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Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Beef Bourguignon: My version

Not being French myself, you may scoff at my taking liberties with one of the Frenchy-est of dishes.  I assure you, I mean no disrespect, especially when cooking with good French wine. My recipe calls for a whole bottle!  And truly, as in so many French wonders of la cuisine, I feel certain that every French chef, from amateur to mother-teur to master-teur painted their own shades of culinary color on Burgy-Beef.  Vive la difference!

To be brief, Beef Bourguignon is really beef stew, but cooked with wine, herbs, and vegetables, over time, the flavors of this stew become magically and delightfully complex.

The one thing to remember about Beef Bourguignon is IT TAKES TIME.  Try to do this recipe in an hour and your guests will stomp out in disgust, leaving your reputation in tatters, your spouse sobbing, and your children fighting over the peanut butter.

The good news is, you can make this dish a day or two before, and the flavor becomes even better.

I know you would feel slighted if I let l’histoire, the story of Burgy-Beef, end after that breezy intro.  Your well-traveled imagination needs to savor a bit of history and intrigue.  I strive to allay your fears and feed your lust for knowledge.  I see you’re quivering in anticipation. You YEARN to know who started this delicious beef stew and so forth. Quiver no more.

It began with cattle, as you might guess from the name, which is not Caterpillar or Muskrat or Hind-end-of-Donkey Bourguinon.  In a short phrase, it began with Charolais cattle, known for their tender, lean meat.  These hoofed wonders come from the Charolles region of southern Burgundy.  I confess I do not know who started this marvel of the French kitchen, but I feel safe in saying it was not a highly paid chef in a restaurant with more stars than the five Chiefs of Staff.   I do know it who made it famous.  Chef Auguste Escoffier with his 1903 cookbook, Le Guide Culinaire.  Now, here’s the intrigue.  Escoffier was later fired from London’s Savoy Hotel for cooking the books.  That really stirred things up.

Julia Child made some changes to Escoffier’s original recipe, the main one being that she chose to cut the beef into cubes rather than cooking it whole.  As for your chef de jour, I follow Julia.

Rather than continuing with things you will not even remember between text messages, here’s the recipe:

Beef Bourguignon Chez Stroud

3 ½ pounds (approx. 1.6 kilos) chuck roast, cut into 2 inch cubes.  Don’t remove too much fat, but do remove any tough connecting tissue
750 ml Burgundy wine, or another heavy red wine
1 large onion, diced
2 stalks of celery, thin sliced
2 medium sized tomatoes, seeds removed, blended into a purée
20 medium sized mushrooms, trimmed, washed, and quartered
4 large carrots, peeled and cut into thick chunks
2 cloves garlic, diced
4 slices streaky bacon, roughly chopped
2 heaping tablespoons of Bovril or another beef concentrate
1 heaping tablespoon herbs de Province (No H de P? Use thyme, parsley, bay leaves or just use your imagination…Hey!  You’re the Chef!)
olive oil, salt, pepper
1 cup water
Roux:  make a paste of two tablespoons of butter mashed into two tablespoons of flour.  This will be used to thicken the stew after it comes out of the oven.

You’ll also need:  a large heavy bottomed pot with a lid (Dutch oven).

Put the cubes of beef in a large bowl and pour in the entire bottle of wine.  Cover and let the beef marinate for a couple of hours.  Why?  Wine tenderizes.

Heat the oven to 250ºF  (130ºC)

Remove the beef from the bowl, but save the marinade.  Splash some olive oil in your large pot and brown the beef in batches.  I did it with three batches.  When the beef is browned, place it in a colander over a bowl (to catch the juices).

When all the meat is browned and removed, splash some more oil in the pot, then toss in the onions, garlic, celery, and bacon.  Cook at medium heat until the onions are wilted and beginning to turn amber.  Mix in the tomato purée, stir and cook only a few moments.
Return the beef to the pot and pour in the wine marinade and the dripping from the beef.  Bring to a boil and stir in the Bovril.  Add the cup of water.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Put the top on the pot, slide it in the pre-heated oven and cook for about four hours.

At the three hour point, add the carrots and mushrooms.

I like my Burgy-Beef rich and thick, so after removing the stew from the oven, I put it back on the stovetop at low heat.  As it bubbles, I stir in the roux (paste) and cook the stew for a few minutes more, until thickened.

I like to serve this with plain mashed potatoes and as much wine as I can drink.  The French would also accompany the meal with slices of crusty baguette. The French don’t even brush their teeth without a baguette close by.

But wait….there’s just a bit more.   What does Bourgignon mean?  Well in English, we say Burgundy, but in French it ‘s Bourgogne.   And the French word Bourgignon (Boor-gig-yawn) comes out Burgundian in English.  Beef Burgundy style!  Voilá!

A votre santé!

browning the beef

sliced onions, celery, and finely diced garlic

tomato purée

draining the beef, but catching the juices in a bowl below the colander

I never make a beef stew or soup without the magic of Bovril

Friday, June 3, 2016

Down in the Caverns at Patriarche in Beaune, France

“Wine enters through the mouth,
Love, the eyes.
I raise the glass to my mouth,
I look at you,
I sigh.”

Patriarche Père & Fils winery has been a landmark in Burgundy’s wine industry since the Romans left Gaul.  For those with a master’s degree, but lacking a proper high school education, Gaul was the Roman name for France…is it coming back to you now?  Julius Caesar, veni vidi vici and all that?  By the way, the Romans left in A.D. 486.

Ok, so I exaggerated Patriarche’s longevity by 1200 years or so.  The winery truly emerged in 1780.

