Beef and Bacon Stew with Veggies

As you all may or may not know, I live in the blustery city of Rochester, NY, which is located on the shivery shore of Lake Ontario, just a few hours’ drive from Toronto, ON. Honestly, it is considerably more like southern Canada than it is like NYC (though the city is what many of my friends back in the Hoosier state inevitably think of when they hear I live in New York). Even when the bi-polar effects of global climate change are accounted for, we basically get a good 7 or 8 months of soup-and-stew weather each year.

I don’t know what it is, but sometimes nothing seems quite as warming a nourishing as a big bowl of hearty stew.

And so it was that yesterday, when I was contemplating what I wanted to make a big batch of for the night’s dinner and several of my lunches throughout the week, I decided that stew was definitely the way to go.

At first, I was pretty convinced that I wanted to make venison stew. In fact, I’m still pretty sure that that’s something I want soon. However, on short notice, all the venison that I was able to locate was tenderloin meat. Now, if I’m having a steak, tenderloins just about rock my world. However, they are not optimal for a stew: the best stew meats are cuts which are higher in fat and collagen, which enable the meat to become even more tender when it is cooked for a long time over a low heat, rather than less tender the way a tenderloin would (it would just dry out and basically be a waste of money, effort, and a delicious steak).

And so it was that I went with a lovely, well-marbled grass-fed sirloin steak. Grass-fed meats tend to be gamier in flavor than those from grain-fed animals, so not only is it healthier, it also is closer to the flavor that I was hoping for. Still not venison, but damn, this stew turned out good regardless!!!

Regarding broth: homemade broth is always, always superior, and it is so easy to make. However, I don’t always have some on hand, and I didn’t have time to make any yesterday: I confess, I ended up buying some. So, here’s the thing: I was absolutely appalled by how many of the broth options in the store were made with variations of sugar!! I was eventually able to find one that didn’t have any scary or sugary ingredients, but the whole process simply reaffirmed to me that I have to make up a big batch of stock soon to have readily available in my freezer. Be careful of what you buy, and read the labels!

This stew turned out absolutely perfect. I couldn’t have been any happier with how tender the meat was or how balanced the flavors were. Of course, soups and stews can be infinitely variable, so feel free to substitute the vegetables and herbs that you have on hand for those called for in the recipe: in my opinion, it’s always better to be flexible than to waste food!

Beef and Bacon StewBeef and Bacon Stew with Veggies

  • 2 lbs. grass-fed organic sirloin steak, tenderized by pounding and cut into 1 1/2 inch chunks
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 oz. uncured, nitrate- and nitrite-free bacon
  • 2 tablespoons EV olive oil
  • 2 large yellow onions, coarsely chopped
  • 6 carrots, peeled and cut into 1 to 1 ½ inch-long pieces
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 t coconut flour
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 large sweet potato, washed and cut into ¾” cubes
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
  • ½ bunch Italian parsley
  • 1 bunch green kale, stems removed, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • One 14 ½ can fire roasted diced tomatoes
  • 3 cups beef or vegetable broth
  • 12-16 oz. fresh mushrooms (I used a mix of portobella and shiitake), cut into thin bite-sized slices
  1. Season the sirloin with sea salt and black pepper.
  2. In a large skillet, cook the bacon until it is crisp over medium-high heat. Allow the bacon to drain on a paper-towel lined plate. Crumble it when it is cool, and set aside in the refrigerator.
  3. Add the olive oil to the bacon drippings. Brown the sirloin steak in batches: place browned meat in a large slow cooker.
  4. When you are done browning the meat, sauté the onion in the skillet until it is fully translucent. Add the carrots and garlic and continue sautéing for a few more minutes. Then, sprinkle on the coconut flour and sauté for one more minute before transferring to the slow cooker.
  5. Add the bay leaves, sweet potato, thyme, parsley, kale, tomatoes, and broth to the slow cooker and stir gently to combine.
  6. Cover and cook on low for 4 or 5 hours.
  7. Add the mushrooms and bacon: stir to combine. Continue to cook on low until the steak is tender and fully cooked, about 2 more hours.
  8. Remove the bay leaves before serving. Enjoy!
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Winter Squash Bisque

Again, this is a simple recipe and I’m terribly busy nowadays, so here’s the recipe… An anecdote may be added later, or perhaps not.

