Sunday, January 22, 2012

If On A Winter's Night

Finally snow, enough for winter activities. Last year was a record breaker, we had so much of the white stuff it was like Aspen-by-the-sea and the temperatures were so very frigid that all the wee ponds were frozen solid, we had ourselves a jolly old time slipping and sliding about in the hamlet. Montauk winters are magical, we have so many trails to explore and pristine (empty) beaches to walk and as long as you are thermally insulated you can stay out for hours on end. After an energetic hike it's delicious to come home with rosy cheeks and hunker down for the night with a big bowl of stew by the fire, preferably one you prepared earlier.

Some grumble about the winters here but for me all the seasons are good, each comes with its own distinct personality. Growing up in England (a temperate climate) one grey day seemed to fade into the other.....I do recall just the one severe winter, of course everything came to a complete standstill, British Rail to a grinding halt, no buses, no school, and maybe we had about four inches in total. And the summers were grey and foggy, we spent our annual two week summer holidays camping in either Cornwall, Scotland or the Norfolk Broads, I remember rain and wet clothes mostly, but us Brits we're good at making the most out of bad weather! We had Scrabble, Enid Blyton, paper and crayons and more importantly our own weird and wonderful imaginations.......strange universes and peculiar beings were created in that leaky caravan. 

Here in Montauk we have monumental snow drifts and sometimes cannot leave the house for days, it happens every year, we know it's coming and everyone is ready for it. It's a season of extremes but played out in slow motion - the evenings begin at 5pm, there's more time to cook, slowly and quietly, as the pot simmers we allow ourselves to turn inwards and become more contemplative.

I embrace this time of year, the chilly days and nights give us a wonderful opportunity to go back to a simpler way of life. A crackling fire, a glass of wine and a bowl of stew, who could ask for more.

A Simple Stew

1 pound beef stewing meat cut into 1 inch cubes
¼ cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons Spanish smoked paprika (pimenton de la vera is the best if you can get it, Wholefoods and Kalustyan's in New York City carry it)
1 16 ounce tin tomatoes
1 glass red wine
2 onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 stick celery, sliced
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 large baking potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350° F. Roll cubes of beef in flour that has been mixed with the paprika, put beef into an ovenproof cast iron casserole for which you have a lid - a friend gave me a Le Creuset Doufeu pot (see pic above) this little fella is perfect for one pot meals and stews. Add all the other ingredients to the casserole and stir. Cover and cook in oven for  about 2 hours. Taste for seasoning. 

Serves 4-6