Here’s a nice beef stew recipe I’ve been playing around with for years.
3 pounds of beef chuck, cut into 1 inch cubes ¼ cup of vegetable oil 4 large, sweet onions, chopped 6-8 cloves of garlic, crushed & minced 1 stick of butter cut in half ¼ cup of flour 1 14 oz. can of small dice tomatoes 1 pound crimini mushrooms, quartered 1 T. sweet paprika 2 t. salt 2 t. fresh ground black pepper 1 t. dry thyme leaf 1 t. ancho chili powder ½ t. rubbed sage 2 bay leaves 3 12 oz. bottles of good quality beer
Pat the beef cubes dry with paper towels.
In a large dutch oven over medium high heat, brown the beef in batches with the vegetable oil. Get some good color on those cubes. Set the browned beef aside and pour out any oil in the pot.
Add half a stick of butter, the onions and garlic and reduce the heat to low. Scrape up the glaze as the onions sweat, and keep cooking until the onions are nice and caramelized. Should take around 20 to 30 minutes.
In another small pan over medium heat, melt the remaining butter, and when is starts to bubble, add the flour and whisk it in. Reduce heat to low and cook the roux until it turns a nice butternut brown. This should take about 30 minutes.
When the roux is finished, add it to the dutch oven. Return the beef and its juices to the dutch oven and add the mushrooms, herbs and spices. Stir all the ingredients together.
Slowly add the beer, stirring it in.
Preheat oven to 350°.
Turn up the heat to medium high and bring the pot to a boil while stirring. Reduce heat to a simmer. When the oven is ready, cover the dutch oven and put it in the oven for 2 hours.
Take the dutch oven out of the oven and put it back on a burner. Over medium low heat, reduce the liquid until it’s a nice sauce like consistency.
Serves 8 to 10 people.
This recipe pretty much screams for mashed potatoes, but I also like it with roasted potatoes. I’ve also added flat dumplings to the stew to great effect.
You can leave out the roux. Just reduce longer and let the onions be the thickener.
A note on the beer:
Use the same sort of beer you like to drink. This recipe works best with lagers and lighter ales. My favorite beer to use in this recipe is Shiner Bock, hence the recipe name. But use what you like with a mind to good quality beer.
Periodically, I go to the website for Moon River Brewing Company to sign up for their mailing list. For some reason, I tend to get dropped off the list, even though I'm pretty fanatical about Moon River's brews.
This time, when I signed up for the newsletter, I got an email confirmation with the following bit of information:
Please note our big news:
We have upgraded to corn plastic to-go cups that are 100% compostable.
"We are becoming better corporate citizens and want to be a local leader in the green movement that is sweeping our industry," says Gene Beeco, general manager and co-owner. "We hope that other area restaurants will join us in our efforts, and I believe that in the future recyclable materials may become the law."
The brew pub uses 52,000+ cups each year. The new cups cost about 9¢ more each than regular plastic cups.
Huzzah! This is environmentalism I can get down with. To understand my enthusiasm in this regard, you have to understand the concept of the "to-go cup," or "go-cup." This is one of the true expressions of a drunkard's paradise; In Savannah, you can walk around with the adult beverage of your choice, as long as it's in a "go-cup." If you're in a bar, and you want to go somewhere else - say, another bar - then you just take your current drink, grab a "go-cup" from the stack (every establishment supplies these...), pour your beer, wine or cocktail into the "go-cup" and stumble on your merry way.
I am simply thrilled that the next time I'm in Savannah - hopefully soon - I'll be able to stumble about with a clear conscience as far as the carrier for my beverage is concerned. It's nice to know that said container will eventually compost and assist in the growing of, hopefully, more plants with which to create adult beverages.
Driving into C'ville with The Lady, grabbing Jerry and heading up north to DC.
Parking and walking down U Street at the golden hour. A quick dinner at Ben's Chili Bowl, savoring the vibe, funk, football and a down-to-earth excellent bowl 'o' red.
Back up U Street and around to the 9:30 Club for Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, who put on one of the best shows any of us had ever seen. Magic, dark and simply crackling with weird, energy, Nick laid the hammer down on us, ripping us with love, loss, murder and madness culminating in a toasting hot version of Stagger Lee that left my ears and soul numb; not wanting to go, but wanting to flee.
A ride home through the Virginia night, counting the cops waiting darkly on the medians of Rt. 29; lone wolves feeling the chill of autumn and understanding what it means. Drive on. Drop Jerry off with smiles resulting from the memory of wild ferocity. On to Scottsville on the winding road, wishing there were wolves to chase the deer away, back beyond the range of our headlights.
Finally. Home. Exhaustion. Happy cats. Tall and deep shots to break apart the brittle adrenaline buzz sparkling inside the backs of our necks.
