The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Got the beef stew 98% right

...but the 2% doesn't really hurt it.

I'm proud enough about my stew today, and full on three bowls of it, that I wanted to jot down the recipe. If you hate metric measurements, it hardly matters if the proportions are about right. Even then, it's a stew, not an angel food cake; it's resilient.

Ingredients

The rendered fat from the bacon I cooked for breakfast
1 kg stew beef, cubed
500 g small yellow and red potatoes, cubed
400 g pre-chopped mirepoix from Trader Joe's
250 g whole white mushrooms, rinsed
100 g sliced mushrooms I needed to use up, rinsed
250 g sliced carrots I needed to use up
850 mL (one carton) beef bone broth
250 mL full-bodied wine
50 g (or so) pancetta cubes I needed to use up
3 small shallots, halved
1 medium garlic head, peeled (yielded about 15 cloves), larger cloves sliced in half
Herbs & spices: bay leaves, parley, sage, rosemary, thyme, plus smaller amounts of chipotle and ancho powder
50 mL of all-purpose flour
Less salt than you'd think (see below)

The ingredients exclusive of the wine cost about $20. I used a $15 bottle of wine, knowing that only one glass of it would go into the stew, but you could get good results with 3-buck-Chuck. Just make sure the wine has some heft. The Bordeaux I used was 80% merlot, 15% cabernet Franc, 5% Malbec, and it may not have had enough body.

Procedure

I poured most of the bacon fat into my Instant Pot and set it to sauté, then re-heated the bacon fat that remained on my skillet. Half of the beef went into the Pot to brown along with the pancetta, the rest went on the skillet. Once the beef was seared and had mopped up the bacon fat, it all went into the Pot and I set the Pot to slow cook, normal temperature.

Everything else except the flour now went into the Pot. It turned out I was a little low on liquid so I added about 500 mL of water—which turned out to be about 400 mL more than I needed.

Then it stewed for 7½ hours, though I did stir and taste it about once an hour.

With 30 minutes to go, I took about 100 mL of the broth out and mixed it with the flour in a measuring cup, then dumped the slurry into the Pot and stirred it up. I also cancelled the slow cook timer, then re-started it on High for 30 minutes.

Note that I put in way, way less salt than I would ever serve to other people. Salt is tricky; you need enough so that you can anticipate the finished product, but you don't want to over-salt, which is far too easy to do accidentally. So if anyone reading this gets a container to take home, keep your salt handy.

Improvements

I think I used too much rosemary, as the needles got in the way of enjoying the final stew. As I mentioned above, I also didn't need to add a full 500 mL of water; 100 mL would have done fine, or perhaps no extra water at all. The mushrooms and potatoes have so much volume to them that all the bone broth and wine didn't cover them completely, prompting me to add liquid. But I should have remembered that the alliums and mushrooms would release liquid during cooking, more than making up the deficit. Less initial liquid would have given me a thicker stew.

I also might consider sautéing the onions, shallots, and garlic before adding the seared beef. It's a tough call with slow cooking. The caramelization can add a lot to the flavor, but they'll be in the pot for 8 hours, so it might be overkill.

And I'll pick a nit about my wine choice. The Bordeaux had a lot of body and paired perfectly with the finished product. But next time, I might use a full-bodied cabernet or even a shiraz. Either that or dial the chipotle and ancho down to almost nothing.

But wow, this was one of my best efforts yet. Soo tasty, so much umami, so much depth of flavor, and so much chunky beefy and potato-y goodness, I ate three bowls of it. And now I have about 5 liters of it in Ball jars and sealed plastic containers on my counter.

I also got to drink the rest of the wine, which paired quite well with the stew.

Sure Happy It's Thursday

So many things to read at lunchtime today:

Finally, a year ago today I made some predictions about what could happen in the 2020 election. Turns out, "Option C" is true, and we're still waiting to see on a few others.

