Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Beef Stew and Annie Lennox

For the past, oh, really long time, my cooking strategy has been to purchase mostly healthy, mostly yummy frozen food from Trader Joe’s and heat it up in the microwave for dinner. This plan succeeds on several levels: It allows me to get dinner quickly when I’m tired, hungry, and/or need to get back out the door to some event. It also allows me to get in and out of the grocery store quickly. And it doesn’t take much brain power, which is typically at low levels after working all day. This strategy has failed recently, though, because I’ve become really tired of eating the same stuff all the time. It’s good, balanced, but I’m craving variety.

Therefore, I’ve decided to start actually cooking once in a while. I know the basics; ex-boyfriends and former roommates have been good for something (Mom, too). And it’ll give me a good, creative, rewarding project to take my mind off the job search.

So last night I printed out this recipe from Men’s Fitness. I thought it would be good because it gives me a chance to use the 5-quart slow cooker I got from my father a long time ago. It’s the best gift he every gave me; didn’t teach me to shave, gave me a slow cooker. Go figure!

For a soundtrack I put on the earphones and fired up my Zune to Annie Lennox’s recently released collection of greatest solo hits (plus 2 new tracks) that I found out about over at Joe.My.God. and recently downloaded. Zune’s Marketplace has gotten cheaper—most albums are $10—and easier; I’m finding most of what I’m looking for now. And being able to download music right away without having to go out searching, then housing the CD somewhere, is so nice. Did I mention I’m not much of a shopper?

This album is of the awsome! I had a great time browning the beef on the stove while cutting and chopping the other stuff and revelling in Annie Lennox’s amazing music.

Beef and Sweet-Potato Stew

A quick no-mess, one-pot dinner (there’s a little bit of mess)
by Elizabeth M. Ward
Serves 6

1 pound lean boneless chuck or stew beef, cut in 1-inch cubes salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 peeled sweet potatoes, cubed
1 cup frozen corn
1/2 cup large diced carrot chunks
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 dried bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick
1 large onion, cut into chunks
1 can (28 oz) tomatoes, undrained
8 dried apricots, cut in half
1. Trim fat from beef; season with salt and pepper. Heat oil in skillet over medium heat. Brown beef in the oil, stirring to brown all sides.
2. In a large slow cooker, combine beef, sweet potatoes, corn, carrots, garlic, bay leaf, cinnamon stick, onion, and tomatoes. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours, or until beef is tender.
NOTE: If you don't have a slow cooker, allow the stew to simmer on the stove over medium-high for 30 to 45 minutes or until beef is tender.
3. Add apricots.
4. Cover and cook on low 20 minutes or until apricots are soft. Chuck the bay leaf and cinnamon stick; eat.
Per Serving: 249 calories, 18 g protein, 33 g carbs, 6 g fat

Ater browning the beef and adding it to the pot I looked at all this crusty stuff left in the frying pan and I thought: “I don’t want to wash that down the drain.” So I grabbed an open bottle of chianti of my roommate’s, splashed some in and put it back over the heat. While the wine heated up and started to simmer I used the spatula to scrape up the yummy crusty bits and then poured it into the pot over the other stuff.

This morning I took the pot out of the frig, put it in the cooking base, and watched it heat up all day. Tonight Keith and I gave it a try and we’re both still alive as of 9pm. The recipe is good as it is, although I really love cooked carrots so I’m going to double that next time. And I’m going to double the ground beef, as well, to kick up the protein a little bit; there’s plenty of the other ingredients still to balance it.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Old News

Friday, January 30th, was my last day at AVRP and I joined the ranks of the unemployed. Due to the economy and lack of new projects coming in they just couldn't support as many admininistrative people. We'd lost staff slowly for several months prior and a few more have had to be let go since. Everyone has been super nice and supportive. We'd really worked hard to create a supportive work environment and had become quite the well-oiled team. We’re all hoping the economy turns around quickly so we can all get back to working with each other.

These pictures are from Pizza Nova in Hillcrest where they took me to lunch to say good-bye. I’m normally uncomfortable being the center of attention but I really appreciate how nice they were to do it. We had a great time and I so miss seeing all of these terrific people everyday.

And, by the way, Jackie and David D. joined me for the short drive from the office downtown to the restaurant and we had a great time cruising along with the top down on one of San Diego's spectacular, warm, clearer-than-usual days. Driving down Banker’s Hill on the way back to the office we could clearly see all the way to San Diego Bay, the Coronado Bridge, the Silver Strand, and beyond that the open ocean.

I think working for AVRP was my favorite job so far. Even though it's a big architect firm it’s the smallest company I’ve worked at and I really appreciated being more than a set of numbers in a managers folder. It was very rewarding to work at a place that has high standards and works hard to maintain them, but also nice to be somewhere that didn't expect you to work at a sprinters pace all day, every day. I also loved having a wide variety of things to do; if I was tired or stressed or not quite awake I could still be productive with something that didn't require as much brain power. But the best part was being part of a group of really great, talented people who did their best everyday and welcomed me into the team.