Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Julia Child's beef bourguignon

This past Christmas, for the first time ever, I joined the "grown ups" in making a main dish to bring to my aunt's house. And for a little while I felt a bit like a bona fide adult... until one of my uncles said "I can't believe the same little baby we knew when she first started walking is now cooking for us."  

Way to bring me back to reality...

It's true though-- no matter how old I get I'll always be that little baby. And although I'm almost 33 years old, my parents, aunts, and uncles still take care of most things during family functions. The hosting, the planning, the cooking, the everything. But we're all getting older, and after all they do for us "younger" kids, I figured it was my turn to start helping out a bit.

Originally, I was going to make short ribs, because Assyrians are definitely a meat and potatoes kinda bunch. But with as many people as we have when all the Benjamins get together I realized it wouldn't be enough to feed the whole group. So I starting brainstorming: what food would be something unique that my Middle Eastern born-and-raised parents/aunts/uncles had never had, but that they would still enjoy as much as our traditional food??

I needed something meat-y. Something stew-y. Something savor-y. And then it hit me: Julia Child's beef bourguignon!!

I cooked it a bit too long, so the meat just started falling to pieces. 
It may not be pretty, but it was the most delicious beef stew I've ever made.

I've been wanting to cook more from Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking (so far I've only used it once before), and I just knew it would be the perfect recipe. Assyrians have a ton of variations on beef stew, but none that use a red wine base. It was the perfect balance between novel and familiar for my family, and I had a feeling everyone would enjoy it.

What I didn't realize was just how much everyone was going to love it!! It was a hit of the party, with lots of people going back for seconds. I was happy that everyone loved the dish as much as I did (it was pretty fantastic if I say so myself) and was proud to have finally proven myself as a cook to my family. Even if I am a 32 year old "kid".

For the perfect accompaniment, I decided to serve the beef stew alongside some creamy mashed potatoes for the perfect meat and potatoes dish. I've made delicious mashed potatoes before (secret ingredient: cream cheese), but after watching an episode of Giada on The Food Network where she made mashed potatoes with kale and mascarpone I just had to try it out. Glad I did, because they were fabulous! And surprisingly they were even less creamy than my heavy cream/butter/cream cheese mashed potatoes I'd made before... or maybe that's not that surprising.

I didn't have an opportunity to take a picture of my mashed potatoes,
so I'm using the photo from the Food Network to show you how delicious these are. 
And trust me, even people that don't like greens will still love the kale in this dish. 
The flavor is barely there, but it adds a nice touch to regular 'ole mashed'ptatas.

My biggest regret is that my uncle George wasn't able to share in that moment. George was a man who loved food- probably more than anyone else I knew. And if the food was free, well, then George was even happier! Around Thanksgiving I mentioned I would be making some type of beef dish for Christmas, and he was quite excited to try it out. But a few weeks before Christmas, George had a cardiac event after a bout of pneumonia. He never regained consciousness after that day and sadly, he passed away just after the New Year. So the holidays definitely felt more empty without George and his large personality in the house. 

The last photo I have of George was of everyone getting a bit goofy :) November 2012.
From left to right: My aunt Nahreen, my dad, my uncle George, and my aunt Shamie.

While 2013 has been off to a rocky start for my whole family, I'm hoping the rest of this year will bring much more joy than sadness. Maybe I should just make this beef bourguignon dish again- that'll definitely bring me lots of joy!

Yours in always feeling like a kid, no matter how old I get,

Beef Bourguignon, adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking

To watch old-school Julia making this famous dish, check out this You Tube video!! It's great!

Note: I multiplied the recipe by 1.5 in my 5 qt dutch oven with fine results. Feel free to double it for large groups if you have an even larger pot. I also served my stew directly in the pot, with a large dish of mashed potatoes to eat with the beef bourguignon.

6 oz thick-cut bacon, cut into 1.5" strips
1 TBSP olive oil
3 lbs lean stewing beef cut into 2" cubes, patted dry with paper towels to improve browning
1 sliced carrot
1 sliced onion
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 TBSP flour
3 cups full bodied, young red wine or a Chianti
2 to 3 cups beef stock
1 TBSP tomato paste
2 cloves mashed garlic
1/2 tsp thyme
crumbled bay leaf
brown-braised onions, see recipe below
sauteed mushrooms, see recipe below

