Hearty Beef Stew

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Happy New Year, everyone! 2016 has, so far, been a great year for me—four days down, 361 to go. I’m still on winter break, and have spent my entire morning today reading cookbooks on the couch with Kitty while rain pitter-patters outside our windows. Other plans for the day include making bread and chicken stock, and baking a few cookies. Don’t be too jealous though, as I will soon return to days full of frantically making and printing images for class. I just planted some narcissus bulbs yesterday, and can’t help creeping up to the window every half an hour to hopefully sneak glances at the still-bare, freshly planted pots as they receive a welcome gust of droplets, as if the bulbs will suddenly spring into flowers just because a miracle occurred and rain came to LA.

Jonji and I had a busy couple of weeks after school ended. The day he finished his final exam, we drove down to San Diego to meet several of his good friends for a little weekend trip. We got there quite late, seeing as we left right smack in the middle of the traffic hour from Hell, and met everyone in Downtown San Diego. We found ourselves in an overcrowded strip full of Vegas-like lights, scantily clad women (it was surprisingly freezing, which made the outfits even more impractical than usual), and clouds of cigarette smoke. We found a place to eat because Jonji and I were starving, where I attempted to force down sub-par french fries while we happily caught up with Spencer, Jake, Naveen, Brandon, and Dan. We trekked back to Jake’s Grandma’s house a little while later, and after more talking and joking late into the night, we all went to bed.

The next day we met up with a couple more Davis alums, Gina and Eric, for breakfast burritos by the beach. On a walk down to the end of the pier, Jake learned to never again leave an unattended burrito, after a seagull impressively gulped half of his down in a single swallow. We spent most of the rest of the day on a rocky, cloud-covered beach, listening to the rocks purr as the waves drew down the slope. Everyone was thoroughly entertained with throwing rocks at the water and each other for a good few hours, proving the progess of civilization. After a pizza dinner, we all saw the latest Star Wars movie (which is fantastic). We had brunch the following day, during which we managed to “solve racism” over french toast and eggs Benedict. We spent the rest of the day walking around Balboa Park, and then left for LA.

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The drive home to Santa Cruz was uneventful, except for the copious amounts of rain. We made it in good time, however, and almost immediately sat down to dinner with my mom and Emma. The following morning I work up with a sore throat, which greatly limited my options throughout the day. Jonji and I had yet to even begin our Christmas shopping, so I made an effort to journey downtown with him and Mom. My energy did not last long, and so I spent the next couple of days couch-ridden. My family, plus Matt and Jonji, made the trek into Felton for dinner at the Cremer House, which has a lovely atmosphere and an excellent pork belly dish. We ordered too much food but thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, nonetheless.

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Jonji and I spent Christmas Eve with the Barbers at his brother Jason’s house. We played a heated game of Pictionary, which Jonji and I managed to win after several bouts of “all-play” and an excellent drawing by Jonji—“Fire brush. Fire brush! BRUSH FIRE!” His family does a secret santa gift exchange rather than buying presents for everyone, which is a great idea. I ended up with a cake transporter from Marni, which I actually really needed. The rest of the evening was spent close to the fire, and ended with a test of my Harry Potter knowledge as Jerry read cards from the HP Trivia game. Jonji and I spent the night in Pat and Taz’s newly remodeled shed and then pretended to be asleep in the morning as Oakes came in to wake us up with an excited, whispered announcement: “Jonji! Hana! Santa came and left presents!” We opened presents with the three of them, plus Jerry and Debbie. Oakes was, of course, adorable in his amazement and excitement. He also became quite confused after everyone kept saying that Santa got him presents, after which he would turn quizzically to me to thank me (he called me “Sana” for the first three years of his life, which sounds extremely close to an unenunciated “Santa.”) I scored big time with three cookbooks, a nerdy book, socks, a spade, and a watering can, all of which I had really wanted.

I left at 9 AM to go to my own family’s Christmas morning extravaganza, and opened the door to the aroma of fresh scones and coffee. After everyone had a cup of coffee in hand, we sat in the living room to open gifts. Pippin was the most excited of all, stuffing his nose into every tissue-covered object and playing with his new toys. This year’s gifts did not disappoint—I got a new wooden spoon, cozy flannel sheets, a 35 mm camera lens, a letterpress print I had been eyeing for a long time, My Paris Kitchen by David Lebovitz, and more. After presents we had a lovely brunch of scones and candied beet mimosas. We then gathered our energy and, after a quick “game” of Spikeball, drove up the coast for a walk along the cliffs of Three Mile. We picked Jonji up on the way home and then got to work on dinner, which included sweet potato gratin, Brussels sprouts, and prime rib. I covered dessert, this year being both apple and pumpkin pie (the apple pie was my best one ever), which we enjoyed over Sequence at the end of the night.

