We woke up to a hint of snow, a skim coat of flakes barely thick enough to frost the decks, bushes and lawn but not sufficient to blanket the landscape. This wasn't the snow event predicted by TV forecasters, not a real snow like the storms hitting the central and eastern states. No, this sprinkle of snow was just a reminder of things to come.
Friends are coming by tomorrow for a late lunch and a round of Mexican Train. I mentally skimmed the list of our favorite cold-weather soups, chilies, gumbos and the like, searching for something that would be a delicious but casual kitchen meal, a no-fuss menu to fit a flexible schedule. Richly flavorful Beef Bourguignon sounded like a winner; a dish that actually improves in flavor if prepared a day ahead. It helped that I had all of the ingredients in stock and didn't have to go out and play with the post-Thanksgiving crowds of shoppers still clogging the shopping center parking lots.
The rest of the menu will be simple since stew is such a substantial main dish. I'm thinking hot spiced cider and deviled eggs for a warm-up nibble as people arrive, colorful marinated grape tomatoes and mozzarella balls as a salad...
...tiny red potatoes to add to the stew, some crusty French bread to soak up every last drop of that wonderful gravy...
That's my menu, what do you serve with your beef stew?
based on a favorite recipe found in Tyler Florence's cookbook, Real Kitchen.
1 Tbs Canola oil
2 slices bacon (not maple flavored)
4 lbs chuck roast, dried with paper towels, fat trimmed & cut into large, bite-size cubes
Salt & freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup brandy (or port or marsala, etc.)
1 bottle hearty red wine (Pinot Noir, Merlot, Burgundy, etc)
1 can (14.5 oz) low-sodium beef broth
2 generous Tbs tomato paste (from a tube)
cheesecloth bag with 4" sprig rosemary, 6 sprigs thyme, 2 bay leaves
4 garlic cloves, chopped (or Gourmet Garden chunky garlic in a tube)
2 cups pearl onions, blanched & peeled (or 1 bag frozen)
1 pint white mushrooms, stems trimmed, large 'shrooms halved (or add some reconstituted, dried 'shrooms)
Pinch of sugar
2 Tbs unsalted butter (optional)
Gremolata garnish of freshly minced flat-leaf parsley and the zest of 1 lemon
Add the oil to a heavy-bottomed Dutch oven and heat over medium heat. Add the bacon strips and cook until crisp; remove to a paper towel and hold until ready to serve. Pat the beef dry again with paper towels, then add to the pot to brown in several batches. Sear the beef cubes on all sides in the bacon drippings, letting each side sit undisturbed until browned. Remove to a bowl and season each batch with salt and pepper.
Return all of the browned meat and their juices to the pot. Sprinkle the flour over the meat and stir to completely coat each cube until all of the flour is incorporated. Add the brandy and stir; loosen all of the browned bits on the bottom of the pan (there's a lot of flavor lurking there). Cook and stir to evaporate the alcohol. Add the red wine and beef broth; stir in the tomato paste; add the cheesecloth bag of herbs. Bring to a simmer and cook until the liquid begins to thicken and develops a sauce like consistency, about 12-15 minutes. Cover the pot and simmer over very low heat for 1 hour. Use a flame tamer/heat diffuser if needed to keep the pot at a low simmer instead of a hearty boil.
Uncover the pot; add the garlic, onions, mushrooms and the pinch of sugar. (The sugar will balance the acidity of the red wine.) Taste; season with salt and pepper as needed. Raise the heat slightly and simmer for another 40 minutes, or until the vegetables and the meat are tender. Remove the cheesecloth packet of herbs; stir in the butter to add a glossy finish to the sauce (optional). Sprinkle with the gremolata (minced parsley and lemon zest) and crumbled, reserved bacon just before serving.
Accompany with whole or mashed potatoes or buttered noodles, crusty bread or soft biscuits, You won't want to waste any of the delicious gravy!
Note: if you prepare the stew a day ahead, hold it in the fridge overnight and skim of the solidified grease before reheating and adding the finish of butter and gremolata.