“Find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it.” – Julia Child
I started taking an interest in cooking during college. Mostly easy things – loaded egg sandwiches, lots of dip for tailgating and parties, cookies, cake… the essentials of that time in my life. I started buying cookbooks, looking up recipes online, and bringing my kitchen to life. When I moved to Charlotte, and adjusted to regular working hours, my love for cooking and spending time in the kitchen deepened. I wanted to know more...
I was always interested in the complicated, usually French, dishes on restaurant menus. They all seemed difficult to relate to, like they were out of reach. But, with enough practice, my confidence started to build. My first pie crust, homemade sushi roll, pasta sauce… I can remember them all as if it were yesterday. I have also had plenty of failures along the way (crème brulee, I will try you again soon), but have tried not to get discouraged. There’s always another attempt waiting around the corner; that’s at least half the fun of it in my eyes.
Through books, TV, movies, and art exhibits, Julia Child has proved to be an endless source of inspiration to me, and to many. The first dish I ever cooked from “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” was, not-so-originally, Beef Bourguignon. A few years ago, for Easter Sunday dinner, my mom and I spent many hours in the kitchen following Julia’s recipe exactly. The result was perfection.
This dish has been my go-to for special occasions ever since. It is actually one of the few times I cook red meat at home (as I’m sure you’ve noticed, I cook and eat mostly vegetarian fare, but I love a good steak when the mood strikes). It seemed complicated the first time around, but now I find comfort in the chopping of root vegetables, braising pearl onions (so worth the extra step), going to the local butcher to get a roast cut for me on the spot, picking the wine to go into the stew (and our glasses). It’s therapeutic.
Most of the work can be done ahead of time, and then it’s just a matter of cooking on low heat for hours, while you take care of the rest of your to-do list that day. And this dish? It makes the best leftovers I’ve ever had.
Adapted slightly from Mastering the Art of French Cooking
For the Beef Bourguignon:
One 8-ounce package bacon, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 pounds stewing beef – I typically use a chuck roast – cut into 2-inch cubes. Make sure to trim any large pieces of fat as you go
4 carrots, peeled and sliced
2 onions, peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
3 tablespoons flour
3 cups red wine (I use Cotes du Rhone, but any full-bodied red will work)
3 cups beef stock
2 tablespoons tomato paste
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped
1 crumbled bay leaf
In a large skillet, cover the bacon with water and bring to a boil. Let simmer for 10 minutes, drain, and dry completely.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
In a large cast-iron casserole (something ovenproof, like Le Creuset), sauté the bacon in the oil over medium heat for 3 minutes or until slightly brown. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and reserve.
Make sure your prepared beef is dried with paper towels before you move on – it will not brown if it is damp. Reheat the bacon oil until almost smoking, and begin browning your beef. You may have to do this in 3 or 4 batches, but use your judgment based on the quantity. Once the beef is browned on all sides, remove it to a separate dish with a slotted spoon.
Sauté the carrots and onions in the bacon fat for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the beef and bacon to the casserole, and toss with the salt and pepper. Sprinkle the flour over the beef and toss again to coat. Place the casserole, uncovered, in the middle position of the preheated oven for 4 minutes. Toss the meat once more, and cook in the oven for another 4 minutes. This step browns the flour to form a light crust on each piece of beef. Remove casserole and turn oven heat down to 325 degrees.
Stir in the wine and beef stock (beef should be just barely covered). Add the tomato paste, garlic, and herb – stir to combine. Bring to a simmer on the stove, cover, and set in lower third of the oven. The liquid should simmer slowly for at least 3 hours. If you need to leave it in for longer, it will be fine, just make sure to check it every 30 minutes or so, and reduce the heat to 300 degrees.
For the Braised Pearl Onions
1 package pearl onions, peeled
1 ½ tablespoon butter
1 ½ tablespoon olive oil
½ cup red wine
Salt and pepper
4 parsley sprigs
1 bay leaf
3 thyme sprigs
Combine the butter and oil in a 9 to 10-inch enameled skillet over medium heat. Once melted, add the onions and sauté for 10 minutes, rolling the onions around the pan, browning them as evenly as possible. Try to keep the skins intact.
Add the red wine and herbs and season with salt and pepper. Cover and simmer over low heat for 45 minutes. Remove the herbs and add to the beef bourguignon before serving.
For the Sautéed Mushrooms
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon oil
1 ½ pounds fresh mushrooms, halved or quartered depending on size
Add butter and oil to a large skillet over high heat. When the butter foam begins to subside, add mushrooms and toss for 4 to 5 minutes. Let sit, stirring lightly, for another 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat and add to the beef bourguignon before serving.
For the Parsley-Buttered Potatoes
3 pounds red-skinned potatoes, washed, dried, and quartered
6 tablespoons butter
1 handful flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add the potatoes, and cook until fork-tender, about 10-12 minutes. Drain the potatoes and return them to the pot. Add the butter and parsley, cover the pot, and shake to coat the potatoes with melted butter and herbs.
Serve alongside beef bourguignon.