Thursday, January 19, 2017

New Year Resolutions, Part III: Cook Like Julia

This is the third part of my proposed New Year Resolutions, all designed to get to the kitchen and start cooking: 1.) Cook More; 2.) Art of Freezing Casseroles; and now - - 

3.) Learn to cook at least one Julia Child recipe before the end of 2017 - make that, learn to cook at least two recipes from Julia

Who is Julia Child, and where did she come from? Julia was born in 1912 in California, and would eventually become a popular television chef and author. During the time of quick meals and canned foods, Julia took so-called complex French cooking and adapted it for everyday Americans with her  two-volume cookbook "Mastering the Art of French Cooking.



After her death, Julia's last book, the autobiography My Life in France, was published. It was a best seller and truly gave insight to her life and talent, from her adventures in France where she dined with simple road side picnics to her adventures in French cooking schools. My Life in France is one of my favorite books, I can read it again... and always discover something new.

At first glance, it would appear that French cooking can be intimidating, but if you truly study Julia's recipes, they are often rustic; yet clean, fresh, aromatic, and filled with flavor. Such examples are Coq au Vin and Boeuf Bourguignon = translated to "Chicken Stew in Wine, and Beef Stew cooked in Burgundy wine. 


Not only do I challenge you to conquer one of Julia's recipes, but also two of Julia's recipes. The second recipe can be as easy as sauces, such as Mayonnaise and Bechamel. Again, to explain the simplicity of such recipes, while Bechamel sounds rather fancy, once it is prepared, toss lots of shredded cheese in it, mix well, and pour over cooked elbow macaroni;  and you have good ol' "mac and cheese." 



Julia's recipe for Boeuf Bourguignon (follow link) is a favorite of mine. I even use my French Le Creuset Dutch oven to keep it authentic.  However, in time there are a few things I have tweaked. I haven't tweaked the ingredients, but I have tweaked on the efficiency of the recipe. If you notice with Julia's recipes, she uses several pots and pans. I have briefed a few things in the recipe, and especially kept it to no more than the main pot (a Dutch oven) and a plate or pan to hold items. 

To make Julia's recipe easier: 1.) I do not simmer the bacon (lardon) in water - first. I skip the simmering in water and just fry the bacon as per the recipe. Keeping the fat in pan, set bacon aside on plate or pan. 
2.) Instead of tossing in the flour while the meat is cooking, I lightly coat each piece of stew meat with flour before frying. It gives the meat a nice crust, while the excess flour still gives the stew the body it needs. I also season the meat before I flour it with the salt and pepper amount as per the recipe. 
3.) I do not cook the meat in the oven, but keep it on the stove top. When the meat is browned (not necessary for the meat to be done inside), I set it aside with the bacon. Then add the sliced carrots and onions to the same pot. Also set the carrots and sliced onions aside when slightly tender - not soft. 
4.) In that same pot, add the butter and saute the mushrooms. Set mushrooms aside with the meat, bacon, and vegetables.
5.) One can peel a bunch of little onions, or used thawed frozen pearl onions. In the same pot, I saute them with a bit of butter, a sprinkling of salt and pepper until lightly caramelized
6.) Julia suggests to crumble the bay leaf. I don't. I leave it whole and remove it before serving. 
7.) Julia wants you to take the pot and clean it before combining all of the ingredients. Don't! Your pot is now seasoned. Just combine well all of the prepared ingredients, along with the remaining ingredients (Wine, tomato paste, stock, and herbs) and here you can do one of two things: complete the cooking by placing pot in oven and let it cook for a couple of hours in about a 225 degree oven; or let the pot and the ingredients cool down and refrigerate the day before serving, and finish cooking the day of serving in the slow oven. 

Serve the lovely aromatic stewed beef by itself or over mashed or boiled potatoes, or buttered egg noodles, or even rice. Top with fresh parsley.  The only addition would be a baguette and a smear of French butter ala Fleur de Sel. By the time you make this the second go-round, you will see how this recipe is almost fail-proof. 



One other tip that Julia does not mention. If you read her Coq au Vin recipe, she marinades the chicken parts in wine. On occasion, and especially if I plan ahead, I will also marinade the beef in the wine. Combine the beef and wine (use enough to cover the beef) in a resealable plastic bag or in a container with a lid. Marinate the beef in the wine for 3-8 hours, giving the beef a stir every now and then so it marinates evenly. Strain the beef from the wine, reserving the wine to add later as per the recipe, and pat the beef dry before browning. 