·         2 T olive oil
·         1 large Vidalia or Mayan Sweet onion, finely chopped
·         1 c carrots, finely chopped
·         2 to 4 T fresh ginger root, minced
·         6 c winter squash (butternut, pumpkin, acorn, etc.), peeled and cut into large cubes
·         8 c vegetable broth
·         1 15.5-oz. can cannellini beans
·         1 t salt
·         ½ t cinnamon
·         1/8 t nutmeg
·         2 T soy sauce
·         1/3 c hazelnut butter (or you can substitute with almond, sunflower or peanut butter)
·         1 T maple syrup or honey
·         Pinch black pepper
Garnish (optional):
·         2 T hazelnuts, chopped and toasted
·         2 T chopped fresh chives or Italian parsley
1.       Heat the oil over medium heat in a large, thick-bottomed pan. Add the onions and sauté until they are translucent. Add the carrots and ginger and sauté for 10 more minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the squash and sauté 5 minutes longer.
2.       Add the broth, beans, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and soy sauce. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes or until the squash is tender.
3.       Remove the soup from the heat and stir in the nut butter, maple syrup and black pepper.
4.       Cool the soup to almost room temperature, then place in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth: you will have to do this in several batches. Season to taste. Garnish with toasted nuts and chopped parsley or chives.
Notes: 

  •  Depending on how sweet the squash is, more or less maple syrup may be added. You can also add a little juice and/or zest of lemon, orange or lime. 
  • Fresh sage, rosemary, and Italian parsley as well as other herbs can be added while the soup is coming to a boil for a slight undercurrent of flavor. 
  •  I strongly recommend having a few slices of a nice pumpernickel bread with a schmear of butter or Earth Balance spread on-hand to dunk in this soup. Delicious!

Vegan Black Bean Soup

There is a thin layer of snow on the tarp that covers the wood for our stove. The cats are sleeping, curled up in a shameless display of relaxation.  It is definitely a good night for a hot and hearty soup.

After a fairly lengthy debate with myself regarding what soup to make, I decided upon black bean soup.

Black beans have a rich, satisfying flavor that is simply perfect on a cold evening. They are an incredible source of folate (a B vitamin), dietary fiber, tryptophan (an amino acid), protein, magnesium, thiamin (another B vitamin), and phosphorus: they are also a very good source of iron. The fiber level in black beans is high enough that it has been shown in several studies to lower cholesterol levels and maintain healthy blood sugar levels. Black beans also contain molybdenum, which has been shown to help detoxify sulfites. If you combine them with brown rice (and yes, this recipe is great served over rice), they supply you with complete protein amino acids. A study published in Food Chemistry and Toxicology concluded that regular consumption of black beans results in “a clear reduction in pre-cancerous cells.” Regular consumption of legumes such as black beans has also been correlated with a significant (up to 82%) reduction in the risk of heart disease. And, as if that wasn’t enough, black beans have been proven to contain 10 times the number of antioxidants in a comparable amount of oranges. Pretty nifty, eh?

(I now have visions in my head of all the healthy, not-taking-any-shit, 90+ year-old trannies that will be running around the world in the years to come, changing the world for the better, thanks to recipes like this one!)

And yet… you may be aware that beans are well-known for making a certain bodily orifice considerably more vocal and, ummmmm, fragrant. However, there is an easy way to minimize the gaseous potential of these nutritionally heroic legumes. When you cook them yourself (as you will do when you follow this recipe) instead of using canned beans, you will notice that a white foam collects on the surface of the soup. Whenever you notice a good amount of this foam, simply skim it off and discard it. It’s just that simple: now you can enjoy all of the nutritional benefits while minimizing the odorous aftermath. Huzzah!

