Oxtail Stew for Baby and Me
My first round of chemotherapy went better than I expected. Long story short it was 3 days of intense hangover from the chemo (fatigue, stomach pain, headache, dizziness, body pain), 5 concurrent days of horrifying do it yourself white blood cell injections, followed by another 2 days of intense bone pain from the injections. Pain is fleeting though. The body was designed to endure so much, and just like childbirth, after a few days I don't remember how it even felt exactly. The mind has a way of hypnotising you to help you get through challenging times, or perhaps we all have a built-in mechanism to help us optimize our memory of what happened. Without this, how would we be able to handle it again? The resilience of cancer patients is shocking, mainly i think because we are first informed of how long the battle could potentially be, and then stage after stage after stage of challenges builds our brain to perceive the past challenge as less than it actually was, and subconsciously already prepares ourselves for more to come. Through difficulty we develop skills to overcome. The human body is amazing!
Through my chemo brain fog, i couldn't concentrate on books or television. The only thing i was able to do was lie down and game on my phone, read my daily bread, pray and think. Thinking about my bright cancer free future, positive affirmations, cell rebuilding imagery, thinking about my breathing, and of course, what food to make my daughter. I'm actually thankful for those few days of forceful rest - how often do you allocate time for yourself to just lie there and think without distractions of media or other people? So I thought up some ideas of how to cook for the family without making separate meals for the baby, and i got cooking right away on day 8!
This super simplified oxtail stew took about 15 minutes preparation and then around 3-4 hours cooking time. I am super adamant about no salt and excess flavourings for my baby, so this recipe doesn't use any stock, wine, or salt. Homemade stock would be totally healthy for baby, but i only had shop bought stock which has too much sodium, so i decided to skip it completely.
Use a cast iron or heavy pot with a lid. Pan fry around 2 lbs of oxtail with a tbsp of olive oil until browned on all sides but not cooked through. Remove from the pan and set aside.
In the same oil and oxtail fat, pan fry on medium heat 1 leek chopped into 1 inch lengths, 3 shallots halved, and 5 small carrots chopped into 1 inch lengths. Once the onions start to soften, coat veggies with 2 tbsp of all purpose flour and cook for another minute or so.
Add 4 bay leaves, 3 star anise, 1 can of plum tomatoes and mix. Then add filtered water until everything is covered.
Cook on high heat for 5-10 minutes until the pot is at a full boil, then clamp on the lid and turn the heat to the lowest setting. Continue cooking on low for at least 3 hours until the meal falls off the bone. Give the pot a stir every 30 minutes to prevent burning at the bottom. Once the sauce starts to thicken, remove the bay leaves to prevent burning.
After the meat is ready, i take out the baby's portion and serve her first. Then i added 1 cup chicken stock, 1/4 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp sugar, and continued cooking on high heat without the lid on for about 5 minutes until the sauce has condensed to a thick consistency for the adults dinner. I served both baby and myself by removing the bones and shredding the meat in the sauce, then slathering over fusilli pasta. Serve with optional parmesan on top.
Normally you would add wine and beef stock in lieu of the water which makes it so flavourful and delicious, but i found that adding it in the end didn't sacrifice too much. Not adding wine also didn't make much difference to me, and saved me from wasting a bottle. If you want to add wine to stews but can't finish the bottle, you could freeze 1 cup portions of wine in ziplock bags and defrost whenever you make a stew.
When cooking with cast iron pots, i find it very easy to burn if you leave the pot unattended for too long. Remember to stir occasionally and to remove the bay leaves before the sauce gets thick.