Winter Ballast


The thick of December.  It should be blustery, ice-edged, beleaguering, pale, testing the limits of endurance.  I should wake up to scrunched frozen toes, the bite of frigid air, burrowing into covers.

The puppies do help stave off the cold.  I highly suggest you get a pair.  But really, it’s been so mild this year.  Thus far.  A fistful of snow on the ground, shifting, fragile.

I should be rushing harried from doorway to doorway, longing for the sweet, warming sting of brandy.  The crackle of hot embers.  Hot chocolate, thick scarves, stamping the weather off on the welcome mat.

But it’s been too warm.  Practically balmy for December.

Still, it’s not too warm for stew.

A couple of weeks ago, I tried to make beef stew.  It was coming along beautifully.  A small taste made me pine for the finish.  It was taking a long time.  I was tired.  I set the alarm.  I slept.  A profound, irrevocable sleep. The alarm didn’t wake me.  This was the sad result.

Billows of smoke.  Really, I cannot stress this enough.  My whole apartment. The dogs took cover in the bedroom, which had been closed, scooching along on the ground to get to the bed.  When I went into the kitchen to open the back door, I choked on the smoke rushing my lungs.  I sputtered, throwing the back door open, clambering, awkward and urgent, to join the dogs in the bed.

The scent clung for weeks.  Don’t do this.

Do this.

Beef Stew

4 servings

4 slices bacon, cut into lardons
1 lb beef stew meat
2-3 medium carrots, medium dice
1 stalk celery, medium dice
1 medium onion, medium dice
1 tablespoon of tomato paste
2 cloves garlic,  minced
a splash of red wine vinegar (balsamic would also be good)
1 cup red wine
2 cups stock (I used duck, whatever you have around.  Beef would be good)
1 bay leaf
a pinch of herbs de Provence (you could substitute some thyme if you don’t have herbs de Provence around)
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 325.

Start the bacon off in a cold pot on medium heat and cook until crispy.  Remove bacon with a slotted spoon.  I put it in the lid of the pot. Leave fat.

Season the meat liberally with salt and pepper. Bump heat to medium high and sear in batches, being sure not to overcrowd the pan.  The deeper the sear, the better the flavor.  Be sure not to burn your fond.  If it’s getting too dark, deglaze with a touch of the wine and continue.

Remove meat (again, pot lid), and add vegetables.  Large pinch of salt. Cook until lightly caramelized, 5-6 minutes.  Add tomato paste.  Cook for 1 minute. Add garlic.  Cook for 30 seconds.  Add splash of vinegar.  Reduce until the pan is almost dry.

Add wine and stock.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce to simmer.  Return meat, bacon, and any juices that have collected.  Add another pinch of salt, some pepper, the bay leaf and herbs de Provence.

Pop the lid on, put it in the oven, and let it cook for an hour and a half.  Check if the meat is fork tender.  If it isn’t, return to oven and let it cook another half an hour.

If the liquid is not reduced enough, pop it back on the stove on a low simmer, with the lid off, until it is reduced to your liking. If the meat is already fork tender, no worries.  You won’t hurt it.  Just check back every 10-15 minutes to be sure you don’t over-reduce.

If you have over-reduced, simply thin with more stock or hot water.

Taste. Adjust seasoning.

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