To soak the beans, either cover them in warm water and allow them to soak overnight, or else add them to boiling water, remove from heat, and allow to sit for 1-2 hours. Either way, make sure you use enough water to cover the beans with about 3 inches of water above the surface of the beans. In addition to shortening their cooking time, this will also help reduce the amount of gas that the beans will produce.

One more thing about the beans: do not– I repeat, do not— add the salt or the lime zest and juice until after the beans are fully cooked. If you add salt or acid to the broth before the beans are cooked, they will take longer to cook and the beans themselves will be tougher. One more time: the beans will never soften properly if you add salt or acid to the broth before they are fully cooked. Got it? Good.

Regarding the lime that is used in the soup (as opposed to the one that is used for garnish): zest it before you juice it. It’s just easier that way.

This recipe also uses roasted garlic and a roasted bell pepper. For a refresher on how to roast these two ingredients, please refer to my earlier post “Spinach, Mushroom, Kalamata and Roasted Pepper White Pizza,” http://transgustatory.blogspot.com/2010/10/spinach-mushroom-kalamata-and-roasted.html.

And that’s all I have to say about that. Here’s the recipe:

Vegan Black Bean Soup

  • 1 pound dried black beans, soaked
  • 2 T vegetable oil
  • 1 large Vidalia onion, chopped
  • 2 Anaheim chilies, diced
  • 2 Serrano chilies, minced
  • 4 carrots, peeled and sliced at least 1/4″ thick
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 roasted red bell pepper, chopped coarsely
  • 4 quarts (1 gallon) vegetable stock
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 1 t dried thyme
  • 1/2-1 t freshly ground pepper
  • 1 heaping t cumin
  • 1 heaping t ground coriander
  • 1 t dried oregano
  • zest of one lime
  • juice of one lime (the same lime)
  • 1 head roasted garlic
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • lime wedges (for serving)
  • fresh cilantro, chopped (for serving)
  • sour cream (or vegan substitute), optional
Skim this foam off of your soup, or you’ll be sorry!
  1.  While the beans are soaking, saute the onion until soft and translucent. Add the chilies and the carrots and saute 3-5 minutes longer, until the chilies are softened and the carrots are bright orange. Add the garlic and saute 2-3 minutes longer, until fragrant. Stir in the bell pepper and remove from heat. 
  2. Combine the beans and stock in a large, heavy-bottomed stockpot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and add the onion/chili/carrot mixture. Stir in the cumin, coriander, and oregano. 
  3. Simmer the soup, uncovered, approximately 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours, skimming the surface as necessary and discarding the foam (see above). The beans should be very soft, just beginning to fall apart. Add additional water if necessary. 
  4. Puree about half of the soup with the lime zest, lime juice, and roasted garlic cloves, then stir back into the remaining soup:  make sure that there are no bay leaves in the soup that you are pureeing!! Season to taste with salt and pepper. 
  5. Serve in bowls and garnish with lime wedges, cilantro, and sour cream (optional).

Vegan Chipotle Chili

I have been on a major comfort-food kick recently. I am guessing that this has something to do with a combination of factors, including (but not limited to): the colder weather, the shorter days, the general busy-ness of life, and the increasing frequency that I have been speaking out in the community.

Most of which are completely self-explanatory, except for perhaps the final one. That last factor is significant because, truth be told, I get nervous when speaking in front of a group of people. Don’t get me wrong: I’m good at public speaking. I’d just rather do my collocating, exhortating, educating and illuminating through writing. I like to take my time with the words and thoughts, allowing them to come together in their own time. If I can do this quietly while at home, next to the wood-burning stove and with my cat Fauxgerty on my lap, so much the better.

But far be it from me to turn down an opportunity to present my experiences and knowledge to the world, especially when there is a chance that my experiences and knowledge offer some potential for healing in the world, knock on wood. 

