Mondays are now actually Sundays according to my current work schedule and I have spent this particular Sunday making beef stew. Beef stew epitomizes cozy afternoons spent lazily cooking and drinking mug after mug of Earl Grey tea while the rain falls ceaselessly outside your window. And also this:
If anything, that makes me feel like I’m in favourable company as a fan of a good beef stew, the kind that simmers for hours before you even think of eating it (or at least, you do think about it but restrain yourself.) This is a good beef stew to make if you don’t have any red wine on hand as most beef stew recipes call for anywhere between a half a cup and a whole bottle of the stuff, despite its absence this beef stew has an incredibly deep flavour with the perfectly brown beef accented by fresh rosemary and thyme, root vegetables, and a beautiful brown gravy that only gets better the longer it cooks. One of the best things about making a stew is the luxury of a mere half an hour or so of prep work and then the thing just sits on or in your stove, bubbling gently away, for anywhere between 2 and 4 hours while you carry on with your day (which for me meant reading cookbooks and absently tidying up the apartment.) I just used the root vegetables that I like best, rutabaga and sweet potato would also make excellent additions and I have made a very successful version of this beef stew using red onions cut into large chunks at the stage where the root vegetables are added. This also tastes best the next day but I rarely am able to hold out that long – eaten the day of it is still entirely successful in terms of both its flavour and soothing properties.
beef and root vegetable stew:
1.5 lbs. of extra-lean stewing beef
2 Tbsp. canola oil (or, if you happen to have some, rendered bacon fat)
2 stalks of celery, split down the middle and then cut into thin quarter moons
1 large carrot, peeled and cut into thin quarter moons
1 large yellow onion, cut in a medium-sized dice
About a litre of beef stock
2 large sprigs of fresh thyme
1 large sprig of rosemary
2 bay leaves
2 medium-sized potatoes, cut into largish chunks
1 small turnip, cut into largish chunks
1 large parsnip, cut into largish chunks
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
Salt to taste (I usually start with 2 tsp. and keep tasting as it cooks)
Freshly ground pepper to taste
About 1 additional cup of beef stock or tomato juice if the gravy needs to be thinned
1. The first step towards making beef stew is to brown the meat, many people use flour to speed up this process but I have always achieved what I think is a superior flavour when the flour has been omitted. Heat a large pot with the vegetable oil over medium-high heat for a few moments before adding the beef, you want the meat to sear almost instantaneously when it hits the oil.
2. Working quickly in batches (please resist the urge to crowd), brown meat on both sides – this should take no longer than 2 or 3 minutes. The goal is not to cook the beef but rather to create lovely caramelized bits of meat stuck to the bottom of the pot and to seal in the flavour of the cubed beef. Place the beef on a plate as you finish each batch.
3. Once all of the beef has been browned add a little of the beef stock to the bottom of the pot, scraping off anything left on the bottom of the pot from when the beef was being browned. Allow to to boil for a moment and then add the onions, the entire head of garlic, the carrots, and the celery. Stir over medium heat for about 15 minutes or until they have softened and begun to brown.
3. Using kitchen twine tie the fresh thyme and rosemary together in a small bundle, tie the string to the pot handle so that the bundle has plenty of room to float around. Add the browned beef, bay leaves, salt and pepper, and beef stock to cover. Bring to a simmer, turn the heat to low, and cover tightly; let the stew simmer away for at least an hour and a half.
4. Uncover the stew and throw in the potatoes, turnip, and parsnip. Cover the stew again and let simmer at least another half an hour, uncover and stir in tomato paste and extra liquid if needed; let simmer gently for another 20 minutes. Taste for seasoning adjustments, remove the thyme and rosemary bundle, and the bay leaves. Serve immediately or for up to several days later, this beef stew also freezes very well for emergency comfort suppers and warming lunches.
Here’s a song that comes as close to something new from the Talking Heads as I’m going to get, and I say that with admiration. I’ve been listening to Seek Magic, an amazingly amazing New Order/Talking Heads style dance album by Memory Tapes on repeat for the past few weeks (on the bus, in the kitchen, going for runs, getting ready for work in the morning.) This song is my current favourite instantaneous dance party cue although the entire album is pretty brilliant on about 20 different levels (especially Plain Material, a really wonderful Cocteau Twins/David Byrne sort of song.)