Every Day is Valentine’s Day February 5, 2009Posted by Toy Lady in Cooking, Food, random stuff.
I know, right?
Several years ago, after his last-minute birthday shopping in November, then last-minute anniversary shopping in December, Mon Capitán was asked what he was getting for his wife for Valentine’s Day. His response?
Every day is Valentine’s Day at our house.
Um. . . eewwww. A little too much information, doncha think? A decade later, I think what he actually meant was “Valentine’s Day? What’s the big deal?”
I can respect that, sort of. As, obviously, can our good friends at Thursday Night Smackdown, as well. We had so much fun last month with our croissant challenge that we’ve decided to do participate in First Thursday again. So this month’s challenge is romantic clichés.
Here’s the thing. I don’t get out much.
The only actual “romatic cliché” I can really think of would be something really clichéd like, well, say, chocolate-covered strawberries and champagne. Which I actually have done. Which is when I discovered that Peeps is not a big fan of strawberries. Even if they’re dipped in chocolate.
So. Romantic clichés. Years ago, I stumbled upon a flourless chocolate cake recipe from, I’m reasonably certain, David Rosengarten. Flourless chocolate cake with champagne. So I went looking for the recipe. I’m not sure what cookbook it was in, but I couldn’t find it.
But I did find something else interesting in Rosengarten’s Taste. I know, shocker, right?
I’m not sure if this actually qualifies as a “romantic cliché,” though Rosengarten does say, and I quote:
this boeuf bourguignon [is] one of my top choices for a Valentine’s Day menu.
And that is good enough for me.
So may I present:
Boeuf à la Bourguignonne with Heart-Shaped Croutons.
Seriously. What is the deal with the French and (1) their un- pronounceable words, and (2) their obsession with butter?
Regardless, it’s got beef! And bacon! And wine! And heart-shaped croutons! And lots of butter! Valentine’s Day, here we come!
This shouldn’t be too hard – since there are the two of us working on this, it should go a bit faster,right? Of COURSE it will.
So Peeps starts with the whacking up of stuff – he still likes his new birthday knives, you know.
We used a chuck roast – the recipe calls for “3 pounds of fatty beef chuck, cut into 2-inch pieces.” To be honest, I think the descriptor “fatty” is kind of superfluous here – it’s a chuck roast. Um Dave? It’s chuck roast – you really don’t have to go out of your way to find a fatty one. I’m just saying.
Though it is good to know that we won’t need to trim it, I guess.
Along with the meat, we also need a carrot (the recipe called for two – we used 1 freakishly big one) and a large onion, each peeled and cut into large chunks, and 4 cloves of garlic, sliced thin, along with 12 de-leafed parsley stems. As an aside, it is nice to have a use (other than stock) for those parsley stems for a change.
Meanwhile, I measured the rest of the stuff. The marinade-sauce ingredients.
One of the cool things about Rosengarten is that he recognizes that cooking is a very personal sort of thing. You cook to your taste, and he cooks to his. He went into a long discussion about “the pork” – how smoky do you like your bacon, blah blah blah. Since we, like our dog, tend to like smoky goodness, we ultimately opted to use supermarket bacon (because we’re not going to “stew” top-of-the-line bacon, I don’t care how French the recipe is) and our own smoked beef broth.
So where was I? Yes, the marinade-sauce. Two cups of smoked beef broth (in this house, that’s known as half a quart), 3 cups of red wine, 1 teaspoon dried thyme (we’re not big fans of dried thyme, so my teaspoon was more like 3/4 of a teaspoon), 1 teaspoon dried rosemary (we are fans of rosemary, so my teaspoon was heaping) – make sure you crush the rosemary in your hand to break it up a bit before adding it, 10 black peppercorns, 4 whole cloves (and yes I counted!) and 4 allspice berries. We didn’t have any allspice berries in the house – not a one – so I used a sprinkle of ground allspice instead. The substitution doesn’t seem to have harmed anything. Oh, and a bay leaf. After all, it’s not real cooking unless you stick a bay leaf in that you have to fish out later, right?
