I remember when I was a young child, thinking that my parents were so old and wise. Now I am older than they were when I was that child and I realize that I am still young, wiser than I used to be but with so much more to learn and much left to explore.
I remember then, riding my bike to the Quik Stop and spending all my loot on comic books, candy necklaces and other sugary things. I loved to read about Betty, Veronica, Archie, Jughead and Richie Rich, and on Saturday mornings I always watched Scooby Doo.
Life is so fast that sometimes I wake up wondering when I went from being that little kid to who I am now? When I pick up one of my journals to read about what I had been doing at the same time last season, I am often surprised to find myself reading about seasons from years previous that feel as familiar as if they were occurring today. Sometimes however, I am reminded of things I had long past forgotten. I like to read about what I was doing, thinking and cooking then because I am often so busy now that I forget to slow down, savor the moments and always find time to cook. Cooking brings me back to center. I sometimes forget that, especially after a particularly long, hectic day but when I remember, the day never seems quite so long.
Last Friday night I was the last one to leave the office and the week had already been particularly long. For us, Friday night is usually steak night but we did not have steak. So instead, I decided to make beef stew. Now, I thought to myself, how is this easier than driving to the store to get steak? I ignored this thought and decided to pull out the pressure cooker to speed up the process. I am so glad I did because in a short while the house filled with an aroma so delicately proclaiming it to be fall and so assuredly reminding me to cook!
I opened one of my journals this morning (volume #2) and flipped the pages to find fall of 2002. One of the inserts was a recipe for veal, leek and potato stew. I remember it well. Simple and satisfying, I made this on a weeknight not ever having made stew before or even knowing how it should be done. It became one of my husband’s favorites but in looking at it now, I realize my process was far too complicated to follow even though it hadn’t seemed at all complicated that first time that I made it. The stew I made last Friday combines simplicity with flavor and although I used a pressure cooker to shorten the time, I would recommend letting it “stew” instead, especially if you find yourself hanging at home on a blustery afternoon. Veal most certainly is less assertive in flavor and softer on the palette which I find to be more complimentary to the herbs and if using the veal, use white wine versus red (for beef). The pressure cooker retains the moisture so if you like it to be thick, reduce the amount of liquid by about half of a cup. It will thicken overnight however so either way you can’t go wrong.
VEAL OR BEEF, POTATO & LEEK STEW
1 1/2 lb good quality beef top sirloin or veal leg, cut into 1/2″ dice
Flour for dredging
Sea salt/ fresh pepper for seasoning
Olive oil for browning
Vermouth or Madeira for deglazing (vermouth for veal, Madeira for beef)
Olive oil for sautéing
2 celery stalks, diced
A handful of mushrooms (crimini, shiitake or portobello), chopped- optional
1 large leek, cleaned and sliced
1/2 cup chopped carrots
2-3 cloves chopped garlic
2-3 Fresh tomatoes, cored and diced
1 cup wine ( white for veal, red for beef- only a suggestion, not a rule)
2 cups beef broth or water (if using water, add a big spoonful of Demi-glacé (you can add more liquid if it becomes to thick).
2- 3 TB chopped fresh tarragon (if using veal it is nice to mix in some dill- don’t worry too much about measuringo this; more or less won’t hurt).
4 medium sized potatoes (I use gold potatoes most of the time for this) cleaned, skin on, cut into bite size chunks
1 cup carrots cut into bite size pieces. (Buddy and ginger like this part and usually test them to make sure they are fresh)
Whole small garden carrots or large sweet carrots cut in long pieces for garnish – optional (add these to the pot with the bite size carrots and remove with tongs when they are done- set aside for garnish- again, this is optional
1-2 TB Lemon juice if using veal, Grenache vinegar or red wine vinegar if using beef- again, suggestion, not rule
SEASON meat with salt & pepper (approx 1 tsp salt and enough pepper to be noticeable on the meat). Then DREDGE meat in flour shaking off excess. If time permits, let the meat rest on the counter for an hour before or after this process so that it comes to room temperature.
GATHER the vegetables you have already prepped from the list above
To have at the ready when you begin to cook.
HEAT a sauté pan and put in 1 to 2 TB olive oil (I don’t usually measure this but instead pour it in until I see that it will nicely coat the pan. When it is hot enough to move freely around the pan when tilted, ADD the meat to the pan. Ideally the meat will be room temperature so as to brown rather than steam. Let it sit in the pan, uninterrupted until browned on one side. Then with tongs or a spatula, carefully turn and repeat until it is browned on all sides. DEGLAZE the pan with a wine glass pour of vermouth or Madeira and scrape up the good bits left stuck to the bottom of the pan. TRANSFER the contents to a pot (that the stew will be cooked in) or to a pressure cooker, if using, and wipe the pan clean.
In the same sauté pan, REPEAT THE PROCESS with the oil and ADD the celery, mushrooms, leeks and chopped carrot. SAUTÉ over medium low heat stirring frequently until they begin to soften. For me this usually occurs after 10 minutes.
ADD the garlic and tomatoes. STIR and let cook for a minute then POUR in the wine and let it reduce for about 10 minutes over medium low heat. TRANSFER this to the pot or pressure cooker.
ADD the broth and the tarragon. Now there are choices. Either TURN THE HEAT DOWN and PUT THE LID ON so the goods SIMMER for the next hour, with periodic oversight and stirring. Or, POP THE POT INTO THE OVEN, preheated to 350 degrees (lid on as well) and let cook, peeking in once and again. Either way, it will be wise of you to use your judgement as to what level of liquid should be left. I like my stew thick so I only add more if it feels like all will evaporate leaving burnt pieces stuck to the pan. The stew will mostly begin to thicken when we add the potatoes, so hold off too much judgement until then.
IF YOU ARE USING PRESSURE COOKER, turn it to high heat and set timer for 10 minutes.
After an hour or so, ADD the potatoes to the pot. Continue to cook until the meat is tender and the potatoes are cooked through. For me this is usually another 45 minutes or so.
IF YOU ARE USING PRESSURE COOKER, add the potatoes and set timer for 5 minutes more, high heat again. After which you will add the bite sized carrots and let them soften by keeping it at a simmer. The rest of the instruction translates the same as below.
ADD the bite size carrots and let them cook another 15 minutes. At this point, it is wise to make an assessment of consistency, flavor and tenderness. I like to mash around some of the potatoes so that it adds texture to the consistency. I am fine with the carrot bite being quite soft so I usually let it ride for a while if I have no urgency to eat. The longer it cooks, the more flavorful it is, hence the name “stew”. The addition of a little milk doesn’t hurt for thickening and by all means adjust the level, of salt, up or down. If too salty, add water and let it cook down. The addition of a little lemon squeeze or vinegar will help round things out nicely – this one is personal so feel free to experiment.
I like to dish this up in white pasta bowls with some nice crusty bread. If you garnish it with the whole carrots as mentioned above in the ingredients list, you will transform what might otherwise look like a brown glop into a more elegant presentation.
Leftovers are the best – I didn’t take a photo of our dinner but below is Tom’s lunch during the week. He is fine with the brown glop – it’s the taste that matters?!
This week was busier than last so feeling good at the dinner table is important in refueling for the next busy day. Tom was particularly happy with our meals this week and I got many accolades from the pups. I have not had time to write about those meals but one of the highlights was roast chicken. I will have to talk to you about this sometime because I have gotten pretty good at turning out a tasty bird; which had not always been the case.
Fall is in the air so stay tuned for more comfort food… I did get a request for apple cider so I might try to squeeze that one in soon – yes, pun intended.