I was born and raised in Kansas and learned to cook alongside my mother. Now, along with my wonderful husband, I have taken the plunge into the city life in New York. These are my food adventures: in my own tiny kitchen, and in the many restaurants of the city.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

"Cleaving"

A few years ago, when I picked up Julie Powell's "Julie and Julia", I was shaken a bit to the core. I thoroughly enjoyed the journey of the book and put it down feeling inspired. It planted a tiny seed in my brain that is, in part at least, responsible for my transformation and for my current career path through life. Yes, it's just a book, but something in Julie Powell's words spoke to me in a way that was necessary at that point in time. So you can imagine how excited I was when her newest book, Cleaving, hit bookshelves.

In Cleaving Julie is once again on a culinary mission, albeit a slightly different one than her previously impossible task of cooking through the massive tome of MTAOFC. This time around she has set out to understand the ins and outs of an art that had all but disappeared, but luckily for her (and for all of us, really) seems to be slowly eeking back into existence: butchery.

Again Julie Powell had me laughing out loud--her candor and honesty can be shocking but is definitely funny. But there are also moments that she seems to punch you in the gut and take the wind out of you with her words. However, a lot of times I felt the story to be choppy and a little hard to follow. Some of the metaphors were so weak they had me literally rolling my eyes in frustration. The way the story unfolded frustrated me, but it does seem like that is just exactly the way Julie P. would tell the story to you in person--tumbling out in bursts until the end. I don't want to give too much away, but I think it is no secret that a large part of this book is about her struggles within her marriage. As much as I realize that this is the way real life is, part of me took this really personally and it made me sad (why I take such personal offense to strangers' love lives breaking down is a mystery--rather ridiculous, I admit, but there you go...). I think there's that small part in a lot of us that just wants real life to be a little closer to a fairy tale and it never really is.

Overall, though, I enjoyed reading as Julie learned and grew in this new world for her. I also love the recipes interspersed throughout the book--I feel like more memoirs (even ones not about food) should have recipes included. They give me a better understanding of a person and a memory that the author is trying to convey. These also made me ready to run out to my nearest butcher and order enough meat for every meal for the next couple of weeks--no vegetables or starches necessary. I've spent the time since finishing the book envious of all those cuts of meat Julie went home with. I've also once again stepped back to review where I am along my personal path. I feel pretty damn good about where I am these days. I'm not sure what exactly it is about Julie Powell's words that brings that out in me but I'm appreciative of it just the same.
(And yes, you are allowed to leave me comments telling me how corny that all sounds.)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Rainy Day Beef and Mushroom Stew

Sometimes I love when it rains on my day off.

I know I am probably in the minority there, but the rain is the perfect excuse for a lazy day. If it is nice outside, I feel like I should be out taking advantage of it. But on a rainy day I can curl up under a blanket with Joe on the couch with a drink in hand while something slowly simmers away in the oven. Something hearty and filling. Like this beef and mushroom stew.

One of the great things about this dish is that it is completely versatile. If you don't have an ingredient you can usually leave it out or substitute it with something else. You can also toss in anything extra that you may be craving that day. This particular version is especially rich thanks to the dried mushrooms: you soak them in water and add them to the vegetables and then use the soaking water as part of the stock. And the couple of cups of red wine in the base don't hurt, either.
So the next time the weather isn't so hot on your day off, look at it as a blessing. Put on a pot of this stew and curl up with a glass bottle of wine and someone you love, and relax.

Beef and Mushroom Stew

1/2 c. dried chanterelles
3/4 c. hot water
1 lb. beef chuck, cut into 1 1/2" cubes
flour
salt and pepper
4 TB olive oil, divided
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
3 stalks of celery, chopped
1/2 an onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, sliced
2 TB fresh herbs, such as rosemary and thyme
2 c. red wine
1 c. beef stock
3 TB tomato sauce (or 1 TB tomato paste)
1 bay leaf
1 parmesan rind*

Remove the beef from the fridge and allow to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Place the dried chanterelles into a bowl and pour the hot water over them and allow to soak for 30 minutes while chopping and preparing the remaining ingredients. Once ready to use, drain the mushrooms, reserving the liquid.
Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
Toss the beef cubes with flour to coat. Heat 2 TB olive oil in a dutch oven over medium-high heat. Sear the beef on all sides, working in batches so as to not overcrowd the pan and then remove to a plate.
Add remaining oil to pan and toss in carrots, celery, onion, garlic and herbs. Allow to cook until they become tender, about 6 minutes. Add the drainied mushrooms and cook another 2 minutes. Add red wine, beef stock, tomato sauce and reserved mushroom soaking liquid to the pan and bring to a boil. Stir in the bay leaf and parmesan rind, cover and transfer to the oven. Cook until the meat is tender, about 2-2 1/2 hours, checking and stirring the stew after about 1 1/2 hours.
Remove the stew from the oven, remove the bay leaf and parmesan rind and serve. Especially good served over egg noodles, mashed potatoes or sopped up with crusty bread.

*When you have a good hunk of Parmesan cheese and you get down to the rind where you can't grate it anymore, hang on to this piece. It can be thrown into stocks and soups to add extra flavor and depth. Remove it at the end of cooking--it will look like a soggy sponge, so not pretty, but the flavor is worth it!