Thursday, February 12, 2009

We interrupt "the 11" for a hearty beef stew

Rain, rain, don't go away until I've finished my beef stew.

Don't get me wrong. I love to cook, but there's one thing I love even more: when someone else cooks for me.

I've never met a home-cooked meal I didn't like. Well . . . except for an unforgettably tragic beef stew.

A new friend once invited my husband and me to her apartment for dinner. I was excited when I found out she was making beef stew, one of my favorite cold-weather comfort foods.

She ladled steaming hot stew into bowls for her three guests. I'm sure my face fell when I peeked into my bowl. The beef was charred black, but the potatoes and carrots were raw. The liquid was a starchy, tasteless goop the color and texture of wallpaper paste.

We all tried to eat it. We really did. After five minutes of pushing around the undercooked/overcooked chunks in hopes that they would magically disappear, the cook dropped her spoon. "I'm sorry. I can't eat this."

At first, we protested, "No, really, it's fine. I like my veggies crunchy." And then her boyfriend spoke up. "Are you kidding? This isn't edible." He was right (even though he wasn't "Mr. Right.") Instead, we spent the evening munching on Saltine crackers and sipping the fine cabernet that boyfriend brought. You can never go wrong with cab and regret.

I think of that evening every time I make beef stew (or whenever I make a meal that's borderline inedible).

Who knows how things would have come out (on both the culinary and romantic fronts) if only Kathy had followed this recipe from Pam at For the Love of Cooking. (Do click and see Pam's version. Why does hers look so much richer than mine?)

Can't Fail Beef Stew
(Adapted from For the Love of Cooking)

1 lb beef, cut into small chunks
1 yellow onion, chopped into large chunks
4 medium-size Russet potatoes, diced
4-5 carrots, sliced
6 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 T. olive oil
1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes
1-2 tsp dried thyme (or 2 T. fresh)
1-2 tsp dried oregano

Salt and pepper to taste
2 bay leaves
6 cups beef stock (or any combination of at least 3 cups of beef stock and enough wine or dark beer to make 6 cups)

One of the things that I like about this recipe is that it has a large margin for alterations (and error). Like celery? Go ahead and add it. Prefer red potatoes? Go for 'em. Don't like garlic? Leave it out. Love peas? Throw them in at the last minute. Don't have fresh thyme? Use dried. Don't like your meat falling apart? Cook for four or five hours instead of seven or eight.

I used my enamel-cast iron pot and cooked the beef and broth mixture overnight, but you can also do this on a stove top or in the crock pot. Allow at least four hours for cooking the meat and an additional 1 1/2 hours for the vegetables. After all, a good beef stew can't be rushed.

- Preheat oven to 250 degrees.
- Heat olive oil and cook onion and stew meat for about 5 minutes.

- Add garlic and cook for another 30 seconds.
- Add can of tomatoes, seasonings and beef stock.
- Cover and cook in oven or stove top for at least four hours.
- Remove pot from oven place on stove top over medium heat.
- Add potatoes and carrots (and celery, if you like that in your stew) and cook for an additional 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
- If you like the broth thicker, add a slurry of corn starch and water.

Serve with a crusty bread and a bottle of red wine, preferably on a rainy day in front of the fire.

May I eat mine by the fire, please?

Monday, February 9, 2009

11 foods I AM eating

Vibrant colors, vibrant taste, fuzzy photo

A few weeks ago, the New York Times published a list of
"The 11 Best Foods You Aren’t Eating."
  1. Beets
  2. Cabbage
  3. Swiss chard
  4. Cinnamon
  5. Pomegranate juice
  6. Dried plums
  7. Pumpkin seeds
  8. Sardines
  9. Turmeric
  10. Frozen blueberries
  11. Canned pumpkin
I wonder why most people aren't eating these foods. Lack of availability? Expense? (That can't be it. The only "pricy" item on the list is pomegranate juice.) Taste? A bad childhood experience? A traumatic adult experience involving sardines and canned pumpkin? Or could it be that most people just don't know what to do with these items beyond the obvious cole slaw, cinnamon rolls and pumpkin pie.

Over the next few months I'm going to be experimenting with recipes where these 11 foods are the key ingredients.

I love Indian food, and my friend Madhuri recently introduced me to a few Indian cooking techniques and taught me to make three simple dishes. One of these was this easy Indian beet salad that uses two of the 11 foods.

Indian Beet Salad

6 beets

1 T. vegetable oil
1/2 minced serrano chili
1/4 tsp. fennel seeds
1/4 tsp. turmeric
3/4 cup plain yogurt (I use Greek)

chopped peanuts for garnish (to taste)

chopped fresh cilantro for garnish (to taste)

- Boil or roast the beets until tender.