Let's talk about the wine in this recipe. Bourguignon is Burgundy. Burgundy is not a color, but a wine region in France. And to confuse wine beginners, yes there are red and even "white" Burgundy wines also known as Chablis or Pouilly-Fuissé to name a few of the white wine references or also known here in America as Chardonnay - - but we're not going to use a white wine in this recipe. Use the suggested red wines as per the beginning of the recipe, but keeping it authentic would be using a red Burgundian wine such as Pinot Noir. Remember, the rule when cooking with wine, "Use only wines in your cooking that you will drink." You will also need to buy two bottles of the same wine - - one for cooking, and the other to serve with your dinner of Boeuf Bourguignon. An older vintage to drink would be perfect. 

If you have met my challenge, please let me know. As Julia would say, "Bon Appetit!"   


Friday, January 13, 2017

New Year Resolutions, Part II: Art of Freezing Casseroles

Last week I started with a three-part cooking idea for New Year Resolutions. Part I suggestion was to cook more often. Take-out less, cook more, and stop getting caught up in trendy ingredients.  Make it a family event, from the cooking to the dining at the table. Yeah, turn off the television and devices and talk to each other. 

So you may be thinking, "But Catie what does all of these cooking resolutions have to do with the theme of this blog, Passementaries - Affordable ideas with small stay-at-home journeys that can enhance your life."? 

Cooking is one of those few necessities in life that can also be an art form, especially when we share our journey of cooking with our loved ones. These events in the kitchen can enhance our lives. 

 Turkey Tetrazzini - Pioneer Woman
A couple of years ago, and even just last year, I would be on a writing deadline. I was hammering away at the keyboard, and a couple of hours would pass by and I would realize it was past my usual dining time and I was hungry. I was hungry now! Not wanting to stop to make something, or leave to grab some fast food that would no doubt end in heartburn, I started buying a few ready-made frozen casseroles. A few were okay, but I wanted something a bit more "home-made." I was visiting with a friend one day and she told me how she and her adult daughter had spent one day making casseroles for their freezers. It got me to doing some online research and I found plenty of recipes and tips for freezing food, and especially casseroles; along with what food and casseroles work the best, such as cooked potatoes work well for freezing. Uncooked potatoes do not work, and remember to never over cook pasta when planning to freeze.

Start your own freezer cook-off. Invest in a couple of rolls of aluminum foil, freezer bags, plastic containers (for soups), and aluminum disposable freezer pans, especially pans that resemble take-out pans with the foil cardboard top (Dollar Store). Also a pen designed to write on freezer labels, bags, and cardboard. When writing on the soon-to-be freezer item: list the item, bake time and temp, the date of prep, and any other notes that you may want in the future.



What to freeze? Again casseroles and soups are perfect. Freeze items for the sake of convenience such as meatballs and meats already spiced for tacos. When freezing those two items, pack according to your family size. If you are a party of one or two, freeze these items in several meal size bags instead of one big bag. This will keep those food items you are not ready to use safe from freezer burn that can happen due to constant opening and resealing the bag. Individual servings of thick stews and chili work well when divided up into freezer bags. Squeeze the air out, flatten the stew or chili in the bag and stack them up to save room in the freezer. Buy up plenty of pre-frozen fruits and veggies when on sale. The fruit especially comes in handy for smoothies and even for baking cobblers and pies. Also, one day I was at the store and the loud speaker came on about the chicken and rib deli special, and couldn't pass up the price. What to do with so much - - meat? I bagged a couple of pieces of chicken together, same with the ribs, and I had individual servings of chicken or ribs for future dinner. 


Already prepared waffles, pancakes, and other pastry and bread work well in the freezer. I made my own muffin-like breakfast sandwiches using individual whole wheat English muffins, hard poached eggs (or fried), sliced ham (or precooked sausage patty or precooked bacon), and a slice of cheese (your choice). I double-wrapped each muffin separately. Once with parchment paper (for microwaving) and wrapped it again with foil for freezing. Let thaw over night or do a quick thaw in the micro and heat for one to two minutes. 

Now about those casseroles. Here are three that are very freezer friendly casseroles to get you motivated:  Turkey Tetrazzini I posted in November, and perfect for Thanksgiving turkey leftovers. You're not just limited to turkey, as chicken will work as well.  Ree Drummond of Pioneer Woman has an episode Freezer Cooking, with many great hints. Her recipe for Sour Cream Noodle Bake, also listed in Freezer Cooking, is one of my favorites, and I have used it many times. Remember the popular "Funeral Potato Casserole"? Use your favorite version, and yes use frozen potatoes and keep them frozen, but add in your mixture a cup or more of sour cream or even an extra can of cream of chicken soup. I found the frozen potatoes seem to absorb the creaminess, so a little extra cannot hurt a thing. I would recommend not to top the casserole with crushed corn flakes until you are ready to bake. And all three of these recipes you can thaw and bake, or bake while frozen - - just like those casseroles we find in the supermarket. 