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  
  2. In a dutch oven, saute the bacon over medium heat until the fat has rendered off. Remove bacon pieces and set aside in a large plate. Reheat the fat in the pan until it is almost smoking.
  3. Saute beef in the oil, making sure not to overcrowd the pan, until nicely browned on all sides. This will likely take ~3 batches to cook all the meat. Remove beef and set aside (on the large bacon plate).
  4. In the same fat in the pan, brown the sliced carrots and onion, at least 10 minutes.
  5. Return the beef and bacon to the casserole and add the salt and pepper. Sprinkle on the flour and toss again to coat the beef lightly with the flour. Set casserole  uncovered in the middle position of the preheated oven for 4 minutes. Toss the meat and return to oven for 4 minutes more. Remove casserole and turn down the oven to 325 degrees.
  6. Stir in the wine and enough beef stock so the meat is barely covered. Add the tomato paste, garlic, and herbs. Bring to a simmer on top of the stove, the cover the casserole and set in lower third of preheated oven. Regulate the heat so liquid simmers very slowly for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Meat is done when fork pierces it easily.
  7. While the beef is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms (see below). Set aside until needed.
  8. This step is where I slightly veered off Julia Child's (JC) recipe because (1) I'm lazy and (2) I don't like throwing away perfectly delicious food
    JC version: Pour contents of the casserole into a sieve set over a saucepan to reserve the liquid. Wipe down the casserole and return the beef and bacon to it, discarding the onions and carrots. Distribute the braised small onions and mushrooms over the meat. Prepare the sauce by simmering for a minute or so, skimming off additional fat as it rises. You should have about 2.5 cups of sauce, thick enough to coat a spoon lightly. If too thin, boil it down rapidly. If too thick, mix in a few TBSP of stock. Pour the sauce over the meat and vegetables.
    My version: I didn't think it was necessary to toss the onions/carrots. So I simply removed the meat to a separate dish, and boiled down the liquid directly in my casserole dish as described above so that I had ~2.5 cups. I also didn't have much fat in my sauce, so I didn't worry about skimming it off. Once the sauce was the right consistency, I added back the meat, plus the braised onions and sauteed mushrooms.
  9. The recipe may be refrigerated at this point or served immediately. If serving immediately, baste the meat with the sauce several times. Serve in the casserole, or arrange the stew on a platter surrounded with potatoes, noodles, or rice, and decorated with parsley.
  10. If refrigerating, about 15 - 20 minutes before serving, bring to a simmer, cover, and simmer very slowly for 10 minutes, occasionally basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce.
Brown-braised onions

18 - 24 peeled white onions about 1" in diameter, or 1 lb frozen small onions
1.5 TBSP butter
1.5 TBSP oil
1/2 cup brown stock, dry white wine, red wine, or water
salt and pepper
herb bouquet (4 parsley sprigs, 1/2 bay leaf, 1/4 tsp dried thyme tied in cheesecloth)

  1. In a 9 to 10" skillet, heat the butter and oil until bubbly over medium heat. Add the onions and saute for about 10 minutes, rolling the onions gently so they will brown evenly as possible.
  2. Pour in the liquid, season to taste, and add the herb bouquet. Cover and simmer on low for 40 to 50 minutes, or until the onion are done and the liquid has evaporated. 
  3. Remove herb bouquet. Set onions aside until ready to add to the beef stew.
Sauteed mushrooms

2 TBSP butter
1 TBSP oil
1/2 lb fresh mushrooms (I like cremini), left whole if small or quartered if large

  1. In a 10" skillet, heat the butter and oil over high heat. As soon as the butter is no longer foaming, add the mushrooms. Toss and shake the pan for ~5 minutes. During their saute the mushrooms will first absorb the fat, but in 2-3 minutes the fat will reappear on their surface, and the mushrooms will begin to brown. As soon as they have browned, remove from heat and set aside until ready to add to the beef stew.
Mashed potatoes with mascarpone and kale, from Giada and the Food Network


5 large russet potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1-inch pieces (about 4 pounds)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
One 12-ounce bunch kale, stemmed and chopped into 1-inch pieces
1/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth

1 cup mascarpone cheese, at room temperature (about 8 ounces)
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3/4 cup grated Parmesan
2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus extra for seasoning
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus extra for seasoning

  1. For the potatoes: Combine the potatoes, garlic, salt and butter in a 5-quart saucepan with enough cold water to cover. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain in a colander and remove the garlic cloves. Return the potatoes to the pan and mash the potatoes until smooth using a potato masher.
  2. For the kale: Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, salt and pepper. Cook until translucent, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until aromatic, about 30 seconds. Add the kale and chicken broth. Cook, stirring occasionally, until wilted, 10 to 12 minutes.
  3. To assemble: Add the kale mixture, mascarpone cheese, chicken broth, butter, Parmesan, salt and pepper to the potatoes. Stir over low heat until smooth and warmed through. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a bowl and serve.


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