Down to Basics: Stew & Co.

January 28, 2013 § 11 Comments

stew gremolata vegetables

Ever since eating salad while admitting it was stew weather, I haven’t been able to shake stew off.  Stew has been following me, or more accurately I have been following stew, chasing it into every manner of manifestation in my kitchen and out onto the table, beef, pork, lamb, venison, chicken, simple, spiced, something in between.  It’s been stew all of this last week.

Or, if not stew itself, a member of the stew family.  That is, tagines, curries, chilis, and so on.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, all of those are really stew masquerading as something exotic.  And, of course, to those who grew up eating these others as their comfort food, stew is the exotic one.

lamb tagine

And so, because once you can make a stew you can make all of its spicier cousins, let us go over some basics of stew construction, plus variations on how to transform your warming pot of meat and vegetables into a tagine, curry, or chili.

Stew is basically slow cooked pieces of meat (or it can be beans or another protein source) with vegetables in liquid of some sort.  It’s thicker – less soupy – than soup, and the pieces of meat are smaller than the one (or several) large pieces in a braise.  The steps in making stew are approximately these:

Start by cutting a couple pounds of a tough cut of meat into 2-inch cubes (stew beef, lamb, or even pork tend to work well; you can also stew chicken thighs,  but they’ll take a bit less time in the final cooking process) and sprinkle them with salt.  If you wish you can also toss them in some flour, which will help thicken the stew, but which is by no means absolutely necessary.  Follow this by browning all your meat bits in butter or oil in a large heavy pan.  Do this in batches so as not to crowd the pieces of meat because if they’re crowded they’ll steam rather than browning.  Once nice and brown on all sides, transfer the meat to a plate. « Read the rest of this entry »

Shepherd’s pie with kale

November 6, 2012 § 30 Comments

Hey! So, it turns out there’s an election or something going on in the States today.  Who knew, eh?!  (Joke.)  Some part of me feels like I should talk about it, as it’s a weighty issue, hot discussion, trending topic, etc, etc, etc.  I mean, I sure know what I believe.  But, I can’t really try to force my beliefs on anyone else.  Actually, that’s false, I totally could try to force my beliefs on you!

But, not to worry, I won’t!

Instead I’m going to preoccupy myself thinking and talking about a creek.

There’s a little creek within spitting distance of the house where I grew up.  I think I may have actually mentioned it before, though I can’t keep track of these things.

It’s a wonderful creek.

There’s nothing jaw-dropping or awe inspiring about it.  It doesn’t have a magnificent or majestic sort of beauty about it.  But it does have the most miraculously quiet, serene beauty to it.  The angles of the rockbeds, the arc of the branches, the ripples of the water, to me they are lyrical in an other-wordly and yet entirely this-worldly sort of way.  It’s one of my favorite places on this earth, and I think one of the most beautiful as well.

I grew up going for walks there all the time.  My mother would take us walking there when we were little for teddy bear picnics and to look for minnows.  I went walking with friends there, making believe we were explorers in a lost forest.  The creek was on the way to and from our high school, so we would hike up and down it in a hurry to get to classes and sports practice.  I walked there with my boyfriends, feeling terribly romantic.  I walked there whenever I was having boy troubles, alone with my thoughts  and terrible indecisiveness.  I, of course, took Joel there on his earliest visits to Duluth, to show him what a special place it is. « Read the rest of this entry »

Lemon braised lamb with rosemary

January 20, 2012 § 7 Comments

Pretty much everyone in my family is a card carrying nerd in his or her spare time.  You may not perceive this on first glance.  It’s a sort of internal nerdiness.  Our spirits wear broken glasses, high water pants, and pocket protectors.  We pick up on Star Wars references, and occasionally sing little songs under our breath about whatever it is we’re doing in the moment.  Ok, maybe it’s actually just me who does that.  But, whatever.  (Have you seen New Girl?  Kind of like that.)

One of my brothers has read famous political figures’ dissertations, for fun.  The last time I spoke to my mother, she was gleefully reading a stack of dictionaries.  (Some of them have fascinating material in their appendices.  Seriously.)  I have a certain propensity toward exploring the thesaurus.  My reliance on it during college verged on the religious, zealous, fervid, a little over the top.

As many of the food obsessed are wont to do, I also like to read through cookbooks.  So, when my middle brother gave me The Flavor Thesaurus for Christmas, well it was clear that the book and I were going to need to get a room.  I’ve been slowly savoring my way through it ever since.  It’s truly a magnificent little oeuvre, informative, but not remotely boring.

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Lamb chops with coconut mint sauce

May 17, 2011 § 11 Comments

Gratulerer med dagen!  It’s Norway’s national day, so I’m all in a tizzy getting ready to celebrate, and I’ll get back to you with some delicious treat from the day, but for now I’m going to share this post, which I wrote yesterday but didn’t get a chance to publish…

As I’m sitting writing, I’m looking through the windows watching a couple of little neighbor girls outside playing in the rain.  They are a whirl of colorful rain coats and spindly legs, executing awkwardly graceful dance moves as they boogey around and over the picnic table, over and over again.  It’s sweet to see.  It’s giving me a better attitude about the rain, actually.  And, it also has me thinking about books.

