Heads or Tails

As the temperatures hovered dangerously close to 80 degrees these past few days in AZ, you would think I would be focusing on grilling or making fancy salads. Nope. Oddly, braising is what sounds good. Maybe it’s a fortuitous that St. Patrick’s Day is on the horizon as I can satisfy some of my braising needs by cooking a corned beef.

My mother was a traditional cook, at least during the years when I was growing up, and she did a lot of braising. I remember eating beef pot roasts and pork roasts and spare ribs that she would cook slowly in the oven until they were tender. I remember beef stews and green beans made with ham hocks and vegetable soups made with beef shanks.

But what I was recalling as of late was a stew that she made occasionally that featured oxtails. Little pieces of beef that came – not shockingly – from the tails of a cow. I’m guessing probably not necessarily an ox, but at least some sort of beef. Oxtails probably stemmed from the mentality that was common among people who grow up on farms: you don’t waste any part of the animal.

Mom didn’t necessarily take this philosophy to heart, as I don’t remember her ever serving us, well, heart. At least not beef heart. I remember battling my brother and sisters for the chicken heart, that teeny-tiny, chewy organ that comes in the little sack that frequently is shoved inside a chicken, along with a liver or two, a few gizzards, and the neck. Since chickens, as most animals, only have one heart (earthworms have five hearts, but I wouldn’t want to eat a single one of them), it was a valuable commodity. Livers were first runner up, and we happily gave Dad the gizzards.

I don’t have my mom’s recipe for Oxtail Stew, but I sure remember the meal. I recall that they varied in size but I always seemed to get the small ones. But mostly I remember that they were extremely slippery. I loved them. I joyfully picked up the scalding little devils with my fingers and gnawed until I got most of the meat, not necessarily an easy task, but I have always been good at getting meat from a bone. I think I was a hyena in a former life.

I decided to make Oxtail Stew.

Since I didn’t have my mother’s recipe, I did what any normal 21st century cook would do: I went to Pinterest.  There, I found a yummy-sounding recipe for oxtail stew cooked in a slow cooker. That sounded spot-on to me, so I invited my brother Dave and my sister Bec to dinner where we could eat with our fingers and reminisce about Mom. I warned Bill (who had never eaten oxtails) that it was likely that he was going to have to swallow his pride and eat with his fingers, something he is loath to do unless it’s a pizza.

But first I needed to find oxtails. None at Basha’s. None at Fry’s. AJ’s Fine Foods took 15 rings before they answered the telephone and then, upon my request for their meat department, sent me to a black hole which produced no meat department. Cross them off my list, then and forever, no matter how fine their food is.

However, when you’re on the hunt for any unusual cut of meat or any unfamiliar vegetable, your best bet is to hit the Mexican markets and/or the Asian markets. Bill and I set off on our adventure, where our intent was to hit the Mexican market first and if that produced no results, go a bit further into the Asian part of Mesa. We lucked out on our first try and found delicious-looking oxtails at Los Altos Ranch Market…..


Those oxtails eventually became this……


After eight hours in a slow cooker, the meat was indescribably tender and tasty, and the broth was rich and packed with flavor. I served the stew over mashed potatoes, and there was none left at the end of the meal. My assessment? I was sad that they were so tender that they didn’t provide my desire for slipperiness. However, my brother (looking carefully around for Mom’s ghost bearing some sort of weapon) said he thought mine were better than Mom’s. And that’s all I’ll say about that.

Here’s the recipe…..

Slow Cooker Oxtail Stew

2 – 3 lbs. oxtails
2 T. flour, seasoned with salt and pepper to taste
8 slices of bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 large onion, chopped
2 sticks of celery, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
½ lb. mushrooms, cleaned and cut in half
½ c. red wine
1-1/2 c. beef broth or stock
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 T. tomato paste

Cook bacon in large skillet until crisp. Remove to a plate, and crumble.

Coat oxtails in the seasoned flour, and cook in the bacon grease until brown on all sides. Cook only a few at a time to aid in browning.

Place vegetables, wine, stock, bay leaf, thyme, and tomato paste into slow-cooker. Add the bacon and the oxtails to the vegetables.  Cover with lid and cook for 8 hours or until oxtails are tender.

Serve with mashed potatoes, rice, or noodles.

This post linked to the GRAND Social

Mora Na Maidine Dhuit

Despite my last name (which I married), I don’t have a Celtic bone in my body. They say everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, but I’m not. Nope. I’m still half Swiss and half Polish. I don’t even wear green despite the danger of being pinched. Kelly green is not in my color wheel.

I don’t mean to sound as if I’m opposed to the Irish. Some of my best friends are of Irish heritage. If I liked beer at all I wouldn’t mind if it was dyed green. I think St. Patrick was one heck of a good saint – one of the best, in fact. I spent 13 years as a “Shamrock” since this was the mascot of St. Bonaventure Elementary School, and Scotus Junior High and High School (though I’ve never known why since St. Bonaventure was Italian and Duns Scotus was Scottish).

But I really do think St. Patrick’s Day is as good an excuse as any to have corned beef and cabbage.

The past couple of years, my sister Bec (who also is not Irish) has had us over for corned beef. This year, however, she is away for the week, watching her beloved Washington Nationals play spring ball in Florida. Go Nats. They’re also not Irish.

So I’m on my own for corned beef and cabbage, which admittedly is not rocket science to prepare. In fact, I recently learned that it isn’t even particularly Irish. According to Wikipedia (which, as you know, is NEVER wrong), they rarely even ate beef in Ireland, preferring pork. It wasn’t until the Irish started immigrating to the United States and found the cost of pork prohibitive that they started eating beef.

Bottom line: corned beef and cabbage is about as Irish as spaghetti and meatballs is Italian.

Now you think I’m going to offer a recipe for corned beef and cabbage, but you’re wrong. Just stick your corned beef in the crock pot with some water, the spices, and some carrots, and enjoy your meal eight hours later with a side of braised cabbage.

Nope, I’m going to do you one better. I’m going to offer you a recipe for homemade Bailey’s Irish Cream.

You can thank me later.

ingredients baileys

baileys bottled

Take it up a notch and make some ice cubes out of coffee. Serve your Irish cream over the coffee cubes. Thank you Pinterest.

baileys poured


Now, what do I do with a fifth of Jamison minus 1-2/3 cup? Oh, I know; make some more Irish Cream!

And as they would toast in Ireland….May you live to be a hundred years, with one extra year to repent.