Feeding Families When They Need It Most
We all get the call. There’s someone we know who’s going through a massive rough spell. Be it an illness, or death in the family. Work deadlines galore, issues with the kids, or a general malaise of existence. These might be friends we know well, the ones who text us from the doctor’s office or their commute home. Or it could be a more distant, yet heartbreaking school-wide email, that brings you to tears as you learn the news of a serious hardship affecting someone you don’t know, but who is part of your community and still might need your help.
These are the days when, if you can make the time, the gift of really good-for-you food becomes more than empathy. It relieves the burden of the grind and becomes a momentary pause from the pain, the grief, the worry. It becomes more than sustenance. It nourishes.
If the weather outside is blustery, and the nighttime temps drop below 50 degrees, this beef stew is the recipe that is the right one to bring* (*provided the family is not vegetarian…for that see our beet salad or a future vegetarian post – we promise!). Beef stew is hearty and comforting. It can be extended with noodles, served at once for the whole family or microwaved in small bowls for lunches. And it freezes. It freezes so well that you might even consider gifting it frozen, in case the family is already inundated with food. And we have found that even the pickiest of eaters from small to large, like beef stew – a lot.
This one is rich with vegetables for added flavor and nutrients including the optional butternut squash which lends a little sweetness and color. Braised in red wine and garnished with small potatoes, diced squash and mushrooms. It’s thickened with arrowroot, but you could just as easily use cornstarch or a beurre manié.
- 3½ pounds boneless beef chuck, trimmed and cut into ¾-inch cubes
- kosher salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 onion, diced
- 2 medium carrots, cut lengthwise and sliced ⅓" thick
- 2 stalks celery, sliced ⅓" thick
- 4 cloves garlic, smashed
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1½ tablespoons flour
- 2 cups dry red wine
- water to cover
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 sprigs thyme
- 3 sprigs parsley
- 20 peppercorns
- 8 oz small cremini mushrooms, quartered or cut into sixths
- 1 cup cubed squash, diced small (optional)
- 1 pound small potatoes, halved
- 1 tablespoon arrowroot, if needed
- Generously season the beef cubes on all sides with salt and pepper.
- Preheat a 6-quart Dutch oven over medium high heat then add the oil. When it shimmers, add about ⅓ of the beef cubes in one layer to the bottom of the pot. Space out the beef so they sear and don't steam. (Steaming happens when they are nestled too closely together, moisture is trapped, and thus they steam). Brown the meat well. When it releases easily from the bottom of the pot, turn the cubes and brown another side. Continue until browned well. Transfer to a plate and set aside. Repeat in batches with the remaining beef.
- When the beef is seared, remove any excess fat leaving 1-2 tablespoons in the bottom of the pot. Add the onions, carrots and celery to the pot. Stir with a wooden spoon and as the vegetables release their juices scrape up any brown bits left on the bottom of the pan. Season with a little salt and pepper. Add the garlic cloves and stir for 30 seconds. Add the tomato paste and let caramelize on the bottom of the pot. Stir to coat the vegetables. Add the meat back to the pot along with any juices that may have collected on the plate. Sprinkle flour over the meat and vegetables. Stir to coat well. Lower the heat to medium and cook the flour for about 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the wine to the pot and raise the heat to high. Stir well to release any flour or brown bits that may have accumulated on the bottom of the pot. This is where the flavor happens, so do your best to be thorough. Bring the wine to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Add water to just cover the top of the meat. Bring to a boil and immediately reduce to a simmer again. If any foam accumulates on the surface, remove with a spoon and discard.
- Add bay leaves, thyme, parsley, and peppercorns. (Note, if you have cheesecloth and twine, wrap the bay leaves and peppercorns in the cheese cloth so they are easy to remove. If you don't, just do your best to pick them out later). Cook at a bare simmer on the stove top (or alternately in the oven at 325 degrees) for 1½ hours. After 1 hour, add the mushrooms, cubed squash if using and potatoes. Cook until the vegetables are tender and the meat mashes easily (and doesn't spring back) when smashed with a fork.
- Remove the parsley, thyme, bay leaves and any peppercorns you can fish out (or remove the cheesecloth packet if using). If the stew needs thickening, ladle ¼ cup of the sauce into a small bowl. Add the arrowroot and whisk with a fork to eliminate lumps and create a slurry. Gradually pour the slurry into the stew and whisk to incorporate. Bring just to a boil and allow to thicken. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve warm with crusty bread.
- If freezing, allow to cool to room temperature then transfer to refrigerator safe containers. Be sure to leave about 1 inch headroom on the top of the container to allow for expansion.
When it comes time to pack and wrap this pot of gorgeousness check out this post on just the topic.