Wednesday, May 21, 2008

"Mastering the Art of French Cooking (Vol. 1 &2)" - Beef Bourguignon and Celery Soup with Potatoes, Leeks and Rice

Date I made these recipes: May 18, 2008

Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Simone Beck, Louisette Berthole and Julia Child
Published by: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
© 1961
Recipe: Boeuf Bourguignon (Beef Stew in Red Wine, with Bacon, Onions and Mushrooms) – p. 315-317, plus Oignons Glaces A Brun (Brown-braised onions) – p. 483 and Champignons Sautes Au Beurre (Sauteed Mushrooms) – p. 513

Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volume Two by Julia Child and Simone Beck
Published by: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
© 1970
Recipe: Potage Celestine (Celery Soup with Potatoes, Leeks, and Rice) – p. 15

My husband and I celebrated our 17th wedding anniversary today and in honor of our honeymoon trip to France, I whipped out Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child. I hate to say this but I almost wished I hadn’t. More on that in a minute.

Lest you think that my husband and I must have been loaded with money in order to take a trip to France for our honeymoon, you should know that we ended up doing it for so darned cheap that we couldn’t afford not to. Here’s why: in 1991, the US was engaged in the first Gulf War and nobody wanted to fly. In need of revenue and passengers (in that order), Northwest Airline offered fares to France for something like $300 each. I happened to have enough miles for one-half off a companion fare and all total we went to France (and later Switzerland and Italy) for $500. I don’t even think I could get to Poughkeepsie for that!

Now I had been to France before but my husband hadn’t. In 1988, I went with my friend, Susan, and I must say that it turned into a 90’s version of Lucy and Ethel Go to Paris. But we had a great time, stayed in a great place on the Left Bank, went out one evening to a place now long forgotten, had ourselves some Boeuf Bourguignon and thought we died and went to heaven.

My husband and I also visited the same restaurant and loved it but as to hotel, we ended up staying on the Right Bank in a hotel that most certainly did not meet my standards, not then, not now, not ever. To this day, Andy loves to tell the story of how I took one look at the dog-eared room and started crying whereas he started laughing. And yet we’re still together so….

Okay, as to the recipes, I had forgotten (at least until I was three quarters of the way through making these dishes) how determined Julia was that the average American housewife be able to make true-blue French food. She was so determined that in order to complete the Boeuf Bourguignon, one also needed to braise some onions (45 minutes in the making on that alone) and sautee mushrooms (another 20 minutes, give or take a minute). The recipe also required straining the liquid through a sieve and all kinds of other things that were almost my undoing. And in order to complete the soup, one needed to run the potatoes through a potato ricer, then add heated milk, and then puree the leek and celery mixture into the potatoes. Was it worth it? Sure. But was I also cursing her during the preparation of these dishes? Oh, absolutely.

Now I didn’t acquire these two cookbooks until just a few years ago and of course, there’s a backstory on that.

I was in New York and finally got around to visiting Joan Hendricks Cookbooks and she had two copies of Volume 1. The one I ultimately purchased was a first edition but the other one I didn’t purchase was not. What it was, however, was signed (but not personalized) by both Julia and Paul Child. It also cost $250 dollars.

Well, what to do, what to do? I hemmed, I hawed and finally, to Joan’s amazement I might add, I purchased the unsigned first addition along with some other books instead of the one that was signed. I just didn’t feel right only buying one book when the others in my stack were so interesting, plus there was that small matter of the $250 dollars.

So it would just figure that the venerable Julia up and died two weeks later and I’m sure the price of the book I left behind skyrocketed. Live and learn.

When I was growing up, we didn’t get Julia’s show on WGBH in Boston but in the mid-70’s I was watching The Tomorrow Show with Tom Snyder the night he had Julia Child and Jacques Pepin on—the night of the infamous finger cut that was parodied by Dan Ackroyd on Saturday Night Live. I might add that Tom Snyder was a major chain-smoker but back then, it was perfectly acceptable to smoke on TV.

