Saturday, January 29, 2011

Sunday Beef Stew

I'm lucky to have in my possession a 1966 edition of Julia Child's Mastering The Art Of French Cooking and one of my favorite recipes therein is her classic Boeuf Bourguignon. It's the quintessential winter stew and perfect for a snowy weekend. I've tweaked the recipe and made it my own by adding potatoes and creating an extra thick gravy. I cook the entire meal in my trusty Le Creuset cast iron pot. This recipe is a step-by-step process, offering you an opportunity to practice passionate attention. Be sure to buy a big loaf of bread because you're going to want to wipe the bowl clean.

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.

Sear 1 1/2 - 2 lbs of your choice of meat (cut into 1 inch cubes, patted dry with paper towels so it will brown nicely). I've found that the meat won't brown as well if the pan is overcrowded. Sear in batches with a tiny bit of olive oil. You'll know when the sides are browned because they will unstick from the bottom of the pan, making themselves available to be turned. Transfer your browned beef into a bowl by the stove.

Sauté a chopped onion in the same pan until soft (approximately 10 minutes). Add carrots and potatoes (peeled and cut into one inch pieces). Sauté for 10-15 minutes.

Return the beef to the pan. Add 1 t of salt and 1/4 t of pepper. Sprinkle in 2 T of flour and lightly toss to coat the beef. Place your uncovered pan in the oven and cook for 4 minutes. Stir the pot and cook for another 4 minutes. Julia writes, "This browns the flour and covers the meat with a light crust."

Turn your oven down to 325 degrees.

Now the fun part! Add 3 cups of "full-bodied young red wine". The wine decision can feel daunting. I've made this recipe with various bottles and then one day I just happened to grab what I thought was a "cheap" red wine and was surprised to discover that it created the most flavorful stew to date! I'm now eternally devoted to Radical Red from The Organic Wine Works, a sulfite-free choice from my local liquor store. Add enough beef broth (I prefer Imagine's Organic) to just barely submerge the contents of your stew. Bring to a simmer and add 1 crumbled bay leaf, 1/2 t of thyme and 2 crushed garlic cloves.

Put the lid on the pot and cook for three hours. Your house will smell like stew heaven.

I usually add a beurre manié to thicken the sauce before I serve. Mix 2 T flour with 2 T butter to create a paste and add to the cooked stew, which will thicken almost immediately. You can add more beurre manié until you reach your desired consistency.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Chicken Pot Pie

This weekend has been all about nourishing my soul. Chilled to the bone, exhausted from a marathon of teaching and desperate to unwind, I dove into cooking the way some might dive into Supta Baddha Konasana. The choice of what to make was simple: it was, without a doubt, a chicken pot pie kind of weekend. The ultimate comfort food, I found solace in puffed pastry and the krama (step-by-step) of making this classic dish. It's beyond divine and will make you warm and fuzzy all over.

Grocery List

unsalted butter
1 onion
3 yukon gold potatoes (or a bag of the small, bite-sized potatoes)
whole chicken
chicken stock
puffed pastry (I love Dufour, which you can find at Whole Foods)

Defrost the puffed pastry at room temperature for an hour or two. You can cut the pastry to cover individual ovenproof bowls, or you can use the entire sheet to top a baking dish. Flour your working surface and your rolling pin and roll out the pastry so it's large enough to hang over the sides and stick to your serving piece. (Note: If the pastry feels gooey or starts to stick despite the flour, don't panic. It just needs to chill in the refrigerator for a little bit.) Brush off any excess flour and set aside the pastry on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Prepare an egg wash (whisk one egg and a splash of milk). Chill the the pastry and egg wash in the refrigerator while you're cooking the filling.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

Bring a large pot of water to boil and add the whole chicken. It'll take about 20-30 minutes to cook. In the meantime, sauté the chopped onion in 5 T of butter for approximately 10 minutes. Add your cut potatoes and carrots (as many carrots as you'd like) and cook between 10-15 minutes. Deglaze the pan with 1/2 cup of cognac (the smell will make your soul sing). 5 T of flour will coat your vegetables and thicken the sauce. Add 2 cups of chicken stock and 1 cup of milk. Bring to a boil.

