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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Baby, It's Cold Outside

Before I moved from Los Angeles to Pittsburgh, I never really thought much about the winter.  I didn't have to.  It was pretty much always nice in L.A.  I never had to think about how heavy a coat I needed on any given day because I rarely needed to wear anything heavier than a sweater.  I think I owned one turtleneck and that wasn't for warmth.  I'm sure I bought it because it was cute.

Now I live in Pittsburgh, and I am obsessed with the weather.  How hot, how cold, how humid, what's the wind chill.  The weather report on the 11:00 news is my pornography.  It's not just me.  Everyone talks about the weather -- constantly.  This is true especially when it's cold.

Last winter we had record snowfall.  I think it snowed about three feet in just a couple of days in February. This gave everyone something to talk about for months.  Discussions about snow removal, ice dams, and ultimately snow damage ran amok.  It was like living in an x-rated movie.

The point of all this is that, whether I like to admit it or not, I cook differently depending on the weather.  I guess we all do, but I totally ramp up the comfort food in the winter.  This is not necessarily good for my waistline but it is good for my mental health.  The winter comes and I show no self control.

So, although today is only December 8th,  there is going to be a high of about 25 degrees with mid teens wind chill.  We've had lake effect snow for the last three days, and Pittsburgh is starting to feel more like the polar zone than a city.  I think it's a good day for beef stew -- and some weather porn.

Beef Stew


2 pounds chuck beef, cut in 1-1/2-inch cubes
1 bottle red wine
3 - 4 cloves of garlic, smashed
3 bay leaves
4 ounces pancetta or bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup flour
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 onions, large diced
2 tablespoons garlic, minced
1 pound carrot, sliced into 1-inch pieces
1 pound small yukon gold potatoes
1 1/2 cups beef stock
1 spring rosemary
1 1/2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
8 ounces cremini mushrooms, sliced thick
olive oil

Marinate the meat overnight in the red wine, smashed garlic cloves, and bay leaves.

Brown the bacon or pancetta in a large saute pan, over a medium low heat.  When it is brown, remove to a large dutch oven with a slotted spoon.  Remove the beef cubes from the marinade and reserve the marinade for use later.  Discard the garlic cloves and bay leaves.  Dredge the beef in a mixture of the flour, 1 tablespoon of the salt, and 1 tablespoon of  pepper.  Shake off any excess.  In batches, brown the beef cubes in the same saute pan, making sure to brown on all sides.  Remove the beef cubes to the dutch oven with the bacon or pancetta.

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

Using the same saute pan, add the onions and cook for 5 minutes, until soft, adding a little olive oil if necessary.  Add the garlic and cook for a minute or two.  Add the carrots and potatoes to the onions and garlic and cook for 5 minutes more.  Remove all of the vegetables to the dutch oven with the beef and bacon.  Next, saute the mushrooms for 5 minutes, adding a little more olive oil if necessary.  Remove to the dutch oven.  Add 2 cups of the reserved marinade and deglaze the pan, scraping up all the browned bits with a wooden spoon.  Add the beef stock,  rosemary, Worcestershire sauce, 1 tablespoon of the salt, and 2 teaspoons of the pepper.  Pour the sauce over the meat and vegetables in the dutch oven and bring it to a simmer.  Cover the pot and place it in the oven for 2 hours, stirring once or twice during cooking.

When stew is done and the meat is tender, remove the rosemary branch.  Ladle into bowls and serve.

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