Monday, November 9, 2009

It's Braising Season! (No, it's duck season. No it's rabbit season...)

Sempre L'Estate Di San Martino

In Europe, they call Indian Summer St. Martin's Summer. November 11 is St. Martin's Day and it's supposed to signify the beginning of winter weather. Summer goes out with a bang because it's always unseasonably warm and spring-like on St. Martin's Day or the days surrounding it. It's supposed to be due to the miracle of St. Martin.*

*I learned a poem about it in Italian class in high school (see above). St. Martin was a knight who kept a beggar warm on a cold day by cutting his cloak in half and giving it to the beggar. He was rewarded by having the sun come out and the flowers bloom, etc.

Earlier this week we definitely experienced St. Martin's Summer. The temps in the high 60s and the sun shone the whole day long. The temps are dropping now and the clouds are moving in, along with a sprinkle of rain here and there. I know that winter is on its way, no matter how much these mild days try to trick me. It's time to think of real winter recipes. For once I'm going to make the kind of food people expect to eat in the winter. I'm not just going to make ice cream until July (where I begin baking regularly...)

For years I shied away from just about any form of braised beef. I avoided beoef bourgonoine and beef stew and pot roast. I hated the stuff. Why? It's because the stews and pot roasts I was raised on weren't terribly good (or I didn't think they were).

The worst part was the potatoes. They were always russet potatoes and as the stew cooked, they would get mushy and infiltrate the stew with their starchy badness. I never liked the taste or texture of russet potatoes (still don't). The only way I will ever eat them is mashed with lots of butter and salt (and other flavors are welcome) or made into french fries. It was only in the past decade or so that I discovered yukon golds and their pleasant taste and texture. Those little red ones aren't so bad either. I always assumed that if I disliked russets, then I disliked all potatoes. I never realized that there were edible ones out there. I never thought to try a stew or braise made with another type of potato until I met a man who doesn't eat beef!

I also disliked the carrots. I love eating carrots raw and as a child they were one of the few vegetables I would eat. I refused to eat them cooked though and I hated the carrot mush that permeated a stew or pot roast. To this day I dislike recipes that feature mushy vegetables. I don't like ratatouille or giambotta. I'll eat my vegetables as long as they're roasted, sauteed with lots of garlic, or possibly blanched or steamed.

I had to approach my braised beef cautiously then. I had never made something like this before and if I was going to to it, I had to do it my way, and do it in a way that was fun and original so I could brag about it on my blog. I decided to try doing it a little sweet.

I started by browning a chuck roast.

Next came some bacon cut into pieces and then in the fat I sauteed carrots, onions, and parsnips. I solved the mush problem by removing them after they were brown and adding them back to the pot in the last half hour of cooking.

Add lots of red wine (I chose Zinfandel. Why Zinfandel? Why not?), beef stock, and the beef. My seasonings were cinnamon, bay and allspice.

I used whole spices. The stick went in by itself and so did the bay leaf. In order to not have to fish out the smaller spices, I put them in a tea ball.

My finished product. I escaped the whole potato mess thing by using yukon golds and mashing them on the side. The flavors here were really excellent. The wine and my choice of spices played off each other well.

My only problem was that I really didn't simmer this as long as I intended to simply because I got a late start in cooking dinner and didn't have time to wait to eat this. Thanks to the long hours Kevin works, we eat late enough as it is. I'm not a night owl and would never stay awake for a 10PM dinner. I think with proper cooking time, it would be perfect and I will definitely make this again for myself when I have more time to spare.

What about Sir Pickypants whose delicate widdle tum-tum can't handle beef? Halibut with dill for him (recipe from Closet Cooking - from one Kevin to another. Dude, I can so relate to the "small kitchen" thing) along with the mashed potatoes. I served him the carrots (but no parsnips for him) as his vegetable. Yes, the carrots have been soaking up beef juice. Deal with it.

These dishes share the distinction of being the last dishes ever cooked on my old stove. My new stove is coming tomorrow. Yay!

Zinfandel-Braised Beef Short(dis)Order Cook Style

1 chuck roast
2 pieces of bacon, cut into small pieces
3 large carrots, cut into chunks
1 large parsnip, cut into chunks
1 large onion, coarsely diced
2 cloves minced garlic
2 cups beef stock
2 cups red wine
1 cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
1 tsp allspice berries
Salt and pepper
Olive oil for sauteeing

Sprinkle your chuck roast with salt and pepper. Heat olive oil in a large pot and brown the roast well on all sides. Get a nice crust on it. Remove from pan.

Add bacon to the pot and cook till it begins to crisp up. Drain off any fat you feel is excessive. Then add onions. When they soften, add your carrots and parsnips. Cook them until they take on some of that nice brown color and remove from pot.

Add the roast back into the pot. Now add your wine, stock and spices. Scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of the pot. You can put your cinnamon stick and bay leaf into the pot whole. You might want to put your allspice into a cheesecloth bag or a tea ball as I did.

Simmer this for 2 hours. During the last 30 minutes of cooking, add your carrots and parsnips back in.

When the meat is fall-apart tender and the vegetables are tender, but not mushy, remove the roast from the pot, slice, and serve with the pan juices over mashed potatoes.


Bellini Valli said...

Yikon Golds are the best!!!!

Donna-FFW said...

Dont you love to say deal with it to a man. I do,makes me feel all tough-like.

Your zinfandel braised beef sounds wonderful and Id choose that hands down over halibut(no offense to Kevin .. either one) any day.

Steph said...

I actually love mushy veggies, especially carrots! This looks really delicious.

Emily said...

Yaaay! Congrats on the stove! I can't wait - even though it's not even mine. Haha.

I've never ever liked stews, but yours looks delicious. I'd love to try it. I know exactly what you mean about mushy carrots and potatoes.

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

Val - They really are. They totally redefine potatoes for me.

Donna - You bet I do!

Steph - Kevin likes his vegetables mushy too. It's amazing I can cook anything we'll both eat. :-D

Em - It's nice to know I'm not the only one who feels that way. My family made me feel like such a picky freak growing up.