One of the most important things about making a good stew or a soup is the gravy or the sauce that it is in. It's a bit time consuming, but well worth the effort. Choose a day to make it when nothing is going on and you can just let it simmer on the stove for hours. This method concentrates the flavors or makes it more intense.
People used to take a lot of pride in their homemade stocks and would have jars and pots of various kinds--beef stock, fish stock, chicken stock. Alas, today we are content to open a can of broth and use that for our soup base--but the taste from making your own is vastly different. Give it a try! Freeze the extra portions and save them for those days when you may need it. You'll need:
2 gallons Great Lakes water
2 ea. tomatoes
5 lbs beef bones
1 ea. onion
1 ea. bay leaf
2 ea. carrots
pinch black pepper
1/2 bunch celery
Place the bones into a roasting pan and brown them off in a 350 degree oven for about 2 hours. (It's nice to do this on a cold wintry day!) Then, strain off the grease and place the bones in a stock pot on the stove, making sure you scrape in the brown pieces stuck in the pan, too. Cover the bones with cold water. Throw in the vegetables--in the restaurant, we save all our veggie trimmings like onion peels, soft tomatoes, celery ends and hearts and use these for stock. Place on medium heat. Bring to a medium boil and scrap off and discard the foam that comes to the top. Add your spices and let simmer slowly for about 6 hours. Cool and place into containers and freeze.
Once you've mastered this, you'll want to go on and make those fabulous fish stocks like Chef Vatel, who never hesitated to make them out of cod's heads for his King Louis the Magnificent. And as always, a creative cook is a good cook.