Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Best Kind of Cross-Training...

stewSo last week I had damn near a 40 mile week for the first time in many, MANY months, including two double workout days where I ended running before karate (suck) and on four consecutive days, with Sunday of this week scheduled to make it five (my body gets complain-ey after four). So when I woke up kind of achy on Sunday and then later got super-busy, I figured this was maybe a good day to, you know, hang out and rest, as opposed to running 13 miles. That night I laid in bed, mentally shuffling my training plans for the week, trying to decide on the best and most efficient way to get them all in now that I'd taken Sunday off.

I could do the 13 miles Monday before karate, but I'd done that last week and it had kind of wiped me out, plus gotten me into a weird cycle for the week that eventually led to the five consecutive days. I could do the long run Tuesday, but that meant I'd really need to do easy runs on Monday and Wednesday, if at all; then Thursday would need to be speed stuff. I'm racing Saturday (Summer Breeze 10K; incidentally, Sesa is running the half, so I am hoping to run into her! Figuratively, you know; not literally.), so I wanted make sure I kept Friday short and easy. Then again, I thought, maybe it would be better to do the speed stuff on Tuesday so that I might get some benefit from it by Saturday, and the long run on Thursday. Then again doing a long run two days before a race maybe isn't such a great idea either.

Still undecided by Monday afternoon (and still feeling kind of achy), I ran six miles reasonably easy, then jumped in the car and headed to karate. By the time I got to class, my left hip and lower back were decidedly unhappy with me. I tried to stay pretty low key and not aggravate it, but when I woke up Tuesday morning and only felt a little better, I decided that this was one of those times when my body was maybe trying to tell me some things, like...

  • You made us work really hard last week and we complied.
  • You made us run on a karate day again, for the 3rd time in a row.
  • We are tired now.
  • You have tweaked something somewhere.
  • You have a flat, fast 10K to race the hell out of on Saturday.
  • Maybe you should just chill for a bit.

Fair enough.

So I didn't run yesterday. Instead, I engaged in a bit of cross-training, by which I mean walking leisurely down to our neighborhood market & returning home with stew fixings.

But Angela, you may object, isn't stew fall / winter food? Why would you want something hot simmering in the kitchen for 6+ hours in the middle of August?

And I answer, because this is San Francisco, and summer is basically fall / winter here. (September / October is our summer. Yes, totally messed up, but there you are.)

coldest winter

But Angela, you may object, I live in SF, and wasn't it like 85° here yesterday?

And again, I answer...well, yes. But we didn't know that was going to happen Monday night when it was kind of cold and foggy and we got all excited about stew. Anyway, I'm sure it'll be nice and miserable again soon. Just you wait.

Last spring, we made a really delicious stew that involved a big pot & braising in the oven. It was delicious, but this time we wanted to use the crockpot, so I started hunting down recipes. None of them were truly satisfactory, so I kind of started free-basing.

First, les ingr├ędients:


  • 3 pounds stew beef (at least, I asked for 3 pounds; the butcher ended up giving me 3 pounds 6 ounces & asking, "It's okay?" I shrugged; sure, it's okay.) - $11.97
  • 5 potatoes, 5 carrots, half a bunch of celery, & 2 onions - $5.65 (while I was paying, the clerk and I had a very animated conversation about the cost-effectiveness of cooking at home; he was not at all down with the $8 burritos nearby.)


  • 2 cans beef broth - $2.98 (normally I'd get the reduced-sodium variety, but I was not about to drive anywhere, and that's what the corner store by us had)
  • 2 loaves crusty bread - $8.49. When it comes to crusty bread, I refuse to skimp. I even walked five blocks to get it. Hard core.
  • red velvetTurley Red Velvet zinfandel - $10. This is our standard cooking red wine because a) it is excellent & well-made (never cook with something you wouldn't drink), and b) it is $120 a case. And there are times when we've bought it by the case. Although it wasn't part of today's shopping trip, it was technically purchased at some point. On the other hand, I only used about 8 ounces or so. (On the other other hand, we definitely drank the remainder.)

Now, when I got home, it occurred to me that my crockpot was WAAAAY too small to accommodate 3.4 pounds of meat plus liquids and vegetables, so I only ended up using half of it, and then adding whatever amount of liquids and veggies would fit. Also, I sort of free-styled the seasonings as well. More or less, I just doused half the meat with flour, salt, & pepper, browned it, & threw it in the crockpot with 12 oz broth, 8 oz wine, 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar, & however much carrots, potatoes, celery, & onions there was room for. Then I seasoned it with fresh thyme, white & black pepper, & parsley & let it sit for about six hours on high.

It ended up quite edible and not at all offensive, but not as good as what we made last spring. if I were to make crockpot stew again, I'd do more like what we did last spring, minus the oven-braising:

(N.B. - I don't measure quantities all that reliably when I do stuff like this; I just sort of put however much I feel like / however much will fit. The recipe that this was mostly based off of called for 5 pounds of beef, 3 carrots for making the broth & 1.5 pounds for the stew, 3 celery stalks, 2 onions, 1.5 pounds small potatoes, 3 T tomato paste, 1/3 balsamic, a full bottle of red wine, & 3 cups beef broth.)

  • Cut the beef (stew meat or non-lean boneless chuck) into cubes, pat dry, and season with salt and pepper (I just put the salt & pepper in a plastic bag & shook the meat around with it. Some recipes also call for a bit of flour.)
  • Heat a little olive oil in a big pot, then brown the meat.
  • Set meat aside, reduce the heat, & cook carrots, celery, onions, & garlic in the same pot until well-browned (10-12 minutes).
  • Push the veggies aside & pour in a little tomato paste; stir & cook for ~2 minutes, then stir into veggies. (I did not use the tomato paste this time and I think the stew suffered for it.)
  • Stir in a little balsamic vinegar for ~2 minutes.
  • Stir in red wine, bay leaves, white & black pepper, fresh thyme, & parsley; boil until the wine is reduced by about 2/3 (10-12 minutes). (I didn't reduce the wine this time either, which was not as good.)
  • Transfer pot mixture, beef broth, meat, & juices to crockpot. Cook on high until meat is tender. (Again, I did 6 hours with 1.7 pounds of meat, but I think another or hour or two would've been better, and more meat will probably take more time. I recommend just tasting the meat periodically to see if they're tender enough for you.)
  • When the meat is about two hours from done, strain all the solids out of the stew, return the meat to the broth, & discard the soggy veggies & seasonings. Add in chopped potatoes & carrots & let cook for ~2 more hours (or until the veggies are tender enough for you).

Whew! What a workout. (It is for me; I don't cook much, sadly.) Maybe I should cross-train like this more often.

Enjoy! (And also, pass on your crockpot stew-making tips -- I'm still in search of the perfect recipe.)

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