I am so fed up with being sick. Even while I'm coughing and sniffling, a large and stubborn part of me is insisting: "No. I can't afford to be sick again this quarter. I already missed too much class when I had the (swine?) flu!" Nevertheless, I am sick, and I am realizing as this stupid cold persists that if I want to get better, I need to do some serious self-pampering.
    Food, of course, is one of the most important elements of my cold treatment regimen. (After all-"Starve a fever, feed a cold!") I exhausted my supply of chicken noodle soup last week, but I still had some beef in the freezer yesterday, which I  thawed and made into this wonderful stew.

    One of my favorite ways to cook beef is in a hearty, stick-to-the-ribs stew. Simmering beef in a bubbling broth makes it beautifully tender and juicy, all while imparting its meaty flavor to the vegetables and sauce. This was a stew that couldn't quite decide what it was going to be-spicy? salty? sweet? sour? or... Umami??? That's why I threw in cumin, chili powder, soy sauce, brown sugar, vinegar, and fruit juice, all things that I ordinarily wouldn't put in beef stew. I wondered, as I waited for the stew to finish cooking, if this bizarre combination of seasonings would actually taste good. You know what? It did! It had a little more heat than the Irish beef stews my mom makes, but the spiciness in no way overpowered the beefy flavor. The fruit juice and vinegar added a hint of sweet-and-sourness, but in a subtle way that complimented the other ingredients (If, unlike me, you are over 21 and can buy red wine, you can use that instead of the fruit juice and vinegar). Trust me, the ingredient list looks weird, but the stew tastes great.

* serves 2
1/4 lb thinly sliced steak
2 tbsp flour
1 carrot, chopped into rounds
2 crimini mushrooms, chopped into 8ths
1 tomato, diced
1/2 cup frozen peas
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 beef bouillon cube
1 tbsp butter
1 tsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp white wine vinegar
2 tbsp cranberry or pomegranate juice
2 cups water, boiling
1 tsp cornstarch

    Warm the butter in a medium saucepan over low heat until it melts. Add the mushrooms and garlic and sautee until they begin to brown. In a plastic bag, mix the flour with the steak so that the steak absorbs the flour. Turn up the heat on the saucepan to medium and add the steak/flour mixture. Stir vigorously to make a roux from the butter and flour. When the meat is browned, add the water, carrots, tomatoes, and beef bouillon and stir until the roux and the beef bouillon dissolve. Mix in the soy sauce, chili powder, cumin, vinegar, brown sugar, and juice, bring to a boil, then turn the heat to low and simmer, covered, for about ten minutes, or until the carrots have softened. Add the frozen peas and turn up the heat to bring the stew to a boil. Boil until the sauce begins to thicken, then add cornstarch, stirring well to eliminate any lumps. When the sauce has reached a gravy-like consistency, the stew is done.