Category Archives: Stew
What a culinary night.
It started out wonderfully—I had a nice, relaxing dinner with my Baby Cousin, her boyfriend, and their adorable little two year old. She is, by far, the most beautiful, brightest, happiest little girl that ever walked the face of this earth. I might be slightly partisan considering she’s my godbaby, but that’s neither here nor there. We went to Sweetwater Tavern, and I had a lovely salmon salad with dried cranberries and new potatoes. I need to figure out what was in that dressing because it was wonderful.
Around 8pm, we parted ways. They drove home for baths and bedtime stories and I headed off for, where else, the grocery store.
Tomorrow is a very auspicious day at the office. One of our tech heavy hitters is moving on to greener pastures. (This is a recurring theme, for some reason. We lost two others last week.) As her send off, the boys and Shelley have organized a Black Tie Rodeo. Participants are invited to wear formal attire or western garb. Yours truly will be snookering out with a pair of jeans and a plaid shirt, but there is a promise of a tuxedo, so I will keep you posted.
However, as the resident food blogger, my main contribution to the war effort will be a kick ass cowboy-style chili for the conference room happy hour tomorrow afternoon. This is a tried and true recipe, courtesy my mama.
I was so excited to make this chili tonight. I practically skipped through a blissfully Ghetto Mama-free Shoppers, gleefully popping this and that into my basket. I envisioned myself producing a fabulous conglomeration of hearty meat, spices, and tomato puree that would forever win my colleagues love, respect, and affection. Promotions and pay raises will be offered and I, shocked and honored, will be unable to resist.
Hey, a girl can dream, can’t she?
And so, I submit for your gastronomical approval, my mother’s recipe for chili. This is a special recipe in our family, made during football games and cold winter nights. Usually served with rice and/tortilla chips with cheese and sour cream.
Mama’s Texas Red Chili
3lbs stew meat
1 large onion (I hate onions but Mom says I have to.)
1 schlock of garlic (Note: A ‘schlock’ is my father’s term for ‘however much garlic looks like enough.’)
2 cups tomato puree
1 can kidney beans
2-3 tablespoons chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp coriander
4 Anaheim chilies, seeded and chopped
4 jalapeños, seeded and chopped
I know it’s unnecessary, but I like to chop and prepare all my ingredients before I actually start cooking. I know that for a lot of dishes, I could probably get away with prepping as I go, but that’s just not me. I put all my spices, veggies, sauces, and other miscellaneous meal requirements into these Pyrex prep bowls I bought on clearance at the William Sonoma outlet out in Leesburg last summer. I work in a small space so sometimes I have to be creative with counterspace, but they make everything look so damn cute.
Plus I like to pretend like I have my own cooking show, and the prep bowls make it just that much more believable.
First, I cut the meat. For convenience, I bought the already cut up beef you can get pre-packaged at the store, but I still cut them even smaller. (To me, bite sized it something you can put in your mouth and not look like a chipmunk). These went to the side while I worked on the veggies. I like to put it back on the foam plates they came in. It’s neater and cleaner—no extra dishes to wash and no icky meat germs hanging out in your kitchen.
Then, it came time to chop The Onion. I have always disliked onions with a passion that bubbles from the depths of my
soul. I don’t know why, I just don’t like them. I’m even ambivalent about the mock news source that everyone in DC is so obsessed with. I’ve tried to like onions. I really have. Unfortunately, I think it’s like trying to put a thong on an elephant. It just won’t work. But, my mother says I have to have an onion, no negotiations. So, look. It’s an onion.
Once that was done and I stopped sobbing, it was time to seed and chop the chilies and jalapenos. If you like an extra bit of oomph to your chili, you can throw some of the seeds in once everything starts to dance in the pot. The seeds hold most of a pepper’s heat. And be careful with the chopping—peppers secrete an oil that doesn’t wash off with soap and water.
Trust me, it is not fun to rub your eyes in absentminded sleepiness, then suddenly remember you chopped peppers that evening. About a year ago, my parents gave me a box of exam gloves as a gag gift because I make a big stink about touch raw meat. I loved them tonight. I just rubbed my eye and not a single shred of burning!
You know, why don’t I just open up the cans, since I’m prepping everything else. It might make a nice picture for the blog or something, I thought. Can opener. Can…opener. Where the hell is my can opener?
I pawed through my utensil jar. No can opener. I rooted through my one, 6 inch drawer. No can opener.
No. Can. Opener.
HOW THE HELL DO I NOT HAVE A CAN OPENER?!!?
It’s a basic kitchen essential! Even the most inept of bachelor cooks, one whose repetoir consists of ramen and baked beans, owns a can opener. I, however, a family-and-self-taught home cook, do not. I had a can opener. In fact, I had two. But that was at my old apartment. They are either still there or with my former roommate.
I can bone a duck but I can not open a can.
