November 10, 2013
Catalan Beef Stew with Mushrooms
Burrell School House 2008 Pinot Noir, "Principal's Choice"
Catalan-style Beef Stew with Mushrooms from Cook's Illustrated
Cranberry-Apple Crisp from Cook's Country
Catalonia is in northeastern Spain bordering France and the Mediterranean. The stew we had for dinner is inspired by flavors and cooking techniques from Catalonia. It is different from the American-style of stew, such as my mom cooked, or stews of France like Beef Burgandy made with red wine. This stew has no vegetables, the primary ingredients are beef and mushrooms, but it has a rich flavor and texture provided in part by sofrito, a rich slow-cooked combination of onions, tomatoes, herbs, and spices, and picada, a combination of toasted bread, toasted almonds, garlic, and parsley. The beef is not browned before being added to the stew, browning occurs in the oven as the stew cooks without a lid with the beef exposed to hot oven air.
I made a few recipe substitutions which didn't affect the essential character of the finished dish. I couldn't find boneless beef short ribs and had to settle for short ribs with the bones. I bought 5.2 lbs ($42!) and after cutting the meat from the bones and trimming the fat and silver skin I had 2¼ pounds of meat. There has to be a more economical way to do this, using a boneless chuck roast should work almost as well. The recipe specifies oyster mushrooms but I used a combination of oyster and button mushrooms as the oyster mushrooms were prepackaged and I needed to supplement them with button mushrooms to have the quantity called for. I used fresh rosemary from our garden rather than buying fresh thyme, much of which would probably end up being discarded. I had no sherry vinegar so used red wine vinegar in its place.
The stew does involve more work than a traditional American stew mainly due to preparation of the sofrito and picada. However, the extra work is rewarded with a beefy, savory stew featuring a rich flavorful sauce. It goes very well served over mashed potatoes with a vegetable or salad on the side. Like most braised dishes, I expect this one will only get better over time.
We are getting toward the end of apple season and starting to look forward to fresh citrus, but there are still opportunities for delicious apple desserts. I made one of our favorites, a dessert that combines sweet and tart apples with tart cranberries and a crisp, sweet and spicy topping. It is one of our favorites and we have it most every year. The crisp topping, which at its best when fresh, does not become totally soggy when you have the dessert as a leftover, retaining much of its texture.
We have had leftover Catalan stew several times and, as expected, it has only improved with time. We have had it over both mashed potatoes and as the topping on a baked potato and it was eminently satisfying both ways. We are still enjoying leftover Atlanta Brisket which has also improved with time. (Yes, we have lots of beef in the refrigerator.) It was especially good served over noodles, perhaps not too surprising as it has a tomato-based sauce.
Not on Sunday
My 2012 Cookie of the Year was the Chocolate Chubby, a wonderful cookie that is sort of a cross between a cookie and a brownie. I am ready now to announce my 2013 Cookie of the Year, Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies. I described these a few months ago and I made them again this week. These are about the most peanutty cookies you can imagine. Instead of making the original all-peanut filling I made a chocolate filling which was almost as good. I have added instructions for this filling to the recipe and encourage you to try these cookies. They're a little more work than most cookies but like the Catalan-style stew you are will be well rewarded for your efforts.