Where's the boeuf?

Last week marked my second attempt at Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon recipe (and will I ever learn to spell “bourguignon” without having to look it up on Google?). There are two things you should know about preparing a Julia Child recipe. One, it will taste delicious. Two, it will be a pain in the ass. The only other Julia Child recipe I can recall ever making is a cheese souffle, which I assure you easily met these two criteria.

My first boeuf bourguignon recipe attempt was about a month and a half ago. After seeing “Julie & Julia,” my friend and sous chef extraordinaire Gillian and I decided to host a French-inspired dinner party for several girlfriends. I knew Boeuf Bourguignon was the entree I wanted to make; G tackled a Julia chocolate almond cake. We rounded out the spread with Brie, baguette, salad and tons of red wine.

The boeuf started off innocuously enough. The base of the stew is the same one I’ve used for several other dishes as of late – Gordon Ramsay’s shepherd’s pie and Melissa D’Arabian’s braised pork come to mind. When you’ve got a good thing going, apparently chefs want to apply it to as many different kinds of meat as possible. Garlic, onions, carrot, tomato paste, thyme (my herb garden produced an abundance this year, so I’m happy for chances to use it as often as possible), red wine and beef stock. Insert meat, cover, braise for a couple hours and you will eat WELL. It’s a cheap concept, too. Beef stew meat is one of the most affordable items you can buy at the butcher’s counter, and if you use a Charles Shaw Shiraz (which is HIGHLY drinkable, trust me, I speak from experience), you can get away with spending about $3 for the wine.

Anyway, back to the recipe… Julia’s version calls for the addition of bacon, a note I found intriguing. However, she instructs you to boil the bacon for 10 minutes first before browning it for the stew. So there’s one dirty pot right off the bat. I’m not sure what the reasoning is – if anyone owns a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, are there any liner notes of explanation?? I seem to recall something about making the flavor of the bacon less overwhelming, as if that’s a BAD thing? Anyway, not one to argue with the master, I boiled. Then browned. No biggie, I suppose.

A useful tip I learned – dry your meat completely with paper towels before browning it in oil or fat. I don’t think I’ve ever done this before, and it really did make a huge difference. The meat browned up quickly and beautifully, leaving behind tons of those yummy brown bits on the bottom of the pan that eventually incorporate into your sauce and make it that much better.

So I browned the meat, then the vegetables. Keep in mind, you’re constantly removing whatever you’ve just cooked to another dish while you prepare the rest. More dirty dishes. But that’s ok. Once everything is browned, you dump it all into your casserole dish. Then you pour your red wine and stock into the browning pan, scraping up every bit of those brown bits as you go. Pour the sauce over the meat and veg, cover it and throw it in the oven for about two hours. When it comes out, the meat is almost obscenely tender and the sauce smells so good, you’ll want to dab a little behind each ear. Mix in some sauteed mushrooms and there ya go. Not exactly a user-friendly dish, but wow, is it good.

Last week, hubby was returning from a business trip and I decided boeuf bourguignon would be a nice way to welcome him home. He was still a little pissed off that I included onions in my first version for the gals, immediately disqualifying him from any leftovers. Not that there were any… This time, however, I took a few short cuts. For starters, there wouldn’t be any onions to chop or worry about. I also decided to make the whole dish in the crock pot. I still had to boil the bacon and brown everything on the stove top, but with the crock pot, I knew I could let it go for awhile in case hubby’s flight was delayed and not worry about anything overcooking. I dare say it was every bit as good as the traditional method.

Julia suggests serving the stew with boiled potatoes, but even after four years of marriage, hubby still doesn’t trust me to boil potatoes (he’s Irish, what can I say?). I opted for buttered egg noodles instead. The overall effect turned out to be a fabulously rich beef and noodles. We froze the scant leftovers and I zapped a portion for myself tonight in the microwave. Nice thing about stews, they reheat perfectly.

So if you’ve got a few hours and a bunch of pots and pans, I recommend this recipe. You can easily find it online, and I have to say, it really is worth the trouble. Make Julia proud.

Boeuf Bourguignon over noodles, second time around

Boeuf Bourguignon over noodles, second time around

Where’s the boeuf?

Last week marked my second attempt at Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon recipe (and will I ever learn to spell “bourguignon” without having to look it up on Google?). There are two things you should know about preparing a Julia Child recipe. One, it will taste delicious. Two, it will be a pain in the ass. The only other Julia Child recipe I can recall ever making is a cheese souffle, which I assure you easily met these two criteria.

My first boeuf bourguignon recipe attempt was about a month and a half ago. After seeing “Julie & Julia,” my friend and sous chef extraordinaire Gillian and I decided to host a French-inspired dinner party for several girlfriends. I knew Boeuf Bourguignon was the entree I wanted to make; G tackled a Julia chocolate almond cake. We rounded out the spread with Brie, baguette, salad and tons of red wine.