At this point your chicken should be cooked. Carefully remove it from the water and let it cool enough so you can pull it apart into big, hearty pieces. Add the chicken to the pot of boiling goodness. Lower the heat to a simmer and add thyme, salt and pepper to taste.

The last step requires efficiency and speed, so know what you're getting yourself into before you start. Pour the filling into your chosen serving piece, right up to the edge (so your pastry will have something to rest on). Using a brush (or your finger), paint a 1-inch layer of egg wash (your glue) onto the perimeter of your pastry. Cut a hole in the center to allow the steam to escape. You have to work quickly because the pastry needs to be cold in order to puff. This is not the time to check your email; practice restraint. Cover the bowls or baking dish with the pastry, using your fingers to adhere it to the sides. Brush the top with the remaining egg wash and pop it into the oven. Bake for 30 minutes, or until it's puffed and golden brown.

Recipe inspired by Martha Stewart.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Happy New Year!

The New Year prompts us to look ahead and ask ourselves how we'll change in order to be the best that we can be. We identify patterns that aren't working and commit to charting a new course. January 1st inspires us to move through the obstacles that too often define our lives.

At first glance, the admission of failed methods seems like the easy part. Motivated by our inadequacies, we forge ahead with strategies born of self-hatred or self-loathing. With so much riding on our destination we're eager to leap out of the gate, but as we trudge along this arduous new path and begin to realize that action is often fraught with imperfection, we long for our old, safe habits. There's comfort in the familiar, even if the familiar is a painful, limiting idea of who we really are. How can we move forward, though, when every step toward change is rooted in a toxic relationship with the Self?

For me, the hardest part about creating change is the concept of Self-acceptance: loving myself despite my perceived flaws. I think it's only from a place of Self-acceptance that we can hope to rewrite a painful story. To accept oneself lies in the ability to see oneself clearly–without judgement–which requires stillness, willingness and courage.

B.K.S. Iyengar writes in his book, Light on Life, "The point we are seeking to reach is where we can act directly in the present. Direct action stems from direct perception, the ability to see reality in the present, as it is, without prejudice, and act accordingly". Iyengar encourages us to relinquish ourselves from the prison of our past actions as well as the expectations of our future actions; only then will we be truly free.

Luckily for us, we're not defenseless against the great unknown. Patanjali, author of the Yoga Sutras, offers us five tools to help us on our path. They're often referred to as the "Yogi Vitamins", an image I just love because I can see myself popping these pills on a daily basis. The first vitamin is faith: faith in the process, faith in oneself and maybe (if this resonates with you) faith in grace or something infinite that is beyond our perception. It takes faith to get through those moments when it feels like all is lost. It also takes tremendous strength, which is the second vitamin. The third vitamin is memory, which is crucial because without memory we cannot consider the lessons we've learned (but tricky, of course, because memory is seductive, holding the power to trap us in the past). Contemplation is the fourth vitamin. Contemplation implies a commitment to really sit with yourself and listen for the answers. Discernment–the final vitamin–is probably my favorite because there's immense value in the ability to know when to act and when to be still.

Embarking on the new year, I'm inspired to love, respect and trust myself. My New Year's resolutions are only as good as the soil in which they're planted and I believe my real work lies in the tilling, watering and weeding of that earth. It takes so much courage to be honest with ourselves, but perhaps even more to be okay with what we see. A healthy and respectful relationship with the Self fosters the skills we need to take the appropriate action–the one that's best for us.

My hope for you in the New Year is to "Love Thyself". It won't always be easy, but with faith, strength, memory, contemplation and discernment, you will persevere. May you move forward with peace in your heart and a renewed commitment to yourself.

Happy New Year!