Guinness Lamb Stew with Wild Rice

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I know you all think I’m weird because I don’t like soup.  But spooning hot liquid into my mouth (and spilling it down my face, because that’s how I roll) is not my idea of a good time.  I do, however, have a fondness for stew.  Especially stew with beer in it, because beer is a great tenderizer of things.  And because I like beer.

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I’ve had this stewing lamb in my freezer for a while and I decided it was probably time I do something about it.

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So I took it out, put it on a plate, and patted it dry with a paper towel.

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Then, in a bowl, I took a small scoop of flour, added salt and pepper, and gave it a stir.

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Into that I hucked the lamb cubes, and gave them a stir as well.

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I heated up my trusty cast iron skillet with a few tablespoons olive oil inside.  Then, shaking the excess flour off the lamb, I plopped it in the skillet to brown.

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While that was going on I cut up some vegetables: carrots, an onion, and a package of mushrooms.

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I didn’t have any potatoes, that classic stew thickener, so I decided to use rice.  This wild rice blend from Trader Joe’s is excellent.

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I took the browned lamb cubes out and put them on a plate to rest a few minutes.

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Then I added a bit more oil to the pan and chucked in the vegetables, giving the onions a wee bit of a head start in the cooking.

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Once they’ve softened you can add the rest.

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Now you can chuck the meat back in.  Then I plopped in some parsley, Newfoundland savoury, rosemary, and thyme.  If I’d had sage I would have used that, just to make up the lyrics to that “Scarborough Fair” song.

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I also added a few more tablespoons flour.

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At this point I ran out of space in my pan so I transferred the contents of the skillet to a larger saucepan.  I used a bit of beef broth to deglaze the pan a bit and poured that into the pot, along with the rest of the beef broth (about 3 cups).

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Then came two cans of Guinness stout (minus a sip or two, for quality control of course).

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Then the rice.

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Then I brought it to a simmer, lowered the heat, and let that gently bubble away, stirring every so often, for about an hour.

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Excellent. Even more so the next day.

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Make Your Own Yogurt — The Easy Way

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I may have mentioned to you before that my new sister-in-law, Atlas, has the coolest mom, who may very well be my new hero.  This woman runs her own business, runs her family, runs the kitchen … essentially, she’s in charge of everything, but she does it in such a way that you don’t even notice.  And always with a big smile on her face.  Anyway, she gave me a recipe for making my own yogurt that doesn’t sound intimidating at all.

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I remember my mother trying to make yogurt with that weird little machine and the starter and all that stuff, and how I hated what came out of it.  It had a weird skin on it and was super runny.  But this stuff?  Not the same.  So much easier.  So much better.   In fact, my own mother has adopted the process and there’s always a huge tub of fresh yogurt in her fridge as well.  The recipe I’m going to give you below has been halved, because there are only two of us in our little house.  However, now that I’ve made it and I see how quickly we use it, I will probably make a full batch next time!

So what you need is a large pot, a spoon, 2L homogenized milk, 500mL half-and-half (“blend cream” is what they call it here), and about 1/2 cup plain yogurt (with no gelatin) as your starter.

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In the pot, stir your milks together and bring them to a boil.

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When they boil, they will foam the heck up, so stir vigorously for a minute before removing the pot from the heat.  Mine may have boiled over.  Twice.  I may have shouted some choice four-letter words.  Several times.  Note to self: next time, use a bigger pot.

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Leave the milk to cool to a nice warmer-than-room temperature (Atlas’s mom says somewhere between 40°C and 50°C). She says to stick your finger in it to feel if it’s warm. I decided, in the interests of science, to use a thermometer to confirm.  For your edification, 114°F is about 46°C.

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Mmm, milk skin … you can just get rid of that.

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Then add your 1/2 cup yogurt and give that a stir.

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Put the lid on the pot (or pour it in a container with a lid), wrap the whole thing in a blanket, and put it somewhere warm for 6-8 hours (or overnight).  Atlas’s mom puts it in the turned-off oven with the oven light on, but our oven doesn’t have a light, so I put it in our living room on top of the Pie’s computer.  It seemed to do the trick.