The boeuf started off innocuously enough. The base of the stew is the same one I’ve used for several other dishes as of late – Gordon Ramsay’s shepherd’s pie and Melissa D’Arabian’s braised pork come to mind. When you’ve got a good thing going, apparently chefs want to apply it to as many different kinds of meat as possible. Garlic, onions, carrot, tomato paste, thyme (my herb garden produced an abundance this year, so I’m happy for chances to use it as often as possible), red wine and beef stock. Insert meat, cover, braise for a couple hours and you will eat WELL. It’s a cheap concept, too. Beef stew meat is one of the most affordable items you can buy at the butcher’s counter, and if you use a Charles Shaw Shiraz (which is HIGHLY drinkable, trust me, I speak from experience), you can get away with spending about $3 for the wine.

Anyway, back to the recipe… Julia’s version calls for the addition of bacon, a note I found intriguing. However, she instructs you to boil the bacon for 10 minutes first before browning it for the stew. So there’s one dirty pot right off the bat. I’m not sure what the reasoning is – if anyone owns a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, are there any liner notes of explanation?? I seem to recall something about making the flavor of the bacon less overwhelming, as if that’s a BAD thing? Anyway, not one to argue with the master, I boiled. Then browned. No biggie, I suppose.

A useful tip I learned – dry your meat completely with paper towels before browning it in oil or fat. I don’t think I’ve ever done this before, and it really did make a huge difference. The meat browned up quickly and beautifully, leaving behind tons of those yummy brown bits on the bottom of the pan that eventually incorporate into your sauce and make it that much better.

So I browned the meat, then the vegetables. Keep in mind, you’re constantly removing whatever you’ve just cooked to another dish while you prepare the rest. More dirty dishes. But that’s ok. Once everything is browned, you dump it all into your casserole dish. Then you pour your red wine and stock into the browning pan, scraping up every bit of those brown bits as you go. Pour the sauce over the meat and veg, cover it and throw it in the oven for about two hours. When it comes out, the meat is almost obscenely tender and the sauce smells so good, you’ll want to dab a little behind each ear. Mix in some sauteed mushrooms and there ya go. Not exactly a user-friendly dish, but wow, is it good.

Last week, hubby was returning from a business trip and I decided boeuf bourguignon would be a nice way to welcome him home. He was still a little pissed off that I included onions in my first version for the gals, immediately disqualifying him from any leftovers. Not that there were any… This time, however, I took a few short cuts. For starters, there wouldn’t be any onions to chop or worry about. I also decided to make the whole dish in the crock pot. I still had to boil the bacon and brown everything on the stove top, but with the crock pot, I knew I could let it go for awhile in case hubby’s flight was delayed and not worry about anything overcooking. I dare say it was every bit as good as the traditional method.

Julia suggests serving the stew with boiled potatoes, but even after four years of marriage, hubby still doesn’t trust me to boil potatoes (he’s Irish, what can I say?). I opted for buttered egg noodles instead. The overall effect turned out to be a fabulously rich beef and noodles. We froze the scant leftovers and I zapped a portion for myself tonight in the microwave. Nice thing about stews, they reheat perfectly.

So if you’ve got a few hours and a bunch of pots and pans, I recommend this recipe. You can easily find it online, and I have to say, it really is worth the trouble. Make Julia proud.

Boeuf Bourguignon over noodles, second time around

Boeuf Bourguignon over noodles, second time around

An ode to Melissa D'Arabian…

How do I love thee, Melissa D’Arabian? Let me count the ways… specifically, there are three: Crispy-skinned orange chicken, individual potato gratins, and now braised pork.

For those of you who don’t watch Food Network (and I can’t imagine why in the world you wouldn’t), Melissa recently won the most recent season of Next Food Network Star. The woman is a working mother of four girls (all under the age of 6, including 1-year-old twins), NOT a trained chef, yet she kicked the asses of much more qualified contestants up and down the stage. And in just a few short episodes, she has rocked the Food Network house. Most everything she makes looks delicious, and affordable. The premise of her show is that you can make dinner for four people for less than $10. I question some of the ingredients, but when you take into account the things already in your pantry, I would say she’s darn near right on the money. So to speak.

The first Melissa dish hubby and I tried to make was individual potato gratins. These are simply thinly sliced potatoes layered in a muffin tin with shredded cheese. You pour a little bit of cream over the top of each one and bake until bubbly and toasty. Genius. Sheer genius. They are so easy, tasty and utterly adorable. We are currently experimenting with different kinds of cheese, a touch of garlic here, maybe a few crumbles of bacon there…

Next up came an attempt at Melissa’s Crispy-Skinned Chicken A L’Orange. The secret ingredient here? Frozen orange juice concentrate. Again, GENIUS. The only fault I found with this recipe is probably my own.