- Wipe off the skins with a paper towel.
- Julienne beets into matchstick-size pieces
- Heat the vegetable oil in the smallest cooking utensil you have. I used a stainless steel measuring cup. I need to purchase a long handled mini pot from an Indian sundries store.
- Toss the minced chili, fennel seeds and coriander into the hot oil and stir for about 30 seconds.

- Let the oil mixture cool, then combine with the yogurt.
- Stir the yogurt into the beets.

- Top with crushed roasted peanuts and chopped cilantro.

I served this as a side salad with spicy lentils and paratha, an Indian bread that I purchased in the frozen foods section at India Sweet and Spicy in Duarte. But, truth be told, it's so good that I could easily eat the entire six-beet salad as a main course.

Can you beet this salad? Do you have a favorite recipe involving beets? Any ideas for beets and bacon?

This recipe is being submitted to Blazing Hot Wok's Regional Recipes Indian food roundup for February. The roundup will appear on February 20.

Friday, February 6, 2009

The Great Bacon Caper - Bacon, Lettuce, Avocado and Tomato Sandwiches

My friend Margaret issued a bloggers' challenge. " You have one week to post something that will appeal to the masses' love of bacon."

I thought of doing something creative, like developing Springtime fashion accessories. I think a red, white and bacon bracelet may be the best way to show our patriotism while providing a between-meal snack. (Raise the flag and raise cholesterol - how American!) I flirted with the idea of creating a new game, like spin the bacon, thus combining two of my great loves. I toyed with writing The Cantebacon Tales in iambic pentameter.

But, let's face it. None of these ideas appeals to the "masses." The masses want classic, no-fuss foods. The masses want comfort. The masses want bacon, lettuce, avocado and tomato sandwiches.

I have never made a BLAT in the dead of winter beause a red-ripe, home-grown tomato is one of the essential ingredients. But I did have a perfectly ripe avocado from my own tree, crisp Romaine lettuce, 7-grain bread and Duke's mayonnaise. And, of course, I had bacon.

This Roma tomato is a poor winter-time substitute for home-grown, but adds color.
I discovered Duke's Mayo, a favorite condiment south of the Mason Dixon line, two summers ago.

My three tips for cooking bacon: Use a cast iron skillet, cut the bacon slices in half and use chopsticks to keep the bacon moving while frying. (Click HERE for a great video tutorial on frying bacon.)

Bacon, beautiful, bacon. Is this the money shot?

Assembling the BLAT: Toast the bread, slather the Dukes on both slices, arrange the Romaine lettuce, tomato slices and avocado slices. Lightly springkle salt on the tomato and avocado slices. Finally, criss-cross the bacon for maximum crunch and coverage.

Or is this the money shot?


(And if you ever ask yourself, "What should I eat?" go to this great bacon flow chart on Geekologie.)

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Learn to Make Shabu Shabu at Japanese Cooking Class at Pasadena Buddhist Church

If you'd like to join me at my next Japanese cooking class, we'll be making shabu shabu and gomoku namasu, a type of pickled salad.

When: Tuesday, February 10, 7 pm
Where: Pasadena Buddhist Church, 1993 Glen Avenue, Pasadena
How Much: $15 includes a hands-on lesson with a professional instructor and three-course dinner.
Misako Morihiro,

Some students stand back and watch, but I like to roll up my sleeves and get in on the action. The choice is yours.

You may also choose to take the easiest route and come just for the dinner at 8:30 pm. Most diners make a $10 donation for food.

When life gives you 80 degree temps, make lemonade

Our Southern California Autumn came and went with barely a sweater in sight.

Winter wandered in, and I longed for cold nights, a blazing fire, a hearty stew and a glass of Zin, but that moment never materialized. When the temperature dipped to 75 degrees a couple of weeks ago, I forged ahead and slow cooked beef stew in my new enamel cast iron pot.

It tasted great, but it just didn't seem right to be eating stew while fan blades whirled.

I was beginning to feel like one of those women with curly hair who spends hours with a flat iron to make it lie straight. Or the woman with perfectly straight hair who spends big bucks and countless hours to add curl. Why couldn't I work with what I have?

And what I have is a tree full of Meyers lemons and temperatures in the 80s. I gave up my dreams of stew by the fire and gave in to the sunny reality of home-made iced lemonade on our patio.

Now what was I complaining about?

Meyer's Lemonade
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water (for the simple syrup)
  • 1 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 3 to 4 cups cold water (to dilute)

Make simple syrup by heating the sugar and water in a small saucepan until the sugar is dissolved completely.

While the sugar is dissolving, squeeze the juice from 4 to 6 lemons, enough for one cup of juice.

Add the juice and the sugar water to a pitcher. Add 3 to 4 cups of cold water, more or less to the desired strength. Refrigerate 30 to 40 minutes. If the lemonade too sweet for your taste, add a little more straight lemon juice to it.

Serve with ice and sliced lemons.