TheCrockery

A Catholic perspective on the world and all the good things therein, especially books and food. Literature cum chocolate is the order of the day at The Crockery.

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Location: A Collegetown, Undisclosed Location, United States

No longer a graduate student, Teresa is now a professional know-it-all.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Non-instant food: Creamy Veal Stew

I am writing this post while my supper simmers on the stove. The recipe I'm making tonight was originally titled "Quick and Easy Veal Stew," but I have changed the recipe's title for two reasons. First, the most noticeable thing about this stew is that it has a creamy base. More importantly, however, I question whether the stew in question is really "quick."

I'm not contesting the "easy" part. Thus far, the stew has been fairly simple to prepare. Chop this, cut that, brown this, stir that. If I had a rating system based on ease of preparation, wherein one star signified "easy as pie" and five stars signified "I can't make this, and neither can you, Julia Child," I'd probably give this recipe about 2 stars.

However, I cannot say that the stew seems at all quick. It takes, in fact, an hour to cook. That's cooking time, not preparation time, and it doesn' t count the five-ten minutes it takes to brown the veal. Fortunately some of the prep can be done during the initial 40 minute cooking stage (see below). Now, in the world of home-cooked stews, an hour is probably nothing. Crockpot fans will now doubt point out that my favored crockery meals take as much as 4-10 times that long. And you would be right, O Crockpotters. [News flash! This following half of this entry has been completed after the eating of the stew, which I must say lived up to its expectations. I can cheerfully recommend this recipe. Now back to our irregularly scheduled blogging . . . .] Although one hour of cook time is not a long time if compared to the time it takes to cook a roast or a turkey, I am from a generation used to instant mac and cheese, microwave meals and frozen entrees. One hour of cooking, plus prep, is not "quick" by my usual standards. Many of my meals take only half an hour to prepare and cook, and in general, that's how I tend to prefer things. This recipe is one which gave me pause- perhaps because I had time to pause.

What I want to argue here -and I'm well aware that it's not a new argument- is that there is something problematic with a culture that privileges instant food prep to such an extent that someone like myself thinks an hour is too long. Food is one of the good things of the earth. From an evolutionary perspective, we can account for the good tastes associated with food by linking them to benefits they provide for us (thus sugar and fat, both valuable in times when calories are in short supply, add much to flavor). From a Christian perspective, though, the pleasures of tastes are also gifts, not merely incentives to keep us alive. We have the pangs of hunger to encourage us to eat enough to live on: the pleasure of good food does something more.

If you're a reader who doesn't like to take much time for cooking complicated meals, stop for a minute and think about the fact that feasting was so important to Biblical cultures that it was used as a metaphor for Heaven. Food carries so much fundamental meaning that it is used for the basis of a sacrament. Shouldn't this indicate that food is worth taking a little time? Taking more time to prepare a good meal is a sign of respect, both to those whom you are feeding, and to the Creator of the food itself. (Incidentally, the former of these two points is made in passing in the romantic comedy Kate and Leopold. Though there isn't much else that intelligent about the film, I thought it deserved credit for pointing out that the amount of time that goes into gourmet food preparation is part of the meaning of the meal.)

I'm not saying that there is something immoral about serving your family frozen entrees. I understand that there is a limited amount of time in a day, and cooking an extravagant meal may preclude other more worthy activities, such as earning the money which buys the food in the first place, or taking well-earned naps. I do suggest, though, that we (we Americans, we Christians, we 21st-century dwellers, what have you) would do well if we occasionally take the time to show our respect for the good things of creation by making meals that may cost a little more time and effort than does that frozen lasagna.

Now, all pontificating aside (at last!) here's my variation of the Creamy Veal Stew.

Ingredients:

Approx. 1 pound of veal stew meat. Get it on sale if you can; veal is expensive. Note that you may need to cut this up into smaller pieces, as the "stew meat" carried in the grocery stew may actually be in chunks too large for easy eating. Look at the pieces of meat: are they small enough to easily fit on a spoon? If not, cut 'em up into bite-size bits. No one wants to eat stew with a knife. (Except maybe pirates. Arrr! )

1-2 tablespoons olive oil or other vegetable oils.

1/2 cup chopped yellow or red onion. (You can use whatever color you want, really; I just don't recommend the white because it'll make you cry.)

1-2 cloves of garlic, chopped finely, or 1 teaspoon minced garlic.

1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup. You can use a Healthy Choice-type soup, but the lower sodium may result in a different flavor.

3/4 cup of water.

1 bay leaf.

3/4 cup julienne carrots. The original recipe calls for "matchstick carrots." I recommend taking a normal carrot or two and shredding them or peeling and then slicing very narrowly. Look at this picture to see what I mean.

1 1/2 cups sliced celery, cut in 1/2 inch slices.

1 can of cut green beans (not Italian cut or French cut, just plain). Make sure you drain them before adding!

1 teaspoon salt.

1/2 teaspoon pepper.

1/2 teaspoon leaf rosemary. (Optional. The bay and garlic may be flavorful enough for you. Rosemary is a subtle flavor that goes well with veal.)

Rice. (See below).

To cook this stew, you need either a very large skillet with a lid, or a small skillet and a good-size stewpot with a lid. Either way, you start off by heating the oil in a skillet to medium-hot. Brown the veal, turning quickly so that all sides are lightly browned. Then add the garlic and onion and keep stirring until the meat is golden brown. If you are using a separate stewpot, fill that pot with the water and mushroom soup, then pour the contents of your skillet into the pot. Otherwise, add the soup and water to the skillet. Either way, go ahead and drop the bay leaf in and bring the stew to a simmer. Let it simmer for 40 minutes- enjoy the smell! You don't have to keep the lid on while it simmers at this point, but go ahead and do it anyway: it'll keep the pot warm and, in theory, save on your utility bill.

While the stew is simmering, start water boiling for brown rice.
Given the content of this entry, do I need to mention that I recommend not using instant rice? Go ahead and take the 45 minutes needed to make regular brown rice. It's worth it, and you have plenty of time. Follow the directions on the rice package. Make enough for each person to have at least 1 cup. (My husband and I ate a bit more than that, but we didn't have a salad or dessert with the meal, and I for one did not eat much bread.) You'll have to be the judge of how much rice you'll need, but it's better to have too much than too little. I definitely do recommend making more than the 2 cups the original recipe calls for.

When the stew has simmered for 40 minutes, add the carrots, celery, salt, pepper, and rosemary. Bring pot back to a simmer. Put the lid on and simmer for an additional 20 minutes. If you are heating up a loaf of bread, this is a good time to put it in the oven; likewise, if you want to serve a salad, this is your chance to prepare it. Personally, I think this stew doesn't demand bread, but it won't hurt as long as you avoid the horrible flaky "Pane Paisano" bread we had tonight. Get a nice loaf of artisan french bread.

The stew is done when the vegetables are tender, which may not take the full 20 minutes. If you can find it, remove the bay leaf before you serve the stew. (Bay leaves are not for eating, just for flavoring!) Serve the stew by putting the hot cooked rice into pasta bowls or large soup bowls, then ladeling a goodly portion of stew over the rice. (Okay, I admit, the rice doesn't have to be brown rice, and the world won't end if it's instant.) The stew should not need additional
salt and pepper.

This recipe serves 2-3 people, depending on how much everyone eats. If you add a salad, bread, and/or fruit or dessert, I imagine there'd be enough for 4.

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