Monday: Guacamole with Endive and Radishes / Frisée aux Lardons with Roquefort Toasts
Tuesday: Marc Vetri’s Rigatoni with Chicken Livers / Salad
Wednesday: Tuscan Cabbage and Bean Soup with Barbari bread
Thursday: Dunnings gathering at the Cornerstone
Friday: Roasted Celery and Tomatoes / Salade Niçoise with Seared Tuna
Saturday: The Whitfield with the O’Sullivans
UFR, Billy, Emily, Annie
Sunday: Red Pepper and Cannellini Dip with Crudités, Beef Bourguignon, Green Salad, Barbari Bread, Orange Cake
It was a week of what you might call down-to-earth cooking –in the sense that the great food we ate in Naples was not possible to duplicate here. But we ate just fine, joining the O’Sullivans for dinner at the Whitfield. Let’s just say that the food is a work in progress, but it is a fascinating place. There was a “wrap” party for some show and we saw all 7, or is it 9 official, and several unofficial genders on display. We also discovered Roquefort toasts, a few things about what to do with wilted vegetables, and ended the week in fine fashion with a family dinner and a crew of lively guests and, we almost stayed up for the Oscars but, as in previous years, we just couldn’t do it. We don’t go to the movies so we didn’t know what the heck everyone was excited about. We did see Viola Davis’s acceptance speech which proved that, if you have something to say and you say it in a compelling way, people will let you go on. On the other hand, if you’re going to thank the adopted daughter of the chief grip for sharing her peanut-butter-and-jelly with you during that long shoot in Baja, you’re going to get the hook.
The braising (our focus this month) continued with the French classic of Beef Bourguignon. We were inspired to go French by an insert in the Sunday New York Times which offered recipes for 10 different French classics but, alas, not the Bourguignon. For that we went to Tony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook which contains a lot more French classics, as well as this timely advice –
“You will not do too many things at once. You will not lose your head. You will not run your kitchen into a chaotic train wreck. You will learn to prioritize tasks like a cold-blooded professional, breaking down recipes into manageable sections so that final assembly will not send you into gibbering paralysis.” (Well, we’re getting there – the gibbering has stopped.)
The Bourguignon was good – next time we cook it, it will be better – but the revelation of the week came on Tuesday, when, looking for an appetizer (since I had not started the soup until about 6:00 and dinner would not be ready until about 8:00, and my family comes home hungry) we noticed that we had some wizened cherry tomatoes and some not quite limp celery in the back of the bottom hydrator in the refrigerator.* The tomatoes were still firm, but wrinkled and I knew what to do with them, roast them to bring out their sweetness. Could we do the same with the celery, we wondered. Well, we did the same (I’ve written the brief recipe below the one for bourguignon) and we (this is the Royal ‘We,’ since SWMBO parted company with me here) have a new favorite vegetable starter.
We are more proud of this than cooking a killer Bourguignon (which we did not). Somehow, using every last bit of some ingredient or repurposing or, as in this case, reviving it is the most satisfying way to cook. Excuse me, I just noticed some wilted lettuce in the refrigerator and I’m wondering . . .
* You know that hydrator – the place where forgotten vegetables hide until they deliquesce and spread a liquid decay so that you have to clean or dump everything in proximity and strap the hydrator to the top of your car and run it through the car-wash to get it clean. Yes, that place.
(adapted from Anthony Bourdain – Les Halles Cookbook)
This is best cooked one day prior to serving, if you’re having guests. That way, you just have to cook sides and heat it up. You can actually pour drinks for your guests and and have one yourself. Oh – and it tastes better cooked ahead. Overnight in the refrigerator is great thing for braises and stews.
Searing the Beef takes 24 minutes if you use 2 lbs. of beef, about 36, for three.
You can prep the vegetables while you sear the beef
Cooking the vegetables and the flour takes about 15 minutes
The final conglomeration takes about 2 ½ hours to cook
Serves 6 (Note: We would increase some quantities – the beef – and reduced others – the onions (because of the 1 lb. mammoths that have taken over our supermarkets). Also, please see the note on buying the beef.
2 lbs. (we used 3 lbs.) of beef shoulder or neck cut into 1 ½ inch pieces. ‘Chuck’ is from this area – but ask the butchers to cut it for you. They will pay more attention and remove the hard fat that is not useful in cooking this dish. If you have to use pre-packaged ‘stew’ meat, take the time to remove that fat yourself.
4 onions (I’d suggest 2 large) thinly sliced
6 carrots (we used 7) cut into 1-inch pieces
1 Cup red Brugundy (you can use more, instead of the water)
2 Tablespoons Beef Base or demi-glace (“Better Than Bouillon” is very good and available at Whole Foods)
1 garlic clove
1 bouquet garni (sprigs of parsley and thyme – 2- and a bay leaf tied together – wrap in cheese cloth, if you have any, so that it will be easy to find and remove)
¼ Cup of olive oil (add some more, if you’re searing 3 lbs. of beef, as we did)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Salt and Pepper
Chopped parsley for garnish
Butcher the meat, if necessary and season with salt and pepper. Don’t be shy, you’re going to add lots of liquid and vegetables
Cut the vegetables and measure out the flour and wine while searing the beef
In a Dutch oven, heat the oil over high (medium-high if you have a high-BTU burner) and add the meat and sear on all sides. Don’t overcrowd or the meat won’t brown correctly. You’ll have to sear the meat in batches. Remove each piece of meat once it is a nice, dark brown. Take your time here – a good sear adds lots of flavor and the right texture to the meat.
When the meat is finished, add the onion to the pot and lower the heat to medium-high or just over medium (high-BTU) and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft and golden brown.
(about 10 minutes)
Sprinkle the flour over the onions and cook for about 4 minutes, stirring occasionally, then add the red wine and bring it to a boil as you scrape up the burnt bits and crust from the bottom of the pot.
Return the meat to the pot and add the carrots, garlic, bouquet garni, and 2 tablespoons of demi-glace, then cover with enough water so that the liquid covers the meat by one third. You’re cooking a stew, so you need plenty of liquid, even after it reduces. Bring this to a boil, reduce to a gentle simmer and let it cook for 2 hours or more, until the meat is tender (should break apart easily with a fork).
Note: Check the dish every 15 minutes at first, to make sure that it is simmering gently and that the meat is not sticking to the bottom of the pot or scorching (not a good taste).
Garnish with parsley and serve with rice or buttered noodles or some boiled potatoes and a green salad.
EXTRA Appetizer of Roasted Tomatoes and Celery
This works well with cherry tomatoes that are past their prime and celery that has any body left to it.
Timing: About 10 minutes plus the time it takes to prep the vegetables and crostini, if using
Prep: Preheat oven to 450 F and prepare the vegetables
Couple handfuls of cherry tomatoes
2 or 3 ribs of celery (or 5 or 6 of the smaller ribs in the center). If using the large, outer ribs, peel the stringy fibers from the celery. Cut the large ribs into 4 inch pieces and halve them lengthwise. Cut the smaller ribs into 4 inch pieces or leave whole – and DO NOT REMOVE THE LEAVES ON THE CENTER RIBS, THEY ARE TASTY.
Salt and Pepper
Feta Cheese (optional)
Cover a rimmed baking sheet with foil and toss the tomatoes and celery with olive oil, salt and pepper.
Cook for about 10 minutes at 450F (check to make sure they are not burning).
Crumble Feta Cheese over the vegetables or dust with grated Parmigiano, if you wish.
Put on a platter and serve with crostini, or put out small plates and forks and let everyone help themselves.