Best of my ability.

On the menu: Lemongrass Beef Stew

Shall I address my most recent blogging hiatus?

Lemongrass Beef Stew ~ Documenting our Dinner.

I read on BraveTart the other day that you should never address a hiatus in blogging because it exposes your lazy disinterest. I’m going to be real: I haven’t written a post in weeks because a) I’m lazy and b) I’ve been disinterested in blogging lately. Remember what I said about reaching my cognitive limit? I don’t want to do anything beyond schoolwork that requires significant brain power. Writing doesn’t come easy to me, therefore I’ve been avoiding it. I’ve sat down a number of times to write, looked at my keyboard for a few minutes, then glanced over to Kevin, sighed, and said “I think I might be done with my blog.” That’s happened. I sit down to write, realize I haven’t read my favorite blogs and commented on their recent posts, read and comment, and then my writing juice is gone. So I don’t write.

Thank goodness that cooking doesn’t require significant brain power. While all my bloggy friends are using their creative brains to make beet and balsamic mustard, thyme-infused pear syrup for cocktails, pineapple upside-down cake with Angostura bitters, chai chia pudding, and a dreamy dill-dijon vinaigrette, I’m using my basic brain to read recipes like this and reproduce them to the best of my ability. And it’s successes like this that motivate me to keep cooking, with hopes that someday I’ll feel like writing something down.

Lemongrass Beef Stew ~ Documenting our Dinner.

Kevin’s sister sent me Vietnamese Home Cooking by Charles Phan of The Slanted Door in San Francisco for Christmas, and it was my bedtime reading for a couple of weeks. Kevin loves Vietnamese cuisine, and we have long lamented the lack of relatable, reliable Vietnamese cookbooks. This book was a revelation. It’s not completely accessible, but it is leaps and bounds further into a fascinating food culture than anything else I’ve come across. Since receiving it, I’ve also become aware of Andrea Nguyen’s book Into the Vietnamese Home Kitchen, another great source for cooking Vietnamese food at home. Add that to my ever growing cookbook wish list.

We’ve made a few recipes from the book so far, but this was the most memorable. Let’s talk about lemongrass. Since Charles Phan told me how to properly prepare it for use in a recipe, I want to put it in everything. Unfortunately, the fresh stuff is nowhere to be found around here–I used stalks that had been in my freezer for about a year and a half. When I bought that lemongrass, I had read that it freezes beautifully. Now I can tell you that is indeed the case. Lemongrass is herbaceous, floral, and punchy with citrus all at the same time. It seems like such a delicate aroma, but it permeated through freaking fish sauce and gave this dish a beautiful brightness that left a lasting impression on my palate. Star anise and tomato paste added depth of flavor; ginger, chiles, and cilantro cut through the beef and vegetables and rounded out the stew.

Warmer weather is upon us (I think–it’s been an absurdly cold Spring), so dishes like this probably won’t come out of my kitchen again until the fall. That’s plenty of time for me to replenish my lemongrass supply.

Lemongrass Beef Stew ~ Documenting our Dinner.

Lemongrass Beef Stew
adapted from Vietnamese Home Cooking by Charles Phan
(the original recipe is published on Serious Eats)

3 pounds boneless beef short ribs, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
4 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups diced yellow onion
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/4 cup finely minced lemongrass
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 by 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and smashed
2 whole star anise pods
1 or 2 Thai chiles, stemmed, plus 1 teaspoon minced, for garnish
6 cups beef stock
3 carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch lengths
8 ounces daikon radish, peeled and cut into 1-inch lengths
about 2 tablespoons fish sauce
cilantro, for serving

Place the beef in a bowl. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the oil, sprinkle with the salt and pepper, and stir to coat. Let stand while you prepare all of the other ingredients. In a large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot, heat the remaining 3 tablespoons oil over high heat. When the oil is hot, working in batches, add the beef and cook, turning as needed, for about 8 minutes, until browned on all side. As each batch is ready, transfer it to a rimmed baking sheet.

Decrease the heat to medium and add the onion to the now-empty pot. Cook, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes, until the onion is a deep golden brown. Stir in the garlic and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds more. Add the lemongrass, tomato paste, ginger, star anise, and whole chile to taste and stir to combine.

Put the beef and any accumulated juices back into the Dutch oven and pour in the stock. Bring the liquid to a boil over medium heat, decrease the heat so the liquid is at a gentle simmer, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 1 1/2 hours, until the meat is just tender.

Add the carrots and daikon, re-cover, and cook for 30 minutes longer, until the vegetables are cooked through and the meat is very tender. Remove from the heat and stir in the fish sauce, 1 tablespoon at a time, to taste. Serve immediately in bowls. Top each serving with some of the basil and minced chile.

