Kitchen Witch - Stew for serenity
Lately, life at my house has been a roller coaster. Family duties of an intensive-care-unit variety have sucked me in and sucked me dry. When I finally did get some down time, the last thing I wanted to do was exert more energy to cook. Instead, I gravitated in the direction of carry-out menus and bags of chips for instant gratification and what I mistook for sustenance. The more I strayed from the kitchen, the more physically and emotionally clumsy I became. I was feeding the very instability I sought to correct.
For insight, I went to my yoga mat, which always helps me return to my center (wherever that is). I was in desperate need of some grounding energy. Traditional yogis would likely dismiss my carnivorous tendencies, but the answer that came to me, like a mantra, was beef stew. The recipe below, chock-full of earthy notes coaxed over a low fire, should have your sense of equilibrium restored in no time.
1 1/2 pounds boneless beef chuck or round, cut into 1-inch cubes, or "stew beef" (already cubed by a supermarket butcher)
Few cloves of garlic, smashed
Few sprigs of fresh thyme
1/2 medium onion, sliced thin
3-5 tablespoons of a red wine you enjoy drinking
1/4 cup olive oil
1 sachet, filled with 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
Place meat in a non-reactive pan (glass, ceramic, enamel-coated) with marinade ingredients. Cover and place in fridge for at least 12 hours, up to 36. When ready to cook, remove meat from marinade and pat dry with a paper towel. If desired, you may reserve onions for stew. Season meat with salt and pepper.
3 tablespoons of flour
1 bay leaf
4 or 5 thyme sprigs
At least two cups of beef stock or water, warmed
More of that red wine you enjoy drinking
5-6 canned whole tomatoes
Salt and pepper
Optional: Peeled pearl onions (blanch them for about 1 minute to remove skin easily); 1 small rutabaga or a few parsnips or carrots, peeled and diced
Heat a heavy-bottomed pot and coat the bottom surface with olive oil. With tongs, add meat in batches and sear on both sides, allowing it to brown. Remove and set aside.
Deglaze with a wooden spoon by scraping bits of meat from the pot, adding a small amount of liquid and stirring. Add flour to create an ad hoc roux (a thickener made of fat and flour) and immediately stir to eliminate lumps. Add a few ounces of cooking liquid to help along. Bring to a simmer and return meat to pot. Add tomatoes, bay leaf, thyme sprigs, more cooking liquid and/or wine. Liquid amount should just cover the meat. Add the marinade onions at this time, if using.
Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cover. Check on stew every 15-20 minutes and cook until fork-tender, at least 90 minutes and possibly more than 2 hours.
If you are adding other vegetables, allow at least 30 minutes for vegetables to cook and soften. Season with salt and pepper before serving.
Serve in soup bowls, over noodles, rice or with a hunk of crusty bread to sop up the juices.
Culinary questions? Contact Kim O'Donnel at email@example.com.