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February 2014

January 2014

In Praise of the Braise: A Rendezvous with Jamie Oliver's Beef Stew


Over the past few months, Santa Maria has cooking up an entertainment bonanza. While I handled the day-to-day meals, she constructed remarkable weekend dinner-party extravaganzas. In early November, she feted a friend and her new boyfriend with an arugula salad with sunflower seeds, a marvelous cremini-mushroom, béchamel lasagna, and pavlova. Later that month, she made butternut-squash soup with pomegranate seeds, homemade chicken-pot pie, and chocolate pots de creme for a party of old and new friends. In December, she spent two days preparing a coconut chicken curry for old confidants who we never get to see. At the end of the month, she whipped up roast chicken and pasta pasta all'amatriciana for out-of-town visitors.

She handled all the planning, shopping, cooking, and serving, and I was as much of a guest as everyone else. They were delightfully relaxing evenings that restored a needed balance to our social lives. She was on quite a roll, and we were set to have eight friends over on Saturday night when our busy lives caught up with us. Just this month, Santa Maria’s work increased, and there was no time in her schedule to do the cooking.

I saw this, and stepped in to help with the meal she was planning, a beef stew. The recipe came from Jamie Oliver, and though it was the first time we were making it, we knew it was great. Just the week before we were at a friend’s house, where she served the dish. Her version was elegant and she brought it to the table topped with steamed green beans. My version was a bit more rustic (there were no decent green beans to be found), but no less delicious. 

I was as busy as usual, and though the recipe was described as “easy” on Oliver’s website,  I was a bit daunted. We were doubling it to feed all eight friends, and the very things that made the stew so remarkable were the same things that were giving me anxiety. It’s no ordinary beef stew, you see, but one with Jerusalem artichokes, onions, parsnips, carrots, and butternut squash. Those vegetables soften and combine to make an unusual flavor. But before they can do that, they needed to be peeled and chopped. 

I was not thrilled about all the work that needed to be done, but came up with a time-tested solution. I broke the task of making the stew down into small and manageable pieces. I did the chopping Friday morning before going to work, and felt a sense of relaxation knowing that I was halfway done with the cooking.

Saturday morning, I combined the ingredients the way Olivier suggested, and I understood why everyone said the recipe was easy. There was no browning of the meat, and all that needed to be done was—more or less-to throw everything in a pot, cover it, and let it cook in a hot oven for three to four hours, or until the meat was tender. That’s all there was to it. 

This was my first time braising something in the oven, and I have to say it can’t be beat. I’ve done plenty of braises on the stovetop, but they always require stirring and care to make sure the bottom of the pot is not sticking. In the oven, there’s no such concern. My only caveat is to suggest that you make sure the top of your pot is tight fitting. Other than that, there’s nothing to worry about. Just sit back and enjoy the way the stew will perfume the house. 

In all fairness to Jamie Oliver, I can’t post the recipe here. I did nothing to adapt it, other than convert a few of the metric measurements to U.S. units. Just follow his directions, and you can’t go wrong. Pay close attention to his note about the lemon zest and rosemary at the end. It does make a world of difference. Here’s a link to the recipe.

Clearing a Few things Up about Chili Weather


The calendar and the thermometer says it’s chili weather, and besides being tasty, chili offers a number of advantages.

  • It can be made in bulk in advance, and it freezes well.
  • It’s a good way to make your meat dollars go further. 
  • It’s healthy.
  • It’s good for parties (and with the Super Bowl coming up, that’s something to keep in mind).

I have a solid, go-to chili that I came up with a few years ago. It has a rich, mouth-watering flavor, thanks to smoked paprika, and I’ve written about it here before. Recently, I realized I need to make a clarification to the recipe. As I published it previously, I called for 16 ounces each of cooked black, kidney, and garbanzo beans.

Every time I’ve made the meal, I’ve been a bit confused by my own directions. I make my beans from scratch (and you should too—more on that in a moment), and I can never remember how many dried beans I should use to end up with 16 ounces of cooked ones. 

When I was making the chili this Saturday, I decided to take action. Instead of being confused, I paid attention. Paying attention is one of my New Year’s resolutions. I’m focusing on the lives of those around me, my own life, and on my inner life. I’m also focusing on the inner life of beans.

