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Thursday, Dec. 21, 2006 07:41 am

Stew for serenity

HereÂ’s a hearty way to restore your equilibrium

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Lately, life at my house has been a roller coaster. Family duties of an intensive-care-unit variety have sucked me in and sucked me dry. When I finally did get some down time, the last thing I wanted to do was exert more energy to cook. Instead, I gravitated in the direction of carryout menus and bags of chips for instant gratification and what I mistook for sustenance. The more I strayed from the kitchen, the more physically and emotionally clumsy I became. I was feeding the very instability I sought to correct.

For insight, I went to my yoga mat, which always helps me return to my center (wherever that is). I was in desperate need of some grounding energy. Traditional yogis would likely dismiss my carnivorous tendencies, but the answer that came to me, like a mantra, was beef stew. The recipe below, chockfull of earthy notes coaxed forth over a low fire, should have your sense of equilibrium restored in no time.

Culinary questions? Contact Kim O’Donnel at kim.odonnel@creativeloafing.com.

BEEF STEW

Marinade
1 1/2 pounds boneless beef chuck or round, cut into 1-inch cubes, or “stew beef” (already cubed by a supermarket butcher)
A few cloves of garlic, smashed
A few sprigs of fresh thyme
Half a medium onion, sliced thin
3 to 5 tablespoons of a red wine you enjoy drinking
1/4 cup olive oil
1 sachet, filled with 1 tablespoon black peppercorns

Place meat in a nonreactive pan (glass, ceramic, enamel-coated) with marinade ingredients. Cover and place in fridge for at least 12 hours, as long as 36. When ready to cook, remove meat from marinade and pat dry with a paper towel. If desired, you may reserve onions for stew. Season meat with salt and pepper.

Stew
Olive oil
3 tablespoons of flour
1 bay leaf
Four or five sprigs of thyme
At least 2 cups of beef stock or water, warmed
More of that red wine you enjoy drinking
Five or six canned whole tomatoes
Salt and pepper
Optional: peeled pearl onions (blanched for about a minute so skin can be removed easily); one small rutabaga or a few parsnips or carrots, peeled and diced

Heat a heavy-bottomed pot and coat the bottom surface with olive oil. With tongs, add the meat in batches and sear it on both sides, allowing it to brown. Remove and set aside.

Deglaze with a wooden spoon by scraping bits of meat from the pot, adding a small amount of liquid and stirring. Add flour to create an ad hoc roux (a thickener made of fat and flour) and immediately stir it to eliminate lumps. Add a few ounces of cooking liquid to help it along. Bring to a simmer and return meat to pot. Add tomatoes, bay leaf, thyme sprigs, and more cooking liquid, wine or both. The liquid should just cover the meat. Add the marinade onions at this time, if you are using them.

Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cover. Check on stew every 15 to 20 minutes and cook until fork-tender, at least 90 minutes and possibly more than 2 hours.

If you are adding other vegetables, allow at least 30 minutes for vegetables to cook and soften. Season with salt and pepper before serving.

Serve in soup bowls, over noodles or rice, or with a hunk of crusty bread to sop up the juices.

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