Friday, December 12, 2008



Here's a new word for you: pulpitis. As in the pulp inside a tooth. It appears I have it. Infected pulp, beneath a crown, no less. When was the last time you heard somebody say they had a toothache? Between flossing and brushing twice a day with my Sonicare, I was convinced my teeth would outlast the rest of my body by at least a century. But I've been having this toothache for the past week or so, and my dentist told me I had pulpitis under one of the crowns in my mouth and I needed a root canal to have it fixed. And it gets better. My Cadillac Aetna Dental PPO, part of an overall policy for which I will be paying a group rate of over $200 a month next year, doesn't pay for it! All that sucker pays for is prophylactic care, the six-month cleanings and checkups. If one of those checkups should uncover a problem, you're on your own.

Well, not entirely on your own. For an additional mere $30 a month, you can by a supplemental policy that will cover everything else a dentist can do to--I mean for--you. Aarrgghh!!! After spending a couple of hours in the rat's maze of federal health benefits web pages yesterday, I finally figured out how to add the supplemental to my policy, but it won't go into effect until January 1.

Meanwhile, the tooth feels better today. I spoke with my dentist again this morning and he said this is something that can come and go, that if there was an infection it may have cleared up spontaneously, but that if the tooth is still sensitive to pressure and temperature, there is probably a crack in the nub of tooth left beneath the crown. The root canal would have cost $800, so I cancelled it. It'll be the old "watch and wait" until my new policy kicks in next year. I'll just chew my beef stew carefully.

How's that for a segue? Tyler Florence is our favorite "personality chef" on the Food Network. He's always bright and cheery (but he doesn't overdo it like Rachel Ray), and his cooking style, full of big chunks of food and bold, rich flavors, is the same thing I strive for in my own cooking, so I use a lot of his ideas. This recipe is pretty much as he does it, except that I decided that the rich sauce deserves a bed to accompany it, so instead of just putting potato chunks in the stew as is traditional, I decided to mash the potatoes and serve the stew over them. It's really good that way, but do what you want.

Just two tips: make sure the initial browning of the meat is thorough. It's that carmelization that adds depth of flavor to the finished product. Also, there is a lot of liquid here, a whole bottle of wine and then two cups of beef stock on top of that. I suggest that you simmer the "partially covered," but really, it'll be OK if you just leave the cover off for the entire 2 1/2 hours of simmering. That liquid does need to cook down considerably.

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 to 3 pounds boneless beef chuck roast, cut into 2-inch pieces
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 bottle good quality dry red wine (recommended: Burgundy)
8 fresh thyme sprigs
6 garlic cloves, smashed
3 1-inch strips orange zest
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 bay leaves
2 1/2 cups beef stock
1/2 pound carrots, peeled and sliced
2 cups frozen pearl onions, a large handful
1 pound white mushrooms, cut in 1/2
1/2 pound garden peas frozen or fresh

9 small new potatoes, scrubbed clean and cut in 1/2

Preheat a large heavy-bottomed saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat with the oil and butter.

While the pan is heating, arrange the flour on a large dish. Season the cubed beef with some salt and freshly ground black pepper and then toss in the flour to coat. Shake off the excess flour and add the beef chunks in a single layer to the hot pan, being careful not to overcrowd the pan (you might have to work in batches). Thoroughly brown all of the cubes on all sides. Once all the meat has been browned remove it to a plate and reserve.

Add the wine to the pan and bring up to a simmer. Deglaze the rich browned bits from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. After de-glazing, return the meat and accumulate juices to the pan along with the thyme, smashed garlic, orange zest strips, ground cloves, freshly ground black pepper and salt, to taste, bay leaves and beef stock. Bring the mixture up to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook uncovered until the liquids start to thicken, about 15 to 20 minutes. Partially cover and continue to cook on low heat for 2 1/2 hours. (There is a lot of liquid here and you will want it to cook down.)

After 2 hours add the sliced carrots, pearl onions and mushrooms, along with a pinch of sugar to balance out the acid from the wine. Leave uncovered and simmer for 30 minutes more, until the vegetables and meat are tender. Add the frozen peas during the last minute of cooking. Season with salt and pepper and remove the thyme sprigs.

While stew is on its last simmer, boil potatoes in salted water until done, and mash, using your favorite recipe. Serve stew over mashed potatoes.


Mim said...

Teeth and beef stew.. nice combo!
And you almost have me beat on teeth problems and I've had it all, but not this diagnosis.
Crazy about the dental insurance part isn't it?
Have had too many crowns and too many root canals, none fun.
Am always jealous when I meet people my age and older who have had no dental woes like I've had!
And lights in your window sound so much easier than boxes of ornaments and all that 'stuff' I got down from the attic.
Good to hear from you too.

Zoey and Me said...

I need another root canal done, three prong or whatever they call it. But here in Florida it's $1100 for the root canal; $175 for the setup; gold crown $1300. WOW. Think I'll wait. If no pain and mine is a chipped tooth, I will see what 09 looks like then decide. I have no dental coverage but 100% medical coverage. That came in handy when I had a triple bypass and colon surgery. So I'm ahead of the game. Thanks for food friday. We'll try it Sunday. By the way, I'm only 60 and have five gold crowns in my head. The German Doc who does my root canals did six at one time two years ago. I got to watch it on a TV that is totally computerized and hangs from the ceiling.

Kat said...

I had a crack in my tooth but had to shuffle through three dentists before it was finally pulled. My dentist sent me to a root canal dentist who found the crack who then sent me to an oral surgeon. Luckily, my insurance is a bit better than yours.

That recipe sounds absolutely fabulous. I love the idea of it over mashed potatoes.

Linda - SE PA said...

This recipe seems perfect for a snow day. I can smell the stew cooking away, the snow falling and a house being warm and cozy. Comfort food at its best. Recipe seems like an adaption of Shepherd's Pie reversed - as the Pie has the mashed potato on the top.

Dentistry is a pet peeve of mine. Going to one is a necessity and is expensive. With all the new technology they have at their fingertips, it seems to me, the work should be easier and more efficient. Yet, we pay more... and more often than not, we get sent to the specialist for root canal and then we have to consider the crown work. Sigh...

Ralph said...

That's a lotta crowns, Z&M! I've got two (plus an old stainless steel one that seems to be outlasting everything else) but they aren't gold. What a PIA teeth are. But I'm glad I have 'em!

Ralph said...

Kat and Linda, the stew is the perfect winter meal. It smells up the house beautifully. Linda, I hadn't thought of the "Shepherd's Pie in reverse" angle. You're right. Guess you could make a proper pie with the mash on top and bake it a bit to get a browned crust--yum!

The tooth is hurting a bit today and I'm hoping I can hold off doing anything until I'm ensured properly after the first of the year. As I've thought about it more, it's a good thing I didn't go for the root canal because that may not be what I need. If the tooth is cracked and the nerve exposed, maybe I need an extraction. There's no infection. Who knows???

Zoey and Me said...

I made this recipe yesterday for Sunday dinner and it's definitely a keeper. Good going Ralph and thanks. I nursed it along while watching the Redskins lose to CIN Bengals. You guys up there have gotta get rid of Campbell and for my money you can get rid of Coach Zorn too. I laugh every time he puts that stupid board over his face to call in a play. What a clown.

Ralph said...

Glad the stew was a hit! It had to be...

Sorry the 'Skins aren't earning your long-distance respect. DC just can't seem to get any winning teams that stay that wy...been that way for as long as I can remember.