What a Schmecking Week
Well I feel awful. I'm not going to make this post about my problems.. but, I'm so disappointed in what I'm about to bring to the table. You see, I was asked by the very talented and oh, so lovely, Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict and The Sensual Gourmet to participate in celebrating a cookbook written by Edna Staebler.
I had such high hopes to make my little post worthy of such a delightful woman.. truly, I did not know her, but ohhh how I wish I did. Her writing is a pleasure to read - reading her written thoughts makes you long to have been in her kitchen just once while she was still with us.. just one time to watch how she cooked, to listen to her instructions and her stories about her childhood - and I suspect, to see the twinkle in her eye when she told her stories. Corny, I know - but her book is the first cookbook that I didn't read like a cookbook. I've read with envy about how many of you read your cookbooks as if they were novels. I've never done that. To me, a cookbook is a tome of recipes and pictures - with added text to fill in spaces. Yes, I know.. I'm one of those people. But when I started to read Edna's "Food That Really Schmecks" I was startled to realize that hours had passed and I was turning pages as if doing so would make the bad guy appear or bring the conclusion to some mystery, yanno? I couldn't put the book down!
Edna wrote many books in her lifetime, as well as winning many prestigious literary awards such as the Toronto Culinary Guild's Silver Ladle Award and Cuisine Canada's Lifetime Achievement Award (known as "The Edna" in perpetuity). She was a down to earth woman who celebrated her family and her life until the day she passed. And how envious I am of dear Jasmine - who was Edna's friend. How lucky you are J! She must have a very special place in your heart. =)
Okay so, this book, "Food That Really Schmecks", is a diary of Edna's Mennonite family recipes as well as quite a few recipes from her friend Bevvy, who appeared to teach Edna quite a bit in the kitchen. The recipes range from Mennonite dishes, to German fare, to Edna's own originals and modern favorites that she "had to share". When you read the recipes, especially the older ones, the first thing you notice is the instruction for measurement. I can't tell you how many I saw with butter's measurement listed as "a knob the size of a walnut." hee! And then you'll read her instructions, written as she was taught and you'll marvel over the fact that she is never precise. My feeling is that Edna didn't believe in strict recipes but moreso in those recipes that give you the basic idea and allow you to use your own ideas and knowledge to create your own dish. At least that is the way I've interpreted a good portion of this book.
And it's with that interpretation that I decided on making Edna's Beef Stew. Edna's only description of this recipe is, "Why stew should be said with a disparaging inflection I can't understand; it's a perfect meal if you put enough into it." I could not agree more, Edna.
And therefore I read her ingredients and I read through her instructions.. and then I set off to make stew the way Edna told me to. Not only was it delicious but it hit the spot on a very chilly Sunday afternoon.
Adapted from Food That Really Schmecks by Edna Staebler, Wilfrid Laurier University Press, December 2006
2 1/2 lbs. of raw beef, cut into 1 to 2-inch cubes
1/2 c. flour
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
4 TBS. beef dripping or suet (I used butter - I had just ran out of suet.)
1 or 2 large onions
4 potatoes cut into quarters
1 c. sliced carrots
1 c. green beans in 1-inch pieces (I didn't have beans so I subbed bell pepper)
A few peas, cut-up celery and parsley and 1 cup of tomatoes -- or not
Dredge the meat with the flour, salt and pepper. Melt the dripping or suet, and when it is hot brown the meat on all its sides. Slightly brown the onion. Pour enough boiling water into the pot to completely cover the meat and boil it slowly till it is tender--at least 2 hours. Pour in all the vegetables--making sure there is plenty of water--but not enough to drown them, or all the flavour. Boil for another 20 minutes till the vegetables are done but not mushy. Remove all the solids from the broth with a draining spoon. Thicken the broth with 2 to 3 tablespoons of flour blended with water. If the stew doesn't look brown enough you may cheat as I sometimes do by adding a couple of bouillon cubes or beef-base powder. At the last minute add some fresh cut-up parsley and pour the broth over the vegetables and beef. If you want to make it even better you can drop dumplings on the stew for the last 15 minutes while the vegetables are boiling.
My Notes: I pretty much followed Edna's instructions but instead of dumplings, I cooked a pound of egg noodles to al dente and added them to the stew when it was finished cooking.
Getting back to my problem.. the feeling awful part.. I apologize for that most dreadful picture of stew. I recently purchased a new camera - and apparently it's much more of a camera that I'm use to.. I have no idea what the hell I'm doing. heheee! I've got a lot of learning to do.. especially in the "focus" department. *sigh* Ahh well.. don't let my horrible photography get in the way of my saying, "Thank you, Edna! Not only for some delicious recipes but for some fine reading that I enjoyed very much."
And Thank you! Jasmine.. for asking me to participate in this celebration of such a personable writer. =)