Sandra and I, being empty-nesters, eat pretty simply: fresh fruit and veggies, Progresso soup, sandwiches, Lean Cuisine entrees, and the like. The only time either of us really cooks something is when we have company over for dinner.
Well, our daughter Heather, her husband Mike and their three young children are — as I type this — driving here to Colorado from Madison, Wisconsin, due to arrive sometime this evening and stay with us until Friday. Which means we need substantial quantities of substantial food. So I’m making a very large batch of stew in our very large (~20 quart) stew pot. Here’s the recipe for those of you interested; adjust the portions for your own stew pot or family.
— 2 sticks of butter (yes, you can get by with just one, but where’s the fun in that?)
— 1 lb of fresh mushrooms (I usually just use white mushrooms)
— two large sweet onions
— spices (I use sage, rosemary, thyme, basil, marjoram, pepper)
— 5+ pounds of stew meat. I usually buy it at Costco; their stew meat is pretty lean and doesn’t need much trimming.
— flour, salt, pepper
— two 6 oz cans of tomato paste
— 4 or 5 bay leaves
— your choice of stew veggies. I use fresh potatoes, fresh baby carrots, fresh green beans, canned niblet corn, frozen peas, but feel free to substitute your personal favorites.
— salt and pepper to taste
Put the stew pot on the stove, turn the heat to medium low. Put the sticks of butter in to melt. Chop the two onions (I usually chop them pretty fine); cut the stems off the mushrooms and slice them. Put the onions and the mushrooms in the melted butter and let them start to saute, stirring from time to time. Once the onions and mushrooms start to look cooked, turn the heat down a bit and add the spices (maybe a teaspoon each to start with); stir well and continue to stir occasionally.
While this is going on, trim any fat off the stew meat and cut most of the larger chunks in half (or even in thirds). In a sauce pan with at least a 2″ side, put 1/2″ to 3/4″ of vegetable oil; turn the heat to medium-high. In a mixing bowl, mix a few cups of flour with lots of pepper and salt. Get out a large mixing bowl; if you have a colander, put it over the bowl. Put a few handfuls of the stew meat into the seasoned flour and coat well. When the oil is hot, carefully place pieces of stew meat into the hot oil so that the pieces don’t touch. After 20-30 seconds or so, turn the chunks over (or at least on their sides) so that the tops get braised as well. Give them another 10-20 seconds, then take them out and put them in the colander to drain. Give the oil a minute or so to get hot again, then do the next batch of meat. In the meantime, put the braised meat in with the onions and mushrooms and stir. Continue this process until you have braised all the meat and it’s in the stew pot. Stir to coat the meat well with the butter and spices.
WARNING: the braised chunks of stew meat are very delicious, especially once they’ve been stirred into the onions and mushrooms. Do not fix this recipe on an empty stomach or you’ll end up eating a significant portion of the meat. There’s a reason why I bought 5 and a half lbs of stew meat for the batch that’s simmering as I write this (and I think only 4 and a half lbs made it into the stew).
Anyway, once all the meat is in with the onions and mushrooms, add enough water to cover everything by a few inches and so that the meat stirs freely. Turn the heat up to medium to bring to a boil. While the water is heating up, stir in the two cans of tomato paste, then add the bay leaves. Once you bring the mixture to a boil, turn the heat down to low. Let it simmer for an hour or two while you clean up the mess and wash all the dishes, utensils, and cutting boards that you’ve used so far.
Once the meat starts to get tender, wash and chop the potatoes; I use thin-skinned potatoes so that I don’t have to peel them, and I prefer smaller chunks, so that those eating the stew don’t have to deal with large pieces. Stir them in. Likewise, chop the carrots (again, smaller pieces) and stir them in. Finally, chop the ends off the green beans and throw them away, chop the green beans themselves, and add them in. Add more water if needed, but not too much; you want to strike a fine balance between having enough water for everything to cook well and having watery stew. Let it continue to simmer (at a low boil or almost-boil) for another few hours. Stir frequently; adjust seasonings (salt, pepper) as desired, and add water if necessary.
An hour or so before you plan to serve the stew (or at least stop cooking it), add the corn and peas. Stir well. If the stew seems a bit too watery for you, take a cup and put a few spoonfuls of cornstarch in it. Slowly add cold water to it, while stirring it rapidly with a fork; keep adding water until you have something roughly the consistency of cream/milk. Now drizzle this slowly into the stew while stirring well. Adjust final seasonings (salt, pepper). Serve with warm crusty bread or rolls and enjoy!
Refrigerate what’s leftover and continue to serve through the week; it just gets better as it’s reheated. Note that the stew freezes decently — not great, but ok. ..bruce..