Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Woman, where's my dinner?

Many years ago, I dated a man from a rather, um, patriarchal culture. He expected a meat-centric dinner, piping hot, whenever he stayed at my house. Note I didn't say he helped me prepare a meat-centric dinner.

My cooking skills were still under development at that time. (In truth they always will be, but they have improved tremendously.) I knew which flavors I liked, and which ingredients I was willing and able to use, but didn't always have technique perfected, nor did I have much patience for dishes that needed to simmer for hours on end. Those simmery dishes, though, are the ones that are usually filled with meaty bits and starchy bits, good for filling this man's professional-athlete appetite and quieting his inquiries as to the status of his next meal.

I remembered my mother making beef stew many times, which she usually served over egg noodles. She also used the terms 'beef stew' and 'bouef bourguignon' interchangeably, at least as far as my adolescent ears could tell. I knew she put some wine into the dish, and carrots and maybe celery, but I didn't know how to make it, exactly. Or if there were some small but important distinction to be made between stew and bourguignon, besides that Julia Child made the latter and we Irish made the former.

Determined to show his chauvinistic self I could do it, I called my best friend and begged her to tell me what to do. I knew she'd know, since she'd had more than one live-in boyfriend and was adept at cooking for them.  She told me to cook it for a while, which I thought I did, but apparently not long enough. It never came out quite right, and the wine flavor was never quite tame enough. He always gave me his full, unabridged critique.

Years (and relationships) later, I have finally learned to be patient with meat. I cook my stews long enough to create depth of flavor, and really tender meat. But I hadn't made a real bouef bourguignon until now. Julia Child made it famous, but Ina Garten made it simple: Barefoot in Paris contains a recipe with an introductory note specifically saying how un-fun it is to cook this dish all day long. To which I say, Amen, sister!

I leave the skin on the potatoes for a bit of added color and texture.

I was skeptical about using two different kinds of meat in one dish. To me, that always seems like flavor confusion, since each meat (e.g. beef, pork, chicken) has its own unique flavor. Well, maybe not chicken, since everything tastes like chicken, but beef and pork certainly do. Nevertheless, I seared the beef in the bacon drippings, as directed, and then coated the vegetables with all that fat and a few herbs, too. The wine went in early on, and combined with some broth and a little roux at the end to create a rich, flavorful gravy that could stand alone over mashed potatoes. 

Ina Garten suggests serving the dish with some country bread that has been toasted and spread with a bit of olive oil and garlic. My neighbor just happened to make a loaf the same night I made bouef bourguignon, so I ate it with both bread and mashed potatoes. I'm sure Julia Child and the entire nation of France would be horrified, but if ever there were a bowl full of Man Food, this is it.

Mia's cooking: 1, Patriarchy: 0

Bouef Bourguignon
adapted from Barefoot in Paris by Ina Garten

**I started with 1/2 lb beef and 1/3 bottle wine, and adjusted the rest of the ingredients accordingly, since I made this for myself and not for the entire Russian army. I also cooked mine on the stovetop, not in the oven, since I don't have a Dutch oven.

1 TBSP olive oil (I omitted this, since the bacon will render off plenty of fat)
8 oz bacon, diced (I used applewood-smoked bacon)
2 1/2 lbs beef stew meat
1 lb carrots, sliced diagonally into 1-inch chunks 
2 yellow onions, sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 C Cognac or brandy (I omitted this)
1 (750mL) bottle dry red wine
2  to 2 1/2 C canned beef broth (I used low-sodium vegetable broth)
1 TBSP tomato paste
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves (I used dried)
4 TBSP unsalted butter, at room temperature, divided
3 TBSP all-purpose flour
1 lb frozen small whole onions (I omitted these)
1 lb mushrooms, sliced (I omitted these)
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees, if using a Dutch oven.
2. Heat a Dutch oven or other large pot. Add bacon and cook over medium heat for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the bacon is lightly browned. Remove bacon from pan with a slotted spoon and set aside. 
2. Sprinkle beef cubes with salt and pepper. In a single layer (work in batches if necessary), sear the beef in the bacon fat 3-5 minutes, until brown on all sides. Remove beef cubes from pan and set aside with bacon. 
3. Toss carrots, onions, some salt and pepper (I added thyme here too) into fat in pan and cook over medium heat 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until onions are lightly browned. Add garlic and cook 1 minute more. Add Cognac if using, STAND BACK, and ignite with a match to burn off alcohol. Return meats to pan, along with juices from the plate. Add wine and enough broth to almost cover the meat. Add tomato paste and thyme, if not already added. Bring to a boil and either cover with lid and put in oven for about 75 minutes, or simmer over low heat for 75-90 minutes with cover just slightly askance. Meat and vegetables should be very tender when pierced with a fork.
4. Place the stew on the stove top, if not already there. Combine 2 TBSP butter and the flour with a fork and stir into the stew. Add frozen onions, if using. 
5. In a medium pan, saute the mushrooms, if using, in the remaining 2 TBSP butter over medium heat for 10 minutes, or until lightly browned, and then add to the stew. 
6. Bring the entire stew to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Season to taste. 
Serve with sliced country bread rubbed with garlic, or mashed potatoes, or egg noodles.

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