Thursday, March 22, 2012

A hearty winter meal

March 18, 2012
Old-Fashioned Beef Stew
Almost No-Knead Bread
Avalon 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon
Marionberry Pie a la mode

It has been some weeks since I'd prepared a hearty winter meal. Even in California, winter is a time for soups and stews and braised meats, for tenderizing tough, flavorful cuts of meats with long slow cooking times. While winter is fast giving way to spring, it has been grey, cool, and rainy of late, perfect weather for a stew.

The Cook's Illustrated cookbook has many recipes for beef stew. I chose a simple one with only basic ingredients and only three steps. (Not a recipe like the one that was deliciously lampooned in this video.) Step two provided an option to stop before the stew was done: I could do most of the cooking on Saturday and finish the stew on Sunday. This worked out perfectly as I had more time to cook on Saturday than I did on Sunday. Moreover, spending a night in the refrigerator would only improve the flavor of the stew.

I went grocery shopping on Saturday morning, going to Whole Foods for the meat. The recipe called for a three pound "boneless beef chuck-eye roast". I have never found this cut of beef in the store and the butchers don't seem to be familiar with it, so I just ask for chuck roast; the remaining ingredients we either had on hand or I got them at the supermarket.  I spent about an hour in the kitchen preparing the stew. Much of this time was spent butchering the meat: removing the hard fat and much of the silver skin, and cutting it into 1½" pieces. The meat was browned in a cast iron dutch oven, onions were sweated, and garlic, wine, chicken broth, bay leaves, and thyme were added. The dutch oven was placed in a 300° oven for an hour to simmer. Potatoes and carrots were added and simmered for another hour. The recipe called for small red potatoes, peeled and halved. Small potatoes are a pain to peel, so I just halved them.  At this point the stew was cooled to room temperature, transferred to a lighter dutch oven, and refrigerated. On Saturday evening I also made bread dough using my go-to recipe for Almost No-Knead Bread.

On Sunday, after a long training walk for the Big Sur 21-Miler, I briefly kneaded the bread dough, shaped it, proofed it, and baked it in the cast iron dutch oven. I removed the stew from the refrigerator, reset the already-hot oven to 300°, and put in the stew to reheat. It took about an hour to come to a simmer. I placed it then on the stove and added the parsley and peas and adjusted the seasoning. After a few more minutes it was ready to serve along with the fresh crusty bread and some of the same wine which graced the stew.

For dessert I had purchased a half Marionberry pie. Funny, when it was sliced the fruit looked and tasted a lot like cherries and not at all like Marionberries.

I think stews should be thick and soups thin. This was a good stew with a thick hearty sauce. The beef was tasty and tender though a little chewy, it could have perhaps stewed a little while longer. It made for a good meal on a winter's evening with leftovers to the coming week.

The quiche kept well in the refrigerator. To serve we generally warmed it gently in the microwave. It gave off a little water but was still good to eat, though the crust was a little soggy.

Old Fashioned Beef Stew, Cook's Illustrated Cookbook, 2011, page 112
Almost No-Knead BreadCook's Illustrated Cookbook, 2011, page 594

Note: You may need to be a member to see the recipe on an America Test Kitchen web site. 

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