I wasn't quite prepared for the answer when I asked my mom for the recipe for the "stewed beef" I loved as a child.
"I don't really have a recipe," she said. "I just make it the way your great-grandmother used to."
In my family, that's often how it goes. Mom learned to cook watching her mother cook, who watched her mother, and so on.
Although I can't imagine how, I never watched Mom make today's recipe. Its southern, antique name is "stew beef." It's extremely simple to make, just beef cooked with some onions and a bit of herbs until it falls apart.
After some experimenting and several telephone conferences, this is as close as I can come to an old-fashioned recipe that's just as good now as it was then. (By the way, the onion-soup mix is my own modern update.)
In the old days, this beef dish was usually served over white rice, but we also love it over mashed potatoes or old-fashioned egg noodles.
For a more modern and typical beef-stew recipe (with potatoes and carrots), visit our Web site at www.KitchenScoop.com.
Contact Beverly Mills and Alicia Ross at Desperation Dinners, c/o United Media, 200 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10016.
Great-Grandma's Stew Beef
Start to finish: 5 minutes preparation, plus 8 to 10 hours in a slow cooker and 5 minutes to thicken
3 pounds beef cubes for stew, well marbled
4 large onions (for 4 cups slices)
1 envelope (1 ounce) dry onion-soup mix (see Cook's note)
3 cups water, plus more for thickening
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground sage
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves, optional garnish
1/2 cup hot cooked rice, per person, for serving (see Cook's note)
Cook's note: We used Lipton Onion Soup and Recipe Mix. Stew Beef is also good served over brown rice, egg noodles, mashed potatoes, and polenta.
Place the beef cubes in the bottom of a 5-quart or larger slow cooker. Peel the onions and slice into crescent-shaped strips, about 1/4-inch wide. Add to the slow cooker. Add the soup mix, water, black pepper, and sage, and stir to mix well.
Cover the slow cooker, and cook on low until the beef is very tender and practically falling apart, about eight to 10 hours.
Just before serving, mix the cornstarch with 1/2 cup of water in a jar with a lid and shake vigorously to mix. Drizzle half of the mixture over the stew and stir to thicken. Add more as necessary to reach desired consistency.
If you do not have a slow cooker, use these directions: Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in an extra-deep, 12-inch, nonstick skillet. Brown the beef and one onion. Add the remaining onions, water, onion-soup mix, black pepper, and sage. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to low and simmer the beef for 3 1/2 hours or until the beef cubes are so tender that they fall apart. Proceed with thickening as stated in recipe.
Chop the parsley (if using) and stir into the stew. Serve over hot steamed rice.
Yield: 8 servings
Approximate values per serving: 503 calories (39 from fat), 21.5 g fat (8.5 g saturated), 105 mg cholesterol, 36.5 g protein, 39 g carbohydrates, 2 g dietary fiber, 273 mg sodium