Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Beef Stew and Cooking From Scratch

Stew is one of those foods that belongs in the fall and winter :). I love a good homemade stew, especially during the aforementioned seasons. My family enjoyed a tasty homemade stew tonight with homemade bread and biscuits. Mmmmm, good. The bread was made with fresh-ground whole wheat flour and honey, so it was healthy as well as good. The biscuits, well, let's just say they tasted good :).

I love cooking and baking, and I especially love to find recipes that are all from scratch. I have long fought against the tide of prepackaged, processed, "meals in a box." I avoid recipes with cream of mushroom soup like the plague. Have you ever taken a look at the quantity and quality of ingredients listed on a can of cream of mushroom soup? And who needs chicken buillion cubes when one can make chicken broth from scratch; oh, so much healthier, and the flavor will actually be chicken and vegetables instead of sodium. Run-of-the-mill canned chicken broth actually sets my heart racing from the high salt content.

Cooking from scratch is becoming a lost art in our society. Sad. I heard of one homeschool mom who, when communicating that she cooks for her family every night, was asked by other homeschool moms if she was Amish. I've known people to be surprised to find that I actually make foods like cake, gravy, and lasagna from scratch, rather than from a box or packet. Then there are my experiments with homemade pasta, admittedly varying in success and definitely a waste of time in the eyes of most people. When it works, though, it is far superior. There is also a sense of satisfaction from making a food or a whole meal with basic ingredients, rather than pouring some water over powder, stirring, and popping it in the oven.

Now, I am not above occasionally using processed food of some sort, but if it was up to me it would be limited to very little or none. I admit that brownies from a mix are often equal in taste to the real deal, albeit less healthy - but then who's going for health with brownies anyway? Few other foods can be matched, though, by processed or boxed imitations.

The overwhelming problems Americans have with their health today is largely due to poor eating habits. I'm not just talking about Big Macs and Coke (term used generically in Atlanta for any soda) here. Just look at all the chemicals listed on the back of most food packages today. Processed foods contain so many by products. By putting unnatural products into their body systems day in and day out, Americans are eating themselves into a plethora of health problems and an early grave. For example, 40% of all cancer is caused by lack of fiber, easily treatable with a well-balanced, natural diet.

Ironic that a chocoholic is writing this. . . But then, I'm also a carrotholic. Three pounds of carrots in one day is my record :). Some day I'll be able to see in the dark. . . and I'll have very healthy teeth.

I have not even touched on the toll America's fast-food lifestyle has taken on family life. For most people, daily family meals are all too scarce today, replaced by individual heat-and-go meals as members of the family run from one event to another. The family table was once the hub of American family life and the focus of each evening. I'm thankful and blessed that my family still enjoys dinner together more often than not. If you are feeling inspired to cook a little from scratch, may I suggest the excellent beef stew that my family enjoyed tonight?

Beef Stew

1/2-3/4 cup flour (I used whole wheat)
2-3 t salt
1/4 t pepper
2 lbs beef stew meat, cut into 1 inch pieces
2 T oil
4 c water
4 cups cubed potatoes (I leave on the skins)
1 t parsley
1/2 t thyme
1 bay leaf
3 carrots, cut into small pieces (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 stalks celery, cut into small pieces (about 1 cup)
1-2 onions, sliced
frozen peas and corn

Mix flour, salt, and pepper and use to coat beef. Heat oil in stockpot until hot; add beef and remaining flour mixture. Cook and stir until beef is brown. Add water. Heat to boiling; reduce heat. Cover and simmer 1 1/2 hours. Add remaining ingredients except peas and corn. Cover and simmer 1-2 hours, adding peas and corn 10 minutes before serving. Remove bay leaf before serving. Enjoy!


Ashley said...

Yay for cooking from scratch! I need to get you a copy of the Wycliffe cookbook. Your recipe for beef stew sounds yummy - how many does it serve? Although I don't think I could sit and smell stew cooking for two hours after I get home from work! Maybe for a Sunday. Although cooking for one doesn't exactly get me motivated. I eat mostly because I have to. :-p I'll have to try beef stew next time you come over. :-)

Mrs.B. said...

Thanks for the recipe. I wasn't raised with cooking from scratch so I don't do much of it (A LOT of my recipes start with cream of mushroom soup *sigh*) but I found your post to be inspiring, so maybe I should learn more about it. Is there a particular cookbook that you like that has SIMPLE home-style recipes? (Alot of cookbooks these days have weird stuff in them).

Saoirse_lily said...


I haven't commented here before, but I've been reading your blog lately (I found it from C.S. Hayden's blog) and am enjoying it...as I do most all like-minded blogs! =) I too enjoy cooking from scratch...please post more recipes! =)

Samara said...

