I Hereby Resolve...
Hi Readers. I’m back from a self-imposed hiatus. Busy work and family projects kept me from posting over the holidays. Hopefully 2013 will be a bit calmer!
So now it is January. That time of year when many of us are feeling our waistbands and finding that our jeans somehow shrunk in the wash in the past month. How did that happen?
Don’t tell me. I already know. ..sigh.
So, I started the new year really cranky; which always happens when I am coming down from my annual holiday sugar rush; and when I replace the ubiquitous Christmas box of Frango mints with carrot sticks. I bet you have carrot or celery sticks packed in your weekday lunch too, don’t you?
There is no mystery to this. We all know what we need to do. Eat less. Exercise more. Or another of my favorite directives is food writer Michael Pollen’s simple advice-- “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
I recently read an article in Bon Appetit magazine about Chef Rene Redzepi, who reportedly (by people who know about these things) has the “best restaurant in the world”, Noma in Copenhagen. Chef Redzepi says that he is neither a vegan nor a vegetarian, but over the years he has cut down the amount of meat he uses in his cooking to the degree that it like a condiment. For example, he will use chicken stock when he sautés, but no actual chicken. He advocates slowly ramping up the vegetables that you use to fill the gaps of the missing meat.
While I usually have been making at least one vegetarian meal a week, something like mushroom risotto or an omelette, I realized that when we do have a protein, our portion sizes are much too large. When I thought I was eating a four ounce piece of pork roast, I weighed it and it came in at over 7 ounces. Appearances can be deceiving. But the problem is…I love meat. I love the savoriness, the umami (that fifth taste, along with salty, sweet, bitter, and sour). Just a big pot of vegetables is bland to me.
But then I started thinking about what I could do to ramp up the umami flavor of my cooking. The first place to start was my beef bourguignon. Over the years, I have used a variation of Julia Child’s recipe, which calls for bacon and HUGE pieces of beef. To make a healthier version of this, I decided to cut the portion of the beef in half and replace it with dried mushrooms. These (along with fish sauce, tomato paste and red pepper flakes) are my secret weapons for increasing the depth of flavor in many dishes. I always have dried porcinis or some other mushroom in a jar in my pantry. I soak them in hot water and then strain the soaking liquid, as there is usually sand or grit in it. The strained liquid is then added to the pot along with the mushrooms for an additional boost of flavor.
I then added double the amount of carrots, a parsnip or two (still working on liking these...), a couple of potatoes, and even a small package of kale I had in my freezer from our summer garden. The stew cooked low and slow in the oven and was savory and rich with bags of flavor. We didn’t miss the meat. And, it was, I think, a much healthier alternative to its previous incarnation.
So, I hereby resolve eat more vegetables and smaller portions of meat.
And I hereby resolve to try and post a blog more often this year.
Beef Stew with Dried Mushrooms and Port
½ pound beef stew meat, cut to 1 inch dice
2 tsp olive oil
1 cup ruby port wine
1 large onion, peeled and sliced
3 large carrots, peeled and cut in 1 inch dice
1-2 parsnips, peeled and cut to ½ inch dice
¼ cup dried porcini, or other mushroom, diced and soaked as directed above.
2 bay leaves
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1 Tbsp low sodium beef bouillon powder
2-3 russet potatoes, peeled and cut to 1 inch dice
1/2 cup kale, already blanched and chopped (This is about 4 cups fresh kale (with stems removed), it really reduces down when cooked)
1 tsp salt, with additional as needed to taste
½ tsp ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
In a large Dutch oven, heat the olive oil and thoroughly brown the meat. You want there to be browned bits at the bottom of the pan. This is a huge part of the flavor base. Remove the meat from the pan and drain and discard any fat.
With the flame off, add the port wine to the pan, then turn on heat to high and stir the wine, scraping up the brown bits from the pan. Return the meat to the pan along with the carrots, parsnips, mushrooms and juice, bay leaves, tomato paste, bouillon and salt and pepper. Add water until everything is just covered. Bring mixture up to a boil, then cover the pot and put in the oven.
After 1 to 1 ½ hours (a piece of the beef should be fork tender), add the potatoes. Add additional water if the stew appears to be drying out a bit, you want it to be just barely submerged. Return covered pot to the oven for another 45 minutes, then stir in the kale and cook for another 15 minutes (if kale was raw) or until heated through (if it had been pre-cooked.) Check seasoning and add salt and pepper if needed.
At this point, you can thicken the sauce with some Wondra flour mixed into a slurry with water, but since the point of this was to shave calories, I skipped this step.