With the weather warming up here and there, it’s time to get in our favorite comfort foods before we trade them for all things grilled. Nothing beats the warm flavors of fall and winter foods, a crackling fire and evenings in. I do like the spring and summer, but the stillness of cold winter is something I wouldn’t trade for anything.
The popular Danish buzzword this year to describe what I relish during winter is “hygge” (pronounced hoo-ga). It’s about being cozy, slowing down, enjoying life and making memories. It’s no surprise that Denmark is one of the world’s happiest countries.
How do we grab some moments of the Danish ways? Make a pot of beef stew, invite four or six of your friends over, pop open some wine, light some candles and enjoy. This stew is quite simple to make and one Randy asks for repeatedly. There’s nothing complicated about it – brown the meat, saute the vegetables until soft, add the meat and liquid back in with the potatoes and, very soon after, dinner is ready. Your home will smell divine. I never really fully appreciate the smells since I’m the one in the kitchen making them. But if you go outside for a minute and come back in, you can get the full effect.
I like to serve this stew with some sort of fresh bread. If you’d like to make your own, one of my favorites is the New York Times’ No Knead Bread. It requires some lead time because the dough has to rest for 12-18 hours, but it’s very simple to make and yields the most perfect crusty-on-the-outside, chewy-on-the-inside bread. If you don’t have enough time for that, most every grocer in town has some sort of tasty specialty bread.
And for my gluten-free friends, try out the Kim and Jake’s gluten-free rolls in the freezer section at Whole Foods and Sprouts. Nothing beats really good gluten-free baked goods when you can’t eat the real deal.
For an extra little touch, make some herb butter to serve with your bread. I like chopped rosemary, sage and pink Himalayan salt in my butter. Simply melt the butter, add the herbs and salt and either pour it into little molds or into a bowl and set in the fridge to harden. The three minutes of prep is well worth it.
Let’s talk ingredients in the stew. I like Sterling Silver Premium Meats’ chuck roast. Ask the butcher at Dillons to cut it for you, or cut it up yourself at home. The marbling in this cut is fantastic and the flavor is wonderful. I prefer the meat cubes to be larger than what normal stew meat is cut because when you brown it for 30 minutes, it shrinks a bit. And larger chunks make for the perfect crust on the outside but plenty of meatiness in each bite.
For the beef stock, I’m a big fan of Better than Bouillon. It’s a sticky paste sold in a small glass jar, but the flavor is incredibly rich and better than any other commercial stock-making product I’ve tried. You can purchase it at Dillons, Costco, Whole Foods and probably other markets, too. The line carries all sorts of flavors, including chicken, vegetable, lobster and mushroom.
Randy isn’t the only one in the house that loves my beef stew. Our little Yorkipoo, Habibi, gulps it up faster than Randy. In case you didn’t know it before, yes, I’m one of those crazy dog “moms” who cooks all of her pup’s food. I started cooking his food 10 years ago when I worked for an all-natural meat company. Shortly after, there was a pet food scare and, thankfully, I had nothing to worry about. Since he’s just a 10-pound little fur baby, he doesn’t eat too much and often eats leftovers.
But not on beef stew night. We have to share the stew love with our little guy. We recently adopted a rescue pup who is a boxer mix. Her name is Red, and her fur matches my hair. It was meant to be. She’s on regular dog food right now, but time will tell how long that lasts. Maybe only until beef stew night.
2 pounds chuck roast, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 stalks celery, sliced
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 large onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup red wine
5 cups beef stock
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, minced
2 potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large stock pot over medium-high heat and brown meat for 30 minutes, until all sides are nicely browned. Remove meat onto a plate. Heat additional 2 tablespoons olive oil in the stock pot and saute celery, carrots and onion for about five minutes. Add garlic and cook until softened. Add beef, red wine, beef stock, diced tomatoes, thyme and potatoes. Cook on high heat until potatoes are soft. Season with salt and serve.
NEW YORK TIMES NO-KNEAD BREAD
3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed
In a large bowl, combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.
Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.
Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about two hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.
At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is OK. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with a lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.
New York Times