Stew for You (or Two)

Recently, I’ve been thinking about living a simpler life. The idea started when I visited Mickey Trescott’s new home in the Willamette Valley over the summer, but it really solidified when we moved all of our things from Maryland to Florida last month – over 14,000 lbs worth of belongings. As we started unpacking boxes, I couldn’t help but think that I just didn’t need so much stuff. The worst part about it? We’re still unpacking.

So for the holidays this year, we’re trying to not buy any objects for each other. Instead, we’re gifting experiences. So this week’s recipe is going to be a little different from your usual Tuesday post; I’m going to walk you through how to make gifts to hand out to people that aren’t stuff. A couple years back I made a few gallons of my barbecue sauce and gave it away as gifts. While I had a lot of fun with that idea, I wanted to do something more immediate and useful – wouldn’t it be better to just gift someone a fully-cooked delicious meal? And thus my idea of Stew for You (or Two) was born. The concept is simple: make a large batch of delicious stew, vacuum-seal it, and give it away as gifts.

I’m particularly in love with my Beef à la Mode recipe from earlier this year, yet I’m sure that its 3.5-hour cook time deters readers from making it often enough. Instead, imagine reheating a vacuum-sealed homemade meal directly in gently simmering water, offering an unbeatable experience in just 20-30 minutes. If you don’t have a vacuum sealer, a resealable mylar bag or Wrap ‘n Boil bag would work well, or even something like this IndieGoGo project would be great.

So read on for the stew recipe and sealing instructions, plus other gift suggestions. Let’s make Stew for You (or Two) go viral.

I’d like to note that my friends at Arrowhead Beef supplied the chuck roast for this recipe, which came in some monster 6-lb cuts. They were totally delicious, just as good as the short ribs of theirs I used for this recipe earlier this year.

Stew for You (or Two)

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Print

5-6 lb chuck roast or short ribs
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp each kosher salt and black pepper
8oz bacon, cut into slices
1 medium onion, diced
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 cup red wine
1 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp dried tarragon
2 bay leaves
2 cups beef stock, more if needed
2 carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
1 celery root, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
2 white sweet potatoes (waxy white potatoes okay), about 2 lbs, peeled and cut into bite-sized chunks
1 cup frozen peas
1 small handful fresh parsley, chopped

1. Pat the beef dry with paper towels, then rub all over with the ground nutmeg. Sprinkle both sides generously with kosher salt and black pepper, about 1/2 tsp each.

2. Warm a dutch oven on med/low heat, then add the bacon. Sauté, lowering the heat as needed, until crispy and the fat has rendered out, about 8 minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove the bacon; there should be about 1 tbsp of liquid fat left in the dutch oven (if there’s less, add a tbsp of lard or coconut oil). Adjust the heat to medium/high and allow to come to temperature, about 1 minute.

3. Preheat your oven to 300F. Gently blot any accumulated liquid from the beef with a paper towel, then add it to the dutch oven. Brown on both sides until a deep brown crust forms, about 3 minutes per side, then remove the beef and set aside. Reduce heat to medium and add the diced onion, sautéing until soft and translucent, about 4 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and garlic, and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the vinegar and wine, and deglaze. Return the bacon to the pot, then add the beef, thyme, tarragon, and the bay leaves. Pour enough stock to cover 3/4 of the beef, then bring to a simmer.

4. Cover the dutch oven and put it in the oven. Braise until almost tender, about 2 hours. Add the carrots, celery root, and sweet potatoes and cook until they are just tender, another 20-30 minutes.

5. Gently remove the beef and set aside to rest, covering loosely with tin foil. Strain the braising liquid and reserve the bacon and vegetables; set aside. Return the liquid to the dutch oven and simmer on med/high heat until reduced by half, about 6 minutes. As it reduces, slice the beef. Add the beef, vegetables, peas, and parsley; gently stir to combine, then remove from heat.

6. Allow the stew to cool, about 15 minutes, then transfer thew stew into four vacuum seal bags and seal the bags. Alternatively, transfer to mylar or other food and temperature-safe resealable bags. Label the bags as you see fit, then run the bags under cool water to fully cool, then pat dry and freeze and gift to your loved ones. To reheat, submerge the frozen bag in gently simmering water, cover and simmer (don’t boil!) until the food is warmed through, 20-30 minutes.

** The trick to ending up with a well-textured stew is to only cook the ingredients until they’re just ready – hence removing the stew from the heat the moment you add the frozen peas. This will take some diligent attention, but the final product with definitely worth it.

