I hope I never lose my sense of wonder. If that makes me naive, then so be it.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

in which we learn the importance of hearing both sides of a conversation

This post, really, has no important bearing on my life. No nifty cooking experiences or recipe ideas. But it is something that happened, years ago, that makes me giggle when I recall it.

It was several years ago. We'd had laying hens for over a year by then, and our good friends were on their first summer with some. JA called me on my cell one evening, concerned. One of their hens had been sluggish for a few days, then turned up dead. JA was concerned that it might have been a sickness that could spread to the others and asked me, did I know how to tell?

In a strange-but-true bit of farm karma, I had a week before received my Hobby Farm magazine with an article on chicken autopsies. I am not making this up; it really did. And, long ago in a galaxy far, far away, I had earned my Bachelor of Science in Biology (magna cum laude, thank you very much) and had done dissections. So, the idea wasn't too far-fetched.

So after she asked me, I replied that I could help. "When did she die? Okay, can you put her in a fridge somewhere, in a bag? Then you can bring her over and I can have a look."

At this point I realized that the woman to my left at the kids' soccer game was hearing my side of the conversation and had been looking more and more askance at me as the phone call went on. Oops.

(side note: the autopsy showed that the chicken had eaten a nail and that had gotten infected. And I felt pretty good for having solved that, really.)

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

daring kitchen, may

This month we were back to French food with something I've wanted to make since seeing Julie & Julia, boeuf bourguignon. Slow cooking at its finest? I was about to find out if that beatific expression the editor has on her face once tasting it was legitimate.
Our May 2012 Daring Cooks’ hostess was Fabi of fabsfood. Fabi challenged us to make Boeuf Bourguignon, a classic French stew originating from the Burgundy region of France.
This recipe is, to my mind, so tied up with Julia Child (mostly thanks to the movie) that I spent a half-hour one morning watching the series premiere episode of Child's "The French Chef" in which she makes the dish. It was a half-hour well spent. She'd never make it as a cooking show host today - which is a shame, really. She was so basic, and kind of quirky but in a good way. Little tips that she tossed in about drying the beef, how to tell when the butter was hot enough so the mushrooms would cook properly, how to make the beurre manié (equal parts butter and flour mashed together then stirred in to thicken and nicely finish the sauce), were all helpful. I enjoyed it enough to watch two more episodes after (potatoes, in which she flips them and half ends up on the stove, and another in which she can't find the flour part way through). Gotta love 1963 television.

But back to the bourguignon.

To start with: beef. Not just any cut, but the cheap ones (yay!). This saving would, however, be countered somewhat by using almost an entire bottle of a nice pinot noir. At its root, though, this is slow cooking and so the connnective tissue that would make the cheap cut comparable to munching on a shoe if I grilled it ends up melting away into tender, flavorful meat. 

The dish actually starts with blanching bacon, which seemed a bit of sacrilege, but I dutifully simmered it in water. The beef, dried with paper towels so it would sear properly, was browned in oil, then removed to wait with the bacon until the carrot and onion had a chance to cook. The meat went back into the pot, had salt, pepper and flour added, then tossed before going into the oven to let things get a bit of a crust on it (a step well worth its time), and then the wine, beef stock, garlic, bay leaf, cloves,and tomato paste were all added. Then - the sweet part of this, besides the eating: into the oven for 4 hours. I love being done the bulk of supper prep around noon.

Meanwhile, closer to time for that lovely-smelling concoction to be done, pearl onions were braised and mushrooms sautéed in butter. Side note: this is not fair. I really, really, truly cannot resist mushrooms sautéed in butter. I wanted to eat them all.

The meat being spoon-cuttably soft, the liquid was strained and reduced before going back into the pot, this time with the mushrooms and onions. And, there it was: my first boeuf bourguignon. 

So, so good. Hearty, complex, but with a kind of simple feeling. Really, it's such basic, ancestral-type food. Beef. Bacon. Onion. Wine. All coming together. This will be made again.