I always seem to have issues with defrosting frozen chicken. I thought I had completed defrosted my chicken breasts in the microwave, but it wasn’t until I’d already seared them and put them in the oven to take their temperature for the first check that I realized they were still slightly cold in the middle. Argh! Back into the microwave for a few more minutes on defrost, then back into the oven to finish cooking. So because my oven cooking time took a little longer than expected, the glaze slightly overcaramelized and got a little bit too dark in spots.

Still, the dish was super tasty. The chicken was very juicy and the glaze was absolutely delicious when it mixed with the chicken juices in the pan to create the sauce! I thought it might be a little too sweet when I read the recipe, but it was great. Awesome orange flavor. Hubby loved it, too. I will definitely try it again, with fresh chicken this time. I love how she is able to create such deep flavors and sophisticated food with simple ingredients and instructions.

Succulent Braised Pork is the third Melissa recipe I’ve tried, and it may just be my new favorite… I could only find pork shoulders at the store in the 8-pound range. Way too much for just my husband and I, so I used country-style pork ribs instead. They made the sauce just the tiniest bit greasy, but it was still delicious. The dish smelled soooooo good as it was cooking, hubby and I were practically pawing at the oven door waiting for the timer to go off. I served it with rosemary roasted sweet potatoes and baguette. Hubby and I stuffed ourselves silly. I seriously wanted to pick up the casserole dish and drink this sauce. The pork is so tender, and again, I am amazed how so few ingredients can create something that tastes so rich and complex.

Check it out for yourself. Her cooking show, “Ten Dollar Dinners” runs on Sunday mornings here in Indianapolis on the Food Network. In the meantime, you can find all of Melissa’s tasty recipes on the Food Network web site at http://www.foodnetwork.com/melissa-darabian/recipes/index.html. Go. Go now. Right now. I’ll wait…

I cannot wait for this woman to come out with a cookbook. All hail Melissa!

An ode to Melissa D’Arabian…

How do I love thee, Melissa D’Arabian? Let me count the ways… specifically, there are three: Crispy-skinned orange chicken, individual potato gratins, and now braised pork.

For those of you who don’t watch Food Network (and I can’t imagine why in the world you wouldn’t), Melissa recently won the most recent season of Next Food Network Star. The woman is a working mother of four girls (all under the age of 6, including 1-year-old twins), NOT a trained chef, yet she kicked the asses of much more qualified contestants up and down the stage. And in just a few short episodes, she has rocked the Food Network house. Most everything she makes looks delicious, and affordable. The premise of her show is that you can make dinner for four people for less than $10. I question some of the ingredients, but when you take into account the things already in your pantry, I would say she’s darn near right on the money. So to speak.

The first Melissa dish hubby and I tried to make was individual potato gratins. These are simply thinly sliced potatoes layered in a muffin tin with shredded cheese. You pour a little bit of cream over the top of each one and bake until bubbly and toasty. Genius. Sheer genius. They are so easy, tasty and utterly adorable. We are currently experimenting with different kinds of cheese, a touch of garlic here, maybe a few crumbles of bacon there…

Next up came an attempt at Melissa’s Crispy-Skinned Chicken A L’Orange. The secret ingredient here? Frozen orange juice concentrate. Again, GENIUS. The only fault I found with this recipe is probably my own.

I always seem to have issues with defrosting frozen chicken. I thought I had completed defrosted my chicken breasts in the microwave, but it wasn’t until I’d already seared them and put them in the oven to take their temperature for the first check that I realized they were still slightly cold in the middle. Argh! Back into the microwave for a few more minutes on defrost, then back into the oven to finish cooking. So because my oven cooking time took a little longer than expected, the glaze slightly overcaramelized and got a little bit too dark in spots.

Still, the dish was super tasty. The chicken was very juicy and the glaze was absolutely delicious when it mixed with the chicken juices in the pan to create the sauce! I thought it might be a little too sweet when I read the recipe, but it was great. Awesome orange flavor. Hubby loved it, too. I will definitely try it again, with fresh chicken this time. I love how she is able to create such deep flavors and sophisticated food with simple ingredients and instructions.

Succulent Braised Pork is the third Melissa recipe I’ve tried, and it may just be my new favorite… I could only find pork shoulders at the store in the 8-pound range. Way too much for just my husband and I, so I used country-style pork ribs instead. They made the sauce just the tiniest bit greasy, but it was still delicious. The dish smelled soooooo good as it was cooking, hubby and I were practically pawing at the oven door waiting for the timer to go off. I served it with rosemary roasted sweet potatoes and baguette. Hubby and I stuffed ourselves silly. I seriously wanted to pick up the casserole dish and drink this sauce. The pork is so tender, and again, I am amazed how so few ingredients can create something that tastes so rich and complex.