As a result, I have facilitated discussions on how to encourage and develop trans-inclusive language, how to make effective public service announcement videos, and how to come to terms with one’s gender identity, all within the last month. I have also been recently interviewed on multiple occasions by multiple media outlets on my experiences with bullying and surviving through struggles with depression (check out my previous “About Me” post to watch the video I made for the It Gets Better Project: http://transgustatory.blogspot.com/2010/10/it-gets-better-letter-to-myself-at-17.html).

I am, above all, grateful for these opportunities to encourage discussions on these very important topics: however, I also tend to get very stressed out and nervous during the preparation and delivery of any sort of public speaking situations.

And, as I have said before and said again, the energy we take into our bodies has a direct effect upon the energy we have to give to the world. So, given all the busy-ness and stress, when I have gotten cravings for homemade comfort foods, I haven’t been holding back. And when it comes to chilly evenings, sometimes nothing beats a steaming bowl of spicy chili.

This is another failure-proof recipe. Use whatever veggies you want, as long as you use the same total volume that is called for in the recipe (if you decide to use spinach, be sure to cook it before you measure it! It cooks down a LOT). Also, for the most satisfying chili, be sure to leave the veggies in nice, big, hearty chunks.

There is one ingredient that may strike you by surprise: unsweetened chocolate. As I mention in the list of ingredients, vegans should be very mindful to select a vegan brand. Any 100% cocoa baking chocolate should be vegan, and is actually what I recommend most strongly: when you start getting into the 95% and under chocolates, you have to be sure to check what that other percentage consists of!

The chocolate melts completely into the broth, giving the finished chili a mole-like quality that is simply divine. Simply trust, and enjoy.

(A quick note to new new readers, which will also serve as a disclaimer for the photo below: no, I am not a vegan, hence the appearance of real sour cream and cheese on my bowl of chili. However, in my efforts to prepare foods with mindfully-selected ingredients, a large percentage of the foods I make are vegetarian and/or vegan. I hope that these recipes can be enjoyable to you, without there being any offense taken at the recipes that do include dairy, egg, and meat products….)

Vegan Chipotle Chili

  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 c chopped onion (Spanish or Vidalia)
  • 1 c chopped carrots
  • 1 c chopped red bell pepper
  • 1 c green or yellow bell pepper
  • ½ of a head of garlic, chopped
  • Approx. ½ of a 7-oz. can of chipotles in adobo sauce (to taste), pulsed in a food processor until finely chopped (VEGANS: this is almost always vegan, but read the ingredients just in case! If you can’t find a brand that you are confident is vegan, just soak 2-3 dried chipotles in boiling water for 10-15 minutes, then dice.)
  • 1 T chili powder
  • 1 T ground cumin
  • 2 T cider vinegar
  • 10 whole black peppercorns, ground
  • ¼-1/2 t ground allspice, to taste
  • ¼-1/2 c ground cloves, to taste
  • 2 large bay leaves
  • 2 t salt, or to taste
  • 2 t ground cinnamon
  • Cayenne pepper to taste
  • One 28-oz. can diced tomatoes
  • Three 16-oz. cans beans (I recommend one each of black beans, pink beans, and cannellini beans)
  • 1-3 c tomato juice
  • 1 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped (VEGANS: be mindful of what brand you get to ascertain it is, in fact, vegan: this can be omitted if you have any doubts)
  • 1 avocado, in bite-sized pieces (optional)
  • coarsely chopped cilantro (optional)
  • Sour cream (or vegan substitute, optional)
  • Shredded cheddar cheese (or vegan substitute, optional)
  • Cooked spaghetti (optional)
  1. Heat the oil over medium heat in a large, heavy-bottomed soup pan. Add the onion and cook for about 5 minutes, until almost entirely translucent (but not quite). Add the carrots, bell peppers, and garlic. Cook, stirring, until the onions are golden, about 10 to 15 more minutes.
  2. Add the chipotles, chili powder, cumin, vinegar, pepper, allspice, cloves, bay leaves, salt, cinnamon, and cayenne. Cook for two to five minutes, until fragrant.
  3. Add the tomatoes, beans and 1 cup of the tomato juice. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and stir in the unsweetened chocolate. Simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally and adding tomato juice as needed, until the flavors are fully blended, AT LEAST 45 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasonings.
  4. Ladle into bowls (over cooked spaghetti, if you’d like: it’s yummy!) and serve with any combination of avocado, cilantro, sour cream and cheddar cheese that you desire.

