Beef Bourguignon

February 19, 2018 – She said it was the best dish I’ve ever cooked.  She might be right.

The beef was so tender.  The broth so delicious.  All other ingredients performed their supporting roles perfectly.  It was as Beef Bourguignon should be.  Memorable.

Beef Bourguignon originated in the Burgundy region of France, just southeast of Paris.  It’s a region known for great wines (as in burgundy) and Charolais cattle.  The meat of the Charolais is known for its remarkable flavor and low fat content.

Beef Bourguignon had its beginning among French peasants hundreds of years ago.  As with many dishes we know and love today, this slow-cooked beef stew was made to utilize tough, less desirable cuts of meat.  People in those days were in no position to throw away anything that could be turned into food.

The great French chef Auguste Escoffier first began the escalation of Beef Bourguignon to haute cuisine status when he wrote the recipe around 1903.  Later Julia Child refined it in her classic book, Mastering The Art of French Cooking.  It is her recipe that serves as the basis for Beef Bourguignon today.

I had a chuck roast on hand, a cut of meat that lends itself well to slow cooking.  I decided to make Beef Bourguignon.  My way, with guidance from Escoffier and Julia.

Traditionally, one would start by sautéing bacon and then browning the chunks of beef in the bacon fat.  I love bacon but my roast was well larded.  I thought perhaps bacon fat would be too much.  I replaced the bacon with andouille sausage, one of the greatest contributions to the world of food from my native Louisiana.

I don’t often use beef stock.  It seems to me that beef stock can be too much, especially when slow-cooking meat that will also be making its own stock.  I opted instead to use some chicken stock I made from the carcass of a chicken I had roasted a few days earlier.  It was a good choice, especially since, in the spirit of adventure, I had added a little cinnamon to the chicken stock as it simmered.  The hint of cinnamon seeped into the beef stew, providing a very pleasant, exotic element.  Difficult to identify but definitely a positive addition to the flavor of the beef.

Here, then, is my take on Beef Bourguignon.

Beef Bourguignon

2 – 3 tablespoons olive oil

2 pounds beef chuck roast, cut into 1 inch pieces

2 links andouille sausage, sliced into 1/4 inch rounds

1 cup chopped onion

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 tablespoon all purpose flour

Salt & pepper to taste

2 cups dry red wine

2 cups chicken stock

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 tablespoon dried rosemary

2 tablespoons butter

8 ounces pearl onions

8 ounces wild mushrooms

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper

Preheat the oven to 350.

In a heavy, oven proof braising pan or Dutch oven, heat two tablespoons of olive oil over medium high heat.  Saute the beef until all pieces are well browned.

Add the andouille and onion.  Sprinkle with the flour.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Increasing the heat to high, continue sautéing, stirring constantly, for four to five minutes, until the onions begin to soften and the sausage is beginning to brown.  Toss in the garlic for the last minute or so.  Use the third tablespoon of olive oil if the mixture seems too dry.

Add the wine, stock, tomato paste, and rosemary.  Bring to a boil while scraping the bottom of the pan to release the fond.

Cover the pan and place in the center of the oven.  Bake for about an hour and a half.

Remove the pan from the oven and return it to the stove top burner, removing the lid.  Swirl the butter into the stew.  Add the pearl onions, mushrooms, and crushed red pepper.  Simmer over medium low heat for about 15 minutes.

Adjust seasonings to taste.

Garnish with chopped green onions, chives, or parsley, if desired.

Bon temps!

Walkin’ on the Wild Side Chili

February 16, 2018 – I call it Walkin’ on the Wild Side Chili because in certain parts of Texas this recipe might got me charged with fraud or at the very least run out of town.    It’s not traditional Texas Red.  Far from it.

I love chili.  I wanted some chili.  But I had hardly any of the traditional ingredients.  I decided to use what I had on hand.  The breasts of a chicken I roasted the night before.  Some andouille sausage.  Leftovers from a vegetable mélange I made to go with the chicken, including onion, roasted red peppers, corn, and yellow squash.  A jalapeno pepper.  Cumin and oregano, traditional chili seasonings.  I decided to add a little something extra:  freshly grated nutmeg.

As always, I use all of the jalapeno, including the seeds and pith.  That’s where the heat is.  I’ve never understood why anyone would remove the seeds and pith.  If you don’t want the heat, don’t use a hot pepper.

I would have preferred to use chicken stock but didn’t have any.  Water worked just fine.  The chili made its own broth.

For the purpose of writing the recipe, I deconstructed the vegetable mélange and write it  as I would the individual elements.

I’m looking forward to having bona fide Texas chili, the real thing, some time soon.  But in the meantime, this will do quite well.

Walkin’ on the Wild Side Chili

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 onion, chopped

1 jalapeno pepper, minced

1 pound andouille sausage, halved lengthwise and cut into 1/4 inch slices crosswise

1 small, yellow squash, cut into 1/4 inch rounds

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1 tablespoon cumin

1 tablespoon freshly grated nutmeg

2 chicken breasts cut into bite size pieces

1 can diced tomatoes  

1/4 cup tomato paste

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 cup corn, fresh or frozen

1 tomato, roughly chopped

Salt & pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a stock pot with a heavy bottom.  Add the onion, roasted red pepper and jalapeno.  Cook, stirring, over medium heat for two to three minutes.

Add the sausage.  Cook for another four or five minutes, continuing to stir.

Toss in the squash.  Cook for another two or three minutes.