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The rest of our “vacation” went by quickly. Kitty fit right in, and claimed a spot on the couch as her own. Mom made a spectacular lamb meatball dish from her new book, Nopi (a gift from Jonji and I), which I enjoyed alongside Shannon, who was in town at the time. Mom also made her Watermelon Radish and Butter Crackers, which are as tasty as they are beautiful. Jonji, Pat, Taz and I enjoyed several games of King of Tokyo throughout the week, a game introduced to us by Todd and which we had bought for Pat and Taz for Christmas (apparently we gave great gifts this year). Jonji and I also attended the third annual Dawnika dinner at Danielle and Leif’s which was spectacular, as always, filled with great food and great people. Cara even managed to wrangle a few crabs for the feast, but the star of the dinner was, to me (and Bailey especially), the fettucine. My chocolate chip cookies got the highest compliment a baker could ask for, being called the “best ever” (and not by Mom)!

I went on a couple of walks with Dad, Mom, and Pip in the forest, which made me very eager to move back to Northern California. Cristy spent a few days in town, which coincided with our last days in Santa Cruz. We saw Star Wars for the second time with members of both families, and it may have been even better that time around. Jonji and I spent New Year’s Eve at Pat and Taz’s, where I read at least ten books for Oakes before bedtime, and then the four of us played King of Tokyo until 11 PM. We actually made it until midnight and then immediately left to go to bed. Oakes spent some time at my parent’s house with us over the weekend, dressed almost the entire time as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle (but, as he sincerely told us as he was taking it off before he left, he’s “not really a Mutant Ninja Turtle.”).

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We finally left on Saturday and made it home in one piece (and no cat pee this time). Jonji and I celebrated our four-year anniversary on Sunday, which we spent relaxing and drinking plenty of coffee. We even got a couple of donuts at Blue Star on Abbot Kinney—a rare treat. Yesterday, Monday, was Jonji’s first day back at school, and life is now pretty much back to normal. Besides the fact that I’m still on break, but I can live with that. I am going to take this opportunity to expand my cooking knowledge and get organized for school. But most of the time, you will probably find me on the couch with Kitty, drinking coffee and reading cookbooks.

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This stew was adapted from a Suzanne Goin recipe in Sunday Suppers at Luqcues, but I’ve switched up several things. The end result is a rich, hearty, and satisfying stew for the colder months of the year. Feel free to buy pre-cut stew meat, but I just buy a big chunk of chuck roast and cut it myself because it’s cheaper. I was so excited to eat this stew the other night that I forgot to take a good photo of it, which means that it’s really good.

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Hearty Beef Stew
serves 4

2 lbs chuck roast or stew meat
3 garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
1 tsp thyme leaves
1 tsp freshly cracked pepper
zest from 1/3 of an orange
1.5 tsp salt
olive oil

3 carrots, thickly diced
1 onion, thickly diced
1 fennel bulb (or celery), thickly diced
1 bay leaf
4 bushy thyme sprigs
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup crushed tomatoes (from a can)
1/8 cup balsamic vinegar
1.5 cups red wine
4 cups chicken stock

2 cups small pasta, like penne
3 tsp butter
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1 bunch cleaned spinach*

The night before cooking (or, in a pinch, at least a couple hours before cooking), cut the chuck roast into bite sized chunks, removing the fat as you go. Place the meat in a large bowl and toss with the garlic cloves, thyme leaves, black pepper, and orange zest (peel the zest, don’t grate it). Cover and refrigerate over night.

Take the meat out half an hour before cooking, and season evenly with the 1.5 tsp salt.

Preheat the oven to 325°F.

Heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a large dutch oven over medium-high heat. Place chunks of meat in an even layer in the bottom of the pan—don’t overcrowd! (It will take at least two or three batches to cook all of the meat.) Reserve the garlic and zest. Brown meat on both sides, a few minutes per side, then remove and place in a bowl to cool. Repeat until all meat is browned.

Turn the heat down to medium and add another glug of olive oil. Place carrots, onion, fennel, reserved garlic and zest, bay leaf, and thyme sprigs into the pot and stir. Add 1/2 tsp salt and cook until lightly browned, about five minutes. Pour in tomatoes and stir frequently for about one minute. Try to smash the tomatoes up a bit as you stir. Add the balsamic vinegar and stir for another minute. Pour in the red wine and bring mixture to a boil, then cook for about five minutes. Add the chicken broth and let it simmer for another five minutes. Turn the heat off and put the meat back into the pot. Cover with tin foil and a tight-fitting lid. Bake in the oven for 2.5–3 hours.

Forty minutes before the meat is done, start boiling water for the pasta. Cook your pasta according to the instructions, then drain and set aside. Once the meat is out of the oven, let it rest for ten minutes. Remove a cup or two of the stew liquid and pour into a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the pasta to the saucepan, along with the 3 tbsp butter. Cook for a couple minutes, then add the parsley and spinach. Cook, stirring often, until the spinach has wilted. Serve the pasta over (or under) the beef stew. Enjoy!

*If the spinach is large, cut the leaves in half or into thirds.

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