Today, in honor of Valentine’s Day, I want to tell you a love story. Perhaps not the most traditional, or one that would immediately come to mind, but I feel this demonstrates what true love is.
My parents met when they were very young in a small rural Indiana town. My father was two years older than my mother and their paths didn’t cross until high school. But once they did meet their future was sealed. The first time my father saw my mother she was a nervous freshman who didn’t appreciate being teased by an upperclassman. She was adorable and he liked the way her skirt moved as she walked,
My parents were married as soon as my father graduated from the Naval Academy, just after the end of World War II in June 1947. With my three brothers healthy and rambunctious, ten years after their wedding – to the day – I was born.
We grew up eating the standard comfort foods of the day, such as fried chicken, tomato soup with grilled cheese sandwiches, and meatloaf. There was always enough food to fill us all up and with lively conversations at the table, dinners were the highlight of our days.
My parents celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary and then my father was diagnosed with cancer. He had a couple more pretty healthy years, but as he declined, he became concerned about my mother’s financial security. After a lot of discussion, he decided that the safest thing he could do was to divorce my mother, protecting her in case he lingered and the medical costs became prohibitive.
Even with his incredible pain and the depression of dying so young (he was only 62), my father’s first concern was his wife and family. He was more worried about our welfare than his own situation.
My mother believed in her marriage vows and wanted to be with him until the end. When she knew that my father was in his final weeks, she cancelled the legal proceedings and they remained married until his death. They were married 43 years.
In my opinion, this is the epitome of selfless love and the kind of commitment to marriage that most of us dream of finding. So on this Valentine’s Day, I dedicate today’s post and recipe to my parents.
Now, on to the food!
This is a meal from my childhood that always soothes my soul and brings joy to my heart. If you’ve never made beef stew from scratch, nothing is easier or tastier, especially on cold winter evenings. When I mentioned I was making this last week, my friends on Facebook were asking for the recipe. Here you go my FB Friends!!
This meal takes a little time and effort in the beginning and then you can walk away and forget about it. I love braises for this reason – so little hands-on time and full-flavored homemade meals that are healthy and make the entire family happy.
Whenever you are making a long cooking meal, please don’t spend a lot of money on expensive cuts of beef – cheaper is better for stews! The tougher cuts of meat have more flavor and need extended gentle cooking to tenderize them. While I wrote this meal to be ready in less than two hours, you can leave it to simmer for a couple of hours longer if you need to, or cook it in a slow cooker on low for many hours. It is extremely flexible.
The classic vegetables in beef stew are simply potatoes and carrots but you can add anything you like. This week I had a lot of celery, some garlic, bell peppers and poblano peppers on hand, so they went in the pot. I would stick with mostly root vegetables and aromatics if you want the traditional flavors to come through. You can even go all vegetarian if you use vegetable broth and add some hearty mushrooms such as cremini cut in quarters to mimic the beef cubes.
This version is made mostly of vegetables, making it both cost effective and healthy. If you want to add potatoes to your stew, if using Russets peel them, cut into cubes, and add at the halfway point. If you add them at the beginning they would be overcooked and dissolve into the stew.
Just like many braised or slowly simmered foods, this is better on the second or third day. That makes this the perfect food to cook on the weekend and serve during the week. You can reheat it in the microwave and it will still be full-flavored and delicious – no need to clean another pot!
While hearts, flowers and boxes of candy are always appreciated on this day, a beautiful homemade dinner surrounded by the people we love is my idea of the perfect Valentine’s Day!
Have a wonderful weekend everyone!
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
I love having this on hand if I have guests coming for a weekend visit. Make it on Friday and your house will smell heavenly when they arrive. Serve it that night or the next day and you will have leftovers for warming lunches during the weekend.
A stew is naturally gluten-free unless you decide to thicken the broth. Instead of flour, use cornstarch in a little water to make a slurry, whisking to make sure there are no lumps. Stir this mixture into the broth, bring to a boil and stir until thickened to your liking. If you want it a little thicker, make another slurry and repeat the process. If it gets too thick, add a little more beef stock to thin it out.
Kitchen Skill: Deglazing
The trick to get the most flavor in a stew or soup is to brown the meat first in a little oil, starting to build the browned bits on the bottom of the pan that pack a punch of deliciousness. The challenge is to keep the pan from getting too hot and burning the ingredients. Once you have everything browned, you deglaze the pan, usually with wine but any liquid will work. The sudden addition of liquids helps release the browned bits, called fond, and dissolves them, imparting their flavors into the stew. Even if you are going to make this in a slow cooker, using this technique of browning and deglazing and then transferring everything to the slow cooker will guarantee a deep, rich broth that your family will love.
Old-Fashioned Beef Stew
© 2014 Jane Bonacci, The Heritage Cook. All rights reserved.
Yield: about 6 servings
4 tbsp olive oil
2 to 4 lb London broil or sirloin roast, cut into 2-inch cubes
2 large onions, peeled and cubed
3 cloves garlic, peeled, halved lengthwise (core discarded), coarsely chopped
10 to 12 slender, young carrots, trimmed and cut into large chunks
1 large red bell pepper, stem and seeds discarded, coarsely chopped
4 large stalks celery, trimmed and coarsely chopped
1 poblano pepper, stem and seeds removed, coarsely chopped
2 cups red wine, Madeira or sherry
3 to 4 cups beef or chicken stock, or as needed
1 tsp beef demi-glace or bouillon, optional
2 tsp dried thyme leaves
1/2 tsp rosemary
1 bay leaf
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Cooked noodles, potatoes or rice, for serving, optional
In a Dutch oven or other heavy, large saucepan or stockpot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. When shimmering and hot, add half of the beef cubes. Spread out into a single layer and do not disturb until brown. When the first side is well browned and pieces release easily, stir and continue browning the other sides. When all the pieces are well browned, use a slotted spoon to transfer the cooked beef to a plate. Add the remaining beef to the pan and repeat browning process. When done use the slotted spoon to add the second batch of meat to the plate of cooked beef.
Add the onions to the pan, stirring to coat them with the oil in the pan. Cook for about 3 minutes, stirring often, or until softened. Add the garlic, carrots, celery, bell peppers, and poblano peppers. Stir to blend and coat all ingredients with the residual oil.
Add the wine to the pan to deglaze it. Use a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan, adding flavor to the liquid. Return the cooked beef and any accumulated juices to the pan, stirring it into the vegetables.
Pour 1 cup of the stock into a bowl and add the demi-glace. Whisk together until the demi is dissolved. Add this mixture to the meat and vegetables and stir it in. Add enough stock to almost cover the meat and vegetables. The amount of stock will be determined by the size of the pan you use. I needed about 4 cups total (including the amount I used with the demi).
Stir in the thyme, rosemary and bay leaf. Bring broth to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes, partially covered. Taste the broth and add more salt or pepper if needed. Continue simmering for another 30 minutes or until the broth is richly flavored and vegetables are tender.
If you like a slightly thicker broth for your stew, whisk together 3 tbsp water with 1 tsp cornstarch in a small bowl. Whisk into the stew. Return stew to a boil and cook, stirring, until thickened. Cornstarch slurries need heat to activate and thicken. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed.
Ladle into bowls. If you want you can also serve it over cooked noodles, potatoes or rice. Serve hot.
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