Pork Stew with Prunes and Armagnac

’Tis the season for Armagnac – in your food as well as your glass:

Pork Stew with Prunes and Armagnac

In this window of time between Thanksgiving turkey and Christmas excess, take a break from fancy feasts and indulge in a robust and rustic one-pot meal. This wine and brandy-laced stew is guaranteed to warm you in the cold weather. After all, while libations are certainly for sipping, don’t overlook their power to enhance flavor in food, such this pork and prune stew fortified with Armagnac. If this recipe doesn’t warm you, I’m not sure what will.

Armagnac is a brandy produced in the southwestern region of France. Like cognac, Armagnac is derived from grapes – but the difference veers from there. While cognac is twice distilled, yielding a smoother pour, Armagnac is distilled only once, which lends more nuance and character to its flavor. And while this certainly makes for intriguing and wonderful sipping, it also adds delightful complexity to soups, stews, sauces – even desserts.

In this recipe, Armagnac teams up with luscious prunes and pork to create a rich and homey stew perfumed with juniper and rosemary. Just remember to pour yourself a splash to enjoy while you are preparing the meal.

Pork Stew with Prunes and Armagnac

Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 3 to 3 1/2 hours, plus steeping time
Serves 6

20 prunes, pitted
1/2 cup Armagnac brandy
3 pounds pork shoulder, excess fat trimmed, meat cut into 1 ½ -inch chunks
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 ounces bacon, coarsely chopped
2 large carrots, chopped
3 medium shallots, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 bottle full-bodied red wine
1 cup high quality beef stock
1 bouquet garni: 4 juniper berries, 3 rosemary sprigs, 2 thyme sprigs, and 2 bay leaves wrapped in cheesecloth and tied with a kitchen string

1. Combine the prunes and Armagnac in a bowl and let stand at least 1 hour.
2. Preheat the oven to 325°F.
3. Season the pork on all sides with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a Dutch oven or oven-proof pot with a lid. Add the pork in batches, without overcrowding, and brown on all sides. Transfer to a bowl and repeat with the remaining pork.
4. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon pork fat from the pan. Add the bacon and sauté until its fat renders. Add the carrots and onion and sauté until the onions soften and the carrots are crisp tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute.
5. Return the pork and any accumulated juices to the pan. Add the prunes and Armagnac, the wine, bouquet garni, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover the pan, transfer to the oven, and cook until the meat is very tender, 2 1/2 to 3 hours, stirring once every hour or so.
6. Remove the stew from the oven, discard the bouquet garni, and taste for seasoning. Serve with mashed potatoes, polenta, or crusty bread.
(The stew may be prepared up to two days in advance. Warm over low heat or in a 300°F oven before serving.)

Chicken Tortilla Soup with Corn and Black Beans

Rely on your leftovers for this warming Chicken Tortilla Soup

Hearty Chicken and Black Bean Tortilla Soup

My inspiration for making soup is often a convergence of too many vegetables in the refrigerator combined with leftovers from a roast chicken dinner. This recipe is not an authentic tortilla soup, as I managed to empty most of the contents of my veggie drawer into it. It’s chock-a-block full of corn, beans, zucchini and peppers, simmered with a few must-have aromatics (onion and garlic) and pantry staples (canned Italian plum tomatoes and black beans). I spiced up the stock with warming southwestern spices in defiance of the dreary drizzle outside, and finished the soup with a shower of shattered tortilla chips, which happened to be leftover remnants in the bottom of their bag – too small for swiping through a bowl of salsa. Leftovers never tasted so good.

