Monday, November 3, 2014

Beef Stew

When the Patriots are playing in the snow and a Nor'easter is blowing into to town and you finally capitulate to winter and turn on the heat, it's time to do some serious thinkin' about beef stew. It's always good, but a bit of a chore browning all that beef. Now, thanks to America's Test Kitchen, it's a little easier. This is an adaptation of their Guinness Beef Stew recipe, with some commentary.

Ingredients, in order of appearance:
  • 3-4 lbs chuck eye roast
  • 2 tblsp olive oil
  • 2 good sized yellow onions
  • rib of celery
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1-2 tblsp tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup AP flour
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 3 cups apple cider
  • 1 lg russet potato
  • fresh thyme
  • 1 1/2 lbs yukon gold potatoes
  • 1 lb carrots
Don't buy so-called "stew meat". Get a good chuck roast and cut it up into 1 1/2 inch chunks yourself. It's like, what, two minutes? You can trim some fat but don't go crazy. It'll render given time. This makes sure you're chuck, which is what you want for stew, and not--as Mr. Kimball believes--floor scraps.

Dice your onions and celery and then fry them, with the barest dash of salt, until they are deep, deep brown. Julie Sahni discusses this technique at length, probably in most of her Indian cookbooks. Essentially, it's a long process (20 minutes) with increasing focus on stirring to keep them from burning. I think of this technique as the Indian equivalent of making a roux. She calls it, I think, "brown-frying" and it's really not as hard as a roux if you pay attention.

At the very end of that process, add the garlic and tomato paste and begin salting. Get that nice rust color going. Then add the flour. The pot is going to look very dry and crusty and wrong, but stir stir stir. When you just can't stand how wrong it looks, gradually add the chicken stock, stirring and deglazing the pan. Once the lumps are out, add the cider, the beef and a diced russet potato.

I like a nice thick gravy in my beef stew. I used to cut my potatoes into wedges, so some of the edge would go into the sauce, but now I just sacrifice one whole potato to that task. Dice that puppy into 1/4" or less and a couple of hours later that starchy goodness will be liquid. Add a bundle of three-four sprigs of fresh thyme, because stews need thyme.

Here's the real ATK trick: pop that uncovered pot into a 325˚F oven for at least 3.5 hours. The meat that's exposed will brown in the oven, and the subsequent stirs while cooking will get that flavor into the sauce.

As for the veggies, ATK wants you to add them the last hour of cooking. Twice through with this variation, and I think that's a little al dente for me. Next time, I'll add them after the first hour. I've also found that an extra 30-45 minutes gets it to the right place for me in terms of texture. But it's a great trick, since it gets rid of what for me is at least an hour of prep.

Seasoning is a very personal thing. I tend to salt very lightly in the beginning, but continually through the process, so I don't overdo it. I usually dose the pepper once, with the meat. Pepper is the only think that I'm liberal with...

Did this Sunday without cider and it was still good. I did replace with homemade chicken broth, though. Sometimes I wonder what the difference would be if I browned the onions in bacon drippings... 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

LMAO: Tuesday 6 September 2011

So I'm zipping through the light at the end of Belmont Ave right past Mount Auburn Cemetery, heading into class, when a Tim McGraw song on the radio has me doing a serious belly laugh. You can listen for yourself as long as the YouTube link works, but the short story is this guy who's actually dying is running through the things he's checked off his bucket list, and one of them is "I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fumanchu."

I'm pretty sure the belly laugh went the full eight seconds and it was loud enough that some folks in other cars were looking at me and smiling politely.

Dunno. It made me laugh. Of course, strangers look at me funny and smile politely, so your mileage may vary...

Makes me think of yesterday, when what made me laugh was the admonition on the Mike's Hard Lemonade: "Mike's is hard. So is prison. Don't drink and drive." So I think you're all stuck with a semi-regular column here, unless things that make me laugh stop showing up in my life.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Mosquito Post

Everyone experiences mosquitos in Italy. They’re actually worse than the tour groups. Resign yourself now to the fact that while you’ll eat very well, you’ll give back via those vile little bloodsuckers. If it is any consolation, your blood will spawn the next wave that will plague the tourists that follow you, and some Italians too.

Why are they suck a problem? Well, for one thing, window and door screens are a rarity. And it’s hot. So you have some choices to make. Open windows with the chance of some air and the certainty of mosquitos--or a bedroom sauna.

That said, there are some things you can do to help yourself. Italian supermarkets sell little devices you can plug into the wall. They take little tabs that are good for most of the night and seem to help a lot. Get one and a box of refills. I have not been able to find the new Off! Clip-On refills in Italy.

It seems the mosquitos know where all the best restauranti and gelaterie are, so you’re going to get bit. I’ve found that Off! AfterBite works well, as does their Italian product, Dopopuntura. The American product is basically ammonia, which also works well if you’re in a pinch. The Italian product is more of a gel that has other active ingredients. If you’re like me, with that sangue-dolce, then bring some of the American product and get some of the Italian while you’re here.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Tomato Connection

I love Tuscany by train. For one thing—and this makes no sense—I find myself listening to Little Feat when I’m on the train. Little Feat. The beautiful Italian countryside with vineyards and olive orchards and walled cities. Does it really surprise me that there’s a Ben & Jerry’s within the shadow of the Duomo in Florence?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Coca-Cola in Italy

Coca-Cola is my guilty pleasure. But I’ve noticed several places charging upwards of €3 for a 500ml bottle, and as high as €3.80… Crazy. Wine is cheaper by far—it’s possible to get a decent bottle of Vin Santo at the Consorzio Agrario Siena for less than that. Of course, the Consorzio will sell you a bottle of coke for €0.85, so another lesson learned is: look for such things in the little supermarkets you’ll come across.

Another (less American) option is Lemon-soda. It’s like carbonated lemonade. Just as good but without the caffeine, I tend to drink a little more of this and a little less of coke as our vacations progress. But no one ever mistakes me for an Italian…

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Traveling Notes

Some random tips garnered from my travels:

  • If you have one of those hiker's headlamps, pack it in your carry-on! They are invaluable on overnight flights when they flight attendants turn down the lights and occasionally while poking through an unfamiliar room late at night.
  • Wash clothes are rare in some parts. (Italy in particular...) Pack your own in a ziplock bag.
  • Mini moleskin notebooks are great for scribbling notes, phone numbers, addresses and hours, recipes--just about anything. I find one 80 page note is good for a few weeks.
  • The Italian Mosquito, well that's an entire post unto itself.
As always, your mileage may vary...

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Switching registrarsfor aleastory.com

It's probably not going to be smooth, but I should be back up (and actually posting) on the 25th.