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Archive for the ‘beef’ Tag

Boeuf Bourguignon: an homage to Julia Child

Do you remember the game where you get to name one person, dead or alive, to hang out with for a day? If I were to play that game right now, I would chose Julia Child, and the first thing I would tell her is thank you. Then I would hug her, if that’s allowed.

Since that’s only a game, however, I thought I’d express my gratitude to the great Julia Child in a blog post hoping that in some cosmic and mysterious way she’ll be reading from wherever she is; probably in a version of culinary paradise where she has more duck fat and copper pots than any mortal would know what to do with.

The idea for wanting to thank Julia started last week when I decided to make her recipe for Boeuf Bourguignon. It made sense. The sky had been gray for over a week, and continues to stay that way, which makes me wonder if we’ll ever reach spring, but that’s beside the point. The weather was simply an instigator in this chain of events, maybe even orchestrated by Julia herself (that would be funny). In French mathematics, you see, Boeuf Bourginioun equals classic comfort food — the wool socks of French cuisine. It’s a tough cut of meat braised in a full-bodied red wine for hours until it begins to fall apart and your entire house takes on the scent of a cozy French bistro on a rainy Friday evening.

For the record, this is the first time I’ve made anything of Julia’s. To me, this was a revelation. Her recipe was divided neatly into different sections so as to make the entire process of cooking French food appear less daunting. This is one of the things Julia was known for: she made French food accessible, if not easy. I had heard this, but was never fully convinced anyone could make something like Boeuf Bourguignon seem simple. French food, I thought, had to be complicated. I also noticed that, stylistically, Julia wrote her recipes in narrative form, and included the ingredients along the sidebar, in order of appearance. Almost as if she were directing a movie and was crediting her cast members — the mushrooms, beef, parsley — for their outstanding performance.

I remember re-reading sections of the recipe thinking that I had missed something. While the recipe did have plenty of steps, they were all fairly basic. Sear the meat; brown the vegetables. These were all things I had done before. After I read the recipe a couple more times to make sure I wasn’t going to be ambushed by a militia of French cooking terms half-way through, I started to prepare the ingredients for my mise en place shot.

mise en place

If there’s one thing I have learned from cooking, and I’m pretty sure Julia would agree, it would be the importance of mise en place, or having everything in place. I include these photos on my blog for different reasons; one of them is so that I can maintain a certain degree of order in my kitchen. It took me a while to get into this habit, but it has helped me tremendously. A less pragmatic reason for why I do mise en place is because, like Julia, I like to highlight the ingredients that I use. It’s my quirky way of crediting the ingredients that make up the dishes on my blog.

give your beef room to sear

Julia is very clear about this step: there has to be enough room for the pieces of meat to sear in the bacon fat in order to get a nice crust — otherwise the meat would steam and the dish would be ruined. This was very important, so I did it in three batches.

now it’s turn for the veggies

The onions and carrots got the same treatment: a good five to seven minutes in bacon fat. In France, bacon fat, or more accurately, pork fat called lardon, is synonymous with flavor. If you have access to lardon from a local butcher, I would go with that, otherwise, bacon seemed to do a pretty good job if you don’t mind the subtle smokey undertone that it adds to the dish. I didn’t mind one bit. Once the onions and carrots develop a golden brown color you’ll want to pour out the bacon fat.

saute the onions and mushrooms sepeartely

To make things go quicker, I sauteed pearl onions and crimini mushrooms in a separate pan. These ingredients also need room to sear so they develop a golden brown color.

cover everything in red wine

Once the meat is seared and the vegetables have been browned, you’ll want to add everything back to the original dutch oven, and submerge its contents in red-wine. The French are masters at this; make sure, however, to save at least one glass for yourself.

Boeuf Bourguignon

Although the recipe says to braise the beef for three to four hours in a low oven, I actually set my oven cook-time to four hours and went to sleep. I woke up seven hours later, fully rested, to the most heavenly smell. I’m sure Julia would’ve been proud.

