Sunday, February 21, 2010

Box Monkey Beef Stew

2 lbs. Beef roast or beef stew meat
1/2 cup flour
6 Tablespoons olive oil (butter or bacon fat may be substituted)
1 bottle red wine
8 cloves garlic
1 yellow onion
3 potatoes
3 carrots
3 celery stems
3/4 cup barley
4 bay leaves
ground black pepper
pinch cayenne pepper
pinch paprika

1. Cut meat into approx. 1 inch chunks. Do *not* cut the fat off the meat!
2. Pour flour into a bowl. Put in meat chunks. Toss to coat meat chunks in flour.
3. Pour 4 Tablespoons olive oil into a heavy skillet, burner on high
4. Add flour-coated meat to saucepan. Brown on all sides, approx. 2 minutes.
5. Extract meat, oil, and pan residue to a large stockpot.
6. Cover meat in the stockpot with red wine. Turn burner on low to low-medium. The stew should steadily, quietly simmer.
7. Add Bay leaves
8. Crush garlic cloves with the side of a chef's knife - remove woody roots and paper. Mince the garlic.
9. Slice onion into chunks, 3/4 inch.
10. Pour remaining 2 Tablespoons oil into skillit, heat on high.
11. Add garlic and onions to skillet. Sautee until wilted, approx. 1 minute.
12. Add garlic and onions to stew. Deglaze skillet with red wine into stew.
13. Cook approx 30 minutes.
14. Cut potatoes into 1 inch chunks. Retain the skins! They have good minerals we'll want.
15. Add potatoes to stew.
16. Add herbs and spices to stew. Adjust quantities to taste. Cayenne and paprika should be half quantity or less of the green herbs.
17. Cook about 30 minutes longer.
18. Peel and chop carrots into rounds, about 1/4 inch thick. Add to stew.
19. Cook 30 minutes.
20. Add barley to stew. Stir thoroughly.
21. Cook 30 minutes.
22. Cut celery into 1/4 inch crescents. Add to stew.
23. Cook for 15 minutes.
24. Ladle into bowls and serve hot. I like to serve it with hot artisan bread and butter.

Be sure to monitor the fluid levels throughout the process. Make sure that the meat and vegetables are covered and floating until the barley is added. After barley is added, stew should begin to thicken; if it becomes too thick, add additional water. Optionally, add wine or beef stock instead.

Cooking times are variable.

Lo these many years ago, I was employed as a box monkey for a major parcel transportation corporation. During the Christmas rush, I managed to pick up a position assisting one of the delivery drivers. My workday was fairly grueling - 5 hours in the warehouse unloading semi-trailers, and then another seven outside in winter weather running packages around. I'd go hope, collapse, sleep for a long while, and then get up and do it again.

One night, the company asked one of its worker health consultants to come in and look into our ergonomic working methods. Fairly forward thinking for corporate America, the company thought they would spend less money on hiring safety and health consultants than they would on worker's compensation claims. Thankfully, I passed, but the health worker remarked on my paleness and generally fatigued appearance. She recommended I see an occupational health physician on the company's dime.

I duly did. I was in pretty decent health, if fatigued and somewhat stressed. I was good to go back to work. Except for one thing: "When did you eat last?"
"Ummm... Tuesday. What day is it today?"

He recommended I eat more to sustain my strength. That weekend, I made my first batch of box monkey stew.

Be aware, this recipe makes a large amount of stew - it's supposed to. Share it with your neighbors, and keep any leftovers. What I do is ladle it into ziplock sandwich bags, and then freeze them; each makes a decent single serving meal, easy to transport and heat in a microwave.

We cook the stew slowly - it needs to be stirred occasionally, but its possible to mostly ignore it and chop vegetables, cook dessert, or clean the kitchen during the cooking process. The slow, steady heat for hours breaks the collagen in the meat down, allowing the meat to become fork tender. The same heat tends to melt the fat, allowing it to permeate the gravy; this is in contradiction to low-fat cooking and 'fat is bad for you' diets. We do this because we actually want to keep the calories in the gravy to provide energy. At the same time, fats are primary contributor to feeling full; we tend to eat less of foods with a decent fat content, because we feel fuller sooner.

The same slow cooking allows the starches in the potatoes and carrots to break down into sugars. Those sugars give us nice quick energy. As the sugar burns out, the carbohydrates in the barley, carrots and potatoes give us nice medium-term energy; and the starches and fats allow us access to long term energy. Meanwhile, the protein either becomes burned as energy, or helps to sustain and repair muscle, connective tissue, and other tissues in a hard-working body.

This recipe is unapologetically *not* low-fat, low-calorie, or low-carbohydrate. One decent serving is intended to provide a lot of food value. There's no salt added in the original recipie, although it's a common option - the stew ought to have reasonable sodium levels.

It is, however, designed to allow someone to eat a fairly quick, filling meal and keep it all day. Good for someone who has to work hard or long hours with sketchy mealtimes.

Like Christmas box monkeys. IBT local 631, represent.

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