Sunday, February 1, 2009

Beef Stew for a Snowstorm

I've had an interesting relationship with beef stew. I only remember my mom making it for family dinners starting in high school, so in a way it's a relatively new food for me. Make it she did, though, and I got burned out on it after a while to the point where I never requested it as one of my home-from-college meals. As far as I was concerned, my family could indulge their beef stew tastes while I was away at school. And for a while they did.

Then, camp. Have I told you yet that I spent two of my summers in college working at my childhood summer camp? It was wonderful. And there was campfire food. Somehow, everything tastes better cooked over a campfire. Everything like beef stew from an industrial-sized food services can.

Once a week for ten weeks each summer I went on a campout with my cabin, and we cooked pudgie pies and beef stew over the fire for dinner. I think the combination of wood smoke and little burned bits from the bottom of the pan made this particular beef stew out of this world. I loved it. I hope I didn't hurt my mom's feelings too much when I said I loved camp's beef stew and she pointed out that I wouldn't eat hers anymore.

I didn't work at camp last summer, and let me tell you, I've sorely missed my beef stew. I decided that, in conjunction with my thesis (which is currently killing my spirit, if you were interested in an update), I would give myself the task of finding a recipe for homemade beef stew that I liked as much (or almost as much) as I liked camp beef stew. I like to give myself projects, especially ones that reap tasty rewards.

So last semester I tried out the New Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book recipe for beef stew in a crock pot. It was mediocre, especially when compared to my standard of perfection. Unimpressed, I froze the other half of my beef stew meat and stored away the rest of my vegetable juice to await a more inspiring recipe.

Then came the snow.

My car is still under a foot of snow, and surrounded by a foot of snow on all sides for at least a four foot perimeter, so needless to say I haven't gone anywhere for a while, let along the grocery store. So, one day last week, my plans to await a better beef stew recipe were cast aside. I was cold and hungry and living off my reserves (of which I have plenty, but right now a lot of them are cold foods). Beef stew it would be.

I e-mailed my mom for her beef stew recipe, which I doctored a bit based on my preferences and pantry contents. I left out carrots because I don't like them; I substituted her tomato juice for my vegetable juice; I added a few spices. Turns out, that made all the difference. While this beef stew wasn't the same as the one I remember from camp, it was just as good and hit the spot wonderfully. I will most definitely be making it again. Thanks, Mom.

Beef Stew
adapted from Mary Koester

beef stew meat, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 onion, cut into wedges
potatoes, peeled and chunked
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
3 5.5-oz V8 Low Sodium Vegetable Juice
spices to suit your tastes (I used The Spice House's Old World Central Street)

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Pour enough of the vegetable juice to coat the bottom of a heavy-bottomed French oven, like a Le Creuset. Put the meat in next, followed by the onion wedges and potato chunks. Sprinkle the salt and sugar over the top, then cover with the rest of the vegetable juice, trying to wet all of the ingredients. Sprinkle as much of your preferred spices as you'd like. Cover the pot tightly and cook in the oven for 4 hours.

1 comment:

Mike Dodaro said...

My friend Sam made beef stew and banana cream pie a couple of weeks ago.