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March 5, 2008

Beef Stew for Snobs


Beef stew is typically engaged as a hearty meal of the working class. It is filled with big chunks of dense foods that require long, slow cooking in order to soften to the point of proper digestability. Its very name – stew – evokes images of slowness, thickness and heaviness.


This doesn’t mean it need be a food that is not without its own sense of the exotic, or that it cannot be made appealing to the snobbish class.


Start by shaking some cubed chuck beef in flour until coated and brown the outsides. Then, transfer to a crockpot turned on low and add two cans of beef broth, two tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce and a quarter cup of red cooking wine. Mix the fluids and add some black peppercorns and a bay leaf.


You may be tempted to say to the meat, “You can just go right ahead and sit there and stew in your own juices.” Give in to this temptation. There is no one around who doesn’t already think that you’re stark, raving mad.


Let it cook for a few hours, and add other ingredients.


Those include cut-up onion, carrots cut into two-inch pieces, sectioned raw asparagus, oregano, thyme, crushed rosemary leaves and a couple of generous pinches of dried lavender buds.


It might strike you that an important component of a traditional stew – cubed potatoes – is missing. There are reasons for that, reasons for everything. Settle down and don’t make a federal case out of it.


It also might strike you that we have found why this stew isn’t just your workaday stew, but aspires to something a little different. Most people overlook lavender buds when cooking, dismissing them as pretty purple flowers best suited for perfuming shampoos and soaps. Yet, when heated, it releases a certain earthy taste that plays well with other earthy foods, many of which are currently slowly churning over in your crockpot.


These will need to cook for a few hours longer. All told, a good stew could take about 12 hours when cooked on the low setting, or half that if cooked on the high setting. The option is yours, although it should be pointed out that although it’s possible to get away with talking to your food while it cooks, the world is unforgiving of impatience. Make your choice with that in mind.


Once things have softened, it is time to add the substitute for potatoes, which are egg noodles. The egg noodles will go a long way to absorbing some of the liquids in which the other foods have cooked. If they soften fully, which is usually a good sign that they are done, and what exists in your crockpot more closely resembles soup than stew, stir in some flour and let it thicken of its own accord.


The final step, naturally is to eat the thing. Somewhere between the final thickening and the final step of inserting stew into mouth, it would be a good idea to salt it to your taste and to whatever reasonable standard your blood pressure is capable of handling.


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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