Love-hate relationships – we all have them. Some of us have them with food, with religion, or with the gym. I know people who have love-hate relationships with their family members, their pets, or even themselves. People love and hate their jobs, their country’s government, their exes and their kids. These past few weeks, the world has had a love-hate relationship with freedom of speech, and the British Government has had a love-hate relationship with the Interwebz. Yes, it’s the place where videos of fluffy kittens flourish, but it is also the dark corner where potential evildoers can hide and hang out with each other, plotting. As with everything in life though, it’s never quite so black and white. The Internet is neither evil nor good – at least, no more so than a knife. It has the potential to facilitate harm, but it also has the incredible capacity to bring people together to collaborate on projects for the greater good of the world, or simply to bring knowledge and ideas to people who might not otherwise have had access to them.
I have a personal love-hate relationship with the Internet sometimes. It is the thief of time (hello Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, I am talking to YOU!) and it sucks me in and takes me away from real life relationships and activities. Shall I go out and see friends today? Nah, there’s that blog post I need to write and all those photos I need to edit… But then it also kept me sane when I was trapped in a French hospital after surgery for a broken leg last year, allowing me to communicate with friends and family around the world during some of the darkest hours of my life. It has been the conduit that has made possible this blog and all the wonderful benefits it has brought me. And in the past week it has delivered at least three totally absorbing ideas to my virtual doorstep: this article which is required reading for everybody; words of wisdom from a man with 15 rescue cats which I’ll elaborate on in a future post soon; and the concept of a gift to your future self.
In a first year philosophy textbook that I once borrowed from a friend, there was a question for students to ponder: how can you demonstrate that humans are more evolved than animals? After much thought, I came up with the answer that we are able to make sacrifices in the present for the sake of our future enjoyment or wellbeing. You sacrifice time in front of the TV to go out into the cold for a run, because you want to stay fit and healthy in the future. You sacrifice spending money on a new pair of shoes now because you are saving up to buy a house in the future. You sacrifice that sice of gooey chocolate cake now because you want to fit into your red dress for a party next weekend. Of course, that sounds like no fun at all because all you are doing is “sacrificing” – but what if, instead of viewing it as a sacrifice, you viewed it as a gift from your present self to your future self? I find that it’s a lot easier to drag myself to the gym on a Saturday morning if I think of it in terms of being a gift of continued health and mobility that I am sending to my future self. Loathe picking up your clothes from the floor and rinsing out your breakfast dishes before you go to work? Think of it as a gift to your future self of coming home to a tidy house. Annoyed at being designated driver and being the only sober one at the party? Consider it as a gift that you are sending to your un-hungover future self. I’ve been turning the idea over in my mind like a pebble in my pocket and I love it. And it certainly makes me think a little more carefully about what I put on the luggage belt of life today, because I know that that suitcase will re-enter my life on a different carousel at some point in the future and I want to make sure it is filled with gifts, not dirty laundry.
This week, I was delighted to receive a gift from my 2014 self, lovingly placed in the freezer: a sensational beef ragu that I made in large quantities one weekend before we went on holiday. I have always been a ragu lurker, checking out other people’s beautifully shredded pots of slow-cooked meat without ever daring to try my own. But eventually in the chilly December days, the longing became irresistible and I had a go. The good news is that a ragu is blissfully simple to make – all you need is time – and does not use expensive cuts of meat – so a win-win situation all round. Common threads running through all ragu recipes that I found seem to be a cheap cut of meat, a soffrito mix, wine and tomatoes, which will give you this basic ragu recipe. If you do not like anchovies, don’t panic – you can taste no trace of fishiness in the final product, but do not leave them out as they impart a wonderful umami savouriness. Of course, you can add different meats and as many bells and whistles as you like, but if you want to keep things simple, this is your go-to recipe. The meat is literally shredded by the end of the cooking, and absorbs all of the flavour of the cooking liquid to result in a richly flavoured and deeply satisfying winter dish. I served mine ona bed of orzo pasta with a glass of Rioja and if I’d had any in the fridge I might have topped with with chopped parsley and grated Parmesan.
If you love your meat slow-cooked, you might also like these recipes from other bloggers: Kalyn’s slow-cooker Mediterranean beef stew; Kavey’s beef cheeks Bourguignon; Nazima’s sous vide lamb shanks; Jan’s crockpot pork steaks; Jen’s rich beef and barley stew; Ren’s slow-cooked beef brisket; Sarah’s crockpot beef stew; Michelle’s oxtail stew with beans and red wine; Jo’s simple crockpot beef stew; Sarah’s slow-cooked beef with chorizo; Dannii’s slow-cooked shredded beef; Laura’s Spanish pork ragu; and Camilla’s slow-cooked pulled lamb.
- 1.2 kg beef brisket (steaks or a joint)
- olive oil
- salt and pepper
- 1 large onion, diced
- 2 stalks of celery, diced
- 1 carrots, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 4-5 tinned anchovy fillets , chopped
- 300ml white wine
- 1 x 410g tin chopped tomatoes
- about 450g passata
- Pat the meat with paper towels to remove moisture. Season with salt and pepper. In a large cast-iron pot, heat just enough olive oil to cover the bottom. When very hot, brown the meat on all sides, then remove from the pot and keep warm.
- Add a little more oil to the pot and then add the onions, carrots, celery, garlic, and anchovies. Cook for about five minutes, stirring all the time. Add the salt, pepper and a good pinch of ground nutmeg, then add the wine and cook for 3-4 minutes.
- Add the meat back to the pot together with the chopped tomatoes, the passata and 375 mls of water. Once the pot is simmering, reduce to a low heat and allow it to bubble away gently for about three hours. Don't forget to stir the pot from time to time to make sure it is not stickingm and add extra water if the sauce seems to be getting too thick.
- After three hours, remove just the meat from the pot and use two forks to shred it. Pick out any bones or gristle and discard. When all the meat is shredded, return it to the pot and stir well to mix with the sauce. Continue to simmer gently for another 1-2 hours, stirring occasionally. Add water if the sauce getes too thick.
- Serve on pasta, topped with grated Parmesan cheese.