The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Dark and grey in Chicago

December 7th is usually the day when the sun sets earliest in the Northern Hemisphere. In Chicago this evening, that meant 16:20, a few minutes ago. We get back to 16:30 on New Year's Eve and 17:00 not until January 27th. We didn't see the sun today at all, though.

So in the dark gloaming, I will (a) try to get my 10,000 steps for the day, and (b) try to find some fresh-ish basil for dinner.

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.

Some good Covid-19 news

The UK announced this morning that the National Health can start distributing a vaccine developed by Pfizer/BioNTech next week:

Britain's medicines regulator, the MHRA, says the jab, which offers up to 95% protection against Covid-19 illness, is safe to be rolled out.

Elderly people in care homes and care home staff have been placed top of the priority list, followed by over-80s and health and care staff.

But because hospitals already have the facilities to store the vaccine at -70C, as required, the very first vaccinations are likely to take place there - for care home staff, NHS staff and patients - so none of the vaccine is wasted.

The Pfizer/BioNTech jab is the fastest vaccine to go from concept to reality, taking only 10 months to follow the same steps that normally span 10 years.

The UK has already ordered 40 million doses of the jab - enough to vaccinate 20 million people.

The doses will be rolled out as quickly as they can be made by Pfizer in Belgium, Mr Hancock said, with the first load next week and then "several millions" throughout December.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the first people in Scotland will be immunised on Tuesday.

Here in the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have shortened the quarantine period recommended for people exposed to the virus but asymptomatic:

The first alternative is to end quarantine after 10 days if no symptoms are reported, Dr. Henry Walke, the CDC’s Covid-19 incident manager, said on a call with reporters. The second option is to end quarantine after seven days if an individual tests negative and also reports no symptoms.

The decision is based on new research and modeling data, Walke said.

Still, Walke noted that a 14-day quarantine is still the best way to reduce the risk of spreading Covid-19.

The 14-day quarantine is based on the coronavirus's incubation period - the length of time it can take for a person to become infected after exposure to the virus.

We can see light at the end of this tunnel. Already, the Apollo Chorus have started discussing when we can resume in-person rehearsals and performances, in terms of city-wide infection rates, negative Covid tests, and vaccinations. We're going to get through this all right.

Welcome to Winter 2020

Winter began in the northern hemisphere this morning, which explains the gray cold enveloping Chicago. Nah, I kid: Chicago usually has a gray, cold envelope around it, just today it's official.

And while I ponder, weak and weary, why the weather is so dreary, I've got these to read:

Finally, if you haven't already heard our first virtual concert, go listen to it. We worked hard, and we gave an excellent performance.

The world keeps spinning

Even though Parker has consumed my thoughts since the election, there are a few other things going on in the world:

And as I sit in my home office trying to write software, it's 17°C and sunny outside. I may have to go for a walk.