A Calgary writer/eater talking with her mouth full
Last night was our Julie & Julia-themed dinner party, to celebrate the movie's release tomorrow (!) attended by some of my favourite Calgarian writer-eaters: Pierre, Gail, Gwendolyn and Cheryl and their significant others. It was a potluck - which are making a comeback, have you heard? I heartily recommend them - people love to bring food, and if not, they can always buy stuff. It takes the pressure off you, and minimizes dishes.
Everyone was instructed to bring something out of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which is seeing a holiday resurgence in sales thanks to the movie. I made - what else? Boeuf Bourguignon. It needs a good long time to braise - slow cookers work fabulously for this - and in fact is better after a couple days in the fridge. When it comes time to eat, you can saute the mushrooms and pearl onions in butter as you reheat the meat, then stir them in, which freshens the whole thing up like a new coat of lipstick.
To be perfectly honest, I never really got what the big hoopla was about Boeuf Bourguignon. Isn't it just a fancied-up name for beef stew, like Potage Parmentier is to potato and leek soup? Turns out it's not. Boeuf Bourguignon is beef stew that really means it. That, as Molly might say, reaches out and grabs your leg under the table. Yes, it's beef that's been braised in wine and stock, much like stew, but it's so much more than that. It's rich and intense, and I think better if you ditch the carrot (I'd rather serve them alongside), which doesn't quite fit with the earthy meatiness of beef, onions and mushrooms. Bourguignon (or any kind of stewing or braising, really) is also a great cooking method for bison, which contains far less fat than beef and benefits from a long, slow cooking time.
To rewind, after homemade Raincoast Crisps and French cheese (mimolette and triple crème) our first course came courtesy of Gwendolyn of Patent and the Pantry; Vichysoisse, or the chilled version of Potage Parmentier. Hers was smooth and creamy and delicious chilled even though it was 20 below outside. She even snipped chives on top. It might've been a spring garden party.
Gail from The Pink Peppercorn brought a lamb-filled Moussaka with from-scratch tomato sauce that took her the better part of a day to prepare - and it was well worth it, from the receiving end, at least. Her husband unmoulded it to a great deal of cheering - it slid out like a great glistening eggplant cake that Gail then cut into wedges that might, if one didn't know what it was, resemble a really disappointing chocolate cake.
Pierre of Kitchen Scraps brought Julia's Ratatouille - a delicious mélange of peppers, onions, eggplant, tomatoes and thyme that was like a warm chopped salad, and I discovered after eating far too much in the way of lamb, beef and potatoes was delicious scooped on top of mixed greens.
He also brought what was the simplest, least-fussy dish that a few of us may have described as the best thing on the table - Pommes de Terre Sautées - potatoes cut into teeny balls with a mini melon baller, patted dry (so that they crisp up) and sautéed in plenty of butter and oil until they transformed into what can only be described as the ultimate in upscale hash browns. Oh the crispy bits.
Cheryl of Backseat Gourmet was in charge of dessert - she outdid herself, bringing a Reine de Saba (chocolate and almond cake) with Glaçage au Chocolat (chocolate icing - also the very last recipe in MtheAofFC) and daringly pulling off a Soufflé au Grand Marnier (with Gwen as sous chef) in the kitchen while we sat around the table. Really, what could be more French? It was magnificent. We scooped it out warm, straight from the soufflé dish.
(Sorry Cheryl, it's the only photo I got!) Because Julie & Julia the movie isn't released until Tuesday, and next weekend is Christmas party high-season, we watched old copies of The French Chef. But we had so much fun we may get together for round 2 once the movie comes out. It was a really fun evening, and an easy theme, considering MtheAofFC is available at the library. It was a great way to pull off a dinner party with little effort. For bonus points: make each guest do a dramatic reading of their recipe (in full Julia Child voice, of course) from MtheAofFC. You'll need a recipe for Boeuf Bourguignon - here it is. I've left the other recipes for the others to post, once they've finished digesting.
adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, by Julia Child
6 slices bacon, chopped
canola or olive oil, for cooking with
3 lbs. lean stewing beef, cut into 2-inch cubes (I used inside and bottom round)
1 large onion, halved and sliced
salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
3 cups full-bodied red wine; Julia recommends a Chianti
2 - 3 cups brown beef stock or canned beef bouillon
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
2 cloves garlic, mashed
1/2 tsp. thyme
1-2 Tbsp. butter
18 to 24 small white pearl onions, peeled
1 lb button mushrooms, halved or quartered if large, and left whole if small
Preheat the oven to 450F. Sauté the bacon in a drizzle of oil in a heavy skillet set over medium-high heat until cooked through; transfer to a bowl (or the insert of your slow cooker) and set aside. If you like, pour out the bacon fat and add another drizzle of oil to the skillet.
Dry the beef with paper towels (it won't brown if it's damp) and brown it in batches, browning on all sides - don't worry about cooking the meat through. Add it to the bowl of bacon. Brown the onion in the skillet, and then either transfer to a baking dish or the insert of your slow cooker; add the beef and bacon and sprinkle the lot with the flour. Set the dish uncovered in the oven for 4 minutes - remove and toss the meat and put it back in for 4 minutes more. (This browns the flour and covers the meat with a light crust.)
Remove from the oven and turn the temperature down to 325F; if you're using your slow cooker, you can turn the oven off. Stir in the wine and enough stock or bouillon so that the meat is barely covered. (I like to pour some of the liquid into the pan first to loosen all the delicious brown bits, then pour it back over the meat.) Add the tomato paste, garlic and thyme.
If you're using a slow cooker, set it on low for 6-8 hours. Otherwise, cover the baking dish and set in the lower third of your oven and bake for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily. When the meat is tender, pour the contents of the baking dish into a sieve set over a saucepan; return the beef and bacon to the dish.
Heat a drizzle of oil with the butter in a skillet set over medium-high heat and brown the onions and mushrooms until they turn golden. Add to the beef. Skim any excess fat off the surface of the sauce and simmer for a minute or two, until slightly thickened. You should have about 2 1/2 cups of sauce thick enough to lightly coat a spoon. If it's too thin, cook it down a little longer; if it's too thick, add a bit of stock or water to thin it.
Taste and adjust the seasoning, then pour over the meat and vegetables. Serve immediately over mashed potatoes or buttered noodles.