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September 28th,
written by Arthur

The Stew, Pre-Cooking

As it has started to get a little chilly I became fixated on my favorite fall dish: stew.  The process for making stew is simple.  Buy some beef, cut it into small pieces.  Get some veggies, either bought small or cut into small pieces.  Find some herbs.  Brown the meat, and add all of the chopped stuff into a pot or slow cooker with some beef broth and the herbs. then let it cook for 12 hours or so (18 hours never hurt anyone).

But, before I could start I needed a pot.  I left my well used slow cooker back in Minnesota two years ago and while it might be moving to New York with Fayaz, I wasn’t willing to wait until mid-October.  Still I didn’t want to get another slow cooker, potentially ending up with two in the house.  Over the summer Meg had gotten an amazing Le Creuset enameled dutch oven.  So before my stew making I headed out to look for a similar pot.

I started my search at Whisk, a fantastic cooking store in Williamsburg.  I found the Le Creusets colorfully sitting in the front of the store as always, but the prices seemed about $40 more than they should have been.  I next somehow ended up at Create and Barrel.  The only enameled dutch ovens they had in the store were the Mario Batali line.  Now I loved Batali on Iron Chef, but the whole celebrity chef branding thing kind of annoys me.  But more than my annoyance, the Mario dutch oven just looked much less substantial than the Le Creuset.  After a little foodie message board research I found a few complaints about the Mario line cracking—not the dutch oven I was looking for.

So I next headed to William–Sonoma.  Walking in I remembered how dangerous that store can be, how everywhere I look I see something else that I “need.”  With the help of a sales woman I found the Le Creuset I was looking for, the 5-qaurt yellow oval dutch oven.  But, as the manager went to the back to get the dutch oven I’d been looking at, the sales woman told me I might want to check out Staub.

I coincidentally had seen a debate on Staub versus Le Creuset on the boards while evaluating the Mario dutch oven.  The conflicts, in my mind, came down to personal opinion.  Some thought that, over the years, the Le Creuset’s cream colored interior stained.  The Staub camp felt the dimples in the Staub lid helped self-baste the joys in the pot.  In the end, I was persuaded in part by the dimples and in large part by the price and got the Staub.

For the Stew I first hit the farmer’s market.  I feel the heart of any stew is the potatoes, so I got three kinds: blue, red and yellow fingers.  I kept the potatoes I purchased small so pre-cooking cutting would be unnecessary.  In addition, I got some great small onions, a rainbow variety of carrots, some celeriac (celery root, which is great because I don’t like celery in my stew and it gives the celery flavor without the need for nasty celery), some herbs.  For the herbs I got a one bunch of savory and one bunch of thyme.   I also got some stewing beef (aka “low quality” beef chunks) and beef broth from Key Foods.

To start the stew I browned the outside of the meat (NEVER cook it all the way, that makes it too chewy) added the beef broth and veggies (chopped where necessary), and the herbs.

When the stew first got started I was very worried I had gone too strong to the hoop with the thyme and savory.  The smell of these herbs filled the apartment and in the past when I’ve made stew I’ve used a similar volume, but  greater diversity of herbs.  But, as time went by, the fragrances of the herbs in the apartment diminished.

As the stew cooked the bright colors of the potatoes and carrots diminished.  The dark blue of the potatoes, the red of the other potatoes and some the carrots faded.

But even faded, these colors added a great visual element to the stew (and at a increased cost of only about a $1.50 for the whole pot, relative to the normal boring colored ingredients).

The Stew, All Cooked

The Stew, All Cooked

When the stew was done, I fished out the stems of the herbs (where I more fancy I would have used an herb bag—someday).

The end product was great; the perfect stew for a cool fall day.  It was far more than Nick and I could eat in a sitting.  But it kept well in the fridge.  What couldn’t be eaten from the fridge we froze.  While not ideal—freezing made the veggies became overly soft—freezing still gave us great stew over the coming weeks.

Overall, I had a great kick off to fall cooking.  Yes, with the 80 degree heat in New York, I’ll need to wait a bit longer, but soon my new pot and I will be back to some great work.


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