Stew

A few days ago a reticulated iris poked it’s way through some oak leaves and produced a beautiful purple blossom in my back yard. Reticulated iris are sort of like the Kate Moss of crocus – way more tall, elegant and willowy than those chubby, cheerful yellow crocus we all tend to have. I rejoiced. Spring had arrived. Right. It has since snowed. Winter again, here at the old homestead, but that little flower is still bravely standing, battered yet alive.

And Mr. GG has been in Nevada and southern Utah for a week, and got caught in some real storms – the kind you drive 10 miles an hour through. It’s March, for heaven’s sake!
But after a week away, he gets home this evening at dinner time. He gets homesick, and tired of sleeping in motels and eating fast food, so I plan to have a hearty pot of stew on hand. This is really pretty easy to produce, and he loves it, so it’s a good welcome home dinner for both of us. I can whip some up, and still have time to do the laundry and pick up the mess I made making a mosaic table top for a friend, and run a couple of errands. Good stew makes you think all is right with the world. And it doesn’t need a lot of accompaniment – maybe some crusty bread, or some Bisquick biscuits if you are really industrious, and some strong flavored cheese for sides.

Here’s how to make a decent stew – you need a crockpot, or a nice, heavy, cast iron dutch oven. In a pinch you could use a regular stock pot, if you are able to maintain a low flame on your stove, but I vote for the crockpot – you can walk away and leave it.

Beef Stew

Buy some lean beef stewing meat at the grocery – however much you think you’ll need. You’re gonna have a lot of vegetables, so you could skimp on the meat if you want. Get the beef already cut up, it saves lots of time.

Put some flour and seasoning (black, red or lemon pepper) in a plastic bag and dump the beef cubes into it to coat them. Then put them, a few at a time, into a heavy skillet with oil in it and brown them. This step is critical… gives the beef a nice flavor, creates a small crust that holds in the juices, and leads to very tender meat. Keep frying the beef in small batches, removing the browned pieces with a slotted spoon, and put them into a crockpot. When all the beef is browned, I sautee a whole onion (which I have chopped coarsely) into the same skillet, and cook the onion until it is translucent. Put that in the crockpot too.

Then dump in 2 cans of Campbell’s Beef Consomme. Don’t mess with this. Don’t get Campbell’s Beef Broth, or use bouillion cubes. Add 1 can of water and maybe a splash of red wine if you have some sitting around. Or you could put in about 1/2 a can of beer. But only if you are in the mood. Anyway the liquid should cover the meat. If it doesn’t, throw in yet another can of consomme. Then get creative with seasonings. I always add a Bay leaf, a bunch of whole peppercorns, some dried parsley. The rest changes each time – maybe add some oregano, paprika, marjoram or thyme, or whatever seasoning you like.

Let the whole thing simmer in the crockpot on high for about 6 hours. The time doesn’t have to be exact, an hour more or less usually doesn’t matter – you just want the beef to be tender and almost falling apart.

About an hour before you plan to eat, boil up some cubed potatoes, and sliced carrots in a separate pot and cook till tender. Drain them and put them in the crockpot with the meat. At this point, I usually shake some frozen peas and corn right from their bags into the crockpot, too. Not the whole bag, just enough to add some color and punch. Let it meld in the crockpot for at least a half hour and then serve it up. The whole house is gonna smell terrific at this point, and people will be hanging over your shoulder, asking if the stew is done yet. Hold fast, and make them wait.

If you don’t have a crockpot, you can do this whole thing in a cast iron dutch oven, but you have to keep the oven on low (about 275 -300 degrees) for 6 hours, and that is not really energy efficient.

Oh, another thing. The Campbell’s consomme is high in sodium. When I make this, I have to hide the salt shaker, since Mr. GG tends to salt everything before he even tastes it!

Anyway, if you are still in the throes of winter, you may want to give this stew a try. You can’t really go wrong, once you have the beef simmering in the consomme. Anything you do to it after that just makes it yummier.

And while you are at the store, buying the beef and consomme, pick up a bunch of daffodils, too. Spirits will be lifted. It will remind you that spring is (almost) here.

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One Response to “Stew”

  1. pqsister Says:

    Ok, stop the presses! Er, flying emails, whatever. Where’s the can of tomato sauce? No cloves? Seriously–you don’t put cloves in your beef stew? That’s what makes the whole house smell great, that simmering scent of cloves. Ok, your house, your stew. I do like the idea of using consomme, though. Actually, I think it’s kinda cool that we have made variations on the very same recipe.

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