It’s mid-winter and while we’ve had one really good snow this season, as I look out my windows today, I see brown grass and bare trees – it all melted when the rains came whipping through a few weekends back. We’ve had a few additional days of snow but nothing really major and the local weather-guessers are saying that temperatures will reach near 40 sometime this week.
The Professor has returned to campus and we’ve settled back into our usual routine: up at 5:30am, quick breakfast of a green or other vegetable drink, maybe a bit of yogurt topped with homemade granola and he’s out the door – satchel slung over a shoulder, scarf tucked tightly around his neck, hat secured on his bald head, hot tea in a commuter mug in hand, ready to shape the minds of 20-somethings; I’ll leave it to you to determine just how much ‘shaping’ those brains are ready for at 8 in the morning. Honestly, I’m not sure how much brain ‘shaping’ is going on in my own head at 8am in the morning.
One of my favorite parts of winter is watching our birds at the feeders; I say ‘our’ birds because we live in the country and the back of our property is a protected wildlife refuge. Our birds swoop and glide from the refuge to the feeders and back all day; sometimes they’ll perch themselves on frail remnants of dead garden stock, black silhouettes bobbing up and down against the stark white of the snow, then back to the feeders they go. The shocking red of the male Cardinal is probably my favorite, but the black and white spotted Downy Woodpeckers are beautiful too. There is a gracefulness about the way they fly in and out of the refuge, as if performing a Waltz on a ballroom floor – lilt, two, three . . . lilt, two, three . . . wings perfectly still as the wind lifts and carries them from the feeders back into the woods.
Winter in the Midwest is also about fires in the fireplace, wool slippers and pajamas worn until noon on the weekends; it’s about stick-to-your-ribs chilis, soups and stews. This ‘recipe’ is one of those ‘grab-whatever-vegetable-you-happen-to-have-in-your-refrigerator-and-toss-it-in-a-pan’ kind of recipe. I didn’t intend to post it and at the last minute, grabbed the camera to take a single shot – no real ‘styling’ other than a napkin and a spoon. But this dish celebrates the glorious root vegetables of winter and is as much at home during the week as it is on a weekend – I’d even serve this to company with a good crusty bread, a tossed salad and a nice red wine – perfect for conversation with friends on a winter Sunday afternoon.
BEEF STEW WITH HORSERADISH SMASHED POTATOES
Serves 4 – 6
NOTE: This stew doesn’t call for much beef; I wanted the beef flavor but my focus on this particular stew is about the beautiful winter root vegetable. You can certainly add more beef if you’d like.
- 2-3 beef shanks, room temperature (approximately 1.5 pounds)
- 1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 cup onions, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 cup carrots, chopped
- 1 cup celery, chopped (I prefer the inner leafy parts)
- 1 cup parsnips, chopped
- 1 cup turnips, chopped
- 1 can fire-roasted tomatoes, including juice
- 2 Bay leaves
- 2-3 sprigs of fresh thyme
- 2 cups water
- Parsley for garnish
FOR THE HORSERADISH SMASHED POTATOES:
- 4 cups Yukon gold potatoes, chunked (I leave skins on but feel free to peel)
- 2 cloves garlic, whole (you can leave the skins on since you’ll be removing the garlic before mashing)
- 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 Tablespoons horseradish, optional (more or less to your liking)
- ½-cup whole milk, more if needed
FOR THE STEW:
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees
- Heat extra-virgin olive oil in a large Dutch oven; season beef shanks with salt and pepper. Add to Dutch oven and sear on both sides, place lid on the pan and into the oven for about 1-1/2 hours or until the meat is tender and falling off the bone.
- Remove shanks; set aside
- In the same pan over medium heat, add onions, garlic, celery and carrots and sauté until vegetables are softened – 5-7 minutes; add parsnips, turnips (or your choice of root vegetable – rutabagas are lovely too), tomatoes, bay leaves and thyme
- Add water to barely cover vegetables, season with salt/pepper, bring to a boil, reduce to simmer and cover with lid leaving it off to one side just a bit to allow some steam to escape
- Simmer until vegetables are fork-tender – about 20-30 minutes
- When vegetables are done, turn off heat, remove bay leaves and thyme sprigs (the leaves will have fallen off); cut or shred beef shanks into pieces and add back into the stew
FOR THE HORSERADISH SMASHED POTATOES:
- While the stew is cooking, measure out milk and set aside to come to room temperature
- Wash and chunk potatoes and place into a heavy-bottom pan; add cold water to cover, salt the water well (I use about 1 Tablespoon) toss in the whole garlic cloves; no need to peel as you’ll remove them once the potatoes are done
- Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer and place lid on pan; cook until potatoes are fork-tender – 20-25 minutes
- Drain and remove garlic cloves and throw them away – they have fulfilled their garlic destiny
- Place cooked potatoes back into pan (heat is off); add butter and milk and place lid back on pan for about 5 minutes or until butter is melted and milk has been warmed by the heat of the potatoes
- Mash with potato masher until most of the potatoes are smooth but leaving some chunks; add horseradish if using, and stir well
- Taste and adjust seasonings
- Place smashed potatoes on the plate; top with stew, sprinkle with a bit of parsley and serve – preferably watching a bird or two . . .