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The Suburbanite
  • Winter forecast: 99 percent chance of stovetop stew

  • Winter's stormy days demand a hearty stew for supper.
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  • I remember it well. We trudged through a foot of snow to our friends' house. They mentioned stew on the phone, and that got us rolling.
    When we walked in, there was nothing on the stove. Did we have the wrong day? No, their stew was simmering in a cast-iron pot hung over glowing coals in their fireplace.
    Howling wind and drifting snow get our stomachs growling for stew. This triggers desire for a hearty bowl with a side of warm biscuits lathered with apple butter. It never happens in the summertime.
    Many of you are tempted to pop a can of Dinty Moore. It really isn't a bad stew, but if you have ever made your own, you won't go back.
    The big stew trick is something a lot of folks miss. Always bread and brown the meat cubes (beef, pork, lamb, venison, chicken). Dump some flour in a food plastic bag. Season with salt and pepper. Add chunks of meat and shake. No big deal.
    Then sear them in your stewpot with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Don't cook them all the way, just until the flour browns.
    Now comes the easy part. Cover your browned meat cubes with stock, beef for beef, chicken for chicken, etc. I like a splash of red wine in there, white if I'm doing chicken. Heat to a boil and scrape up all that wonderfully caramelized stuff on the bottom of the pan.
    You'll notice the broth starts to thicken as it dissolves the flour. That gives you a smooth, flavorful gravy, much better than adding raw flour which always lumps.
    To avoid mushy vegetables, the bane of great stew, cover and simmer the beef and broth first for an hour. Then add the veggies and simmer for another hour.
    Stew is the great consumer of vegetables. You could throw in that last stalk of celery, those final carrots in the bag, that half of green pepper, those sprouting potatoes, that lonely chunk of cabbage.
    Frozen veggies work fine, including okra, lima beans and peas. Usually, the only thing I buy in advance is that sweet confection, pearl onions — a must. I use a combination of whatever else I have on hand.
    For the hint of smoke, I add a shake of chipotle pepper powder.
    Cover tightly and simmer the meat for an hour. Then throw in sliced or cubed veggies, flip them around, cover and simmer for another hour. Stir every 15 minutes and add more liquid if needed. That's it, rib-warming stew.
    If you use potatoes, beware if you freeze the leftovers. They get grainy in the freezer. The way around that is to use kohlrabi, an odd German cabbage-type veggie. Kohlrabi freezes perfectly.
    Page 2 of 2 - Stew flavor meat tenderness increases in storage. I usually make it early in the morning to allow the flavors to meld.
    As it simmers, your house fills with an appetite-inspiring aroma. Guard your pot against customers trying to sneak a spoonful.
    Kids often don't like dishes where all the ingredients are combined in a gravy. Tell them stew is "cowboy food," because it is. American stew started on the range in heavy pots over a campfire, where the deer and the antelope contributed to it.
    I've got some simmering right now. Gotta go. Stew's on.
    WHY WINTER STEW TASTES GOOD
    Your body's crave for carbohydrates increases when the temperature dips below freezing. Still, it's a myth you must consume more calories in winter. Seasons do not change calorie requirements. Stew satisfies your need for carbs. The big plus is the combined nutrients of beef and vegetables in one bowl.
    JIM'S WINTER STEW
    1 pound lean beef, trimmed of fat, cubed
    2 tablespoons olive oil
    3 cups beef stock or broth
    1/4 to 1/2 cup red wine
    3 medium carrots, sliced widthwise
    2 stalks celery with leaves, chopped
    2 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed, or kohlrabi
    16 pearl onions, fresh or frozen
    1/2 cup frozen peas
    1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
    1/2 cup flour
    Dash chipotle pepper powder
    Flour the beef in a plastic bag, brown in hot oil. Add broth, scraping the pot bottom. Simmer covered for an hour. Stir in remaining ingredients. Simmer covered for another hour, stirring occasionally. If gravy is too loose, cook uncovered. If too thick, add more broth. It's done when the vegetables are tender.
    Serve with fresh-made biscuits, or bread, and apple butter.
    Serves 4 cowboys.
    BAKING-POWDER BISCUITS
    2 cups flour
    1 tablespoon baking powder
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1/4 cup butter, softened
    3/4 cup buttermilk
    2 tablespoons sour cream
    Mix flour baking powder, salt and butter until crumbly. Add the buttermilk and sour cream and mix only until the dough holds together. Do not knead.
    Turn out on a floured surface and roll the dough to a 3/4-inch thickness. Cut into rounds or squares. Place close together on an oiled cookie sheet and bake in a 450-degree oven 12 to 15 minutes. Serve while warm.
    Makes 12-15
    Note: For dumplings, drop dollops of dough into the simmering stew. Cook uncovered for 10 minutes, then cover and cook for another 10 minutes or until done.