Thursday, May 15, 2008
I'm sorry your salmon is sad this week. Maybe a little Dickens is just what the doctor ordered...? Yeah, probably not.
Remember how in college post-modern was the buzzword and every class read books in response to the canon of dead white men's literature? Well somehow, between that and our progressive high school that gave grades 1-6 instead of A-F godblessem, I got away with a great education but not one single page of Dostoyevsky read. Soo I started...da da DA! A book club. Not the Oprah kind but the kind to read the classics we never got around to and we'll never read without incentive. Of course, the incentive here is food (shocker) and a couple bottles of wine. Once a month (or longer if it's a doozie) we get together, talk about the book, argue about whether or not it sucks, and then eat our faces off. I've decided to start cooking along with the nationality of the author, which is fun but gets a little rough with so many writers from the slightly more gastronomically-challenged countries of the world which shall remain name....d England.
First book we read was As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner. Bunch of busted characters taking a busted trip to go bury their mother. I loved it, others including the Boo, notsomuch. For this meeting, I made a pot of turkey chili because a) its easy, b) it's american (though some texans might contest the fact that I even call it chili, what will all the veggies and beans and no beef), and c) it's delicious if I do say so myself. First meeting: huge success. Thanks in no small part to the chili. Note from Boo: Loved chili, hated book.
Next meeting we read Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, for which quite a few men jumped ship (pansies). Most enjoyed, some despised, some like me couldn't quite shake the Bridget Jones associations. Afterwards we watched the Keira Knightly version of the film in which everyone appears to be pleasantly sweaty and unshowered and Ducky Puckerface wasn't too bad. However, the best performance of the night went to the Beef Stew I served for the occasion. Note from Boo: LOVED THIS BOOK AND LOVED THIS STEW.
Now I love me some beef stew. It's a one pot meal which I'm totally into (see picadillo and arroz con pollo entry) and it's so rich and tender and one of the most delicious ways to make carrots. Juice is to the Boo as gravy is to the Mouse. AKA I could drink it at every meal. However, I wasn't sure which recipe to use and spent way too much time online looking through the variations on the beef stew in search of the perfect one. In the end, in the manner of someone about to scale Everest, I took a deep breath and said, Mouse, you know how to cook. It's tough to screw up stew. Just go with your instincts and keep tasting. And thus the Book Club Beef Stew was born.* As The Boo said, "This is everything a stew should be".
*with some guidance from Ina Garten
Recipe for Book Club Beef Stew
1) Marinate 4 lbs beef stew meat (2 in cubes) in half a bottle of red wine, a few cloves of smashed (not chopped--just smash em with the side of your knife blade to release the flavor) garlic, and a few sprigs of rosemary. Leave to marinate in the fridge for a few hours.
2) Remove the beef, saving the marinade. Toss the beef cubes in a mixture of 2 Cups of flour, 1Tablespoon salt, 1T black pepper until lightly coated. The flour will help the beef brown and stay moist, and will also help thicken and flavor the sauce once it all comes together.
3) Brown the beef in batches in some good olive oil.
4) Deglaze the pan with the reserved marinade (you can pick out the garlic cloves and rosemary at this point and discard).
5) Fry up 2 slices of bacon in the bottom of a large pot until a good amount of fat has been rendered--discard the bacon. Or feed it to your dog if you have one.
6) Sautee 3 chopped onions, 1 1/2 lbs choped carrots, 1 1/2 lbs chopped potatoes, 3 minced cloves garlic in the bacon fat and a couple tablespoons of olive oil for 10 minutes.
7) Add beef and reduced marinade and 1 can of beef broth to the veggies.
8) Here's where it gets a little hazy, so start employing your tastebuds. Add to tase: worcestershire sauce, one mini can of tomato paste, ketchup (yes, ketchup. this is totally the secret essential ingredient that pushes this dish over the edge--it adds the tomato, the touch of sweetness to balance the bitterness of the wine and salt of the beef, and the tang of the vinegar that makes the gravy so damn good.) Salt and Pepper to taste.
9) Add a few handfulls of quartered white mushrooms at the last minute, a couple of sprigs of thyme, and chopped rosemary.
10) Simmer over low heat about 2 hours total (from time you add the beef and liquid)
11) Add bag of frozen peas 5 minutes before dish is done.
P.S. Up next is A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. The back of the copy I own declares this to be "Dickens most exciting novel". I find it a bit of a snoozefest. Storming the Bastille was bloody and all but sticking people's heads on pikes gets old after a while. Granted, this might have something to do with the fact that the majority of my reading has been taking place on the subway crammed between Twitchy McTicsalot, and Ms. Assoffmyseat, so I'm reserving judgement. However, I need a dish. Here is your mission, should you choose to accept it: English or French (sure, Dickens is English, but one of the Two Cities is Paris and those poor wretches are starving their way through the Tale), minimal number of steps/pots, serves about 8-10, and not too expensive, people. See "performing artist": I have no disposable income for truffle oil at the moment. Suggestions?? Note from the Boo: As long as the dish is dry, uneventful, and full of "humorous" references I don't understand,it should be perfect.
P.P.S. Now that I've finished the book, I'm happy to say I was wrong about it. Boring and surely melodramatic at parts and possibly not Dickens' best work, but I've come around to say I truly liked it. Maybe even loved it a little bit.
Hungry For More?
Watch the BBC "Pride & Prejudice". NOT the Knightley one. For shame,Book Club.