Food & Wine: January calls for a wood fire, a good book and a great stew

Allow time for the rich meaty flavors to develop
By: Joanne Neft
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During the month of January I’m always ready to build a fire, hunker down, read a good book, and eat meals that are much more satisfying as the winds blow and the rains in Auburn keep the ground wet and cold for days on end. This is the month for stew, braised lamb shanks, hearty soups, and frequent chocolate desserts. Bodies seem to need added calories and heavier meals to keep warmer. At the moment I have five different kinds of soup in the freezer, and every weekend I give thought to which stew or roast the family will enjoy for the coming week. The weather forecast for the next several days promises another round of blustery weather. It’s definitely time for some good beef stew. When picking out meat for stew I want meat attached to a goodly amount of bone. Meat closest to the bone is always the most tender and the bones give added flavor to the stew, and any marrow in the bone is nutrient-dense. A good beef stew is simple to prepare. What you’ll need most of is time. The slower the simmer, and the longer it takes to cook, the more complex the flavors. I always make more stew than we will consume in a single meal; leftover stew is actually more flavorful; the seasonings of herbs and spices and onions have had time to blend together and give full-bodied taste and fragrance to a hot winter meal. Serve beef stew with mashed German butterball potatoes and a good bottle of red wine. It’s a meal you’ll remember. --------------------------- Beef Stew 10 pounds beef shoulder roast with bones 2 cups flour with salt and pepper ½ cup olive oil 4 large carrots, sliced into 3-inch pieces ½ head celery 2 large onions, thinly sliced 2 tablespoons Herbs de Provence 2 quarts beef stock 2 cups hearty red wine 1 pound shitake mushrooms, sliced 9 cups small carrots, steamed until crisp Remove beef from bones. Discard fat. Cut beef into 1-inch cubes. Put flour mixture in separate bowl; set aside. Heat olive oil in large pan, shake two large handfuls of beef in bowl with flour mixture and add to hot olive oil. Turn meat until brown on all sides. Remove to dish, add more olive oil and continue browning two handful amounts until the meat is browned and removed from the pan. Using the same pan, add 2 more tablespoons olive oil and caramelize onions on slow heat for 10 minutes. When caramelized, add enough beef broth to scrape drippings from bottom of pan. Add remaining beef broth, red wine, Herbs de Provence, meat, bones, large carrots and celery. Cover and bring to a boil; immediately put on very low heat and simmer for 2 to 3 hours. Taste meat for doneness and flavor. Remove carrots, celery and bones. Discard. Five minutes before serving, add sliced raw mushrooms to pan. Immediately before serving, add cooked small carrots. Serve with mashed German butterball potatoes.