Gently simmered lamb shoulder, port, and root vegetable stew tastes lamby but not gamey or chewy. The key is the sweet and savory undercurrent of wine, beef stock, tomatoes, and winter roots that runs beneath the flavor of the lamb.
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Mention cheese soup, and my mind immediately goes towards the neon orange cans of condensed Campbell's stuck between the chicken noodle and bean with bacon in the middle of the grocery store. But for Dave Becker, cheese is just another way to dress up soups in his new book Stewed. Instead of attempting to incorporate cheese directly into his Cheddar Ale Soup, he melts it on top a la French Onion. Oh, and that soup base? It's made up of beer. Yes, beer.
Dave Becker's Red Minestrone in his new cookbook Stewed looks a lot like what you'd order at any Italian restaurant. It's got many of the usual players—tomatoes, zucchini, carrots, celery, and pasta—and is simmered gently to preserve the color and flavor of each component. However, instead of adding beans as a thickening agent, Becker introduces a heavy drizzle of cream to the mix. The cream transforms what is often considered peasant food into a luxuriously silky stew.
Is it just me or is hot and sour soup one of the weirdest in the Chinese take-out canon? Most bowls consist of a gloppy mass of orange sweet liquid, giving way to a slightly sour and slightly spicy finish. Bites of mushroom, pea, and tofu add a bit of interest, but they can't save the soup bowl. But there's no reason why a homemade bowl of hot and sour can't make for a warming, pleasant meal. Dave Becker's recipe in Stewed is one such example. He eschews the sweet element of too many take-out containers, instead favoring the naturally sour taste lemongrass, rice vinegar, and lime juice and the gentle heat of red chiles and white pepper. Carrots, shiitakes, bell peppers, and snow peas make up the bulk of the vegetables, and a small amount of rice noodles or rice turns the appetizer into a full meal. It's a far cry from any hot and sour I'd ever eaten--and that's a good thing.
Wintertime vegetable soups all to often tend towards the creamy, orange, winter squash/carrot type. And while there's nothing wrong with a well-made butternut squash puree, sometimes a little more texture and funk is in order. Enter Dave Becker's standout Mushroom Stew in his new book, Stewed. A terrific amalgamation of wild mushrooms, enokis, dried porcinis, sherry, and spinach, this stew tastes of earth in the best way possible. The mushrooms are sauteed in a ripping hot pot to brown quickly without steaming, and are then simmered to tender perfection. A (very slight) drizzle of truffle oil (haters, don't hate) and a smattering of Asaigo cheese enlivens the stew upon serving.