Last week I found myself making a rather delicious beef stew for dinner. It is, after all, the ideal dish for this time of year - warming and satisfying and making the most of the winter allotment veg. It was, however, something that rather alarmed my 11 year old daughter. Her distress was mainly caused because I had decided that we were all going to eat the stew for dinner and she didn't fancy it in the slightest. As I stood, stirring the gently bubbly pot full of meatiness, she looked at me sadly and declared, "When I'm an adult, I'm never going to make stew."
I looked back at her and understood exactly where she was coming from as I too would have thought the same thing at her age. At 11 I didn't much care for most vegetables so the thought of having a one-pot meal in which vegetables lurked mysteriously within a thick gravy, so well camouflaged that they were hard to spot and almost impossible to identify even when located, somewhat killed my appetite. I could not have imagined back then that one day I would wilfully create such a dish myself. I have a distinct memory too of deciding that I would never be able to bring myself to stuff a chicken. Yet, here I was in my late 30s, with dozens of stuffed chickens behind me, stirring a beef stew and actively enjoying the delicious aromas that were wafting up from the pot.
"Ah, well," I explained, "you may say that now, but sometime over the age of 30 you will find yourself cooking a stew for dinner. I don't know why it happens, but it happens to us all."
"It's a sign you are turning into an old granny," she declared and stalked out of the kitchen in disgust.
Well, I'm pushing 40 now so yes, I suspect from an 11 year old's perspective I'm well on my way to old age. I'm waiting for the moment when I realise that, if I'm going to continue to live, I shall have to have a sit down and a cup of tea. A year or so from now I shall be dozing off in front of daytime telly I suspect.
But you do have to wonder how you can come from a point of view of not even wanting to eat stew to cooking a stew up for the family in a little more than 20 years. I know not every one is the same; my 9 year old daughter loves vegetables and is enthusiastic about the stew and some people will never, even when they are an old granny, want to eat beef stew. It is just amazing that for me, and many others, tastes change so much as we grow up.
Maybe it comes down to that idea that you have to taste something 10 times before you like it. I guess I've just been exposed to vegetables enough now to like them. Ha! I don't think so, I'm never going to like broccoli!
Maybe it's because I'm in control of the ingredients - I know what has gone into the pot and I know I like everything that it is in. I chose to put those ingredients together and to put them, cooked up, onto my plate. It wasn't forced upon me by some well-meaning but misguided adult, willing me to like it.
Ultimately it doesn't matter. I'm just glad that I'm now "adult" enough to eat beef stew without fishing out the swede and I hope that one day, as my daughter approaches middle-age she'll find herself eyeing up a pack of beef shin and wonder, shall I have stew for dinner?
Beef Stew (serves 4 but you could double the amount and freeze half for a quick second helping)
400g beef shin (ideally, but stewing steak will do)
3 tbsp flour
Salt & pepper
3 tsp mustard powder
A little fat/oil for frying
2 medium onions or 1 large one
1 small stick of celery, finely chopped
2 large carrots, finely chopped
Some finely chopped swede or turnips
1 pint of beef stock
10 fl oz of ale
2 bay leaves
Cut the beef into large chunks. Put the flour, salt & pepper and mustard onto a plate then place the beef pieces into the floury mix and coat well. Heat the fat/oil in the bottom of a large saucepan then fry the beef (in batches if necessary) until brown. Set aside. Next fry the onions and add to the beef. Pour a little of the stock into the bottom of the pan and scrap the pan with a wooden spoon or spatula to deglaze it. Return the meat and onions to the pan then pour in the remaining stock and ale and add the vegetables and bay. Bring to the boil then turn down and simmer, with the lid on, for 3 hours until the meat is very tender and the vegetables are well cooked. Stir occasionally and add more water if needed. If it looks a little too liquid towards the end then take of the lid for the last 15 minutes to reduce. Taste and add more seasoning if necessary then serve hot with potatoes.
For the potatoes, you might like to try this. Preheat oven to 190°C, gas 5. Finely slice 4 medium to large potatoes into thin rounds then rinse them in a bowl to remove the excess starch. Drain the water then pour in a little oil (or melted duck/goose fat) and add salt & pepper to season. Stir well until the potatoes are all coated in the seasoned oil. Carefully stack the potatoes on their edges into a suitable ovenproof dish. Place the dish in the microwave for 5 minutes to start the cooking and to evaporate off the remaining rinse water. Place the dish in the oven and cook for an hour until the top edges of the potatoes are brown and crisp.