And there was one more thing. 1/4 cup of Marc de Bourgogne. We don’t have that. In fact, until I googled it, I wasn’t even quite sure what it was. Fortunately, Rosengarten offers the option of substituting 2 Tablespoons each of brandy and grappa. Those, we have. Whew!
Yes. We have grappa AND brandy on hand, but no allspice berries. Crazy, huh?
The whole mess goes into a zip-top bag, tightly sealed, to marinate overnight.
Magic Internet Time. . .
OK, it’s the next day. Time to get down to work.
We cut half a pound of sliced bacon into lardons. We opted not to blanch the bacon, though, as we wanted to retain as much flavor as we could – after all, this was your basic on sale Buy-One-Get-One-Free supermarket bacon – not known for its bacony flavor. In hindsight, given the amount of fat in the final stew, we probably should have gone ahead and blanched. Maybe next time.
After the bacon was cut up, guess what we did with it.
Go ahead. Try and guess.
We fried it, yes. Of course.
But wait! There’s more!
That crazy nut job had us fry bacon in olive oil and butter.
I will tell you this, though. There is nothing quite like the aroma of bacon frying in butter. Who knew? I wanted to pour it over something. Anything. Maybe just dip some bread in it. Hell, I wanted to grab a spoon and just slurp it out of the pot. However, that would be very, very wrong. Very wrong indeed.
Peeps supervised the cooking of the bacon in the Dutch oven.
I removed the beef from the marinade (which I reserved, of course!) and patted them dry. This is some high-skill stuff here, you know.
As you know, meat will brown much more readily – and more, well, brownly – if it’s dried before going into a hot pan. There are all sorts of science-y reasons for that, I’m sure, involving that Maillard guy, but just trust me on this. Or don’t. Up to you. I want to note here, too – remember all the red wine we added to the marinade? 3 cups of it? Well, we all know what red wine does, right? It stains. It seems that it does the same to meat. Turns it purple.
Anyway, Peeps removes the bacon from the pan, leaving the buttery bacon grease. You know, that still amazes me. Sheer brilliance. Just thought I’d mention that. We brown the (seasoned) beef – in batches – creating some lovely, lovely fond.
So we pull all the browned meat out of the pot and stick it in the bowl with the buttery bacon. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to tell when purple beef is sufficiently browned? Fortunately, we were using the heavy-duty Dutch oven with the white enamel interior so we could monitor the fond. Do you know that the first definition of fond is “prizing highly; desirous”? Coincidence?
So we dumped off most of the fat – after unsuccessfully trying to find some justification – any excuse would do! – to keep it for some future use. Not so much.
We left about a Tablespoon of buttery goodness, and returned the beef to the pot, along with the carrots, onions, and parsley stems that have marinating with it. And the ever-so-important bay leaf. Let that cook about 5 minutes – just long enough to dry out the veggies, I guess, and get them heated a bit.
Then, and this is an old beef stew trick, we stirred in a Tablespoon of tomato paste and let it cook for a few more minutes. Peeps does the same when roasting bones for beef stock. Somehow – and again, there’s probably another science-y reason, named after another French guy – anyway, a little dab of tomato paste caramelizes and helps enhance and build a bold, beefy flavor. The stuff we never learned in Home Ec!
Then we simply (carefully) pour in the wine-stock marinade, and bring it to a boil.
Then just cover it and shove in a low (I mean LOW – 275°) for 3 hours. And walk away. Go walk the dog, watch a movie, something. Just walk away.
More Magic Internet Time. . . this time, 3 hours.
Meanwhile, we’ll turn our attention to the Heart-Shaped Croutons. Awwww. . .
I used to have a heart-shaped cookie cutter. And a star, and a gingerbread man. I had them for years – I used to use them when I made sausage gravy and biscuits. Heart-shaped biscuits – my little way of puttin’ in the love.
Do you think I could find the damn thing? Of COURSE not. In the spirit of authenticity, though, I had to have a heart-shaped cookie cutter, so when Peeps and I did our weekly shopping, we picked one up. For a buck. Lucky thing it’s almost Valentine’s Day, huh? Otherwise we probably may have ended up with shamrock or Easter bunny croutons.
