Friday, November 23, 2007

a pot on the fire

Last week was a week spent at home. Winter arrived - not that it really left this year - and at the same time les cheminots were on strike, making trekking to work an ordeal not worth daring unless I really had to. So I set up my desk at home, brewed some fresh, hot coffee, and set about to write and edit and all that I do at the office at home.

The biggest advantage to working at home is that I can multi-task. The washing machine was running, the ironing board was hanging out, and by the end of the week my apartment was never as clean or as organized. The papers I was editing still needed editing though.
I guess it's not that efficient to work from home.

I did wander out into the cold and metro-less city a few times. One morning I went to the marche where autumn was still lingering. Everywhere I looked there were carrots, turnips, leeks, and cabbages. It turns out that it's pot-au-feu season in France. Perfect! It's cold out, I am home to watch over a low-burning stove, and there is nothing like stew to make you feel nourished and happy, especially for the unfortunate ones like my husband for whom working at home was not an option. After an hour walk back from the last train stop, pot-au-feu is exactly what you need.

This is a meal that is ridiculously easy to make. Throw everything in the pot and do what you gotta do. If you are pressed for time, cut the meat and vegetables into small, uniform pieces and leave out the bones, and it can cook in an hour. But the longer it cooks, the better the flavors blend together.


Ingredients: Serving 6-8

4 lbs of meat (mix stew beef, lamb or veal: top round, heel round, shank) Make sure at least one cut has bone in it.
1 tablespoon butter
6 carrots
2-3 turnips
2 leeks (cut off dark green ends)
1 onion, roughly chopped
1/2 medium chou vert (in the States you can use green or curly cabbage, kale or swiss chard)
1 bouquet garni (tie up 2 bay leaves and 3/4 tablespoon of dried thyme in a small piece of cheesecloth)
3 cloves
2 tablespoons of kosher salt

Cut the boneless meats into bite-size pieces. In a large stockpot, sweat the chopped onions in the melted butter. Add the meats and let brown. Once browned, fill the stockpot ¾ full with cold water, the salt, the cloves, and the bouquet garni (if you don’t have cheesecloth, you can just directly put the spices in the pot, but remember to take out the bay leaves before serving). Cover and let it come to a boil and cook for at least 30 minutes before adding the vegetables.

Meanwhile wash, peel, and chop the vegetables (carrots, turnips and leeks into bite-size chunks, and cabbage/kale/swiss chard into 2 inch strips). To minimize the effects of cabbage, you can boil them separately in water for about 10 minutes then discard the water.

Add the vegetables to the meat, add some pepper (to taste), cover, and let it simmer for about an hour on low heat. Check on it regularly for doneness (if the meat is falling apart and the vegetables are soft) and to make sure there’s enough water. Add water as necessary.

Once done, pull out the large bone-in pieces and pull off the meat. Ladle the vegetables, the broth and a bit of each kind of meat for each person. Serve with kosher salt, pepper, mustards, and big chunks of peasant/country bread.

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