On this particular show, Tom, Julia and Jacques were preparing a meal (likely beef but I can’t remember) and were imbibing oh…a little wine (just like cigarettes, drinking was no big deal on TV back then), when Julia accidentally cut her hand. It was a teeny cut but Julia soldiered on, fortified by the wine that went into the dish. (Let’s just say they were “in their cups” by the time the meal finished cooking.) But when Dan got a hold of the story, he blew it up into this hilarious sketch where Julia passed out after losing so much blood from a very big cut. I think he glossed right over the “drinking on the set” issue. If it were me, I think I would have taken that ball and run with it.

Now, whether it be the real version of a parody, Julia was just a presence on TV and she just made her audience feel so comfortable about cooking that it forgot how complicated some of her French recipes could be. But a woman named Julie Powell soon found out.

Those of you in the know have probably read Julie & Julia by Julie Powell (soon to be a movie staring Meryl Streep as Julia) in which she chronicles her attempt to cook all the recipes in Julia’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Madam, I salute you! I almost threw in the towel after two recipes, never mind an entire book. Rather, I’m cooking my way through my entire cookbook collection of almost 1000 books (3 more to go until I hit the magic number) and I between you and me, I think that’s the easier route to go.

For all their work, these recipes are tres, tres bon (very, very good) and they brought back fond memories of my times in France when a French franc (precursor to the Euro) bought a fine meal and a glass of wine. Ahhhhhh…..

Note: Julia’s recipes are a little challenging to make because she never gives you an exact shopping list. Instead, she lists ingredients and then the pan or utensil needed to make that portion of the recipe and continues that way until the entire recipe is done. Call me modern but I usually don’t pick up an enameled skillet in the produce section!

Boeuf Bourguignon (Beef Stew in Red Wine, with Bacon, Onions and Mushrooms) – Serves 6
6-ounce chunk of bacon (or a package of bacon as lean as you can find it.)
1 T olive or cooking oil
3 lbs. lean stewing beef cut into 2-inch cubes
1 sliced carrot
1 sliced onion
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
2 T flour
3 cups of a full-bodied, young red wine or a Chianti
2 to 3 cups brown beef stock or canned beef bouillon
1 T tomato paste
2 cloves mashed garlic
½ tsp thyme
1 crumbled bay leaf
18-24 small white onions, brown-braised in stock (see separate recipe to follow)
1 lb. quartered fresh mushrooms sautéed in butter (see separate recipe to follow)

I made this recipe in a Dutch oven. You should probably use something similar.

To make the beef:
Remove rind on bacon, cut into lardoons (sticks, ¼ inch thick and 1 ½ inches long). Simmer rind and bacon for 10 minutes in 1 ½ quarts of water. Drain and dry.

Sautee the bacon in the oil over moderate heat for 2 to 3 minutes to brown lightly. Remove to a side dish with a slotted spoon. Set casserole aside. Reheat until fat is almost smoking before you sauté the beef.

Dry the beef in paper towels; it will not brown if it is damp. Saute it, a few pieces at a time, in the hot oil and bacon fat until nicely browned on all sides. Add it to the bacon.

In the same fat, brown the sliced vegetables. Pour out the sautéing fat.

Return the beef and bacon to the casserole and toss with the salt and pepper. Then sprinkle on the flour and toss again to coat the beef lightly with the flour. Set the casserole uncovered in the middle position of preheated oven for 4 minutes. Toss the meat and return to oven for 4 minutes more. (This browns the flour and covers the meat with a light crust.). Remove casserole, and turn oven down to 325 degrees.

Stir in the wine, and enough stock our bouillon so that the meat is barely covered. Add the tomato paste, garlic, herbs, and bacon rind. Bring to simmer on top of the stove. Then cover the casserole and set in lower third of preheated oven. Regulate heat so liquid simmers very slowly for 3 to 4 hours. The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily.

While the beef is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms. Set them aside until needed.

When the meat is tender, pour the contents of the casserole into a sieve set over a saucepan. Wash out the casserole and return the beef and bacon to it. Distribute the cooked onions and mushrooms over the meat.

