Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Comfort Cooking

Saturday dawned cold and drizzly . . . wet and overcast . . . bleak and chilly.

I've heard of comfort foods and comfort eating, but on Saturday all I wanted was comfort cooking---cooking that made me think of prairie settlers and roaring fires in walk-in fireplaces and cast iron pots hanging from pothooks, simmering all day long.

Not that there is a ghost of a chance that any prairie settler would have prepared this stew that originally graced the pages of Gourmet magazine, but it sure does appeal to my romantic sensibilities.

It was a grand day for puttering in the kitchen.

For chopping up celery and onions and garlic and carrots.

For searing the meat in olive oil and adding the flavors of bay leaves, thyme, red wine, and balsamic vinegar.

For adding in tiny round, white boiling potatoes to poach in the delicious broth until their tender skins split.

It was a day for cleaning out the refrigerator and feeling happy that for one day, at least, all the dairy products sat lined up on their own shelf, and all the produce was right where it should be, in the clean, center drawer free from mold and blight and goo, and the butter was stacked neatly in its own shelf in the door.

It was a day for getting all the dishes washed and listening to Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries on my ipod and being geeky enough to take notes to help me keep track of the suspects.

And it was a day to sniff and sniff the gently bubbling stew that is really a deep rich beef soup and to stir and stir and taste and sigh deeply.

And to be glad I wasn't outside where it was bone-chilling and drippy and raw, but to be,instead, inside, where the warmth was embracing and where I could enjoy the comfort of cooking.

Comforting Beef Stew (adapted from

2 1/2 pounds boneless beef chuck, cut into small chunks
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
2 carrots, quartered
2 celery ribs, quartered
1 onion, quartered
1/2 head of garlic, halved crosswise
1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 cups dry red wine
1 bay leaf
1 sprig of thyme
1 1/2 cups reduced  sodium beef broth (gasp . . . I used chicken because I forgot to buy the beef!!)
1 1/2 cups water
1 pound small white boiling potatoes
3/4 pound carrots

Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle.  (I actually cooked mine on a burner, and it also worked fine!)

Pat beef dry and season with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.

Heat oil in pot over medium-high heat until it shimmers, then brown meat, without crowding, iabout 8 minutes. Transfer to a platter.

Reduce heat to medium, then add carrots, celery, onions, and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until well browned, about 12 minutes.

Push vegetables to one side of pot. Add tomato paste to cleared area and cook paste, stirring, 2 minutes, then stir into vegetables.

Add vinegar and cook, stirring, 2 minutes.

Stir in wine, bay leaves, and thyme and boil until wine is reduced by about two thirds, 10 to 12 minutes.

Add broth to pot along with water, beef, and any juices from platter and bring to a simmer. Cover and braise in oven until meat is very tender, about 2 1/2 hours.

Set a large colander in a large bowl. Pour stew into colander. Return pieces of meat to pot, then discard remaining solids. Let cooking liquid stand 10 minutes.

While beef braises, peel potatoes and cut into 1/2-inch-wide wedges (oops, I left mine whole!!). Slice carrots diagonally (1-inch).

Add potatoes and carrots to stew (make sure they are submerged) and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until potatoes and carrots are tender, about 40 minutes.

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