If you don’t have leftover chicken on hand, a store bought rotisserie chicken and packaged stock will do the trick. Season and spice the soup to your taste. Ideally it should have a little heat, but since our family is divided on what constitutes “spicy,” I pass a bottle of hot sauce around the table so everyone can fire up the soup to their taste. This soup is meant to be thick. More chicken stock may be added for a soupier consistency

Chicken Tortilla Soup

Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Serves 6

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 poblano pepper, stemmed and seeded, diced
1 sweet red pepper, stemmed and seeded, diced
1 jalapeño pepper, stemmed and seeded, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 small zucchini, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
4 cups chicken stock
1 (28-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes, with juice
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne
1/8 teaspoon cloves
3/4 pound shredded cooked chicken
1 cup fresh corn kernels (or defrosted frozen)
1 cup cooked black beans
1 to 2 teaspoons brown sugar (optional)
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
Tortilla chips, broken in pieces, for garnish

1. Heat the oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the peppers and sauté until crisp tender, about 2 minutes. Stir in the garlic and zucchini and sauté briefly, about 1 minute.
2. Add the chicken stock, plum tomatoes with juice, tomato paste, cumin, coriander, salt, pepper, cayenne, and cloves. Bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, for 20 minutes.
3. Stir in the chicken, corn, and beans. Simmer, partially covered, until thoroughly heated through. Taste for seasoning. Add 1 to 2 teaspoons brown sugar if desired.
4. Stir in the cilantro leaves and serve warm, garnished with the tortilla chips.

Greek Tomato and White Bean Stew with Feta and Ouzo

 A splash of Ouzo and a sprinkle of feta add Greek inspiration to this hearty vegetable stew:

White Bean, Kale, Tomato Ragout with Ouzo and Feta

I love hearty vegetable soups in the winter. They are quick to prepare and non-judgmental when it comes to emptying the vegetable drawer in the refrigerator for a healthy dinner. One of my favorite stocks is Italian inspired and tomato based, sometimes with a splash of wine, and often with a rind of cheese added into the mix to exude delicious umami flavor while the soup simmers. I’ll then finish with beans or grains and handfuls of winter greens which wilt in the simmering stock just long enough to soften without discoloring. For this soup, I tweaked my favorite method and took a detour further south to Greece for inspiration. A splash of Ouzo (a Greek anise liqueur) amplifies the fennel in the soup and adds an extra layer of flavor that rounds out the tomatoes’ natural acidity. Rather than submerging a rind of cheese in the stock, I sprinkled feta over the soup for garnish. I must say I was pleased with this little detour, and I hope you are too.

Greek White Bean Stew with Tomato, Feta, and Ouzo

Active Time: 35 minutes
Total Time: 35 minutes
Serves 4 to 6

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced, fronds reserved for garnish
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 1/2 cups dry white wine
1 (28-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes, with juices
1 1/2 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock for a vegetarian option)
2 to 3 tablespoons Ouzo or anise liqueur
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 bunch lacinato kale (or chard)
1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
Crumbled feta for garnish

1. Heat the oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion and fennel and cook, stirring, until the vegetables soften, and the onion is translucent without coloring, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, oregano, thyme, and red pepper flakes and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the tomato paste to blend and then add the wine. Simmer until the wine is reduced by about one-third, about 2 minutes.
2. Add the tomatoes, chicken stock, 2 tablespoons Ouzo, the bay leaf, sugar, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat to medium-low. Partially cover and simmer 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste for seasoning, and add a little more salt or another tablespoon of Ouzo if desired.
3. While the stew is simmering, remove the tough stems from the kale, stack the leaves, and slice crosswise into thin ribbons. 
Stir the kale and white beans into the stew and cook until the kale wilts, stirring frequently, 3 to 4 minutes. If the stew is too thick, top off with additional chicken stock and adjust the seasoning as necessary. Ladle the soup into serving bowls and serve garnished with crumbled feta and the reserved fennel fronds.

