It’s been a snowy February. While the snowbanks in front of my house are not yet up to the roofline, all sorts of all-time records have been broken. And it’s not over yet! There’s still plenty of time before winter calls it quits. In the meantime, school has been cancelled left and right.
Growing up, snow days were a special treat, an unexpected and welcome holiday. Life was put on hold for a day. We slept in and then played outside in the snow. Eventually the cold drove us back inside for hot chocolate, old movies, books, jigsaw puzzles and marathon matches of Scrabble.
When I was in the eighth grade, February turned into a month of snow days. Okay, that might not be strictly accurate but it’s how my mother and I like to remember it. It started on a Sunday. We spent a snowy morning on the ski slopes. By noon, several inches of fluffy, new powder had fallen. Regretfully, we grabbed our skis and headed back to our little house in the woods to pack up and return to Massachusetts. The roads were slippery and the visibility nonexistent. That’s when my parents, Mom in particular, decided that the next day was sure to be a snow day. She decreed an extra night in New Hampshire.
One could say her insistence was for our safety. One would be wrong. Pure and simple, we stayed in New Hampshire because, snow or sunshine, Mom loved being there. That said, it was the right call. While we were hunkering, more than a foot of snow fell. Boston and its suburbs were wiped out. There were countless stories of stranded motorists, abandoned cars and impassable highways and byways.
Even worst, New York was an absolute disaster. Fifteen inches of snow coupled with the city’s broken down plows brought New York to its knees. Mom’s joy of spending extra time in New Hampshire was tempered by her dismay. The Big Apple’s mayor, John Lindsay, was her favorite politician. Not necessarily for his politics, she had what could best be described as a schoolgirl crush on the handsome mayor. The snow debacle destroyed his presidential ambitions.
Throughout New Hampshire, the plows were out all night and the roads were quickly cleared. We spent a carefree Monday on the ski slopes. Meanwhile, the news from the Commonwealth was bleak. Overwhelmed by the snow, it took the Bay State almost a week to dig out. We stayed put and enjoyed our winter wonderland. Finally, late Thursday afternoon, the awful announcement: school would resume on Friday.
My wise mother insisted that little if anything would be accomplished in those few hours. After all, it was a Friday and the following week was February vacation. She saw no good reason to pack up and head south. We all agreed; mother knew best.
It was a terrific vacation; the snow was great and the sun was shining. Shining until Sunday morning when clouds drifted in and weathermen began spouting dire warnings of another nor’easter. Having heard the horror stories of that first storm, we took no chances and stayed in New Hampshire, safe and warm. Heavy snow on top of heavy snow was a recipe for trouble. It took Boston and the suburbs several days to dig out again. Meanwhile, the Nyes enjoyed another glorious ski week with another foot of new snow and no lift lines.
Although she never really liked to ski, Mom loves New Hampshire. Years later, she’d smile and reminisce about that February. It was the perfect vacation. Well, almost, she’d wistfully amend; perfect except for the handsome mayor’s fall from grace.
Enjoy the snow and bon appétit!
Black Bean & Beef Chili
A great dish for February vacation. It feeds a crowd of hungry skiers, skaters or sliders. Enjoy!
Start the Beans
1 pound black beans
1/2 large onion, trimmed and cut in half
1 carrot, peeled and cut in 3-4 chunks
1 stalk celery, cut in 3-4 chunks
1 bay leaf
Pick over the beans and discard any stones or shriveled beans. Rinse and toss in a pot with enough water to cover by 3-4 inches. Add the onion, carrot, celery and bay leaf and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to very low, cover and simmer until the beans are almost tender 1 – 1 1/4 hours. You may need to add more water as the beans cook.
What? No soaking? After reading several articles with clever titles like – To Soak or Not to Soak – I did some experimenting with black and small white beans. My conclusion; there is no need to soak the beans before cooking. You may need to add 15-30 minutes to the cooking time.
While the beans simmer …
Begin the Beef
About 3 pounds chuck roast
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 large onions, trimmed and finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and finely chopped
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon or to taste dried chipotle chili powder
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried oregano
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon or to taste minced jalapeno pepper
3 cups crushed tomatoes
1 cup dry red wine
1-2 cups chicken broth
1/3 cup espresso or very strong coffee
1 bay leaf
Garnish: grated cheddar cheese, sour cream and chopped fresh cilantro
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Heat a little olive oil in a heavy casserole over medium-high. Generously season the beef on all sides with salt and pepper and brown each side for about 3 minutes. Remove the beef from the pot and reserve.
Reduce the heat to medium. Put the onion, carrots and bell pepper in the pot, sprinkle with the spices and herbs, season with salt and pepper and sauté until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and jalapeno and sauté 2 minutes more.
Return the beef to the casserole. Stir in the wine, crushed tomatoes, chicken broth, espresso and bay leaf. The vegetables and liquid should come about 3/4 of the way up the sides of the pot roast. Bring the liquid to a simmer over medium-high heat, cover the pot and transfer to the oven. Cook at 350 degrees, turning the roast once or twice, for 1 hour.
Combine the beans and beef
By now, the beans have been simmering for about an hour, drain them, pick out the bay leaf and as much of the carrot, celery and onion as you can and add the beans to the beef. Turn and wiggle the beef around so the beans are submerged in liquid, season the beans with salt and pepper and add more chicken stock if necessary. The vegetables and liquid should still come about 3/4 of the way up the sides of the beef. Return the casserole to the oven and continue cooking, covered, until beef is very tender about 1 hour more.
Remove the meat from the casserole and let it sit until cool enough to handle. Cut and/or tear the beef into bite-sized pieces and return it to the pot with the beans. Give everything a good stir, cool to room temperature, cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.
Bring the chili to a simmer on top of the stove over low heat. Transfer to a 350 degree oven or continue simmering on the stovetop on very low heat for 15-30 minutes. To serve: ladle the chili into bowls and garnish with a little cheddar cheese, a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle of cilantro.
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Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2015