrong with cab and regret.

I think of that evening every time I make beef stew (or whenever I make a meal that's borderline inedible).

Who knows how things would have come out (on both the culinary and romantic fronts) if only Kathy had followed this recipe from Pam at For the Love of Cooking. (Do click and see Pam's version. Why does hers look so much richer than mine?)

Can't Fail Beef Stew
(Adapted from For the Love of Cooking)

1 lb beef, cut into small chunks
1 yellow onion, chopped into large chunks
4 medium-size Russet potatoes, diced
4-5 carrots, sliced
6 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 T. olive oil
1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes
1-2 tsp dried thyme (or 2 T. fresh)
1-2 tsp dried oregano

Salt and pepper to taste
2 bay leaves
6 cups beef stock (or any combination of at least 3 cups of beef stock and enough wine or dark beer to make 6 cups)

One of the things that I like about this recipe is that it has a large margin for alterations (and error). Like celery? Go ahead and add it. Prefer red potatoes? Go for 'em. Don't like garlic? Leave it out. Love peas? Throw them in at the last minute. Don't have fresh thyme? Use dried. Don't like your meat falling apart? Cook for four or five hours instead of seven or eight.

I used my enamel-cast iron pot and cooked the beef and broth mixture overnight, but you can also do this on a stove top or in the crock pot. Allow at least four hours for cooking the meat and an additional 1 1/2 hours for the vegetables. After all, a good beef stew can't be rushed.

- Preheat oven to 250 degrees.
- Heat olive oil and cook onion and stew meat for about 5 minutes.

- Add garlic and cook for another 30 seconds.
- Add can of tomatoes, seasonings and beef stock.
- Cover and cook in oven or stove top for at least four hours.
- Remove pot from oven place on stove top over medium heat.
- Add potatoes and carrots (and celery, if you like that in your stew) and cook for an additional 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
- If you like the broth thicker, add a slurry of corn starch and water.

Serve with a crusty bread and a bottle of red wine, preferably on a rainy day in front of the fire.

May I eat mine by the fire, please?


Margaret said...

Your story makes me cry. Unsalvageable beef stew. How sad is that. I'm like you, I love this kind of hearty comfort food. Maybe I'll make this for Valentine's day. Yum.

Julia Child's Redheaded Stepchild aka Miss H said...

Vetty nice, Susan. Slow cooking does amazing things to flavor and texture. Beef seizes so easily, and practice makes perfect en boeuf, as Julia would say.

My lamb stew is a win. I will have to write down the recipe sometime. It evolved from a favorite cookbook I used in my twenties for when one is penniless: Geoffrey Holder's Carribean Cooking. I do believe it is out of print but not out of mind. I am out of my mind, not Geoff. He was married to Carmen Delavalade, the ballet dancer. I do go on don't I?

altadenahiker said...

Of course your stew is delish, but I think you get out an old compass and sliderule to make sure all, all, all the vegetables are of uniform length and width. That is vous.

Petrea said...

This is what I've been needing, thank you. I didn't know how to make it, now I know.

Deborah Thomas said...

Those pictures are breaking my heart! Wish I had some right now! (Interesting story -- I didn't know you could ruin stew. . . . ) I made some last week and used red wine and shallots and a bit of herbes de Provence and it was not so American but very good (and, not surprisingly, even better the second day!).

Deborah Thomas said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Susan C said...

Margaret, yes, I felt so sorry for the cook. I think she must have hurried home from work to throw this stew together, but it didn't have time to "stew."

Here's a great, easy chocolate dessert recipe for you:

Miss H, Ha, I love your new name and would love the lamb stew recipe.

AH, Don't forget the handy-dandy ruler. It's a cook's most indispensable tool.

Petrea, This takes a long time to stew, but there's not much prep work involved.

Deborah, Your stew recipe sounds divine.

I just turned on 30 Rock and Tina Fey was serving home-made stew to a first date. "This is good," he said. "Thanks. I substitute cheese for the water." Ha!

Pasadena Adjacent said...

Susan you promised me you'd never tell anyone about my failed stew, looser beau and that dreary studio apartment in east Downey. Waah

Susan C said...

PA, You crack me up. Wasn't that apartment in Watts adjacent?

Laurie said...

