I’ve written in the past about cooking for friends and family. It is one of the special ways that I love special people in my life. In the past, I also mentioned cooking for different reasons and seasons. The year 2021 was a year of active love and final transition.
I was blessed to have extra time with my sister before she left this life. She chose me to be her confidante and special support as she fought her losing battle against cancer. She never told me when she understood that she would not win the battle. I believe that she knew that I would not be able to hear it from her. She was right.
I called her many names in love. To me, she was simply my Joni.
Even now, months after she left… I cannot bear the pain. But slowly, surely I am finding ways to blunt the pain in healthy ways. While my Joni was living, she was an avid foodie. One of her favorite foods in the WHOLE WIDE WORLD was Carne Guisada. We grew up in Texas, where Carne Guisada is a favorite and familiar comfort food. It even was served in the school cafeteria!
My sister lived in Florida from the 1980s until she passed away in August. But every time she visited Texas, she was sure to stop at Taco Cabana for her Carne Guisada “fix”. Fortunately, I learned how to make a very respectable Carne Guisada myself while I lived in Florida. From 2002 until 2015 we were neighbors. I prepared it for her, to her delight. I loved her well while she was here. But I miss her. I always will.
Eating this warm, comforting dish helps. Even for the moment. I hope you try it. It is a pretty authentic recipe, however I don’t use lard or bacon grease. Instead I use a plant oil. (For authenticity, you can use them though!)
3 Tbsp. Oil (I use and oil with a high smoke point: Avocado or Grapeseed)
2.5 to 3 Pound Chuck Roast, trimmed and cubed
3 Large Ripe Tomatoes, diced
1 Large Onion, diced
1 Medium Bell pepper, diced
3 cloves of garlic, sliced
1.5 Tbsp. Ground Cumin (Comino)
1 Tbsp. Garlic Powder
1 Tbsp. Onion Powder
2 tsp. Black Pepper
1 Tbsp. Guajillo Chili Powder (You can use regular chili powder)
1 Tbsp. Kosher Salt
1/4 cup water
2 Tbsps. AP flour (More, if you like a thicker gravy)
Choose a heavy bottomed pot to make Carne Guisada. It matters.
Heat oil in the pot over medium heat, as you begin to chop the vegetables. Once the oil is shimmering and hot, add the chopped chuck roast. DO NOT STIR. Allow to sizzle and brown. Continue chopping the vegetables.
On top of the meat, add the chopped tomatoes. Do not disturb the meat. We are going for a deep sear. (Not a burn, sear. Remember the pot is on medium. If you stove blazes high, go for medium/low) Next add the onion, bell pepper and garlic. Please use all fresh vegetables, including garlic. This is not the time to use jarred garlic. Trust me on this one.
Once you have added all of the vegetable, you can NOW stir the pot. Bring up the deeply seared meat pieces to the top, giving other pieces a chance to brown and sear.
Now is the time to add your seasonings. Just drop them all in, one after the other. Do not skimp on the Cumin/Comino. That is the classic spice profile for this dish. It mellows as it slow cooks. After adding the salt, it is time to cover the pot and turn it down to a low braise. (We are not ready for the water and flour)
The vegetables will break down and release enough juices to tenderize the meat and create the basis for the savory gravy. You will need to resist the aromas… Stay the course. This labor of love takes time.
After one hour stir the pot, being sure to scrape up all stuck bits. Recover, and cook another two hours at a minimum. Continue to stir every hour.
After 3 hours have elapsed, taste for seasoning. Adjust salt, if needed. If the beef is tender, you are ready for the final part. If not yet tender- you guessed it: braise another hour.
When the meat is tender and the aroma is driving you and your neighbors crazy, it is time to thicken the gravy. Mix cool water with flour. Stir until smooth. Add to the pot and stir to mix well. Turn up the heat and briefly bring the mixture to a boil. Once the pot boils, turn the heat down to low and cook for fifteen minutes.
Now comes the hard part. Cover and remove from heat. Allow to rest at least twenty minutes before serving. It just so happens that it takes about twenty minutes to make the perfect Mexican Rice. (wink)
I like to serve with rice, pinto beans and flour tortillas. It is a comfort meal after all. Now is not the time to count calories or carbs.
Instead it is a time to count your blessings.
My Joni was one of my greatest.
She was my laugh until I wheeze partner, fellow foodie, beautiful example of godly love and commitment, mother, wife, servant, scholar, Gigi, daughter, Auntie, mentor, sister and sister friend, overcomer and fashion diva.
She was also so many more things to me. More than words that I have to say.
Rest, My Joni.