I cut the little hearts out of sliced (store-bought!) bread. See, we went all out for this, didn’t we? The croutons will be brushed with melted butter and baked until crisp and browned, but that doesn’t happen until a little closer to serving time.
So the boeuf has been in the oven a couple of hours, the house is smelling fabulous, and Surly Boy is sniffing around the kitchen. Patience, grasshopper. We don’t rush the love.
Also, Peeps dealt with the pearl onions during this waiting-inhaling-stomach growling time. Normally, there would also be a big old pile of mushrooms, as well, but, well, I could claim “allergies,” but that would be a lie. The fact is that neither of us is a huge fan of mushrooms, so we kinda skipped them – they’re fungus, for crying out loud. Who eats fungus on purpose?
If you actually sit down and read Rosengarten’s cooking directions, there are a lot of instances of the word “meanwhile.” I guess he’s a fan of multitasking, too, just like I am.
So meanwhile, Peeps dumped a bag of frozen pearl onions in a small sauté pan (we didn’t see decent fresh ones, so I’d rather use frozen than inferior fresh), a bit of water, some sugar, salt and pepper and (guess what) some More Butter! Basically, he simmered the onions until the liquid was gone and the onions were GBD. And kinda caramelized.
After 3 hours, it’s time to pull the stew (Yes. It’s stew.) out of the oven. As another side note, we actually could have cooked this overnight at an even lower temperature – Rosengarten suggests 215° – can you imagine waking up to this stuff?
Remember the “fatty chuck” we used? Yeah. And yes, I know, fat equals flavor, which is why I didn’t back down from adding more butter every time I walked in the kitchen. But anyway, once the stew comes out of the oven, we pull the vegetables out (along with those stupid parsley stems) (can it technically be “stew” with no vegetables?), then I skim some grease from the top. And by “some” I mean “huge, measurable amounts.” There was a LOT of fat floating on top. (Say it with me – Fat equals flavor. Fat equals flavor. Fat equals flavor.)
And another “meanwhile.”
Meanwhile, prepare a beurre manié with a Tablespoon each of flour and (all together now) butter.
We add the onions (and no mushrooms) to the stew (Ah! A vegetable!) and bring the whole mess to a boil.
Stir in the buerre manié, bit by bit, to the boiling liquid, until the sauce is “lightly thickened.”
While Peeps is buerre manié-ing the boeuf, the Heart-Shaped Croutons are in a 400° oven getting all golden and, well, love-like.
When they came out, I dipped the edges first in the stew, then in some chopped parsley.
Awww. . .
According to Rosengarten,
In Burgundy, the usual starch accompaniment to boeuf bourguignon is a simple dish of boiled potatoes — maybe with a little butter and parsley.
However, ole’ Dave recommends serving a tartiflette alongside it – I guess because no decadent dish like this is quite complete unless we add more butter, some heavy cream, butter and a couple of cups of cheese.
The man is obviously high.
Oh, don’t worry. I’ll make it sometime. Just not this time.
This time, Peeps made some oven-roasted “crashed” potatoes, which were absolutely perfect. We read through Rosengarten’s “Criteria for Quality,” listed at the end of each recipe in this book – I guess I’m kind of nerdy like that.
- Is the meat tender?
- Is the stew deeply flavorful?
- Are the onions whole, with texture, not decomposed?
- Is the sauce winy but not too winy?
- Is the sauce limpid and bright, not muddy and dull?
- Is the sauce thickened just so – neither too thin nor too thick?
Each answer was a unanimous “yes,” which is pretty amazing in itself. Surly Boy actually used the phrase “amazingly good” – high praise indeed!
We served this with, surprisingly, a white bordeaux – which was perfect. The slight acidity cut through the incredible richness, and the flavor wasn’t lost the way a more subtle, oh, I don’t know, maybe a burgundy would be.
Best moment – when I caught a glimpse of Surly Boy sneaking “one last bite” from the pot while we were cleaning up! I guess we can score this a win, huh?