I believe things happen for a reason, good or bad. Every decision we make becomes part of our story and that story, often has a deeper meaning. I chose to get a dog my freshman year of college and that dog, Buffy, became such an integral part of my life that I wouldn’t know how to describe that middle part of my life without including her, just as Ginger and Buddy consume our story now.
Most of you know Buddy of course. The scruffy little yorkie that came into our lives at the age of 10, as if he knew he was meant to be with us all along. I sometimes picture him ringing our doorbell with a hobo stick slapped across his back declaring that he’s finally come home. The powers that be brought him to us and then tried, several times, to take him back. Somehow, he has managed to beat the odds and remains a deeply entwined part of our lives today and for everyday in the foreseeable future (knock on wood).
Buddy, recently, has had a newly found appreciation for food. He has never been one to turn down a meal, or a treat (I’d go as far as to say that this one is certainly motivated by food), but now when he eats, it is with his whole heart and he is taking in every flavor, texture and aroma. Buddy eats greedily but thoughtfully, offering gurgles and sound effects that mimic what maybe Snoopy or Woodstock might express or, more aptly, a human might make as they bite into a meticulously cooked meal, enhanced with only the skill and finesse of the worlds finest chef.
He is also experiencing the finer things in life, such as spa days (with bubble baths), acupuncture sessions and deep massages every night from his daddy. We too are experiencing the finer things in life, such as more time with Buddy (and Ginger) and much more awareness of our mortality as well as theirs. We are embracing the future but enjoying the present with much more gratitude and self-awareness. This is a choice we should all be making but is hard to see through all life’s craziness and stress.
So to combat the craziness and stress, I am headed to the kitchen where I will emerge happier, healthier and hopefully well-fed.
I choose Kitchen therapy.
Our lives are busy. But we still need to eat! There are so many shortcuts available and it is easy to take them all, which includes eating prepared meals or eating out every day.
I usually feel better when I head into the kitchen and begin cooking…anything. Buddy and Ginger eagerly follow (these days, Buddy usually gets carried along). Then, Ginger sitting on her orange square and Buddy, either stumbling blindly underfoot or tucked in one arm as I work aptly with the other, anticipate the nibbles and bites they will get as the cooking noises and smells begin to permeate the air.
Chop, chop, chop, sizzle, sizzle… A rhythm begins to take hold and an easy, familiar dance begins to carry my stress away.
I taste what I am making. It is very important to taste. Buddy and Ginger are taste-testers too.
Music is playing. Music must always be playing…
…and Tom is playing the music. In the background, and in the foreground, chatting with song.
Last night it was our favorite chicken dish and tonight it will be a comfortably quick beef stew. I know a stew need not be quick, but quick is what we needed, so into the pressure cooker it went. It emerged an hour later, prep time and all, a fragrant, creamy and comforting meal that carried us away from a busy week and welcomed us into a cozy Fall weekend.
SIMPLE BEEF STEW (flavored with balsamic, red wine and mascarpone) – serves 4
Stew always seems to taste better the next day, but with the addition of a little mascarpone and the help of a pressure cooker, this stew tastes as good day one as you might expect it to taste on day two. I am looking forward to days three and four, if it sticks around that long.
Even though it is simple, it feels more refined due to the size of the meat, veg and potato; I usually keep them chunkier but decided to reduce all in size. Using leeks rather than onions and balsamic vinegar along with red wine, an aroma fills the room reminiscent of Italy or France. The mascarpone is stirred in to help thicken without extra time and lends a distinct creamy, sweet quality that might typically be heavier and more familiar.
1 1/2 lbs grass fed beef stew meat, cut into 1/2″ dice
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper to season
A handful of semolina flour to dust the meat
1 large leak, cut in half horizontally, cleaned and diced
2-3 large cloves garlic, chopped
2 TB balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup diced potato (skin on is fine)
3 stalks celery, cleaned and diced
1/2 cup diced carrots
1 cup red wine
1 1/2 cups water
2 TB veal demi-glace
1/4 cup diced haricot vert / green beans
1- 1 1/2 cup diced potato (can be a mix of sweet potato and red or white potato)
2-3 TB chopped parsley
1-2 TB chopped rosemary and thyme combined (more or less is fine too)
1 TB Dijon mustard
1 good dollop mascarpone
1. Prepare all of your vegetables as instructed above so they are at the ready as you begin to cook.
2. Season the beef with about 1/2 tsp kosher salt and fresh ground pepper then dust it with semolina flour just to coat.
3. If you have an electric pressure cooker, turn it to brown and add about 2 TB olive oil to the pot. Brown the meat on all sides.
4. Add the leeks and garlic to the pot and continue to brown until the leeks begin to wilt slightly, about 5 minutes. Add the balsamic vinegar and stir.
5. Add the 1/4 cup diced potatoes, celery, carrots, red wine, water and demi-glace to the pot, stir and turn to high pressure for 15 minutes.
6. When the pressure releases and you can open the lid, add the rest of the ingredients and turn the pressure to high for 30 minutes.
7. When the pressure releases, stir, adjust seasoning with additional salt and pepper if needed. If it is not thick enough, add a little more mascarpone. It should sit and simmer for at least 15 minutes or until you are ready to eat as it will continue to thicken and the flavors will meld together.
8. Serve in warm bowls with a crusty loaf of bread or a crostini. A simple salad does well to round out the meal.