Sunday, May 07, 2006

Soda-Braised Beef

D and I are gearing up for what we are dubbing The Epic Voyage. We leave next week and my mother is a doll to fly in from Chicago (okay, she was already coming for a short visit), but will be extending her stay to care for the cats, my plants and my little City Garden (I don’t think she actually knows the extent of her duties!). As D and I begin to get our trip in order, tie up loose ends, put in extra hours at work, finish open projects—don’t even mention packing—we are trying to clear out some perishables my mother will probably not use, e.g. the dregs of a cola bottle.

While D and I do some last minute scrimping, we figured a good cheap braise was in order. It would clear out our refrigerator and last us through the beginning of next week. So when I told D to just grab “whatever” in the fridge, he pulled out the soda: “Coke?” I thought for a few seconds before, “of course, soda can go in BBQ, marinades, and you can put juices in a braise, so why not soda? Dump it.” D splashed the remains into the pot and took the last swig for himself.

When I was younger, all sodas-- or colas, depending on where you are from, I referred to as, “coke”. My family would go to a restaurant and I would ask: “What kind of cokes do you have?” I received one of two stares: “idiot,” or “smartass.” In the Chicagoland area, “coke” came in diet and regular. I was supposed to ask for soda.

It was not until later that I found out that “coke” as a term for all carbonated beverages really is common. It is mostly used in the south, especially Georgia, where the Coca-Cola Company has their main headquarters. Still later, I found out that in my home state’s almost-neighbor, Ohio, cola was the proper term when discussing carbonated drinks, but they also say crick, begel and ruff (instead of creek, bagel and roof), so I don’t know if it is optimal to use their “cola” term.

Phraseology varies all over this country—don’t even start on the world. It is interesting, whether through travel, or everyday encounters, to find these idiosyncrasies. So as we creep ever closer to Memorial Day and the official start of summer travels, keep an ear out for these cultural flare-ups.

Oh, and the braise was pretty darn good. The sauce was not too sweet with an overall robustness that was quite delicious when paired with the meat. The carrots and celery especially took on the soda very well, turning into sticks of caramelized goodness. The new potatoes were perfect—a last minute decision to purchase these instead of using up some russets we had. Because the new potatoes were left in-tact, they held together nicely, took on the broth and were even better when dipped in a dab of sour cream.

Makes 6 servings. Active Time= 20 minutes. Cook Time= 3 hours.
* 6 pounds of beef, left whole (or in 2-3 pieces to fit in pot)
* 3-4 cloves of garlic, crushed
* 2 stalks of celery, cut 1-2 inches in length
* 2 carrots, cut 1-2 inches in length
* 10 white button mushrooms, cut in half
* 10 pearl onions, left whole (or 1 medium onion, sliced into 1 inch cubes)
* 15 new potatoes, washed well and left whole
* 2 cups beef broth (or water and bouillon)
* 2 cups Coca-Cola (Pepsi, Tab, Dr. Pepper or other dark soda)
* salt/ pepper to taste
* 2 bay leaves
* fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme, tarragon, parsley work well)
* 3 Tbl butter or oil

1) In a dutch oven, or other pot with tight fitting lid, warm the butter on medium-high heat. Rinse the beef and pat dry. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add to pot and brown on all sides. Add garlic.
2) Once meat is thoroughly browned, remove from pot and set aside. Add celery, carrots, mushroom, onions and potatoes. Sauté about 8 minutes, until onions are translucent.
3) Return beef to pot, add beef broth, soda, bay leaves and fresh herbs. Cover and bring to a boil. Remember: this is not a stew, it is a braise. Liquids should come just under the top of the beef.
4) Turn heat down to medium-low, leave covered and cook for 2½ - 3 hours, until meat falls apart.
Note: Served with fresh crisp bread or a good salty cheese this makes a great dish.

For all the herb lovers out there Kalyn’s Kitchen hosts WHB. My herbs this week: rosemary, parsley and thyme in this braise.

In non-food related activities we have WCB over at Eat Stuff. I really attempt to capture Kitty BoJangles in action. It is not that it is so rare, but it is true, she is often asleep. Her fun time is what I call her "night crazies." Just after dinner when she bolts the length of the apartment a few dozen times. There is no use getting a shot of her then, because frankly, if you get in her way it is damaging. Instead, I took a picture of her on a box post-night crazies. Shortly after this picture was taken, the box was thrown away. She had grown quite attached because she stared at me viciously as I removed her cooling pad.

And then there is the usual tormentor, Whiskey. He looks very innocent here, be warned, it is all a cute cover.

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