Luckily for me, I live right around the corner from a Safeway. It was 945 at this point, but I will not be foiled by missing kitchen gadgets or late night hours. I had a chili to make a blog to write. Twenty minutes later I was back in the apartment with a new can opener and a box of razors. (Told you I need a list.)
Finally, the cans opened and chili fixins’ fixed, it was time to cook.
My French oven went over high heat with a bit of olive oil. You know it’s hot enough when you can’t hold your hand 3-4
inches above the surface for more than 5 seconds. The meat got seared on all sides, but not cooked all the way through. Don’t worry, it’ll get done during the two hours of simmering later. Depending on how much meat you got going on or the size of your pot, you may need to do this in more than one batch. It’s important that you DO NOT CROWD THE PAN. You won’t get a good sear if you crowd that pan.
I did this in two steps, because I wanted to be the good little foodie and not crowd the pan for that even brown color. Five minutes into searing the first batch, I noticed a funny odor permeating my apartment.
Is something…burning?! I had left the stove momentarily to check my email, so I rushed back to the range. No, nothing burning. The meat had only begun to turn brown on the bottom, actually. The smell was getting stronger. I knew the meat was fresh, so there was no way that I bought bad food. It wasn’t an all out unbearable, horrific smell, like melting plastic or something, but it wasn’t all that pleasant either.
Yeah, I’m not messing around with this, I thought, and switched burners. Leaning down as close as I could get without burning my eyebrows off, I examined the electric coil where my pot had once sat. It was there that I found the culprit. There, far down below the burner, close to where the element meets the stovetop, was one lone kibble of cat food. Well, it wasn’t a kibble anymore. It was mostly ash, but it was still the same size and shape as the special cat food for sensitive kitty tummies I have to buy for those damn barfy cats of mine.
Stuff like this only happens to me.
With the pot now on the back burner (Aw, back burner on the stove, but never in our hearts! Ha!) and the sliding glass door open for ventilation, things were good and right with the world once more.
It took a few minutes to get the heat going again, but once it did, the second batch seared perfectly. Yay! There really is nothing more uplifting that getting that perfect crust on a piece of meat.
I removed the meat and held it to the side. The onions, peppers, and garlic went into the pot to sauté—this time, crowd the
pot all you want. Everybody gets to dance together. Lower the heat a few notches, and after about 5-10 minutes, the onions should be a pretty translucent color. When you can smell the garlic more than you can smell the onion, you’re good. (Of course, that’s always good where I’m concerned, but Mom says I have to have the onion).
At this point, the skill-requiring part is over. Dump in the tomato puree, beans (which are actually options but I enjoy them), and seasonings into the pot and stir.
Ordinarily, you’d simmer this for about two hours, with the occasional stir here or there to keep stuff from burning on the bottom of the pot. However, this is now a make ahead meal for me, as I will be transporting the chili to the office. So instead of simmering, I will be refrigerating it over night, then transferring to a crockpot in the morning. When I get to the office, I’ll plug it in and let it go til about 3 or 4pm.
So. There’s the chili. I’ll definitely let you know how it turns out!
Oh, the best laid plans…
So earlier this week, I thought it would be fun to make a rabbit stew. It’s perfect timing. It recently became the Year of the Rabbit on the Chinese calendar. Plus, I (along with another friend at work) kidnapped my Platonic Work Spouse (PWS)’s sequined bunny a few weeks ago as an office prank. It was a white elephant gift left over from the holidays, so we stole it and held it captive. Since then, there have been a number of running bunny jokes around the team.
I found a neighborhood butcher in the heart of Del Ray, a cute little subdivision near my apartment called Lets Meat on the Avenue. I emailed Steve from my newly created Studio Foodie email account asking about the pricing and delivery of rabbit meat. I have the email set to auto forward to my personal account, but apparently that didn’t happen. Steve, the owner of the shop, emailed me back pretty quickly but I didn’t get it in time for him to place an order.
I woke up bright and early this morning, excited for the day. I had planned on visiting a local, year-round farmers market for some produce, then hit up a café with a friend, and head on over to the butcher. And of course, it was gross and rainy, so the farmers market was a bust. (I ended up getting vegetables for the stew at a nearby Giant). I had a nice breakfast with my friend Missy at Caboose, a café down the street from the butcher. I ended up deciding on a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich on a bagel, half a cinnamon twist, and a cup of coffee. It wasn’t anything life changing, but it was still good quality food, and perfect for a drizzly winter morning.
After breakfast, Missy went off for a massage and I went to the butcher. There were no rabbits in stock, since I messed up with the email thing. I was disappointed, but cooking is about rolling with the punches. You gotta adapt and change with what’s thrown at you.
The best laid plans…
So I bought a duck. (Duck season! Wabbit season! Duck season! Wabbit season!) And as I left, with my duck (and a dozen eggs) in a paper bag, I suddenly realized I might have bitten off more than I could chew. (Ha! Funny food blog jokes!) I wanted the duck to go in the stew. But you can’t just throw a whole bird in there. Birds must be…deboned.
