In this week's Martin & Sylvia: More Adventures! story, “A Little Bit of Light,” as they do every year when the trees have all lost their leaves and the ground starts to frost in the morning, brother and sister start to make their lanterns for their annual lantern festival.
But this year they can't go their normal route and need to choose another place to walk. When Martin suggests going next door to visit the doctor's house, Sylvia worries that it will be too dark. But the magic of the evening shows her just how much can be seen with the light of a single lantern.
This week's recipe comes from another chilly night when something equally magic happened by the light of an autumn fire. It was a good friend's birthday, and, to celebrate, she invited us all out to her teepee to have stew for dinner.
Everyone brought a few ingredients—it was a complete “stone soup”—and, as a consequence, no one can say exactly what went into the stew that we all eventually ate. What everyone has agreed on since though, was that the stew was incredibly good.
Was it the warmth of the bowls in our hands? Was it the good company? Or did we just hit on the perfect alchemy of ingredients? I'm not sure, but—try as I might—I've never been able to perfectly recreate it.
With the recipe below, though, I think I've gotten close.
Because not all of us have hours to stand around a campfire, this stew is written to be made indoors. While you can use inexpensive “stew beef” upgrading to a nicer cut will make the resulting stew that much more tender and delicious. Likewise, you can substitute beef stock or water when you're deglazing the pan, but a cup of red wine will give the stew a richer flavor.
I recommend serving it to a table of friends with thick slabs of cornbread on the side.
(serves about 6 adults)
1 pound stew beef or steak, cut into 1-inch cubes
1-2 tablespoons flour
3 slices bacon
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 ribs of celery
2 cloves garlic
1 cup red wine
2 tablespoons chopped, mixed herbs (oregano, thyme, sage, and rosemary are all good choices)
6-7 cups beef stock
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes
4-5 waxy potatoes
salt and pepper
Season the stew meat generously with salt and pepper, then toss it together with a few tablespoons of flour to coat. Give it a few bashes with a meat tenderizer (or a heavy brick covered with aluminum foil), then set aside.
In a large pot or dutch oven, over medium to medium-high heat, cook 3 slices of bacon. Remove the bacon from the pan, and reserve for another use. (Or just snack on it while you're cooking, I won't tell!) Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the bacon fat that should already be in the pan.
Working in two batches to avoid overcrowding, brown the meat. Remove the meat from the pan, and set aside.
As the meat is cooking, dice the onion, celery, and garlic. Add an additional tablespoon of olive oil to the pot, then add the onion, celery, and garlic, cooking them all down until the onion starts to look translucent.
Next, add the cup of red wine (you can substitute water or beef stock if you don't like to use wine), and bring it to a boil, scraping all the browned bits off the bottom of the pot as you do. When the wine has reduced by about a third, add the meat back to the pot. Then add the herbs, stock, and diced tomatoes, along with their juices.
Let the whole pot cook over a low simmer for at least an hour—if not two or three—topping up the liquid with additional stock or water as needed to keep the meat covered.
About 45 minutes before you intend to eat, roughly chop the carrots and potatoes, and add them to the pot. Turn up the heat so that the stew boils, and cook until the potatoes are done to your liking. Serve with warm cornbread.
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About the Author
The Sparkle Kitchen Series is created by Meryl Carver-Allmond.
Meryl lives in a hundred-year-old house near the prairie with her sweet husband, two preschoolers, one puppy, one gecko, and about ten chickens. While she's been writing since she could pick up a pen, in recent years she's discovered the joy of photography, too. She feels lucky to be able to combine those skills, along with a third passion — showing people that cooking for themselves can be healthy and fun — in her Sparkle Kitchen posts.