Recently, I’ve been thinking about living a simpler life. The idea started when I visited Mickey Trescott’s new home in the Willamette Valley over the summer, but it really solidified when we moved all of our things from Maryland to Florida last month – over 14,000 lbs worth of belongings. As we started unpacking boxes, I couldn’t help but think that I just didn’t need so much stuff. The worst part about it? We’re still unpacking.
So for the holidays this year, we’re trying to not buy any objects for each other. Instead, we’re gifting experiences. So this week’s recipe is going to be a little different from your usual Tuesday post; I’m going to walk you through how to make gifts to hand out to people that aren’t stuff. A couple years back I made a few gallons of my barbecue sauce and gave it away as gifts. While I had a lot of fun with that idea, I wanted to do something more immediate and useful – wouldn’t it be better to just gift someone a fully-cooked delicious meal? And thus my idea of Stew for You (or Two) was born. The concept is simple: make a large batch of delicious stew, vacuum-seal it, and give it away as gifts.
I’m particularly in love with my Beef à la Mode recipe from earlier this year, yet I’m sure that its 3.5-hour cook time deters readers from making it often enough. Instead, imagine reheating a vacuum-sealed homemade meal directly in gently simmering water, offering an unbeatable experience in just 20-30 minutes. If you don’t have a vacuum sealer, a resealable mylar bag or Wrap ‘n Boil bag would work well, or even something like this IndieGoGo project would be great.
So read on for the stew recipe and sealing instructions, plus other gift suggestions. Let’s make Stew for You (or Two) go viral.
I’d like to note that my friends at Arrowhead Beef supplied the chuck roast for this recipe, which came in some monster 6-lb cuts. They were totally delicious, just as good as the short ribs of theirs I used for this recipe earlier this year.
Stew for You (or Two)
5-6 lb chuck roast or short ribs
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp each kosher salt and black pepper
8oz bacon, cut into slices
1 medium onion, diced
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 cup red wine
1 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp dried tarragon
2 bay leaves
2 cups beef stock, more if needed
2 carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
1 celery root, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
2 white sweet potatoes (waxy white potatoes okay), about 2 lbs, peeled and cut into bite-sized chunks
1 cup frozen peas
1 small handful fresh parsley, chopped
1. Pat the beef dry with paper towels, then rub all over with the ground nutmeg. Sprinkle both sides generously with kosher salt and black pepper, about 1/2 tsp each.
2. Warm a dutch oven on med/low heat, then add the bacon. Sauté, lowering the heat as needed, until crispy and the fat has rendered out, about 8 minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove the bacon; there should be about 1 tbsp of liquid fat left in the dutch oven (if there’s less, add a tbsp of lard or coconut oil). Adjust the heat to medium/high and allow to come to temperature, about 1 minute.
3. Preheat your oven to 300F. Gently blot any accumulated liquid from the beef with a paper towel, then add it to the dutch oven. Brown on both sides until a deep brown crust forms, about 3 minutes per side, then remove the beef and set aside. Reduce heat to medium and add the diced onion, sautéing until soft and translucent, about 4 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and garlic, and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the vinegar and wine, and deglaze. Return the bacon to the pot, then add the beef, thyme, tarragon, and the bay leaves. Pour enough stock to cover 3/4 of the beef, then bring to a simmer.
4. Cover the dutch oven and put it in the oven. Braise until almost tender, about 2 hours. Add the carrots, celery root, and sweet potatoes and cook until they are just tender, another 20-30 minutes.
5. Gently remove the beef and set aside to rest, covering loosely with tin foil. Strain the braising liquid and reserve the bacon and vegetables; set aside. Return the liquid to the dutch oven and simmer on med/high heat until reduced by half, about 6 minutes. As it reduces, slice the beef. Add the beef, vegetables, peas, and parsley; gently stir to combine, then remove from heat.
6. Allow the stew to cool, about 15 minutes, then transfer thew stew into four vacuum seal bags and seal the bags. Alternatively, transfer to mylar or other food and temperature-safe resealable bags. Label the bags as you see fit, then run the bags under cool water to fully cool, then pat dry and freeze and gift to your loved ones. To reheat, submerge the frozen bag in gently simmering water, cover and simmer (don’t boil!) until the food is warmed through, 20-30 minutes.
** The trick to ending up with a well-textured stew is to only cook the ingredients until they’re just ready – hence removing the stew from the heat the moment you add the frozen peas. This will take some diligent attention, but the final product with definitely worth it.
** Here is how I vacuum-seal a stew (which can be problematic because of its liquid): I fill the bag, leaving about 2-3″ of space at the top, then place the open end into the sealer (varies by model). My trick is to make sure that the stew is located well below the sealer (usually hanging off the side of my counter) so that the liquid has to fight gravity to travel upwards. Some liquid will get sucked into the suction tray, but otherwise it’ll seal like a dream.
Don’t have the time to make stew? Easy, give a repurposed gift card to Whole Foods from Raise.com, which will allow your friends and family to splurge on some quality ingredients they may not normally purchase for themselves (note that you can also sell unwanted gift cards so they don’t go to waste).
Looking for something more personal? Consider hiring a freelance artist through Fiverr.com to draw caricatures of your loved ones.
How about something with a Paleo twist, that helps to restore our planet along the way? I’m a big fan of these holiday gift packages from EPIC bar, which have a ton of Paleo-friendly items and all proceeds go to The Savory Institute, a non-profit working to restore our grasslands through ideal livestock management.
Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t suggest that my cookbook would also be an excellent way to enjoy and share some delicious food. The softcover version is currently on sale for the lowest price I’ve seen it to date, about $22, and the Kindle and iTunes versions are on sale for $1.99 and $.99 respectively through November 25, 2014.
Any other holiday gift ideas that don’t invole stuff? Leave them in the comments below.