** We own and love a FoodSaver vacuum sealer, which we use when making jerky, freezing excess ingredients, or sealing mason jars of dried goods with this attachment.

** Here is how I vacuum-seal a stew (which can be problematic because of its liquid): I fill the bag, leaving about 2-3″ of space at the top, then place the open end into the sealer (varies by model). My trick is to make sure that the stew is located well below the sealer (usually hanging off the side of my counter) so that the liquid has to fight gravity to travel upwards. Some liquid will get sucked into the suction tray, but otherwise it’ll seal like a dream.

Don’t have the time to make stew? Easy, give a repurposed gift card to Whole Foods from, which will allow your friends and family to splurge on some quality ingredients they may not normally purchase for themselves (note that you can also sell unwanted gift cards so they don’t go to waste).

Looking for something more personal? Consider hiring a freelance artist through to draw caricatures of your loved ones.

How about something with a Paleo twist, that helps to restore our planet along the way? I’m a big fan of these holiday gift packages from EPIC bar, which have a ton of Paleo-friendly items and all proceeds go to The Savory Institute, a non-profit working to restore our grasslands through ideal livestock management.

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t suggest that my cookbook would also be an excellent way to enjoy and share some delicious food. The softcover version is currently on sale for the lowest price I’ve seen it to date, about $22, and the Kindle and iTunes versions are on sale for $1.99 and $.99 respectively through November 25, 2014.

Any other holiday gift ideas that don’t invole stuff? Leave them in the comments below.

128 thoughts on “Stew for You (or Two)

  1. Great idea, we often give food and experiences as gifts too! I make all different kinds of pickles and canned sauces. My fella and I have been on the simple living/minimalism train for a long while. I love the freedom from having “stuff”- you know, those odd little things that have no real use, or that you keep because maybe someday you’ll need them? We live in 474 square feet of space, so if you’re ever interested in taking a look at a small/frugal/minimalist dwelling then stop by!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I love this idea! I feel the same about the desire to live more simply and have less stuff. I enjoy making home made gifts and really wanted to give food gifts for the holiday season. This is definitely on my list now! Thanks so much for posting! And, I’ll certainly check out the link listed above! Thanks for that, too!

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I just love this idea. Will definitely try this out. I hate trying to come up with gifts to give that aren’t needed, simply because it’s expected. This sort of thoughtful and personal gift I would be proud to give away!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. silibagz r oven safe to 400 degrees, so u could actually do it right in the bags, then into the freezer and then back into the oven or in a water ouven (sous vide) or microwave if u take the clasp off…. the only hold 1.5 litres, but a bigger version is on the way

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Chip, good point, I just updated the recipe with this: “Here is how I vacuum-seal a stew (which can be problematic because of its liquid): I fill the bag, leaving about 2-3″ of space at the top, then place the open end into the sealer (varies by model). My trick is to make sure that the stew is located well below the sealer (usually hanging off the side of my counter) so that the liquid has to fight gravity to travel upwards. Some liquid will get sucked into the suction tray, but otherwise it’ll seal like a dream.”


  4. Thx so much for noticing Silibagz! We are in the middle of an Indiegogo to get the bags off the ground, but I can tell you my family has been using them for over a year and they are awesome for cooking stews, soups, curries, etc…and the greatest thing is they can go straight from the cooking pot to the freezer and back again without any mess.
    They are made of platinum silicone, originally developed for medical use, so no Phthalates, no BPA, no PVC, and no hassle to clean em (they are dishwasher safe, but very easy to hand clean too)…
    they are great for camping, boating, kayaking…. just freeze em solid and take them in the cooler, then when u want to eat, just drop them in a pot of boiling salt water or whatever kind of water u can find, to heat them up, and when u r done, just roll them up and pack them away…
    anyways, thx so much for the mention,
    your stew looks great, i can hardly wait to try it in a silibag!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I’ve taken to getting Distillery Tours for my boyfriend for various holidays and birthdays. He has more money than me and usually just buys whatever he needs for himself, but this is something fun we can do together and there are a ton of Distilleries in our area! Also I can usually find a Distillery Tour for 2 on Groupon or Living Social or some such!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Heather, as long as you cook the potatoes until they are just tender, and seal/freeze the stew soon thereafter, you shouldn’t have any issues. I would recommend using waxy potatoes over russets if you’re using white potatoes (white sweet potatoes hold their shape really well).