In the words of the great chef herself, bon appétit!

Boeuf Bourguignon

yields approx. 6 servings

Recipe adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child


  • 6 oz bacon
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 lbs chuck, cut into 2-inch cubes
  • 2 carrots, sliced
  • 2 onions, sliced
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 4 cups red wine, full-bodied young wine
  • 1-2 cups beef stock
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 head of garlic
  • 1/2 tsp thyme, dried
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 18-24 small white onions
  • 1 lb mushrooms, quartered
  • 3 sprigs of thyme
  • 3 sprigs of flat leaf parsley

Putting them all together

  1. Cut the bacon into thin sticks (1/4 inch thick and 1 1/2 inches long) and simmer in water for 10 minutes. Drain and pat dry.
  2. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  3. Sauté the bacon in olive oil for a couple of minutes or until lightly browned. Set aside.
  4. Reheat the bacon fat until it is almost smoking. In the meantime, pat your cubes of beef dry so you can get a good sear.
  5. Making sure not to overcrowd the pan, sear the beef cubes on all sides, in separate batches if necessary.
  6. Brown the sliced onions and carrots in the same bacon fat and then discard the bacon fat.
  7. Peel the skins off the pearl onions. They peel relatively easily if you submerge them in boiling water for 30 seconds and then shock them in ice water. Be sure to pat the onions dry.
  8. Heat 2 tbsp of butter in a large saute pan and cook the pearl onions until golden brown, then set them aside.
  9. Add the remaining 2 tbsp of butter to the saute pan and sear the quartered mushrooms, making sure not to overcrowd the pan.
  10. Make a bouquet garni (bouquet of herbs) by tying together the sprigs of parsley and thyme together with butchers twine. This will help you fish them out in the end.
  11. Slice the head of garlic cross-wise so as to reveal the midsection of all the cloves.
  12. Return the beef, bacon, sliced onions and carrots to the pot. Sprinkle in the flour and lightly toss to distribute the flour.
  13. Set the uncovered dutch oven in the middle position of the pre-heated oven for 4 minutes. Toss the meat and return to the oven for 4 more minutes.
  14. Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees F.
  15. Add the pearl onions and mushrooms, bouquet garni, sliced head of garlic, tomato paste, thyme, salt and pepper to the pot. Pour in the red wine and add enough beef stock so that all the contents in the pot are barely covered — this will prevent the meat from drying in the oven.
  16. Cover the dutch oven with a lid and return it to the oven (at the reduced temperature) to braise for 2 1/2 to 3 hours.
  17. The meat is done when you can pull it apart with a fork with very little effort.


Shakrieh, the stew that led me to Abu Fares

I can’t believe I let January slip through my fingers. It went by incredibly fast and ended without notice. You should’ve seen my face when I found out it was already February; my heart sank. Only because I’ve been meaning to tell you about this fantastic recipe since I returned from Syria back in December; it’s a Middle Eastern stew of sorts called Shakrieh.

While I was in Syria, I got to meet Abu Fares. Those who know Abu Fares, or have read his blog, will know why this encounter deserves its own post; this man is a talented writer, inspiring humanist, and simply put, a great person. He really is. Not to mention it is his Shakrieh recipe, which I’ve made four times in the past couple of months, that is outstanding.

Abu Fares lives in Tartous, a medium-sized city, quaintly situated along the Mediterranean coast of Syria; roughly a three hour train ride from Aleppo. We agreed to meet for lunch one afternoon while I was abroad. My grandmother and her brother decided to tag along, partly because they love to travel, but primarily because they’re over protective of me, and I love them for that. Plus, I knew my sito would pack delicious treats for the trip in one of her over-sized purses; in her opinion, you can never have too many aaroos (pita wraps with labne and other condiments). I agree.

