Beef, Veal, Pork, and Lamb The Book

164. Beef Bourguignon p.440

The recipe

I grew up on boeuf bourguignon, we could be guaranteed to have it at least once a month during the winter. Since a braised dish like this is better a day or two after it’s cooked, my mom would usually make it on a Sunday, and it would sit on the chilly garage floor in her big orange Le Creuset Dutch oven until dinnertime on Tuesday. I remember being very small, and being tasked with bringing the stew upstairs, I swear that cast iron pot weighed more than I did, and it was so cold it burned. Since a bottle of wine goes into a boeuf bourguignon, and even after a long braise not all of the alcohol cooks off, I’m wondering if this dish didn’t contribute to some of excellent sleeping we got done as kids.

The recipe starts with some home butchery, getting beef shoulder off the bone, and cubed. The cubes are then seasoned, coated in flour, and thoroughly browned. The meat then braises for an afternoon with sweated onions, garlic, and carrots, tomatoes, red wine, and a bouquet garni. While that’s going on you get to blanch and peel boiling onions. I hate peeling boiling onions, but I did it anyway. The onions then get browned with some butter, and simmered until tender. You then sauté some mushrooms in butter, and add the mushrooms and onions to the braise, and let it simmer for a few minutes. Once everything’s done cooking you can eat it right away, or better yet stick in in the back of the fridge and forget about it for a couple of days. The Book recommends serving this dish with buttered potatoes, but I’ve always been a fan of egg noodles with boeuf bourguignon, so that’s what we had.

There’s an error in this recipe. The first ingredient listed is a quarter pound of bacon, and the fist cooking direction is to simmer the bacon in water for a few minutes. That bacon is never mentioned again. The linked Epicurious recipe has the error fixed, you’re supposed to crisp up the bacon in the pot before starting the braise, but it’s mystery bacon if you follow The Books version. I guessed that it was meant to go into the braise, and that worked out well, but I hope they’ve caught this mistake in the updated version of The Book.

I was entirely satisfied with this dish, it tastes just like what mom used to make, it’s hearty, rich, stick to your ribs, winter cooking. The flavours were right on, this is not a difficult dish to get close to right, but making it really well is a challenge. This is a really solid boeuf bourguignon recipe, my only complaint is that it was a bit too salty. I’ll certainly be making this one again next winter.

The Book Vegetables

155. Fried Onion Rings p.552

I can’t find the recipe for this one online.

Way back in the beginning of The Project, I mentioned that I’ve been a little gun shy about deep frying in my kitchen ever since I put some very wet potato wedges into a pot of massively overheated oil and turned my stove into a fireball. I try to do most of my frying outside on the barbecue’s side burner instead. The thought of raining fiery death upon the downstairs neighbors innocently sitting on their balconies hardly bothers me at all. It has the additional advantage of not stinking up the whole house. I take as many of my stinky cooking projects outside as I can, the hipsters next door may not appreciate it, but keeping my dining companion happy is much more important.

I’ve never made onion rings before, but I’ve eaten my fair share. I like rings with a thin crisp coating of batter, that stays attached to the onion that it doesn’t slither out along with your first bite. The batter should be flavourful on it’s own, but not excessively seasoned. Simplicity is a good thing, but these rings may have been a bit too simple. The recipe calls for sliced onions to be dipped in milk, and dredged in flour and salt, then fried at 370F for a couple of minutes. They passed the thin, crisp, and well attached to the onions test, but they were a little lacking in the flavour department.

I appreciate the minimalism of the recipe, lots of other onion rings recipes call for eggs, baking soda, cornmeal, bread crumbs, and other nonsense. A simple mixture of flour, salt, and a liquid should be quite sufficient. I would have preferred the liquid to be beer however. Using milk is nice, because you don’t have to wait for the beer to go flat before using the batter, but beer tastes so much better, and onion rings just don’t say dairy to me. I would have also preferred a little more salt mixed into the flour. Obviously you can add salt later, but it’s better when it’s in the batter. In fact, a batter would have been nice too. In this version you dip the onions in milk, dredge them in flour, dip them in milk again, then once more into the flour. It was a bit of an operation to do the double dredge, and it made a mess. Just mixing up a batter of the right consistency and sticking the rings in there wouldn’t be any harder, and it would be a lot faster.

I love that this recipe is in the vegetables section of the book. Finally my nine-year-old self’s “Eat your vegetables”, “But mom, onion rings are a vegetable” logic is getting the respect it deserves. For a first attempt at making my own rings, I was reasonably pleased with these, they were golden, crisp, and quite tasty. These aren’t the ultimate rings, but refining my perfect recipe is going to be a fun process.

Breakfast and Brunch The Book

27. Whole-Grain Pancakes p.646

Sorry, no recipe this time.

These were really really good pancakes. They’re made with whole wheat flour and cornmeal so they have a more grown up flavour and toothsome texture than than Aunt Jamima (not that I’d be caught dead making that stuff). They were kept light and fluffy by baking powder, and beaten egg whites. I was doing these up at my friend’s island (no power, limited kitchen gadgets) and found myself trying to whip egg whites to stiff peaks without an electric mixer, without a whisk, but with as many forks as I could desire. I spent about 1/2 hour going at the whites, and I can say that they foamed and lightened in colour, but try as I might I just couldn’t get them properly whipped. I folded in my vaguely foamy whites, and hoped for the best. Apparently this recipe has the advantage of being somewhat idiot proof too. They came out nicely fluffy, and not at all heavy or dense as whole wheat baking sometimes tends to.

An interesting note about this recipe is that it calls for oil in the batter and for the skillet, and only recommends butter as a topping. I would have thought that butter based pancakes would beat out oil based every time, but these were great just as they were. It’d be interesting to see if they could be improved by replacing some of the oil with butter.

I think I’ve found my new stand-by griddle cake. I love a cornmeal pancakes, and this recipe hit the nail on the head. It managed to combine the moist-fluffy-tender aspects of a white flour pancake with the hearty-nutty-textured virtues of whole grains and cornmeal. Perfect.