Sunday, December 15, 2013

Bœuf Bourguignon

My favorite fellow foodie from work was gracious enough to invite me to her annual holiday party again this year. The last time, I was in the throws of Last Minute Holiday Panic and ended up bringing a store-bought cake (ugh). This year, I wanted to make up for that by providing something extra special that she and her guests might not ever make for themselves. I solicited the support of my very chefy counterpart, and after some discussion, we agreed on that classic French holiday party favorite: Beef Bourguignon.

Beef, wine, lardon, olive oil, and a bit of brandy - the basis for our dish

Like its chicken sibling, Coq au Vin, Beef Burgundy originated in French Wine country and was popularized in the States by the singular Julia Child. This traditional country stew is designed to give new life to middling cuts of beef. Basically, we are dressing up economical cuts of beef into something really quite special. And, chuck is an economical cut to be sure. Here are some of the things we considered when selecting our chuck:

Choosing Beef:
The Beef should come from the Chuck section of the cow. Meaning the top muscle section that supports the neck and connects to the back of the ribs.


In the actual Chuck Eye Roll, there are a combination of different meats, varying in toughness. The Tender top portion is the Chuck eye, and underneath that is a tougher bottom section.  This roast is not usually used for Dry Cooking, but is used for BBQ and stews.

Nicely marbled, corn-fed beef means you could skip larding the beef

We also researched several approaches, including the classic recipe from Julia Child, as well as the very brief entry in Larousse Gastronomique. My counterpart crafted a recipe that seemed to capture the essence of the dish. Here is his recipe with my photos.

All you need for beef burgundy

8 oz. (generous) Pork Belly
5 lbs Beef Chuck Roast or very thick chuck steak from the Chuck Eye. (“Beef Chuck eye Roll”)
Olive Oil.
White Flour for dusting
6 Cups of Burgundy Wine (1.5 liters)
3 Large (restaurant size) Carrots
2 Leeks
1 Large (restaurant size) Onion
Celeriac Root.
1 ½ Small Pearl Onions
2 lbs. Small  White New Potatoes
Bouquet Garnie, of Bay Leaf, Thyme, Sage, and a little oregano
Salt for seasoning the meat
1 Cup (8oz) Tomato Paste (Goya Latino, Salsa de tomato)
3 sprigs Thyme

Cook Pork belly in Olive Oil. To prepare the pork belly, freeze it until it is firm, and then slice it with a sharp knife. Cut it down into small strips and fry it in a heavy pot with a generous pour of olive oil.

Sliced pork belly fat is a good source of lardon

Fry it up until it is crisp

Cube beef and dry. Trim off any fat or gristle using a sharp knife or kitchen shears.

Season with Salt, Pepper, with a little ground Oregano and a little ground sage, then dust with white flour. 

Just dust it, do not bread it

Then, place it in a warm oven at 175 for a few minutes to dry.

A warm oven is a good way to dry meat

Fry in Pan, high heat, until Gratin (Brown Crust) is formed on the outside of the meat. Remove the meat and separate out the pork belly and discard.

Dried beef browned with lardon

Add 1 large onion, and Thyme. Continue to cook in the fat. Deglaze the pan with ½ of a bottle of Burgundy Wine.

Add Carrots, Leek, Celeriac to a Large Stewing pot, with the Bouquet Garni, 

Pour Beef mixture over vegetables in the stewing pot. Add a generous pour of brandy and flame it to burn off the alcohol.

Transfer to a large roasting pan and add the rest of the bottle of burgundy.

Add the entire bottle of wine

Bake for about an hour at 350, then add small potatoes. If you do not see the sauce bubbling, turn up the heat. Bake for 1 more hour, and then add pearl onions. Portion out some of the sauce and thicken it with sugar, a can of tomato paste, and some potato starch. Add the sauce to the pan and bake for 1 further hour. Total bake time is about 3 hours.

Remove from the oven and let it rest for about 10 minutes before serving.

Holiday Baking: Return of the Fruitcake

A few years back, I decided to learn how to make fruitcake. It is a holiday classic, and I strongly felt that it should be in my repertoire. I found a clever little recipe on Epicurious that called for only a couple of varieties of dried fruit, and I worked with it until i got it just right. At the request of my counterpart, I chose to give it a rest last year and pulled it from the cookie basket. And I heard about it. So, at the request of those regulars on the cookie lit, I brought it back this year.

