Sunday, March 6, 2011

Happy Eats-Avversary!

What a stupendous year it's been since I made the ultimate passive-aggressive commitment one year ago--to start a blog.  For those of you I didn't know or otherwise weren't around at the seems-like-a-lifetime-ago beginning, you can see my first entry by clicking here.  Since that first spazzy write-up I've actually started that immense writing program, adopted New Seasons as our default grocery destination, and indeed featured our cats a little more than is probably healthy or palatable to the readership. 

I agonized over how to mark this tremendous occasion.  I'd love to give each and every one of you beautiful followers a custom-painted Kitchen Aid mixer a la The Pioneer Woman, but I am sorely lacking in corporate sponsorship (shame on you, Williams-Sonoma and The Pampered Chef!  You're getting these plugs FOR FREE you know!!).  Instead, I figured I'd make a cliched but beloved play to the ultimate food blog moment:  making Beef Bourguignon.  As we all likely know, this is the quintessential impress-your-friends dish that Julie Powell pulled out from Julia Child's tome in Julie & Julia.  I've made this dish before, just a few months before starting Eats of Eden when I hosted a Julie & Julia-themed party.  Here are my friends Josie and Holly savoring the aromatic reveal of the boeuf.  They are now both vegetarians.  I guess that's not the best endorsement for my skills or the recipe.  I'll just go ahead and blame it on Taco Bell 88% beef instead. 

Beef Bourguignon has one of those infamous reputations as something so complicated, so time-consuming, so over-the-top and difficult that it's not practical to make.  It's so not.  I'll tell you what's difficult:  making sushi is difficult.  Just making the rice alone is a multi-tiered maze of tasks which, in the slightest deviation, can lead to a ruined product.  And that's aside from julienning all those veggies and properly-stored fish, assembling the rolls, getting them rolled up and sliced without looking too pathetic and lumpy.  Not to say it isn't amazing and fun, but it definitely deserves a BB-esque badge of bother.  Beef Bourguignon is basically beef stew that's had the sexy and expensive factor kicked up ten notches.  And no, you're not going to have to stay up until 2 am waiting for it to finish, either (so give me a break, Amy Adams.  Drama queen). 

For this honorary dinner I resurrected the same version I made at the party.  No, it's not Julia Child's original.  I don't feel right all of a sudden using her recipes when I never have; it seems disingenuous.  Instead, I refer to my very own Julia:  Ina Garten.  The Barefoot Contessa's recipe follows as you would expect:  good olive oil, the best bacon, 1/2 a cup of freaking Courvosier.  You also need to sacrifice an entire bottle of fairly decent wine, and we bought the organic chuck roast and vegetables.  But when Matt comments on the authenticity of the "real" carrots, it feels so worth it. 

I prepped and assembled the dish last night, which is the way to go twofold:  it cuts up the cooking time, and allows the flavors to marinate and develop in the fridge overnight.  Here are the basics that cook down together in the great Le Creuset:  chuck patted dry, liberally salt-and-peppered and then browned in small batches of the rendered bacon fat and olive oil to get that nice crust that sustains through out the cook-down process, a whole mess of onions and garlic, carrots and lush mushrooms.

If your house is smelling kind of blah and you're out of candles, just start cooking up beef bourguignon.  From the first bacon fry to the onion sizzle, savory flavors permeate the space in layers.  And as the scents shift, the flavors in your eventual dish deepen.  It's just such a rich, productive cooking experience knowing this is going to be soo good tomorrow

And then, just as everything is starting to marry and meld together, you pull out that entire bottle of rich red wine and dump the whole thing in.  Yep, keep going.  Don't stop.  Like legendary coq au vin, the meat melds overnight with the wine to become one with the wine.  The meat absorbs the red wine, the red wine absorbs the meat juices, and once you have a bite you can't imagine one without the other.

After cooking on the stove, the pot is baked in the oven for a little over an hour.  This is where I allowed the dish to cool and go in the fridge while we sat down to watch The Town

As we enjoyed the smell of promise from the living room, we discussed what exactly we should be serving this over.  My #1 vote was a fluffy bed of parmesan polenta, which I still think would have been mind-blowing, but Matt doesn't like polenta.  He was clamoring for potatoes au gratin, but I insisted that it would be much too rich.  Reminds me of those people in the South that eat their gumbo over potato salad.  I proposed a happy medium:  oven-roasted baby red potatoes, smashed to serve. 

