Friday, September 30, 2011

Le Creuset and me, a love story

The Chef can attest, opening the box from Williams Sonoma was like Christmas morning for me. The Happy Dance took place in the dining room as I struggled with the tape. Finally, after wanting and lusting for sooooo long, a Le Creuset dutch oven was MINE !!! And it didn't take long for me to use it either.

Today is a gorgeous fall day- a light wind rustling the leaves, the walnuts dropping off my trees and littering the yard and street, a last handful of peppers from the garden. PERFECT day for something to cook all afternoon. The change of season is a little like a turning point for me- time to get it together and give up the summer laziness. I set the alarm clock and ran errands in the morning for a change. Sharing the aisles of our little town grocery store with a much older group of customers than I have seen in ages, I was inspired by the display of indian corn, gourds and pumpkins to come up with a really wonderful autumn meal.

Hmmmm what to have......chicken ?? I just came across a new recipe for chicken paprika the other day..... Pork ??  It's apple season here, pork and something apple ?? I settled on a really lovely beef roast....and now what ? Stew ? Roast ? And suddenly the lightbulb went off.....Boeuf Bourgignon in the new dutch oven !!! A half pound of fresh mushrooms and a bottle of cabernet sauvignon completed my shopping for the day and I headed home with my spoils.

So here it is. The Baker's version of Boeuf Bourgignon.

1 3 lb boneless beef roast, trimmed of fat and cut into 2" cubes
flour, salt and pepper for dredging
1/4 lb lacon, cut into lardons
1 large onion, cut into 1" chunks
8 oz fresh mushrooms, left whole, stems trimmed (smaller mushrooms are best)
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tb tomato paste
2 bay leaves
2 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried rosemary
salt and pepper
1 bottle dry red wine (I used cabernet sauvignon, any dry red is fine)
2 cups beef stock

In dutch oven brown bacon in about 1 tb oil. Remove bacon, reserve fat. Add onion to dutch oven and cook and stir over med high heat until golden brown, add mushrooms, continue to cook and stir til mushrooms brown (don't go too long or they release their liquid and steam instead of browning). Remove from skillet. Add additional oil or bacon fat if needed. Dredge beef in flour seasoned with salt and pepper. Brown on all sides in batches (don't crowd or you will just steam the meat instead of browning), remove to plate until all beef is browned. After last batch of meat is browned add the garlic to pan and stir for 1 or 2 minutes until just softened. Deglaze pan with wine, return vegetables, beef and bacon to pot, stir in tomato paste, herbs, stock, season with salt and pepper. Place dutch oven in 300 degree oven for 3-4 hours or until meat is very tender. To serve, remove meat and veggies from broth with slotted spoon. Cook the pan juices until reduced and thickened. Serve meat and vegetables with sauce and mashed potatoes or pasta and a good crusty bread.

I NEVER buy "stew meat". Why pay the store to cut up my beef when it's so easy to do myself AND I get to QA as I go and get rid of the gristle and fat to my liking? So that's what I did today, I used a 3 lb beef arm roast and it was a gorgeous cut of meat- not much fat and it was super easy to trim.

I worked with a freshly sharpened chef's knife and trimmed off the little bit of fat on the edge, and then separated the roast into sections and cut into nice 2 inch chunks.

I cut my bacon into lardons (yes, I am a food snob and love using these foodie terms and the more French I get to use, the better) and yes, I did separate each and every one and put it into a small bowl. I hate trying to brown my bacon and getting clumps of bacon, so I pick em apart. I also love to prep ahead as much as I can and get things into small prep bowls, so when it's time to use that ingredient, I just need to grab it and dump it in the pot.

Browning the bacon in the brand new Le Creuset. Ahhhhhh such a beautiful sight and such a happy moment, just knowing this is MINE !! I feel like a proud mommy.

The mushrooms were super easy to clean, just a wipe with a damp sponge and trim the end of the stem- I prefer to leave the stems ON but cut them flush with the caps, so I get a cute little round mushroom ball instead of mushroom "bowls".

The onions and mushrooms browned up nicely in the bacon fat. I love the way the round shape of the mushrooms take on this evenly golden look when they've been cooked.

As I said, I always get all my ingredients ready BEFORE I start cooking, so I use alot of little pinch/prep bowls. My herbs in one bowl, garlic and tomato paste in another. I'm a pretty organized person, even when cooking so this is just something I always do to make it easier on myself later. It's also a last chance to find out if I'm missing an ingredient- I haven't started yet, so it's not too late to get what I need or decide on a substitution.

Next, I browned all the meat in small batches- as I said above you really need to give the meat alot of space so it will BROWN instead of steam into a mass of beef/flour goo. The browning of the flour also makes the sauce much more flavorful, so it's a very important step.

After giving the garlic a quick run in the hot pan, I deglazed with the entire bottle of wine (well, I had removed about 1/2 cup and put that in the freezer- per the Chef's orders, so next time he makes red sauce he can have a little red wine to add) and used my wooden spoon to scrape up the browned tasty bits on the bottom and sides of the pot. Again, such an important step, getting all that deliciousness incorporated into what will become the sauce. Dredging and browning the beef and cooking the bacon make this step possible and absolutely necessary to a delicious finished dish. And this is also why I wanted this dutch oven so badly- my cookware is non-stick and you CANNOT get that frond/deglaze thing going in non-stick cookware, it's almost impossible.

Everybody back in the pool !!!!! Stir in the tomato paste and herbs and it's into the oven for a long, slow cooking (and a little autumn food air freshening for the house). I cannot WAIT til it's time to dig in !!!

I let Lenny and Ed occupy my afternoon with a few back to back Law & Order episodes while the house filled with yummy aromas........and eventually...... the result of all my labors has reached its delicious finish....

I scooped out all the meat, mushrooms and onions into another bowl and covered it to keep warm while I heated the pan juices to boiling and let them thicken into the sauce.

I finished dinner with some mashed potatoes and homemade focaccia (which you will have to read about next time !!)

I think Julia would have approved. And to borrow her very famous catchphrase..... Bon appetit !!

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