Oh, the poor thing! It's one thing to screw it up for yourself but with dinner guests? Ack!

I am a big beef stew fan, too. I usually make mine in a slow cooker so I can smell it all day and feel like someone else is cooking for me. Plus, that long cooking really does make for good consistency. I'm also a big fan of cassoulets.

Desiree said...

Looks sublime, can't wait to try it--

Anonymous said...

When I make this, I always use wine and Guiness both. It ensures that the broth is irresistible.

Margaret said...

I made the stew yesterday! It was wonderful, and it was a big hit with all but the littlest Beginagain (AH gave us that name and I'm running with it). The littlest Beginagain is no fun to cook for at all and her palate has the breadth of dental floss. But the rest of us enjoyed the stew immensely, and Mr. Beginagain asked -- just this morning -- when we would get to eat the leftovers. Thanks, Susan.

Susan C said...

Laurie, have you ever attempted making a cassoulet? They seem so labor intensive.

Desiree, let me know if you try it.

WCGB, I'm totally gonna' use Guinness the next time.

Margaret, I'm so tickled that you made the stew and that your family liked it. I love calling you the "Beginagain" family too.

Piper Robert said...

Bonnie and I are having beef stew tonight.

My favorite part is dunking crusty bread into the broth. Extra broth for me, please.

Do you remember Raymond and Marie Moore? They lived at Catfish Hollow, close to Uncle Marse (as in Marcellus) and Aunt Clemmie.

I remember watching Mr. Moore literally clean his plate with bread. I always wanted to do that because he looked like a pirate. I imagined pirates ate that way. Raymond was a coal miner and had a rough edge about himself. Messy hair, blackened hands, perpetual 5 o'clock shadow and sometimes he ate with one elbow on top of the back of his chair. He even slouched when he was eating. He had it all.

I'll bet he would've loved this stew.

pasadenapio said...

Looking at the photo of the stew, I swear I could smell it through my monitor! Lamb stew is a second favorite. I made it once with fresh beets from the garden, which completely overwhelmed it. I won't try that again!

Susan Carrier & said...

PR, I adored Raymond and Marie Moore. I thought everyone in WV cleaned their plates with their bread like that.

PIO, I think the beets were an inspired addition to the stew. Too bad it didn't work out.

Deborah Thomas said...

Everyone in France cleans their plates like that (at least in the country)! There is no bread plate -- the piece of bread is placed directly on the table.

Cafe Observer said...

I love that beautyfull doggy bowl! Thank You.

Tell me when y'all are done cooking the stew for this K9.

megan (brooklyn farmhouse) said...

oh my gosh, beef stew. my favorite. I'm always looking for new recipes for it (I use my mom's which could definitely use a bit of tweaking!)
thanks for this!

Laurie said...

Margaret, your littlest Beginagain (I love that name!) sounds like my daughter. She eats about 15 food items. Total. I don't know how I managed to have such a picky eater when I love everything.

Susan, I have tried many a cassoulet -- but I cheat like crazy. (Rinsing canned white beans instead of making from scratch, using sausage alone without other meats...) The secret is a great beef stock, brown sugar and lots of fresh thyme! I've even made it in a crock pot instead of baking in the oven.

I had a French coworker once who said she deglazed her pot after every cassoulet, froze that stock and then used it in the next cassoulet. I always thought that was cool. Or creepy. I couldn't decide.

Julie said...

That looks so yummy!!!
Bon appetit!

we are never full said...

gotta say, i'm not usually one to want to eat stew of dinner as my first choice, but that thick bowl of it is making me yearn for it. perhaps it's this never-ending winter I feel like we're having?

that would go well with some of my husbands delicious suet dumplings on top.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

I have some new food friends whose blog I thought you might like. Unlike me, they travel the world and eat things that are far to exotic for me (although I'd like to try Ethiopian food).
we are never full

Petrea said...

My husband made this for me yesterday. See my comment on the 3/9 post. John's a good cook and knows how to vary a recipe to his taste, but like me he sticks with the recipe as written the first time he tries it. We loved it!

Lucky Flaush said...

I like you personality and I like how you see THE FOOD. Nice work and keep on cookin'! Lucky from Romania. Hey, if you are interested I'll send ya some romanian recipies, very yummy!

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