Skim the fat off the sauce. Simmer sauce for a minute or two, skimming off additional fat as it rises. You should have about 2 ½ cups of sauce thick enough to coat a spoon lightly. If too thin, boil it down rapidly. If too thick, mix in a few tablespoons of stock or canned bouillon. Taste carefully for seasoning. Pour the sauce over the meat and vegetables.

Note: Recipe may be completed in advance to this point.

For immediate serving, cover the casserole and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes, basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce several times. For later serving, bring the mixture to a simmer, cover and simmer very slowly for 10 minutes.

To make the brown-braised onions (oignons glaces a brun):
18 to 24 peeled white onions, about 1 inch in diameter
1 ½ T butter
1 ½ T oil
½ cup of brown stock, canned beef bouillon, dry white wine, red wine or water
A medium herb bouquet: 4 parsley sprigs, ½ bay leaf, and ¼ tsp thyme tied in cheesecloth

When the butter and oil are bubbling in the skillet, add the onions and sauté over moderate heat for about 10 minutes, rolling the onions about so they will brown as evenly as possible. Be careful not to break their skins. You cannot expect to brown them uniformly.

Pour in the liquid, season to taste, and add the herb bouquet. Cover and simmer slowly for 40 to 50 minutes until the onions are perfectly tender but retain their shape, and the liquid has evaporated. Remove herb bouquet.

To bake the onions, transfer the onions and their sautéing fat to a shallow baking dish or casserole just large enough to hold them in one layer. Set uncovered in upper third of a preheated 350-degree oven for 40 to 50 minutes, turning them over once or twice. They should be very tender, retain their shape, and be a nice golden brown. Remove herb bouquet.

Add onions to recipe as directed above.

To sautee the mushrooms:
2 T butter
1 T oil
1 pound fresh mushrooms, quartered

Place a 10-inch skillet over high heat with the butter and oil. As soon as you see that the butter foam has begun to subside, indicating it is hot enough, add the mushrooms. Toss and shake the pan for 4 to 5 minutes. During their sauté the mushrooms will at first absorb the fat. In 2 to 3 minutes the fat will reappear on their surface, and the mushrooms will begin to brown. As soon as they have browned slightly, remove from the heat.

Add mushrooms to recipe as directed above.

Potage Celestine (Celery Soup with Potatoes, Leeks, and Rice) – makes about 8 cups, serving 6 people
2 medium leeks or 1 ¼ cup sliced onions
3 cups sliced celery stalks
¼ tsp salt
3 T butter
4 cups light chicken stock, or canned chicken broth and water
1/3 cup plain white rice
3 or 4 medium baking potatoes, peeled and chopped (about 3 cups)
2 cups water
½ tsp salt
2 cups milk heated in a small pan
1/8 teaspoon sugar to bring out the flavor
Salt and white pepper

Cook the leeks and celery slowly with the salt and butter in a covered saucepan until tender but not browned – about 10 minutes. Add the liquid, bring to a boil, stir in the rice, and simmer uncovered for 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, boil the potatoes with the water and salt. When tender, drain their cooking water into the leeks and celery. If you are using a food mill or ricer, puree the potatoes, return to the saucepan and beat in the milk to make a smooth, white cream. If you are using a blender, puree the potatoes with a cup of milk, pour into saucepan and beat in the rest of the milk.

Puree the leek and celery mixture with its liquid into the potato cream. Blend well with wire whip and bring to a simmer; beat in sugar and seasonings to taste.

Note: at this point, Julia instructs the chef to heat a soup tureen or a bowl and soup cups, then mash butter and herbs (fresh chervil or tarragon; or minced fresh parsley and ¼ tsp crumbled diced tarragon) in the soup tureen, blend the hot soup into the herb butter, sprinkle with croutons (instructions for this follow) and serve. People, at this point I was exhausted and really did not have the stamina to heat a tureen (oh, wait, I don’t have a tureen), nor the stamina to mince herbs and especially not the stamina to make my own frickin’ croutons (using clarified butters no less). Julia Child I am not, Martha Stewart I am not and French-chef wannabe I am not! But if you have it in you, go for it! Bon appetit, everybody!

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