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This time of year makes me want to cook hearty, filling food that nourishes and warms. For me, beef stew is the perfect dinner when the skies have been gray and cold for days. This is comfort food at its best — comforting to cook and to eat. About the title: the recipe is one I invented over time, without thought of measurements or ratios. When I finally decided to measure out ingredients and write it down, I discovered that everything was in multiples of two. The fact that a creative process aimed entirely at making something good to eat should result in an inherently ordered pattern seems a kind gesture on creation’s part. :)

The name is also a good reminder that this is the perfect recipe for sharing. It makes a generous twelve servings, so bless someone with a home-cooked meal. It seems obvious to make dinner for a family with a new baby or a neighbor just home from the hospital; but I’d wager we can all think of someone who could use a little love right now. Moms of teenagers need just as much care as those with newborns, and a hot meal at the end of a long work day is just as welcome as one at the end of a sick day.

Two-by-Two Beef Stew
makes 12 generous servings

2 c. roughly chopped carrots (about 6)
2 c. roughly chopped celery (peeled, about 5 stalks)
2 c. roughly chopped yellow onion (2 small or 1 large)
2 c. roughly chopped mushrooms (I prefer shitake caps)
2 c. roughly chopped rutabaga (peeled, 1 small or 1/2 large, see Recipe Notes)
4 c. roughly chopped red potatoes (unpeeled, about 6 medium)
2 lbs. trimmed beef stew meat (leaner is not better in this case)
2 c. beef stock
2 c. mushroom or vegetable broth
2 c. + 2 Tbsp. water
1/2 c. all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp. + 2 tsp. coarse sea salt
2 tsp. ground black pepper
2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
2 tsp. dried thyme (or 2 Tbsp. fresh)
2 tsp. dried basil (or 2 Tbsp. fresh, chopped)
2 tsp. ground brown mustard seed (read more about it in Recipe Notes for Ham + Chard Tart)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. cornstarch

Heat olive oil in a large stockpot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. While it’s warming, toss beef in flour, two teaspoons of the coarse salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of the pepper. (The flour helps the beef brown and starts the stew’s thickening process.) Cook beef until brown, about five minutes. Add all vegetables, garlic, remaining salt and pepper, thyme, basil, mustard seed, tomato paste, stock, broth, and two cups water. Stir well until thoroughly combined. Allow to come to boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer covered for 1 1/2-2 hours, until vegetables and meat are tender.

In last five minutes of cooking time, whisk together the cornstarch and remaining two tablespoons water in a small mixing bowl — this is to finish thickening the stew. Add to hot stew while stirring constantly. Continue to stir and simmer until stew is thickened, then turn off heat. Now is the time to taste and add more salt and pepper as needed. Allow stew to sit ten minutes or so, until it’s no longer molten, and serve with slices of fresh bread or hot, buttered biscuits.

I don’t actually own a Crockpot (I am the slow cooker around here ;), but this seems like the kind of recipe that would be well-suited to it. If you try it out that way, please post in the comments and let me know how it goes.

Recipe Notes + Tips:
Besides being a really fun word to say, rutabagas are pretty yummy in soup, stew, and stock. They are a hybrid cross between cabbage and turnips, though I am convinced a little horseradish joined the party at some point. They share the crispness of green cabbage, but with less of that sulfurous twang. They have a little bite when raw, but that’s largely mellowed on cooking. If you haven’t ever tried one, this is your chance, as they are in season and at their best right now. (And no, this message was not paid for by the National Rutabaga Farmers Association. :) If you prefer, you can substitute the same amount of roughly chopped parsnips or just add more potatoes. I would still say the word “rutabaga” out loud a few times though.