On Stew.

In my mind, there are two different kinds of people: cold-weather people, and everyone else.  In this case, I definitely am an everyone else kinda gal — though with my parka, a thick scarf and woolen gloves, I really don’t have cause to complain.  Besides, if I lived in a part of the world that didn’t have such an aggressive winter I’d never have the chance to warm up with a bowl of this stew.

I know that in the photo, this doesn’t look like much.  It’s okay to agree with me on this.  I won’t be offended, and neither will my stew.

The clichéd-yet-truthful thing about this is that looks are so deceiving here.  It’s impossible for this photo to capture the beautifully floury texture these potatoes take on after bubbling their way through two separate cooking stages.  Neither can this photo show you how the heat from the minced ginger subtly infuses the broth with a truly delicate flavor, or how incredibly tender beef chuck turns in a short period of time.  It also doesn’t show how quickly Keith and I plowed through our bowls, but that’s a horse of a different color.

Something to note: traditionally, this stew is made with yak meat.  I have no idea where to get yak, so I’m glad there’s a delicious substitute in beef.

Tibetan Beef + Potato Stew, from Saveur
Makes four portions

3 pounds Yukon gold potatoes
1 pound peeled carrots
Kosher salt, to taste
3 tablespoons peanut oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon coarsely ground celery seed
3 scallions, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 pound beef chuck, cut into 1 ½-inch pieces
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons peeled, finely chopped fresh ginger
½ tablespoon ground coriander
½ tablespoon ground cumin

  1. Place potatoes and carrots in a large pot with 5 cups cold water; season with salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium, and simmer, covered, until potatoes are cooked, 35 – 40 minutes. Strain, reserving cooking liquid; let ingredients cool. Once cool, remove skins from potatoes; cut into 1 ½-inch chunks. Cut carrots into 1-inch lengths. Set aside.
  2. Return the pot to medium-high heat; add oil. When hot, add garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in celery seeds and scallions. Carefully pour in ½ cup water and cook until scallions are crisp-tender, about 1 minute. Add beef, season with salt and pepper; reduce heat to medium, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Add the reserved cooking liquid, potatoes, and carrots along with the butter, ginger, coriander, and cumin. Bring to a boil, reduce to medium-low, and simmer, partially covered, stirring occasionally, until beef is tender and sauce has thickened, 30 – 35 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and serve, if you like, with steamed white rice.

A Plan-Ahead, Super-Fast Dinner.

It’s no secret amongst my friends that I’ve been embroiled in a torrid love affair with Vietnamese food.  Whenever I’m at a Vietnamese restaurant, a good portion of my time there is spent deliberating over what it is I’m going to eat.  I mean, I haven’t met a bánh mì I haven’t wanted seconds on, there isn’t a phở I haven’t found unslurpworthy, I want to lick the bottom of each clay pot that has ever held a serving of ca kho to.

Vietnamese-Style Sautéed Beef (Bo Luc Lac)One of my favorite things to order is bò lúc lắc, a marinated beef dish that’s served with a tangy lime dipping sauce.  It’s immensely flavorful and often served with bitter watercress and steamed rice — I prefer the nuttiness of brown, but any long-grained rice will do.

What’s so nice about this recipe is that it barely takes any time at all, just a bit of forethought; for the best results, the meat should soak in an oil-and-sugar solution for about eight hours.  After that, the key to a perfect plate is in the simple cooking technique: sautéing the beef in batches for even browning.  The batches scarcely add additional time to the whole process; you’ll be sitting down before your rice is even ready.

Vietnamese-Style Sautéed Beef (Bò Lúc Lắc), from Saveur
Makes four portions

1 pound beef tenderloin, trimmed  and cut into 1-inch cubes
6 tablespoon canola oil
7 teaspoon sugar
4 teaspoon freshly ground black
Kosher salt, to taste
1 bunch watercress, for garnish
¼ cup rice vinegar
¼ cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon fish sauce
Juice of 2 limes
3 scallions, cut to 1-inch lengths
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

  1. Toss the beef with 2 tablespoons oil, 1 teaspoon sugar, and 2 teaspoons pepper in a large bowl and season with salt. Cover bowl and set aside to let marinate at room temperature for 1 hour, or refrigerate overnight.
  2. Dress a platter with watercress and set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together the vinegar, soy sauce, 2 teaspoons sugar, and fish sauce to make a vinaigrette; set aside. In a small bowl, make a dipping sauce by whisking together the remaining sugar and pepper with the lime juice; season dipping sauce with salt and set aside.
  3. Drain beef, pat dry with paper towels, and discard marinade. Working in batches, heat 2 tablespoons oil in a flat-bottomed wok or a 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat. When oil begins to smoke, add half of the beef. Cook, flipping once, until well browned and medium rare, 3–4 minutes. Add half of the scallions, garlic, and red onions and cook, stirring constantly, until wilted, 30 seconds. Add half of the vinaigrette and butter; toss to combine. Spoon beef and vegetables over platter of watercress. Serve with lime dipping sauce.

Dinner on a Cold Night.

Nights like this, all I want to do is wrap myself up in a wild assortment of blankets and quilts like some kind of crazed sushi roll and breathe in the steam off of a mug or bowl of something  hot.  Since I’m not much for tea and wanted to inhale the aroma of something more substantial than coffee, I decided to pull out the lovely French oven I received for my birthday and put it to work.

chicken-stewSaveur‘s recipe for chicken stew is both ridiculously easy to make and ridiculously delicious.  Of course, the use of a French oven is not required, but a sturdy pot most certainly is.  Also, I was missing a few vital ingredients but rather than venture out into the great snowy yonder, I instead made do with what I had on hand, replacing tarragon vinegar with white wine vinegar and the fines herbes with lemon thyme, parsley and rosemary.  I can’t say whether my slight alterations made the stew any better or worse, but I can say with entire certainty that mine made it fantastic.  The fragrance wafting out of my bowl was positively dreamy, so you can imagine what I thought of the flavors.  My verdict:  absolutely terrific with a baguette on a frosty night.

Chicken Stew, from Saveur
Makes six to eight portions.

4 tablespoon butter
4 pounds skinless chicken thighs
4 ribs celery, sliced
4 carrots, peeled, trimmed, and sliced
1 small yellow onion, peeled and sliced
2 tablespoon tarragon vinegar
1 teaspoon fines herbes, a blend of parsley, chervil, tarragon and chives
1 bay leaf
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

  1. Melt butter in a large cast-iron pot or heavy-bottomed casserole over medium-high heat. Working in batches to avoid crowding the pot, add chicken and cook until well browned, 6–8 minutes per side. Transfer chicken to a large plate and set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, bring 4 cups water to a boil in a small pot over high heat. Reduce heat to low to keep water hot.
  3. Add celery, carrots, onions, vinegar, fines herbes, and bay leaf to pot with butter and rendered chicken fat, scraping any browned bits stuck to bottom of pot. Season to taste with salt and pepper and cook until vegetables begin to soften, about 3 minutes.
  4. Return chicken and any accumulated juices to pot, add enough hot water to just cover chicken (about 3 cups), and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until chicken is tender, about 1 hour. Discard bay leaf.