Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon

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Ingredients:
One 6-ounce piece of chunk bacon
3 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
3 pounds lean stewing beef, cut into 2-inch cubes
1 carrot, sliced
1 onion, sliced
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons flour
3 cups red wine, young and full-bodied (like Beaujolais, Cotes du Rhone or Burgundy)
2 1/2 to 3 1/2 cups brown beef stock
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cloves mashed garlic
1/2 teaspoon thyme
A crumbled bay leaf
18 to 24 white onions, small
3 1/2 tablespoons butter
Herb bouquet (4 parsley sprigs, one-half bay leaf, one-quarter teaspoon thyme, tied in cheesecloth)
1 pound mushrooms, fresh and quartered

Cooking Directions:
Remove bacon rind and cut into lardons (sticks 1/4-inch thick and 1 1/2 inches long). Simmer rind and lardons for 10 minutes in 1 1/2 quarts water. Drain and dry.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Sauté lardons in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a flameproof casserole over moderate heat for 2 to 3 minutes to brown lightly. Remove to a side dish with a slotted spoon.

Dry beef in paper towels; it will not brown if it is damp. Heat fat in casserole until almost smoking. Add beef, a few pieces at a time, and sauté until nicely browned on all sides. Add it to the lardons.

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

Return the beef and bacon to the casserole and toss with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

Then sprinkle on the flour and toss again to coat the beef lightly. Set casserole uncovered in middle position of preheated oven for 4 minutes.

Toss the meat again and return to oven for 4 minutes (this browns the flour and coves the meat with a light crust).

Remove casserole and turn oven down to 325 degrees.

Stir in wine and 2 to 3 cups stock, just enough so that the meat is barely covered.

Add the tomato paste, garlic, herbs and bacon rind. Bring to a simmer on top of the stove.

Cover casserole and set in lower third of oven. Regulate heat so that 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.

Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons butter with one and one-half tablespoons of the oil until bubbling in a skillet.

Add onions and sauté over moderate heat for about 10 minutes, rolling them so they will brown as evenly as possible. Be careful not to break their skins. You cannot expect them to brown uniformly.

Add 1/2 cup of the stock, salt and pepper to taste and the herb bouquet.

Cover and simmer slowly for 40 to 50 minutes until the onions are perfectly tender but hold their shape, and the liquid has evaporated. Remove herb bouquet and set onions aside.

Wipe out skillet and heat remaining oil and butter over high heat. As soon as you see butter has begun to subside, indicating it is hot enough, add mushrooms.

Toss and shake pan for 4 to 5 minutes. As soon as they have begun to brown lightly, remove from heat.

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 lardons to it. Distribute the cooked onions and mushrooms on top.

Skim fat off sauce in saucepan. Simmer sauce for a minute or 2, skimming off additional fat as it rises. You should have about 2 1/2 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 stock. Taste carefully for seasoning.

Pour sauce over meat and vegetables. Cover and simmer 2 to 3 minutes, basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce several times.

Serve in casserole, or arrange stew on a platter surrounded with potatoes, noodles or rice, and decorated with parsley.

Say It In Broken English

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What can I say about Marianne Faithful that hasn’t been said before? Her brilliant career has been long over-shadowed by her tumultuous relationship with Mick Jagger, as well as her struggles with heroin addiction and anorexia. She somehow managed to turn her hardships into triumphs, solidly redefining her image as an accomplished musician and actress. She possesses a distinctively seasoned voice that Faithfull admits is the result of every whiskey she has ever drunk, every cigarette she has ever puffed. “My voice is loaded with time, mature like brie cheese,” she has said. Her superb renditions of Broken English, The Ballad of Lucy Jordan, and As Tears Go By will forever hold a place in my heart.

Book Review: “An Anthropologist on Mars” by Oliver Sacks

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I’m currently reading the classic Oliver Sacks book, An Anthropologist on Mars. Oliver Sacks is one of the most prolific writers in the field of neurology; he has documented a variety of rare and unusual neurological disorders, and the manner in which they affect his patients’ daily lives. I particularly like the human touch he gives to these stories, because he doesn’t objectify these patients as merely neurological disorders; he humanizes each subject and really exposes all the nuances of his/her conditions. Rather than viewing these conditions as limitations, he particularly focuses on the compensating abilities and talents that these individuals develop over the course of their lives in order to deal with their circumstances. His subjects include a color-blind artist, a high-functioning autistic woman, and an amnesiac hippie who still believes he’s living in the 1960’s counter-culture. Highly recommended reading!