Oh, YUM. Stewy stew, hot and in the belly is such a treat when it's cold outside!
On cooking from scratch- what always mystifies me is that many if not most of the popular processed mixes available (brownies, muffins, cake, casseroles, etc.) are for things that are laughably easy to make to begin with. I mean, boxed cornbread mix? Beef stroganoff mix? One can't mix together the 4 or 5 basic ingredients on one's own?
I hypothesize that it's just a hoax to make people think that cooking even simple food is hard. I say, ditch the "flavor packet" and pack in the real flavor!

Mr. Baggins said...

I share your desire for food cooked from scratch. On the cancer issue, researchers have found that the number one cause of cancer is sugar: white, processed sugar. The solution? cook with honey. Of course, you have to use less (says my wife), but it is much healthier. And get the raw uncooked variety from a local apiary, not the processed honey you get in a grocery store. It tastes soooo much better, not to mention being much healthier for you. The number one cancer fighter is garlic, a fact that even the medical community has started to recognize.

zan said...

Actually, isn't the number one cause of cancer smoking? I will have to look that up. I guess it depends what KIND of cancer we are talking about. Garlic is a very good food. I cook with it A LOT!

However, I am not going to give up white sugar. I don't eat a lot of it and I use brown sugar in most of my cookies.

Don't eat too may carrots. Too much of a good thing is not always good. Carrot juice, in my opinion is very bad. Carrots contain vit A which is a fat soluble vitamin and your body needs only so much of it everyday. I have seen people take too many fat sol. vitamins and ruin their liver. Water soluble vit like vit C are metabolized and excreted from the body quickly so OJ is not a problem. I am very careful about the kinds of vitamins I take. Always read the back to see the daily percentage of vitamins. It isn't healthy to over do it. Just FYI.

Oh, I cook from scrath most of the time but am very thankful for pasta in the box and campells cream soups for recipes. It makes life a lot easier.


Susan said...

Mrs. B: I haven't found many from-scratch cookbooks that I really like. I do have one called Old-Fashioned Home Baking by Better Homes and Gardens that I really like (garage sale find!). Good breads, rolls, cakes, cookies, etc. I also find recipes online or from other people.

Saoirse_lily: I will try to post some more recipes soon. Glad you are enjoying my blog.

Samara: Your comment was so funny - and true. A lot of meals-in-a-box really take little prep to make from scratch. I try to avoid flavor packets as well, mainly just fillers like flour anyway. I try to use genuine spices and flavor to my liking.

Mr. Baggins: I have also heard that processed sugar is a big no-no and cancer related. I like cooking from honey sometimes. We make our whole-wheat bread from honey and we've substitued honey into some recipes. I'm trying to gradually use more, but I admit a fondness for genuine sugar :). Sigh. We buy grocery store honey, but I would like to try the raw type as I've heard from many that it's better. I love adding garlic for flavor, but really should incorporate it in more foods.

Zan: My anecdote about carrots is a rarity. I go through phases of eating more or less carrots, and I definitely won't ever eat 3 lbs in one day again. I felt ill afterwards. I also do break down and use pasta from a box often; I'm still experimenting with homemade pasta via a machine (another garage sale find!).

Jessie said...

I love to cook from scratch. Just recently I started baking honey whole wheat bread too. What is your recipe? I'll e-mail you mine and we can compare. My recipe makes two loaves.
What else do you use to substitute for cream of fill-in-the-blank soups in recipes? I don't like to use them either in recipes, but the only subs I know of are mayonnaise or plain yogurt. Come to think of it though, I recently did a casserole recipe where I made the sauce from milk and chicken broth (homemade, of course) and it was good, but it took a long time to cook and I had to stir constantly...
I've been ready for a while to boycott Campbell's! Who wants some goopey slop from a can that needs to be reconstituted!!?

Mrs. N. said...

It is very easy and economical to substitute a basic white sauce for cream of mushroom/celery/chicken soup. It is just flour and milk cooked together until thick. You can make it by first making a roux which is equal parts butter and flour cooked together in a pan (usually 2 Tbs each) and then whisking milk into it. Most of the time I don't go to that much trouble and just thicken the milk with flour and add my favorite seasoning. Easy.

Susan said...

Ashley: Forgot to answer your question about servings, the recipe serves 6-8. Yes, yes, we need to make the stew sometime together when I'm over at your apartment :).

Jessica: I'll try to remember to e-mail you my whole wheat bread recipe today. Our recipe makes about 7 loaves - good for freezing :). I haven't experimented a whole lot with substitution for cream soups, mainly just found alternative recipes. I have heard that white sauce (with seasoning of choice) works well, as Mrs. N suggested. Also, I do have one recipe for cream of chicken soup replacement that calls for chicken broth. I've used that to make enchiladas. I'll try to post that later today.

Mrs.B. said...

