When the temperature dips there’s nothing better to eat than a bowl of hearty stew. It’s comfort food at its very best. Meat, vegetables and a savory liquid that are simmered together for hours on top of the stove to create a meal to take away the chill of a fall or winter day. It’s not too surprising that just about every cuisine in the world has its own version. But the best thing about a stew is, apart from the fact it tastes so good, it’s the budget smart cook’s best friend and here’s why.
Great Cooking Skills Not Required
Stews are one of the easiest of dishes to prepare and there are just a few simple rules to follow. I know lots of people say you can skip browning the meat before you add it to the saucepan, but I’ve always got the best results by doing just that. I take a freezer bag and add flour, some salt and pepper and mix everything together. I then add the cubes of meat to the bag and shake until everything’s coated well. Next I heat oil in a skillet over a fairly high heat and add about five cubes of meat at a time. Don’t rush this part and be tempted to add all the meat at the same time because if you overcrowd the pan the meat doesn’t brown as well and that’s the whole point of going to all this trouble. Turn the meat until it’s browned on each side, remove and put in the saucepan and continue with the rest of the meat.
They’re Made with Low Cost Ingredients
Here’s one of the best things about stew, you can make it with cheaper cuts of meat. In fact, less expensive cuts of meat work the best with this slow cooking process. Plus, while the stew simmers the meat soaks up the liquid, making it even more tender.
And as most people make stews during the colder months, root vegetables, which make ideal partners for the meat, are usually at their cheapest during fall and winter. And if you use your own homemade stock, that’s basically free, but even if you resort to store bought ones, it’s not going to put a too big a dent in your budget.
They Can be Made in One Pot
I can’t think of an easier meal than a stew, everything cooking together in one pot. Apart from preparing the meat and chopping the vegetables, and of course checking everything now and then, it’s a snap to put together. I almost feel lazy on the days I make a stew. Although my preference is to serve a stew with mashed potatoes, I sometimes add the potatoes or dumplings to the stew for the ultimate one pot meal. And if you want to cheat even further or you want a ready cooked meal when you come home from work, opt for cooking your stew in a slow cooker.
Stews Freeze Really Well
Soups and stews are some of the best dishes to put in the freezer. You can make up two batches, eat one and freeze the other. Or, and I know leftovers aren’t a common thing when stew is served, but you can easily freeze what’s left. Talk about the ultimate cook once, eat twice dish.
You Can Give Them Your Own Unique Spin
Even if you’ve got a favorite recipe for stew you can add your own touches and family favorites to a stew. Nothing can basically go wrong with adding a bit more of this or that. If you want to stretch your budget even further you get add more vegetables and cut down on the meat, or you can add things like pulses. My grandmother always added pearl barley to beef stew. And when it comes to seasonings once again you’re in charge. One thing I never leave out of a stew is a tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce.
And don’t think you have to use only red meat because I only used it as an illustration for this article. Other meats like pork, poultry and fish can be used, just remember they don’t need to cook so long. And if you what to go meatless, vegetables and beans like garbanzos make a really inexpensive but great tasting stew.
Italian Fall Vegetable Stew
This is a great recipe for the slow cooker. It’s one of my favorites when the weather turns cold. And a special treat when you’ve been outside raking leaves.
(Serves 4 as a Main Dish or 6 as a Side Dish)
•1 ½ cups dried lentils
•3 cups of water
•2 cups chopped butternut squash
•1 cup chopped sweet potato
•1 26 oz. jar of Classico Fire Roasted Tomato and Garlic pasta sauce
•1 small onion, chopped
•1 cup chopped zucchini
•1 15 oz. can garbanzo beans
•½ teaspoon dried basil
•½ teaspoon dried thyme
1.Rinse lentils and place in at least a 3-quart slow cooker with the three cups of water. Add the squash, sweet potato, onion, pasta sauce, basil and thyme and stir together.
2.Cover and cook either 8-10 hours on high, or 4-6 hours on low. About an hour before serving stir in the chopped zucchini and just before serving stir in the garbanzo beans. Fresh chopped basil is a nice addition sprinkled on top when the dish has finished cooking.
You can serve this as a vegetarian dish with crusty Italian bread, or as a side dish with a grilled chicken breast or pork chop.