Guinness Stew

Serves 4

guinness stew

Slow cooking does wonders for 2 things:  1. tougher cuts of meat* and 2. slowing YOU down.  December is certainly a merry and jolly month, but hidden in the merriment there can be found the stress of keeping it all together.  You know, the grab-bags, the after-work parties, the planning, the traveling, and, and, and.  We all forget to slow down and breathe until January rolls around and our resolutions are staring us in the face.  I’m convinced there are better ways to end the year…and to start another one.

Tough cuts of meat are also easily forgotten, if not completely ignored.  It takes too much time to turn them into the tender, tasty bites that is their inherent potential.  We’ve also gotten spoiled with more tender cuts.  Filet mignon, anyone?  Rib-eyes, NY Strip Steak…nope, I won’t say no to those, but to ignore eye-rounds, chuck roasts, short ribs, to name a few, would be a BIG mistake.  Good things take time and even in this day and age when everything goes so much faster than even yesterday, it still holds true.  Once in a while you’ve got to stop to smell the roses, or in our case, to stew a classic Guinness stew.

Braising is a combination of cooking techniques.  First, the meat (veggies can also be braised:) is seared on all sides.  It’s then cooked in liquid, about 1/2 way up the meat, usually covered, either stovetop or finished in the oven.  It’s an old school way of cooking and anytime my husband cooks a stew (or other braise) he always talks of a connection he feels to a long line of cooks before him, parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, all partaking in this careful but loving way to prepare a meal for your family.  It’s wonderful to feel connected and it’s wonderful to get that feeling from cooking, from preparing a meal and then sharing and eating it together.  It’s nourishing on every level.

By the way, the only thing classic about this Guinness Stew is that it’s become a classic in our home.  With these chilly days that have found us, I hope that you find this dish as warming and satisfying as we do.

*Most of you know this already, but just in case:  Whenever I cook or eat animal protein, I do so because it’s sourced from local farms that treat their animals with respect and kindness.  Cows graze on grasses and roam the fields, chickens hang out by the cows eating all kinds of things we’d rather not think about.  Still, it’s their native diet and what’s better for them is better for us.  No antibiotics or growth hormones, no chemicals or funky diets made out of whatever is cheapest and most readily available.  Happy, healthy animals that come from farms where the farmers love what they do…that’s where I get my meat from.  

You’ll need:

1 lb. eye round, cut in 1″ cubes, all fat trimmed and seasoned in sea salt and pepper (don’t be shy with the salt and pepper)

1 T organic canola oil

1 T extra-virgin olive oil

1 (largish) yellow onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 celery stalks, diced

6 sprigs fresh thyme

1 T spelt flour

1 T tomato paste (optional)

1 can Guinness

1 C vegetable stock (+ more depending on how things go!)

3-4 red potatoes, 1/2″ dice

2 carrots, 1/4″ rondelles (fancy way to say sliced ;))

1/2 C frozen peas

1 T red wine vinegar

2 T fresh parsley, finely chopped

Sea salt, to taste

To make:

(Preheat oven to 325°)

1. Heat canola oil in a heavy bottom sauce pan (Le Creuset dutch oven is amazing for this) over high heat and sear meat on all sides till nice and brown.  You may need to do this in batches and it will take 7-10 minutes per batch.  Resist the urge to move the meat around TOO much or too soon.  You’ll know when it’s time to roll them over!

2. Reserve the meat and juices in a bowl and set aside.

3. Add olive oil to pan over medium heat and then add onions, garlic, celery and thyme and a pinch of sea salt.  Cook for 4 minutes, stirring often.

4. Add tomato paste (if using) and flour and cook for 2-3 more minutes until it becomes like a fragrant paste.  Then add Guinness and stir.  Add 1 C of vegetable stock and let it come to a simmer.

5. Add meat and juices (can’t let all that flavor go to waste) and bay leaves and let it come to a simmer again.  Cover and place in the oven for 1 hour.  (You can either clean up a bit here or go and relax…you deserve it…and you’ll be back!)

6. After an hour has passed, add the potatoes and carrots and cook for another hour to hour and a half.  Check that the liquid is about 1/2 way up the meat and vegetables.  At this point it should start looking stew-y.

