Monthly Archives: February 2013

Beef. Stew.

There’s something therapeutic about a good braise–something soul-soothing about chunks of meat that soak up the flavor of everything nearby and stew until they’ve just about turned to mush. It’s alchemy. You can manipulate the ingredients and manipulate your sear and the temperature, but time and the laws of nature are far more the chef than you.

I made beef stew over the weekend and I needed something simple and soul-soothing–something to help me slip into an A-grade food food coma. Becuase sometimes you just need to let go a little.

This is a fairly “stock” braise recipe, but with a few unique flairs. I love the combination of star anise and/or cinnamon with beef and tomato. The sweet licorice spice and tangy tomato balance the beef so well. Taiwanese beef noodle soup is one of my favorite dishes. For the red wine, I used Prince Michel Cabernet Franc. It’s light-bodied, fruit-forward, and has a ridiculously long vanilla finish that plays off the anise nicely. It’s local too. I served it with homemade demi-baguettes and used this formula, scaled down. We’ll probably serve the leftovers with Chinese wheat noodle.

What quintessential comfort foods get your food coma on?

Aroma Therapy Beef Stew


3.5 lbs. beef chuck, cut into 1-inch cubes

12 oz. (or 1 1/2 cups OR 2 glasses) light-bodied red wine.

1 cup broth or stock

1 cup tomato sauce (I used homemade)*

2 onions cut into 3/4-inch chunks

2 carrotsĀ cut into 3/4-inch chunks

3 celery stalksĀ cut into 3/4-inch chunks

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

2 star anise

1 bay leaf

Olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste


Season the beef all over with salt and pepper (I use about a half-teaspoon per pound) and let rest for about half an hour to an hour.

Heat a Dutch oven to medium-high. Add olive oil to coat the bottom and sear the beef in several batches. Remove from the Dutch oven and reserve.

Add more oil if necessary and sear the vegetables with a pinch of salt for five to ten minutes or until browned. Deglaze the pan with the wine and reduce until the alcoholic smell has cooked off. Add the broth, tomato sauce, reserved beef, herbs, and spices. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and then cover.

Simmer for 2 1/2 to three hours or until desired tenderness is achieved, stirring occasionally. Simmer uncovered for ten to twenty minutes at the end of the cooking time to thicken, if desired.

Serve with rice or bread.

In other news: my first presentable demi-baguette.

In other news: my first presentable demi-baguette.

*Homemade Tomato Sauce:


2 28-oz. cans whole tomatoes in puree

About 6 tablespoons olive oil

6-8 cloves garlic, crushed

Salt and pepper to taste


Add just enough of the oil to a skillet to coat the bottom and heat to medium/medium high. Add the crushed whole garlic cloves and toast, stirring occasionally until they are a light nutty brown, but not burnt (burnt garlic should be discarded immediately).

Crush the whole tomatoes and add to the skillet with the tomato puree. Bring to a boil and add the remainder of the olive oil. Cook until reduced. The sauce will have reduced, sweetened, and have a glossy appearance. Season with salt and pepper to taste.


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Dangerous Chinese Things

I hope everyone who reads this is had a nice holiday last week. This was after all one of the world’s most celebrated holiday seasons and of course I’m referring to the fifteen days of the Chinese New Year and not that other saintly holiday which, by the way, is not even an official “Saints Day” according to the Catholic Church. The fact of the matter is, the modern holiday probably has more to do with a pagan festival involving public nudity and undergarment flailing.

My wife’s family, having immigrated from Taiwan, treats this as a season of festivity and gift-giving. Consequently, with a five-year-old daughter, we get a lot of toys.

Ah, the toys.

If I were ever to start a blog that wasn’t by-and-large rambling and directionless, my wife suggested I call it…


Seriously, I’d have years of material. take this innocuous example:

dangerous toy

dangerous toy


Kind of cute, right? It has an identical companion. You’re supposed to catch and throw the yellow ping-pong ball thingies that look disturbingly like eyes with the vinyl sheet.

Here’s where it gets dangerous…

Little missile.

Exhibit A.


You see, when you open it and shut it, this little metal pin slides out of place and launches across the room with the force of an anti-eye missile. There is no way to secure it.

Maybe instead, I should title this hypothetical blog, “Why American Children are Clearly Too Fragile for the Modern World.”

Only that would make for really long URLs.

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Slow Food is Killing Me Softly

I need some help.

Here’s the thing. Between work (day job plus periodic mental health on-call crisis), time with family, reading, and writing, I don’t really have a heck of a lot of time to cook. Maybe a generous hour a day if I want us to eat at a comfortable time. As I’ve said before, even then, we do a lot more fast food than I would like. And yet, as long as I’ve been cooking, I’ve been fascinated with Slow Food, even before I knew there was a name for it and a movement behind it. I remember in college making pasta from scratch and homemade sun-dried tomato pesto without a blender or mortar and pestle–I just sort of chopped the hell out of it for, like, half an hour with a WalMart chef’s knife. I once made homemade tonkotsu ramen with from-scratch egg noodles and pig’s feet broth. The pig’s feet burned to the bottom of my pressure cooker because that much steam escaped without blowing the safety valve. If something can be bought, I like experimenting to see if I can make it from scratch.

Never, ever burn pig’s feet to the bottom of a pressure cooker if you can help it, by the way. That’s my advice for the day. Honestly, I need advice myself. Because every now and again, as a consequence of my fascination with preparing the mundane, I make something like this:

Yes, it really is green--made with a particularly dark extra virgin olive oil.

Yes, it really is green–made with a particularly dark extra virgin olive oil.


A whole 8-oz. cup of aioli. I used Brian Polcyn’s recipe from his book, Charcuterie. We’re not big sports fans at our house, so the Superbowl tends to be an excuse for me to cook something a little extra ambitious in the spirit of the game. In this case, I whipped up a whole batch of aioli so I could add a shmear or two to our cheeseburgers.

Only one problem–now we’ve got pretty much a whole cup left of aioli left and the clock’s ticking to use it all up before all that nice extra virgin olive oil goes to waste. Any suggestions?

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