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Beef Stew and Trials of Various Kinds

Beef Stew
“Hooray, the house hasn’t burned down!” cheered a housemate, returning from The Annual Student Conference. I’d left the oven on, wandered out for evening service, stayed around to chat over dinner, and realised belatedly that we might not have a place to live in when we returned. Fortunately, the only thing that was stewing was what was well-contained in the pot. So not only were we not homeless, as a bonus, there was a hot supper waiting as well.

The Sunday morning message on James 1:1-8 has been the topic of many a conversation this week.

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,

To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion:


Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

As people who profess to have faith in God, how we respond to all sorts of testing situations – whether suffering or temptations – will have a major impact on the steadfastness of our faith. This is in a sense circular, though not as a logical fallacy – but rather, by way of reinforcement and refinement.

Knowing that this is the purpose of trials of various kinds, we can therefore count it all joy. Not in a masochistic sense, not that baseless positive thinking nonsense (“Why so grumpy? Just smile a little.” “Think good thoughts, it’ll all work out in the end! I promise!”), but relying on our assurance that God is sovereign and in control of everything, and that these things stabilise and strengthen the nature and quality of our relationship with him.

(This was something The Tutor had pressed on me way back in September last year, but being quite hard-of-hearing, I’d thought he was trying to lay on a Gottfried Leibniz Die beste aller möglichen Welten (the best of all possible worlds) and responded with the same incredulity as Voltaire in Candide. Alas. {But then again, don’t think he showed his working on a scriptural basis. Aha.})

And so how do we go about this? Ask God, because what faith in God includes is trusting that he is a good God who doesn’t throw out a few obstacles and then fold his arms and wait to see how humans perform; he is a Father who cares deeply for the welfare of his children and will not withhold anything good (that is, good according to his criteria – good for our relationship with him, not the prosperity and health that we humans assume are the ultimate good) if we ask. And this, even though we do not deserve his gift of wisdom.


Recipe adapted from Jamie Oliver’s Jools’ Favourite Beef Stew
(because, to quote numerous uni students,”you can’t go wrong with Jamie”)


  • olive oil
  • 1 knob butter
  • 1 onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 handful fresh sage leaves from housemate who didn’t manage to use them all on the Christmas turkey
  • 900 g quality stewing steak or beef skirt, cut into 5cm pieces
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • flour, to dust
  • 3 parsnips, peeled and quartered (a bagful at Marylebone Farmers’ Market was £1)
  • 4 carrots, peeled and halved
  • ½ butternut squash, halved, deseeded and roughly diced (oops, forgot about this)
  • 1 handful Jerusalem artichokes, peeled and halved (also £1 for a bagful)
  • 500 g small potatoes (forgot)
  • 2 tablespoons tomato purée (replaced with tomato ketchup because couldn’t find the can opener)
  • ½ bottle red wine (a cheap ASDA Extra Special Cabernet Sauvignon 2011*)
  • 285 ml organic beef or vegetable stock (random Waitrose house brand)
  • + chestnut mushrooms
  • +4 sticks of celery
  • finely grated zest of 1 lemon (oops)
  • 1 handful rosemary, leaves picked (drats)
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped (fergeddit)


Preheat the oven to 160ºC/300ºF/gas 2. Put a little oil and your knob of butter into an appropriately sized pot or casserole pan. Add your onion and all the sage leaves and fry for 3 or 4 minutes. Toss the meat in a little seasoned flour, then add it to the pan with all the vegetables, the tomato [purée], wine and stock, and gently stir together.

Season generously with freshly ground black pepper and just a little salt. Bring to the boil, place a lid on top, then cook in the preheated oven until the meat is tender. Sometimes this takes 3 hours, sometimes 4 – it depends on what cut of meat you’re using and how fresh it is [or until you remember to rescue it from its slow death]. The only way to test is to mash up a piece of meat and if it falls apart easily it’s ready. Once it’s cooked, you can turn the oven down to about 110°C/225°F/gas ¼ and just hold it there until you’re ready to eat.

The best way to serve this is by ladling big spoonfuls into bowls, accompanied by a glass of French red wine and some really fresh, warmed bread [or mashed sweet potato stirred through with English mustard…mmmm]. [Mix the lemon zest, chopped rosemary and garlic together and sprinkle over the stew before eating. Just the smallest amount will make a world of difference – as soon as it hits the hot stew it will release an amazing fragrance.]

*ASDA Extra Special Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

ASDA Extra Special Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

This was a pays d’oc of indeterminate origin within France. Blackcurrant on the nose but didn’t translate to palate. Very short. Was not sorry to bung it into the casserole.

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