April may be the cruelest month wherever T.S. Eliot lived, but in Pittsburgh, it's February that nearly breaks you. It's not just the cold: It's that the cold always seems to follow some late-January thaw. But then the wind and snow return, more bitter than before.
In such conditions, what you need is a warm, hearty meal. But who wants to come out from beneath the blankets long enough to make it?
Thus, I offer this recipe for daube -- a French beef stew that even a lazy incompetent like me can make. It takes hours to cook, and it's best if it sits in the fridge overnight before being served. But the preparation takes only a few minutes, and your kitchen will smell good all afternoon.
This recipe is enough for three or four portions when accompanied with rice or mashed potatoes to soak up the sauce.
1) Coat the bottom of a Dutch oven or 1.5-quart lidded casserole dish with a tablespoon or two of olive oil. Add a couple of diced carrots, a chopped medium onion, and two or three peeled cloves of garlic (whole or minced).
2) Various wintry spices can be added: orange zest, bay leaves, maybe a cinnamon stick. Advanced students can wrap additional spices in a cheesecloth, tied with kitchen string: sprigs of rosemary and thyme, along with whole cloves and peppercorns. (Beginning students should note that this comes out of the dish before serving.)
3) Cut a pound-and-a-half of stewing meat -- a rump or chuck roast -- into small cubes (or slices a half-inch thick and a couple inches square). Spread meat over the vegetables and spices, then dust with a tablespoon of salt.
4) Drizzle a half-cup of red wine over the ingredients. (If you're trying to be all French about it, try a Cotes du Rhone.) Add to this a half-cup of beef stock and a tablespoon or two of cognac or brandy. While the bottle's out, have a nip for yourself: It's cold.
5) Cut a couple strips of bacon into smallish pieces, and scatter them about the dish.
6) The rest is easy. Put the dish on a stove burner, and bring the liquid to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer, keeping the dish covered. Cook for about four hours. When the meat is fork-tender, the daube is done.
7) Refrigerate overnight. Skim the fat before reheating.
If you prepare this Saturday afternoon, it'll be perfect for Sunday evening. Besides, what else were you going to do -- go outside?