Breakfast for Dinner: Shakshuka

Tunisian-style Ragout with Sausage, Kale, and Poached Egg

Egg, Sausage, Kale Ragout

Shakshuka is a traditional North African breakfast composed of simmered tomatoes, peppers, aromatics, and poached eggs. It’s meant to be spicy which is a nifty DIY method for keeping cool in the Saharan heat. (The more you sweat, the more you cool off). As for us, it’s a warming meal that screams comfort food, perfect for the dead of winter. The Tunisians call shakshuka breakfast, but I’ve added sausage, spinach, and chickpeas and prefer to call it dinner. It’s delicious as is, served with crusty bread for mopping up the egg yolk and the sauce. If desired, spoon prepared couscous (or rice for gluten-free) into shallow serving bowls. Make a well in the center of the couscous and ladle the ragout and egg into the center of the couscous.

Sausage Tomato Ragout with Poached Eggs and Chick Peas

Prepare this in a 10-inch deep skillet and serve family-style at the table. If you have individual skillets (pictured), then prepare the ragout in one large skillet or pot. Before adding the eggs, divide the ragout between individual skillets placed on the stovetop over medium heat, and add one egg to each skillet. Chard or kale leaves may be substituted for the spinach.

Active Time: 45 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
Serves 4 to 6

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1/2 pound hot Italian or chorizo sausages, sliced 1/2 inch thick
1 medium onion, chopped, about 1 cup
1 large garlic clove
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
2 teaspoons sweet paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 (28-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes with juice
1 (14-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1 to 2 teaspoons harissa or hot sauce, to taste

1 bunch spinach, stems discarded, leaves coarsely chopped
4 to 6 large eggs
Chopped fresh cilantro or parsley for garnish

1. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a deep oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sausages and brown on all sides, about 4 minutes. Transfer the sausages with a slotted spoon to a plate lined with a paper towel. Discard the oil from the pan, but do not rinse out the skillet.
2. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil and the onion to the skillet and saute over medium heat until the onion begins to soften, about 2 minutes, scraping up any brown bits. Add the garlic, paprika, and cumin and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Return the sausages to the pan and add the tomatoes, chickpeas, and salt. Stir to combine and taste for seasoning. If more heat is desired, add the harissa or hot sauce to taste.
3. Simmer the ragout, partially covered, over medium-low heat, to slightly thicken and allow the flavors to develop, about 20 minutes, stirring and breaking up the tomatoes with a spoon. Stir in the spinach and cook until slightly wilted, about 2 minutes.
4. Make an indentation or well in the ragout with a spoon. Crack one egg in a small bowl and gently slide the egg into the indentation. Repeat with the remaining eggs, taking care to not overlap the eggs. Cover the skillet and simmer over medium-low heat until the egg whites are set but the yolks remain runny, about 10 minutes.
5. Remove from the heat. Serve family style or spoon the ragout with one egg into individual serving bowls. Garnish with chopped fresh cilantro or parsley and a grind of black pepper.

Triple B Chili with Beef, Beer, and Black Beans

It’s Time to Get Your Chili On:

Beef and Black Bean Chili

October brings Fall, football, and fresh crisp weather, which, in my book, invites a large pot of chili to slowly simmer on the stove, filling the kitchen with the heady scent of browned meat, tomato, and spice on a blustery afternoon.

Now, there are many versions of chili, and I am hardly a purist. Generally speaking a good chili includes meat, beans, chile peppers, onions, and tomatoes, and, in my opinion, it should be thick and packed with goodies. From there, the variations and tweaks are up to you. Not a meat eater? No problem – just double up on the beans. Want more substance? Add a hearty grain to thicken. Not too keen on heat? Tinker with the chiles, opting for more sweet than hot.

This is a chili template I use when I crave a spicy, hefty stew. The common denominator is the plum tomato stock amplified with a generous amount of southwestern spice and chile heat and fortified with stout or beer. I’ll change the meat and occasionally add a grain such as barley for extra oomph. The beef chuck can be switched to pork, turkey, or chicken – or entirely omitted for a vegetarian version with an extra helping of beans. In this recipe, I added barley for texture and extra nutrients. Other grains such as farro or wheat berries can be substituted as well.

