I love stews and usually make them often during the cold, winter months, but I’ve been slacking in that department this year, it seems. There’s just something so comforting about a big pot of stew cooking away on the stove top when the wind is howling, the snow is blowing and the temperatures plummet. While I like all types of stews, I have to admit that I am partial to simple beef stews chock full of hunks of meat, carrots, onions, potatoes and other root vegetables.

Like so many of the recipes I offer up here, stews can easily be modified to suit your tastes. Add a little red wine, or mushrooms. Vary the herbs, or add a whole variety of root vegetables. Finish the stew with sour cream, yogurt, or a little fortified wine, or leave it plain. The possibilities are endless and you can build it to suit your own tastes and cravings.

I’ve kept this one rather simple, but have added a bit of flair by using Guinness in the dish in deference to St. Patrick's Day that is coming up soon. The maltiness of the beer helps to elevate the sweetness of the rutabaga, while the caramel tones compliment the well browned meat. The bitterness just kind of fades into the background, but be careful how much you use or that bitterness can ruin the dish.

Beef & Guinness Stew
serves 4 with a few leftovers

1 1/2 pounds beef (I usually look for chuck or round) cut into 1 1/2″ cubes (fat and sinew removed)
4 Tbsp. flour
4 Tbsp. vegetable oil
2 medium onions, peeled, large dice
2 ribs celery, large dice
3 each carrots, peeled, large dice
1 1/2 bottles Guinness (that leaves 1/2 a bottle for drinking while cooking because it would be a shame to waste good Guinness!)
2 cups water
1 medium rutabaga peeled, large dice
3-4 potatoes peeled, large dice
1 each bay leaf
1/2 tsp. dried thyme

Season the flour with salt and pepper, and toss with beef to coat. Meanwhile, in a large, heavy bottomed pot heat the oil over high heat. Add half the floured beef to the pot and cook until deep brown on all sides (people have a tendency to want to stir meat too often as it is browning-once added to the pan let it cook for 3-4 minutes before stirring, then only stir enough to mix it around so that other sides brown, allow to cook a few minutes before stirring again). Once meat is sufficiently browned remove from pot and cook remaining beef. Remove that also and add onions, carrots and celery. Add a little more oil if necessary and cook until lightly browned. Deglaze pan with the beer, stirring to scrape up all the bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Cook for 5 minutes then add the beef, along with any juices that have accumulated, the water, bay leaf, and thyme. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a hard simmer, reduce heat, cover and allow to simmer, slowly, for 1 1/2 hours. Add the rutabaga and potato, cover, and cook until meat and vegetables are tender, about another 30 minutes. Check seasoning and add more salt and pepper if necessary. If the stew is a little thin for your tastes (I like my stew pretty thick) mix a couple of tablespoons of flour with just enough water to make a thin paste. Add to stew and bring back to a brief boil to thicken. Serve with homemade biscuits.