Don’t stew over dinner

Posted 10/12/23

“Are there hidden cameras somewhere, is this some sort of TV show?”

My surprise must have convinced the woman leaning on her carriage checking her shopping list that, indeed, I was …

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Don’t stew over dinner


“Are there hidden cameras somewhere, is this some sort of TV show?”

My surprise must have convinced the woman leaning on her carriage checking her shopping list that, indeed, I was not a TV news reporter scooping out a story in the aisles of Dave’s Marketplace. I could understand why she might think this was a staged encounter. In one hand I held a green Dave’s shopping basket with onions and potatoes and in the other I had a can of tomato puree.

To top it off I had come straight from the office and was wearing a jacket and slacks, hardly the attire of the casual shopper. I was on a mission to make beef stew, but I didn’t know the difference between tomato puree and tomato sauce even after reading the labels of both cans. Would it make a difference?

I could have called Carol who would be returning Sunday, but I figured I could do this myself. Or I could have poured over the cook books lining the pantry shelves. But I’ll classify myself among those men - it always seems to be men – who figure they know how it works and don’t consult directions or, for that matter, recipes. Besides, I had watched snippets of America’s Test Kitchen and “The Great British Baking show” to understand a few things about cooking. And then there was always my mother’s ingredient, wine. That went into stews, soups and sauces.

Yet, what was the difference between tomato sauce and puree?

I had found an ally. The woman inquired what I was planning to make, explaining that puree was unseasoned and the sauce would be good if I was looking to make an Italian flavored dish. When I told her it was beef stew she told me to pick the puree.

Fortified with the knowledge, I was ready to brew stew.

Reflecting on the process as a witness to Carol and my mother’s cooking, I pulled out a large frying pan to braise the chunks of stew meat, generously splashing in olive oil. Before dropping the beef into the sizzling pan, they would roll it in flour.

I hadn’t thought to get flour, but there’s always an assortment of bags in the fridge. I poked around to discover shredded coconut, crushed walnuts, pine nuts, almond flour, millet flour, cranberries, hazelnut flour and whole grain.

With no kitchen guide to turn to, I went for the millet. Using the plastic bag from the red potatoes, I poured in some of the flour, dropped in the meat and shook it all up. It seemed to do the job. After braising the meat, it went into the stew pot and I used the pan to brown the chopped onions. Next came the carrots, potatoes cut in large chunks, the can of puree, some crushed garlic, bay leaf and rosemary..

I stirred the lumpy concoction pot coated in red puree before switching on the burner. I had the premonition this could end up hardened mass if I wasn’t careful. I added water, salt and pepper before turning on the burner, stirred some more left it to simmer.

Now it was a matter of waiting.

I gave it an hour. It was bubbling when I returned. I stirred. Chunks of meat were stuck to the bottom of the pan. Obviously, I shouldn’t have waited so long. But a little burnt meat might add some flavor.

I sampled it. The potatoes and carrots were cooked. The beef was tasty, yet overall it was bland.

Stews were always better a day or two later. I told myself, I would just have to wait.

And then I remembered the wine. I poured myself a glass and added an equal amount to the pot.

Side Up, stew, editorial


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