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sunday dinner: joy of cooking beef stew.

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Oh look, the rains have arrived. Hooray. I don’t know about where you are, but here in Brooklyn it is Gloom Town Sunday. It’s better than the snow and freezing temperatures we’ve been experiencing for the last decade or so (it feels that long anyway), but it’s not the ‘throw open the windows and sing a happy song’ kind of Spring weather I was hoping for, you know? Ho hum.

BUT. If there’s one redeeming quality this kind of weather brings, it is that it’s perfect ‘pot of something on the stove for hours’ weather. And that, my friends, is why I’m making beef stew.

This recipe is adapted from the Joy of Cooking (big ups to Irma Rombauer), and it has been part of my family’s cooking arsenal for years. It’s easy to pull together and pretty difficult to screw up, and it produces the warmest, coziest, most delicious result — perfect for brightening a dark day.

Here we go.

Beef Stew, adapted from the Joy of Cooking

You will need:

2 pounds beef stew meat – like chuck, shoulder, or short rib
salt & pepper
dried herbs – like thyme, oregano, and/or basil
2 bay leaves
½ cup flour
2 tablespoon oil (vegetable or olive)
1 sweet onion, chopped
3 carrots (1 chopped, 2 cut into bite-sized chunks)
1 small rib celery, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
6 small red potatoes, cut into chunks
½ bag frozen pearl onions
½ bag frozen green peas
2 cups dry red wine
1 cup beef stock

kneaded butter: 1 tablespoon butter + 1 tablespoon flour

garnish: fresh parsley

on the side: 1 french baguette, warmed in oven

First things first. You need to prep the meat. Grab your sharpest knife (I use my 10 inch Wüsthof chef’s knife that I got from my very generous parents for Christmas) and cut your beef into 1 inch cubes. You want them to be big enough that they don’t just fall apart in the stew but small enough that you don’t choke on it. This recipe does not include instructions for how to administer the Heimlich Maneuver.

Once you’ve cut your beef, season it generously with salt, pepper, and about 1 teaspoon of dried herbs. Then, put your ½ cup of flour in a bowl and toss the meat in the flour so it’s lightly coated on all sides. This will ensure the meat gets a nice crust to it and will help to thicken the stew. Set aside the floured meat and heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a heavy-bottomed pot or dutch oven over medium-high heat. When the oil is shimmering, add the meat to the pot in batches (shaking off any excess flour before adding to the pot). Do not crowd the meat. This is not a mosh pit. If you add too much meat at a time, the moisture in the beef will cause the meat to steam instead of brown, which means you’re losing out on major flavor points. If you cook in batches so none of the pieces of meat are touching each other, you’ll get nicely browned beef in no time.

When all the beef is cooked, remove from pot and store on a plate out of the way. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of oil from the pot (or add more if you’re running a little dry), then add the onion, the 1 chopped carrot, the small rib of celery, and the 4 garlic cloves. Cook, stirring often, until the onion starts to soften, about 5 minutes.

Add the meat back to the pot (plus any juices from the plate), then add the bay leaves, 1 teaspoon of dried herbs, and a good shake of salt and pepper. To this, add the red wine and the beef stock, ensuring that the meat is covered at least half way (if you don’t have enough liquid, you can add either more wine or more beef stock, depending on which flavor you like better). Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low, and cover and simmer for 1½ to 2 hours, until the meat is fork-tender (mmmm, fork-tender meat is the best, no?). I’m just warning you that your house will smell AMAZING during this time so try your best to control yourself. It will be difficult, I’m here for you.

At this point, you should have the beginnings of a nice gravy and some lovely flavorful beef, so it’s time to add some veggie friends to the party. Grab the remaining 2 carrots and the 6 small red potatoes and toss ’em in. Cut open your bags of frozen onions and peas and add about half of each bag (sometimes I add more because they’re delicious and I’m my own women). Cover the pot and continue to cook until the vegetables are tender, about another 30-40 minutes.

When the veggies are good to go, turn off the heat and skim any fat that has risen to the surface. Remove the bay leaves. Your stew should be thick and smooth, but you should definitely taste to ensure the seasoning is just right. If it’s a little bland, add a pinch more salt. If it doesn’t have that zip you’re looking for, add a bit more pepper.

The final step to taking your stew to a different level, is to add a tablespoon of kneaded butter. Say what? Kneaded butter is fairly simple — take equal parts butter and flour and mix them together to form a paste (which will basically just look like butter again if well mixed). Roll the kneaded butter into little balls and add to the stew. Stir until they melt into the liquid. Your stew should thicken slightly and it will develop this amazing sheen to it. Watch out, Martha, we’re professionals over here.

At this point, you’re ready to serve, so spoon the stew into bowls, garnish with a bit of chopped parsley, and serve with warmed french bread along side. The rest of that bottle of wine you used earlier isn’t a bad accompaniment either, I’m just sayin’.

From the first bite you will instantly feel warm and cozy; it’s almost as if you’re able to appreciate the gloom (almost). The leftover stew, when cool, freezes extremely well, so you can save some for another rainy day. In the mean time, eat your fill, sip your wine, and snuggle up for the evening. It’s probably time for a little binge watching of your favorite show. I’ll be over here catching up on Parenthood and having a good ugly cry.

Enjoy!

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