It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why I love cooking. I always relate to this quote from Julie & Julia:
“You know what I love about cooking? I love that after a day when nothing is sure, you can come home and absolutely know that if you add eggs yolks to chocolate and sugar and milk, it will get thick. It’s such a comfort.”
I feel that, Julie. More than the result, though, what I really love is the process of cooking. When I come home from work after a crappy day, there’s nothing more relaxing to me than making something from start to finish.
Of course there are days when I don’t feel like cooking. That’s why Seamless exists. But my dream night is me in a (perfectly clean) kitchen with all the ingredients to make something delicious while watching an episode of Sex and the City for the millionth time.
I especially love those recipes that take hours to come together, where you add a few things, let them simmer and meld together for a while, then come back and add some more things, and after a few hours you have something warm and rich and amazing to eat.
When I need to lose myself in cooking, there’s only one thing I make. It’s my favorite recipe and I’ve been waiting for crisp weather to share it so today is basically like Christmas morning for me. It’s a beef stew.
I know what you’re thinking: Beef stew is her favorite thing to make? Seriously?
Seriously. This isn’t your average beef stew – for one thing, you brown the beef in bacon fat before simmering it in a decadent gravy loaded up with booze and mustard until it melts in your mouth. Need I go on?
Then of course there are the sensations it brings about – your kitchen (or kitchen corner in my case) will be filled with a glorious aroma and every time you dip your wooden spoon in to give it a stir you’ll have to lick it clean because obviously, and the gravy will just keep getting better and better until you too will be convinced that this is one of the best things you’ve ever eaten in your life.
Finally, there’s that process that I find so soothing – rendering the bacon fat, sautéing the onions, browning the beef, making the gravy. And just when I thought I couldn’t love this recipe any more, I read the description Deb included with it. She quotes Regina Schrambling who shared it in a NYTimes article on September 19th 2001, one week after 9/11.
And there in that article I found that someone had perfectly articulated exactly what I love about cooking. She says:
“The food is not really the thing. It’s the making of it that gets you through a bad time.”
…and lots of other things that were so spot on to how I feel that I got actual chills. How crazy is it that this recipe came from an article that sums up exactly how I feel about making it?? Just promise me you’ll read it ok?
And promise me that you’ll make this stew. I’ll leave you with one last thought from Ms. Schrambling who couldn’t be more right:
“Long before there were antidepressants, there was stew.”
Dijon beef stew
(Adapted from Smitten Kitchen)
Takes 3 hours; Serves 4-6
Note: This recipe exists on Smitten Kitchen as a Dijon Cognac beef stew – she makes the broth with cognac then adds a quarter cup of red wine at the end. I didn’t have cognac on hand the first time I made it so I replaced the cognac with red wine. I don’t know it any other way and I still think it’s brilliant.
I also leave out the additional 4 tablespoons of coarse Dijon mustard it calls for because I don’t care for it, replacing coarse with extra smooth Dijon. And I use whole baby carrots, slicing them in half if needed, because I’m lazy and it’s easier than slicing regular carrots. And I leave out the shallots. I’m the worst 🙂
One final thought: Dijon mustard is s-a-l-t-y. So it’s imperative that you get unsalted beef stock. If you can only find low sodium (or either way honestly), I suggest not salting the beef cubes before browning them and just seasoning with pepper. Believe me, it will be salty enough.
1/4 pound bacon, diced
1 large onion, finely diced
4 tablespoons butter, as needed
2 pounds beef chuck*, in 1-inch cubes
2 tablespoons flour
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup red wine + 1/4 cup
2 cups unsalted beef stock
1/2 cup smooth Dijon mustard + 2 tablespoons
2 cups baby carrots
1/2 pound mushrooms, stemmed, cleaned and quartered
Place bacon in a Dutch oven or heavy pot over low heat and cook until it’s crisped and all the fat is rendered. Remove solid pieces with a slotted spoon, and
eat immediately set aside – you won’t use them. Raise heat to medium-low and add onion. Cook until softened but not browned, or about 10 to 15 minutes. Use the slotted spoon to transfer to a large bowl.
Place beef cubes in a bowl and dust with flour, then season lightly with salt and more generously with pepper. If it’s necessary, add 2 tablespoons butter to the pan with the bacon fat. Place half the cubes in the pan or as many as will fit without overlapping. Cook over medium-high heat until well browned, almost crusty, on all sides, transferring to the bowl with the onions when done. Repeat with remaining beef.
Add red wine to the empty pan and cook, stirring and scraping up any brown bits. Add the beef stock and smooth Dijon mustard and whisk to blend. Then return meat and onion mixture to pan. Lower heat, cover pot partway, and simmer gently until meat is very tender, about 1 1/4 hours.
Meanwhile, slice your carrots if they’re particularly thick. After 1 1/4 hours, add carrots, and continue simmering for 40 minutes, or until slices are tender. With 20 minutes remaining, heat 2 tablespoons butter in medium skillet over medium-high heat and sauté mushrooms until browned and tender. Once the carrots have cooked for 40 minutes, stir mushrooms into stew along with remaining 2 tablespoons of mustard and 1/4 cup of red wine. Simmer 5-10 minutes, then taste and adjust seasoning if needed.
*: Ok I lied I have one more thought. I know it seems normal to buy pre-cubed “stew meat” when making stew. But I personally think it’s worth it to spring for a nicer cut of beef. There’s no reason that beef stew should mean dry stringy beef. I buy Trader Joe’s tri tip roast. It’s pricey at about $30, but worth it.
Dijon and cognac beef stew: https://smittenkitchen.com/2014/02/dijon-and-cognac-beef-stew/