COLD, RAINY days promise harsher weather in the months ahead and never fail to provoke enthusiasm for hot, hearty meals.
Out come stockpots and dutch ovens for soups and stews that freeze well in addition to being wholesome entrees. Some of these favorite dishes are very simple to make.
Beef stew made with beer may seem an unlikely combination, but in this case, it makes a famous Flemish or Belgian meal when served with boiled potatoes -- a perfect candidate for the meat-and-potatoes fan.
The dish promises nothing fancy, but it's good basic eating that can be ready in a little over an hour. The meat -- simply seasoned with onion, garlic, bay leaf and thyme -- gets a special twist from a generous addition of freshly ground pepper. Unlike many stews, this one has vegetables served to the side, but yields gravy generous enough for accompaniments.
The flour used to dredge the meat thickens the beer to make the gravy. If the stew needs to be thinned, use beer, beef broth or water.
Serve stew with boiled new potatoes (don't worry about peeling them) and cooked carrots. Cut the carrots into small, thin sticks, add them to a small amount of oil in a heavy saucepan, cover with a tight-fitting lid and allow them to steam in their own moisture over medium heat until al dente.
If you're feeling adventurous, turn up the heat under the carrots and let them get very brown. A tablespoon of water stirred into the pan at that point will cause the carrots to be covered in an interesting "sauce."
This week as last, it is assumed that even the barest kitchen is equipped with flour, sugar, salt, pepper and vegetable oil or butter.
EXPRESS LANE LIST: stew meat (or use chuck or round from which you can cut chunks), onions, garlic, bay leaf, thyme, beer, carrots, potatoes
FLEMISH BEEF STEW (5 servings) 1/2 cup flour 1 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper 2 pounds beef chunks, about 1 1/2-inch cubes (cut from chuck or round) 3 tablespoons vegetable oil, or more as needed 1 1/4 cups sliced, peeled onions 1 clove garlic, peeled and minced 1 bay leaf 1/4 teaspoon thyme 12 ounces beer
Combine flour, salt and pepper. Turn meat cubes in flour, shaking off excess. Set aside. Heat half the oil in a skillet and add onions and garlic. Stir over medium heat until onions are translucent. Remove to a bowl. Add remaining oil to skillet and brown meat in small batches. When all the meat is browned, return onions and garlic to skillet with bay leaf, thyme and beer. Bring to simmer, scraping brown bits from skillet. Cover tightly and reduce heat to low. Continue to simmer until meat is tender, approximately 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Serve the gravy over potatoes.