Tuesday, April 8, 2014

What I’m Drinking

In preparation for our trip to France, I’m attempting to educate myself about French wine. Most casual wine consumers are intimidated by French wine – the unfamiliar language, the difficult pronunciation, and the AOC (appellation d’origine consolee) system can be confusing. Prices tend to be higher as well, and who wants to drop $40-50 on a wine that’s just okay?

Here’s a secret someone taught me: when in doubt, go with a wine imported by Kermit Lynch. I have yet to be disappointed by a Kermit Lynch import. Also, 2009 was a great year for most European wines, so this was a double whammy – a 2009 Bordeaux from the sub-appellation of Lussac St-Emilion, located on the right bank of the Garonne and Dardogne rivers, imported by Kermit Lynch. This particular wine is 95% Merlot grapes and 5% Cabernet Franc. For around $35, you could drink it now (like we did with a lengthy decanting period) or cellar it for a while. I got some hints of balsamic vinegar and blackberry.

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Normally Rieslings are wines that I’ll only drink when there’s nothing else available. It seems like most mass-produced Rieslings are cloyingly sweet with no acidity or structure. German Rieslings from the Mosel region have changed my mind. Now I find myself craving Riesling! It doesn’t hurt that we’ve had some nice patio weather lately, and at 8-9% alcohol, these wines don’t leave you feeling loopy.

My favorite so far is this 2012 Dr. Loosen Blue Slate Riesling Kabinett. It exhibts flavors of white peach, some floral characteristics, and a minerality that I’d never tasted before in a Riesling. It’s great as a porch-sipper or with spicy food, and I paid about $23 at our local wine store.

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For around $10, you can pick up this Leonard Kreusch Riestling Kabinett, also from the Mosel Riesling. It wasn’t as multi-dimensional or complex as the Dr. Loosen wine, but it still satisfied.

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On the beer front, Founders Brewing Company, out of Grand Rapids, Michigan, recently came to Middle Tennessee! I’ve been picking up Founders beers out of state for some time now, rationing their All Day IPA (a session IPA) and Dirty Old Bastard (a Scotch ale) until I could make another trip through Kentucky. No longer! And in celebration of their distribution here, there were several events last week that included a tapping of a keg of their Kentucky Breakfast Stout, an imperial stout brewed with coffee and chocolate and aged in bourbon barrels. Lately it seems like bourbon barreling has jumped the shark, but KBS gets it right. Smooth, rich, but without tasting overly boozy, even at 11.2%, it’s no wonder that Beer Advocate rates it a 100.

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It’s pretty limited, so if you see it where you are, get it while you can!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Fear of Falling

TakeAway250

“Take Away The Stone” by John August Swanson

“…Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’” – John 11:43-44

“We are constantly being called to come out of the tomb. It is the voice of one who loves us that calls us forth and this is what can give us the strength and courage to come forth and live again.” – John August Swanson

I have a love/hate relationship with my bike. I love the wind whipping around me, the feeling of freedom, and the pure joy of being self-propelled. I love the rush of adrenaline that comes from careening down a hill, legs still burning from the climb to the top. Cycling makes me feel alive. But it also scares me. The all-too-common headlines featuring cyclists hit by cars and injured or killed, my own lack of strength and balance, and my fear of falling or crashing temper those things I love about biking.

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A few weeks ago, a friend contacted me to see if I wanted to ride with her on a startlingly nice Friday afternoon. My bike hadn’t seen the outdoors since September, and I hesitated. This would also be my first time out with clipless pedals, my feet locked onto the pedals. Clipless pedals have the benefit of increased power transfer, but I had also been warned that I would fall in the process of learning how to clip in and clip out. I didn’t want to fall off my bike. I didn’t want to get hurt. I was terrified and contemplated refusing the invitation. I gave serious thought to refusing to feel alive with a friend on a beautiful sunny day because I was afraid of falling.

It would be a shame for fear to trump life and joy, so I strapped on my shoes, took my bike off the trainer, and went outside for a few laps around my condominium complex to try it out. The first lap went swimmingly; I easily clipped in, did a lap, and then clipped one foot out as I stopped back at my front door. Then I did it again. As I rounded the corner, the UPS truck was in front of the door. I got distracted, and as I pulled under the carpark and slowed to a stop, I suddenly realized I’d forgotten to clip out. Right in front of the UPS deliveryman, I went down on my left side.

