When I was little, my idea of heaven was arriving home from school in the dead of winter to find my mother making spaghetti.
Walking from the bus stop meant tromping through a foot of snow in neon snow boots, fur-edged hood pulled up around my face and a scarf wrapped three times around my 5-year-old face. By the time I reached my porch, I was frozen to the core, a frostbitten victim of another Buffalo winter.
The sight of my mother standing at the stove, sauce simmering away and rapidly boiling water sending up steam, was the most comforting thing imaginable.
It didn't matter that the sauce was canned and the pasta was dried; all that mattered was that my mother knew that spaghetti was the absolute perfect winter meal. It's no wonder my dad called grated Parmesan cheese "snow" as he shook an enormous amount over the top of a mountain of pasta.
At the moment, it's pouring down rain and the first (real) snow has fallen on the mountains around Ketchum. The temperatures at night are starting to dip below freezing—to the consternation of the tomato plant that lives on my deck, which has protested this change in weather by wilting dramatically.
I don't blame it. I'm less than perky too, even as I gird my loins for another Idaho winter. What I really need is a plate of Mom's spaghetti to make me feel a little bit better about the next six months of snow.
There are only two things standing in the way of me telling you to dump a jar of Prego over a pound of pasta and cover the whole thing with a thick layer of Parmesan: first, that's not a recipe, and second, I wrote about spaghetti last month.
Anyway, my tastes have matured over the past 20 years. Spaghetti was a mainstay of my college diet—as I imagine it was for most people—and since then I've never been able to look at it the same.
These days I prefer something just as likely to fill the kitchen with amazing smells, but that also is simple and sophisticated. This basic beef bourguignonne is not exactly a recipe from Julia Child, but it's warm, hearty and comforting enough to get you through all the snowy, cold weather Mother Nature can throw at you.
And though it might not have the nostalgia factor of Mom's spaghetti, when you start to simmer the wine with the mushrooms and steak, you really will think you're in heaven.
Quick Beef Bourguignonne
Adapted from Real Simple magazine
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1¼ pounds sirloin steak, cut into 1-inch pieces
Salt and pepper
¾ pound sliced mushrooms
1 pound pearl onions (frozen, if you like)
2 cups red wine
1 10.75-ounce can Campbell's golden mushroom soup (I know, I know)
½ cup parsley, chopped
Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Season the steak with ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper and cook until browned, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
Add the mushrooms and onions to the pan and cook until the liquid has evaporated. Add the wine and simmer until reduced by half, 5 to 6 minutes. Stir in the soup and ¼ cup water and bring to a boil.
Add the steak and the juices from the bowl and simmer 2 minutes. Divide into individual bowls and sprinkle with the parsley. You can also serve this over noodles or mashed potatoes to four very happy guests.
Katherine Wutz is a reporter for the Idaho Mountain Express.