The word from the weatherman is that we’re expecting sleet and “if the timing is right” maybe even a dusting of snow in Houston tomorrow. It means that I’ll be off the roads and away from the local yahoos who will become quite a bit more dangerous than they already are in normal conditions. Some drivers just refuse to slow down for nuthin’!
Ah…snow! Love it for short periods of time only…like four or five days in the spring when we’re skiing! I love the powder crunching under my skis; love its beauty when it cloaks the mountains and in contrast with the blue sky; love its shimmer when the sun shines; love the snowflakes... Yes, I’ll take advantage of it for a few days a year, BUT I much prefer our temperate Houston winters, thank you very much!
I’ve had my fair share of a Winter Wonderland when I lived in Toronto for almost 4 years. One of my most vivid memories was walking to the bus stop to catch my bus to the university. I had to walk backwards to protect my face from the pelting wind. Hunched over, step by treacherous step on the icy sidewalk, I kept on thinking: this is it - I’m going to fall on my bum and break my bones and it’s going to be sooo embarrassing, and I’m going to hit my head and be brain-damaged! In hindsight, it would have been a little easier had I not been wearing my trendy high-heeled boots! But fashion always came before comfort when I was a young lady in my early twenties – wouldn’t be caught dead in a pair of flat rubber-soled boots…not on your life!
I love our Houston winters. The sun visits almost every day and we rarely need our heavy coats. But every few years we can expect a sharp dip in the temperature and tiny snowflakes that have the staying power to blanket the ground. It’s short-lived…the warmth of the sun takes care of that!
With the chill in the air, here’s a good recipe that will warm your insides – beef stew with hearty mushrooms, delicate pearl onions and red wine. Use wine that you would enjoy drinking with the stew. I opened a 2007 Côtes-du-Rhône from Saint-Esprit, our newest best buy - inexpensive but quite good.
Beef stew with portabella mushrooms, pearl onions and red wine
2 thick (1/3-inch) slices of pancetta, cubed into ½-inch pieces
2 - 2½ lbs beef stewing meat (beef chuck is good)
cooking oil, for browning
1 bag frozen pearl onions, about 14oz (they’re peeled and ready to go!)
1½ cups red wine. 1½ - 2 cups low-sodium beef broth
2 bay leaves, preferably fresh, if available
1 tablespoon Hungarian paprika
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
16 – 20 ounces baby portabella mushrooms, sliced thick
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ - 1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons flour
¼ cup freshly chopped parsley
Sear the pancetta in a heavy pot (I used my Le Creuset Dutch Oven) over high heat. With a slotted spoon, remove pancetta to a bowl and set aside. Brown the stewing meat in the remaining fat in about 3 batches, adding cooking oil if necessary. Sear meat until brown on most sides, turning the pieces quickly. Remove each batch of meat and add to pancetta in a bowl.
Add the pearl onions to the remaining oil (it’s ok if they’re still frozen) and brown them until caramel in color. Be careful not to burn the juices and bits of meat on the bottom of the pan.
Carefully add the red wine and cook for about a minute, scraping the bottom with a spatula. You want the wine to loosen all the delicious flavors at the bottom of the pot. Add beef broth, bay leaves, paprika and black pepper. If most of the meat is not covered with the liquids, add more wine or broth. Reduce the heat to ‘low’ and allow the mixture to simmer slowly until the meat starts to become tender, about 1 - 1½ hours, depending on the cut of meat you use.
Add mushrooms and red pepper flakes to meat. Season with salt to your liking and continue to simmer until the mushrooms and meat are very tender, about 30 minutes to 1 hour.
When the meat is tender and the mushrooms are soft, whisk the flour with ¼ cup water in a small bowl until smooth. Add to stew and cook for an additional 10 minutes to thicken the broth.
To serve: Add fresh parsley to the stew and serve with mashed potatoes or polenta. It’s even better the next day! Here I served it in individual soup dishes with mashed white and sweet potatoes. Broil for a few minutes to brown the tops of the potatoes if you wish.