“No more beef.”
I am barely awake, staggering through the room in the half-light like a zombie on the prowl for fresh brains. Kathy is tucked under the covers, in bed. The blankets are up around her head, so she sounds like she is talking to me from two rooms away.
“No more beef,” comes the muffled reply.
It seems I am to leave beef off the menu.
It’s not exactly like I’ve cooked a lot of beef during the last couple of years, ever since the gout seized me with its sinister, dagger-like claws. I’ve taken it real easy on the red meats, as well as on a number of other well-known gout trigger foods. No sense chancing agony.
But, things have changed. My pal, Jim, wrote me a scrip a couple weeks ago for a medication that is supposed to lower the uric acid levels in my body. Lower uric acid levels means less chance of gout and its joint crunching, debilitating pain.
No more gout means no more hobbling around like I have had part of my foot shot off. No more nights spent awake, a swollen and hot joint in foot or knee throbbing and sending waves of intense pain through me every time it is moved, every time a breeze blows on it.
Jim no doubt sees the meds as one part of a regimen that will allow me to avoid this crippling, arthritis-like condition — a malady that can lead to the destruction of joints and to nasty things like amputations. The meds and “moderation” should do the trick, he says.
I see the prescription as a license to go back to eating and drinking anything I want. It’s clear as a bell to me.
Send out a red alert to the shrimp fishermen in the gulf, the asparagus farmers in the Imperial Valley, the ranchers who raise cattle and lambs, distilleries worldwide. I’m baaaack!
And I am back with a vengeance.
So, yesterday, I decide to come up with something quick for dinner, and a little different. Something that, a few weeks ago, I would not have considered.
I spot a pack of 85/15 organic ground beef in the case at the market. Forget the ground turkey, I am taking medication now. Beef, it is. Not so many days ago, I would have stood motionless before the beef, gazing at it like a schoolboy looking at a centerfold in a cheap girlie magazine. Now, there is no hesitation: I toss the flesh in the basket.
I decide I’ll cook some highly-spiced beef patties in a tomato curry sauce. I could have picked any of a number of saucy components; I picked curry because 1) I have been in a curry frenzy of late and, 2) because I have half a jar of Patak’s paste in the fridge and I need to use it up.
Yahoo: cow parts, all ground up and partnered with zippy, thick fluid. Without fear!
I figure I can provide some sort of vegetable matter to go with this, for aesthetic reasons if nothing else. Peas? Cauliflower (another item now back on my list of possible menu items)? Spinach (yet another gouty delight now released from veggie purgatory)? I pass the broccoli bin first, so broccoli it is. I don’t want to spend too much time in the produce section now that I am a new man. Why bother with greens when I can hobnob with red stuff that used to walk around?
What to serve with the patties and the accompanying incredibly spicy sauce?
Well, there’s the traditional starch — rice.
Noodles, or some other kind of pasta?
Boring. Been eating plenty of pasta lately and it is losing its allure.
Then, I skid to a halt in front of the refrigerated case containing all manner of doughs and, kablam!, there‘s the answer.
Who woulda thunk? I had them with a creamed salmon a couple weeks ago, but with curried beef?
So I hit the kitchen with a full head of steam. I mince white onion and mince and smush four cloves of garlic (smushing involves mincing the garlic fine then mashing it with a sprinkling of kosher salt into a paste with the side of a chef’s knife).
I add minced onion and smushed garlic to the beef along with ground cumin, a bit of chopped cilantro, a beaten egg, salt, pepper and a mess of panko bread crumbs. Pretty much what I did with ground turkey a couple weeks ago. I mix thoroughly, but I do not over-mix. Don’t want to bruise the cattle parts.
