“In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.”
I do enjoy winter. Aside from the holidays, which can be as stressful and maddening as they are glorious, there is a natural exaggeration of the contrast between “outside” and “inside,” between the biting cold and isolation of a Michigan winter and the warmth and community to be found at home. There are very few experiences I prefer to that of coming into a warm house after spending time outside shovelling, sledding or taking a walk with the dogs; my body naturally melts into the ambient warmth, and (with a little luck) there can be hot chocolate or a cup of tea in my immediate future.
Its good to come in from the cold, but I can ratchet my pleasure level even higher if there is something delicious in the oven, scenting the house and promising good things to come. Winter is not about the quick, refreshing fruits and vegetable of spring and summer which often require just a knife and maybe a little kosher salt. Winter is a time for the slow, deep flavors that come from long cooking of root vegetables and cuts of meat too tough and complicated to be thrown on the grill. It is a perfect time for braising and stewing, which let you begin with tough (but flavorful) protein and thick, starchy vegetables and end with tender meat and vegetables as well as sauce or gravy infused with the flavors and scents of meat, vegetables, and the aromatics of your choosing.
The main elements of a braise are the searing of the meat to insure beautiful color and to seal in flavor, and the long, slow cooking to break down connective tissue and make the meat silky. As an added bonus, most meats suitable for a braise are inexpensive because they are tougher and less “convenient;” think chuck roast, stew meat and bone-in chicken rather than lean fillets and boneless, skinless breasts.
One of my favorites is this recipe for Guinness-Braised Chuck Steaks with Horseradish Potatoes from the October 2005 issue of “Cooking Light” magazine. I’ve adapted the recipe to make it a little more kid-friendly (no horseradish in the mashed potatoes, alas, and no mushrooms in the sauce) but I’ll give you both my version and a link to the original so you can choose for yourself. Here’s the original. Here’s mine:
Guinness-Braised Chuck Steaks with Mashed Potatoes
(Adapted from “Cooking Light” Magazine)
For the steak:
- 1 1/2 pounds boneless chuck steak, trimmed
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1 1/2 cups finely chopped onion
- 1/2 cup chopped carrot
- 1/2 cup chicken broth (homemade, if you have it)
- 1 teaspoon dark brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon chopped, fresh rosemary
- 1 8 ounce package pre-sliced mushrooms (I leave these out)
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 (12 ounce bottle) Guinness Stout
For the Potatoes:
- 2 pounds baking potatoes, peeled and quartered (I like Yukon Gold)
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1/2 cup skim milk
- 1/4 cup finely chopped green onions
- 1/4 cup reduced fat sour cream
- 2 tablespoons horseradish (I leave this out of the dish until the end, and stir some into the adult portion)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Sprinkle steak with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a Dutch Oven over medium-high heat. Add steak, cook 5 minutes per side, or until browned. Remove steak from pan, and add onions, carrot, 2 tablespoons of broth and brown sugar. Cover, lower heat and cook 10 minutes. Add bay leaves, stout, remaining broth and steak and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer 1 hour and 30 minutes or until steak is tender. (Note: this is not an exact science; start testing the meat for tenderness at 90 minutes, but depending on the piece of meat, it may take longer).
To prepare potatoes, place them in a saucepan with water to cover. Bring to a boil and simmer 20 minutes, or until potatoes are tender. Drain potatoes and return to pan; add butter and beat with a mixer until smooth. Stir in remaining ingredients and keep warm.
Remove steak from pan and keep warm. (I put it on a platter tented with foil). Discard bay leaves. Increase heat to medium high and cook five minutes or until slightly thickened. Slice steak, spoon sauce over it and serve with potatoes.