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Archive for the ‘wine’ 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
 

Components

  • 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.

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My Big Fat Greek Post

During the month of January, A Taste of the Mediterranean was all about the ubiquitous French tart. Crispy, buttery, but not always sweet; the challenge was to create your spin, either sweet or savory, on this classic French pastry. The winner for January is Maggie from Dog Hill Kitchen with her Vegan Orange Cream Tarts with Almond Crusts! Congrats Maggie! You could check out her entry and all the other tart entries here.

This month we’re hopping from France over to the Greek islands with Peter from Kalofagas. For those (very few) who don’t know who Peter is, well, he’s a gifted Greek blogger who lives in Canada and who, I’m convinced, knows everything there is to know about Greek food. He’s the host this month for the A Taste of the Mediterranean contest and he’s calling on bloggers to make their own twists on the classic Greek pastitsio. To kick off the contest I decided to make my variation of this Greek lasagna using as many flavors from around the Mediterranean as I could.

mise en place

The classic recipe for pastitsio calls for meat sauce and bechamel spread between layers pasta. For my variation I incorporated Fontina cheese from Italy, red wine from France and harissa paste from Northern Africa, mainly because I had those ingredients laying around, but also because I enjoy mixing complimentary flavors from different regions of the Mediterranean.

this is where the flavor starts

The first thing I did was get my meat sauce going. It’s extremely easy, but takes time for the flavors to develop and turn into a proper meat sauce. The sauce starts with the classic mirapoux (i.e. the trinity) of carrots, celery and onions. The key is to cook them over medium heat so that they become soft, but it is important they don’t caramelize.

food therapy

I decided to go into full-on Greek mode for this recipe. This means I took no short cuts and made sure to multiply the recipe by three. I then stored two pans of the pastitsio in the freezer ready to go for those days when the bachelor in me wants food to magically appear on the table without chopping an onion or stirring a pot.

a 30s dunk is all it needs

Once you’re done rolling out the dough, all the pasta needs is a quick bath in boiling water. You don’t want to cook it all the way though… this is just to give it a head start. Once the pasta boils for 1-2 minutes, shock it in an ice bath to immediately stop the cooking process. The pasta will then finish cooking with the rest of the ingredients in the oven.

my idea of being healthy: meat+greens

Once the meat sauce is done cooking, you’ll be happy. Your entire kitchen will acquire the aroma of the meat sauce and you’ll find yourself in the tasting stage, wondering if there is anything missing. Perhaps a little more salt and pepper might be good? Sometimes that helps, but often the addition of anything fresh and green will strike a balance with the rich flavors of the sauce. I used frozen petite peas for this because they’re green, but also because they have a creamy bite to them that I enjoy.

flavor development at its peak

The layering is up to you and mostly depends on the ingredients you use and your own personal preferences. I always start with a thin layer of bechamel on a buttered pan because that helps prevent sticking. From there I start by layering pasta, more bechamel, meat, cheese, ham, even more bechamel and then pasta again. I do this until I reach the very top, which I finish off with a little more bechamel, a sprinkling of fontina cheese and a thin layer of parmigiano reggianno on the very top to develop a nice crust in the oven.

dinner

This was my humble recreation of Greek pastitsio done alla Mediterranean. It was my dinner last night, tonight and it will probably be my dinner for a few more nights this week. I can’t wait to see other variations of this dish for A Taste of the Mediterranean! Remember that the winning pastitsio post will win a $50 gift certificate to iGourmet!

Pastitsio

yields one 9×13 pan

Components

  • 4 cups bechamel
  • 1 1/3 lbs ragú
  • 1/2 lbs of sliced ham
  • 1 1/2 cups fontina cheese, grated
  • 1/3 cup parmesan for top layer
  • lasagna sheets, fresh or dry

Putting them all together

  1. Prepare all the components to the pastitsio and set aside for assembly.
  2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and butter a 9×13 baking pan.
  3. Begin by adding a thin layer of bechamel to the bottom of the pan.
  4. Follow with a layer of pasta, a layer of bechamel, a layer of meat mixture, a layer of ham, and a sprinkling of fontina.
  5. Repeat until you reach the top of the pan (usually 2-3 layers of meat).
  6. Top the final layer of pasta with a final thin layer of bechamel, a thin layer of fontina and finish off with parmesan cheese.
  7. Bake covered for 30 minutes and uncovered for the last 15 (broil for a couple minutes at the end if you want an extra crispy crust).

note: You can make your own pasta dough or use the dry lasagna sheets available at your local supermarket.

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anything wine-braised goes

It’s getting close to graduation and I can’t get myself to start packing all my food stuff for the big move this Sunday. Each time I told myself to focus and pack, my ADD kicked into high gear and the cardboard boxes and bubble wrap took a back seat to my distractions. Yesterday I decided to procrastinate with good taste and make wine-braised mushrooms with a goat cheese and mascarpone topping. What, what? I still have 4 more days until the parental unit gets here and starts complaining about how unproductive I’ve been this past week.

mise en place
mise en place

Anna, my host mom from Italy (and my friend Francesco’s actual mom), came a week early to spend time in Ithaca before the big day. Since I’m a believer that not every dinner party has to be an 8-course, 20-guest ordeal, I called up Francesco and invited him and his mom over for some wine and appetizers. I made her biscotti recipe and whipped up a batch of my wine-braised mushroom cups.

simple/cute puff pastry cups
making puff pastry cups

Puff pastry is key for this appetizer; and if you haven’t already discovered Foodbeam, Fanny offers a brilliant step-by-step crash course on this classic French dough. Can you make do using the store-bought stuff? I guess. But only if your foodie conscience actually allows you to pick up the pre-packaged dough that has been sitting in the frozen isle of your local grocery store for who knows how long and has been stamped with a generic 2-year window of expiration… sigh.

Braising the mushrooms is a walk in the park. All you have to do is sauté them over high heat, deglaze the pan with balsamic vinegar and red wine, and lower the heat until most of the liquid evaporates.

Wine-Braised Mushroom Cups
Wine-Braised Mushroom Cups

Wine-Braised Mushroom Cups

(yields approx. 24 cups)

Components

  • 1 lb. crimini mushrooms, de-stemmed
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tsp. fresh thyme
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • 300 ml wine (1 small glass)
  • 300 g. puff pastry
  • 150 g. goat cheese
  • 100 g. mascarpone cheese
  • zest & juice of 1 lemon
  • chives, for garnish

Putting them all together

  1. Sauté mushrooms over high heat with butter, olive oil, thyme and garlic for about a few minutes until browned.
  2. Deglaze the pan with balsamic vinegar and wine and lower heat to medium until most of the liquid has evaporated (apprrox. 25 minutes) and set aside.
  3. Cut out circle rounds of puff pastry and bake in a mini muffin tin to make the individual cups (poke holes before baking to prevent excessive puffing).
  4. Mix the cheeses, lemon zest and lemon juice for the topping.
  5. Scoop a few mushrooms into each cup and top with the lemon-infused cheese mixture. Garnish with chopped chives and serve.

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la dolce vita: sharing good food with friends and family
eating puff pastry mushroom cups