Tuesday, December 29, 2009

French Connection: Beef Bourguignon

Early this fall I was leafing through an edition of Wine Spectator magazine. There was a featured section that had a tribute to Julia Child with recipes from a variety of star chefs. My husband and I had seen Julie & Julia in the theater a month prior, and when I saw Thomas Keller’s (of French Laundry) recipe printed for Beef Bourguignon I decided I should make it. I mentioned my personal challenge to my husband, and being the carnivore he is, he was undoubtedly supportive of my quest. (You may have noticed this is my first blog post about beef. This is not coincidental. For many reasons that I can elaborate on at a another time, I rarely cook beef. Consequently, my husband usually orders it every time we dine out.)

The rest of the fall unfolded rather unfortunately, and I never found myself with a weekend to devote to this labor-intensive recipe. Finding myself with a theoretical break from work for a few days between Christmas and New Year’s, I took a break from work emails and devoted myself to making Beef Bourguignon.

In preparation of making this dish, I must have reread the recipe three-dozen times. It is quite complex – spanning across three pages of this 12.7 x 9.7 inch magazine - and with each read I attempted to visualize the cooking process. On Saturday and Sunday I visited three different grocery stores gathering all of the ingredients, in the precise form they were called for in the recipe.

For some reason I waited until Sunday night to see what other Beef Bourguignon recipes looked like. Some of them called for one pot and one day of cooking. My recipe used about six or seven pots and required a minimum of two days of cooking. Some used a little red wine; my recipe used a whole bottle. I started wondering why I had stuck to the first recipe I had seen. I further investigated and found that Thomas Keller's recipe had the main distinctions of what others claimed to be a good Beef Bourguignon: red wine aromatic reduction, overnight wine bath, and freshly cooked vegetables. While the recipe I was set to try was more complex than others, it apparently was going to have more depth.

Day 1: I started chopping the vegetables to begin the red wine reduction. I thought to myself, this isn’t bad at all. I knew I’d be disposing of them later, and just gave them all a quick, rough chop. I moved on to browning the meat, and began wishing that I was doing this step when my husband was home, because he would have gladly stepped in to assist. I made it through the three whole pounds of short ribs, and got the reduction and the meat in the oven. As the meat slowly braised, a tantalizing aroma filled the house. After a few more steps, the meat went into the fridge, and I went out the door to take the night off and meet some girlfriends for cocktails!

Day 2: My sister had called me a couple days earlier stating that she and my brother-in-law wanted to come over with their kids over for dinner. We jump at any chance that we get to see our niece and nephew, and her timing couldn’t have been better for wanting to eat dinner at our house.

The second day of preparation for this dish was mainly cooking the vegetables, as the meat only needed to be reheated. The preparation of the carrots, mushrooms, and potatoes created al dente vegetables that were deliciously flavored. To cook the pearl onions, put the onions in a pan of bowling water for 1-2 minutes. Drain them in a colander and them immediately plunge them into an ice bath to stop the cooking process (a bowl of cold water with ice cubes). Cut off the root end of each pearl onion and squeeze the onion so it pops out of it’s skin.

Our guests arrive and the Beef Bourguignon was ready to be eaten. The meat was tender, the vegetables were tasty, and no one found a need to use any Dijon mustard as the recipe suggested. I served the Beef Bourguignon with a salad and some French bread (that could be used to sop up some of the cooking liquid). While my husband, sister, and brother-in-law made a sizeable dent in the Beef Bourguignon, I enjoyed some vegetarian lentil soup, but was proud to have put together such an intricate French dish!

Boeuf Bourguignonne
(by Thomas Keller, from Wine Spectator, September 30, 2009)
1 bottle hearty red wine, such as Cabernet Sauvignon
2 cups diced yellow onions
1 2/3 cups peeled and sliced carrots
2 ½ cups sliced leeks, white and light green parts only
1 cup sliced shallots
1 cup button mushrooms, plus 32 individual mushrooms with stems cut flush to caps
12 thyme sprigs
14 Italian parsley sprigs
7 bay leaves
1 ¾ teaspoons black peppercorns
9 large garlic cloves, skin left on and smashed
2 tablespoons kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
Freshly ground black pepper
3 pounds boneless short ribs, cut into 2-inch-by-1-inch pieces
Canola oil
6 to 8 cups veal or beef stock
8 ounces small fingerling potatoes, cut into ½-inch-thick slices
16 baby carrots, halved lengthwise
4 ounces slab bacon, cut into 24 lardons 1 ½ inches long and 3 ⁄8 inch thick
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
12 red pearl onions and 12 white pearl onions, cooked
Fleur de sel (Kate used sea salt)
Dijon mustard

1. To make the red-wine reduction, combine the wine, 1 cup onions, 1 cup carrots, 1 cup leeks, 1 cup shallots, 1 cup mush-rooms, 3 thyme sprigs, 6 Italian parsley sprigs, 2 bay leaves, ½ teaspoon peppercorns and 3 garlic cloves in a large ovenproof pot with a lid. Bring to a boil over high heat. Simmer 30 to 40 minutes, or until the wine has reduced to a glaze.

