Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Winter Warmer

To the tune of Let It Snow, with apologies to Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne:

When the weather outside is frightful,You can make a meal that's delightful.
Just cook something low and slow
And let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

With the accumulated snowage rapidly approaching a crazy foot and a half here in Portland and the relentless drumbeat of Christmas throbbing in my ears, I'm deep in comfort mode. And around here that means chunks of meat and vegetables simmered for hours in stock and wine. So when I saw a recipe for a beef stew with prunes on Mark Bittman's blog, Bitten, I knew it would come in handy this week.

Skijoring in Vermont. My question is: they see a bunny, then what?

His recipe called for chuck which, like pork shoulder, oxtail, ham hocks and other "less-desirable" cuts of meat, can feed a crowd (or be eaten over several days) for not much money without sacrificing on the flavor front. Plus, when the social luster of your family is wearing thin after being house-bound for a week together and you run into your neighbors skijoring through the streets with their dogs, you'll have this in your back pocket to lure them to your dinner table.

Beef Stew With Prunes

3 Tbsp. olive oil
2 lbs. lean boneless beef, preferably chuck, in 2-inch cubes
Salt and pepper to taste
1 onion, peeled and chopped
3 plum tomatoes, stemmed and chopped (canned are fine)
1 tsp. sweet paprika, more to taste
1 cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
1 c. chicken stock
1 c. dry red wine
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 c. pitted prunes
1 Tbsp. sherry vinegar or other vinegar, or to taste
Chopped parsley leaves for garnish

Place a deep skillet or casserole that can be covered over medium-high heat, and add oil. Brown meat well on all sides, seasoning with salt and pepper, for 10 minutes; remove with a slotted spoon.

In same pot over medium-high heat, sauté onion and tomatoes with a large pinch of salt and some pepper. When they soften, about 5 minutes, stir in paprika, cinnamon, and bay leaf. Return meat to pan, and add stock and wine; bring to a boil, then lower heat, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes. If mixture starts to dry, add a little water or stock.

Remove cinnamon and bay leaf, and stir in sugar and prunes. Simmer until prunes and meat are soft, another 30 to 45 minutes. (Dish can be made in advance to this point; let sit for a few hours, or cover and refrigerate for up to a day before reheating and proceeding.) When meat is very tender, uncover pot and add vinegar; if necessary, raise heat so sauce thickens and becomes glossy. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve hot, garnished with parsley. Excellent with polenta, couscous or saffron rice.

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