Sure Happy It's Tuesday

After finishing a sprint review, it's nice to reset for a few minutes. So after working through lunch I have some time to catch up on these news stories:

Finally, mathematician and humorist Tom Lehrer has waived most of the copyright protections around his music and lyrics, effectively putting the corpus of his work into the public domain. He says: "Most of the music written by Tom Lehrer will be added gradually later with further disclaimers." People have until the end of 2024 to download the materials he has released.

Friday evening news roundup

It could be worse. It might yet be:

And hey, we're only 95½ days away from Joe Biden's inauguration.

VP debate reactions

Generally, reactions to last night's debate follow three patterns: Vice President Mike Pence mansplained to Senator Kamala Harris; Harris told the truth significantly more than Pence did; and the fly won. (My favorite reaction, from an unknown Twitter user: "If that fly laid eggs in Pence's hair, he'd better carry them to term.") Other reactions:

  • The Washington Post, NBC, and the BBC fact-checked the most egregious distortions, most of which came from Pence.
  • James Fallows believes "both candidates needed to convince voters they possess the right temperament for the job. Only one pulled it off."

In other news:

  • Following the president's positive Covid-19 test, and Pence's and the president's repeated interruptions and talking over the moderators, the Commission on Presidential Debates has decided the October 15th presidential debate will be virtual. The crybaby-in-chief got angry: "It’s ridiculous, and then they cut you off whenever they want." ("Speaking to reporters in Delaware, Biden said it was still possible [the president] would show up because 'he changes his mind every second.'")
  • Alex Shephard bemoans "the final message of a dying campaign:" "With his poll numbers collapsing, [the president] keeps adopting dumber and more destructive political messages."
  • The New Yorker dives into "the secret history of Kimberly Guilfoyle's departure from Fox."
  • For total Daily Parker bait, National Geographic explores the Russian military map collection at Indiana University, with 4,000 secret Russian maps drawn between 1883 and 1947, many captured from wartime intelligence services.
  • As today is the 149th anniversary of the Chicago Fire, the Chicago History Today blog looked at the history of the house at 2121 N. Hudson Ave., the only wood-frame building to survive in the burn zone.
  • Speaking of wood fires in Chicago, the Chicago Tribune has yet another ranking of pizzas. Happy lunchtime.

Finally, the FBI arrested six men who plotted to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat. They didn't get close, but still.

Travel day!

Today I left the state of Illinois for the first time since January 19th, 259 days ago. It's the longest I've gone without leaving Illinois since I was 3½ years old. And because I drove, I'm continuing to add days to my longest interval without flying. I hope I can fly somewhere before too long.

It wasn't a theoretical crossing of state lines like back in June; today I went into Wisconsin at full speed around 11:30 and left around 5:30, having seen living family, paid respects to dead family, and collected a bag of cheese curds at Mars Cheese Castle.

Regular blogging returns tomorrow.

How long is this going to take?

I'm sitting at my desk waiting for my work laptop to finish updating, a process now in its 24th minute, with "Working on updates 25%" on the screen for the past 5. Very frustrating; I have things to do today; and if I'd known how long it would take (I'm looking at you, help desk), I would have started the update when I left this evening.

So, all right, I'll read a few things:

My laptop has rebooted three times now and appears to have gotten up to 83% complete. I may in fact get something done today.

Phase 4? Uh...yay?

Illinois officially moved into Phase 4 of Covid-19 recovery this week, just as two states retreated from it abruptly:

As cases rise around the United States, Florida reported more than 8,900 new coronavirus cases on Friday, after counting more than 10,000 new cases over the previous two days, pushing its total past 120,000.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, has said that Florida has the capacity to deal with more sick people for now. Across the state, long lines have returned at testing sites that just a few weeks ago were seeing limited demand. On Thursday, Mr. DeSantis said that he did not intend to move to the next phase of reopening.

Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas went a step further than Florida, ordering all bars to close on Friday and telling restaurants to reduce operating capacity. It was an abrupt reversal of his previous policy as the nation’s second largest state also grapples with surging coronavirus cases weeks after reopening.

(It's worth noting that in every state that has rising numbers except for California, they have Republican governors.)