This entry was posted in Beef, Dinner, Meat, Soups/Stews, Vegetables and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Best of my ability.

  1. Hannah says:

    I love all you share, Brianne, and I appreciate you being real. I’d much rather read about what is really going on with you. And I’m happy you’re cooking away, especially dishes like this one! I just got My Vietnam for my birthday, and I’ve been marking lots of recipes to try. Vietnamese Home Cooking also sounds terrific! Thanks for sharing the chia pudding, too. :)

    • Brianne says:

      Thank you, Hannah! Cooking is what I look forward to most when I need a break from work. I just looked up My Vietnam. It looks like a stunning book! That one is going on my wishlist, too. I can’t wait to see what you make from it.

  2. Emma says:

    Damn girl, nice photos!

    I’ve often lamented the lack of relatable and reliable Vietnamese cuisine around here…. more so in restaurant form than book form. I guess I’ll just have to make it myself. I think once in a blue moon I see lemongrass at the store – maybe? I’ll snatch it up if I do and throw it in the freezer; good tip!

    I’ve got to use my creative brain somehow! I’m spending my days cruising and let me tell you, just about the only thing I think about all day is everything I’d like to be eating. And then I get super excited for my mid-afternoon Gushers snack break.

    • Brianne says:

      Thanks, lady!

      Dude. They opened a Vietnamese place in Bangor like two weeks ago. I tried boba tea for the first time. It was delicious. Their pho is pretty good, and Kevin got his go-to meal and thought it was great. I so hope they don’t flop. Restaurants don’t take off so well in these parts, you know? Unless you’re Five Guys, then you still have lines out the door a month after you open. Bangor is freaking weird. Also, there’s a new Thai place in Old Town. Like we need any more Thai places around here!

      Oh my gosh, Gushers. I ate them like mad during my senior year of college and my roommates gave me so much crap. I haven’t had any since! I must get some.

  3. wait, what? your Vietnamese restaurant opened up in the same strip mall as a bull moose? MAINE! :) *it’s early*
    Girl, i read that Bravetart post too about not drawing attention to your blog hiatus…RIGHT AFTER i drew attention to my most recent blog hiatus. It’s just one of those things where you started the blog b/c you wanted to, and it should always be like that. when mine starts to feel like “homework,” i try and either figure out why it feels that way or figure out what i can do to make myself ease up a bit. either way, i love you…potential infrequent posts and commenting or no.

  4. carey says:

    I so know that feeling of just being spent when it comes to writing (especially in the midst of keeping up with other blogs). I actually kind of prefer acknowledged hiatuses, I think. Whenever I’ve been absent for a few weeks, the silence sort of feels like an elephant in the room that needs to be taken care of before I more forward. But I think I just kind of like knowing what people have been up to, even when it’s simply feeling uninspired. So many of us have been there too. (:

    I love dishes like this. Lemongrass and cilantro bring so much brightness to the party and make everything feel so fresh, which can be otherwise difficult to achieve with a stew. And I had NO idea you could freeze it — that is awesome. And makes me feel extra said for the stalk I just threw out because it’d been hanging out in my fridge for far too long!

  5. Soooo I’ve been trying to cut down on my meat intake, but after hearing you describe the flavors of this dish I am going to have to make an exception for it. Lemongrass! I saw some at the supermarket last week and was struck by it because I had never seen it in a regular grocery store before. I almost bought some, too! But I didn’t know what I would make with it and already had my meal planned out so I postponed that purchase to another date. Now that I know it freezes well, I am going to grab some tonight!

    It’s amazing how much flavor lemongrass brings to a simple soup broth, let alone a rich and meaty dish. I think lemongrass is the key reason behind why I love Vietnamese and Thai food so much, like you said, it just has this clean and bright flavor that cuts through everything else. I need to try utilizing it in some sort of cocktail… And I am happy to hear about your Vietnamese cookbook endeavors! I’m going to have to pick up both of those, I had a Vietnamese friend growing up and going over to her house was made especially wonderful because of the tasty dishes her mom made. I haven’t had authentic Vietnamese food in ages, would be so much fun to try it out in my own kitchen.

    And I am glad you are writing again :) I think you are a great writer and love the way you describe food and tastes. Its always so accurate and I completely understand what you mean each time. But I understand that on top of your incredibly brain-intensive school work that writing for fun can just turn into another task that needs to be completed. Just think though, eventually you will be done with school and your brain will be free to write creatively whenever you wish!

  6. Pingback: A sweet start. | Documenting our Dinner.

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