Sunday, November 6, 2011

Dear John: "Cowpuncher" Beef Stew with Cornmeal Dumplings

October was a busy month for us. I haven't had much time for blog posting. I did manage to try three new cooking projects for this blog, though; my apologies for not getting them to you until now. First came a new beef stew I hadn't made before, and I think these cool November days are great for a hearty bowl of warm stew! (Check out the beef stew I made around this time last year.)

We've been slowly making our way through Dear John; we've met John and Savannah and witnessed the beginning of their romance. But as is the case with many romances--especially the ones in Nicholas Sparks' novels--there is often a time of separation between the two characters. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, but it also presents many challenges, too. (Did you know Joe and I lived 200 miles apart when we first started dating? That wasn't easy, but we persevered and now we've been married for sixteen years. Someday I'll share our story with you.) John's furlough from the Army came to an end, and he had to go back to his base in Germany. John and Savannah wrote many letters to each other. They counted down the days until they could see each other again, and shared their dreams of a future together. Their time apart was lengthened, however, in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, John was shipped off to Iraq, and after a while they wrote to each other more rarely.

Fast-forward a few years, and we find Savannah living on her family's ranch in Lenoir, North Carolina. She hasn't seen John since that blissful month in Wrightsville Beach. Okay now for the spoiler--Savannah has fallen in love with someone else. I'll try not to give anything else away, but when John shows up to Savannah's ranch, he finds her alone, and learns that her life with this new love is more complicated than anyone ever imagined it would be. As the two catch up on old times and talk about Savannah's new life, Savannah warms up some leftover stew from her fridge.

I wanted to make something that was different from the stew I usually make. I decided to pull out a cookbook that I haven't used yet:

When I saw the recipe for Cowpuncher Stew, in the section called "Chuck Wagon Chow," I just had to try it. It's something that, according to my cookbook, cowboys often would eat out on the trail. Maybe a woman living on a horse farm might appreciate it, right?


1 1/2 pounds beef stew meat, cut in 1-inch cubes

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour*

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons shortening

1 1/2 cups strong coffee

2 tablespoons molasses

1 clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed

1/8 teaspoon cayenne

1 1/2 cups water

4 carrots, cut in 1/2-inch slices

4 small onions, quartered

3 medium potatoes, peeled and cut up

1/4 cup cold water

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour*

Coat beef cubes with a mixture of 2 tablespoons flour* and 1 teaspoon salt. In Dutch oven brown meat on all sides in hot shortening. Stir in the coffee, molasses, garlic, 1 teaspoon salt, Worcestershire, oregano, and cayenne. Cover, simmer over low heat till meat is almost tender, about 1 1/2 hours. Add the 1 1/2 cups water, carrot slices, onion quarters, and potato pieces. Simmer, covered, till vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes. Blend 1/4 cup cold water into the 3 tablespoons flour*; add to stew mixture. Cook and stir till mixture is thickened and bubbly. Serve in bowls. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

(*I used cornstarch)

From the Better Homes and Gardens Heritage Cookbook, p. 204

I started with a local free-range London Broil steak. I remember hearing Julia Child say once that you should ALWAYS use good steak for your beef stew, and NEVER use stew meat because it tastes like dog food. I don't know whether that's true or not, but I've always followed Julia's advice.

Browning the meat

Before the vegetables go in. I love the chocolate-brown color.

MMMMmmm, looks delicious!


There was also a recipe in the same cookbook for cornmeal dumplings; they are meant to be cooked with a different recipe, but I thought they would go great with the stew:


In saucepan, combine 1 cup water, 1/2 cup yellow cornmeal, and 1/2 teaspoon salt; bring to boiling. Cook and stir till thickened. Remove from heat. Stir moderate amount hot mixture into 1 beaten egg (or, 1 1/2 heaping tablespoon Egg Replacer mixed with 2 tablespoons water). Return to hot mixture. Stir together 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, and dash pepper (I replaced the flour and baking powder with gluten-free Bisquick.). Add to cornmeal mixture; beat well. Stir in one 7-ounce can whole kernel corn, drained. (Instead, I used one ear of fresh corn right off the cob.)

Drop batter by rounded tablespoonfuls onto boiling stew mixture. Cover, simmer till dumplings are done 10 to 12 minutes.

(Heritage Cookbook, p. 204)

This was some of the last locally grown corn-on-the cob.

Step One--the cornmeal, water, and salt

Ready to make the dumplings

I honestly didn't know how they would taste, and almost expected the kids to wrinkle their noses at them. The dumplings were a huge hit, and they asked me if I would please make more next time.

A lovely fall dinner!

There may be one--possibly two--more projects from Dear John that I might come back to later, (and they're similar to one's I've already done), but for now we'll move on to The Choice with some delicious jalapeno burgers. Stay tuned!

1 comment:

  1. I've been using the cookbook since the 1980s. It has some of the best recipes and I always get compliments on them. I made the Cowpuncher Stew for a workplace potluck last week and now everyone wants the recipe.