Winter weekend cooking ideas from Baltimore restaurateurs Hong and Shields: Irish stew, a better chili, pasta fagioli

John Shields, right, with his pastry chef at Gertrude's, Doug Wetzel. For the winter weekend, John suggests cooking some clam chowder or an Irish stew. He joins Henry Hong and me on the weekend Roughly Speaking podcast.
John Shields, right, with his pastry chef at Gertrude's, Doug Wetzel. For the winter weekend, John suggests cooking some clam chowder or an Irish stew. He joins Henry Hong and me on the weekend Roughly Speaking podcast. (Gertrude's)

So it's the first big snow of the new year, and by now many of you have stocked up on food, and one of the things you want to do -- to keep your home warm and cheerful and comforting -- is cook.

Joining me in the third segment of the latest Roughly Speaking podcast (Episode 39) with some cooking ideas for a big winter weekend are John Shields, proud proprietor of Gertrude's Restaurant in the Baltimore Museum of Art, cookbook author and raconteur. . . and Henry Hong, aka, the Food Nerd, intrepid culinary investigator and manager of the Thames Street Oyster House in the heart of Fells Point. Their recipes follow.


First, I want to make a suggestion: Try Julia Child's recipe for coq au vin. It's a French classic and, if you follow Julia's recipe exactly, you'll have some very pleasing results. Try to remember: coq au vin is not a long-simmering chicken stew. It's more like savory, browned chicken served under an excellent wine sauce.

My other winter suggestion is pasta fagioli. This is real Italian comfort food. A lot of people think of it as soup. But I prefer it as a simple pasta dish -- easy to make, with a combination of red and white beans, maybe chick peas, onions, tomato sauce and pasta (elbows, ditalini or penne). If you have a fresh bell pepper handy, you might want to add that, too. If you have a carrot and/or some celery, you can add them as well. Make sure you saute everything first. Here's a recipe from allrecipes.com


Also, if you're looking for a real workout at the stove this weekend, here's my slightly mad 18-step plan for a warm house and a lot of comforting food.


On the podcast: Henry Hong suggests some improvements to classic chili and mac-and-cheese while John Shields suggests getting some lamb and making an Irish stew. Their recipes follow.

Henry's Keeping-It-Real Basic Chili Recipe

Dried peppers* or canned chipotle peppers
Red bell peppers, roasted
Beef** cut into one-inch chunks, trimmed fat reserved
Onions, roughly chopped
Garlic, minced
Chili powder
Vinegar or hot sauce
Masa Harina or corn meal
Neutral cooking oil -- corn or canola

*It's difficult to prescribe the exact amount or combination of types
to use. Any Latin market and many supermarkets will have a dried chile
section with several varieties. I usually use a mixture that is mostly
California or New Mexico chiles, which are nice and red and relatively
mild. I then add some ancho or mulatto for smoke and depth, and either
chipotle or dried habnero for heat. As far as amount, I tend to just
eyeball it. I'd say 3 ounces of dried chiles would match up with
every pound of beef. Also, I never remove the seeds from my peppers.
Doing so may reduce heat a bit, but not significantly. It's mostly a
texture preference. But in this recipe, they get pureed anyway so
leaving the seeds in shouldn't make a difference in that regard. If you want to remove them, simply tear off the stems of the dried pepper and shake them out.

** There are two cuts I like to use, chuck roast and meat from the
short rib. Chuck is cheap and has good flavor, but takes longer to
cook and will require more trimming (which give you lots
of good fat for rendering). I think short ribs have superior flavor and
texture, takes less time to cook and often come on the bone, which
you can use to make stock. The down side is the cost, which is often double or triple that of chuck roast. I prefer chunked over ground beef because it provides more
interesting texture.

This is a very basic recipe. To this you could add additional fresh,
roasted or dried peppers, other types of meat, or even beans. I don't
normally add beans, but when I do I prefer black beans. In the past
I've added toasted pumpkin seeds to the puree (for flavor and
thickening), and have tried using unsweetened cocoa powder and Mexican
chocolate (a little cinnamony) for added depth.

1. Soak peppers in enough hot water to cover, for at least two hours.
2. Coat beef chunks in chili powder and salt. Tossing in a large bowl
works well.
3. If you have beef fat trimmings, start rendering some in your
cooking pot over low heat by adding them to some oil. Render for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the pieces are brown and crusty, then remove from pot. With a sprinle of salt these make a good, if
death-hastening, snack.
4. Add onions, some chili powder, and some salt to the cooking pot
(still on low heat), and stir until translucent. Remove to  a bowl.
5. Heat a large skillet on medium-high heat, add some cooking oil and
when hot (wisps of smoke become visible) carefully add beef chunks,
stirring until nicely browned.
6. Transfer contents of skillet, i.e. beef chunks, any resulting
liquid, and crusted bits, to the cooking pot. Add just enough water,
beef stock, and/or some beer to cover, check for salt, and simmer.
7. Remove stems from the now softened chiles, and from the roasted red
peppers if necessary. Reserve the soaking liquid. Transfer chiles and
reserved onions to a blender or, if you're using an immersion blender,
to a medium sized bowl. A food processor won't work so well here.
Puree pepper/onion mixture until smooth, adding reserved
soaking liquid as necessary to achieve a spaghetti sauce-like
8. Add puree to cooking pot and stir. Add most of the garlic, and
adjust seasoning with salt, sugar and vinegar or hot sauce. Simmer
for about an hour if you're using rib meat, or about 2.5 hours if
you're using chuck, stirring often. Towards the end of cooking, add
the remaining garlic for some extra punch.
9. When the beef is sufficiently tender, turn off heat, and stir in a
little masa harina or corn meal to thicken the chili, as well as to
round out the flavor. When desired consistency is achieved, adjust
seasoning again.
10. Serve with a little crema fresca or sour cream. For best results,
let the chili rest for a day before serving.


Irish Stew from John Shields

Here's the James Beard recipe John uses, adding this note: "Although not strictly traditional, I like to add a peeled and sliced parsnip along with a couple peeled and sliced carrots to the stew as well. They slightly sweeten the stew and add a little color. Don't let my great-aunt Josie Finnegan know."

3 pounds lamb; rib or shoulder chops

6 medium potatoes; peeled; sliced
1 tablespoon chopped parsley mixed with 1 1/2 teaspoons thyme; dried (mix w/parsley)
3 large onions; peeled and sliced
2 cups water
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Trim the fat from the chops, leaving the meat on the bones. Butter a 2 or 2-1/2 quart casserole dish. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

In the bottom of the casserole dish arrange a layer of one-third of the potatoes and cover with a layer of chops topped with a third of the parsley-thyme mixture. Add a layer of half the onions, then a third more potatoes, the remaining chops, herbs, remaining onions, and finally, the remaining potatoes and herbs. Season well with salt and pepper and then add the water. Cover and cook the stew in the preheated over for 2 to 2-1/2 hours, or until the meal is tender and the potatoes and onions are soft. Serve in soup plates with a sprinkling of parsley on top, and drink beer with with if you'd like. Irish stew always benefits from being cooked the day before and allowed to cool thoroughly. You may refrigerate. Skim off any fat and reheat the stew before serving.