2. Season the meat with salt and pepper. Heat 1⁄8 inch of canola oil in a large sauté pan over high heat. Add just enough meat so as not to crowd the pan. Brown the meat on all sides, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer the meat to a paper towel–lined baking sheet to drain. Repeat with the remaining meat, adding more oil if necessary.

3. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Add 3 thyme sprigs, 3 Italian parsley sprigs, 2 bay leaves, 2 garlic cloves, and the remaining 1 cup onions, 2⁄3 cup carrots and 11/2 cups leeks to the red-wine reduction, and toss together. Wet and wring dry enough cheesecloth to cover about 4 inches more than the diameter of the pot. Cover the vegetables with the cheesecloth, tucking in the edges to form a nest shape. Place the meat in the nest, and add enough stock to just cover the meat. Bring the liquid to a simmer over medium-high heat. Cover with a tight-fitting lid, and transfer to the oven. Reduce the heat to 325° F, and cook for 1 ½ to 2 hours, or until the meat is very tender.

4. Transfer the meat to an ovenproof pot or container, and discard the cheesecloth. Strain the liquid twice through a fine strainer, the second time into a saucepan, and discard the vegetables. Bring the liquid to a boil, spooning off any fat that rises to the top of the mixture. Strain the liquid over the meat. Let it cool, then cover and refrigerate for at least 1 day, up to 3 days.

5. Preheat the oven to 375° F. Remove the meat from the refrigerator, and skim off any congealed fat from the top.

6. Place the potatoes in a large saucepan along with 2 thyme sprigs, 1 bay leaf, ¼ teaspoon peppercorns, 2 garlic cloves and 1 tablespoon salt. Cover the potatoes with an inch of cold water. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, or until tender. Drain, cool, discard the seasonings, and set aside.

7. Place the baby carrots in a medium saucepan with 4 thyme sprigs, 2 bay leaves, 1 teaspoon peppercorns, 2 garlic cloves and 1 tablespoon of salt. Cover with 11⁄2 inches water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 4 to 5 minutes, or until tender. Drain, cool, discard the seasonings, and set aside.

8. Spread the lardons in a single layer on a nonstick or foil-lined sheet pan. Roast in the oven for 10 minutes, stir, and return to the oven for another 5 to 10 minutes, or until browned. Drain on paper towels.

9. Melt the butter in a large skillet over high heat until the foam subsides. Add the remaining 32 mushrooms, reduce the heat to medium-low, and season with salt and pepper. Cook gently, tossing often, until the mushrooms are lightly browned and tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Set aside.

10. Carefully transfer the pieces of meat to a deep, ovenproof sauté pan. Strain the liquid over the meat. Warm the meat in the oven for about 5 minutes, basting occasionally. Add the potatoes, carrots, mushrooms and pearl onions, and toss gently. Roast in the oven for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the meat and vegetables are hot.

11. Meanwhile, warm the lardons in a small skillet. Chop the leaves of the remaining 5 sprigs parsley.

12. Remove the sauté pan from the oven, and gently toss in the parsley. With a slotted spoon, divide the meat and vegetables among 4 plates. Spoon some of the sauce over each serving. Distribute the lardons among the plates. Sprinkle with fleur de sel, and serve immediately with Dijon mustard.

Adapted from Thomas Keller’s Bouchon (Artisan)

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas: Crème de Menthe Pie

Merry Christmas! I just wrapped up my Christmas dinner. The leftovers are in the refrigerator, the counters are wiped, and the dishes are in the dishwasher.

For the past few years, I have hosted Christmas dinner at my house. It is a small crowd, but it is fun to have the liberty to cook whatever I want to. Since my in-laws have always had more conservative palettes, I don't make anything too prolific, but I do modify the menu each year. We start the afternoon with a few appetizers, followed by dinner, and capped off with the one constant each year - Crème de Menthe Pie.

Glazed Ham

Seasoned Corn

For as long as I can remember, my family has had Crème de Menthe Pie for dessert on Christmas dinner. This was a tradition I continued when we lived in NYC and I made it for our friends for our pre-Christmas dinner. When I started hosting Christmas dinner myself, there was no doubt what I would make for dessert. Although my mother, my sister, and I are all in different places on Christmas night, celebrating with our respective in-laws, this is a dessert that we all still make. (In fact, I wound up with two pies in my freezer tonight, as my parents stopped by my house for appetizers, but forgot their pie when they ventured on to their next destination.)

There are so many memories associated with this dessert, but it is also reminiscent of my favorite hard-serve ice cream flavor - mint chocolate chip. You can serve the pie with whipped cream if you like, but I think it is perfect without.

