I love making stews and braises, especially during the winter. There's something about their smell that just screams "comfort". Plus, they're soooo easy to make. I've only been cooking and baking for about two years, and stews are one of the primary dishes that anyone can do.
Here's my beef stew recipe, which is pretty much influenced by a combination of recipes I've read from Jean Anderson's Falling Off The Bone and Molly Steven's All About Braising (I highly recommend these two books...worth every penny) that I've made into my own.
5 quart cast-iron pot or a Dutch oven (I use a 7 quart, as that's all we have, but the 5 qt is the best all-around size.)
4 strips of bacon
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 to 3 lbs. beef chuck cut into cubes
1 large yellow onion (or two small ones) roughly chopped
1 large bay leaf, or two small ones
3 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons of canned tomato puree (or two fresh tomatoes)*
1 cup red wine
1 1/2 to 2 cups chicken or beef broth (beef obviously is preferred)
3 medium carrots peeled and cut into chunks (Put aside one carrot.)
2 celery stalks roughly chopped
4 to 5 mini potatoes
*Most stews require more tomatoes than the above mentioned, but since my family is not big on tomatoes, I had to cut the amount. Otherwise, you can put in 1 6-oz can of tomato paste.
1) Fry the bacon for a few minutes (stove on medium-high heat) until crispy. Take out the bacon but leave the drippings. Add in the olive oil. Put the beef cubes in and brown for about 8 minutes. Do the browning in batches so that the cubes are not crowded in the pot.
2) Take the beef out of the pot after browning and transfer onto a plate, then add into the pot the onions, bay leaf, one carrot, and the garlic. Saute for 5 minutes.
6) Add the beef with all the juices and bring to a simmer for 1 and 1/2 hours, covered and on low heat. Make sure it's just simmering and not boiling. Check it after 10 minutes to make sure. Stir once in awhile (about after every twenty minutes).
The finished product. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serves about 4 to 5 adults.
If you're serving this with mashed potatoes, you can totally cut out the mini potatoes. What you do is do the first simmer with the beef for 2 hours, then add the carrots and celery and simmer for another 30 minutes.