I don’t know how to debone a duck. Like, at all. I’ve carved chickens and turkeys before, but those were always cooked first, and that’s different. When I got home, I put the duck in a bowl with some running water in the sink to let it finish defrosting. Then I googled.
Thank God for Google. I have no idea what people did in times before internet searches. They probably starved, or didn’t do things like debone ducks. Luckily, I found a youtube video with some pretty straight-forward instructions on what to do. I’ve hyperlinked since this guy can explain it better than I can.
Basically, I made a bunch of cuts until I had duck pieces. And a huge mess. Duck guts were all over my kitchen, despite my best efforts. My two cats were highly frustrated because of this. They could see the duck and smell the duck, but they couldn’t get to the duck. They tried though, but nothing doing. Isolde, my sometimes-bitchy cat, bit me later in punishment.
I’m sad that I can’t provide photos of my adventures. It’s hard to wield a knife, hold a duck, fend off mooching cats, and take photos at the same time. But trust me, it was hilarious.
So when I was done, I had cut up duck, a ridiculous amount of skin, and a carcass. I decided that my new goal is to let no part go unused—everything gets turned into something. The skin got put into a Ziploc bag. Later, im going to render out the fat for use in later meals, so I can save my butter for baking.
The bones I threw into a stockpot, along with a carrot, a few stocks of celery, oregano, basil, rosemary, thyme and two bay leafs. I covered it all with water and set it to boil, then reduced the heat to medium and simmered for two hours. I strained it into a clean bowl, and voila! Duck stock!!
While the stock was on the stove, I facebook chatted with a friend of mine. He’s moving out of town in less than two weeks. Yesterday, I had invited him over to share the stew, with the idea that it would be a nice goodbye dinner for him. He pulled out on me at the last minute, preferring a nap instead. But that’s ok. He’ll probably have a sandwich, and I’ll have delicious duck stew.
The best laid plans…
Finally, the pot of golden liquidy goodness was done! I discarded the carcass and the vegetables, and was left with a beautiful pot of stock. Stock with bits of duck meat, vegetable shreds, and dried herbs floating around. Absolutely appetizing.
It needed straining. And I didn’t have a sieve. But cooking is about improvising, right? I may not have a full size sieve, but I did find a small strainer I bought to keep the pits out of my orange juice while I was going through a fresh squeezed juice phase a while ago.
Oh that’s right. I ladled that entire pot of stock through the little itty bitty thing. It’s slightly larger than a tea strainer. And it worked like a flippin’ charm. I did burn the hell out of my left pointer finger though. Battle scars!!
Now…for the stew. I based this off a recipe I found on the Food Network site, but I changed it a bit, both the ingredients and instructions. I don’t like onions or parsnips, so I left those out. I also forgot to buy red wine, and the only stuff I had on hand was a super expensive bottle of reserve I bought a few months ago. In no way am I cooking anything in a $70 bottle of wine. Ever. So I added more stock to make up for the different in liquid.
I’ve linked to the original recipe if you want to follow that, but this is just how I did it.
1 duck, deboned and cut into bite sized chunks
5 carrots, sliced
5 celery stalks (I bought the celery hearts)
3 red potatoes
1 tablespoon garlic
¼ cup flour
4 cups duck stock
Dried basil, oregano, rosemary, salt, and pepper to taste
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
In a large French oven, heat enough olive oil to thinly cover the bottom of the pan. When this has heated (put your hand over the pot. If you can hold it there more than 6-7 seconds, it’s not hot enough), add the carrots and the celery. While these are cooking, toss your duck pieces with the flour. (Less Mess Note: do this is a Ziploc bag. Way easier than a bowl.)
After the veggies have cooked about 2-3 minutes (on high, longer if you’re cooking at a lower temp), add the flour-coated duck. Using a wooden spoon, stir this around a bit. You want some of the flour to rub off on the veggies. The flour acts a thickening agent, so you really want everything to feel the love.
After about three minutes, it’s going to start to smell really good. When it gets to the point where the aroma makes you hungry, add your duck stock. At this point, you should also add the potatoes, garlic and herbs.
Bring to a boil, then cover and stick it in the oven for about 30 minutes. Check the vegetables and the taste, and if you need to let it go longer, go for it. From personal experience, make sure you move the oven racks BEFORE its time to put the stew in. Those suckers get hot, and it’s a pain in the ass to move hot metal around!
After trying a bowl full, I think I want to make it exactly true to the original recipe and see what happens. The stew was perfect for a cold winters night, and I had a ton of fun making it, but it was a bit bland for my liking. I added some more salt and pepper, and it still didn’t quite work. I think if I were to do this again, I’d make sure I had the right wine on hand—I’m sure that’s what makes the difference.