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 »

Slumdog Millionaire’s Shortbread

March 23, 2012 § 10 Comments

All through our childhoods, my brothers and I were only allowed candy on Saturdays – lørdags godt, “Saturday treat.”  Each Saturday we were given our allowance, to drop into the cleaned out yogurt containers that functioned as piggybanks, plus a quarter (adjusted up over the years to a dollar, a parent does have to recognize inflation), to clasp hot and sticky in our hands as we ran to the store to spend it on any candy of our choosing.

We had a complete free market phenomenon going on with our Saturday treat allotment, and (without remotely having the terminology to talk about it) we became very shrewd at calculating the relative utility of each variety of candy as compared to its cost, in order to determine how we could best balance the quantity versus quality of our purchases.

My brothers erred on the side of quantity.  My indifference curves must have been steeper because I tended to buy exactly the candy I preferred at the time, even if it meant I wouldn’t walk away with pockets bulging.

I remember an intense Mambo phase.  Do you remember those?  Fruit-flavored chews in a similar genre to Starbursts, but ever so much better. For a long time I also harbored a strong preference for Sour Patch kids.  But, as I grew older (and our financial allocation closed in  on a dollar), I – being female, and all – developed a powerful love of chocolate.  I recall many sweet, melty Saturdays of peanut butter cups or Three Musketeers Bars.

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Keema beef curry

January 10, 2012 § 26 Comments

I am always on the lookout for things to do with ground beef.  I’ve expounded before on how much we love our meat farm share, how cool farmer Kim is, how wonderful it is to know where your meat comes from.  Because, seriously, it really is.  And overall, I don’t mind not being able to choose specific cuts of meat, for we generally receive a remarkable variety.  We do wind up with a lot of ground beef, though.  Not as much as my parents, who buy a substantial portion of a cow every year, but a lot nonetheless.

So, we have a regular rotation of spaghetti bolognese, chili, beef tacos, and back to spaghetti, like a song on repeat.  At least it’s a pretty good song (I used to dread spaghetti when I was little because I felt like we had it so often. Now I understand why, and I welcome it almost weekly as a satisfying respite from thinking about the age old question of what’s for dinner).

Then there’s the occasional meatball or hamburger thrown in, depending on the season.  Meatloaf has shown up a couple of times too.  I welcome it in and try to give it something like a homemade apple barbecue sauce to make it feel at home.  It makes awfully good leftover sandwiches, however awkward I feel about meat in a loaf form.

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Vindaloo curry with parsnips and halibut

November 21, 2011 § 5 Comments

Yes, vindaloo with parsnips and halibut sounds, well, weird, for lack of a more graceful word.  But it tastes really quite amazing.  So, you should give it a chance.

It’s alternate name is fish-nip-aloo, which, of course, really makes it sound awesome.

Actually, I rather like the name fishnipaloo for the dish.  It’s quirky.  It sounds a bit like the name of a Bollywood dance, and that fits this particular curry incredibly well.

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Cardamom-yogurt chicken and curried eggplant

April 14, 2011 § 14 Comments

Okay, so I’m sick of these April showers already and would be quite happy if we could just get on with the May flowers.  How about it?  Not that I can complain that much.  We had a beautiful spring weekend last weekend, and the flowers are, in fact, coming up.  In the arboretum where I go running, there are happy little crocuses nosing their way up under the oaks, and some of the hillsides are so covered with bluebells it looks like the sky accidentally tripped and fell down there.  But, nasty weather has descended upon us again, and therefore I feel it is necessary to whine immaturely.  Whine, and get to roasting and stewing things. (Oh, of course now since starting this post yesterday, the rain has moved off and it’s beautiful again.  Well, I’ll take it!).

Which brings me to another, only very tangentially related, point.  Why are so many of the world’s most delicious things brown and lumpy and generally unphotogenic?  Sure most vegetables and fruits and berries are beautiful and colorful, but all the stews, and roasts, and curries, and sauces, and many soups out there, well, they’re not exactly getting phone calls from scouting agencies looking for beautiful food models.  And yet, they taste amazing!  You don’t care what they look like because their deep, full fragrance and flavors wallop you over the head (the good kind of wallop), and you stop looking and just eat. « 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 »

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