I GET FUNNY looks from supermarket customers this time of year. Especially in the produce section.
It's always the mushrooms that get them. People I watching a grown man bagging 12 pounds of mushrooms tend to give him a wide berth. Even the 100 potatoes and the five dozen onions don't create the same effect.
It's the mushrooms.
However, that shopping spree is necessary when you are preparing to cook a stew for more than 100 people.
My annual St. Patrick's Day party features home-brewed dark Irish ale, green bagels and live music. But mostly stew. It's not your ordinary stew; literally, it's not watered down. The liquid content is limited to bouillon made from beef extract, worcestershire sauce and Guinness stout.
The planning starts some time ahead. This unmarried chef has to find someone willing to cry for him -- I need help slicing onions and carrots. This is when you find who your true friends are.
One year, the true friends emerged after the party. One of the huge pots containing the cooked stew was inadvertently shunted aside during the party; I discovered it the next day. I envisioned eating stew for about three weeks (there was about 15 pounds of meat cut up in the leftover potpourri).
Into the dilemma stepped two coworkers on the night shift. They came over for lunch for four consecutive days. And, of course, on the fifth day, with the pot finally emptied, the office cafeteria menu featured . . . you guessed it. STEW FOR 100 PEOPLE 30 cups flour 25 teaspoons pepper 13 teaspoons celery salt 40 pounds boned chuck or bottom round, cut into small cubes 6 cups salad oil 5 quarts bouillon, made from strong beef extract 13 teaspoons salt 13 teaspoons worcestershire sauce 12 bottles Guinness stout 60 to 70 small onions, halved 100 boiled potatoes, cut into 6 to 8 pieces each 10 packages frozen peas 12 pounds fresh mushrooms 10 dozen small carrots, cut lengthwise 10 28-ounce cans peeled tomatoes 20 cloves garlic, minced 12 tablespoons paprika 12 pinches cayenne pepper Snipped parsley
Put flour, pepper, celery salt and meat in bowls and toss until the meat is coated. Shake excess flour from meat and reserve all the flour. In a deep kettle, slowly brown the meat with salad oil on all sides for 15 to 20 minutes. In a large pot (or pots), stir in the reserved flour, bouillon, salt worcestershire sauce and stout, then add the meat. Simmer, covered, over low heat for about 2 hours. Add the onions, potatoes, peas, mushrooms, carrots, tomatoes, garlic, paprika and cayenne pepper. Simmer about 15 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Sprinkle with parsley.