The evenings are so long lately, the sky darkening ominously late afternoon, it seems. Often I find myself looking at the clock, and thinking “I can’t believe its only 5:30” or some such hour. The good thing about this is that there’s so much time to spend cooking and eating apero, dinner, playing games or reading after, we really have a good stretch of time to unwind. In the summer, outside beckons and we end up making very quick things for dinner- which is also nice, but it seems like a small luxury to prepare courses and let the evenings really stretch on. I love having something cozy in the oven, nice china on the table, perhaps a candle to add some warmth. Sipping a nice glass of red while preparing, going slowly and thoroughly enjoying the process.
I was asked to share an evening routine sort of post, so here’s our loose one lately. Most nights, Joel comes home from work about 5. So before he does, I prepare a few tidbits for l’apéro- also know as aperetivo, or cocktail hour. Nothing fancy- just a few bites and something to drink. Radishes with Miyoko’s butter + flaky salt, a few olives, spiced nuts, a cracker + wine or kombucha or even sparkling water. Just something a little festive to signal the end of the working day and the start to the evening. A lot of times, the kids are outside playing or catching up with friends on our street during this time- but sometimes they’re with us, too. They usually have their snack about 4 pm, though. Joel and I chat and share little slivers of our days with each other, enjoy the nibbles and sometimes play backgammon, gin, scrabble, etc. Usually I’ve gotten a little start on dinner, too- chopped some vegetables, made a tart dough, or just have an idea in mind of what I’m making.
After this, I’ll head into the kitchen and start cooking- sometimes Joel cooks if I’m not feeling it, and occasionally he helps me chop or multi task, especially if I’m behind schedule. But, mostly, I enjoy being alone in the kitchen during this part of the night + it’s such a wonderful opportunity for him to get some one on one time with the kids. They’ll build legos together, play a board game, read, or just generally spend time together until a little later, when I call them into the kitchen. I try to have a task or sometimes a handful of them for the kids to help with so that they get to contribute to the meal, as well. Things like rolling out dough, whisking vinaigrette, washing salad, arranging the table nicely, stirring risotto. Little things like this boost their confidence as cooks and as people, while also encouraging more adventurous tasting and enjoyment at the table.
We have dinner around 6:30 or 7 and we generally have it in courses. This doesn’t have to be hard- but I find that by dividing the meal up into smaller courses, with a vegetable starter first, they are more interested in the meal and eat well. We’ve been doing this since Vin was little, and I got the inspiration from here if you want to know more about it.
Fall lends itself to such rich flavors, and one of my favorites is using red wine to cook with. It pairs so wonderfully with fall+winter veggies and makes even the simple ones seem luxurious. I had had a craving for a good stew, and this one definitely hit the spot. I hope it does the same for you on a cold evening. A small note: In the last 5 minutes of cooking, you could add some cooked beans such as butter beans, or lentils to make the stew more substantial. If you do this, you will need about 1/2 cup more broth.
autumn vegetable stew with wine
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups mushrooms, roughly torn or cut into chunks- I used 1 large portabella
1 onion, sliced
1 shallot, sliced
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 tablespoon all purpose flour or rice flour for GF
2 cups red wine, I used a Bordeaux
2 cups broth, more as needed
fresh herb bouquet- I used a few sprigs each thyme, rosemary, and bay leaf
3 whole cloves (optional)
1 leek, white and light green parts only, cut into 1 inch long pieces
3 carrots, cut into large chunks
3 sunchokes/jerusalem artichokes, sliced into 1/4 inch thick rounds
potatoes- I used 5, 2 inch long fingerling type and cut them in half lengthwise, if you use rounder or larger potatoes you will need to cut them into large chunks and the stew should take a bit less time, too
1/2 cup parsley. chopped finely
Heat the olive oil in a heavy bottomed pot or dutch oven over high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook- DO NOT stir, so that they get a nice brown fond on the bottom. Remove from pot and reserve.
Add in the onion and shallot, adding more oil as necessary, and cooking over medium high heat, stirring occasionally, until they are browned, tender and almost caramelized. Add in the garlic and cook another minute. Add in the flour and stir well to combine, cooking for another minute or two. Add the red wine and stir well, letting it cook down to reduce by 1/2 or so.
Add in the broth and the rest of the veggies (including the reserved mushrooms) and the bouquet garni (the herb sprigs tied together with a bit of kitchen twine for easy removal later) and cloves, if using. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to medium low or whatever heat is needed so that it’s bubbling a good bit but not very rapidly. You may have to adjust the heat if the boiling slows too much. Let cook for about 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure the bottom isn’t burning and also to gauge the done-ness of the vegetables. The sauce should be nicely thickened and the vegetables very tender.
Let sit at least 5 minutes before serving. Adjust seasonings to taste as needed and remove and compost the bouquet garni. Serve with a scattering of fresh chopped parsley and plenty of cracked black pepper on top.