Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Josefina's Green Chile Stew

A tasty, simple stew that's perfect for a fall evening!

Fall is officially here! A little earlier than we'd like, considering we've already started to lose a fair amount of our leaves in my neck of the woods, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't love those sort of cool mornings where all you want to do is stay curled up in bed and enjoy your warm blankets for another couple minutes.

When you don't have that, at least there's simple stews like this one. Although it only has a handful of ingredients, this green chile stew is quite tasty and has enough heat to make you feel nice and warm, if not scald the inside of your mouth! I've had some hit or miss experience making recipes from American Girl cookbooks, but this one was pleasantly simple and was a success with my taste testers, so I'm considering it a success! Hopefully you will too, if you give it a shot.

Josefina's Cook Book was the last of the original six cookbooks I needed to complete my collection, and tends to be the one that commands the highest secondary market prices compared to the other books in the collection. Josefina was introduced early enough to get things like a craft and cook book, but she missed out on Scenes and Settings, and a lot of her core collection was retired quickly, which means you're basically forced to spend a frightening amount of money on eBay if you're looking for a complete set of her school lunch, birthday treats, or infamous toy farm.

I was surprised with my copy for my birthday this year, and it was exciting to finally get to see what recipes had been included and what supplemental info they'd included with them. I tend not to be caught up in nostalgia for the Pleasant Company days, but I do miss having things like this for each character. I'd love a cookbook for Rebecca or Caroline!

This stew is included as a "Favorite Food", but is clearly supposed to be a dinner. It's even described as such in the text, saying that this was a satisfying, hearty stew to have at the end of a long day of work on the rancho. Beef is the protein of choice here, which wasn't something Josefina and her family would have had often, and definitely not in the quantities we have it today. Josefina and her family primarily raised sheep for their wool on their rancho. Some of the sheep would have been eaten along with the occasional goat, pigs, cows or chicken, but most of their protein over the course of the week would have come from eggs, cheese and beans. It's only relatively recently that people have begun to think of meat being a necessary food item every single day of the week!

You start by taking two pounds of lean stew beef and chopping it into half inch cubes. These get browned in a pan with three tablespoons of corn oil. This is a lot of corn oil, so I'll be honest, I only used a tablespoon and just let the meat kind of cook itself. It worked out okay!

After its browned, you remove the meat into another bowl or pan, turn the head down to medium and add in a cup and a half of chopped up onion and five minced cloves of garlic, along with another tablespoon of corn oil. Or nothing, if you're me and decided cooking it in the remaining oil and beef juices would be good enough for flavoring and such.

Once the onions are soft and clear, but before they're browned, you add in a cup of chopped green chiles. You could roast your own, but they do sell them canned in the grocery store pre-chopped, so that's what I used. Canned chiles you need to drain first before adding them to the onions and continuing to cook over medium heat for about a minute.

Once that's done, you're ready to add your vegetables to your meat and start really turning this into a stew. Put everything in a skillet or pan big enough to hold the vegetables, meat and two and a half cups of water, and bring it to a boil. Then, turn it down to a simmer and leave it alone for about forty five minutes. It's always smart to check on dishes like this occasionally to make sure the water hasn't burned off - the meat should always be submerged - but if you keep the lid on and just watch it to make sure it doesn't boil over, it should retain enough water to keep it wet.

After the first forty five minutes, add a teaspoon of salt, stir, and cover again - still simmering! - for another forty five minutes.

To thicken the stew some, you need to make a roux. I was a little worried about this, because making a roux can be tricky if you don't do it exactly right, and it's not something I've had a lot of practice with. For this one, the recipe calls for another tablespoon of corn oil heated over medium heat with a tablespoon plus two teaspoons of flour. You add the flour in slowly and stir the mixture constantly until the flour's all combined and light brown. My roux was a little soupier than some others I've seen, but it still seemed to do its job okay.

The recipe recommends adding half the roux first and seeing how it affects the stew, but I like to live dangerously and added in the whole thing. You let this cook on the stove uncovered for another ten minutes, or until the stew thickens.

Stews you generally can't really overcook, so it's okay to leave it on a low simmer for a while longer if your family's not quite ready to eat once you're done. Alternatively, you can always turn it off and just heat it back up again once everyone's ready to go!

I'll fully admit that this isn't the prettiest thing I've ever cooked, and I didn't really think it smelled nice, either, but that might just be my nose. My brother said he thought it smelled tasty while he was wandering through the kitchen as I checked on it, and I will admit that while I like to eat chiles, I'm not necessarily partial to their smell.

That said, I think this surprised a lot of people with how good it was!

While the soup was a little greasy even with cutting down the corn oil - the oil also has a tendency to separate and float at the top of your pot, or bowl, so stir often while you're serving and taking a spoonful! - this was surprisingly tasty. We were all a little concerned that the minimal ingredients would make the stew feel like it was missing something, and while it's true that this could easily be spiced up (either with heat or with actual spices) or fleshed out with the addition of things like corn or other vegetables, it was still surprisingly tasty and flavorful. One of the comments I kept getting was that this would be a great burrito or taco filling if it was less soupy, and the recipe does suggest eating this with corn tortillas, even though that wasn't a popular vessel with my taste testers. A few people said they didn't think they'd want to eat a huge bowl of this as their only meal at the end of the day, but others liked it enough to have seconds and take the leftovers home, which is always a good sign!

Overall, this was a simple, stress free fix it and forget it dinner that brought a fun taste of New Mexico's food history to a New England fall day. I'm excited to try out some of the more complicated recipes in Josefina's Cook Book, and am definitely interested to see how we could adapt and flesh out this stew with a couple more yummy ingredients. Until then, I'm happy to stick with what we've got!

Before people run off with the leftovers, anyway!


  1. Oh wow, I didn't know you didn't have Josefina's cookbook! I think I have two cause I lucked into a full set years back at Half-Price Books. I want to try this one--but I wonder if I can half the size, since picky husband is picky.

    1. Awesome! I never have luck finding the AG books I'm looking for at used bookstores ahaha. If only my sister still lived near Powell's in Portland! Alas.

      I think you'd be able to half it pretty easily, most of the ingredients are in measurements that are easy to cut down. I actually made this with about half the amount of beef I was supposed to, ahaha, totally miscommunicated with my mom about how much of the meat I was allowed to use in the fridge!