My Very First Cookbook

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At nineteen, I was a young mother living in Honolulu, Hawaii far away from the farm my parents owned in western Vermont. At this point in my life, and I suppose in the lives of many teenagers, I ate a lot of fast food and a whole lot of takeout. I also remember eating something called a plate lunch which basically just a plate or styrofoam container piled high with some type of prepared meat, white rice, and – inexplicably – macaroni salad. These were truly delicious and, beyond the blueberry pancakes from the now closed Kelly’s diner and the scrambled eggs with Portuguese sausage from – of all places – McDonald’s, they remain some of my fondest food memories from my time in our 50th state.

During a bout of homesickness, I remember wanting something decidedly un-Hawaiian and, since this was before the Internet, I called my mother for the recipe for beef stew. On a side note, Hawaii doesn’t recognize Daylight Savings, which means that depending upon the time of year, the time difference between Hawaii and Vermont is either five or six hours. I called my mom sometime in the evening Hawaiian time, and that’s how just a week or so later, I got my very first cookbook – in the mail from my mom.

By the time the cookbook arrived, I of course had already moved past that longing for beef stew and had moved on to the next thing. Still, the cookbook has come in handy over the years, first as a reminder to check the time before I pick up the phone, and because so many of the family favorites I still make came straight from the stained and dog-eared pages of this book. We even ended up making that beef stew, the recipe for which I’ve adapted over the years to make my own.

Beef Stew

2 T all-purpose flour
1 lb beef stew meat
2 T cooking oil
3 C vegetable juice cocktail
15 oz San Marzano-style tomatoes, drained
1/2 C chopped onion
1 C beef broth or stock
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp minced thyme
1 tsp crushed red pepper, optional
2 1/2 C cubed, peeled potatoes
2 C sliced carrots
1 C sliced celery
1 tsp fresh basil, rough chopped

Place flour in a plastic bag. Add meat cubes, a few at a time, shaking to coat. In a large saucepan or Dutch oven brown meat, half at a time, in hot oil. Return meat to saucepan. Add tomato juice, tomatoes, onion, beef broth, garlic, thyme, and crushed red pepper. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Cover; simmer 1 to 1 1/4 hours for beef or till meat is nearly tender. Add potatoes, carrots, and celery. Cover; simmer 30 minutes more. Skim fat. Add basil. Spoon into bowls and serve with warm, crusty bread.

Serves 4.

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