Check it out for yourself. Her cooking show, “Ten Dollar Dinners” runs on Sunday mornings here in Indianapolis on the Food Network. In the meantime, you can find all of Melissa’s tasty recipes on the Food Network web site at http://www.foodnetwork.com/melissa-darabian/recipes/index.html. Go. Go now. Right now. I’ll wait…

I cannot wait for this woman to come out with a cookbook. All hail Melissa!

Watch and learn

I think I’m addicted to television cooking shows. For a long, long time, the Food Network was my go-to channel. I’d simply flip on the TV and leave it going in the background for hours, picking up a tip or two by osmosis as I’d go about my day. I got very used to the voices of celebrity chefs infiltrating my consciousness. However, thanks to the proliferation of reality TV cooking competitions, I hardly ever watch it anymore. Namely, my must-see TV now consists of Top Chef, Hell’s Kitchen and Next Food Network Star.

Random thoughts about each series: Next Food Network Star would be the competition I’d be most likely to enter if I could. The challenges seem to be the most up my alley, although I have absolutely no desire to host my own television cooking show. The contestants seem to be fairly normal people and there’s not nearly as much of the high drama you find in some of the other series.

This past season’s winner, Melissa D’Arabian, was my top pick all along. The network promoted that runner-up guy as some kind of Zen food yogi, but he always just seemed half-stoned to me. Come to think of it “Let’s Get Baked” wouldn’t be a bad name for a cooking show… but I digress. Although she seemed a little hyper at first, I liked Melissa’s French-inspired food best; it looked the tastiest and the dishes she cooked often seemed like things I could see myself making at home. She’s already busted out several little cooking tips and hints that I have found extremely useful and am likely to remember forever. Plus, the woman has four little girls, all under the age of 5 (including 1-year-old twins!). Anyone who has time to deal with that AND cook gourmet dinners complete with do-it-yourself French pastry is my hero.

Hubby and I taped one of Melissa’s first shows on the DVR and were very impressed with it. On the season finale, part of her show demo meal was an individual potato gratin made in muffin tins. I downloaded the recipe and hubby and I have made it twice within the past week. It is ridiculously easy, and super tasty. Tonight, we’re going to give her crispy-skinned chicken breast a l’orange a whirl.

I like Hell’s Kitchen, but sometimes the drama gets to be a little much to bear. It’s like the American Idol of cooking shows with Gordon Ramsey cast as a foul-mouthed, hot-tempered Simon Cowell. I know it’s all about ratings, but seriously. I’ve worked in a handful of restaurant kitchens with all different kinds of culinary personalities, and I’ve never seen anyone act that way. I’d certainly never want to work for someone who’d get in my face and call me an effing donkey, and I have to question the mental stability and sanity of anyone who does. Then again, some of the HK contestants are complete whack-jobs anyway.

Gordon Ramsey is obviously a good chef and has made a career out of being an uncompromising perfectionist. I suppose it’s a bit like playing basketball for Bobby Knight. I know he’s a good coach, (my fellow IU alumni are probably going to bust my balls for even making this comment at all) but aren’t there just-as-effective leadership techniques that don’t rely on fear, intimidation and masochism? I’ll watch Hell’s Kitchen, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t take it seriously.

Top Chef is perhaps my favorite cooking competition to watch. There’s no golden post or television show prize waiting, the winner simply gets a buttload of money to use to further their own culinary dreams and aspirations. In my book, that’s awesome.

These are hardcore, serious chefs and it’s fun to see what kinds of dishes they manage to produce. I don’t kid myself that I could hang with this level of crowd for a second; they cook using products and techniques I’ve never seen, hear of, or know how to spell. Last season, though, it was cool to see caterer Carla give fly-under-the-radar Hosea and snooty Stefan a run for their money in the finale by staying true to herself and her simple, cooking-with-love style. That’s the approach I’d take; I was sorry to see her lose it in the end by letting her sous-chef rattle her self-confidence.

Some of these chefs show off creativity that is truly stellar. In each episode, at least one contestant makes something that leaves me seething with envy and renews my interest in going to culinary school. For example, in this week’s episode, two of the top-rated appetizer dishes included a savory macaroon filled with avocado guacamole, and an apple sorbet in a little shot glass with a goat cheese cracker/cookie. YUM.

As an added bonus, I love, love, love the judging panel. Gail Simmons is like your best girlfriend, Tom Colicchio knows his shit but conveys criticism in a way that’s not soul-destroying, and Padma Lakshmi is a tasty visual treat that whets the appetite anytime she appears onscreen. (How in the world do these people eat all of that food without making themselves completely sick or gaining 200 pounds?)

Too early to make a prediction yet about this season, but I seem to think it’s going to be one of the two brothers.

Fellow foodies, leave me a comment! Your favorite cooking show and why????