Fall has finally come to the northern hemisphere. From here on out it is mainly about roasting veggies, drinking apple cider and baking cookies – at least for me anyway. To celebrate I decided to make beef stew. I love beef stew; it’s just what a crisp night needs. A thick sauce studded with chunks of beef, potato, carrot, onion and celery – truly a perfect autumnal dish.
Since they married in 1973 – although it predates that by about 20 years – my parents have owned a Better Homes and Garden cookbook. Bound like a three-ring binder, the book was meant for readers of the magazine to cut out recipes they like and attach a new page. Well, growing up none of us was ever patient enough to actually do that, and so there’s about 30 to 50 recipes just stuffed willy nilly into pages. Thus the book must be handled with care. Pick it up too quickly and everything flies out. Trust me, I speak from experience.
Undoubtedly I will inherit this book. That’s one benefit of being an only child, you get all the good loot eventually. When that day comes – in the very very very distant future – I will not change this system. It works, albeit in a completely chaotic way. The book, which sports a red and white checked cover, features most of my favorite recipes. The “Everyday Waffles” are the only ones I make and they always turn out perfectly. I had, and still am having, an affair with the “Chocolate Chipper” cookie. The recipe says it’s a drop cookie, but I prefer to make them bigger and hand-roll them. It makes a terrific homemade ice cream sandwich cookie.
For the fall, the book’s “Old Time Beef Stew” recipe is a classic. It’s a simple mix of beef, potatoes and carrots in a savory gravy made in the pot. Well, as we were a busy family, we never really followed the directions for the gravy part. Instead we did what all busy families do, opened a jar. Purists may scoff, but I like jarred gravy.
As they were raising a child in the 1990s, my parents thought it best that I consume green foods. So in addition to the potatoes and carrots, my mom added a can of green beans, drained and rinsed. Then, probably because my dad loves onions (a trait I share), we tossed in a bag of frozen pearl onions. Total rebels. June Cleaver just rolled in her grave.
For the past two days the weather has begun to shock itself into fall. Nighttime temps are in the mid-40s and early mornings are in the 50s. It was time to bring out that beef stew recipe. But as I was looking at it, I thought it needed more tweaking. I know, I know – hasn’t my family done enough to this poor simple stew? What’s next, leeks?!
I wanted to give the beef a little more flavor, and possibly make the final stew a bit thicker too, although it’s never lacked in that department. In the original recipe you start by patting the meat dry and browning it in oil. Well, instead of just removing all that moisture from the beef I retained it by coating the cubes in a light rub of spiced flour. This not only helps it brown, but it also further thickens the stew. And now, onto the recipe.
Lizzie’s Old Timey-Wimey Beef Stew*, a variation on a variation of Better Homes and Garden’s Old Time Beef Stew (serves 6 to 8 depending on bowl size)
1 lb. stew beef, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
2 Tbs. neutral oil, like grapeseed or canola
2 cups hot water
1 large clove garlic
1 medium onion, sliced in to half moons
2 Bay leaves
1 Tbs. salt
1 tsp. white sugar
1/4 tsp. black pepper
6 carrots, cut into large chunks
6 red potatoes, cut into quarters or eighths depending on size
6 celery stalks, cut into large chunks
1 bag (12 oz) of frozen pearl onions
1 bag (12 oz) of french cut green beans
1 jar (12 oz) of beef gravy
Method (I know the ingredient list seems daunting, but stay with me)
1. Although already cut in to large chunks, I like to make my stew beef into small 1/2 inch size pieces. This allows you to stretch the meat. I hate when you make a beef stew, and there only seems to be 10 chunks of beef. If you’re feeding five people, most likely they’ll want more than two nuggets of beef in a BEEF STEW. In a bowl, combine the flour, coriander, cumin (the 1/2 tsp.), pepper (the first 1/4 tsp.), salt (the 1/2 tsp.) and the beef. Toss the beef cubes in the spiced flour, lighting coating every side. There will be excess flour mixture, just discard it.
2. In a dutch oven or stock pot, heat the oil over medium-high. Brown the beef on all sides. When browned add the 2 cups of hot water, sliced onion, whole garlic clove (peeled of course), Bay leaves, salt (the 1 Tbs.), sugar, pepper (the other 1/4 tsp.) and cumin (the dash). Cover and simmer for 1.5 hours, stirring occasionally to keep from sticking.
3. Remove Bay leaves and garlic clove. Add carrots, potatoes, celery and frozen onions. Cover and cook for 30 to 45 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.
4. Add the bag of frozen green beans and the jar of gravy. Heat through. Serve in big bowls with large spoons. Although good the day you make it, the stew is even better the next day – if it lasts that long.
*Note: Since I made this on a Saturday during the new “Doctor Who” episode (series 6, episode 12), I thought it only fitting that I call it timey-wimey.