  6. What a cool spin on edible gifts. I never thought about doing a full-on meal! I totally agree with you about too much stuff – we’re about to move from DC to Denver, CO and I can’t imagine how we packed to much into an 800 sq foot apartment. Time to some sorting through and giving away!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. There is nothing quite like a steaming bowl of stew to soothe both palate and soul. Your picture speaks a thousand words – delicious! The last vacuum packed meal I encountered was at the comfort- station of our local high school during a town power outage wherein ready packed meals were offered and let’s just say, they did not look quite as tantalizing. As for minimalizing, I couldn’t agree more as I doubt there would be a trace of your stew left anywhere. I wrote a recent story about my mother’s penchant for what she would call downsizing and we called throwing out. If you have time after reading all your Fresh Pressed comments, please enjoy! Happy Thanksgiving.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. I love it when I get gifts like this. I make my own beer and home can. So, my friends and family get jams, bourbon spiced peaches, vanilla infused apple sauce, and herbed tomatoes. It feels more personal to share something that I have made with them as gifts.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. So do I politely overlook the typo or just mention it? Is it time to say something? I have a ton of typos on my blog – so many nobody would even think twice…but this guy’s trying to sell a book, I tell myself. So, thyme needs an h in it. The stew looks delicious. Will you send me a bag? Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I have been saying this to my husband for years, “No stuff” so for our anniversary a few years ago he took us interstate and we climbed in a glass cage and swam with a crocodile..awesome, amazing, great photos and great memories, lm happy with that.
    Maybe this year l’ll gift food too!!

    Liked by 2 people

  11. What an outstanding idea. I believe you are not the only one who thinks that all the stuff you accumulate through your life is practically useless. On the other, experiences matter. They always do. For example, now you made me think about doing a special event – preparing my own cooking event (an idea similar to a pop-up restaurant) at my friend’s house. I could make them a special coupon as a gift and then just come to his house and cook there something they really enjoy.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Aren’t those bags interesting. I love it when people give us food that I don’t normally cook and I would not be the least put off by the insinuation that I might eat as much as two – because I think it may just be obvious! Now, we moved from a well entrenched 3800 sf home to about 1000 after I decided I was tired of doing the yard and cleaning and cleaning. Whew. It was hard to start winnowing, but once we got going we were in a frenzied pitch… so to speak. Out it all went minus shark jaws, sewing stuff, 2 lamps and pictures/art. Give, toss & yard sale yielded happy faces and about 30K. No joke. Oh yeah – now we have time for fun.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Great idea! Except, I hate recipes that only use small amounts of tomato paste, because I always seem to forget to use the rest (yes, even with one of those tubes).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I feel your pain, it took us years to figure out a good system for leftover tomato paste. We transfer extra paste into a mason jar and keep it in a certain part of the fridge so we can easily see whether we have any to use.


  14. Reblogged this on oflifeandbooks and commented:
    Today is #GivingTuesday ! There are lots of “gifts” that we can give those around us. I loved this post on “A Stew for You (or Two)” as it’s a unique gift, and one that shows the care and love you’ve put in to it. It could also be perhaps one of the most welcomed gifts of all to those who are shut-in due to illness, frailty, a new baby, etc. Enjoy!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I guess I could substitute pork or chicken? That was probably stupid question. Cooking and making up recipes as I go along is what I usually do. This sounds easy to make. BTW I’m with you on making gifts. This year I grew a lot more herbs than usually so I can make different mixes – that I will give in ziploc bags with ribbon.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. Great idea and totally agree with the concept of not giving “stuff.” A friend recently set me on a similar path with a suggestion to gift books from my personal library that have made an impact to friends I think would be receptive and appreciative. I’ve had so much fun matching books to friends and everyone seems to love it.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I love the “gifting experiences!” My family has been doing this for 2 years now, and it is so much more cost effective and meaningful. We still buy a few gifts for the kids, but we go on a family trip, which is our gift experience to one another. I crochet stuff for people mostly, which they love! I’ve made scarves, hats, leg warmers, etc. Good times!!


  18. This is a great idea. I love the idea of vacuum sealing the stew as gifts. I’ve been looking for something to give the family on my dad’s side (where it’s just me buying gifts) that wouldn’t break the bank, especially because they already have enough stuff.


  19. Your recipe and the accompanying pictures make me hungry already. I love your idea to vacuum the oversupply from wonderful cooked dinners and intend to try this soon thanks!


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