It’s just a little tin box. You probably have one in your kitchen.
But oh, the treasures inside.
The box, adorned with homey images from a simpler time, is stuffed full of 3×5 index cards that Ellen got from her mother. On these cards – faded with age, occasionally smudged with gravy, handwriting made gauzy by the heat and humidity of a working kitchen – is a treasury of recipes collected over decades from friends and family and handed down from generation to generation.
The box contains an amazing range of tastes – from “Adele’s Cereal” to “Ham, Cheese, and Potato Casserole,” to “Porcupine Meat Balls” to “Zucchini Chocolate Cake”. Many of the recipes are from that simpler time, when “fat” was what “healthy” babies were, and when the family cook had most of the day to plan and execute the evening meal, including a loaf of fresh-baked bread.
That’s why this particular recipe caught my eye, and eventually my fancy. It reminded me of meals from my childhood. It was called “Marge Mason Stew.” My mother-in-law’s neighbor many years ago, Marge had created the perfect beef stew recipe – comfort-food good, and very simple. But more to the point, it can be adapted to almost any taste, including for folks who don’t eat red meat, like my family. Having made, and played with, the recipe dozens of times, I now use turkey or chicken thigh meat as a replacement for fatty beef cubes. This produces a stew that is almost identical in flavor and texture to beef stew, lower in fat and totally satisfying. And in a busy world, this recipe is perfect for a slow cooker.
But since this is now turkey stew, and I’ve added a couple of ingredients Marge didn’t have in her original recipe, I can no longer, in good faith, call it “Marge Mason Stew.” Now we call it …
MARGE SIMPSON STEW
1 1/2 pounds boneless turkey thigh meat, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
3 tablespoons whole-wheat flour
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups vegetable broth
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
3 red or Yukon Gold potatoes, cubed
3 carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
3/4 cup red wine
1/3 cup ketchup
1/2 cup frozen peas
Preheat oil in a large heavy pot over medium-high heat.
Reduce vegetable broth in a saucepan until only 1 cup remains.
Place the flour, salt, pepper and ginger in a large food-storage bag, shake well, then add half the turkey cubes to the bag. Close the bag, and shake well until the turkey cubes are coated with the flour mixture. Place the flour-coated cubes into the pot and stir until they are fully browned and firm to the touch, about 10 minutes. Remove the meat cubes to a bowl.
Repeat with the remaining meat, adding more oil if necessary.
Return the original batch to the pot, add the garlic and stir for 30 seconds. Then add the broth, and 1/2 cup of wine, bring to a boil, and stir to deglaze the pot. Then add the meat, herbs, and ketchup. Simmer for 1 1/2 hours.
Add the onions, carrots, potatoes and remaining wine. Add salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for an additional hour, adding the peas in the last 15 minutes. Serve when the potatoes are tender.
To make this stew in a slow cooker, brown the meat in a heavy pan, deglaze the pan with the wine, place the meat and the glaze in the crock, cover with the remaining ingredients, and cook on the low setting for 8 hours.
Also, double the recipe. It gets better in the fridge.
Marge Mason Stew
1 pound stew beef (beef tips are best)
4 tablespoons whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons ground ginger
1 can beef consomme
2-3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/4 teaspoon each dried basil, dried thyme, paprika
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped carrots
4 baby red potatoes, quartered
3/4 cup red wine
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/3 cup ketchup
kosher salt and pepper to taste
Cut meat into 1/2-inch cubes. Prepare a large plastic bag with flour, salt, pepper, ginger. Place half the meat in the bag, toss to coat, and brown in batches in a large, heavy-bottom stew pot to sear. Remove from the pot, repeat with the remaining meat, and set aside
Add the consomme and garlic to the pot and simmer, stirring to remove the brown bits from the bottom of the pot. Then add the browned meat, 1/2 cup wine, herbs, tomato paste, and ketchup, and stir well to mix. Simmer for 1.5 hours. Add the onions, carrots, potatoes and the remaining wine. Taste and salt and pepper to taste. Cook for another hour.