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How To Make Stew in 5 Minutes

I clean a lot of rental property. Once, I found a refrigerator in the garden. My tenants dragged it out of the kitchen, took the door off, and used it as a trough to water livestock that had no business being there in the first place. After they moved, we hauled away the ruined refrigerator and bought a new one.

Another time, I found oil barrels in a living room. I thought my tenants might have been storing body parts next to their TV, but it turns out they were shipping Bibles, laundry detergent, and other stuff to impoverished villages in Africa. Barrels are the cheapest shipping option. Who knew?

Usually when I clean up messes, I try to give the valuable stuff away. I’ve retrieved enough microwave ovens to supply every classroom at my kid’s elementary school with a way to pop corn. Many of my neighbors have rugs, lawn chairs, Cheerio packets, and salad spinners because people leave stuff behind.

While it’s great to be in a position to give away a salad spinner, I’d rather see a clean, empty unit when someone moves. That wasn’t the case this week when my tenant of 20 years decided to bail out of California. She left truckloads of stuff. Among other treasures, I found many bottles of wine. When I got home, I started uncorking and pouring expired wine down the sink so I could recycle the bottles. Most of them were thirty years old.

The next morning, I threw meat in the crock pot. And while it pains me to admit this publicly, I added a can of condensed mushroom soup — an ingredient I keep hidden in the bowels of my pantry in case any of my foodie friends start poking around in my kitchen. And as long as I’m coming clean, I’ll also admit that I sprinkled in a packet of onion soup mix.

It’s a recipe called Cora Mae’s stew, a crowd-pleaser my 97-year-old mother-in-law gave me that takes 5 minutes to assemble. On a whim, I grabbed a still-uncorked bottle of wine and added a splash to my dish. It was a '95 vintage, and when I opened it, the cork crumbled to bits.

Later, I served my stew with mashed potatoes just like my husband’s mom does and decided to pour myself a glass, using a slotted spoon to filter out bits of cork. Holding it up to the light, I noticed its extraordinary plum color and the way it seemed to cling to the glass. Flavor burst in my mouth at the first sip and made my stew taste like I made it in France. That night after we finished dinner, my husband grabbed his phone and googled the label: a thousand dollars a case.

Cora Mae’s Stew

2 Pounds Stew Meat

1 Can of Cream of Mushroom Soup

A Splash of Free Expensive Wine, or whatever you have on hand

1 Packet of Onion Soup Mix

1 Cup of Water

A Dash of Worcestershire Sauce

Sliced Mushrooms

Combine everything in a slow cooker and serve later when you’re ready to eat.


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