Trendy it isn't. But an old-fashioned, sizzling stew is a most welcome sight to a thoroughly chilled skier just in from the slopes. Food, real food, is wanted here. Thin slivers of cucumber and chicken atop a few shreds of assorted greens more or less "painted" on a plate may be completely satisfying in a high-style "lowland" restaurant, but no self-respecting high-country cook would dream of offering such a menu to starving apres ski diners.
Skiers and mountain hikers are not the only ones who appreciate the sturdy foods that are so suitable in cold weather. When the temperature drops anywhere, whether one is in a high-rise in the heart of the city or a beach cottage along the coast, it calls for a change in menu planning. The urge for a steaming bowl of spicy chili or a thick ham and vegetable chowder suddenly hits. Chilly weather turns one's thoughts to the cozy comfort of rich, vegetable- and meat-filled soups and stews that are, in effect, one-pot meals.
One-pot meals have real merit beyond the fact that they tend to be filling. They're also great for the cook. Most multiple-ingredient soups and stews are very flexible in both their construction and in their service. They can simmer away for hours in a heavy pot on the back of the stove or in a slow cooker, making it possible for the cook to join the others on the slopes. The second advantage to meals of this type is that they are ready when you are. Thus, if part of the group decides to return to the indoor life before the others, dinner will be as appetizing for the late arrivals as for them. It's hassle-free dining at its best.
A ski weekend in the mountains is a way of life for many Southern Californians. If you are not a habitue, however, be wary of trying to prepare some sort of extravaganza for dinner. Never will I forget the cassoulet I planned to serve one weekend at my mountain retreat. I simmered a batch of dry beans for three days, fully expecting them to become tender at any moment. By the time we finally disposed of them, they were like tiny rocks. We could have paved a road with them. Our mistake? Altitude. High-altitude cookery will fool you every time. We were at 6,000 feet, where water boils at a lower temperature and thus never gets as hot as it does at sea level. That's just one of the tricky things that happens to food at higher altitudes.
Since that particular episode, I have learned, thanks to an investment in a good, high-altitude cookbook, to raise the oven temperature 25 degrees when I bake or roast foods and to increase liquids and plan on cooking foods longer at that altitude. And next time I try to cook dry beans in the mountains, I'll see to it I have a pressure cooker.
Since atmospheric conditions change somewhat for every thousand feet, it is impossible to suggest what recipe preparation changes need to be made for the different altitudes. If you have a cabin in the sky, you probably have already acquired a high-altitude cookbook, but if you only spend an occasional weekend in a rented cabin, such an investment may not appeal. In that case, pay a quick visit to your friendly local library and borrow one that will provide any necessary information you might need for the altitude where you'll be.
Above all, don't let the thought of cooking problems at a different altitude deter you from cooking at all. Stick to simple foods you are familiar with and you'll probably have little trouble. Soups and stews may take a little longer to cook and require additional liquid, but unless you are at really high altitudes, you should have only minor difficulties.
Here are some suggestions for one-pot meals that will be popular not only with skiers and other mountaineers, but also with anyone just hungering for simple, well-flavored home-style foods.
4 pounds lean boneless stewing beef
1/2 cup oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large onion, minced
2 (10 1/2-ounce) cans condensed beef broth
2 (10 1/2-ounce) cans condensed chicken broth
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
6 carrots, peeled and cut into bite-size pieces
4 stalks celery, cut into bite-size pieces
8 new potatoes, unpeeled, halved or quartered
1 1/2 pounds small white onions
2 green peppers, cut into bite-size pieces
Cut beef into 1 1/2-inch cubes. Dredge with flour seasoned with salt and pepper. Heat oil in Dutch oven. Brown beef in hot oil, a batch at a time, removing browned beef. Saute garlic and onion in drippings until tender.
Return meat to Dutch oven. Add beef broth, chicken broth and 2 cups water. Bring to boil. Add paprika and Worcestershire. Cover and simmer 2 to 3 hours or until meat is almost tender. Add more water, if necessary. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Add carrots, celery, potatoes, small onions and green peppers. Simmer, uncovered, until vegetables are tender and stew is thickened. Stir occasionally. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. Makes about 10 servings. POLLY BERGEN'S CHILI
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons oil