Beef and Guinness Chili with Black Beans and Barley

Active Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour
Serves 4 to 6

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 pounds beef chuck, cut into 3/4-inch chunks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 large poblano pepper, seeded and diced
1 large red bell pepper, seeded and diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 chiles in adobo, finely chopped with juices
2 teaspoons ancho chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 (28-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes with juice
8 ounces stout beer, such as Guinness
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1  cup pre-cooked black beans (or 1 [15-ounce] can black beans, drained and rinsed)
1/2 cup pre-cooked barley (optional)

Garnishes:
Sliced jalapeño pepper, cilantro leaves, crumbled cotija cheese, chopped red onion

1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Season the meat with salt and pepper. Add to the pot in batches and brown on all sides, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
2. Add 1 tablespoon oil to the same pot. Add the onion and sauté over medium heat until softened without coloring, about 3 minutes. Add the peppers and sauté until brightened in color, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the chiles in adobo, the chili powder, cumin, and paprika and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.
3. Return the beef to the pot and add the tomatoes, stout, tomato paste, bay leaves, brown sugar, and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low. Partially cover the pot and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste for seasoning and add more sugar or salt if desired. Stir in the black beans and barley and continue to simmer for 10 more minutes.
4. Ladle the chili into serving bowls. Serve with the garnishes for sprinkling.

Beef and Guinness Chili with Black Beans and Barley

bison chili tastefood

Winter and the Superbowl demand a hefty bowl of chili, and this recipe will surely do the trick. Loaded with beef, black beans and barley, the key to this thick and rich stew is a heady tomato stock fortified with chipotles and stout beer. While you shouldn’t tinker too much with the aromatics, do feel free to adjust the meat and grains. The beef chuck can easily be switched out with turkey, chicken, or pork – or entirely omitted for a vegetarian option (just double up on the beans instead). I like to add barley to the mix – it adds great texture and extra nutrients. Other whole grains such as farro or freekah can be substituted as well.

Beef and Guinness Chili with Black Beans and Barley
Serves 4 to 6

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 pounds beef chuck, cut into 3/4-inch chunks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 large poblano pepper, diced
1 large red bell pepper, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 to 3 chiles in adobo, chopped
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 (28-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes with juice
8 ounces stout beer, such as Guinness
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1  cup pre-cooked black beans (or 1 [15-ounce] can black beans, drained and rinsed)
1 cup pre-cooked barley (I used purple heritage) – optional

Optional garnishes:
Sliced jalapeño pepper, cilantro leaves, crumbled cotija cheese, chopped red onion

1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Season the meat with salt and pepper. Add to the pot in batches and brown on all sides. Transfer to a plate.
2. Add 1 tablespoon oil to the same pot. Add the onion and saute over medium heat until softened without coloring, about 3 minutes. Add the peppers and saute until brightened in color, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the chiles in adobo, the chili powder, cumin, and paprika and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.
3. Return the beef to the pot and add the tomatoes, stout, tomato paste, bay leaves, brown sugar, and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low. Partially cover the pot and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste for seasoning and add more sugar or salt if desired. Stir in the black beans and barley and continue to simmer for 10 more minutes.
4. Ladle the chili into serving bowls. Serve with the garnishes for sprinkling.

Comfort Food Necessities: Braised Short Ribs with Red Wine

short-rib-braise-tastefood

It’s the time of year when we need a recipe like this: A pot of slow cooked, melt-in-your mouth, braised short ribs, blanketed in a rich, fortified, and deeply spiced sauce, evoking warmth, heat, and comfort. You can say it’s due to the climate, the holiday season, or even current events, but this braise will satisfy your craving and smooth your mood, focusing your attention solely on the task of digging into this heart (and belly) warming stew, one spoonful at a time.