Add the oregano, cumin, and freshly grated nutmeg.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Stir to combine well, scraping up the fond from the bottom of the pot.

Time for the chicken breasts, diced tomatoes, and tomato paste.  Stir to thoroughly mix.

Add the corn along with 1 3/4 cups of liquid.

Bring the liquid to a boil.  Lower the heat and simmer for about half an hour, partially covered.

Add the chopped fresh tomato and simmer for another five minutes.

Adjust seasonings to taste.

Bon temps!

Stuffed Zucchini

February 14, 2018 – I like stuffed squash.  I’ve written here previously about stuffed yellow squash as part of the Three Sisters of foods grown by the First Americans for 10,000 years.  ( http://travelsthroughalife.com/?p=551 )

This recipe was inspired by the great Craig Claiborne who dominated foodie culture in the mid 20th century as food editor and critic of the New York Times.  It wasn’t so much the ingredients that caught my attention.  It was the method of stuffing.

Most recipes call for slicing the squash lengthwise for stuffing.  Claiborne endorsed cutting zucchini in half crosswise and carefully scooping out the meat of the vegetable, thereby creating a tube to be filled with whatever stuffing is preferred.

In researching this method, I learned that it is a Middle Eastern style, prominent in Syrian and Lebanese cooking.  The zucchini tubes in those countries are stuffed with ground beef or lamb and often rice.  I followed Claiborne’s lead by using ground ham but departed from his approach with seasoning and other ingredients.

Scooping out the meat of the zucchini is a tricky task.  You must be careful not to break the skin.  We used a thin, sharp knife to carefully cut into the meat to loosen it.   We then used a quarter teaspoon from a set of heavy measuring spoons  to scoop it out.  That worked pretty well.  When complete there should be an empty shell about a quarter of an inch thick.

Filling the shell is also delicate.  We found the best tool is a finger.  Again with caution, push whatever filling you have chosen carefully into the shell without damaging it.

If you use ground ham you’re going to be better off to chop it in a food processor.  That’s not the best approach but in this case it’s probably your only option unless you have one of those old fashioned grinders at home.  I don’t.  The commercial grinders used by butchers are too big to produce the small amount of ground ham called for in this recipe.

Drizzling the finished dish with tomato sauce is optional.  I found it a pleasant addition.  You can make your own tomato sauce if you’re ambitious.  There are also several high quality tomato sauces available at your local grocer.  I opted for the latter.

With appreciation to Craig Claiborne for leading the way and inspiring me to experiment, here’s my take on stuffed zucchini.

Stuffed Zucchini

(serves two)

8 ounces ground ham

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

3 tablespoons minced onion

1/4 cup grated cheddar cheese

1/4 cup grated mozzarella

6 medium size zucchini

2 tablespoons olive oil

Salt & freshly ground pepper to taste

tomato sauce (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350.

Thoroughly mix the ham, paprika, onion and cheeses.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Slice the zucchini cross wise.  Carefully scoop out the meat of each zucchini half, leaving an empty shell about a quarter of an inch thick.

Mince the zucchini meat and add it to the ham and cheese, mixing well.

Push the stuffing into the zucchini shells, being careful not to damage them.

Grease an oven proof dish with the olive oil.  Place the stuffed zucchini in the dish and cover it.  Bake for about 50 minutes.

Serve drizzled with tomato sauce if desired.

Bon temps!

 

 

 

Belgian Endive

February 1, 2018 – When it comes to Belgian endive, the first question is, “How do you pronounce it?”

Is it pronounced in-dive?  That’s the pronunciation we most often hear in the U.S.

Or is it ahn-deev?  That pronunciation has something of a high brow sound to it.

The answer to the question is, “Yes.”

Why?  Though they are cousins as part of the chicory family, they are two separate plants.

The endive pronounced as in-dive is chicory, a curly leaf lettuce-like plant.

On the other hand, Belgian endive (ahn-deev) is a bullet shaped plant.  It’s Belgian endive that I had on hand.

Belgian endive has a very pleasant, slightly bitter taste.  It’s a great accompaniment to a steak or most any kind of roasted meat.  It’s also often eaten as part of a salad or with individual leaves stuffed as an appetizer.

The first reference I have found to Belgian endive is around 1830.  A Belgian farmer who was growing the curly leaf version (in-dive), or chicory, discovered it accidentally.  He stored the chicory roots in a dark cellar with the intention of drying and grinding them to use as a coffee substitute.  It’s much the same practice that is still popular in Louisiana today.

The farmer discovered, however, that after a while in the dark the roots produced white leaves.  He also discovered that they were tasty.

It took a few decades before the Belgian endive was being produced on a commercial basis.  While curly leaf endive is grown in sunlight, Belgian endive are only coaxed from the chicory roots if left in darkness.

Today it’s common in grocery stores everywhere.  As a bonus, Belgian endive is full of all sorts of healthy things.  The list is far too long to go into here.  I’ll just say it’s very good for you.

The final bonus is it’s easy to cook, taking only a few minutes.  This is the way I prepared it recently to accompany a steak.

Of course, the picture also shows a handful of treats for Molly, our puppy.  The Princess must have her share!

So here we go.

Belgian Endive

4 heads Belgian endive

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice (roughly the juice of half a lemon)

1 tablespoon butter

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup water

1/2 teaspoon sugar

Place the endive in a heavy skillet.  Add all the other ingredients.

Cover and cook over moderately low heat for ten to fifteen minutes.

Check to be sure the endive is tender.  The heads should also be lightly browned.

Bon temps!