I started cooking at a very young age and I'm clearly obsessed with cooking. In fact, the hardest thing about traveling so much is that I can't cook. And, my suitcase is always full of condiments that I bring back from my journeys, which causes problems with Customs and more than a few jars have broken on the way home. My oldest son calls me the "Condiment Queen!"
I was very fortunate to be raised with some fabulous cooks in my family. My father didn't cook, but he loved food. He thoroughly enjoyed the Chinese food my mother made yet he would often crave the foods of his childhood so I learned to make them. I made him Chicken and Dumplings, Pot Pie, Stews and Soups, Meatloaf stuffed with Hard Boiled Eggs and lots of cookies and pies. I once even tried to make Scrapple and Sweet and Sour Pickles while still quite young! I was an ambitious cook from the beginning. Most of my recipes back then came from cookbooks that I would check out from the library. The others I copied from Redbook Magazine at my Aunt's house or even at the doctor's office. I cooked from scraps of paper that I still have and I laugh at the childish handwriting and the food stains. I was clearly not a neat cook then or now! I didn't even own a cookbook until my Mother bought me Betty Crocker's Children's version and I cooked every recipe that wasn't too simple or too sweet. My father ended up giving me what I considered to be my first real cookbook, which was Glorious Stews by Dorothy Ivens. I cooked my way through every recipe and my father loved them except for the one served in a cooked pumpkin. The inscription says:
"Lillian - I hope you become an outstanding cook like your mother is, because the better cook you are, the more enjoyable my life will be. Papa"
He unfortunately didn't live that many more years. As I've become a better and better cook, I often stop and think about how much he would have enjoyed something I've made. The other night, I made beef stew at the request of my younger son whose tastes are remarkably like the grandfather he never even got to meet. I no longer use that cookbook to make stew although it is still on my bookshelf. I've made stew so many times I could probably do it in my sleep. My father liked his stew with tomatoes and he didn't want it to be too thick as he loved to dunk bread in the sauce. So, this is the recipe I came up with many years ago that became his favorite and I dedicate it to my beloved Papa.
Papa's Beef Stew
3 pounds Beef (Chuck Roast) cut into 1" cubes
1 large onion or 2 small onions chopped
1/4 cup vegetable oil (I use extra light olive oil)
2 cups red wine
1 14 oz can chopped tomatoes
2 14 oz cans beef broth
2 or more cups water
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon thyme
2 large or 4 small potatoes, cut into 1" cubes
2 large or 3 medium carrots cut into 1' pieces
1/2 - 3/4 cup of frozen peas
Salt and pepper to taste
Pat beef dry with a paper towel. Heat oil in large pot and add onions, cooking until soft. Add in beef and brown on one side, turn over and brown on other side. Be sure not to burn onions. Pour in the red wine and bring to boil. Add beef broth and water to cover beef by at least one inch. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook for 3 hours stirring occasionally. Taste and season with salt and pepper. If the sauce is too thick, add a little hot water until the desired consistency.
Then add pototoes and carrots and cook for 30 minutes more or until vegetables are tender. Add peas and cook for an additional five minutes.
If the sauce is too thin, mix 2 teaspoons cornstarch with 4 teaspoons cold water and stir in 1/2 until stew until thickened. Add remainder if you want it even thicker. Serve with lots of crusty bread. If you want to make it into a pot pie, cool stew in refrigerator and then put into a 9x11" pan. Cover with rolled out puff pastry and cut vent holes in top. Bake in 400 degree oven for about 30 minutes or until nice and browned.
Five Element Analysis
This is an almost one dish meal and is very colorful, so it is easy to see that it already has some elemental balance. Beef is an earth food and the method of cooking stew - slow and long - increases the earth element. If you also include the potatoes, carrots and cooked onions, stew is clearly very earthy. Red wine and tomatoes add fire and the bay leaf and thyme add just a little bit of the metal element, but this and the wood element are lacking. Serving the stew with bread, especially sourdough brings in the wood element. To make this meal more balanced, some metal food needs to be added to round it out. Perhaps a salad that includes radishes or a desert that includes mint (ice cream or cookies) would help make a balanced five element meal.