To Buy or Not to Buy

When Nancy and I met, we were in our 40s and had two households full of stuff. We decided against exchanging gifts for birthdays and Christmas, opting instead for trips together. One of our most memorable travel meals was in a small Moroccan restaurant in Paris on New Year’s eve. We had neglected to plan for the event and the streets were mostly deserted – shops and restaurants closed. We wandered about the misty streets, wondering if we would have to eat our stash of chocolate and goat cheese for dinner.  I can’t remember the restaurant name or the street but I can still taste the salty sweet lamb tagine that we shared.

Though I love the symmetrical sloping shape of the tagine, I’ve never managed to own one. This year we talked about getting a tagine as a family gift and Nancy found a cast iron beauty at Williams Sonoma. But before she hit the buy button, she remembered reading that a dutch oven is an acceptable substitute. We have several dutch ovens on our overburdened shelves. Did we really need a $286 cooking pot weighing nearly 10 pounds, that has traveled from France to California and back to upstate New York? We decided to find out.

We chose this recipe for beef  tagine from Jamie Oliver that tasted just fine in the Dutch oven. Remarkably, we had all the ingredients. The stew beef came from Bella Terra Farm and the ras el hanout spice mix and butternut squash were purchased at the Schenectady Greenmarket. I substituted homemade beef stock for vegetable and used heirloom roma tomatoes from our friend Ev Rau, which I roasted and froze this fall.

The meat's been marinating for hours. The tomatoes have thawed and we're ready to go. BTW the long squiggly things in the squash box are fingerling sweet potatoes. Not one of nature's better ideas.

The meat's been marinating for hours. The tomatoes have thawed and we're ready to go. BTW the long squiggly things in the squash box are fingerling sweet potatoes. Not one of nature's better ideas.

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ pounds stewing beef
  • olive oil
  • 1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • a small bunch of fresh cilantro
  • 1 x 14 ounce can of chickpeas, drained
  • 1 x 14 ounce can of chopped tomatoes
  • 3 ½ cups vegetable stock, preferably organic
  • 1 small squash (approximately 1 ½ pounds), deseeded and cut into 2 inch chunks
  • 3 ½ ounces prunes, pitted and roughly torn
  • 2 tablespoons sliced almonds, toasted
This is a very satisfying winter dish. The squash held it's shape but also helped thicken the sauce. The ras el hanout spice mix gives the dish a complex, smokey flavor. If you don't have a Moroccan grocery nearby, here's a recipe for the spice mix.

This is a very satisfying winter dish. The squash held it's shape but also helped thicken the sauce. The ras el hanout spice mix gives the dish a complex, smokey flavor. If you don't have a Moroccan grocery nearby, here's a recipe for the spice mix.

 Spice Rub

  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon ras el hanout spice mix
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  • 1 tablespoon sweet paprika

 

Massage the beef in the spice rub and refrigerate overnight. When ready, saute in olive oil. Add onions and cilantro stems. Once the onions are soft and fragrant add chickpeas, tomatoes, and half the stock. Cover and cook for 1.5 hours. Then add squash and prunes. Cover and cook for another 1.5 hours, adding more stock if needed. If the mixture is too soupy at the end, uncover and cook until it's right for you. Garnish with toasted almonds and cilantro leaves. Serve with couscous. Yum!

Cows at Gordon Farms

Cows at Gordon Farms

We decided instead to invest in a farm share for local pasture-raised beef. Gordon Farms is up the hill, about 8 miles from Altamont. Each month we’ll receive 6-7 lb of grass feed beef in various cuts delivered to the house. Instead of churning through fossil fuels and filling our shelves with one more seldom-used implement, we’ll be supporting a hardworking local farmer and forging stronger connections in our community.  Plus the meat tastes so much better than supermarket beef and we can sleep better knowing that we’ve taken one more step away from consumerism and the industrial food economy.