Minestrone, with infinite optional variations (including vegan options)

I have been sick the last several days. It has been sad. I have been unable to cook for days, which pretty much breaks my heart. 😦

There are only two up-sides to this experience, as far as I can tell. The first is that the prescription cough syrup my doctor prescribed to me makes it feel as though the world is covered in a very fine fuzz: it also basically ascertains that this post will be shorter and less articulate than it normally would be. Please forgive any typos you  find…

The second is that I could feel the sickness coming on, and so I decided on Friday to make a big pot of soup. Sick or not, autumn is a great time of year for soups.

So, here’s the thing: this is a very forgiving soup. As long as you use the same volume of veggies and herbs that the recipe calls for, feel free to experiment. Some people like it with cabbage instead of squash, or eggplant instead of potatoes, marjoram instead of thyme, etc.etc. You can leave out the mushrooms and double the potatoes. Just be sure to make the chunks of veggies big enough that they don’t just fall apart.

Feel free to make this without either the bacon or pancetta, with an extra can of beans, and with vegetable broth for a sublime vegan dish. Or to double the amount of bacon or pancetta for a meatier soup experience. Or to go all fancy-schmancy and use uncured duck bacon, available at your friendly neighborhood Wegmans. Whatever you want. Have fun.

Also, stir the soup gently and lovingly, especially as it gets closer to being done. My dear friend Dana, who was head cook at the Zen Center when I lived there, used to warn me about my tendency to create a perfect dish, delicious and beautiful… until the last few minutes before serving time: if I felt hurried, or if I was adjusting the seasoning levels and getting frustrated if they weren’t coming together just how I wanted, then I would start stirring less and less gently, breaking the hearty chunks into pieces. This can happen especially easily when you are making a dish with a high water content, such as a soup or a stew. On one memorable occasion, I was supposed to be making a thick, chunky groundnut stew, but I ended up with a monochromatic vat of texture-less puree.

Dana would look at me when this happens and say, “When you learn how to be gentler with your food, you will know how to be gentler on yourself. Be patient. It will come together.”

Minestrone

  • 2-3 T olive oil
  • 4 oz. bacon or pancetta (OPTIONAL)
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 large leek, sliced (check out my post on Chicken Divan for info on preparing leeks)
  • 3 carrots, peeled and chopped in thick slices
  • 2 celery ribs,chopped coarsely
  • 6 oz. wild mushrooms, very coarsely chopped
  • 2 potatoes, washed and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 2 squash or 1 eggplant
  • 6 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2    14-oz. cans diced tomatoes
  • 8-10 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth, heated to a simmer
  • 1-2 t fresh thyme leaves, coarsely chopped
  • 2-3 t fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/4 c (packed) Italian parsley leaves, chopped
  • 3 T pesto sauce 
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1    15.5 oz. can cannellini beans
  • 4 oz. orzo, gemelli, or other small-sized pasta
  1. Heat the oil in a large stock pot (the capacity should be at least 6.5L) over medium-high heat. Stir in the onion and the leek: reduce heat to medium and cook for 5-10 minutes until the onion is completely translucent.
  2. Add the carrots and celery: cook, stirring occasionally, 3-4 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook 2-3 minutes. Add the potatoes, squash and garlic and cook until the vegetables are tender (but not quite fully cooked), about 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and stir gently to combine: heat until bubbly.
  3. Pour in the hot broth and stir well (start off with only 8 c of the broth: you can add more later if it’s needed). Add the herbs and pesto:  season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer (partly covered) 30 minutes.
  4. Add the beans and bring the mixture back to a simmer. Add the pasta: continue simmering 10-20 minutes until the pasta is al dente.
  5. If desired, sprinkle each serving with grated asiago, romano, or parmesan and serve with hot buttered bread.