It was cold last weekend, icy outside ... and I was wondering what would be perfect for dinner.
Not just what would be GOOD, but what would be the absolute best thing we could eat for right then.
And I suddenly just knew what it was .. .and what I wanted was something that was MORE than food and even more than 'just' nourishing, wholesome, good food.
I wanted food that also gives you a hug as you eat it, food with heritage, something a bit nostalgic, proper comfort food, food with history, food to anchor you in the season, in life, in time, in a line of all these made before, and those yet to come.
Food with soul.
And food that takes TIME.
Time and love.
Mostly I cook food very quickly, most of my recipes take a little preparation time sometimes, but are usually very quick to cook.
Last weekend, I WANTED it to take time, but still be simple.
Simple ingredients, tried-and-tested flavours, hours of cooking time to fill the house with incredibly evocative, gorgeous, nourishing smells too.
It had to be a stew, a classic stew. OK, not completely classic as I was just using what I had so I did some slightly unusual substitutions eg oyster mushrooms instead of using button mushrooms but hey, still a mushroom, right?
What I really wanted was to make boeuf bourguignon - but I also didn't want to go out in the cold and I didn't have a few of the ingredients.
I'll be making it soon though and will post a recipe then.
So, beef stew it was ... with a nod to the boeuf bourguignon with the late addition of sauteed mushrooms and bacon.
Oh and I'm not even entering the debate about the 'perfect' cut of beef ... use whatever you like!
Today I just ran to the shop and got this pack of braising beef I think it was and that's fine by me. I'm sure there are nuances of flavour but personally, when I want a home-cooked beef stew and it's going to be cooking for some time, it all tastes good to me at the end.
If I'd gone with making the boeuf bourguignon, I wouldn't have put potatoes in it - I ADORE the bourguignon with mashed potato.
I especially like roasting potatoes in their skins then scooping out the flesh and mashing with butter, salt and pepper, for the mash.
I think it's also a classic accompaniment to serve bourguignon with egg noodles, or a flat ribbon pasta, but ... I like mine best with mash.
But anyway, that's for another day - and another day soon, I think.
For now, back to simplest beef stew - made even more simple by just cooking the potato in the stew.
I was very vague with quantities - it's really just what looks enough to feed however many you're feeding ...
I cooked for two (a greedy and stew-loving two) and used:
400g braising beef, or stewing steak, or other cut of beef, cut into chunks and sprinkled with salt and pepper
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 onion, peeled and cut into chunks
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
1 tablespoon plain flour
1/2 bottle red wine
2 tablespoons tomato puree
1-2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dried thyme or oregano
a chicken or beef stock cube plus hot water to fill the casserole
2 potatoes, peeled and chopped into bite-size pieces
a few carrots, peeled and chopped into bite-size pieces
a handful of mushrooms, preferably button mushrooms but any will do (I have oyster mushrooms as that was what was in the fridge and needed using up)
a couple of rashers of streaky bacon, chopped
salt and pepper to season
fresh parsley to serve
Get all the ingredients prepared before you start, just so it's then super easy - and all you need is time, love and patience (especially once those smells start coming out of the oven).
If you're using a lovely proper casserole dish (I really must get one) that you can first use on the hob and then transfer to the oven, then of course, do use that.
If like me, you don't (yet) have one, we'll use a saucepan to start and then transfer to an ovenproof dish with a lid (or you could use foil).
Put the pan on the hob with a good glug of cooking oil and add the beef pieces, turning often until browned all over.
You may need to do this in a couple of batches as they need space - otherwise they'll steam and stick to each other.
And yes, it will get a bit sticky and gnarly there in the bottom of the pan - keep stirring and don't worry about it. Also don't worry if they're not totally browned - mostly is plenty good enough.
Remove the beef and put into a bowl.
Put the balsamic vinegar (this helps loosen those stuck bits) in next, together with the onion and garlic and cook over a low heat until the onion softens.
It'll take five minutes or so and add more oil and/or a splash of water as needed to keep the garlic from burning.
It's not pretty, it does stick, the pan will need soaking afterwards - don't worry!
When the onions are softened but not browned, tip the beef back into the pan and add the flour, stirring all the time.
Once all combined, add the wine, the tomato puree, the herbs and the stock cube, stirring all the time, and then top up with some water.
Bring to a simmer and add the potatoes and carrots - this will probably decrease the heat, so bring back to a simmer and then - if using a different pan for the oven, transfer into the ovenproof pan.
Put a lid on the ovenproof pan or your casserole dish and put into the oven.
Cook for 1.5 hours, remove from oven, stir and season to taste, and return for another 30 minutes.
While this is cooking, saute the bacon pieces in a pan, and then the mushrooms in the same pan in the lovely bacon juices.
Remove the casserole from the oven and stir in the bacon and mushrooms, and sprinkle with chopped parsley.
Utterly delicious and somehow I always feel anchored, grounded somehow (maybe it's those root vegetables) - part of all life, of families, of history ... when I eat a good stew.