The next day, after an impromptu flight in Matt's company plane to test a camera and an afternoon full of trying to write more of my canning story, all I had to do was take the Le Creuset out of the fridge, heat up the oven and allow it to come back to life.  I did have to saute the mushrooms in butter to add at the last stovetop simmer, and poke some holes in the potatoes, but otherwise it wasn't much more difficult than toasting chicken nuggets in the oven.  I just scattered the potatoes on my baking stone, rolled them in olive oil, salt and pepper and gave a good long 45 minute-ish stay in the oven.  They came out crisp on the outside, fluffy and velvety on the inside.  By this time, we were ready to celebrate.  I ladled the sophisticated stew over deep bowls of potato beds, sliced toasty La Brea bread (wasn't in the mood to reboot last weekend's bakery) and sat down to enjoy another serving of this classic dish. 

While Matt posed for his signature happy-food shot, he was joined by another anxious dinner guest.  They are both the stars of my blog, and loves of my life. 

Thank you again for reading Eats of Eden!  I hope that I've inspired you to try something you may not have done before, or at least ordered something new off the menu.  For me, this has given me an outlet to practice and play with writing without having to be too serious about it.  It's a blog, after all.  I don't think my sentences are going to be too scrutinized, but as each of them comes along I'm pretty sure the next ones slowly become better.  That's the whole way of craft, right?  Works with pens and pans.  Pick up and play with whatever you wish. 

My Julia's Beef Bourguignon

  • 1 tablespoon good olive oil
  • 8 ounces dry cured center cut applewood smoked bacon, diced
  • 2 1/2 pounds chuck beef cut into 1-inch cubes
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound carrots, sliced diagonally into 1-inch chunks
  • 2 yellow onions, sliced
  • 2 teaspoons chopped garlic (2 cloves)
  • 1/2 cup Cognac
  • 1 (750 ml.) bottle good dry red wine such as Cote du Rhone or Pinot Noir  (I used Cupcake from Costco.  I'd buy something a little better than Two Buck Chuck... but not much better)
  • 1 can (2 cups) beef broth
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (1/2 teaspoon dried)
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature, divided
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 pound frozen whole onions
  • 1 pound fresh mushrooms stems discarded, caps thickly sliced
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F.
Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven. Add the bacon and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the bacon is lightly browned. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon to a large plate.
Dry the beef cubes with paper towels and then sprinkle them with salt and pepper. In batches in single layers, sear the beef in the hot oil for 3 to 5 minutes, turning to brown on all sides. Remove the seared cubes to the plate with the bacon and continue searing until all the beef is browned. Set aside.
Toss the carrots, and onions, 1 tablespoon of salt and 2 teaspoons of pepper in the fat in the pan and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are lightly browned. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the Cognac, stand back, and ignite with a match to burn off the alcohol. Put the meat and bacon back into the pot with the juices. Add the bottle of wine plus enough beef broth to almost cover the meat. Add the tomato paste and thyme. Bring to a simmer, cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and place it in the oven for about 1 1/4 hours or until the meat and vegetables are very tender when pierced with a fork
Combine 2 tablespoons of butter and the flour with a fork and stir into the stew. Add the frozen onions. Saute the mushrooms in 2 tablespoons of butter for 10 minutes until lightly browned and then add to the stew. Bring the stew to a boil on top of the stove, then lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Season to taste. 


  1. I am honored to appear in your anniversary blog post. And just so everyone knows, Tabitha's beef bourguignon had nothing to do with my choice to become vegetarian - it was absolutely delicious :)

  2. I can't believe its been a year already. Thanks for the inspiration to try things outside of my normal meal rotation.

  3. Tabitha's beef bourguignon is awesome. It had absolutely nothing to do with my becoming vegetarian, I promise. I agree your blog just keeps getting better, which is not to say it was ever bad. I love reading it, even if I can't eat half the stuff in it :) Looking forward to another year of entries.

  4. I promise I was joking; I know you've got way more important and legitimate reasons to commit to vegetarianism than stew. Thanks for the compliments, and thank you so much for your support :) It would be hard to keep writing if nobody was reading!

  5. Oh my goodness. . . just reading this post I can imagine the divine smell of all that good food cooking. . . and making me drool and crave beef bourguignon (which I've never had) at 8:30 AM is pretty impressive ;-)

    The fact that kitty joined Matt at the table makes that picture extra-awesome!! But cats know delicious food when they smell it. . .

    I really enjoy your blog - keep writing, Tabitha!! ♥