In Search of Warm, Comfort Food
There’s a very useful telephone app, that syncs with your home thermostat to change the temperature remotely. No more coming home to a cold house—or a hot one. You can assure your comfort in advance.
But on the way to the farm this past weekend, we forgot to warm the house before arriving. Brrr!! When we got there, it was nearly as cold inside as it was outdoors.
We quickly unpacked the groceries, heated water for a pot of hot tea, got the fireplace a-blaze, and waited for the house to get more comfortable.
Other. . . Uh, Challenges
I had intended to make beef stew for dinner the next day, because I think it improves when made ahead. But my hands were too numb to deal with chopping a roast into chunks. I put it off, deciding to forgo extra flavor the next day in favor of warmth that evening.
We turned to the television to distract from the chill. Now as family and friends trying to reach me have learned, I have a “standing appointment” with Rachel Maddow at 8 o’clock each weeknight. But when I looked about for the television remote, it was no where to be found. Still wearing my coat, I searched under the sofa and between the cushions. Robin scavanged the bedrooms. Nada. We could get the television turned on, but were unable to move between channels.
In desperation, we settled for binge watching six segments of Grace and Frankie on Netflix and tumbled into bed early. By 3 a.m. my bedroom felt like a sauna. Purrfect!
Next Morning in the Kitchen
Having thawed nicely overnight, I cranked up the Crockpot and began browning the beef chunks. But first I rolled them in flour seasoned with salt, pepper, and paprika. I used two skillets, because it’s important that the meat be uncrowded to prevent steaming and to encourage a nice brown surface.
Meanwhile, Robin chopped the onions, celery, carrots, turnip, and potatoes. I love having a sou chef in the kitchen; but a mother/daughter tag team works well, too.
Pull Out the Crockpot
After browning the beef, I sautéed the vegetables in the same skillets (except for the potatoes, turnip and peas). The vegetables softened quickly and benefitted from the bits of brown beef remaining in the skillet.
Into the Crockpot they went along with the meat, potatoes, turnip, a bay leaf, broth (I used chicken stock, but beef works, too), Worcestershire sauce, and a bit of tomato paste. Peas would go in toward the end.
Normally, I cook stew overnight on low. To assure it was ready by dinner, I pushed the dial up to high. Four hours later the meat was fork tender and the vegetables nicely intact. I made some cornbread from a recipe on the back of the cornmeal box, adding a few tablespoons of canned green chilies for color and extra oomph. I’ve used the same recipe for years and found it to be as good and reliable as any.
Stew vs. Soup
That evening, when I mentioned that the stew was a little “soupier” than normal, one of my guests inquired as to the difference in stew and soup. Actually, they have the same ingredients: meat, vegetables and seasonings.
But for a stew you use less liquid. Stew vegetables are cut up in larger chunks and the broth becomes fairly thick. A slurry of flour or cornstarch and warm water will do the job, if more thickness is needed. However, most soups have smaller chopped vegetables and the liquid is, comparatively, thinner.
A Warm Winter Meal
One couple brought a salad, another made a German Apfelkuchen from Milk Street magazine, and my nephew wife, Peggy, made a Lime-Pudding Cake using 11 limes they grew themselves. Others showed up with wine.
We were warm and well fed—and, what’s more, Peggy fixed the television.