Sunday, February 20, 2011

It's Raining, It's Pouring...Rainy Day Food...



Somewhere in the midwest, there is an old man with a concussion snoring in bed.  I know this because IT'S POURING!  Rain, thunder and lightning!  I am really loving the weather in spite of the fact that it's been gray and cold all day.  Anyone that knows me, knows that I love rainy days.  I love the feeling of being cozy in my home while it rains outside, some soup simmering on the stove, maybe some fresh bread in the oven.  It was a perfect day for something warm and bubbly in my opinion. 

Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, I have had my share of rainy days.  It wasn't until I first moved to Colorado, I didn't realize how much rainy days influence my behavior.   In my family, sunny days were taken advantage of, yard work was done, walks were taken, and Sunday drives to sunny meadows and picnics. (OK, that didn't really happen all that often, but when they did, they were fun.)  I know that my mom and my sister suffered for the ongoing gray days, but I always loved them.  When a sunny came up, their moods lifted and their energy shift was palpable.  I still see it in my sister to this day.  I, however, am the opposite.  Sunny days make me sigh with irritation.  I have trouble staying inside and doing the things I want to do like cook, knit, sew or read because I feel like I should be outside mowing the lawn, pulling weeds, or hiking (aka Death Marching). 

When I moved to Colorado, where there are 320 days of sunshine a year (compared to about 180 in Portland, OR), I was somewhat appalled.  Every nice weekend (which is almost EVERY stinking weekend in Colorado), I felt the need to be out working in the yard or doing something productive.  I just wanted to take a nap and watch a movie and eat soup.  Especially in the late fall and winter.  Hence, the Midwest being a good move for me with it's average 230 days a year. Nice medium in my opinion. 

I have written before about how much I like the Cooking Light magazine.  They have a series called "Cooking Class" in which they cover a different cooking technique.  In the January/February issue, they covered "Stew".  Stew is a wonderful comfort food.  Stewing takes tougher cuts and through long slow cooking tenderizes them into buttery bites of meat with layers of flavor added by the vegetables, the liquid, and the seasonings.  

Cooking Light gives a step by step process to make every stew a success.  You start by browning the meat and the vegetables.  The caramelizing of the vegetables and meat create a delicious flavor concentrator, fond.  The  fond is the browned bits that stick to the bottom of the pan.  As I mentioned in this post, adding liquid to the pain (in stew, it's usually acidic, like wine) after the fond is formed and scraping up the browned bits before continuing on creates a full flavor.  Bringing it to a boil just concentrates the flavor further.  After that, it's just a matter of getting all of your ingredients in the pot, covering with liquid and simmering until thick and rich.  

I made the Italian Beef Stew that Cooking light featured in their Stew Cooking class.  It is SO good.  Serving it with some creamy polenta or crusty rolls would push it over the top to greatness.  A rustic apple tart would cap it off perfectly.

Ingredients

7  teaspoons  olive oil, divided
1 1/2  cups  chopped onion
1/2  cup  chopped carrot
1  tablespoon  minced garlic
1/4  cup  all-purpose flour
2  pounds  boneless chuck roast, trimmed and cut into cubes
3/4  teaspoon  salt, divided
1/2  teaspoon  black pepper
1  cup  dry red wine
3 3/4  cups  chopped seeded peeled plum tomato (about 2 pounds)
1 1/2  cups  fat-free, lower-sodium beef broth
1/2  cup  water
2  teaspoons  chopped fresh oregano
2  teaspoons  chopped fresh thyme
1  bay leaf
1  (8-ounce) package cremini mushrooms, quartered
3/4  cup  (1/4-inch-thick) slices carrot
2  tablespoons  chopped fresh basil
1  tablespoon  chopped parsley

Preparation

1. Heat a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add 1 teaspoon oil to pan. Add onion and chopped carrot; sauté 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add garlic; sauté for 45 seconds, stirring constantly. Remove from pan.
2. Add 1 tablespoon oil to pan. Place 1/4 cup flour in a shallow dish. Sprinkle beef with 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper; dredge in flour. Add half of beef to pan; sauté 6 minutes, browning on all sides. Remove from pan. Repeat procedure.
3. Add wine to pan, and bring to a boil, scraping pan. Cook until reduced to 1/3 cup (about 5 minutes). Return meat and the onion mixture to pan. Add tomato and next 6 ingredients; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover, and stir in sliced carrot. Simmer, uncovered, for 1 hour or until meat is very tender, stirring occasionally. Discard bay leaf. Stir in remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, basil, and parsley.

Recipe by Cooking Light Magazine, January 2011 by Ivy Manning