“When your children are teenagers, it’s important to have a dog so that someone in the house is happy to see you.” ~ Nora Ephron | I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman
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Not long ago, I went to visit my daughter and her family
As it turns out, the Airbnb I rented was in a small subdivision known to the locals as Whoville. The houses were quite cute, terribly close together, and painted all sorts of bright colors. Once there, I found it to be cozy despite the owner's minimalism. In the upstairs bedroom was a twin bed with an oversized down comforter next to a window onto which a little person had stuck two unicorn decals
My first night in town, it turned out she'd cleared her schedule, and so we celebrated, just the two of us at a family-run cafe of sorts. The kind where meals are abundant and the food is spectacularly good.
We were seated by an impeccably dressed older gentleman who watched over the place from a corner table. In between tasks he snacked on cherries out of a pink flowery bowl that his wife topped off when it looked like it was getting low. He always picked his way through them before choosing the one he wanted
An elderly lady with dyed jet black hair, a walking stick, and polyester pants came in shortly after we did and the gentleman seated her at the next table over. They exchanged greetings in German, and he helped her out of her coat. Then he brought her a glass of red wine, filled precariously to the rim, and the partially finished crossword from the day's New York Times
It wasn't long before he came bearing a cup of beef stew. She was so quiet and careful, deftly angling her spoon to slice the raft of potatoes and carrots that had floated to the top. Watching her, we decided to order two cups of the same.
“Mom? Do you remember the beef stew you used to make when we lived on North Russell?”
So we ate that and then we shared a plate of stuffed cabbage rolls on a bed of sauerkraut
“Mom? Do you remember when Granny came to visit every summer? She'd fill Grandma and Grandpa's freezer with all of those cabbage rolls?”
And an order of chicken strips
“Do you think you'll ever going to outgrow your love of chicken strips? With the extra side of ranch?”
And two bites from the big slice of chocolate cake that neither of us could resist, nor bring ourselves to finish
“I wish you lived closer. Remember the birthday cakes you used to make for us?”
Never before in the history of Billings were there two more contented people. Then I drove her home, climbed into bed and tried to fall asleep while looking at the moon and dreaming of pink unicorns
I was introduced to Ina Garten's beef stew by a co-worker, way back when I still worked in an office. She had four boys at home and during the colder months made big pots of it on the weekends.
“Like good chili or chicken noodle soup .. homemade beef stew is one of those recipes that's good to have in your back pocket. It's one that will serve you well through long winters nights, family visits, and other small moments of need”
She died of breast cancer a few years ago, and I'm so thankful to have the hand-written “Thou Shalts” she gave me along with the oversized recipe card
You must sear the meat, not simply brown the sides. This will have to be done in batches because the beef cubes need to sizzle in a hot pan for a good five minutes before nudging them. Only when the bottoms have a dark crust and come away easily from the pan can you move on to the other sides
Whatever you do, please don't scrimp on the time. Stew meat takes a good long stretch of cooking before it becomes tender. Cook it low and slow for at least two hours
Use chicken stock instead of beef. That is unless you make your own beef stock (or in my case bone broth) Cook's Illustrated gave her permission years ago. She always found that store-bought beef stock gave her soups and stews an odd tinny flavor
For seasonings Worcestershire sauce, thyme, and good red wine. Substituting a good dark beer for the wine is usually a great choice. Keep the seasonings fairly simple. If you've seared the meat well and cooked it long enough, a good stew can really stand on its own without much else
~ Adapted from Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics by Ina Garten
Ina Garten's Unforgettable Beef Stew
- 2 ½ pounds good quality beef chuck, cubed into ~ 1 ½" sized pieces
- 1 bottle of good red wine
- 3 whole garlic cloves, smashed
- 3-4 bay leaves
- 2 cups flour (I've used all-purpose, whole wheat pastry, and oat with success)
- kosher salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- olive oil
- 2 yellow onions, chopped
- 1 pound carrots, peeled and cut diagonally into 1 ½" chunks
- ½ pound white mushrooms, stems discarded and halved
- 1 lb small potatoes halved or quartered
- 1 Tbsp minced garlic (~ 3 cloves)
- 2 cups beef stock or broth (I use homemade bone broth)
- 1 branch fresh rosemary (or 2 small branches)
- ½ - 1 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes
- 2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1 (10 oz) package frozen peas
- Marinate the Beef
- Place the beef in a bowl with red wine, garlic, and bay leaves.
- Marinate overnight in the refrigerator
- Brown the Beef
- The next day, preheat the oven to 300° F
- In a medium-sized bowl, add the flour, 1 Tbsp salt, and pepper, and combine
- Lift the beef out of the marinade with a slotted spoon, discard the bay leaves and garlic, saving the marinade.
- In batches, dredge the cubes of beef in the flour mix before shaking off the excess.
- Heat a glug of olive oil in a large pot and brown half the beef over medium heat for 5 - 7 minutes, turning to brown evenly (see the notes above)
- Place the beef in a large oven-proof Dutch oven and continue to brown the remaining beef, adding oil as necessary. (If the beef is very lean, you'll need more oil.)
- Place all the beef in the Dutch oven
- Prep the Veggies
- In a large pot, heat another glug of oil before adding the onions, carrots, mushrooms, and potatoes
- Cook for 10 minutes over medium heat, stirring occasionally
- Add the garlic and cook for a couple more minutes
- Finish the Soup
- Place all the vegetables into the Dutch oven over the beef.
- Add 2 ½ cups of the reserved marinade to the empty pot and cook over high heat to deglaze the bottom of the pan, scraping up all the brown bits with a wooden spoon
- Add the stock, rosemary, sundried tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce, ½ Tbsp salt, and 2 tsp pepper
- Pour the sauce over the meat and vegetables in the Dutch oven and bring to a simmer over medium heat on top of the stove.
- Cover the pot and place it in the oven to bake it for about 2 hours, or until all of the meat and vegetables are all tender, stirring once during cooking
- If the stew is boiling rather than simmering, lower the heat to 250 or 275° F
- Before serving, stir in the frozen peas, season to taste, and serve hot