We just renovated our basement. For 10 years, it was the household depository. Before demolition work started, we lugged countless pieces of furniture (mismatched chairs; children’s changing tables) to the curbside for free distribution. We threw away countless “keepsakes” that never gained the nostalgic sheen we’d anticipated.

During the clean-fest, I discovered this picture:

me & buzz

That’s me, circa 1989 (notice the hair?), and Buzz, who with his wife owned the Tampa ad agency I worked at.

It looks like we’re enjoying cheese and crackers.

I don’t remember that.

What I remember is the stew.

Buzz and his wife taught me to eat. (Which you can read about here.) This particular evening, Tampa was experiencing a real, live, honest-to-goodness cold snap. My employers invited me over for beef stew, which we made in their bedroom while watching music videos on VH1. (Actually, the stew cooked in the kitchen. We just peeled potatoes and scraped carrots in the bedroom.)

Buzz sent me home with containers of stew and instructions to eat it.

Which I did.

Which — at the time — was a very big deal.

I think of Buzz and his wife every time the weather starts to change. I recall how a simple stew of browned meat, onions, carrots and potatoes warmed my tummy and my soul. I pull out my own stew pot when the air gets chilled and try to recreate that cared-for feeling for my own family.

This is my go-to stew recipe. I like it because I can change it however I want to. I can add vegetables (parsnips, potatoes, fennel, celery). I can subtract meat. I can serve it over mashed potatoes or couscous or noodles. Or simply by itself.

I’ve been making this stew for almost 10 years. I’ve had this photo for more than 20.

I’m keeping both.

Just not in the basement.

Soulful Beef Stew (Bon Appetit)

Use this recipe as a guideline. Add chunks of potatoes, parsnips and fennel with the carrots. Add celery to the onion. Fold in frozen peas at the very end of cooking. Omit the meat for a vegetarian stew. This dish’s charm is its versatility.

stew4

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 1/2 pounds boneless beef chuck roast, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 2 cups dry red wine
  • 1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes with Italian herbs, undrained
  • 1/2 cup hoisin sauce
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
  • 1 tablespoon corn starch
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot.

stew1Season the beef with salt and pepper. Working in batches, add it to the oil and brown well. (Feel free to add more oil as needed.) Remove the browned meat to a bowl and set aside.

Add the onion to the pot and any remaining olive oil if necessary. Season with salt and pepper and saute until the onion begins to brown.

stew2Return the meat to the pot and add 1 cup of wine, the tomatoes, the hoisin sauce and the bay leaves. Bring everything to a boil, then cover the pot, lower the heat, and simmer the stew for 45 minutes.

After 45 minutes, add the remaining cup of wine and the carrots to the pot. Cover and simmer another 30 minutes, or until the carrots and meat are very tender.

stew3Combine the cornstarch and water in a bowl, then add it to the stew. Increase the heat and boil until the stew thickens. Remove from the heat and add the parsley. Serve alone or over noodles, couscous, rice or potatoes.

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