My variation of this recipe cuts back significantly on the fruit and leaves out the booze entirely. What you have left is a light, most, golden cake with sweet maple flavor and a handful of compatible fruits - dried fruits instead of the usual candied concoctions.

Here's my take:

1/2 pounds pitted dried cherries, chopped
1/2 pounds dried apricots, chopped
2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
6 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon run flavor
3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325°F. Butter and flour 10-inch-diameter angel food cake pan, a standard loaf pan, or six mini loaf pans. Toss the chopped dried fruit with 1/2 cup flour in large bowl to coat.

Combine the remaining 1 1/2 cups flour, baking powder, and salt in medium bowl to blend. Beat butter and
both sugars in another large bowl until fluffy. Beat in eggs 1 at a time, blending well after each addition. Add the rum flavoring, maple syrup, and vanilla. Add flour mixture and beat until just combined. Stir in dried fruit mixture. Using a small soup ladle, spoon the batter into prepared pan, flattening to eliminate air pockets. This technique is particularly useful if you are baking min loaves. Bake until tester inserted near center of cake comes out clean and cake is deep golden brown, about 90 minutes for a full-sized cake, or about 60 minutes for mini loaves.

The original recipe also includes a hard sauce that I omit because it doesn't package well, and I tend to give to families and co-workers. Here is a link to the recipe in Epicurious for you to work with as you like.

Holiday Baking: Butterscotch Brownies

The one no-fail, sure-fire, knock-it-out-of-the-ballpark cookie recipe I include in my cookie basket every year is my mother's butterscotch brownie recipe. I grew up eating these - not just during the holidays, but all year round. Friends, neighbors, and co-workers alike snarf these down with child-like abandon, and I know I would hear about it if I stopped including them.

My mother's recipe comes from The Boston School of Cooking cookbook by Fannie Farmer. A single batch makes a small 8x8 square pan of brownies - hardly enough to get through the season. This year, I made two triple-batches. Here's the triple-batch recipe.

1 cup butter - this is two full sticks
3 cups brown sugar, packed
3 eggs
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 cups flour
3 tsp baking powder
1  1/2 teaspoons vanilla

Melt the butter the butter on the stovetop over low heat, making sure it doesn't get too hot. Mix the remaining ingredients together in a large bowl. When the butter has just about melted, remove it from the heat and let it cool for a few minutes. Then add it to the remaining ingredients, folding everything together with a large spatula or wooden spoon. Even though I have the Kitchen Aid Pro, I still prefer to mix these by hand. I've tried getting modern and fancy with this recipe and it hasn't worked for me, although my mom adds chocolate chips and walnuts to this recipe these days.

One the batter is well,mixed, spread it into a buttered 9x13 pan. Bake for about 25 minutes at 350 and use a toothpick to check the doneness. Cool on a wire rack.

And that's it.

Holiday Baking: Spiced Apple Cookies

I like a little spice cookie and am always looking for new recipes to incorporate spice into my holiday cookie basket. I found this interesting recipe on Food52 from user Kelsey the Naptime Chef, who credits a neighbor for this recipe. It's a straight-forward recipe that results in a moist, cake-like cookie with a nice apple pie-like flavor as promised by the baker.

Serves 3 dozen

1 cup raisins I omitted these out of personal bias
1/2 cup shortening I used butter instead - this does change the flavor and character of the cookie, but I was not disappointed with this choice
1 1/3 cup brown sugar, packed
1 egg
1/4 cup whole milk
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup chopped walnuts I also omitted these as with the raisins
1 cup chopped unpeeled apple (seeds and core removed)

1. Preheat oven to 375.

2. In a small saucepan add the raisins and fill with water until raisins are just covered. Bring to a boil and then
remove pan from heat. Allow to stand for 5 minutes. Drain raisins and reserve.

3. In a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment beat together shortening and brown sugar. Then, beat in the egg
and the milk.

4. In a separate bowl stir together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, cloves and nutmeg. With the mixer
on low, slowly add this to the shortening mixture. Beat until everything is well blended.

5. With a wooden spoon stir in the nuts, apple and drained raisins. Drop by heaping teaspoonful onto cookie
sheet. Press the tops of the cookies down slightly with two fingers. Bake at 375 for 8-10 minutes. In my oven, these took about 15 minutes.