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds 9:30 Club, Washington, DC October 5, 2008
Night of the Lotus Eaters Dig, Lazarus, Dig Tupelo Weeping Song Red Right Hand Mignight Man Love Letter Hold On To Your Love Moonland The Mercy Seat Deanna Hard On For Love We Call Upon the Author Papa Won't Leave You Henry
Into My Arms Get Ready for Love The Lyre of Orpheus Stagger Lee
If you had purchased £1000 of Northern Rock shares one year ago it
would now be worth £4.95, with HBOS, earlier this week your £1000
would have been worth £16.50, £1000 invested in XL Leisure would now
be worth less than £5, but if you bought £1000 worth of Tennents Lager
one year ago, drank it all, then took the empty cans to an aluminium
re-cycling plant, you would get £214. So based on the above statistics
the best current investment advice is to drink heavily and re-cycle.
Well, if you're going to take a loss, you might as well get a buzz while you do it...
Being a "good diner." In this age of boorish behavior and bad manners, this is something that is frequently overlooked by the restaurant going public. It seems the burden is always on the restaurant to provide the good experience for the customer. After all, they're paying for it.
Now, this is true to a great extent. But if you are determined to make dining an advesarial exercise between you and your party and the restaurant, like as not, the restaurant will be happy to engage you.
But it needn't be this way.
There are customers I would crawl over broken glass to serve. Those customers are the ones that waiters and cooks will really go the extra mile for. These are the ones you see getting a little something extra placed before them. A small plate of this or that.
"Chef would like your opinion of something he's been trying out for a future menu."
These are the people who get that little glass of something with the secret smile from the sommelier at the end of the meal.
So, who are these people, and why are they treated this way? Big tippers? Well, that might have something to do with it; they're good tippers, and that's a big difference. But that's not it, really. These are the people who know why going to that restaurant is a special experience. They come in with the right attitude and they handle the experience with aplomb. Especially if things aren't quite up to par.
After over 20 years of doing this cooking gig, I've amassed a huge number of tips that will improve your restaurant experience.
And in no particular order...
Attitude. As in, don't cop one. Be friendly. Smile. Waiters are constantly abused and a friendly customer will get the most out of them.
If you can, make reservations. If you can't, don't bitch if they can't seat you. If you go to the restaurant regularly, make a point of making a reservation. If you've been a good diner, this gives everyone a heads up that you're coming in. Good things happen as a result.
Never, ever bitch about prices. Never. Very few things will garner contempt quicker. Menus at good restaurants are frequently posted outside the establishment or online. Don't like shelling out the bucks, don't go in.
If the waiter or the kitchen screw up, be graceful and give them the chance to fix the problem. Never demand a comp. A good restaurant will own up to its mistakes and will often make good on a screw up on its own.
Never pitch a scene. It's tacky. It makes the other diners uncomfortable. It exacerbates the problem. Handle problems discretely. Then they'll owe you.
Tip your waiter based on the service they provided. If your service was excellent, but the food was not up to your expectations, don't punish the waiter. Punish the kitchen. Ask to speak to a manager or, better yet, the Chef. In a good restaurant, those problems will be resolved with a vengeance. Heads will not roll, but people will receive further education. That's what makes good restaurants good.
Never feel shy about communicating with management. Do not become overly familiar with the staff. It makes them uncomfortable. They are not your servants. They are also not your children (unless they are...), your new bestest pal or your therapist. You want therapy? Sit at the bar.
If it's not a good restaurant, why are you there?
If you use the services of the sommelier, tip the sommelier separately from the waiter. It's a sign of respect. Also, don't be afraid to ask for wine advice in a price range that's comfortable to you. In fact, if you've got a good sommelier, you don't even need to pick the wine. Let him know what you're having and how much you want to pay. You'll get a good wine, and respect from the sommelier because you're letting him do what he's trained to do. That's where those little glasses of something or other come from.
Don't make a big show when tasting wine. Do not sniff the cork. Inspect it for seepage, crystallization or deterioration discretely. Taste the wine quickly and efficiently. If the wine is corked or off or whatever, say so. But it had better be the truth. The sommelier will taste that wine, and sommeliers have long memories for wine phonies.
Never, ever attempt to bribe the maitre'd. It might work, but you'll get nothing but contempt from the rest of the staff once the word gets around. If you're going to bribe one person, then you better bribe them all. It's the only way that works.
If you have dietary restrictions, give the restaurant a heads up, preferably when you make your reservations. A good restaurant will go out of its way to make sure you can eat there if you have particular allergies, medical conditions or religious prohibitions. If you are vegetarian, do not assume that there will be a vegetarian option on the menu, and don't get all up in arms about it if there isn't. The restaurant is not making any money off of you, so why should they care? If you give them a heads up, though, you'd be surprised what wonders will appear before you.
If you don't know what something is on the menu, don't be afraid to ask.
