The warming weather here in California (punctuated by a welcome dash of rain) inspired me to get into the kitchen and cook a few more long-simmered stews to honor the warming food of winter before it's all over (earlier each year recently here in the West). The mushrooms are a good way to boost your immune system to withstand the last tail of flu season, and the horseradish gives a spicy bite to keep the dish from being too cloying. Admission: I pureed the cream a bit too long in my food processor, yielding horseradish butter, which was just as delicious and gave us an excuse to eat some steak with the butter the next night. If you don't have any bone broth or vegetable stock on hand, go with the ale instead for rich flavor. The cultured cream in the sauce gives you boost in digesting the healthy fats in the dish. And it is good for your libido, too!
My other favorite dishes for warming a Valentine heart and fighting the February blahs are the toothsome Grassfed Beef Tartare and the blushingly pink Rosehip Soup. If you really need to stoke the fires, try a batch of Chocolate Truffles spiked with some aphrodisiacs like cinnamon, maca and damiana.
Beef and Mushroom Stew with Fresh Horseradish Cream
This wonderful concoction will warm you to the bone and encourage snuggling, but is both rich-tasting and easily digested. Ale and water make a good stand-in for bone broth if you are out. I adapted the stew from a recipe in the October 2013 issue of Sunset magazine and the cream is from Deborah Madison’s luscious and illuminating Vegetable Literacy. You’ll have some of the horseradish cream leftover, and it is an enlivening condiment for tubers, root veggies, meats and soups.
For the stew:
3 strips pastured bacon
1-2 tsp bacon fat, ghee or olive oil
3 T white whole wheat or brown rice flour
½ t sea salt
½ t Ras el Hanout (see NOTE)
¼ tsp allspice
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1 bay leaf
1 pound pastured beef stew meat or chuck, cubed into 1 1/2 “ pieces
1 qt. bone broth* or 1 pt. ale such as Boont Amber and 1 pt water
1 oz dried shitake mushrooms
½ cup fresh mushrooms (try maitake for an immune boost or the humble crimini)
3-4 carrots or parsnips
1-2 large shallots
For the cream:
1ounce horseradish root
½ cup creme fraiche or sour cream
½ cup whole milk yogurt
1 T umeboshi plum vinegar, or apple cider vinegar with sea salt to taste
Cook the bacon in a heavy 5-6 qt. pot over medium heat until it begins to crisp. Meanwhile, prepare seasoned flour by mixing the flour, spices and salt in a medium bowl. Remove the bacon to a plate and melt in the additional bacon fat. Dredge the beef cubes in the flour, and add to the pot, browning the pieces well all over. Add the bone broth to the pot, scraping the bottom to loosen any brown bits at the bottom. Chop the bacon into 1” strips and add to the beef, bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to a gentle simmer. Boil 1 cup of water and pour over the dried mushrooms to soften, weighting them if necessary so they stay submerged. Simmer the stew, stirring occasionally, about 1 ½ hours. Meanwhile, peel shallots and separate into lobes if small, or slice if large. Slice the mushrooms and cut the carrots into chunks.
Add mushrooms, carrots, mushroom soaking liquid, and shallots to the stew and simmer another hour, or until the beef is meltingly tender. Meanwhile, make the cream by peeling the horseradish (I use a knife) and grating it on the fine holes of a box grater. This might make you cry, and will most assuredly clear your sinuses! Place the horseradish in a food processor with the crème fraiche, yogurt and ume vinegar and pulse to blend into a textured paste.
Simmer the stew uncovered to finish if you would like a thicker broth. Correct the seasonings, and serve the stew in warmed bowls with a big dollop of the horseradish cream.
*I used a combo chicken/pig’s trotters broth with some Huang Qi/Astragalus and Da Zao/jujube dates added in the last 8 hours of cooking. Beef or vegetable stock will also be just fine.
NOTE: Ras el Hanout, or “top of the shop” is a stunning mix of paprika, cumin, ginger, cinnamon, grains of paradise, allspice, nutmeg, mace, cayenne and more that is used much in Moroccan cooking. Find it in your local spice shop or improvise a mix of some of the above.