I don’t know if it’s the change in the weather, or the emotional tension in the air created by the current global state of affairs, but I’ve been feeling very low on energy lately. Of course, breaking my toe, throwing my back out, and a raging tooth infection probably didn’t help matters!
Whatever the cause, or causes, I felt like it was time for some serious alone time in my cave, doing things that made me feel good. And while I did spend some time cleaning out my closet, reorganising my book shelves, and binge watching The Queen’s Gambit, I have a short list of activities that are sure to lift my spirits.
First, I read Jeff Tweedy’s new book, How To Write One Song, and I started to feel happier immediately. Reading his book reminded me that I used to write 1 or 2 poems per day until the pressures of starting my businesses caused me to set it aside. As I spent time that day, and every following day since, either doing one of his songwriting exercises, playing my guitar, or writing something else, I started to feel better and better.
But writing isn’t the only way I like to express my creative urges, nor is it the most rewarding. You see, you can’t curl up on your sofa and eat a warm bowl of poetry, can you? I’ve loved to cook since I was a child. You might even call it an obsession. Watching cooking shows, reading cook books, learning new recipes and tweaking them to my own taste, figuring out how the chef made my favourite dish at a restaurant, and inventing my own recipes is my idea of the best day ever!
So last Sunday, in a lot of pain, hungry, and unable to chew very well, a plan began to form in my mind. I needed something warm, comforting, nourishing, and easy to chew and digest. After searching the cooking encyclopaedia that is my brain, I arrived at the perfect conclusion: beef stew.
Now normally, I would make my go-to Beef Bourguignon recipe from Madeleine Kamman, but I was pressed for time and short on ingredients. What follows is the recipe I threw together. As I started late in the day and it takes rather a long time to make (mostly just waiting), I ended up eating it the next day. I highly recommend you wait a day as well – holy cow that was good!
I regret to inform you that I did not take a single photograph of my process, or the finished product, since my son and I were too busy shovelling it into our mouths. But I promise to make it again soon and will add the pics in later!
And now, without further ado, I present to you my:
Beef Stew With Potatoes & Carrots
(serves 4 – or you and a really hungry teenaged boy)
1 medium-large stewing pot (with a lid), made of enamelled cast iron, heavy stainless steel, or another heavy non-reactive metal. What is important is the heavy material, so your stew won’t burn!
Parchment paper, cut into a circle the size of your pot’s lid
Heavy-duty aluminium foil, cut larger than your pot’s lid
700 gr boneless stew beef, cut into 4 cm pieces
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
2 Tbs olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, cut into 1-inch chunks
4 cloves garlic, peeled and grated
1 Tbs balsamic vinegar
1 Tbs tomato paste
2 Tbs all-purpose flour
250 ml dry red wine (I used Chianti)
250 ml beef broth
250 ml water
1 bay leaf
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 star anise
1 tsp sugar
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into 2.5 cm chunks
225 gr small white waxy potatoes, peeled and cut in half
Fresh chopped parsley, for serving
Preheat the oven to 160°C and set a rack in the lower middle position.
Pat the beef dry and season with the salt and pepper.
Heat the stewing pot over medium-high and add the olive oil until hot and shimmering. Brown the meat in 1 or 2 batches. To sear the meat properly, do not crowd the pan and let the meat develop a nice brown crust before turning with tongs. This will take about 5 minutes per batch. Add a bit more oil if necessary for the second batch. Transfer the meat to a plate or bowl and set aside.
Add the onions, garlic and balsamic vinegar. Cook, stirring with a wooden spoon and scraping the brown bits from bottom of the pan, for about 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook for a minute more. Add the beef with its juices back to the pan and sprinkle with the flour. Stir with wooden spoon until the flour is dissolved – 1 to 2 minutes. Add the wine, beef broth, water, bay leaf, thyme, star anise and sugar. Stir with a wooden spoon to loosen any brown bits from the bottom of the pan and bring to a boil. (At this point, your stew may smell and taste a bit extreme, but trust me, it will totally mellow out during cooking!)
Now take your parchment paper circle and lay it directly on the stew and fold the excess paper upwards around the edge. Cover the top of the pot with the aluminium foil, folding the edges down so it hugs the outside of the pot. And finally, cover the pot with a lid, transfer to the preheated oven, and braise for 2 hours.
After 2 hours, remove the pot from the oven and carefully remove the lid, aluminium foil and parchment paper (you will be putting these all back on). Add the carrots and potatoes. Cover with everything again and place back in oven for about an hour more, or until the vegetables are cooked, the broth is thickened, and the meat is tender.
Fish out the bay leaf, thyme and star anise and discard. Then taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary.
Serve the stew warm, garnished with parsley.
Or let it come to room temperature and then store in the refrigerator overnight or until ready to serve. This stew improves in flavour if made at least 1 day ahead. Reheat on the stovetop, covered, over medium heat. Garnish with fresh parsley, if desired.
“Talk of joy: there may be things better than beef stew and baked potatoes and home-made bread – there may be.” ~Ray Stannard Baker
Anxious all the time and can’t just ‘will away’ your stress?
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Imagine waking up feeling great every morning, looking in the mirror and loving what you see, being crystal clear about who you are and what kind of life you want for yourself, without running off to Costa Rica for a month-long retreat, or worrying that it’ll just mean adding 50 more things to your to do list.
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