When your waiter is telling you what the specials are, listen.
Many restaurants won't tell you what the specials cost when they tell you about them. You may ask about prices, but why should you? It pegs you in some minds as a miser. Instead, use common sense. If the special has fois gras, truffles or both involved, expect it to be expensive. A special in a fine dining establishment can mean a lot of things in a lot of price ranges.
Never ask if the seafood is fresh. It's tacky. And they'll probably lie to you anyway and given freezing technology nowadays, they'll get away with the lie. Besides, the definition of freshness now includes frozen. Who knew? Just about every fish, especially exotic blue water fish, has been frozen at some point. That sashimi grade tuna? It was frozen, unless you had it flown in from Yokohama the night before. Shrimp have usually been frozen. If you're in Kansas City or Denver, why the hell are you ordering seafood, anyway? If you're on the coast, you can expect freshness in certain coastal seafood. But don't assume it.
If the seafood does not taste fresh, you should not be eating in that restaurant.
If you order a filet mignon well done, and then complain that it is tough, expect the Chef to throw a pan at you. Ass. You cook beef to well done, it gets tough. End of story.
In my restaurant, when you sit down, that table is yours for as long as you want it. However, if you're still there after everyone else is gone, and the server is standing there with her thumb up her ass looking resentful because she's not with the cooks getting drunk, then get a clue. Settle up, tip out and get laid already.
If the maitre 'd, sommelier, wait staff and kitchen staff are snobby and haughty towards you from the get go for no reason at all, they could be having a bad night, but it's probably safe to say that they have an attitude problem and you shouldn't be eating there.
On the other hand, a truly fine establishment should be allowed a certain leeway in attitude, as long as it isn't malicious. Then the attitude is part of the fun and is a product of supreme self confidence.
If the restaurant has an open kitchen and you've had a good dining experience, then by all means go up and let the cooks know. It'll make all the difference. One of my fondest memories of cooking professionally was when the late Rosa Parks took the time to hobble up to the kitchen and thank all of us cooks for her wonderful meal. Cooks have a rough time of it sometimes. Stuff like that they remember.
Compliments to the Chef are always appreciated, but don't over do it. Chefs are egotistical maniacs whose heads swell easily.
A good Chef also appreciates constructive criticism presented in a diplomatic manner. See the above. Those heads will deflate pretty fast if you're not careful. But in the long term, it shows that you have an interest and you know what you're talking about.
Unless, of course, you don't know what you're talking about. In which case, you really should not bother bringing it up. It's easy to spot.
Never be a poser. Never go to a restaurant to be "seen." The people who work there can spot you a mile away and you will be the object of their derision for the rest of the night and on into the morning, embellishing the story to such an extent that you would be ashamed of sharing the same planet with them.
Know your limits. Never drink too much, especially if you have a tendency to be loud or obnoxious when doing so. You will be immediately pegged as a lightweight by the people serving you. Remember, they know from drinking.
Never tip the Chef. Buy him or her a drink or glass of wine instead.
Never bring your own wine. Just don't. And if you must, call ahead and ask about corkage. Corkage is usually based on the low end bottle on the list, but quite frankly, they can charge whatever the hell they want. In New York, it's not uncommon to see a corkage of $60 to $80. Do not bitch about corkage. It is the restaurant granting you the privilege of bringing in a bottle that they can't otherwise sell you. If you do bring your own bottle, and the dining party is large enough to justify it, then it is courteous to order another bottle from the list.
Yes, some of those bottles of wine are marked up 3 or 4 times. So? Ever think abut how much that breast of chicken you ordered for 28 bucks was marked up? Didn't think so.
If you have reason to, it does not hurt to say, "Thank you," or some variation thereof.
I'll leave it at that for the time being. Any of y'all that have been in the biz want to add something, knock yourselves out.
When you are seated at your table, and the waiter hands you a menu and takes your drink order, instead of breaking into non-stop conversation for the next half hour and giving resentful looks at the waiter as she tries to take your order time after time, try this.
Be quiet, sip your iced tea, read the menu, make your selection and order your damn meal.
Then start talking.
See? Everybody wins. Waiter gets the order and gives it to the kitchen. Kitchen does the meal, sends it out to the table. People at the table are babbling merrily away as the meal is placed before them. Everyone is happy.
I make my living purchasing ingredients, preparing and cooking them and selling the finished product to my customers. It's a simple procedure in concept. Hell, it's pretty simple in reality if you know what you're doing. Simple, however, can mean long hours in a hot, noisy and chaotic environment where professional cooking is concerned.
I have a tendency to pull a bubble up around myself at work in the kitchen in order to shut out the chaos around me. It allows me to zone in and concentrate at the job at hand. Food is my joy and I treat it with respect because I know that what is placed in front of the customer is an extension of myself.
