Saturday, January 26, 2008

Adventures In Cooking: Beef Stew

So, for Christmas Joanna and I got a copy of the New England Soup Factory Cookbook. We've been a big fan of the restaurant (which has a location right down the street from her office) for a long time now, and were anxious to give some of the recipes a try at home.

So far we've made their Chili Con Carne (short version: it came out great, although you have to mess with the seasoning a bit to get the flavor they have in the store. It was also better after freezing and thawing out a few weeks later) and their Spicy Chicken and Rice Flu Chaser (short version: awesome, it tasted great, and while it wasn't as spicy as the version from the store I'm almost convinced that was better, as the store's version may be a little too spicy). Anyway, last week we decided to try out the Hearty and Rich Beef Stew. Here are a few notes on how the process went.

First note: It turns out we didn't have the required equipment. They want you to precook the meat in either a dutch oven or a braising pan, which you will later use to cook the actual stew. So, we ended up cooking the meal at Joanna's parents house. They did have most of the required equipment, and were going to be getting home from a vacation that night anyway so we were able to surprise them with a nice dinner when they showed up. We did vary things slightly by cooking the actual stew in some large casserole dishes instead of in the same pan we used for the meat though. It still worked.

Second note: It's annoyingly easy to end up with an overly smoky kitchen searing the meat. Make sure the olive oil doesn't burn, or you'll be venting the room out for a while like we did. I think it was a combination of the stove being hotter than the recipe intended and the cast iron pan we were using to brown the meat being less than entirely level, resulting in some parts of the pan with way less oil on it than intended.

Third note: The recipe (this holds true for all of the NESF recipes actually) makes a LOT of stew. We ran out of room in the first dish we were cooking it in and had to use two. Good thing Joanna's parents have a well stocked kitchen.

Fourth note: Next time we might go with the frozen onions instead of fresh ones. The fresh ones require substantial time spent peeling, and since we don't like onions overly much it seems like a bit of a waste. On the other hand you do cook everything with them when they're fresh, so they may add some useful flavor. The frozen variety get added in at the end, so you get less of that. We''ll see.

Anyway, other than those small issues everything worked out well. It tasted great, both the day of cooking and the next day reheated. We'll definitely make this again. On a sort of meta note, this is an awesome cookbook, and I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A Furry Visitor

Joanna's parents are out of town this week, so we're dogsitting.

It has become somewhat clear that our house is not well equipped for a dog. There are far too many things at mouth level, so Sierra keeps ending up chewing on things that really shouldn't be chewed on. It's not her fault though, I mean she is a dog, and she at least makes up for it by being really cute.

Particularly amusing is when she stands over the vents in the floor looking down into the heating system. She seems convinced that there's something interesting down there, and if she looks hard enough she'll find a way in. Similarly she is very very interested in finding a way up into the loft above our bedroom that doesn't involve the not-available-to-dogs spiral staircase. There isn't actually another way up, but that hasn't kept her from devoting some serious time to the problem, when she hasn't been occupied with sniffing every square inch of the house.