I had no troubled with this recipe, and I really liked these cookies, but my counterpart felt they could use a bit of icing. The next time I try this recipe, I'll take his advice.

Holiday Baking: Figgy Pudding Butter Cookies

Last year, I decided to try to incorporate fig into my holiday baking. It's one of those traditional holiday flavors, and many classic recipes can be found that feature dried fig. But, when it comes to incorporating figs into my annual holiday cookie basket, I've had little success. Last year I tried Anise Fig and Date pinwheels, a challenging recipe that I am not entirely sure ended up tasting the way it should. This year, I opted for what I hoped would result in a sweeter cookie with a more pronounced fig flavor - Figgy Pudding Butter Cookies from Food52.

First, a note on the level of difficulty, because the recipe appears to be simple enough. This recipe calls for powdered sugar, which means you will end up with a very different dough that what you get with granulated sugar. It will be stiff and tacky and unforgiving. If you are a seasonal baker like me, this is probably outside our weight class and should be either left to the uber bakers out there or tackled outside of the holiday baking marathon when there is quite frankly too much else going on to pull this off.

Still, I thought I could do this and tried to time it so that the dough had the requisite 2+ hours to chill and I wouldn't have to deal with it until immediately after lunch. This did not help. The recipe calls for rolling and cutting the dough into think circles that most likely bake into golden crisps. I couldn't get my dough to roll and ended up making drop cookies that I tried to flatten. This was a mistake. The dough does not want to flatten in this manner, and it didn't. I ended up with mis-shapen cookie blobs that also did not have the strong fig flavor I was seeking.

This recipe also calls for icing the cookies. You must do this. The flavor of the cookie was enhanced by a mild royal icing, although the recipe calls for an adult brandy-laced icing that I felt would be too strong. This might also have been a misstep, but I wasn't sure how the brandy icing would set.

So, here it is as it appeared on Food52 by member HelenTheNanny with some additional notes from my own experience. She notes that this her own creation and provides a photo with the recipe of what these should look like:

Serves 3 dozen small cookies

For the Cookies:

1 tablespoon orange zest (from one orange)
8-10 large dried Turkish or Caliymirna Figs (the light brown ones)
1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup whole milk
1 1/2 cup All Purpose Flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cups (or 1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cups Confectioners sugar
1 large egg

For the Brandy-Sugar Glaze:

1 1/2 cup Confectioners sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons Brandy
1/2 teaspoon Vanilla Extract

1. Sift together flour, salt, nutmeg and cinnamon in a bowl and set it aside.

2. Dice figs into small chunks and put them in a saucepan with the milk. Heat on low, stirring occasionally for
about 15 minutes. When I did this, I didn't pay attention and I let my milk boil. The figs and the milk kind of homogeonized into a thick sauce. I don't think this is what HelenTheNanny intended. This might also explain the trouble I had working with this dough.

3. Put 1 1/2 sicks of softened butter in the bowl of the electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix
on med-high until the butter is fluffy, about two minutes.

4. Sift 3/4 cup of confectioners sugar into the fluffy butter and mix until smooth.

5. Add in one egg and reduce speed to low.

6. Add in flour mixture and mix until just combined.

7. Strain the figs from the milk. When I did this, I only got about a tablespoon of liquid. I feel I must note again that I don't think this is right. Add them, along with the orange zest, to the dough. Fold in until the
ingredients are evenly distributed. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for 2 hours.

8. After the dough has cooled, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. On a well-floured surface, roll out the
dough until it is 1/8 inch thick. Using a 2 inch round cookie cutter, cut out the cookies and place them on a
parchment lined cookie sheet, spaced one inch apart. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until the edges are
golden brown.

9. While the cookies are baking, combine all the ingredients for the Brandy-Sugar Glaze in a saucepan on
med-low heat, and stir often, until the sauce comes together. After the cookies have cooled, use a fork to
drizzle the warm glaze on them. I used the traditional royal icing but probably should have just made Helen's glaze.

So, if any readers try this out at home, try not to deviate the way I did. I may try this one again as written when I can focus on it. If it works out for me, I'll let you know.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Weekday Coq au Vin

What I love most about winter is my counterpart invariably pulls out Le Gastronomique for a little old school comfort food. This week, he tried his had at that old classic Coq au Vin. As the name implies, this is basically chicken in a wine sauce. And it is a very old recipe with some accounts tracing it back to Julius Caesar in Gaul. A variant of the dish first appeared in print in 1864. Then, about 100 years later, Julia Child brought it to the U.S. in her seminal cookbook and featured it often on her cooking show.

