Geek Cuisine: Doctor Who Stew

April 23, 2011 § 3 Comments

Like all loves and habits acquired early in childhood, Doctor Who seems to just have always been there. In the late afternoon—after Sesame Street, Electric Company, and Kids Incorporated—KPTS, the Wichita PBS station, would signal its shift into older-kids/adult programming by playing a single music video to fill the gap between shows. This video, as I remember, was always either Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” or Cindy Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” so it must’ve been around 1985. Having just finished my homework, mom just starting dinner prep, and with about an hour until dad would get home from work, it was just me, the TV, and the wide blue of the living room floor.

I suppose how I came to Doctor Who is an easy answer. Of four channels, three were news and one had a goofy-looking guy with a robot dog and funny voice. (And, the most awesome theme music of. all. time.) But why did it stick? I liked Star Wars but wasn’t particularly invested in science fiction at that point. It wasn’t action-packed and full of explosions like my beloved GI Joe and Transformers cartoons. Often, due to the accents and British turns of phrase, it didn’t even really make sense to me. What it was, however, was mine. No one else in my class watched it, and my attempts to explain it to them must’ve sounded mad. On the weekends while the non-asthmatic kids were learning how to shoot a basketball, I would steal the “old towels” from the hall closet (horrid, red/orange things), lay them end to end on the floor, clothespin the edges, then ceremoniously fold the edges in a couple times until I had a two-towels-long scarf. I would clothespin another around my neck like a cape, substituting for Tom Baker’s long red coat. Occasionally the Doctor wore a hat, so I sometimes would grab a frayed straw one from the playroom downstairs.

“You may be a doctor, but I’m the Doctor. The definite article, you might say.”

The resemblance, as you can see, was uncanny. I mixed five or so Construx sets to build a TARDIS console on the downstairs ping-pong table, and stole a tire pressure gauge from the tool drawer for my sonic screwdriver. Flexing his drafting skills, my dad made me a scale K9 out of cardboard and Scotch tape, which I dragged around by a string. I rode my red Schwinn around the neighborhood, “scarf” dangerously flowing behind me, yelling random things in an unbelievably bad English accent. When the priest at church said anything about “Galilee,” I could only hear “Gallifrey,” home planet of the Time Lords. I’m sure I also yelled like a Dalek throughout all of this, and I laugh now thinking of what the mostly elderly residents of N. Illinois Street must’ve thought of that Leis kid running around the neighborhood in towels growling “Exterminate!”

As I got older, basketball and track practice took over the Doctor’s time slot. I don’t know when KPTS stopped airing it (though years later I found they did still air the Tom Baker and Peter Davison episodes around midnight), and didn’t know it had been canceled in Britain. For me, there was no Doctor after Davison. In 1996 I tried to set my VCR to record the Paul McGann revival movie, but it tuned to the wrong channel and I missed it. When I heard in 2004 that the BBC was bringing Doctor Who back, I was, like many, excited and skeptical. When I heard the opening theme, tearing up a bit when the main riff kicked in (tearing up or getting chills, actually, probably half the time I hear that damn theme in any of its variations, including just now), I knew we were going to be okay. Christopher Eccleston gave me my childhood hero back, and David Tennant, when he took over, came as close as probably anyone ever will to tying Tom Baker—my time-scarved, childhood döppelganger—as my favorite. Nobody watched it with me as a kid, but I had geekier friends now. When I graduated with my Ph.D. I bought myself a replica sonic screwdriver and a package of Jelly Babies, joking that I only got the degree so I could be called “The Doctor.” I turned Kelly into a fan, too, and when I proposed last Christmas even went so nerdily far as to hide the ring in a homemade TARDIS gift box.

Today is the premiere of the 6th season of the rebooted Doctor Who, and Matt Smith’s second as the Doctor—the eleventh incarnation, seven regenerations under his belt since I first met him, and now, like me, with a hot redhead companion. To accompany the premiere (which I’ll actually be watching Sunday, so actual shot of food forthcoming and no spoilers please), I’ll be making the first recipe my mom ever wrote down for sent along with me when I left for grad school. As a child I had an intense dislike of having parts of my meal touch each other. Steak, potatoes, and beans had to keep to their corner. One night my mom made a stew, and I simply could not be convinced to eat it. Not until she, with that part of the brain only moms have, persuaded me by renaming it “Doctor Who Stew”. It’s a hearty, comforty, cold-weather sort of stew, and whenever I make it, a part of me goes back to being that kid on the living room floor watching the funny man in the scarf and his robot dog travel through time and space.

Doctor Who Stew
(recipe courtesy of my mom)

  • 1 lb. sirloin, trimmed and cut in bite-sized pieces
  • 1 can tomato juice (if needed)
  • 3 potatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 cans diced, seasoned tomatos
  • 1 package frozen green beans
  • 1 small package fresh carrots, cut into inch or so pieces
  • 1 onion (optional)
  • 1 handful frozen corn
  • 1-2 tbsp. Heinz 57
  • Cavender’s Greek Seasoning
  • Salt/Pepper


Preheat oven to 350°. Mix ingredients in a 12×16 baking dish. Season with salt, pepper, Cavender’s, and a big tablespoon or so Heinz 57 to taste. Add tomato juice or water if you want more liquid (the liquid from the stewed tomatoes is usually enough for me, but if you use fresh you may want to add a bit). Cover with foil and cook for approximately 2 hours.

This is the recipe as it was given to me, but of course there’s room to play. We’ve made versions of this with venison, spicy versions a liberal splashing of Worcestershire sauce in place of the Heinz 57, stewed our own tomatoes and went all-fresh with the ingredients, and thrown all manner of other seasonings in. It, of course, can also be made on the stove top or in a slow cooker. It’s also great reheated the next day. However it’s made, it’s one of the first things I start thinking of when the air turns cool in the fall.

I can’t end this post without saying farewell again to Elisabeth Sladen. As Sarah Jane Smith she was companion to both the Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker incarnations of the Doctor and was there on Skaro when the Daleks were born. She returned in a few episodes with Tennant, and in 2007 was given her own spinoff series, The Sarah Jane Adventures. She died of cancer last Tuesday. So long, Sarah Jane….

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