I’m already five weeks into the 52 weeks of cooking challenge, which is rather hard to believe. I already feel like I’m a better cook, and I’m definitely learning from my mistakes. When I started the challenge I just thought of it as a way to get me cooking more, and trying new things. Now, though, I see that it will definitely be a year full of experiments, first attempts, mistakes and a TON of learning.
I’ll be the first to admit that I am not the best cook I know. And that’s OK, because I’m a young twenty-something who hasn’t had to cook for herself all that long. My parents are great cooks because they’ve had years of practice. And Astro pointed out that grandmas are the best cooks because they’ve had the most practice. So I have a lot of practicing ahead of me to get good — a lifetime of practice, in fact! I’ll settle for improving enough to feel comfortable cooking new recipes, and enjoying them. And so far, so good … for the most part. (I’ve only cut myself with a knife once!)
The first five challenge topics were: eggs; something with an ingredient you hated as a kid; something made in one pot; polish food; and vanilla. I made scrambled eggs; bacon and brussels sprouts pasta; my dad’s beef stew; pierogi; and vanilla bean mousse. Out of all of them, only one was a huge bust, and that was the pierogi. I tried to make them completely from scratch, and the recipe I followed made it seem a lot easier than it was, so I was over confident when I started. I don’t think I did anything terribly wrong, and I ended up with some edible pierogi, but they weren’t delicious enough to warrant all the work I’d put into them. I think it would go a lot better the second time around, but it will be a while before I try again. The beef stew and vanilla bean mousse were easily the best so far, and the brussels sprouts and bacon pasta was alright, but not great. And eggs are eggs. Nothing too hard or spectacular about them.
My dad’s beef stew is one of my all-time favorite dishes, so I decided I’d highlight it in this post, since I don’t want to go into detail about all five — that would be one massive post! Plus it’s a family recipe, so I’m excited to share it with you guys. While I was home over the holidays I made sure to get the recipe, and have my dad show me all his tricks and techniques. It’s a fairly simple recipe, but you have to have several hours to make it. It’s totally worth it, though, I promise.
The spices are really what set this recipe apart. The flavor of this beef stew is strong and wonderful. There’s nothing bland or simple about it … it’s very delicious.
- 2 pounds chuck, cut into 1-inch cubes (my dad recommends the pot roast cut)
- 1/4 cup shortening (like crisco)
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 Tablespoon season-all
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon marjoram leaves
- 1/8 teaspoon tarragon leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon parsley flakes
- 2 teaspoons beef flavor base (my dad actually uses a little over a tablespoon of ‘Better than Bouillon’ base, mixed with the water to start)
- 2 cups water/ broth to start (see above)
- 4 carrots, chopped
- 4 small potatoes (or one small one per person, depending on how much you like potatoes)
- 4 small onions (I only used one large onion, and was happy)
In a big pot (the bigger the better, I’ve discovered), brown meat in hot shortening. Add seasonings and water/ broth while stirring. Cover and bring to a simmer. Let simmer as long as you can — the longer you can the meat gets super tender and a delicious melt-in-your mouth quality. The original recipe says 1 1/2 hours, but when Astro and I made it we let it simmer for nearly three. We added beef broth (the simple store brand kind) about every half an hour to be sure it ended up with enough liquid (the first time I made the stew myself I didn’t add as much, and it wasn’t as good… but I really like broth, so it’s really up to you and your preferences). About 45-minutes before you want to eat, add more broth and bring it to a boil while you prepare the veggies. Peel the carrots and cut into 1-inch pieces. Quarter the potatoes (Astro and I left the skins on, but you can peel them if you want). Peel onion and quarter (or just peel the four small onions). Add vegetables to stew and make sure there’s enough broth. Let simmer for another 30-45 minutes, or until veggies are tender. And you’re done!
Astro and I got some sourdough bread to go with it, and it was delicious. I definitely recommend having some sort of bread to dip in the broth — it’s one of my favorite parts! Beer also goes very well with it, just saying.
The stew is also very tasty reheated, so if you only cook for yourself just put the leftovers in some tupperware and save them for several great lunches! Astro and I often put leftovers in the freezer as well, to make sure they don’t go bad before we get a chance to eat them.
And if you’re a vegetarian, I’m sorry. This stew actually made one high school friend give up on being vegetarian, just so she could eat it. I’d asked her if she wanted to stay for dinner without realizing she’d decided to become a vegetarian. My dad’s stew smelled so good she couldn’t resist. It wasn’t until after she ate it that she told me. And she didn’t regret it at all. It’s that good.
And now my mouth is watering and I want to make it again.
All for now,
Do you have any favorite family recipes you’d like to share?