The shock and slight humiliation were worse than the actual impact. The deliveryman asked if I was okay, and I told him I was fine, while chuckling to myself. Then I floundered around for a bit until I was able to unclip and stand myself and my bike up. So that was what it felt like to fall – not pleasant but not that bad either. I would fall one more time that day, this time on my left side, while trying to stop at a busy intersection. Again, I laughed at myself while trying to reassure on-lookers that I was okay, that it looked worse than it really was.

Fear of falling, or really fear of the idea of falling, nearly kept me from experiencing the joy and camaraderie of cycling with a friend on a beautiful early spring day. How much more do my everyday fears keep me from really living, keep me from taking risks, keep me locked in the tomb when Jesus is calling, “Come out and live”? The fear of failure, of making a mistake and being found imperfect, of criticism, of losing someone’s respect, these are the cloths that keep me bound and entombed even though Jesus has already rolled away the stone.

Like falling off my bike, the fear of something is often worse than the thing itself. It’s no accident that the Bible is repeatedly telling us, “Do not be afraid.” Do not be afraid. God is calling us to live abundantly.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Boeuf Bourguignonne

Nothing says party-time like opening a bottle of wine at 8 am! Unless you’re making boeuf bourguignonne.

Joe and I are in the middle of planning a trip to France, including some time in Burgundy, and as I read up on food and wine, I realized that I had never tried my hand at many classical French dishes. With a beautiful chuck roast that we’d received from our meat CSA, I knew it was destined for boeuf bourguignonne.

To keep it simple and classic, I settled on the recipe from Joy of Cooking. Although I planned on 24 hours of marinating time, a change in schedule meant it was closer to 48 hours. Since the marinade isn’t highly acidic, I figured it was fine, and the meat turned out wonderfully, not at all mushy. I’m not a fan of pearl onions, so I skipped those and added extra carrots. And I served some new potatoes roasted with Herbes de Provence on the side.

It takes some time to build all of those layers of flavor, but it is completely worth it. The smell of boeuf bourguignonne simmering in the kitchen let me imagine that I was already in France. I never imagined that beef stew could taste so rich and have such depth of flavor.

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First things first, pop the cork on a bottle of Pinot Noir or Beaujolais, something on the light and fruity side. This was a nicer bottle of wine than I would’ve normally used, but we have a lot of wine and it seemed silly to buy something just to cook with. I finished off the rest of the bottle that night.

In a large bowl, combine 2-3 lbs of boneless beef stew meat, cut into 2-inch cubes, 2 cups dry red wine, 1/4 cup olive oil, 1 chopped onion, 1-2 chopped carrots, 1 minced garlic clove, a bay leaf, some chopped parsley and thyme, some cracked black peppercorns, and a 1/2 tsp of salt. Stir to combine and coat the meat. It’ll look something like this:

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Yum. Let it marinate for 1-24 (or 48) hours, turning the meat occasionally. The longer the better.

Drain the beef, reserving the marinade, and pat dry. Strain the marinade and reserve the liquid and the vegetables separately.

Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add and brown 4 ounces of diced bacon.

Remove the bacon, leaving the fat (about 2 tbsp) in the pan. Add the beef in batches and brown on all sides, being careful not to overcrowd the pot. Browning wine-soaked beef is a holy act, so take your time and enjoy the aroma. Remove with a slotted spoon. When all the beef is browned, add the reserved vegetables and cook until lightly browned, about 5 minutes.

Stir in 2 tbsp all-purpose flour, and cook, stirring, until beginning to brown. Then add the marinade, followed by the beef and the bacon, to the pot. At this point, add in the pearl onions or peas, if you’d like.

Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and cook, covered, until the meat is fork-tender, 60-75 minutes. Then add 2 cups mushrooms, quartered (about 8 oz). Cover and cook until tender, about 20 minutes.