Sour Cream Noodle Bake - Pioneer Woman
Sure, you have to plan ahead and do a little thinking, but once it is all in the freezer, I felt quite "wealthy" and knew that I had many dinners in my future ready and waiting - and all I had to do was add a fresh salad. Now - - get to cooking! 

Monday, January 2, 2017

New Year Resolutions, Part I: Cook More!

This is a blog I have been thinking about for the last couple of months: 1.) Cook more; 2.) Art of freezing casseroles; and 3.) Learn to cook at least one Julia Child recipe before the end of 2017 - make that, learn to cook at least two recipes from Julia

Okay, I am finally going to tackle my thoughts, especially after reading this article in the New York Times, The Dark (and Often Dubious) Art of Forecasting Food Trends. Seriously? You are worried about food trends? Have you ever heard the old quote, "Everything old is new again?"  

Some of the hot food trends for 2017 listed are: Sorghum, fermented vegetables, and "ugly produce." Since when is sorghum new? My grandfather use to buy sorghum syrup from some mail-order catalog when I was a youngster. This dark somewhat bitter, but sweet syrup was a treat for him on his Saturday morning pancakes. For my grandfather, who was born in the late 1800's, sorghum was a staple when he was growing up in the "fly-over" states (and before some of the area was even states).  What is sorghum? A grass - a grain crop. When boiled down, like sugar cane, it becomes a dark sweet syrup that is similar to molasses, but not molasses. 

Apparently fermenting vegetables was a new trend in 2016. Who knew? I grew up when fermenting cabbage for sauerkraut was an event in the fall. My father and grandmother would take a walk to the grandparent's garden and cut several large heads of cabbage. The large heads of greenish-white tough leaves would be washed and brought back into the kitchen where my father would start shredding the "slaw" on the old kraut cutter. Grandma would place the slaw in the old crock, sprinkle it generously with salt, and us kids got to pound the cabbage down with an old wooden rolling pin with no handles, until it made some "juice." Sometimes we would sneak a bite of that salty, and rather bruised shreds of cabbage. Today I am the sentimental owner of the old slaw cutter and crock. It sits in my kitchen, a trophy of memories from my youth during those fall evenings with my dad and grandma. 


My crock and kraut cutter

And to continue about my ranting of this new-fangled thing called "fermentation," my mother and grandmother pickled a lot of produce fresh from the garden. Everything from crab-apples (served on the pickle plate at Thanksgiving) to asparagus to green beans to peppers, and of course an assortment of cucumber pickles - from dill to sweet to spicy that was loaded with garlic and chilies. 

"Ugly produce?" Guess one hasn't grown or gleaned from a backyard garden if they think "Ugly Produce" is trend worthy. A trend? No! It should be a staple and has been a natural staple for years. Sorry, but not all apples are perfectly round, and I am happy to steer clear of the perfect-shaped apple. 

Chef, author, and television host, Anthony Bourdain is my personal "living" food hero, next to Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa. In fact, last year I saw Bourdain live and in lecture. He had many great rants from how we should stop overthinking food, and the importance of respecting Grandma's table and eat her lumpy gravy made with love - and eat it without criticism. Bourdain is against food trends and "listicles" - meaning lists that are created by the media to predict the coming year’s food trends. As he pointed out, are hungry nations really concerned about gluten in their diet? 

My poor attempt of taking a photo of Bourdain from my seat. 
My point of this rant? Stop worrying about food trends. Pick up a easy classic cookbook, like the basic old Betty Crocker or Joy of Cooking (see Amazon) - - and start cooking! If you have young ones, make cooking fun family time. Forget about "food trends" and visit your local farmer or farmer's market to see what is "new' and in season, instead. 



Get creative with your cooking. Experiment. Last night I prepared a fresh spinach salad. It was of the old 1950's version with the traditional hot bacon dressing. A fairly simple salad with sliced fresh mushrooms, sliced red onion, hard-boiled eggs quartered among the spinach, and dressed with a mixture of warm bacon fat, red wine vinegar, sugar, and Dijon mustard. However, I did one thing different this time. Instead of raw red onion, I lightly caramelized it in the bacon fat. Oh my - - I will never use raw onion in that salad recipe again. The onions took on a sweetness that added to the fresh spinach and the sweet and sour dressing. 

My motto, and especially when raising a family, is less meals in the back seat and more time in the kitchen and around the dining table. Get to cooking! 
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