I work clean and efficiently. My hands can seem like a blur of shimmering steel at times or slow and meticulous at other times. It's all the same to me; years of practice and repetition have given me a set of skills and a degree of confidence in the practice of my craft that allows me to go out to a table knowing that there is a high probability that the table has really enjoyed their meal.
I follow the rules as best as I can, which can be rather difficult as the rules constantly change and the enforcement of those rules is arbitrary at best and vindictive at worse. There is a nerve jangling tension between my craft and the bureaucracy that hangs over my head. Sometimes the health codes are an ass, but in the end I approach it from the point of view that common sense rules over everything. The health department gets pushed out into the background noise and I move on to the next task. I must be doing ok; I've managed not to kill anyone in 22 years of professional cooking.
Simple. Purchase quality ingredients and take good care of them. Prepare and cook those ingredients in a clean environment and in an efficient manner. Do that in such a way and with such skill that the customer won't bat an eye at shelling out 32 bucks for a pair of crab cakes.
But simple has been morphing to complicated with each passing year in this business. When I come out from inside my bubble, I'm assaulted by a cacophonous world that insists that it just can't be so simple.
Cooking is no longer cooking. It is a storm of competing philosophies roaring up against my craft, staggering me with it's force. Politics, environment, morality and just plain silliness scream in my face like a gale.
Buy local. Use organics. Fear the latest outbreak of salmonella or e.coli. Don't use corn based products, but - oh noes! - there's not enough corn now to feed the masses because we're turning it into ethanol. We're running out of food. How can you serve that to rich people when poor people are starving. Or getting fat. Which is it? Do you know what the carbon footprint is on that Australian wagyu beef raised by Greg Norman? Greg Norman raises beef? I thought he made wine. Hell, I thought he was a golfer.
That food is making you fat. Clogging your arteries. Raising your blood pressure. It's got salt. It's got refined sugar. It's making you hyper. Jeebus, don't give junior that candy bar! He'll be bouncing off the walls! Your meal is making you feel depressed. Guilty. Infantile. You're being a pig.
Alcohol is killing you. Alcohol can extend your life. Chef, I can't have brandy in my sauce because I'm in AA and even though the alcohol is cooked out it's the principle of it and all.
Animals are people too! But it's ok if they're not factory raised, injected with hormones, fed corn, fill the rivers with shit and are just generally miserable. You've got to let them be happy before you kill them. Y'know? Like pets you can eat. Nevermind. Meat is death.
Agribusiness is killing us by feeding the world. We're using too much fuel to transport the food, to manufacture it. It's evil because it's corporate. Better to return to our roots. Back to a time that was more simple; when we lived on the edge of starvation but everything was bucolic and unicorns roamed the earth under the benevolent eye of Gaia.
And into all this noise wades the chef. Sometimes - often, actually - chefs become the noise, embracing the culture and notoriety of their craft, taking it to absurd limits, becoming the gatekeepers of culinary reality. They are everywhere and nowhere. They impart wisdom and common sense on the one hand, and with the other, hack each other to bloody chunks in rude arenas of foolish faux-gladiatorial spectacle. The practitioners of a craft should not lose themselves in arrogance and rudeness. After all, it's not rocket science. By the same token, it's not mortal combat, either, though sometimes it feels that way.
It should be enough to just cook food and to pass on what should be a simple thing not fraught with fear and angst. It should be enough to enjoy the meal of your choosing without the background noise invading your senses. It should be enough to be content after that meal, smiling at the memory of taste. It should be enough for the experience of eating to be both private and social; a matter of taste in more ways than one. It should be enough, but it isn't, with increasing frequency. Arrogance eminates from the kitchen and rudeness from the floor set off by boorishness from the customer. Or the other way around. Take your pick.
Frankly, it gets harder to be simple with each passing year in this business. As I often say, "Goddammit! Why can't everyone just leave me the f^*k alone and let me cook!"
So, as I head out the door today towards another service, I'll leave you with this thought.
The Smiths - of course that's not their real name - are coming to dinner tonight. They are a wonderful, sweet elderly couple, and they come to the Inn every Saturday evening, usually without fail, at 7:30 on the dot. They always sit at table 5 near the window. She has sweet tea and he has unsweetened; he's diabetic. They are always gracious and appreciative of what I do for them. I always visit they're table and talk about just about everything under the sun. They tip well. Mrs. Smith always gives me a hug as they're leaving, and she always says, "Sweetie, you take care, hear? Have a good week."
It's the Smiths of the world that keep me doing what I do. Or the gay couple from DC last night, looking for a quick getaway from the city and buying the cheapest room and being utterly blown away by their dinner. Standing at their table sharing my craft and trading stories of our favorite DC haunts. The world is suspended at times like this, and the background noise becomes blessed silence as I commune with my diners and they with me.