Album Review: “Sans Fusils, Ni Souliers, A Paris” by Martha Wainwright

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This bold, ambitious project is a love letter to Edith Piaf. As a die-hard fan of Ms. Wainwright I can attest to her incredible vocal range and fluency of the French language. The album title literally translates to “Barefoot, Without a Gun, in Paris.” In the wistful ballad, C’est Toujours la Même Histoire, you can hear the sorrow and desperation in her voice as she sings of her lost love. Most of the time I don’t understand what she’s singing about, but it sure is beautiful. Her voice is vibrant and full of passion, evocative of Chryssie Hynde and Kate Bush. This tribute to Piaf is a diamond. I truly believe that Ms. Wainwright is the only living singer with the musical chops to pull off these songs, which were recorded live at Dixon Place in NYC, June 2009. The CD was released in the US in Spring 2010. An accompanying DVD was released as well.

Album Tracklist:

1. “La Foule”
2. “Adieu Mon Cœur”
3. “Une Enfant”
4. “L’Accordéoniste”
5. “Le Brun et le Blond”
6. “Les Grognards”
7. “C’est Toujours la Même Histoire”
8. “Hudsonia”
9. “C’est à Hambourg”
10. “Non, La Vie N’est Pas Triste”
11. “Soudain Une Vallée”
12. “Marie Trottoir”
13. “Le Metro de Paris”
14. “Le Chant D’Amour”
15. “Les Blouses Blanches”

Cooking as a Personal Narrative.

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Mema and Aunt Sandra

 Non-cooks think it’s silly to invest two hours’ work in two minutes’ enjoyment; but if cooking is evanescent, so is the ballet.

– Julia Child

As I slowly blend the roux for my grandmother’s chicken gumbo recipe, I’m transported to another place and time. One of my earliest memories is sitting at Mema’s kitchen table in East Texas, as she slaved away at the hot stove, baking homemade bread or macaroni and cheese (very often at my request). I’m four years old wearing Mema’s tattered red nightgown. I’m wolfing down snap peas from my grandpa’s garden, absorbing the sights and sounds of her kitchen: The scent of her buttery homemade bread. The flavors of her saccharine sweet tea and chicory coffee. The texture of her velvety chocolate-brown roux. Pecan pie, boudin blanc, crawfish étouffée, hominy grits, red beans and rice. These dishes form the distinct fabric of our family’s history.

My grandmother, Isavern Marie Lejeune, cooked tirelessly for our clan on a consistent basis. As our family’s matriarch, she felt it was her duty to nourish each and every one of us. All of our gatherings revolved around food, much as they do today. I never truly appreciated the value of her exquisite Cajun meals until I was an adult, and by that time, she was gone. I pay homage to her now by introducing her dishes to friends and acquaintances. I regard her recipes as living, breathing entities. By keeping these dishes alive in our family, I honor what she meant to me.

Replicating these dishes for my loved ones is an incredibly personal and intimate act. As I recreate these meals for my loved ones, I’m painting a portrait of my Mema’s tenacity, my Uncle Joe’s oddball sense of humor, my Aunt Sandra’s benevolence, my father’s ingenuity, my mother’s fortitude. I cook to forge a connection with my grandmother, as well as those who came before her. Mema stored these recipes safely in the back of mind; never once were they written down until my very practical mother and I decided to record them for future generations. Mema’s mother Malina “Minnie” Crochet taught her to cook these dishes, as Minnie’s mother Marcilia taught her. Mema had no use for measuring cups; she eyeballed all of her ingredients, and her dishes never suffered for it. The tastes and textures of her meals were ethereal, out of this world. I’ll never know when or how my family’s recipes originated, but I like to believe it was many generations ago, possibly somewhere in Novia Scotia or Southern Louisiana. I’m still in the process of mastering these recipes, but I plan to carry them on as long as I live and breathe, to my future progeny, my family, my friends, and my loved ones, old and new.

I cook not merely for sensual pleasure (although that’s certainly a part of it), but to nourish the soul as well as the senses. I cook to keep tradition alive. I cook well because a life without fine cuisine is akin to a life devoid of color and meaning. I cook well because I can.

 Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all.

– Harriet van Horne