I did it. I went out and 'bought me' a Le Creuset for Christmas. Well, to be honest my in-laws contributed greatly with a Christmas envelope, otherwise I probably wouldn't have treated myself to one just yet, but I am now the proud owner of a big 'n' heavy cast iron enamelled French pot to play around and experiment with.
The experiments have begun. I am pretty much into throwing anything I can get my hands on in there and slow cooking it for hours until it gets all soft and melty. Yes, I'm talkin' to you, slabs of meat, bags of beans, greens. Watch out, you plump little children running around my kitchen! Beware when the orange pot is sitting on the stove, for I may grab you and make you for supper! You shall not fool me by sticking bones through your cage, for my eyesight is pretty good (thank you B&L disposable contact lenses) and I know a dimply finger when I see one.
My first attempt at a stew was successful but in the excitement of the moment I forgot to take a picture of the finished dish. My second attempt was just as good (I will say so myself since the pot and meat get all the merit) and this time I remembered to take a few pics. In this cold weather I just cannot get enough, so get ready to read a lot of recipes for stews, soups and braised meats.
Adapted from the Joy of Cooking
cut of beef approx. 3-5 lbs
1/2 cup chopped carrots
1/2 cup chopped celery
2 cups chopped onions
1 cup red wine, stock or other braising liquid + additional as needed
I usually buy my meat at the supermarket since the quality of meat in supermarkets is usually pretty good here. On the label it tells you the best way to cook the meat you are buying. I chose a cut that was good for boiling or braising. These cuts are usually cheap because they are tough if not cooked slowly. Make sure you buy a piece that has marbling and connective tissue. The way you cook the meat will break down this tissue, making the meat tender and moist.
Pour some olive oil into your pot and then, after having accurately dried your cut of meat and seasoned it with pepper and salt, brown it on all sides, making sure you sear in all the good juices. Once it has browned nicely, set it aside on a plate and pour out the fat, keeping approximately two tbsp in the pot. Sauté the chopped vegetables until they soften and turn slightly golden. Pour in the cup of cooking liquid and drop in a bay leaf. Let cook for a couple of minutes and then add in the meat. It should not be covered more than halfway. Bring the liquid to a boil and lower the heat. Cover the pot with a tight lid and cook for up to 3 or 4 hours, according to the size of your cut, turning it about every half hour and making sure the liquid doesn't dry out. It should cook on very low heat, the liquid just barely simmering. If it gets dry add a little liquid. When it is fork tender it is ready, keep in mind it is possible to overcook when braising despite the general idea of "the more the better". You don't want your meat to turn stringy and dry. Take out the meat and the bay leaf, squash the vegetables with a fork (or strain the sauce if you have texture issues), add a little flour and butter and let the liquid thicken into a gravy, adding seasoning if needed. In the meantime, once the meat has cooled down, slice thinly and then serve with its sauce. I served polenta alongside.