As many of my readers know, my husband and I spent nearly 20 years living in the Lake Sunapee region of New Hampshire. Beautiful place to be and only a couple hours drive to The White Mountains, the northern tip of the state, the seacoast, or even into Vermont.
But this Coalcracker hated winter there. NH is famous for its four seasons: winter, mud season, black fly season, and almost winter again, I suffered annual bouts of cabin fever in the great north woods. To add fuel to the fire, my husband did a long stint of extended work-related travel meaning I was lonely on top of stir-crazy.
One year around St. Paddy’s Day, James happened to be home for a week or so. Insisting we needed a “date night”, he set about looking for places that appealed to us. He settled in on an Irish pub a couple towns up the road that promised live music and a friendly atmosphere. Bundled up like the kid in the snowsuit from the movie “A Christmas Story”, we hopped into the four-wheel drive pickup truck and set out.
As we walked through the door of the pub, strains of classic Celtic songs whispered in our ears and soft laughter filled the air. “Good choice, hon!” I turned to him, exclaiming. “Good choice.”
As we settled into a cozy table in the corner and placed our order, a couple was seated at the table next to ours. Anyone who has ever been on a “first date” understands the body language involved — and both James and I picked up on it from this young couple immediately.
As we waited for our order to arrive, it was next to impossible not to catch pieces of the couple’s conversation between chords of music and breaks between songs.
Let’s just say the guy was going to find himself single for a very long time. There weren’t any awkward moments of silence because he never shut up. He never asked about her, he never stopped swinging the leg he had crossed over his knee the moment he sat down (blocking the traffic flow in the aisle between tables). He read the menu like he was studying for the test of his life then asked the waitress if they had five different dishes that weren’t on the menu (dude, seriously?) and he never stopped telling his date what an outstanding specimen of humanity he was.
By the time our meals arrived, this guy was on my last nerve but James was finding it hilarious. As I seethed with annoyance that James was paying far too much attention on “our” date night to this blowhard, the poor woman with him had that look on her face that told me she wanted to be anywhere else but there. I admit, I really felt for her because before the love of my life came along, I’d had one or two of these same dates from Hell.
As this couple’s date was destined from the start to end early, they arose shortly after eating (well, he ate like a starving man, she picked at a lonely chicken wing) and left after the gift to humanity assured his lovely date he had a nice time and thought they should do it again. As the woman stood there with an incredulous look on her face, I leaned over to James and said, “Not in this lifetime or any other judging by that look…”
As we turned our attention to dessert and the music, I happened to look up toward the door about five minutes after the couple had departed to see the woman come back in the pub, walk straight up to the bar, order a double shot of whiskey, pick it up and chug it down. James caught the scene, too, and we looked at each other then broke out into laughter. “Well, I guess there’s no doubt left about how THAT date went!”, he said.
We often laughed about that night many times in the years that passed. It never failed to come up when I made my version of the Guinness stew we had for the first time that night at the pub. James loved this stew even though in real life he was not a Guinness drinker — the man liked his Yankee favorite Sam Adams until I introduced him to Schuylkill County’s claim to fame, Yuengling Traditional Lager.
Oh, how I miss my husband James. They say hold on to the memories. I get that, but truth be told, I’d much rather be holding on to him right here by my side. I miss you, “Mr. Boston”, life will never be the same again without you.
A warming winter meal
For deep, rich flavor, this stew can’t be beat. It is delicious accompanied by a nice slice of buttered dark rye or pumpernickel to soak up the gravy.
I make this the day ahead of when I plan to serve it. I believe that stews, as with many soups, improve in flavor when allowed to “age” that way before serving, but sometimes, the sight and aroma of it cooking means I have to have a dish immediately once it is done.
The brown sugar in this recipe balances the flavor of the Guinness, but many cooks use chopped prunes to accomplish the same thing. I use brown sugar because I always have it in my pantry.
I use only red-skinned potatoes in this recipe because their moisture and starch content work perfectly and they do not turn to mush during the simmer time. This version of the stew has the potatoes added. Some people omit the potatoes from this stew and serve it ladled over mashed potatoes. If you plan to freeze the stew, omit the potatoes as their texture changes once frozen.
Guinness StewCourse: EntreeCuisine: Irish, Coal RegionDifficulty: Intermediate
Hearty stew filled with tender chunks of beefy and vegetables with a touch of Guinness.
2 to 3 pounds chuck roast or stewing beef, cut into bite size pieces (about 1 inch square)
3 1/2 pounds red potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
2 pounds baby carrots, cut in half or regular carrots cut into 1/4 inch slices.
1 large sweet onion, cut into wedges
2 level Tablespoons beef base (like Minor’s, Orrington, Better Than Bouillon.)
Half a small (6 ounce) can tomato paste
1/4 cup loosely packed dark brown sugar
1 (12 ounce) bottle Guinness Draught
2 teaspoons garlic and herb seasoning
Black pepper and salt to taste
1 large dried bay leaf
3-1/2 cups water
1/4 cup flour
Canola oil (for browning and as needed in the recipe)
- Cut beef info bite size chunks. Pat very dry with paper towels. Prepare veggies, soak potatoes in cold water until ready to use.
- Heat large stew pot or dutch oven over medium high heat until hot. Add 1 T. oil to pan, add one third of well dried beef chunks to pan and cook until VERY well browned on all sides. Do not crowd pan. Do in batches to allow beef to brown rather than steam.Remove to dish, add another T oil if needed and brown next batch of beef. Repeat until all beef chunks are crusted and well browned. This step is imperative for rich flavor. Remove beef to dish with previous batches.
- Toss onions into pot and brown lightly. Remove onion to dish with beef.
- Add 3 T oil to pan then sprinkle with flour. Turn down the heat and stir oil and flour together to lightly cook flour about 2 to 3 minutes.
- Remove pot from heat.
- Pour in the bottle of Guinness and stir rapidly with wooden spoon to de-glaze the pan. Scrape the pot well to loosen all bits, then add the water, the beef bouillon, tomato paste, brown sugar, seasonings, bay leaf, salt and pepper to taste. Stir well.
- Add the vegetables and browned beef, place lid on pot and bring to boil. Turn down to simmer, cook 90 minutes or until beef and vegetables are tender, stirring frequently. If you cut the vegetables and beef into larger chunks, cooking time will have to be increased.
- Remove bay leaf before serving.