New Year Resolutions, Part III: Cook Like Julia
3.) Learn to cook at least one Julia Child recipe before the end of 2017 - make that, learn to cook at least two recipes from Julia.
Who is Julia Child, and where did she come from? Julia was born in 1912 in California, and would eventually become a popular television chef and author. During the time of quick meals and canned foods, Julia took so-called complex French cooking and adapted it for everyday Americans with her two-volume cookbook "Mastering the Art of French Cooking."
After her death, Julia's last book, the autobiography My Life in France, was published. It was a best seller and truly gave insight to her life and talent, from her adventures in France where she dined with simple road side picnics to her adventures in French cooking schools. My Life in France is one of my favorite books, I can read it again... and always discover something new.
At first glance, it would appear that French cooking can be intimidating, but if you truly study Julia's recipes, they are often rustic; yet clean, fresh, aromatic, and filled with flavor. Such examples are Coq au Vin and Boeuf Bourguignon = translated to "Chicken Stew in Wine, and Beef Stew cooked in Burgundy wine.
Not only do I challenge you to conquer one of Julia's recipes, but also two of Julia's recipes. The second recipe can be as easy as sauces, such as Mayonnaise and Bechamel. Again, to explain the simplicity of such recipes, while Bechamel sounds rather fancy, once it is prepared, toss lots of shredded cheese in it, mix well, and pour over cooked elbow macaroni; and you have good ol' "mac and cheese."
Julia's recipe for Boeuf Bourguignon (follow link) is a favorite of mine. I even use my French Le Creuset Dutch oven to keep it authentic. However, in time there are a few things I have tweaked. I haven't tweaked the ingredients, but I have tweaked on the efficiency of the recipe. If you notice with Julia's recipes, she uses several pots and pans. I have briefed a few things in the recipe, and especially kept it to no more than the main pot (a Dutch oven) and a plate or pan to hold items.
To make Julia's recipe easier: 1.) I do not simmer the bacon (lardon) in water - first. I skip the simmering in water and just fry the bacon as per the recipe. Keeping the fat in pan, set bacon aside on plate or pan.
2.) Instead of tossing in the flour while the meat is cooking, I lightly coat each piece of stew meat with flour before frying. It gives the meat a nice crust, while the excess flour still gives the stew the body it needs. I also season the meat before I flour it with the salt and pepper amount as per the recipe.
3.) I do not cook the meat in the oven, but keep it on the stove top. When the meat is browned (not necessary for the meat to be done inside), I set it aside with the bacon. Then add the sliced carrots and onions to the same pot. Also set the carrots and sliced onions aside when slightly tender - not soft.
4.) In that same pot, add the butter and saute the mushrooms. Set mushrooms aside with the meat, bacon, and vegetables.
5.) One can peel a bunch of little onions, or used thawed frozen pearl onions. In the same pot, I saute them with a bit of butter, a sprinkling of salt and pepper until lightly caramelized.
6.) Julia suggests to crumble the bay leaf. I don't. I leave it whole and remove it before serving.
7.) Julia wants you to take the pot and clean it before combining all of the ingredients. Don't! Your pot is now seasoned. Just combine well all of the prepared ingredients, along with the remaining ingredients (Wine, tomato paste, stock, and herbs) and here you can do one of two things: complete the cooking by placing pot in oven and let it cook for a couple of hours in about a 225 degree oven; or let the pot and the ingredients cool down and refrigerate the day before serving, and finish cooking the day of serving in the slow oven.
Serve the lovely aromatic stewed beef by itself or over mashed or boiled potatoes, or buttered egg noodles, or even rice. Top with fresh parsley. The only addition would be a baguette and a smear of French butter ala Fleur de Sel. By the time you make this the second go-round, you will see how this recipe is almost fail-proof.
One other tip that Julia does not mention. If you read her Coq au Vin recipe, she marinades the chicken parts in wine. On occasion, and especially if I plan ahead, I will also marinade the beef in the wine. Combine the beef and wine (use enough to cover the beef) in a resealable plastic bag or in a container with a lid. Marinate the beef in the wine for 3-8 hours, giving the beef a stir every now and then so it marinates evenly. Strain the beef from the wine, reserving the wine to add later as per the recipe, and pat the beef dry before browning.
Let's talk about the wine in this recipe. Bourguignon is Burgundy. Burgundy is not a color, but a wine region in France. And to confuse wine beginners, yes there are red and even "white" Burgundy wines also known as Chablis or Pouilly-Fuissé to name a few of the white wine references or also known here in America as Chardonnay - - but we're not going to use a white wine in this recipe. Use the suggested red wines as per the beginning of the recipe, but keeping it authentic would be using a red Burgundian wine such as Pinot Noir. Remember, the rule when cooking with wine, "Use only wines in your cooking that you will drink." You will also need to buy two bottles of the same wine - - one for cooking, and the other to serve with your dinner of Boeuf Bourguignon. An older vintage to drink would be perfect.
If you have met my challenge, please let me know. As Julia would say, "Bon Appetit!"