Last Meal

Remember that movie Signs with Mel Gibson? The most memorable moment from that movie for me was when the family sits down and they all have what they think will be their last meal. Everyone has exactly they want, and despite the rather depressing ending to that scene it always brought up the conversation “What would you want your last meal to be?” My answer has always been the same – this stew.

I wouldn’t turn down a crusty loaf of bread to accompany my meal, but the main event hasn’t changed since 2002.

My Favorite Beef Stew

1 lb stew meat
1 Tbsp olive oil
1-2 carrots, peeled & chopped
1/2 – 1 onion, chopped
1-2 ribs of celery, chopped
6 crimini mushrooms, sliced
1 (14.5 oz) can stewed tomatoes
1 c of H2O OR 1 c red wine (your choice)
4 c beef broth
2 bay leaves
3/4 tsp dried thyme
salt & pepper
3-4 potatoes, peeled & diced
1/2 c pearl barley
3-4 Tbsp cornstarch + 1/2 c cold water
Balsamic Vinegar

Start by browning the stew meat in your olive oil.  This should only take about 5 minutes or so, and while it’s going chop up your carrots, celery, onion, and garlic.  You’re essentially prepping a mirepoix – which is a fancy way of saying those four ingredients in a dish.  They’re a great staple for building flavor. Technically this is more of a soffritto – because it contains garlic – but I never remember that when I’m cooking.  

Yes – I remember mirepoix, but I took 4 years of French in high school. (Super nerd alert!) Anyway – once your beef is no longer pink add in all the veggies you just chopped. 

This should cook for about 5 minutes, which is the perfect amount of time to slice you mushrooms, and peel and chop your potatoes. 

Stir in your mushrooms, tomatoes, water (or wine), broth, bay leaves, thyme, salt & pepper, and potatoes. Bring this all to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 1 hour. 

After an hour you can add your barley.  You’ll let this all simmer for another 45 minutes, but covered this time.

Combine the water and the cornstarch as this will act as a thickener.  If you skip this step (which you totally can if you want) you’ll end up with a more soupy consistency – which is delicious, but I like the richness of a thick bowl of stew on a perfectly chilly day. Once the barley is tender you can gradually stir in your water/cornstarch slurry. Bring the stew back to a boil and stir for 2 minutes until everything is nice and thick. Before serving take out and discard the bay leaves.

Now comes my favorite part of this stew – balsamic vinegar!  This is one of my absolute favorite ingredients in the kitchen.  A few weeks ago my husband found an amazing store near us that sells all different kinds of fancy olive oils and vinegars.  He splurged and took home a bottle of 18-year aged traditional balsamic.  He’s so good to me.  Alas, not everyone is a fan of balsamic vinegar, so while it would be perfectly acceptable to add in the balsamic vinegar to the stew now (to your taste of course) I like to keep everyone at the dinner table happy and let them add it themselves.  

This also means if there are leftovers (and that’s a BIG if) you can store this without the vinegar and add it after you warm a bowl for yourself.

This post is particularly fitting for us right now because this was one of the last meals I cooked in our current residence.  Due to an interesting turn of events we’ve been in the throes of moving out of what we always knew was a temporary living situation – hence my relative absence. However, this would also make a fantastic first meal in our new place!  Maybe once we’re all settled in I’ll pull out my favorite orange pot and bring this delicious dish to our new dining room soon. Enjoy!

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