Monday, June 18, 2012

Grandma's Beef Stew

Funny thing, time. On one hand, we often have too much of it at our disposal. On the other, we never have enough for the things that matter - and we only realize what those are when we're left clinging to hours, minutes, seconds. When I was in university, I spent so much time miserable at being away from home that I missed out on what could have been the best years of my life. Later on, I became so "busy" that I skipped out on family functions, knowing that there was always another event around the corner that I could use to catch up. It was always tomorrow with me.

My grandfather, on the other hand, was always at the right place at the right time. Meticulous in his documentation of debits, credits, appointments, phone numbers and all manner of things that struck his fancy, you could always count on a quick, ├╝ber specific response to almost any question you might have. Was the tip at dinner last night ten percent or twenty? A quick check of his "little black book" and even faster backwards math would tell him it was nineteen, since we decided to round it out. Where did he last fill up on gas? That would be pump #4 at the gas station just down the road from his house. Even a simple question of what the time was would garner an answer backed by Grandpa consulting his digital, almost neo-scientific watch - he would never give a rounded number like 2:30 if the time was in fact 2:28 or 2:31, and depending on the circumstances you'd get the chronology to the second. I'm sure that if I had been more like him this morning I would have not only been at his hospital bedside but would have paid attention to the clock. Sometime between 5:50 and 6:00 this morning, my grandfather's internal timepiece stopped, and it was not anyone's power nor wish to try and re-wind it.

As much of a shock as it was, I'm almost ashamed to admit that not a single time during his illness was I really sad. Grandpa always did things with expedience and at the best possible time - including this. He waited until after Father's Day passed and he knew my uncle and his sister were on their way before finally allowing his body to stop fighting. In a way, I feel horrible that out of all the worthy people in his life, I was the last one to speak with him. I got one last "hi" the one and only time I went to see him - yesterday, for Father's Day. I will never forget how hollow he looked on that hospital bed, but at the same time I'm almost glad that I didn't recognize him except for the pale band of skin that had been covered by his watch for almost 60 years. The only regret I have is that I didn't have my camera yesterday to document that epically infamous watch tan, by the time I saw his body today it had all faded away. The last remaining piece of him had faded away. It was then that I really knew he was gone. I was fortunate enough to get a photo of that arm, his hand still bearing his wedding ring, and I hope my sister can do her magic with it art wise and transform it into a living memory. My Grandma is letting me keep his beloved timepiece as well - she saved it for me since she knew how much it meant to my memory of him. He will never be forgotten.

Around the time he first got sick, I was clearing out old emails from my archive and came across a file of notes from Grandpa, dating back to the years I was at Carleton. As old as he was, Grandpa  was still incredibly tech-savvy, and probably the only grandparent I know who was actively on Facebook and the Internet almost daily. One of those emails was a recipe for the beef stew my Grandma had sent in a care package to combat the -40C winter weather. It was such a comfort to me then that I wanted to return the favour with a batch of her homemade goodness ready and waiting when she was in search of a taste from the past.


This is my re-incarnation of her recipe. The original (in Grandpa's words) is below it.

Grandma's Beef Stew
Serves 8-10
15 oz round steak
salt and black pepper
2 tbsp olive oil, divided
1 large onion
3 large carrots
9 ribs celery
5 cremini mushrooms
1 1/2 large red peppers
1 1/2 cups chopped cauliflower
1/2 cup chopped green beans
4 cloves garlic
2 large fresh tomatoes, chopped
1 (12-oz) can no-salt-added corn
5 red "new" potatoes, halved or quartered
1 (28-oz) can no-salt-added diced tomatoes
2 cups beef broth
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp cocoa powder
1 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp cumin
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp paprika
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp low sodium soy sauce
3 tbsp ketchup
1 (6-oz) can tomato paste
1/4 cup fresh or frozen peas
3 1/2 tbsp Veloutine
  1. Cube the steak and season well with salt and pepper.
  2. Heat 1 tbsp of oil in a large, heavy pot (I used enameled cast iron).
  3. Add the steak and brown on all sides. Remove to a plate.
  4. Add the remaining olive oil and bring back to temperature, then add the onion, carrots, celery, mushrooms and peppers.
  5. Cook, stirring, for about 15 minutes, until they begin to soften.
  6. Add the cauliflower, beans, garlic, fresh tomatoes, corn and potatoes and stir in.
  7. Pour in the diced tomatoes and broth and stir in the salt, cocoa, allspice, cumin, thyme, paprika, Worcestershire, soy sauce, ketchup and tomato paste.
  8. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and add back the beef.
  9. Partially cover and cook, stirring every hour or so, for 3 hours.
  10. Cover the pot completely and cook, stirring every hour or so, for 3 hours.
  11. Stir in the peas and Veloutine, bring back to a boil and cook until thickened.
  12. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.
Amount Per Serving (based on 10 servings)
Calories: 216.0
Total Fat: 5.1 g
Cholesterol: 24.5 mg
Sodium: 649.2 mg
Total Carbs: 29.3 g
Dietary Fiber: 6.0 g
Protein: 14.9 g

Dear Sarah:

In Grandma's own words:
"Funny you should ask; I made beef stew on Saturday.
Start with beef broth (powder or can) - for a big stew 2 cups water, 2 tablespoons powder.
Sirloin, round or similar steak
Any and all vegs. you have - chopped up
Pound meat and coat with flour, salt & pepper
Fry in oil or cooking spray until outside is brown - inside pink Add to broth.
To broth add chopped vegs., canned tomatoes with juice or use fresh tomato finely chopped. Add a good teaspoon of minced garlic, a good teaspoon of soy sauce and 3 tablespoons of sweet and sour sauce or ketchup.
Cook long and slow (5 - 7 hours). Add Veloutine, flour or corn starch to thicken when cooking is done.

Vegetables (as available):
Potatoes, carrots, corn, cauliflower, large cooking onion, mushrooms, celery, peas (add later so they won't go to mush). If you like turnip, use it (WE DON'T)."

Grandpa and Grandma


  1. I'm sorry you've lost him. Also, I'll agree with him: turnip is evil.

  2. Beautiful post. My condolences on your loss and my congratulations on the grace and care with which you've chosen to remember your grandfather. Thank you for sharing this.

  3. Thanks, both of you. He's at peace, these days it's all about helping Grandma through the tough days and enjoying the good ones with her. You really realize the true value of family with something like this.


Thanks for the feedback!