I’ve always looked at cooking as a creative outlet. When I first started many years ago I followed the recipes verbatim. Then I began to make notes in the margins and would try small changes the next time until I was happy with the final result.
Cooking is like that. Generally you begin with an idea — or a main ingredient — and go from there. Or you read someone’s recipe that sounds pretty good but tweak it a bit to make it taste even better. Confidence to experiment often comes after many years of experience, with lots of trial and error too. It’s fun watching and helping my 23-year-old daughter Emma hone her cooking skills. She asks tons of questions — how much of this or that should I put in? I tell her to do what feels right and encourage her to experiment.
Recently a recipe for stew arrived via email. I liked the idea of butternut squash (it’s so sweet and delicious) but wasn’t crazy about combining it with beef. Plus the ingredient list was way too long so I decided to simplify. The result was a 10!
If you know me you know I love one-pot meals, especially those with lots of veggies. This stew is pretty easy to make — although there’s always the necessary chopping — and I can pretty much guarantee that everyone will like it.
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 sweet onion, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
6 carrots, cut into 1/4″ rounds
1 medium sized butternut squash, peeled and cut into chunks (read how at end of recipe)
1 medium sweet potato cut into small chunks
1 russet, white or red potato, cut into chunks
8-10 mushrooms, stems removed and sliced
4 boneless chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces
4 cups chicken broth
2-3 Tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
Heat oil over medium heat in large caste iron skillet. Put one tablespoon flour in a large plastic baggie; add cut pieces of chicken then seal and shake to coat. Add coated chicken to skillet and cook for about three minutes, stirring constantly to avoid sticking. Remove chicken and set aside. Cook onions in skillet for about 3 minutes until soft. Add garlic and carrots then sprinkle mixture with one tablespoon flour to thicken the broth. Continue to cook for three or four minutes, stirring often. To vegetables in skillet add 4 cups of broth, the potatoes, squash, mushrooms, salt and pepper. Stir to combine, bring to a boil then reduce heat, cover and cook for 20 minutes. If you like your stew thick remove about 1/2 cup of the liquid from the skillet into a measuring cup or bowl. Wisk in one tablespoon of flour until mixture thickens then return to skillet and stir to combine.
Add chicken back to pot, cover and cook for another 30 minutes until all vegetables are soft. Enjoy!
Butternut squash can be tricky to handle because it’s so hard! One of the best kitchen investments I’ve made is my stainless steel vegetable peeler. It came with a handy julianne tool that I use all the time. I’d struggled with those light-weight peelers for years; even broke a few but this one works like a charm for the bigger vegetables and potatoes.
Once you peel the squash, the best way to cut it is to chop off the top, stand it up and use a sharp knife to cut down the center, using your body weight to guide the knife down the middle. Remove the seeds and chop away!