Beans have a rich but dry inner life. The bean needs to be re-hydrated in order to be eaten. There are a thousand theories on the best way to do this. There’s the sanctioned overnight soak. There’s the rapid, power soak. And then there’s my way—the no soak. Whatever it is about the beans that I buy in bulk from the Park Slope Food Coop, I’ve found that they cook up just fine without anything more than a good rinse. This takes time, of course. Hours and hours, but I don’t worry about that. I just cook them until they are done. This means, using a big pot of water, I bring them to a boil, and turn them down to a simmer. And then I let them ride until the interior is soft. My point here is that beans are easy to cook

There are more nuanced ways to do this, of course, and there are myriad benefits to cooking your own beans. They are much cheaper and much more tasty (I’ll never forget the first time I had homemade Garbanzo beans; I’ll never touch canned Chick Peas again!). And if you learn how to do this right, you can make a week’s worth of meals out of one pot of beans, as Food52 recently documented.

Here’s my chili recipe, properly annotated.

Smoky Chili

  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 strips of bacon, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 1 celery stalk, diced
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, diced
  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • ½ cup dry white or red wine
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • One 28-ounce can peeled plum tomatoes, run through a blender or otherwise chopped
  • 16 ounces each of cooked black beans, garbanzo beans, and kidney beans (Start with half a cup each, dried; rinse them, and cook them separately in big pots of water until done--probably a few hours.)
  • 1 tablespoons ground cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon thyme
  • 2 bay leaves

In a bit of olive oil, sauté the onion, bacon, carrot, and celery, until the onion is soft and the bacon fat rendered.

Add the garlic and sauté a moment more.

Add the beef and cook until brown, breaking it up with a wooden spoon (or a potato masher).

After the beef is browned, add the wine, and reduce.

Add the chicken stock, tomato paste, canned tomatoes, beans, and all the spices and herbs. If you start this at the same time you start the beans, then you will have to wait for the beans to finish cooking before adding them. 

Bring to a boil and simmer as long as you feel like it. It doesn’t need much more cooking at this point.

Salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with rice, garnished with grated cheddar cheese, sliced scallions, cream cheese, and/or any topping of your choice.


How is a Standing Rib Roast like Stone Soup?

This morning, at a family meditation class that we routinely attend, the day’s lesson was about giving, and the instructor read the children’s classic “Stone Soup.” The version she chose was by Jon J. Muth, and it transposed the old folk tale from Europe to Asia, and changed the main characters from soldiers to Buddhist monks.

In his telling, the villagers start out fearful and estranged from each other, but by the time the soup is done, they light lanterns and have a big celebration. It’s the first time they’ve gathered in such away in a long, long time, and the soup brings them together. They are happy to share the meal.

That they’ve been tricked into sharing all their food and, by extension, into being happy is not discussed, but I think this might be the point. Sometimes, what we think we know to be certain is quite wrong, and if we can just get out of our own ways, out of our own old habits, happiness might just be ours for the taking.

The story made me think of Christmas dinner, the last big gathering that I hosted among my extended family. We didn’t have stone soup, we had a standing rib roast. I had fifteen mouths to feed, and I went a bit overboard. We had all just gathered for Thanksgiving at my brother’s house, and his turkey was one for the ages. Actually, he made two turkeys, because he was hosting twenty-three folks, and both those birds were for the record book. So I wanted to make something else. 

A standing rib roast is an ideal (if slightly lavish) way to feed a large group. The cooking is largely unattended, and when done properly, the cut yeilds both rare and well-done pieces, sure to please every member of your party. It's also fairly foolproof, if you have an instant-read thermometer.

My local butcher sold me an eleven-pound, prime cut, with four ribs. Rib_Roast_Raw_1

It ended up being too much food. Next time, an eight to ten pound piece will suffice.

Because some family members are allergic to flour and others to butter, I didn’t dress the meat up the way I had read about in various recipes. I simply salted it heavily, and tucked some fresh thyme into the space between the bones and the main piece of meat.



I preheated the oven to 450 degrees, and stood the meat on its ribs in a roasting pan.


