It's so winter. It's cold. It's dreary. More snow and freezing rain on the horizon. It's the kind of day you stay inside and bundle up, watch tv all day with the cats and make some comforting winter food. Something that doesn't require a whole lot of babysitting so you can stay under the blanket as much as possible.
Winter is the season you either truly love, or truly hate. I have always been a lover of winter. I love the cold crisp air, the sparkling white snow twinkling at night, covering up all the ugliness in the world. Many people find this time of year to be depressing. Maybe because we're huddled inside our homes and not out enjoying the sunshine. Maybe it's the gray skies. Seems like people don't socialize as much either. We get swept up in the holiday furor and one that's over, we look at the calendar and sadly realize we won't have another love weekend until Memorial Day. This winter I am having some serious mixed emotions. I am absolutely thrilled to be back in the city, and thrilled to be closer to my family again. I'm enjoying my job and learning lots every day, but I'm also missing my mom a little more than usual. Especially when it comes to winter foods. My mom made some of the best winter foods- her lentil soup and chili are still the best I have ever had. Christmas leftovers always became Turkey Ala King or Ham and Beans or Scalloped Potatoes and Ham. My mom's vegetable beef soup was simply made and in no way gourmet but it was just so good. I miss that more than I can possibly express.
When I am needing comfort food I often turn to stews and when I want comfort food on a lazy day that I don't have to mess with all the time, I break out the trusty Crockpot! My beef stew recipe is pretty straight forward. Boneless beef, in this case I bought a family pack of something called Boneless Chuck Petite Mock Tender Steak- basically little round pieces of steak cut to look like filet mignon, seasoned with my favorite- Montreal Steak Seasoning, and dredged in flour and seared in bacon fat in my trusty cast iron skillet. Pile the beef in the Crockpot along with a few slices of bacon that have been cooked crisp and crumbled, then pile on the veggies- I used onion, garlic, a beautiful big fat fresh leek, button mushrooms that were halved, baby carrots and a package of baby gemstone potatoes- a pretty mix of red, purple and yellow baby tomatoes. I often choose this mix for French potato salad too because the colors are so vibrant and hold up to cooking.
The sauce gets its body and depth from tomato paste and homemade beef stock- made from simmering beef bones that had been roasted til golden and cooked until every bit of flavor has been coaxed out. Herbes de Provence and bay leaves add an earthy note. Deglazing the skillet also brings a ton of flavor to the sauce- all those delicious browned crusty bits in that skillet dissolve and flavor the sauce, yum. I think my beef stew in all its simplicity is the perfect one-dish meal.
Easy Weekend Beef Stew
2 lbs boneless beef
1 pound baby potatoes
1 pound baby carrots
1 small onion
5 cloves garlic
1/2 pound mushrooms
freshly ground black pepper
4 strips bacon
2 1/2 cups beef stock
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/4 red wine, whisky or cognac
2 teaspoons Herbes de Provence
2 bay leaves
vegetable oil if needed
Cut the beef into good sized cubes and spread out onto a plate. Season with your favorite meat seasoning, or salt and pepper, and sprinkle evenly with flour. Set aside.
Wash the potatoes and carrots and set aside. Cut the onion into chunks. Slice the leek in half lengthwise, clean thoroughly under running water, and slice crosswise into 1/2 inch pieces. Mince the garlic cloves. Cut the bacon into 1/2 inch pieces. Wipe mushrooms with a damp cloth and cut in half.
Use a large cast iron skillet. Heat over medium high heat and add the bacon. Cook and stir until bacon is browned and crispy. Remove the bacon pieces and place in a crock pot. Working in batches, sear the beef until browned and remove to the crock pot.
If you need more oil, add a tablespoon or so to the pan. Add the leeks and onions. Cook and store for a few minutes until onions are just starting to color. Add the garlic. After one minute add the mushrooms and cook another minute or two. Spoon vegetables over the meat in the crockpot. Add the potatoes and carrots. Add the herbs.
Deglaze the skillet with the wine (or you can use additional broth if you prefer), stirring to scrape up all the tasty browned bits on the bottom. Pour over the veggies and meat. Stir the tomato paste into the crock pot. Pour the beef stock over. Cover and cook on high about 3 hours until veggies are tender. Thicken the sauce with a cornstarch slurry, and serve with lots of crusty bread.
With a not so friendly forecast for winter weather I'm very thankful for a crock pot filled with leftovers to fill my house with yummy aromas and chase away the chillies.