Enough history.  Let’s jump forward to 2016 and a visit to the caves of P P & Fils.  I’ve gotten you past the tollgate (€17.50 pp), the oaken-barrel-lined hallway leading to the beautifully restored Chapel, and you’re ready to descend into the underground.

In the Chapel

What’s in the caves?  Wine tasting, while wandering like lost souls in the caverns of Hades.  Dark?  Yes, it is.  Lit only enough to cut down on stumbles and lawyers' fees. But not to worry.  You're greeted by an astute and friendly guide who offers an intro to the wines.  And after your guide slips quietly into the shadows, there's an audio-visual to help you at every tasting station. Four or five kilometers (about 3 miles) of caves hold hundreds of thousands of bottles, some of which date to the turn of the century.  I’m speaking of 19th to 20th.  Everywhere you look, dusty bottles lie patiently stacked, like the sleeping soldiers of Charlemagne. The caves themselves are part and parcel of the Visitandines  convent, which Partriarche purchased in the 1700s.

So, what are the Visitandines?  Very short answer:  nuns.  A bit more?  Ok, Visitandines is only one of several sobriquets for The Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary.  Need more?

Now, how about some tasting?  Your toll taker gave you little silvered metal tasting cups and you’re welcome to help yourself, on your stroll from station to station.  You’ll sample more than a few whites and more than twice that many reds, including a couple of Grand Cru.  By the way, in Burgundy, reds are overwhelmingly Pinot Noir, and whites are Chardonnay.  But, what is Grand Cru?  Let’s leave it at ‘the best of the best.’  In Burgundy only 2% of the 69,000 acres (28,000 hectares) are classified as Grand Cru, but the caveats are many.

 General comments about Burgundy wines.  No use giving details about my tastings since offerings change.  But in general:

-       Dry as your mouth, while riding a camel through a sandstorm in the Sahara
-       Aroma and flavor held in high esteem by the dirt eaters of Mississippi and Georgia
-       Lingering tannins that strike the back of the throat like well driven nails

In French Wine for Dummies By Ed McCarthy and Mary Ewing-Mulligan, I found a remark I wholeheartedly agree with:  “Nothing quite compares in aroma and flavor to a great red Burgundy.”  Yes, and nothing says I love you like a good spanking.

If you’re like me, you enjoy a fruity nose, smooth flavor, from the start to the mellow, well-rounded finish.  In which case Burgundy may not be your first choice.  A big HOWEVER.  I did find several eminently drinkable bottles in sidewalk cafés.

 Also, if you’re used to paying $10-12 for a rather nice accompaniment to lunch, the Burgundy prices may leave your mouth even drier and your bank account treading water.  The cheapest bottle on any menu runs about $28.50 and most are quite a bit more.

Still, touring Patriarche caverns is a picturesque step into the bowels of the wine business and the varied Burgundy vintages.  No way to tell without tasting.  I’ve found that two red wines  (or whites) from the same vineyard may taste entirely differently.  It may be due to different slopes with different sun exposures, different soil compositions, or any of a hundred other reasons.

My advice?  Taste. Period.  Don’t be swayed by wine snobs.  Don’t rely on large black rating numbers from a magazine.  Don’t even listen to me.

Although I may personally get astonishingly pensive and shaky at the mention of a bottle of Burgundy, you may find yourself celebrating the very same wine at the pop of the first cork.

And even if the wines of Patriache are not to your taste, a stroll through the caverns is worth every cent to a photographer, or anyone who wants a shortcut education in the fermented grape, its heritage and possibilities.

“High and fine literature is wine, and mine is only water; but everybody likes water.”

“What wine goes with Captain Crunch?”

“Let us have wine and women, mirth and laughter, sermons and soda water the day after.”

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Glimpses of Beaune

Last weekend saw me in Beaune, France.  That’s pronounced ‘Bone’ and sits in the middle of Burgundy.

Let’s go ahead and get the knee-slappers out of the way…

Visitors there are:  Beaune to be wiiiiild! 

As they say in the Burgundy restaurants: Beaune Appetit!

Went for wine, but the city was Beaune Dry! (Drum roll please!)

Bad to the Beaune!

Running out of these.  How ‘bout you:  Toss me a Beaune!

Ok, reprobates, let’s get to the splendid weekend visit. 

Most travelers’ first thought is to kneel in the temple of Señor Google and beg the oracle for a list of THE most popular things that will allow for significant name-dropping when he returns. 

Not I!  This romantic adventurer rolls into a city to hear the heartbeat, listen to the sounds, observe the natives, and relish the ambiance.   Settling into a crowded café for a bottle of local wine is a great and necessary beginning. Far as I’m concerned the Google approach ignores conversation or foreplay.  Never wise on a first date.

A couple of  ‘bonjours’ and a glass or two of wine later, you’re relaxed and ready to tread the cobbles in earnest.

In Beaune’s case, my strategy was to wander the streets and pick up on the melody of this historic city: people sipping wine in cafés, parents walking their children, merchants selling, shoppers shopping, neighbors visiting on the street corners, all in the constant presence of ancient stone walls, cobbled streets, gently flowing streams, and gardens that carelessly blend the colorful with the stately old.

I’ll delve into quirks of history and sights of interest in another blog.  For now, let’s just take our time and steal glimpses into the avenues and backstreets, the grandeur of the stone buildings, and the fascinating details. 

Beaune’ s a beautiful, graceful lady who should never be ignored.

Usually, I confine myself to a dozen photos or so.  But, to give you the full flavor, there are forty photos today.  Don’t’ worry.  No captions.  Sip and taste at your leisure, or gulp away.