I gave it twenty minutes at 450.

I turned it down to 325 for 1 hour.

And then down to 300 for the rest of the time—about three hours total.

The way I knew to stop was when it registered 125 degrees in a number of spots in the very center of the cut.
The meat had cooked faster than I expected, so it ended up sitting for more than a half hour, but that was fine. I just tented it with foil, and got on with the party.

Here’s how it looked when before I carved it.



2014, and 'Ove is in the Air: A Guest Post


I had a great Christmas at the stove. We hosted fifteen family members on the big day, and I made a standing rib roast. I was getting ready to tell you all about it when two things happened. First, I was hit by the flu, and my legs feel like I've run twenty miles without stretching or sipping water, and my fever is up there in bad-defense basketeball territory. The second is that my blogging friend Paul Kidwell, a Man with a Pan who has contributed to this blog before , dropped me a line and offered me a guest post. I took him up on it right away, then I reached for the Advil and rolled over (BTW, the above image, courtesy of Pinta, represents how my innards feel).

Enjoy Paul's guest post:

Christmas and New Year is my favorite time of year and my mother's DNA that I inherited makes me built for the holidays. She taught her three boys to "never return a dish empty" and through her influence, I was blessed with the Santa gene in extremis. In my world, giving is receiving and despite the cliche, I find great pleasure in giving presents - be they store bought or kitchen made - during the holidays. of course, if you want to return the favor and give me something; good luck. I have lived long enough to accumulate a wealth of everything. 

I am not a gadget guy, nor do I get weak in the knees in anticipation of the newest version of the iPhone, iPad, or anything that begins with the letter "i." I have earlier versions of each and am quite content with their performance. Also, I have enough sweaters to keep a small village warm and the entire Brooks Brothers bow tie collection hangs peacefully in my closet, so adding to either or both, will not move me one iota. Although, if Diane Lane were to mention that her one regret was not taking me seriously as a young suitor, or the PA announcer at Yankee Stadium were to announce, "now pitching in relief for the Yankees, Paul Kidwell;" well I suspect I would be touched. 

So, what does one buy the world's most satisfied man for Christmas? Well, you should ask my son who seems to have a clear path into my psyche and knowledge of me in book-like proportions. This year, he gave me an "Ove Glove" and nothing more. Yes, the glove of late-night TV fame and everyone's choice for their gag, Secret Santa or Yankee Swap present. It's the gift that nobody wants and I suspect has been re-gifted countless times during those occasions. 

Until now. I suspect my son heard me complaining too many times about the paper-thin, and ill-cast oven mitts that would allow the heat to seep through to my hands about mid-way between the kitchen and our dining room. Wrestling molten-hot dishes and pans that have spent an hour or two in a 400 degree oven is always a perilous exercise and resembles a curler hurling a heavy curling stone down the slick ice. Never once did I imagine a solution to this problem and was resigned to the fact that I would have to suffer for my cooking. Well, my son had a better idea, apparently.

Late night TV and public ridicule be damned. Move over Billy Mays; my son bought me  an Ove Glove for Christmas. And just like that, my days of sparring with hot roasting pans and baking dishes are over. We are now an Ove household and over the holidays I had plenty of opportunity to break in my new gift. 

Roasts, stews, soups, casseroles and the like traveled from kitchen to dining room courtesy of the greatest invention known to man; well, at least this man who relishes his role as chief cook for the family and now has another weapon in his arsenal to help him with this task. 

Despite all the preparation around nightly dinners and holiday meals, my favorite meal when we are together as a family is Sunday breakfast, where omelets, pancakes, waffles, sausage, bacon and freshly-baked cinnamon or sticky buns replaces the normal work week, get-me-out-the-door quickly instant oatmeal or bowl of Mini Wheats. This past New Year's Day I made pancakes from a boxed mix from Bisquick. The only thing I added was a couple cups of chopped mangoes, whose freshness gave the meal a summer and helped offset the frigid temperatures outside my Boston home. Of course, the most important ingredient was what I add to every meal that I prepare for my family. Love. And, of course, Ove carried the love to the table so we could all eat. 

Happy New Year to everyone; especially my fellow pan-men.

And here is Paul and his son, and their gloves: