Last weekend, I went through both freezers — the little one in the kitchen, and the slightly larger one in the garage — and inventoried their contents. I didn’t discover any huge surprises in either location, thankfully, but I did turn up a few odds and ends that would be better to eat now rather than later. And since we needed to make room for half a turkey’s worth of meat, a little reorganization was in order.
In addition to the pickles and broth I put up last weekend, I also made a big batch of tomatillo-sauce base to freeze: I roast and puree chiles and tomatillos, then add onions and simmer it down. Right before I’d usually add poultry broth and re-reduce to make a sauce, I cool down the paste and portion it out for the freezer. When I want to make enchiladas or chile verde, I thaw a brick, add the missing liquid, and finish the recipe.
The two big Dark Days meals we cooked at home took care of some freezer odds and ends, and used the last of the un-frozen Thanksgiving leftovers, too. On Monday night, we whipped up a batch of our favorite stacked enchiladas with a little of the tomatillo sauce I’d set aside, along with a half-packet of tortillas and container of Rancho Gordo beans from the freezer, and the last bits of meat left over from turkey sandwiches. Later in the week, Cameron made a delicious beef-and-ale stew using a pound of Marin Sun chuck we’d stashed away from an early CSA box. Topped with the last of the Thanksgiving mashed potatoes, the stewmade a very decadent sort of cottage pie.
We spent some time this weekend getting the garden ready for fall, pruning the fruit trees and cutting back the hardy herbs like rosemary. I ended up with enough cuttings to make a few rustic wreathes. Contrary to my romantic notions, wreath-making can be a messy, sticky job (your hands end up covered in a pine-like sap!) but I think the end result was worth it. I now have pretty holiday decorations with a lovely scent, and afterward the sprigs can be stripped to use in cooking.
Where’s the recipe?? We’re experiencing some technical difficulties — our blog server is running painfully slow, and it was all we could manage to get this post up in time for the Dark Days roundup before running off to not one but two holiday parties this evening. If you’re interested in Cameron’s recipe for the Beef Braised in Ale, check back early next week.
Beef in Ale
- adapted from The River Cottage Meat Book
3# boneless chuck or stewing beef, trimmed and cut into 2-inch chunks
8 ounces pancetta or bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 T butter or drippings
1 pound of onions (Hugh specifies baby onions, peeled and left whole. I used medium-sized yellow onions, quartered)
Up to 1/3 c all-purpose flour, seasoned with salt and pepper
4 cups ale (Hugh calls for stout)
2 bay leaves
1 sprig thyme
A few stems of parsley
8 ounces each of carrots and celery, cut into chunks
Heat the butter or drippings in a Dutch oven or other large stew pot and render the pancetta or bacon over medium heat, cooking until well-browned. Remove the bacon with tongs or slotted spoon and reserve on a plate. Fry the onions in the hot fat until they are lightly browned all over. Remove the onions and add to the bacon on the reserve plate. Turn up the heat to medium-high or high depending on your stove. Toss the beef in the seasoned flour and shake/pat off as much of the excess as possible, leaving only a fine layer of flour behind.
Working in batches, thoroughly brown the beef on all sides, removing it to the reserve plate when you dare not leave it in any longer. Here is where your diligence in flour removal will pay off. The browner you can make the beef chunks, the better your stew will taste, but extra flour will flake off and burn before you can get the beef where you want it.
Pour in some of the ale and deglaze the pot, scraping up the browned bits with a wooden spoon. Tip the contents of the reserve plate (bacon, onion, beef, and any juices that have collected) into the pot. Pour in the rest of the ale, adding water if necessary to just cover the meat. Add the herbs, tied into a bouquet garni. Taste and season lightly with salt and pepper, keeping in mind the saltiness of your bacon and the fact that you will be reducing the liquid. Bring to a boil and set to simmer gently with the lid on but slightly ajar.
The stew will need to cook roughly 2-1/2 hours. This can be done either on the stovetop or in an oven set to 250° F. If the meat starts to get exposed, add a little hot water. Approximately one hour before you expect the meat to be done, add the carrots and celery. You’ll know it’s done when the meat falls apart at the touch of a fork.
Remove the bouquet garni. Taste again for seasoning and serve under, over, beside, or puddled in potatoes that have been mashed with scandalous amounts of cream and butter.