Friday, November 9, 2012

November stew


I am generally not a fan of cold, gloomy days. On the other hand, they do provide a good incentive to make stew. Just browning the onions makes the house smell warm and inviting. Plus, if you deglaze the pan with red wine right after you brown the meat and onions, you can pour yourself a glass at the same time and enjoy it while the stew simmers. Just don't forget to stir the pot once in a while.

Cast iron pot, from above
Cast iron pot / dutch oven
Stew is best cooked in your favorite pot. The big, heavy one. Mine is cast iron, weighs almost ten pounds, and is perfectly seasoned, although its patina is best described as "ominous." Yours is that gorgeous enameled number from Le Creuset, or else the slow cooker you borrowed from your parents two years ago and never gave back, which is okay because they hadn't used it since the 70s. 

Dredging stew meat in flour
Dredging stew meat in flour, prior to browning it.
Dried mushrooms
Assorted dried mushrooms. 
After reading about all the amazing flavor that dried mushrooms impart to soups and stocks, I figured I'd try them. Per directions, I rinsed them, then soaked them in hot water for 15 minutes. Once they were soft, I added both the rehydrated mushrooms and the now-flavorful soaking water to the stewpot after the meat and onions were done browning. Could I have skipped a step and just tossed the dried mushrooms and some extra water into the pot? Probably. 

The difference was noticeable — much richer mushroom flavor than I usually get with fresh ones. Not a make-or-break difference, but that might be because there were also a few cups of beef stock in the pot. If I were skipping the beef stock, I'd definitely do the dried mushrooms again. And no, these weren't any fancy kind — just the cheap assorted dried mushrooms from Trader Joe's. 

Parsnips "American"
Parsnips in my garden. Underachievers. 

Parsnips from the store.

 I'd like to say I used the parsnips from my garden, but even after four and a half months, they're still spindly little things, so I bought some from the market. Clearly I need to plant my parsnips earlier next season. If you've been getting them in your CSA box and wondering why the albino carrots taste so funny, try roasting them or sautéing them with a little water and a little butter. Or, you know, bacon. 

Bunch of celery
Not from the garden

Onion, cut in half
Not from the garden

Chopping onions
Not from the garden

Little yellow potatoes in net bag
Not from the garden
Spinach, strawberries, tomatoes, gypsy wonder pepper, green onions
From the garden! This makes up for the underperforming parsnips, I think.
Also not from my garden: celery, onions, potatoes. But you know what was from my garden? Tomatoes and red "gypsy wonder" peppers, fresh from the plant. (Also strawberries and baby spinach, which went into a salad.) The tomatoes weren't especially good, but considering that it's November in the northern hemisphere, I'm not complaining. Another nice thing about stew: it turns those less-than-premium cuts of meat and vegetables into succulent comfort food. 

It's almost enough to make me enjoy the gloomy weather.