I make variations of this recipe under the guise of other comfort-food terms, such as Beef Bourguignon and Irish Stew. The ingredients shift slightly, but the principle is the same: Braising chunks of meat by first thoroughly browning them in a pan, then submerging the pieces into an aromatic stock of broth and wine, before banishing the whole lot to the oven for a couple of hours to simmer, marinate, and acquiesce into fork tender morsels swimming in a heady concoction of heat and spirits. The key is time and patience, which, frankly, is a rewarding exercise in itself. Ideally, you will exert even more time and patience in this process, and begin making this dish one day in advance of serving. This way, the stew can chill overnight, further intensifying the flavor, while allowing the persnickety fat to rise to the top of the stew so that it can be deftly removed the following day before rewarming.

This short rib recipe is a favorite, with a rich and smoky sauce  spiked with the heat of chipotle, and balanced by nuggets of sweet carrot, onion, and baby turnips. I made it recently and captured the photo with my iPhone – we were too famished and greedy to wait for me to fiddle with a camera before tucking in.

Red Wine and Chipotle Braised Short Ribs

Serves 4 to 6.

Dry rub:
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

4 pounds short ribs, cut into 3-inch pieces

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground paprika
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
1 (750 ml) bottle heavy-bodied red wine
1/4 cup chipotles in adobo, chopped with juices
1 bay leaf
2 cups beef stock (or chicken stock)

2 large carrots, peeled, cut into 1/4-inch slices
8 ounces pearl or small cippoline onions, peeled
1 bunch baby (Tokyo) turnips, trimmed and scrubbed (optional)
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 to 2 tablespoon light brown sugar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Braise:
1. Combine the dry rub spices in a small bowl. Arrange the ribs on a rimmed baking tray. Rub the spices all over the ribs. Let stand at room temperature for 1 hour (or cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. Remove from the refrigerator 30 minutes before browning).
2. Preheat the oven to 300°F.
3. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. In batches without crowding the pan, brown the ribs on all sides, about 8 minutes. (This step is very important, so take the time to do it well). Transfer to a plate or bowl and repeat with the remaining ribs.
4. Drain off the fat from the pot. Add 1 tablespoon oil, the onion, and garlic and sauté over medium heat until softened without coloring, about 3 minutes, stirring up the brown bits in the pan with a wooden spoon.
5. Add the cumin, paprika, and coriander and cook, stirring, just until fragrant, about 30 seconds, then add the tomato paste and stir to create a nice slurry.
6. Add the wine, chipotles, and bay leaf and return the ribs and any collected juices to the pot. Pour in the stock. If the ribs are not completely covered with the liquid, add more stock or wine to top off the ribs. Bring to a boil, then turn off the heat. Cover the pot and transfer to the oven and braise until the ribs are very tender, 2 1/2 to 3 hours, stirring every hour or so.
7. Remove the pot from the oven. Uncover and let the braise cool slightly. At this point you can remove the bones and cut away any gristle from the ribs or proceed with the bones intact – it’s up to you and how you like to serve the ribs. Return the meat to the pot, then cover and refrigerate overnight. (This step is helpful because it will allow the fat to congeal on the top of the stew, which can be easily removed the next day, while allowing the flavors to develop overnight. Alternatively, proceed with Step 2 of the finishing process and skim fat with a spoon while the sauce reduces.)

Finish:
1. At least 1 hour before serving, remove the pot from the refrigerator and lift off the layer of fat on the surface of the stew.
2. Sauté the carrots, onions, and turnips (if using) in 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat until they are crisp tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Lightly season with salt.
3. Gently reheat the braise over medium-low heat until the stock is liquid enough to remove the ribs. Carefully remove the ribs from the sauce and arrange in a baking dish.
4. Bring the sauce to a boil and simmer over medium heat until reduced by about half and thickened to a rich sauce consistency, 10 to 15 minutes. Return the beef to the pot and add the vegetables, vinegar, and sugar. Simmer until thoroughly heated, 5 to 7 minutes and season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately or keep warm until serving.