Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Atheist Stew for the Lutheran Church

I'm a big fan of the Lutheran church that my husband attends. Though I am a life-long non-believer, Pastor Kennedy of The Grace Lutheran Church was happy to perform our wedding ceremony so very long ago; no pressure, no coercion, because that's the kind of man he is.

Pastor Kennedy is a GOOD man. He is so cool and so tolerant, that he introduced me to another non-believer, simply because he knew we shared the same political views. What a guy. (By the way, the other non-believer is a structural engineer and worked on the design and construction of the addition to the church, gratis!

I haven't the talent to construct buildings, but every year I make beef stew in sauerbraten gravy for the church Oktoberfest. And since I'm at a loss for something to blog about today, I'll tell you about that.

As to making it, there is no recipe, so I'll just tell you what I do. Have on hand:

(Preferably chuck or shank: Something that can take a LOT of stewing.) in one inch cubes (I'm usually not so neat but if the cubes are roughly the same size, they'll all tenderize at the same time.
Onion, Celery, Carrots and Apple(s) (Lots of onions)
Beer (Best to have a six-pack on hand.)
(Not apple juice.)
Cider Vinegar
Bacon, Thick-Sliced, Hickory-Smoked
(I use Boar's Head)
Nabisco Ginger Snaps

Ok, so brown the bacon in a big stew pot. Do it slowly, because you're more interested in the bacon fat than the bacon, and browning it slowly will render the most fat without burning the bacon.

Remove the bacon and reserve. Brown your beef in the bacon fat. Brown it really well because that makes a big difference to the taste. You may have to do it in batches, if you've got a lot. Remember, don't crowd the pot. You want each piece to have space around it while it's browning. Use tongs to keep turning the pieces.

When the beef is browned, remove and reserve in bowl. Into your hot pot, dump onions, celery, carrots and peeled/cored apple that have all been roughly diced. Toss them around over high heat until the onions start to wilt. (If you keep them moving, the bacon fat won't burn.)

Leaving the heat on 'High', immediately pour in a bottle of Sam Adam's or Spaten or Newcastle Brown Ale. (Corona's not good for stew, just good to drink.) Give it a stir. Then pour in a regular-sized Dixie cup of cider. Stir it around, lower the heat, put top on pot, go have cigarette and check email. (It's what I do.) But don't get too far away from the kitchen, because you'll want to know when it starts smelling right. Take top off pot, raise heat and reduce liquid a little while stirring occasionally, then dump the beef back into the pot.

This is where it starts to get a little iffy. Add the cider vinegar; maybe an ounce of it. Better too little than too much, because you can always add more later. Check the liquid level. It should be just below the top of the meat and veg, so if you need more, you can top it off with beef stock, or more beer or cider, or even water. I'd probably use beer. Then lower the heat back to medium-ish, give it a good stir and replace the top. Go have cigarette, drink bottle of Corona and laugh at LOLcats on internet.

Hey, did you save that Dixie cup from before? Good. Stack ginger snaps in it until they almost reach the top. With your finger on the top cookie, fill the cup with cider, then replace your finger with a flat plate to hold the cookies down. (They float like styrofoam!) They'll dissolve pretty quickly, but you can just leave them till you're ready for them.

When the smell starts to change again, (Nota Bene: I'm not talking about a burning smell. Avoid burning smells.) check to see if the meat is getting tender. (Not 'falling apart' tender, but tender enough to eat.) When that time comes, raise your heat a little and dump in the ginger snaps that have dissolved in the cider. (But stir them up in the cup a little bit before you dump them.) Stir the stew until the gravy has thickened; about five minutes. Lower the heat to medium-low, replace the top and have another cigarette, stop the cats from climbing the shower curtain and have another Corona, IF you don't have to chauffeur your spouse anywhere afterward.

You'll notice that there are no potatoes in this recipe. That's because I prefer it with egg noodles. (and red cabbage) If you want to put potatoes in, use a one-inch dice and put them in now.

When the meat (and the potatoes, if you use them) are fully tender, check the gravy for taste. You might want to add a little salt; sometimes I do. It might need more vinegar, but only a little! It might need more ginger snaps dissolved in cider. Do whatever you need to do, chop up your reserved bacon and throw it back in the pot and give it a good stir. Replace the top and contemplate what a good upper body work-out you've gotten while cooking this meal. Check it after 15 minutes. It should be perfect.

I wish I could tell you amounts, but I can't. It all depends on how many people my husband estimates will be eating it, and then I just guess anyway. It all works out in the end.

- Maggie

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