7. Place sauce pan/dutch oven on the stove and remove the bay leaves.  Add the frozen peas and red wine vinegar, cover and let sit for 10 minutes.

8. Top with fresh parsley when ready to serve.

9. Enjoy with sourdough bread, over noodles or rice or just on its own!

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Grilled Chicken and Mango Salad

Serves 4

Sometimes I just want a bowl of raw, fresh greens.  It happens either when it’s warm out or just as a simple craving (remnants from my vegetarian past maybe), but this time it was a real need.  Too much wheat in the week naturally leads me to a bowl of the opposite.  There goes the wisdom of the body seeking balance on its own!

The grilled chicken breast has its own story.

This chicken lived a good life.  It roamed around freely and ate worms, insects and grass and all the other things chickens eat.  It hung out in the sun and got its feathers ruffled by the wind.  It chased other chickens and got chased a bit, too.  It was a happy chicken.  The farmers who send us our CSA shipments seem like very happy farmers who love their jobs and their animals.  So, when we get our whole chicken delivered, breaking it down is the next step and we feel like we’re participating in this whole, loving process of getting our food from the farm to our table.

(In lieu of a video of me breaking down a chicken, (I’m quite good at it, but sorry, no time to get to this step!), check out this link which I think does a great job of simplifying what may seem like a daunting task.)

Anyway, our happy chicken comes with great health benefits and is SO MUCH tastier than any conventional chicken.  Pastured* organic chickens are leaner which means lower in fat.  Because they grazed on greens, they and their eggs are loaded with Omega 3s, Vitamins A and E as compared to their caged, warehoused counterparts.  They are also free of antibiotics, which is no small thing!  No antibiotics means they weren’t sick to begin with!  Not to mention they are free of pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides.  It’s nice to eat poison-free food!  It also wasn’t artificially fattened.  As a result, this chicken looks and tastes different.  Even the breasts are juicy and tender, which is a bonus for me since I’m not a fan of white meat.  (I know it’s bizarre that I prefer dark meat and red meat…I have no logical explanation.)

You’ll need:

For the Chicken:

2 split chicken breasts

1 T olive oil

1 t Herbs de Provence

Juice of 1 lemon

Sea salt

Dressing:

1/4 C golden balsamic vinegar

1/4 C extra virgin olive oil

1 T dijon mustard

1 t maple syrup

Sea salt, to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Salad:

Baby greens or romaine lettuce

1 mango, diced

1/2 C candied pecans, chopped

1/4 C sunflower seeds, toasted

To make:

Chicken:

1. Wash and dry chicken breasts, then generously season with salt.  Add lemon juice and olive oil and lastly the Herbs de Provence.  Let sit for at least an hour in the fridge.

2. Heat a stove-top grill (or a real one, by all means!) over med-high heat.  Take chicken out and let sit at room temp for about 10 minutes before grilling.  You’ll have to be the judge on time since there are so many X factors, but I grilled for about 12 minutes on one side, then about 10 on the other.  (These chicken breasts also needed a bit of grill time on their sides which they got for a few minutes each.)  Internal temps should be 165 degrees.

3. When done, cut chicken into strips and set aside.

Dressing:

1. Whisk all ingredients together until emulsified.  Taste test with a bit of lettuce/greens and adjust accordingly.  A bit of lemon juice may round things out a bit if you’re not sure what it needs.

2. Just before assembling salad, dress the greens in dressing reserving some for chicken at the end.

Get your salad on:

1. With dressed greens in bowls, top with mango, pecans and sunflower seeds.  Lastly, top with chicken and IF you think it needs it, add more dressing.

2. Enjoy!

*A quick word on free-range vs. pastured chickens.  Unfortunately the regulations are loose and therefore the definitions are, too.  A free-range chicken can mean that the chicken saw a few minutes of daylight on a concrete slab before heading back into a crowded warehouse.  Pastured means the chickens at least got access to grass and natural, wild food.  It’s tough to tell what’s best by the labels.  My two cents is, if possible, get your animal protein directly from a reputable farm.  For more info, http://www.motherearthnews.com/Relish/Free-Range-Versus-Pastured-Chicken-And-Eggs.aspx