Sunday, December 2, 2012

Call Me Julia Child

It was another chilly day, perfect for soups and cooking all afternoon!  It was a great Sunday because Mark actually had the day off, and usually when that happens, he makes dinner, so today I decided to give him a break and make something special.  I used the same soup cookbook as yesterday and came up with a rather wild idea: beef bourguignon.  It's kind of like a beef stew, but in a red wine-based broth, and - get ready for this - you have to flambe it.  As in, light the alcohol fumes on fire.  I had my doubts that my house would survive my attempt to flambe anything, but I had to try it.

I have to say that while I love the cooking process and don't at all mind long, involved recipes, when they involve lots of meat, it takes a lot of the pleasure away!  Hacking at three pounds of beef chuck was not my idea of fun, especially when all my knives seem to be as dull as butter knives.  By the time I was done slicing and dicing, my arm was literally shaking, which made browning all the sides of my cubed beef rather painful and difficult.  But I got it done, and it made me feel better that this was the first time I got to use my Dutch oven as a Dutch oven.  I have used it before, but only to bake things in.  This time I got to use it to brown the meat on the stove, and then bake it all in the oven.  One pan, two jobs!  Gotta love my Le Creuset.

The meat cooks for two hours with carrots, onions, garlic, lots of red wine, beef broth, and a little brandy.  The brandy was what we had to light on fire, and the recipe called it an essential step in many French recipes.  Of course, I couldn't find long kitchen matches, so Mark and Aex helped me and were brave enough to man the lighter for me.  Nothing happened to first time, so we figured the whole mixture had to be hotter.  We moved it to the heat (even though I read to not flambe it while you have it on the heat), tossed in a little more brandy (this meal is an alcoholic's dream! Don't worry - it all burns or cooks off), and: whoosh!  FLAMBE!  It was very exciting.  Thanks for your help, pyro boys!

Most of the time spent on this meal was wait time; you have to bake the whole stew for 2 hours.  Meanwhile you saute pearl onions and mushrooms to toss in at the end, along with some parsley.  It ends up looking just like a thick beef stew.

I also decided to make some biscuits with the stew.  The quickest and easiest recipe I could find was one by Paula Deen.  The only weird thing was that it gives directions on how to bake them in a fire, not in the oven.  I just tossed them in with the stew, at 350 degrees, for 15 minutes.  They puffed up a little but I would have preferred them to rise a bit more.  The recipe never said how thick to roll them out, also; maybe I rolled them too thin. Nevertheless, they tasted really good and were a good mix with the stew!

And as for the beef bourguignon itself?  Absolutely delicious.  Even I liked the meat - and you know I never say that.  It was so tender, you hardly had to chew it, and the flavor of the broth was so complex and robust and absolutely amazing that I ate until I was sick.  And I don't even regret it.  It got rave reviews from Mom, Alex, Mark and Rachael (who of course complained about the mushrooms and wished there were more carrots, but that's about as "rave review" as Rach gets).  Lots of second helpings all around tonight!

And now shockingly it is 9:00 on a Sunday night and I need to start thinking about heading to bed.  Where did this weekend go??


beef bourguignon

from Williams-Sonoma's Soups and Stews

6 strips bacon, cut into 1/2-inch strips
3 lbs. beef chuck, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
salt and ground pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 yellow onions, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup Cognac  or brandy
3 cups dry, full-bodied red wine
1  1/2 cups beef stock
1 tablespoon tomato paste
4 cloves garlic,  minced
1 bay leaf
3 tablespoons butter
1 lb. white button mushrooms, quartered
7 oz. fresh pearl onions, blanched and peeled
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley


1) In a frying pan over medium-high heat, saute the bacon until browned but not crisp, about 3 minutes.  Transfer to paper towels.

2) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Pat the beef dry and season with salt and pepper.  In a Dutch oven over medium-high heat, heat the oil.  Working in batches to avoid crowding, add the beef and brown on all sides, 4-5 minutes per batch.  Transfer the browned meat to a bowl and set aside.

3) Add the chopped carrots and onions to the pot and saute over medium-high heat until the onions are lightly browned, about 4 minutes.  Reduce the heat to low; sprinkle the flour on top and cook, stirring, until the flour is incorporated, 1-2 minutes.  Return the bacon and meat, along with any juices, to the pot.

4) Remove from the heat, add the Cognac, and flambe.  Return to medium-low heat; add the wine, stock, tomato paste, garlic, bay leaf, and salt and pepper to taste.  Bring to a simmer.  Transfer to the oven and braise, covered, until the meat is fork-tender and the stew is the consistency of thick cream, about 2 hours.  Discard the bay leaf.

5) Meanwhile, in a frying pan over medium-high heat,  melt 2 tablespoons of butter.  Add the mushrooms and saute until browned, about 5 minutes.  Transfer to a bowl.  Melt the remaining tablespoon of butter, add the pearl onions, and cook, strirring, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes.  Add 1/2 cup water, cover, and cook until the onions are softened, 3-5 minutes.  Transfer to the bowl with the mushrooms.

6) When ready to serve, stir the mushrooms, pearl onions, and 1 tablespoon of the parsley into the stew.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Transfer to a serving dish and garnish with the remaining 2 tablespoons parsley. Serve immediately.

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