November 13, 2012

On Stewing Beef

Hey, I’m back…know why?

I quit my job.

I loved my job. First staff job ever…pension…benefits…all the grown-up stuff that I haven’t had in a 20 year+ career…

But I faced one of those defining moments that comes along once in a while, when you have to test your own sense of self – really, really think about what you value and care about. I faced it. And I faced it down.

I walked. Because I could. It was stunning. In the sense that I was stunned by the whole thing.

The whole adventure, which took up a few months of this year, was only the beginning of the journey as it turns out. Freedom can be something of a burden.

My psyche decided everything was up for debate – profession, career, education, hair colour, bathroom tiles.

I’m loving, and hating, and wrestling with, the not so-easy-trip…and with all this transition around us, I could use some food I can count on. I’m kind of surprised I put stew in this category.

I’m not a stew person. I mean, as a verb, sure. I can stew. But eating it? Unless it has bourgignon in the title, not so interested.

During Hurricane Sandy, the New York Times posted an old recipe by Craig Claibourne for beef stew. And something in the impending clouds, and wind and rain whispered it was time to try a stew. 

I went up to The Meat Department on our Toronto neighbourhood’s ‘high street’. Apart from being super friendly and helpful, they know their stuff – just spend some time salivating in front of the drying, aged beef - - at various well-labeled stages of delicious degradation…don’t worry it’s behind glass. They also have a chalkboard that takes up the entire wall behind the counter. On it are the listings of the sports teams from baseball, to football to hockey – including a seriously debatable list of athletes who are not welcome in the store. Like Tim Tebow. Now, I disagree. I would so want to sell Tebow a steak…I’d probably name it after him, if he hasn’t trademarked it yet. know...the Tim TBone. Yes I did. That man’s arms looks like he knows his way with a fork – even if everyone debates his throws.

Well…when I have more time and am not trying to stock the house against impending doom, I will grab a coffee and go debate them on that list. Which reminds me - I’d better go see that Aaron Rodgers is welcome…or we’re going to have a problem.

But I was after stew.

My man had a 2-lb. chuck roast with gorgeous marbling that was going to give this stew its heart and soul. He wrapped it in paper and handed it over. I slid it next to my bottle of chianti classico. And leaning into the wind, and the dark, and the now epic rain, I headed home.

I cut the recipe in half. I also made this gluten free for me celiac husband…so no flour to be seen…but note that I’ve told you where and how the original recipe uses it. This will serve 4.

2-lb chuck roast, cut into 2” cubes
1/8 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
½ tbsp. garlic, chopped finely
1 cup onions, chopped coarsely  
3 tbsp. rice flour (recipe calls for 3 tbsp. flour)   
2 cups red wine
1 cup water
2 whole cloves
½ bay leaf (I used a small one)
¼ tsp. thyme
3 sprigs parsley
3 large carrots, peeled

Brown the meat in a large skillet by heating the oil first and adding the beef in a layer. Salt and pepper the meat. Two things to know anytime you’re making a stew or stew-like meal: make sure the beef cubes are dry (I use paper towels) and don’t crowd the pan – if necessary brown the meat in batches. Turn the pieces to get them nice and brown – this should take about 10 minutes.

Add the garlic and onions and cook for another 10 minutes.

Sprinkle the rice flour over the meat and stir in until it’s coated evenly (or use regular flour).

Ahhh the best part…add the wine. Stir and let it all boil and thicken.

Then stir in the water. (OK first time I made this, I added all the liquid at once – my bad – another thing to know: read recipes carefully all the way through before you even start cutting an onion…Given that I couldn’t use flour to thicken the sauce, I ended up making a slurry of cornstarch and water to help the thickening process along).

Add the cloves, bay leaf, thyme and parsley. Cover and simmer for one hour.

Cut the carrots into whatever size you like. The recipe calls for them to be one inch and to be put in the pot for 30 minutes…but they took too long to cook for me (I ended up pulling them out of the pot and throwing them in the microwave to force the issue). So judge for yourself how long you think your carrots will take – and add them to the pot.

Serve…ours went into the shallow bowls along with a heap of mashed potatoes.

It was the perfect anchor on a day of a horrible storm, in a time of stormy change…just what I needed. I went back for more the next day and oh, even better…like life...fingers crossed.

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