Skim the fat from the surface, add some parsley, salt, and pepper to taste, and then you’re good to go.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Beef & Butternut Squash Cocoa Chili

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve made this particular chili this season. I believe it’s at least three, and I usually double the recipe so I have plenty of leftovers. It makes a great cold-weather breakfast if you’re on the non-breakfast-food-for-breakfast train since the cocoa and the cinnamon add sweetness without adding any sugar.

Like most chili recipes, this one is flexible. I routinely throw in an extra bell pepper, and if you’re spice-averse, you can reduce the heat by not using as much chili powder, chipotle chili powder, and spiced paprika. Or you can throw in some avocado to help temper the heat. The original recipe calls for ground bison, which is a great option if you can find it and are willing to spend a little more. It’s also slow-cooker friendly. If you opt for that route, I recommend cooking the onion, garlic, bell pepper, and beef first.

Of my top three least-favorite cooking tasks, peeling and cubing butternut squash falls right behind peeling and deveining shrimp. So when I discovered the 2 lb container of pre-peeled and cubed butternut squash at Costco, I was elated. The chunks are still pretty large, so I halve them for this chili, but they are a huge timesaver.

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Beef and Butternut Squash Cocoa Chili
Yields 4 servings
Adapted from Practical Paleo

Ingredients

  • 1 lb ground beef or bison
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 bell pepper, diced
  • 1 lb butternut squash, peeled and cubed
  • 1 tbsp smoked paprika
  • 2 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tbsp chipotle powder
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp 100% cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 tbsp salt
  • 1 tbsp black pepper
  • 2 14.5 oz cans of diced tomatoes

Preparation

Sauté onions and bell pepper in your choice of cooking fat in a large pot or Dutch oven until softened and onions are translucent. Crumble beef into the pot, breaking it up with a wooden spoon, cooking until no longer pink.

Combine spices in a separate bowl and mix. Add garlic, cooking until fragrant, then add the remaining spices. Stir until beef mixture is coated and spices are fragrant before adding the tomatoes.

Add in butternut squash and bring to a boil. Simmer for an hour or until butternut squash is tender.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Joining a Meat CSA

It seems like everyone these days is concerned about their meat consumption. From antibiotic resistance being linked to skyrocketing antibiotic use within the meat industry to the deplorable conditions for animals in factory farms and the effect of giant meat conglomerates on small farmers, there is not a lot to commend about the meat industry. So many people seem to be opting out entirely and forgoing meat consumption. But rather than opting out of the money stream that supports industrially produced meat, why not vote with your dollars and support locally produced meat grown by family farmers?

Late last summer, I heard about Peaceful Pastures Meat CSA (community supported agriculture) program. After Joe and I had completed our Whole30 and I had experienced the benefits of basing my diet around meat, vegetables, and healthy fats, that looked like something we would be interested in. Once a month, we receive 22-25 lbs of locally and humanely raised, pastured chicken, beef, pork, goat, and lamb. It sounds like a lot, but for our diet, we have no problem using most of it by the end of the month. And while the upfront cost is hefty, it averaged out to about $5 per pound, much less than buying the same quality of meat at the Farmer’s Market or a Whole Foods-type of retailer. Because we rarely have to supplement with other meat, I’ve also seen our grocery store bills drop.

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An average CSA pick-up includes a couple of whole chickens, several pounds of ground beef, ground pork or lamb, bone-in thick cut pork chops, chuck roast, beef or lamb stew meat, ham slices, and occasionally Polish sausage, bratwurst, a slab of ribs, and bacon. I’ve had to branch out from my normal cooking repertoire, especially with the pork chops, but during the winter, it was so easy to throw in some stew meat, vegetables, and seasoning into the crockpot and have a tasty, comforting stew for dinner.

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Most importantly, it tastes delicious. In comparison with grain-fed meat, grass-fed pastured meat is lower in fat and contains more Omega 3s as well as other antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. However, if you do not regularly cook at home, a meat CSA subscription might not be for you, but I would strongly suggest sourcing the majority of your meat from either a local farm or a trusted butcher.

If you are in the Nashville/Middle Tennessee area, Peaceful Pastures is currently taking sign-ups for May-October, and you can save $40 if you sign up before March 15th. I’m not receiving any compensation or benefits from writing this post. It’s something I strongly believe in supporting and want to publicize. Besides, Colin would want it that way.