We decided to take a small detour and spend the morning site seeing in Latakia, a scenic beach town less than an hour from Tartous. As I stepped off the train, I immediately took a deep breath, allowing the light briny breeze to fill my lungs. I did this a few more times. It was invigorating. The morning crowds started to fill the streets; mostly women with their children going out to get produce. I noticed a few locals crowded outside this modest shop that sold freshly squeezed orange juice. I got us three glasses as my grandmother pulled a few aaroos from her purse.

now I want an OJ press with a wheel

The weather in Latakia was too cold for swimming, and maybe that’s why the city wasn’t packed with people; the soft sunlight, however, was perfect for taking shots of the shore that morning. We spent the rest of our time leisurely strolling the city: we walked along the boardwalk, visited some historic sites, had coffee at a cozy café, and by noon we were back on our way to Tartous.

Latakia (اللاذقية)

During the slightly rowdy and bumpy hour-long bus ride from Latakia to Tartous, I rested my head on my sito‘s shoulder and closed my eyes. It’s a gift that I can nap almost anywhere. I eventually woke up to the driver announcing the different stops. We had finally made it to Tartous.

The Three Bloggers: Fares, Abu Fares and Me

Abu Fares and I greeted each other like old friends and I introduced him to my grandmother and her brother. We spent the next hour or so exploring Tartous. Abu Fares knows this city better than anyone, and many of the locals knew him, too. After the tour we went for some coffee at Abu Fares’ home where we got to meet his family.

Abu Fares has a son named Fares, hence his nickname Abu Fares — literally Fares’ Father in Arabic. Fares, like his dad, has his own blog called Superkid Chronicles where he writes about astrology and the different planets; his favorite show, SpongeBob Square Pants; and probably my favorite, the ultimate hot dog pizza.

Later that day Abu Fares took us to lunch at this charming restaurant up in the mountains, on the outskirts of Tartous. The meal consisted of lots of different mezze, and probably the tastiest freshly-caught fried red mullet (سمك سلطان إبراهيم) I’ve ever had. I posted more photos from my excursion to Latakia and Tartous on my flickr page.

Lunch with Abu Fares in Tartous

What I really need to do is tell you about is this amazing Shakrieh recipe.

mise en place

Shakrieh is a traditional dish from Damascus. In fact, very few people knew about it in Aleppo, where my family is from; some knew about it by a different name, which I can’t think of at the moment, while others hadn’t heard of it at all. This dish is pretty fantastic though. If you love slowly cooked meals that make you smile and feel warm inside, you need to try this dish. It’s essentially braised lamb (or beef) that is cooked in a creamy yogurt sauce. Traditionally it’s served with rice or bulger wheat (cracked wheat).

spices: allspice, cloves and cinnamon

Abu Fares’ recipe doesn’t call for these spices, only cinnamon. After a bit of experimenting, I found that the lamb here in the States has a stronger, more pungent, aroma than in Syria. If you’re sensitive to that gamy flavor that lamb is known for, I would suggest adding some of these spices, or even par boiling the lamb before braising it. The other alternative is to use a cut of beef that is suitable for braising, such as beef shanks, instead of the lamb.

Shakrieh (شاكرية باللبن)

Shakrieh is symbolic because of it’s pearly, white color; representative of purity, new beginnings and happiness. Abu Fares explains that it has been a tradition in his family to eat this dish on the first day of Ramadan. Going along with the symbolism, I prepared shakrieh for my friends and family for lunch on New Years. Saha wa hana (صحة و هنا) — Bon Appétit.


approx 4-6 servings


  • 1 kg lamb shanks (Mozat)
  • 3 large onions, sliced
  • 6 to 8 cups plain yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 egg
  • 2-3 cloves, whole
  • 4-5 allspice, whole
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • water
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Putting them all together

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, roughly 1/2 to 3/4 of the way full.
  2. Sweat the sliced onions in a large saute pan with the olive oil (be sure not to brown them) . Then, season the lamb shanks with salt and pepper and add to the onions along with the spices (cinnamon, cloves and allspice) and cook for about 5 minutes.
  3. Once the water comes to a boil, add the onions, lamb and spices to the water and lower the heat to medium-low.
  4. Braise for a 3-4 hours, until lamb is fork tender. Strain and the broth.
  5. In a blender, or with a whisk, mix together the yogurt, cornstarch and raw egg and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Make sure to stir constantly and in one direction* in order to keep the yogurt from separating.
  6. Once the yogurt begins to simmer, reduce the heat to low and add the braised lamb chunks, tender onions, plus one cup* of the lamb broth to the yogurt.
  7. Cook uncovered for 10-15 minutes and serve alongside rice or bulger wheat.

