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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Winter Eats

We're under yet another Winter Storm Watch, and I'm watching the snow accumulate outside my window as I type this. Stinger took my car to work today (all wheel drive, plus higher ground clearance than his little coupe) but when he comes home for lunch, we're going shopping for the makings for my favorite winter weather dish: baeckoffe.

I first experienced this delicious stew in the Alsace region of France, which butts up against Germany and Switzerland. Alsace is one of the original melting pots of Europe, historically much in dispute between invading armies and nations looking to expand their borders. In deference to that history, the European Union is headquartered there, in the regional capital of Strasbourg. Strasbourg is a town so beautiful and appealing that after three days there, Meg and I talked seriously about moving there permanently. I have many wonderful, cherished memories of our time there, but my first taste of baeckoffe is in the top five. Everyone talks about choucroute garni (sauerkraut garnished with sausages and pork chops) as THE Alsatian dish, but for my money, baeckoffe, with its layers of meltingly tender braised meat, roasted potatoes, and vegetables flavored with dry, fruity white wine, is the best. The word 'baeckoffe' translates to 'baker's oven'--traditionally, it was a dish thrown together in a cast iron pot on Sunday and taken down to the local baker, who cooked it all night in a slow oven for Monday's main meal. The meat in it can be pork, beef, lamb, or any combination of the three. I usually use pork, but I think I might branch out to lamb this time. It's important to use Yukon Gold potatoes, or another variety that bakes up waxy and smooth rather than crumbly. I go by Jean-Georges Vongerichten's recipe from his first cookbook--as the most famous and successful Alsatian chef, I figure he knows his baeckoffe! If you want to give it a try, here's a version from his restaurant, Mercer Kitchen, in SoHo.

Like every stew, it's better when you make it ahead of time and let it sit for a while so the flavors can meld. Serve it with crusty bread, mustard, grated horseradish, or any other condiment you like. Also, cook with a wine you'd be happy to drink--if it's cheap and nasty in a glass, it'll be cheap and nasty in your dish. My current fave Alsatian-style wine is the Anderson Valley Gewurztraminer from Lazy Creek Vineyards. Very yum! And as an intensely charming Alsatian man once told me, without a hint of irony or artifice, Gewurztraminer is simply the best grape available. I don't know if I agree with that bit of regional pride, but the Anderson Valley wine certainly makes delicious baeckoffe. And if I have a glass or two while I'm cooking, it's only so I can test and make sure it hasn't turned. Right.

What are your favorite cold weather meals?


"Best grape you can get!" Oh, Henri. Swoon.

Don't forget how delicious baeckoffe is with a mustardy green salad alongside. Yum.

Also - here are photos of our two baeckoffes from that golden trip to Strasbourg!

I love a good stew. On a cold day. This sure tops the chili I'm making for the snow were having today.

I love Gewurztraminer - I first learned about it when I worked for Wolfgang, no coincidence I imagine.

When are you coming to my house to cook for me?

that sounds AWESOME.
I can't think beyond what you're having.

Wow, my mouth is watering. You are a culinary genius and it shows! :)

Mmmm... my mouth is watering reading your post, Louisa. Considering it's about 70 degrees right now, it's hard to think of winter comfort food!

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