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And you can easily turn this into strained yogurt (“Greek” yogurt) by straining it for a few hours through a cheesecloth.  After 8 hours on top of the computer, I lined a colander with cheesecloth and dumped the yogurt in.  I let it sit over another bowl overnight in the fridge to drain off the whey and this thick loveliness is what came out of it.

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Goes great in soups and stews, in dips like tzatziki, on breakfast cereals, with a little honey and some strawberries … you name it.

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Tofu Feature Month: Mapo Tofu

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I FINALLY found silken tofu in St. John’s.  I’ve been looking for it for what feels like forever.  In celebration of my recent discovery, and the Pie’s insistence that he needs to slim down in time for Kristopf’s wedding next July, I have decided to honour the long-standing request of my friend Danger K and start finding new ways to cook with tofu.  You might know Danger K: she recently got married (on our wedding anniversary, no less), and she and her husband planned a big fancy wedding by begging, bartering, and borrowing everything they could.  Their expenses out of pocket?  About two hundred bucks.  You can read about the process on their blog, Project Priceless.  So they’re a little bit famous back in Ottawa.  And I can say that I knew her when.  We went to high school together.  In fact, she had a huge crush on one of my brothers (DON’T DENY IT DANGER K I HAVE PROOF).  Not that I’m going to hold that against her or anything.

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So.  Cooking with tofu.

My previous experiences cooking with tofu (not in eating it, just cooking it) focused mainly on tossing cubes of it into Broccofu, Peanut Butter Spaghetti, or the occasional stir-fry.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but’s not using tofu in all its myriad manifestations.  This fall, the Pie and I aim to change our ways, and this recipe is the beginning.  September will be a sort of Tofu Feature Month.

Mapo doufu (mapo tofu) is a traditional spicy dish from the Sichuan province of China and involves sautéing tofu pieces in a suspension of a paste made of beans and chilis.  What I found particularly interesting about this dish is that I normally think of tofu as a protein-replacement for meat, but this recipe calls for a combination of tofu AND beef or pork.  Very unique (for me, at least).

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A note on substitutions:  this recipe calls for chili bean paste, a spicy gooey mixture of fermented soy beans and chilis (I’m thinking like a super-hot miso).  I didn’t have such a thing, so I used black bean paste instead with the chilis, which is why my sauce isn’t that signature reddish colour.  The recipe also requires the use of rice wine, which, not being a wine-drinker, I also don’t have, so we used rice wine vinegar instead.  Finally, the recipe I used made little sense and required some serious moderation, so I haven’t linked you to it.   I wasn’t a huge fan.

Start by making up enough rice for two people.

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Drain and pat dry one block soft tofu (I used extra-firm silken tofu because I wanted to see what it was like).  Cut it into 1″ cubes.

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Slice up 4-5 green onions and save about 1/4 of the green tips (sliced) for garnish.

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In a skillet or wok over medium heat, heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil and sauté 4oz ground beef or pork until cooked.  Drain and set aside.

In the same pan, heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil.  Add 1 teaspoon minced ginger, the green onion that isn’t what you saved for garnish, 2 whole dried chilis, and 1 teaspoon ground peppercorns (Sichuan if you’ve got ’em).  Cook that for about a minute.

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Add the ground meat back in, as well as 3 tablespoons chili bean paste, 2 teaspoons minced garlic, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 1 tablespoon rice wine, and 2 teaspoons brown sugar.  Cook that for another minute or so, just so everything can get acquainted.

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Add in the cubed tofu as well as 1/4 cup vegetable stock (or beef, or pork) and let that simmer for 15 minutes.   Stir occasionally, but don’t let the tofu fall apart.

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When it’s nearing done, dissolve 1 tablespoon corn starch in a little bit of water and pour that in as well.  Stir gently until it thickens.

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Serve over rice and garnish with the remaining green onions.  SPICY!

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