Mrs. N: I tried using just flour to thicken things and it ended up tasting like raw flour, what did I do wrong?

I would LOVE to hear of easy alternatives to using cream of___in my recipies.

Also, I tried making chicken broth from scratch but it didn't have much flavor...any ideas?

Ben Garrison said...

I LOVE cooking from scratch. One of my favorite frozen dinners has a top that you have to scratch off before you microwave it. It's deliciously easy to make.

Mrs.B. said...

"I LOVE cooking from scratch. One of my favorite frozen dinners has a top that you have to scratch off before you microwave it. It's deliciously easy to make."

LOL ROFL!! I actually laughed out LOUD at this comment! FUNNY!!

Susan said...

My brother the comedian. . . :-D

Mrs. B: It took me some practice to figure out chicken broth, still learning. I'll try to address that in my next post.

Mrs.B. said...

Thanks Susan.....and I'd also be interested in what you (or anyone else) does in place of cream of _____soup for recipes. I LOVE to make casseroles but most use cream of something soup in them.

Liz said...


I found your blog through Crystal's and I think it's great!

It seems like a lot of folks are asking about Cream of Whatever substitutes so here's what I use:

Melt 3 T butter or equivalent in saucepan.

Blend in, cooking and stirring until bubbly: 3 T flour and 1/4 tsp. salt.

Using wire whisk to prevent lumps, stir in: 1 cup milk, stock or combination.

Cook just until smooth and thickened. Makes slightly over 1 cup. This is considered Medium-Thick and compares to undiluted condensed soups and makes approximately the same amount contained in one 10 oz. can. I've found that the amount of sauce called for is enough for an 8 x 8 casserole dish. For a 9 x 12 casserole, I suggest doubling the recipe.

For a gluten-free diet, substitute half the amount of flour with cornstarch.

Options: Cheese sauce: Add 1/2 cup grated nippy cheese and 1/4 tsp. dry mustard.

Mushroom Sauce: Saute 1/4 cup chopped mushrooms and 1 T finely chopped onion in butter before adding flour.

Celery Sauce: Saute 1/2 cup chopped celery and 1 T finely chopped onion in butter before adding flour.

Chicken Sauce: Use chicken broth or bouillon as half the liquid. Add poultry seasoning, sage, and/or majoram to taste and diced cooked chicken if available.

That's it!! It's super easy and much more nutritious than the canned stuff that's loaded with preservatives and addatives. BTW, this is from the "More With Less" Cookbook by Doris Janzen Longacre. Gotta love all those great Mennonite recipes!

Charlsie Swadley said...

Hey there just wanted to let you know that I tried your recipe and loved it! I had some beef chunks in the fridge that needed to be cooked so was pleased to see your recipe. I was surprised to see how easy it was to make and how tender the beef was. Thank you so much!

Mrs.B. said...

THANK YOU LIZ!! I will print this and give it a try. (o:

Mountain said...

I read the poem on the left and your commentary about cooking before the beef stew reciepe and I just want to let you know that I think you are cool!

Sarai said...

I just found your blog from searching for a recipe for stew made from scratch. I have started a sugar free diet and found that the seasoning I usually use for stew has sugar in it. I love your recipe, I will try it tonight. What happens if I leave out the flour though? and can I cook this in a crock pot? Thanks!

Susan said...

I haven't made it without the flour, but I would imagine it would just be more of a soup instead of a soup, as the flour is there for thickening purposes. I hope it turns out for you!

Oakesla said...

I also just found your blog while looking for recipes from scratch. We're also trying to get away from cream of ___ soups and soup mixes. Our added challenge is that we are gluten-free and sulfite free (which means no corn starch), so we're learning how and what to substitute. Instead of the flour to thicken, we use quick cooking tapioca (about 2 Tbsp) which makes a nice stew.....I'm really loving cooking from scratch...it began out of necessity, but now is preferrable. Thanks for putting this info out there...

Oakesla said...

I also just found your blog while looking for recipes from scratch. We're also trying to get away from cream of ___ soups and soup mixes. Our added challenge is that we are gluten-free and sulfite free (which means no corn starch), so we're learning how and what to substitute. Instead of the flour to thicken, we use quick cooking tapioca (about 2 Tbsp) which makes a nice stew.....I'm really loving cooking from scratch...it began out of necessity, but now is preferrable. Thanks for putting this info out there...

Marika said...

If white sauce is too time consuming, my gran used to mix 1Tbsp of flour in some home made;sigh;thick cream and it takes less time to cook and the quantity of liquid can be easily adjusted. give it a try

Rhea A. Cardwell said...

Thank you SO MUCH for putting up a beef stew recipe that is ACTUALLY from scratch. I've been searching and searching. I'll be marking your blog on my favorites task bar...and will be back shortly! Keep on cookin'!