Still, though restaurants in Illinois can re-open at 25% capacity, many chefs have refused:

At Elizabeth restaurant, for example, owner Iliana Regan is sticking to take-out only. “If you’ve been here, you know how tiny we are; we only seat 25 people,” Regan said in an email to customers. “So, running at 25% capacity is not economically viable for us. More importantly, though, we don’t feel it’s safe for us to reopen for indoor service. We feel that the risk to our staff and guests is far too great to resume service right now.”

Similarly, Scott Worsham, who with Sari Zernich Worsham owns Bar Biscay and mfk restaurants, is in no hurry to open his dining rooms.

“We are waiting it out because it’s just not safe enough for our employees,” he said. “You saw what happened at Longman & Eagle this last week.” (Longman & Eagle abruptly ended outdoor dining service after one employee tested positive for COVID-19.) “For us to open, at such low numbers, then to have to close again for two weeks, would be a death blow for us.”

The Atlantic looks at Covid-19 safety in detail, and says maybe they have a point:

Ideally, individual people shouldn’t have to determine whether the restrictions in their area are safe and sensible. But here we are: Many states’ reopening plans don’t even meet the standards laid out in guidelines from the White House.

This means that in many cases, you’ll have to try to make an informed decision about what’s safest for you and others. [Linsey Marr, a civil- and environmental-engineering professor at Virginia Tech] laid out the basic calculus: “It depends on your own health, your age, preexisting conditions, how much risk you’re willing to tolerate, and the benefit that the activity could provide to you.” Another crucial variable: how much risk you might be introducing for everyone else around you.

So...basically...let's wait until we have a vaccine before going out again, yes?

Meanwhile, the only president we have until next January has cut funding for Covid-19 research and asked the Supreme Court to overturn the ACA, all this week.

A busy day

Last weekend's tsunami continues to ripple:

Just another quiet week in 2020...

Shared streets in Chicago

The city has started adding traffic controls to side streets in an effort to encourage outdoor recreation and social distancing:

Earlier this week, officials said at least six streets are expected to be closed to through traffic and opened to the public. The move comes after weeks of transportation advocates asking the city to open up streets to pedestrians, giving them more room to walk, jog and ride bikes so they can safely social distance while outside during the pandemic.

Advocates have long called for streets to be opened to pedestrians during the pandemic. With the lakefront and popular trails like The 606 closed to prevent overcrowding, people have said they need more room to get outside without having to worry about crowds or packed sidewalks.

Other major cities, including New York and Los Angeles, created open streets weeks ago.

One of the streets announced as the first to switch runs right past my block. Unfortunately for my side of the neighborhood, our alderman threw cold water on the city's announcement in an email to constituents he sent last night:

Unfortunately, a web blog errantly [sic] and preemptively posted this information before the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) had finalized their plans.  The portion of Leland in the 46th Ward, from Clark to Sheridan, was never going to be a part of this plan because Leland already has, or will have, significant construction taking place this summer. So, according to CDOT, this portion of Leland is unsafe for promoting a shared streets concept.

For reference, these projects include: MCI utility installation, resurfacing of the 1200 block of Leland and the 4700 block of Malden, water main installation on Racine that will cross Leland, and the ongoing building construction at Sheridan and Leland for the new Sarah's Circle facility. It is because of all of these conflicts that CDOT is not supporting Leland as a shared street at this time.

Safe open space is critically important for everybody's mental and physical health during these Stay at Home orders, and that is why we continue to advocate for the Lakefront trails to reopen. This is a plea my office hears daily from residents, and I agree that the trails should open in a phased and planned way to provide safe, and equitable social distancing for recreation and transportation throughout the city.

In other words, yes, Leland will become a shared street—right up to the border of my ward and not actually in my ward. Nice to hear he's lobbying the mayor to reopen the lakefront, though Monty and Rose might want to keep it closed.

Also yesterday, the mayor announced that the city will close a few streets to traffic to encourage restaurants to expand outdoor dining. The Tribune said, however, "it was unclear when the program would start."