Few meals are more enticing on a chilly night than an old-fashioned, hearty beef stew. As the heavy pot, filled with a companionable mixture of meat and vegetables, simmers, the aromas begin wooing one's olfactory sense, whetting the appetite. Then, that first rich, flavor-filled bite sets in motion the many more that follow. A classic stew is not for the nibblers of this world. It's for the bold--those who relish the mellow blend of strong flavors that are found in one of these time-tested, sturdy, all-in-one creations.
Stews of all types make a cook's life easier, because they are truly a one-pot meal. If they're made with dumplings, there is no need for bread. If, however, dumplings aren't for you, a loaf of sourdough or French or Italian bread will round things out nicely. You do need something to dredge up all the wonderful gravy that surrounds the meat and vegetables. Add a salad, if you wish, and some fruit--such as chilled pears--for a genuinely soul-satisfying menu.
One of the secrets of a well-made stew is to avoid overcooking. The meat should be browned and allowed to simmer until it's almost tender before the vegetables are added. Once the vegetables join the meat, timing becomes even more important; it's imperative that the vegetables be cooked precisely long enough to become tender. Thus, if some take longer to cook than others, add them first and let cook a bit before adding the rest. Never allow vegetables to become mushy with their individual flavors leached into the liquid. It's the lovely variety of tastes that one gets with each bite that makes for a perfect stew.
With so much interest today in what has come to be called "nostalgia foods," stews are surfacing once again, not only at family meals but also on menus designed for entertaining. As they should! A rich and aromatic stew, filled with good ingredients, is among the finest meals one can enjoy. Our wonderful Browned Beef Dumpling Stew is a fine example of the Epicurean delights to be found in a classic beef stew.
DUMPLING STEW 3/4 cup flour Salt teaspoon black pepper 3 pounds beef stew meat, cut in 1-inch cubes 1/2 cup butter or margarine 3 cups cold water 12 small white onions, peeled 6 to 8 carrots, cut in 2-inch pieces 2 stalks celery, cut in 1-inch pieces 8 small potatoes, peeled
Combine 1/2 cup flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper in a plastic bag. Add beef cubes and shake to coat evenly. Reserve leftover flour mixture. Melt 3 tablespoons butter in Dutch oven. Add half of beef and brown on all sides. Remove from pot and set aside. Repeat browning process with remaining beef, adding 2 tablespoons more butter. Set beef aside. In same Dutch oven, melt remaining 3 tablespoons butter. Stir in remaining cup flour and reserved seasoned flour. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until browned. Remove from heat and slowly stir in water. Add meat, reduce heat, cover and simmer 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Add onions, carrots, celery and potatoes. Add more water if necessary. Cover and simmer 1 hour longer or until meat and vegetables are tender. About 15 minutes before stew is done, season stew to taste with salt. Drop dumpling batter, a tablespoonful at a time on meat and vegetables, making sure they don't slide into liquid. Cover and cook 15 minutes without lifting lid. Makes 8 to 10 servings.
Dumplings 2 eggs, well beaten 1 cup dry bran cereal cup milk 1 tablespoon chopped parsley cup sifted flour 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon marjoram teaspoon ground thyme 2 tablespoons butter or margarine
Combine eggs, cereal, milk and parsley. Sift together flour, baking powder, salt, marjoram and thyme. Cut butter into flour mixture until mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in bran mixture until well blended. Makes about 16 dumplings.
HEARTY BEEF STEW 2 pounds beef stew meat, cut in 1-inch cubes 2 tablespoons shortening 1 28-ounce can tomatoes 1/2 cup coarsely chopped onion 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce 1 clove garlic 1 bay leaf 1 teaspoon sugar teaspoon ground thyme Dash coarsely ground black pepper 2 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed 4 medium carrots, peeled and sliced 2 stalks celery, sliced 3/4 cup hot water Salt
In Dutch oven, brown meat on all sides in hot shortening. Add tomatoes and their liquid, onion, Worcestershire, garlic, bay leaf, sugar, thyme and pepper. Cover and simmer about 1 1/2 hours or until meat is almost tender. Add potatoes, carrots, celery and water. Cover and simmer until vegetables are just tender, about 30 minutes longer. Discard bay leaf. Season to taste with salt. Makes 6 to 8 servings.