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Saturday, January 23, 2010

Boeuf Bourguignon à Chez Musser

I mentioned on Facebook how divine my house smelled last night while I was cooking Beouf Bourguignon and got some recipe requests. I looked online for a recipe similar to my version of the classic French beef stew, but they were all so much more complicated than necessary, so I am feeling bound to type up mine. This peasant dish, raised to haute cuisine by Antoine Carême, then brought to American home cooks 40 years ago by Julia Child is now experiencing a resurgence of interest thanks to last year's film Julie and Julia. (I can't help but wonder why the upstart's name is first in the title?)

The recipe, as described in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, appears complicated, but really, this is home food and none of the techniques involved are beyond the scope of a home cook. Preparing the meat and sauce is simplicity. You get the onions and mushrooms ready while the meat is cooking. I do find peeling the two dozen pearl onions tedious and if I don't have them on hand or don't want to deal with them, I just saute a sliced onion along with the carrots and add them to the meat. That said, the browned whole pearl onions bring a welcome contrasting sweetness to the dish that is worth the effort, so do try it that way at least once. Sadly, no one in my family but me likes mushrooms, so I have to cordon mine in a corner of the sauteuse pan I use for braising, then scoop them into a little serving bowl for myself before putting the rest of the meat and sauce in another serving bowl.

You may notice there is no bacon, fat back, lardons, or any other form of smokey pork fat goodness in my recipe. I'm all for it much of the time and we even go so far as to cure and smoke our own bacon, but I feel the act of soaking, which Julia recommends to remove the saltiness, just negates the whole purpose of using a cured fat. When I've just used bacon fat, I have found the dish gets too salty and the smokiness doesn't add to the dish. So, I use tallow, which is rendered beef fat. If you don't have any tallow, clarified butter or ghee would work. You can DIY, of course. Or, you can completely ignore me and go for the pork fat. C'est la vie.

I also find flouring the meat unnecessary and knowing that so many are trying to avoid gluten and grains, I can assure you that you are missing nothing. I quit doing that ages ago, when I started using the sauteuse pan, which, because of its large surface area, readily thickens the sauce without the addition of flour. If you are using at Dutch oven and find that your sauce isn't thick enough in the end, you can always thicken with a beurre manie or potato starch if you eschew gluten (to avoid lumps, first whisk a few tablespoons of the cooking liquid with a couple teaspoons of starch, then add the mixture to the sauce).

I served last night's beouf bourguignon with homemade crème fraîche. O. M. G. Really, just plan a day or so ahead and do it. Your taste buds, if they could, would bow down and say, "Bless you!" Sour cream, quark, or even yogurt would be fine. I believe Julia says to serve this with boiled potatoes, though it is also quite good with roasted or mashed potatoes, buttered egg noodles...oh anything to catch that sauce! And don't forget a side of halved Brussels sprouts, boiled for a few minutes, then browned in bacon fat. Nom-nom-nom, says the lady who doesn't like Brussels sprouts.

Someone asked if using grass-fed beef made a difference in the cooking time. I simply cook this until the meat is tender, not according to any specific time. Do keep an eye on things during what you expect to be the last hour or so, especially if you use a sauteuse, rather than a Dutch oven. The sauce can go from perfectly thick to not-so-perfectly dry rather quickly if you are not paying attention. I simply add more broth or even the rinse water from the jar of tomato sauce if more liquid is needed toward the end.

3 pounds lean stewing beef, cut into 2-inch cubes
Salt and pepper
2-4 tablespoons tallow
1 carrot, diced
2 cloves mashed garlic
2 cups red wine, young and full-bodied (Pinot Noir or Burgundy is usually recommended, though I often use an inexpensive Bordeaux)
2 to 3 cups beef stock
1 pint tomato sauce
leaves from 4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
18 to 24 pearl onions
1 pound cremini mushrooms, quartered
4 tablespoons butter, divided

Preheat oven to 325F. Sprinkle salt and pepper all over the cubed meat. Melt tallow over medium high heat in a large saute pan or sauteuse. Add seasoned meat to the pan in a single layer, browning in batches if your pan is not large enough to accomodate all the meat at once without crowding. Remove the browned meat to a bowl. Saute the carrots in the pan for several minutes, until they are browned. Add the garlic and saute for 60 seconds. Put the browned carrots and garlic with the meat, return the pan to the heat and immediately add the wine. Using a flat wooden spatula, deglaze the pan, scraping the browned bits off the bottom of the pan. Add the stock, tomato sauce, thyme leaves, bay leaf, meat, and carrots to the pan. Bring to a simmer on the stove. Cover the pan and cook in the oven for 3 to 4 hours, or until you can easily pull the meat apart with a fork. Add the onions and mushrooms and cook for another 2o minutes. If you feel the sauce is not thick enough, remove the meat and vegetables from the sauce. Put the cooking pan on a medium-high burner, then thicken with a potato starch or beurre manie (typically, one uses flour to thicken at the start of cooking and a root starch for thickening at the end of cooking, but in a pinch, the flour-butter mix works). Return meat and vegetables to the pan and gently stir, coating everything in sauce.