The basis of Coq au Vin - chicken and wine
The recipe was most likely developed as a means of preparing old rooster, so there is a certain amount of time devoted to simmering the chicken in the wine to help season it. Even if you used a conventional bird from the grocery store, you still want to allow sufficient simmering time for that authentic flavor to develop. You need to create a sauce that is flavorful enough to both compensate for the mildness of the slow-cooked meat, but also complements it without overpowring it. And, while many have tried, there is no real getting around the long, slow cook required to get this right. But there is a way to mitigate it so that you can even have authentic coq au vin on a school night. The trick is the slow cooker.

So, the night before, you will have left overs because you will be prepping your authentic coq au vin. One of the truly nice things about this dish is that it does not require any esoteric ingredients. We had everything we needed on hand for this without needing to stop by the grocery store. And in the 30-45 minutes it takes for your leftovers to reheat in the oven, you will be able to brown your meat and prep your veg.

You will need:
  • About 4 pounds of chicken, cut up (We used a pack of chicken thighs with the skin on that we deboned)
  • About 3 oz of bacon, also cut up
  • Onions
  • Mushrooms
  • Leek
  • Carrot
  • Potato
  • A heavy hand of Mediterranean seasoning on our chicken
  • Brandy
  • About half a bottle of a nice wine
  • A bit of habanero sauce or some other hot sauce to help cut the richness of the dish
  • A bit of sugar to help cut the bitter
  • A bit of flour
First, brown the bacon in a heavy pot. While it is browning, season the meat. We recommend sage, thyme, oregano, savory, white pepper, salt, and a bit of that habanero sauce. Place the chicken skin-side down directly on top of the bacon.

Start with a nice base of bacon

Continue to cook the chicken in the bacon fat while you prep your veg, remembering to turn the chicken a couple of times with your tongs.

Heavily seasoned chicken cooking in the bacon

You'll also want to sprinkle a handful of flour over the chicken. This will mix with the fats and will help things thicken in this first cooking.

A little flour never hurts

And, prepping the veg is not so bad for this dish as you will want large chunks of veg. Make sure to peel the potatoes and carrots, and to thoroughly clean your leek.

Large chunks of veg

Once the chicken has cooked through and the outside has browned, add a generous pour of brandy to the pot. If you have the time and you want to be truly authentic, light it up and flame it off. We passed on this step and just let the heat of the pot cook off the booze.

When it looks like this, it's ready for the booze

You'll also want to add that nice wine, and also a bit of sugar. While the French may say you'll get the sugar from the wine, we used a domestic and were not hedging our bets.

A splash of brandy

A lot of wine

Give the wine some time to cook as well. Then, gently transfer the contents of your pot to your 2-quart measuring cup. Once it has cooled a bit, place a lid on it and let it rest in the refrigerator overnight for the flavors to mingle.

When it looks like this, it's done for the night

A large measuring cup is ideal for overnight storage

Bag up your veg for the night also.

The next morning, get out that slow cooker. Place the potatoes in first at the bottom of the pot. Then add the rest of the veg. Then place the meat on top, pouring the liquid from the meat over the whole thing and add a couple of cups of water as well.

Set your slow cooker for 4-6 hours and go on your merry way to work. When you get home, your coq au vin will be cooked, and you'll just have to make the sauce. This is a necessary and quick step, so don't get over-excited and skip it, no matter how good the kitchen smells.

This is what I came home to on Thursday
Empty the contents of the slow cooker into a colander to strain the sauce from the meat and veg. Then strain the liquid again through a mesh colander or something similar. This is also a necessary step to remove the sediment from the sauce. Here's a photo depicting why you should do this.

Why you need to strain that sauce

Place the strained sauce in a pan on the stove over medium heat. Dissolve some potato starch in a bit of water and add it to the sauce and simmer until slightly thickened.

Thickening the sauce on the stovetop

Arrange your chicken pieces and veg in a wide, shallow bowl and top with the sauce. And go easy on that sauce. That golden color and delicious flavor comes from animal fat. Plus, the surprise best-tasting element of this dish - the onions. They come out sweet and fatty and melt in your mouth. And that's how you get coq au vin on a Thursday night.

Weekday Coq au Vin