Crème de Menthe Pie
3 pints vanilla ice cream
5 Tablespoons crème de menthe liqueur
2 cups chocolate wafer crumbs (such as Oreos)
1/3 cup butter, softened
Chocolate Sauce (recipe follows)

Combine wafer crumbs (if using Oreos, crumble in food processor) with butter and press into 10” spring form pan (press throughout bottom of pan, and up to 1 inch along sides of pan). Refrigerate until well chilled, about 1 hour.

Turn ice cream into large bowl to soften. Pour crème de menthe over ice cream and stir to incorporate. Fill chilled wafer shell with ice cream mixture. Freeze. Make chocolate sauce.

Chocolate Sauce:
3 oz. unsweetened chocolate
½ cup water
¾ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
4 ½ Tablespoons butter
¾ teaspoon vanilla

In a small saucepan, combine chocolate with water. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally until chocolate is melted. Add sugar and salt. Cook, stirring constantly, until sugar is melted and mixture is thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in butter and vanilla. Cool thoroughly. Then drizzle over top of pie and return to freezer until firm.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Colors of Christmas: Pesto & Tomato Tarts

We are two-thirds of the way done with our Christmas celebrations. We started with a family dinner on Christmas Eve-Eve, followed by our traditional gathering on Christmas Eve. Now I am prepping to host Christmas dinner at my house. It has been wonderful spending time with family, but as the way things go with winter weather and little ones, you never know what to expect!

I was so excited to receive two presents (one for Christmas; one for my birthday) that will aid me in my kitchen adventures. It took me fewer than twenty-four hours to break out my new Le Creuset 5-Quart Braiser, and I can’t wait to make my next batch of soup to use my new immersion blender.

In keeping with the holiday spirit, I have an hors d'oeuvre that is adorned with bright green and red – perfect for a Christmas gathering!

Pesto & Tomato Tarts
2 (9-inch) refrigerated pie crusts
½ cup pesto (can use store-bought)
4 Roma tomatoes, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons fresh basil, thinly sliced

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Lay pie crusts on a cutting board. Using a cookie cutter (approximately 1-1 ½ inch in diameter), cut out pieces from pie crusts. Arrange on a large baking sheet and bake for 6 minutes, until lightly golden.

Allow tarts to cool. Spread ½ teaspoon of pesto on each tart, and top with 1 slice of tomato. Garnish each tart with sliced basil and serve immediately.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Crowd Pleaser: Baked Brie with Fruit Preserves

It has been too many days since I last posted. My husband and I were celebrating my big birthday in a big way – back in NYC. We weathered the snowstorm, drank lots of champagne, and surrounded ourselves with amazing friends. Now I have to get my act together and plan for Christmas dinner, which is approaching a bit too quickly for me.

My sister called me today to ask for a recipe for an hors d'oeuvre that I had made for her daughter’s birthday party a few weeks ago. The recipe came highly recommended to me from my friend, Christina. This baked brie stole the show among the hors d'oeuvres I brought to the party. My sister even declared that she liked this version better than my usual baked brie with caramelized onions that I had been making for the past seven years (which is also delicious).

You can use your favorite flavor of preserves in this recipe. Christina’s favorite is apricot. I was in need of a black-colored hors d'oeuvre for my “Brown Bear” theme, so I used blackberry preserves, and also garnished with some fresh blackberries. I’m going to make this again myself on Christmas and just purchased some raspberry preserves to try. (I think the red preserves and the green apple slices will look pretty for Christmas). Christina was correct when she said this is definitely a crowd pleaser!

Baked Brie with Fruit Preserves

1 wheel of brie
1 cup your favorite fruit preserves
1 sheet puff pastry
Optional garnish – fresh fruit (same as preserves)
Serve with crackers and apple slices

Thaw sheet of puff pastry by allowing it to sit at room temperature for 40 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Take a wheel of brie and using a sharp knife, cut off the case around the edges of the cheese. Wrap brie wheel in puff pastry. Cover the pastry with preserves. Place on a non-stick baking sheet (or one that has been coated in cooking spray), and bake for 30 minutes.

Garnish with fresh fruit, if desired. Serve immediately with crackers and apple slices.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Signora DiVinici: Grape and Olive Compote

Another recipe that I tried for my niece’s birthday was from my friend, Christina. She recommended to me the historical fiction novel, Signora DiVinici to read. I recently received the book through an online mail order, and am hoping to find some time during my upcoming winter break to read it. Apparently the heroine cooks throughout the book and this recipe is included at the end.

As I was cooking for a crowd that included some non-olive-eaters, I omitted them and added some toasted walnuts instead. It was the perfect “purple” addition for my Brown Bear theme. I spread goat cheese on crostini and topped them with the grape and walnut compote. The recipe below is the original version with olives.

Grape and Olive Compote

2 cups red seedless grapes
1 cup olives
3 Tablespoons olive oil
3 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
3 Tablespoons thyme

Toss everything in a glass bowl and put into 350°F oven for one hour – tossing every 20 minutes to coat.

Serve with goat cheese and crusty bread.