As much as I love the summer season, and the mouth-watering smells of barbecued steaks, I look forward to winter cooking.
Once the cold weather hits, I go into one-track mind mode in the kitchen. Comfort food. Forget salads, sandwiches and ice cold drinks. From mid-October until March, its stews, soups, casserole-style dishes, and lots of mashed potatoes.
Everyone has a favourite comfort food. It can be risotto, scrambled eggs, matzoh ball soup, macaroni, peanut butter on toast…but whenever you eat it, you feel immediately satisfied.
My comfort foods are stew and spaghetti with meat sauce. I’ll talk about the spaghetti another time. Right now, stew is on my mind (and in my belly).
My mother made stew regularly when I was a kid. Big chunks of beef, potatoes, carrots and parsnips. Onions, peas, beans, celery - whatever she had lying around the kitchen. Simmered in a beefy broth for a few hours, and always served with dumplings. She never made enough dumplings, by the way, and you had to be quick to get one. I grew up with four brothers, but for some reason, doubling the dumpling recipe just never occurred to her.
Fast forward, thirty some years later, and I now make my own version of stew that is suited to what my partner and I like. That’s what’s so great about comfort foods. They’re customizable. Use whatever ingredients you want, season as you like, serve it thick or thin - it’s still friggin’ awesome.
Here is my recipe for my comfort stew (that’s it pictured above). Nothing fancy, but we love it. There are no measurements, no must-haves, no ‘this is the best way to make stew’.
The best stew, or any food for that matter, is what is prepared and cooked with care and love.
The three must-haves for my stew are always meat, onions, and carrots, and I prefer to dice these into small, bite-sized pieces. I usually use beef, but have made stews with chicken and sliced pork sausages. I also prefer leeks or green onions, but again, use whatever type of onion you love.
You can also soften your onions and brown your meat before adding anything else, but it’s not necessary. I cook my stew at a low temperature (usually 300 degrees) for approx. 3-4 hrs (or longer, depends on how much I’m making), and everything is thoroughly cooked. If your meat is frozen, thaw it out if you wish, but let it thaw overnight. I find meat thawed in a microwave yucky, and this stew is perfectly fine to use with frozen meat, if you don’t have time to defrost.
Now add whatever you want to the pot along with the basics. Season accordingly, add some water, cover, and pop in the oven. Do check the water level from time to time, as you don’t want your stew to dry out completely. Use less water if you like your stew thick enough to eat with a fork - use more water if you want an almost soup-like consistency.
Once everything is cooked, take out of the oven, and enjoy. A short prep time (about half an hour to get everything together), a long and slow cook time, and voilà! a nice hot bowl of tummy-satisfying stew.
One more thing. If you don’t already have one, invest in a slow cooker, a crock pot, or a cast iron pot with lid. You’ll never regret it.
My mom will be so proud of you!