I thinly slice a half of a white onion and smush another four cloves of garlic. I cook the onion in a heavy frying pan in a bit of neutral oil, over medium heat until the onion softens and becomes translucent. I remove the onion, turn up the heat and form patties of the beef mix. I make sure I do not overcompress the meat. I add the patties to the pan and brown them on both sides. I take the patties from the pan and put them on a warm plate and into the frying pan go the sliced onion, the garlic and half a can of diced, fire-roasted tomatoes. I cook the mix until it is nearly dry and the tomatoes have darkened. I add four tablespoons curry paste (hot) and cook for a few minutes, then splash in a quarter cup or so of chicken broth. I add a can of unsweetened coconut milk, some chopped cilantro, a couple tablespoons brown sugar and I cook until the liquid is reduced by half.
In go the meat patties, the heat goes down, and I cook the mess for 15 minutes more, simmering over low heat. Just enough time for me to turn on the TV and check out Fox News and MSNBC in my nightly “Who’s the biggest idiot?” quest.
As the sauce thickens, I steam some broccoli and make a simple salad (for show).
I pop the store-bought biscuits into the oven and, when they are golden brown and steamy good, I split one, butter the halves and cover half a biscuit with a patty and plenty of sauce. The second half of a biscuit is intended for use, as my Texas-born friend, Mike, would say, as a “sopper.”
I am thrilled with the low-rent but tantalizing meal. I have seconds, then take my final anti-gout pill of the day. I chase it with a glass of a nice Rhone blend.
Ah, better living through chemistry.
But, apparently there is a problem: A lack of agreement on my new menu options.
“No more beef.”
“What are you talking about?”
“That beef last night … it bothered me.”
“Yes. I had an upset stomach all night, and I know it was the beef. In fact, I had a dream and it is really clear to me what the dream means.”
A dream? About beef?”
“I was on a farm, and it was beautiful: the fields were green and there was a little stream running next to the farmhouse and there was a big, brightly painted barn. When I got into the barn, I saw the biggest cow imaginable. The cow was gigantic, like Paul Bunyon’s Babe the Blue Ox.”
“Was the cow blue?”
“Was it a Hereford?”
“No. It was like a cross between a Hereford and a Guernsey. Kind of tan and white. It’s head was too small for its immense body, but the head was still bigger than me. And it had stubby horns on the sides of its head. It was a huge cow, Karl. Huge.”
“So, you met a huge, mutant cow?”
“Yep. And, at first, it seemed real friendly, so I went over to it and I petted it. And it got real close to me and rubbed against me, so I kind of hugged it — as much as you can hug a gigantic cow.”
“So, you got affectionate with a gigantic cow, with a horned head too small for its body?”
“Yes. And that’s when it happened.”
“The cow started to eat me. I was trying to hug it and suddenly I felt it biting my arm with its huge teeth. I realized, this is not just some ordinary, gigantic cow — this is all cows. This is all the cows, past, present and future, that I have taken bites of. And now, it — they — are going to exact their terrible revenge. And, then, I woke up. It’s pretty obvious, don’t you think? No more beef. Don’t cook any more beef.”
One minute, I’m riding high, back at the throttle of the culinary engine, moving full speed ahead. My dreams? How about purchasing a complete, prime beef tenderloin and butchering it myself, separating it into its delightful components — filets, tournedo, biftek? Visions of bearnaise danced in my head, the best sauce in the world lapping against a filet and over a bed of sauteed wild mushroom (which, since I am medicated, I can once again enjoy, in abundance). A massive Porterhouse, grilled medium rare, served with potatoes dauphinoise and asparagus with Hollandaise, and plenty of Malbec. Oh, and braised brisket, done up with several kinds of chiles, shredded and served in grilled, fresh tortillas, with queso fresco, chopped tomatoes and onion. Skirt steak, rare and cut cross grain. Kebabs, marinated overnight and done to a turn. Burgers, come outdoor grilling season? You bet, stuffed with bleu cheese.
The giant cow — the cow that is all cows past, present and future — tried to eat Kathy.
So, I guess I need to shift my focus to pork.
If Kathy has a dream about a giant pig trying to gnaw on her arm, I am packing my medication and I am leaving town.