I feel like I’m not a very good reader these days.  What can I say?  Something about the process of spending long days reading papers full of painfully passive sentences or obtuse allusions to social theory that I do not remotely understand (this, for example: “Structures exist paradigmatically, as an absent set of differences, temporally ‘present’ only in their in their instantiation, in the constituting moments of social systems…”  Do you understand that?  Because I don’t.) leaves me feeling rather loathe to crack open a novel at the end of the day, at least one that’s at all high quality since it’s almost bound to be depressing and require more thought than I’m willing to expend.

I have, though, been reading children’s literature.  These books are the opposite of convoluted, but still tell wonderfully engaging tales.  I just made my way through my favorite trilogy of dragon stories, and I suddenly remembered a book that I loved when I was younger that I might have to seek out to read again, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing.  Did you read that book?  It’s the story of Peter, a well meaning and generally well behaved fourth grader who has a younger brother called “Fudge.”  And, Fudge is a little hellion but somehow he almost always manages to be the one who gets the attention and gets his way because he’s so cute.

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Lamb chops with pesto

June 17, 2010 § 2 Comments

Sometimes you just need to cheat a little.  Take a slightly less bumpy hilly path and give yourself a breather.  This is one of those weeks, where, as I near the end of it I feel myself dragging, and I know I need to cut a few corners.  Or maybe heed Ben Franklin a little better and start getting to bed a little earlier to offset my ‘early to rise’ (the potentially perilous consequences of a good book!!).  Or both.  My brain is so zonked, I can barely think of what to say.  And boy!  I wish you could see how hilarious it gets in my kitchen when my brain has gone on the fritz: juices squirting, spices spilling, projectile leaves…and I discovered what an amazing protective device fingernails are if you chop directly on top of your finger (don’t try it at home!).  I may not be suave enough for the food network, but sometimes I think my kitchen could be the focus of a reality show, called something along the lines of “The Disaster Zone.”  « Read the rest of this entry »

Fabulous lamb curry – Going local in Northern Minnesota – part 3

April 29, 2010 § 7 Comments

Curry + no attempt at styling = not so photogenic! Oh well.

My mother treated me to a facial while I was in Duluth.  And who am I to say “no” if she wants to spoil me?!  As I was getting the heck squeezed out of my face (that would be the less pleasant than the part where you get massaged with lavender oil part of a facial), I found myself deep in conversation with Christal, the skin care specialist, about her chickens.  You see, she owns the day spa and treatment center I was at, but she’s only there a few days a week, the rest of the time she and her husband operate a small, sustainable farm bursting with a wonderful embarrassment of unusual heirloom vegetables and heritage breed animals.

Hearing her talk about her flocks of chickens and turkeys that roam the fields, and spunkily prefer to fly and roost in trees rather than in hen houses almost made me cry for joy (no, it wasn’t just the stuff that had run into my eye).  These days commercially bred chickens and turkeys are raised to have such huge breasts (because people want their boneless-skinless chicken/turkey breasts), they can barely stay standing, let alone fly into trees as they ought to be able.  To hear about these animals, living healthfully and true to their natures, and then being harvested in great thankfulness and dignity (it actually can be done) was so moving to me.  By the end of the conversation, I was this close to completely pitching city/university life and going back to the land!  Can we have a Homesteading Act part deux? « Read the rest of this entry »

Greek-spiced Shepherd’s Pie

December 14, 2009 § Leave a comment

(once again, pardon my subpar photography skills!)

I apologize if it’s a bit hard to read this post over the sound of me patting myself on the back.  Yeah, I’m a little proud of this one – mainly because it rates pretty high on the tasty-deliciousness meter and it used up a hefty two pounds of mashed potatoes that I had leftover from a lefse party (lefse is a Norwegian potato flatbread that is really best made at a party, preferably with a beer in one hand!).  The temperature has finally gotten legitimately wintery here.  Of course, I grew up in northern Minnesota, so whenever the subject of the cold comes up I have to act all extra tough (I mean, because I am, of course), and say things like, “This isn’t cold!  It never even gets really cold in Boston.  Try a couple of weeks of minus 40 and then get back to me about cold.”  This generally gets a lot of looks of shock and horror at the idea of that kind of weather, and then everyone returns to complaining about how cold it is.  Because it is.  Certainly, it is at least cold enough to have me hovering near my oven every evening coming up with reasons to turn it on.  Even if I’m making something on the stovetop, I’ve been able to scheme up some way to end it in the oven.  Case in point, this spiced up rendition of something akin to shepherd’s pie.

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