In the meantime, prepare the onions and mushrooms. To peel the onions, boil them for 1 minute, then drain. Cut off the ends, the slip off the skins. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a saute pan over medium high heat. Brown the onions in the pan for 10 minutes, remove and set aside. Return saute pan back to burner. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and saute the mushrooms for about 8-10 minutes. If you, like me, must keep the mushrooms out of the finished dish, as they begin to brown sprinkle salt on the mushrooms and add a splash of red wine to the saute pan and cook for 1 more minute. Feel free to add some more butter, too. You deserve it. Set the mushrooms aside with the onions.

When the meat is tender, gently stir in the onions and mushrooms, then serve. Bon Appétit!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Taking Stock, Making Stock

Happy New Year! After months of preserving followed by weeks of holiday baking, travel, and celebrations, I am relieved to spend some time in January quietly taking stock of the previous year and making plans for the new. I've been thinking in particular of the new food-related skills I acquired in 2009 and the people who helped me learn something new, either in person or through their books and blogs. Here is my list of Kitchen-Inspiration Books, Blogs, and People of 2009.

  • Helen Witty and her book Fancy Pantry taught me to make gravlax for our New Year's Day open house and inspired me all year, from spring's Ginger-Rhubarb Chutney and summer's Countrystyle Chile Sauce to Cranberry Cordial in the fall and now, Candied Kumquats!
  • Joining The Nourished Kitchen's Pantry Challenge in December 2008 pushed me to keep better records of how much I spend on food, showing me how much I save by cooking only with what I have on hand and giving focus to my 2009 food preservation efforts.
  • Michael Ruhlman. Oh, let me count the ways he has inspired me. My husband and I learned to cure bacon and ham from his Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing. I keep Ratio: The Simple Codes behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking on the top of my cookbook stack as it provides a springboard for experiments in everything from muffins to pickles. His blog fires me up. He is as passionate as I am about empowering everyday people in their kitchens, though he's far more articulate and has his wife Donna taking extraordinary, mouth-watering food photos!
  • Two other writers that really get my gears turning, Hank Shaw at Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook and Langdon Cook at Fat of the Land. Thanks to them, I've become more confident cooking with wild foods this year.
  • Tips from Diane Morgan's Online Cooking School and Deb Perelman's Smitten Kitchen (plus what I already knew and practiced from Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking) helped me make even better pastry with less effort.
  • Eugenia Bone's Well-Preserved: Recipes and Techniques for Putting Up Small Batches of Seasonal Foods taught me to pressure can tuna without fear and we here at Chez Musser love the results.
  • I can't count how many times I've wanted a simple recipe for something, gone to Simply Recipes, and found just what I needed. Recently, I began to think Elise must be psychic, such as when I went looking for a good roasted Brussels sprouts recipe to find she posted about Roasted Brussels Sprouts the very same day.
  • I have to admit, fusion food is not normally my thing and I even feel a little intimidated when I visit White on Rice Couple. This couple—meat-and-potatoes Oregon rancher boy meets bold and fiery Vietnamese girl—have such a bright, beautiful, SoCal thing going on. I can't help but feel my frumpy, sodden PNW self does not belong there, but they make me feel welcome despite my sensible shoes and I've been learning so much about flavor from them. I especially ♥ their Tomato with Ginger "Ah...you so Asian!" Jam and Ultimate Umami Burgers.
  • My friends Sierra and Teri at Grain-Free Foodies have shown me delicious ways to cook and bake without wheat and other grains. They make "going without" look and taste so good!
  • And finally, my friend Melisa of Magpie Eats, who taught me cook my new favorite comfort dish, uppma with cranberry chutney. In listening to her rhapsodize about her favorite foods, I've gained a greater appreciation of bold seasonings and unexpected flavor combinations. Oh, and her sweet tomato chutney? I drool a bit just thinking about it.

In December, Melisa gave me a copy of Laurie Colwin's Home Cooking and in reading it I became aware of how much great food writing I have missed out on with my focus on cooking technique. This year, I want to read more Colwin, plus some of the other grand dames of food lit: Elizabeth David, MFK Fisher, Judith Jones, and Ruth Reichl. I'm looking forward to exploring the more sentimental side of cooking. I also want to continue explore grain-free cooking, dive more deeply into Indian cookery, and keep dipping my toes into those fusion food waters.

What about you? What did you learn about food and cooking in 2009? Who inspired you? What do you want to learn in 2010?

My Winter 2010 Schedule is up. Highlights include Winter Canning this Saturday; Chocolate Loves Fruit January 30; Stocks, Soups, and Stews February 19; and One Chicken, Many Meals February 20. If my schedule doesn't fit yours, contact me to arrange for a private lesson or a class at your home, office, school, etc. I can customize classes to meet your needs and location.