For me, one of the only consolations of winter is cooking a big pot of hearty stew. It is one of my ultimate comfort foods. When I saw that the cookbook The Big Book of Soups & Stews by Maryana Vollstedt published by Chronicle Books was on the list of books for me to choose from after winning Raincoast Books’ Cook Bake, Blog! Contest I said… yes please!
I divided the recipe in half because I only had one package of stewing beef but I am going to write up the quantities as they appear in the cookbook. Dredge 2 1/2 pounds of stewing meat in 5 tbsp of flour, 1/2 tsp of salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. I personally did this in a plastic bag but she says you can do so on waxed paper.
In a large Dutch oven over medium heat melt 2 tbsp of butter and brown meat in batches. Do not crowd or your meat will not brown!
Add more oil if necessary and then saute one large chopped yellow onion for five minutes.
Add 2 cups of red wine and scrape the brown bits off the bottom. Then add 4 cups of beef broth, 3 tbsp of tomato paste… OK here I had to change things because I did not have the 1 tsp of dried marjoram.
Instead I added one bay leaf and about 2 tsp of chopped fresh thyme. I also added 4 garlic cloves which you should do if you are making the large batch of stew. I love garlic so I still wanted four cloves!
Return the meat to the pot, reduce heat, simmer covered for an hour and 15 minutes, stirring here and there.
Add 4 medium new unpeeled potatoes, quartered and 3 cups of baby carrots. I did not have either so I just chopped up some baking potatoes and carrots instead. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer covered for 30 minutes.
Add 8 ounces of halved medium mushrooms and 6 baby pattypan squash. I have no idea what pattypan squash is so I kept it simple and just added the mushrooms. Simmer, covered, for 15 minutes. Season to taste.
It is amazing to me that all that liquid turned into this luscious thick stew ready for dinner! If you add a bay leaf like I did, don’t forget to remove it before serving!
I thought this was a great stew. For me the hardest part was getting the seasoning right. If you add too much salt in the beginning it will reduce down and get so salty it ends up inedible. I kept adding salt at the end, wondering if it needs more… which was frustrating. Next time I will season a little as I go to build the flavour which is how I like to cook anyway.
This stew is very similar to how I normally make mine and yet my husband appeared to be unimpressed. Perhaps he was just being loyal because they really are very close in technique and ingredients yet he said he much prefers mine.
Personally I thought this was a very good stew and I made my French bâtard bread to go with it which worked perfectly. Seasoning issues aside, the sauce was nice and rich and the beef tender and the addition of the mushrooms was wonderful. At the risk of disagreeing with my husband, I give this recipe four out of five wooden spoons.