Notes: Recipe adapted from Abu Fares’ blog. Stirring the yogurt in one direction helps keep it from curdling–I don’t know the science behind it, but if you do, please leave a comment; I would love to know. Also, you may need to add more or less lamb broth depending on how thick your yogurt sauce got from the cornstarch.


Beyond Hummus

In elementary school I was the kid with the weird food. No contest. My lunch wasn’t cute like a pb&j nor was it stringy like the cheesy pizzas on Pizza Fridays. I had falafel, tupperwares of hummus brimmed to the top – typical Middle Eastern food, with the occasional ‘I love you’ note from my mom. This is what inspired today’s post. For the longest time I thought I could get by just blogging about the famous Middle Eastern dishes, leaving the tricky ones that don’t photograph well away from Olive Juice, but that wouldn’t be fair. I’ve blogged about the big names like tabbouleh (تبولة), baba ganoush (بابا غنوج), baklava (بقلاوة), but now it’s time for kibbeh (كبة).

Kibbeh is a traditional meat dish native to the Levant area (Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan) that can be prepared over 20 different ways. It’s a dish that’s dear to me because it’s most popular in Aleppo, Syria, the city where my grandparents are from. All the different preparations for kibbeh start with the same particular cut of meat called habra (هبرة) and that’s what I’m featuring today. 

mise en place

Habra is particular in that it cannot have any fat. Zip. Zilch – nada. This used to be an issue and a royal pain in the butt, but not anymore. Although my mom and grandmother still (stubbornly) de-fat their own meat, Sylvia is always more than happy to help me. Sylvia is my friend and head butcher at my local Whole Foods. I don’t want to turn this into a PSA, but befriend your butcher, fish monger, produce (guy/gal?)… they can make or break your grocery shopping experience. Plus, they’ve always got interesting stories. So yes, if your butcher is willing, ask him or her (kindly) to de-fat some inside round and pass it through the grinder 2-3 times. Make sure to specify though that it have no fat, because this is what makes habra

a tiny pinch of baking soda

The rest of the job is done by your handy food processor, which has conveniently replaced the mortar and pestle. You want to pulse the meat with a tiny, tiny amount of baking soda, salt, and the smallest amount of ice water necessary to make it sticky, but not watery. Can you imagine how long this would have taken to do with a mortar and pestle? Seriously?

habra: extremely lean meat

Once you’re done, I like to divide the meat into handy 500g (1/2 kg) portions that I keep in the freezer for when I want to make kibbeh, which will be featured on my next post. These portions can last months in the freezer, so load up and get ready for some awesome kibbeh posts to come.


1.5 kg (3 500g portions)


  • 1 kg inside round meat*, extremely lean
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp salt
  • ice cold water, as necessary

Putting them all together

  1. Trim and defat inside round cut of meat making sure that it is impeccable and no white spots are visible (ask your butcher nicely and he/she might do this for you).
  2. Pass the cleaned meat through the grinder 2-3 times (can also be done by the butcher).
  3. At home, pulse the meat in the food processor with baking soda, salt and very little water (approx 1 tbsp). You want enough water to make the meat sticky, but not watery.
  4. Separate into 3 500g portions and freeze until ready to use.

note: Traditionally this is made with (extra lean) lamb meat, but it has become very popular with beef as well.


    Thank you to all those who submitted ideas and suggestions for my morning show appearance on Fox 5 earlier this month. Here’s the clip of the baklava segment. Thanks for joining me on my blog and for making it so much fun! You rock 🙂