Every time I step outside and it 'feels' like winter, I think of a hot soup or stew with some homemade bread.  Unless it is Sunday and we have lots of time, the bread thing isn't an option -- but a great, warm bowl of stew or soup is!  Here are some of our family tips and tricks, along with a beef stew with three variations that will warm your tummy.  Have a recipe to share?  Post it below!
My Favorite Tips for Great Soup and Stew:

  • Stew means a thick and hearty broth.  With beef stews, always substitute a cup of red wine for a cup of the beef broth.  We don't drink red wine at our house, but we always have a bottle handy for cooking.  The alcohol burns off, but the flavor will deepen the stew's profile and make people tip the bowl to get the last bit of flavor.
  • Making a beautiful chicken soup with noodles?  Do the same with the beef stew, but add some white wine instead of red.Stock?  Broth?  Both?  Neither?  We've found a great way to cut the clutter that big boxes of broth bring -- and to impart better flavor than using just water.  Try"Better Than Bullion".  It comes in a little jar and you mix it with water.  Of the 10 or 12 broth or stock products we have tried -- this is the best by far!
  • Sweet, Salty, Firm and Soft:  I look for each of these in great soups and stews.  If everything in your bowl is mushy or everything has the same salty flavor -- it gets tired fast.
  • Throw some parsnips in with the potatoes to give a sweet and earthy touch to a stew; use leeks instead of onions in your next chicken soup; try fresh herbs when you can find them; throw some barley in your beef stew to give a nice toothy element.

Browned Beef Stew with Variations:

    1. Take 1 or 1 1/2 lbs of cubed stew meat and put it in a large ziploc bag with a 1/4 cup flour and a generous helping of salt and pepper.
    2. Heat about 3 tablespoons of oil in a heavy pot (we have one of those ceramic dutch ovens which is amazing but we've also used big cast iron pots, too.  it's a workout getting them out of the cupboard but it's worth it).
    3. Shake the extra flour off the meat pieces and add them to the oil.  Make sure you have a single layer.  (if you have more meat than pot, do this in a few steps so you make sure your meat browns but doesn't steam.  Take out the first batch and put it in a bowl.  Also, if you have to do it more than once, remember to add more oil.)
    4. When you've browned the last of the meat, add any meat you previously browned back to the pot.  Throw in the flour your used to dredge the meat and two chopped onions, 2 stalks of chopped celery and 2 carrots chopped small.  Stir all that around for a bit.
    5. Take a cup of red wine and pour into the heavy pot.  It will bubble and steam and help loosen the bits of browned goo at the bottom.  Scrape it all up and then pour in 2 cups of beef broth and 1 cup of chicken broth.  Throw in a bay leaf or two.
    6. Cook on low for 1 hours on the top of the stove (stirring occasionally with the lid on) or put in a low oven (like 250) with the lid on <-- This is my fav way because you can just leave it there without having to worry that the bottom is burning.
    7. The next step is where you can have some fun and mix it up.  Once you have this base, you can add whatever you'd like in terms of veggies and seasoning.  Finish the stew on the top of the stove until your new ingredients are cooked through.  Here are three variations to use with this same stew base:
      1. Traditional with a twist:  use parsnips instead of potatoes and add bigger chunks of carrot and frozen peas.  use fresh shredded spinach at the end and let it wilt on top
      2. Southwest:  Add some cumin and chili powder to the broth.  Frozen corn, a can of black beans and some cilantro to garnish
      3. Middle Eastern:  Add some baharat spice blend or garam masala, 2 teaspoons of ground coriander, 1/2 cup of dried yellow split peas and serve with pita bread
      4. Total Hearty:  Add 1/2 cup of barley with the veggies and some pearl onions