Sunday, November 11, 2012

Experiments in French Cooking

Ok, I will admit that my favorite cooking method is microwaving, and microwaveable meals are the best things since sliced bread. The flip side of this is that I am a serious pinch-penny (thanks Dad). Since coming to France I have fallen in love with the Boeuf Bourguinon microwaveable meals, but I'm not really willing to pay for them all the time. So I decided to make this very classic french meal my first adventure in french cooking. Ambitious? Maybe.

Step One: Find a recipe. Ok, this is not as simple as it sounds. For one thing, the only thing smaller than my kitchen is my repertoire of kitchen skills. The first instinct of course was to look up Julia Child's famous Boeuf Bourguinon. No way. I just can't. I'm sure that The Art of French Cooking is a wonderful cookbook, and I'm sure that everything in there is absolutely delicious, but there's just no way I can do that. The ingredient list is really long and all of the steps are super complicated. My mom might be able to make Julia Child's version, but I'm not there yet. Julia Child had the training of a French Chef, and a huge kitchen to boot. Next, please. Many of the 'easy boeuf bourguinon' recipes I found required an oven. Nope. Many of them were variations that 'your family will love!'. Sorry, I just want the regular one. Then I came across this British 'lady' that prefaced her "Beef Bourguinon Easy" with this statement:

Easy? Well, that is to say if you cut out some of the finer points of the exercise and are content with the thought that Boeuf Bourguignon of a kind is better than none at all!

Rude. Easy can be delicious too, you snob. Apparently this woman is very popular in the UK, but I personally won't be visiting her site again. I'd link the quote so you could see for yourselves that she really did say that, but in the words of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, she "deserves no such attention!"

I did finally find this recipe, which satisfied my requirements of easy and simple.

Step 2: Shopping. I had every intention of going to specialty stores (the butcher, the baker, etc) and buying everything that way. No really, I did. Unfortunately, a lot of items on my list required a supermarket. I mean, I needed things like salt and pepper, and cooking oil, and flour...So then once I was in the supermarket, the temptation to just buy all of my ingredients there was just too great. I found everything without too much trouble, except the bacon. I looked and looked and saw no bacon. I don't know what's wrong with me, but I could not find any bacon and finally had to admit that it was not really a necessary ingredient. The red wine was also an adventure, because I know nothing about wine. Not a thing. So I just grabbed a really cheap bottle and moved on. The guy at the meat counter was super nice too. Since I don't generally buy much meat, I have no idea what I'm doing. I told him what I was making and how much the recipe said I needed and he was like 'Here. This is what you want.' Thanks dude. My only other divergence from the recipe was to add in two potatoes and take out one of the onions. One chopped onion seemed like plenty to me and every beouf bourguinon I've had included potatoes.

Step 3: Cooking. So I don't think I'll be appearing on Chopped anytime soon. My knife skills leave a little something to be desired, and I'm terribly slow. Really it's almost embarrassing how long it takes me to do any amount of prep work. My only excuse is that with only one decent knife and one itty bitty cutting board, I have to stop to do dishes fairly frequently.

In retrospect, I think that just one onion was definitely plenty, but I could have done with less potato. It was fine, but next time I make I think I will cut down on some of the potato. 

Simmer away my lovely, simmer away.
This is one of those dishes that you just leave simmering all afternoon. It smells so heavenly. Oh goodness. Have some snacks in the house because all afternoon I was practically drooling it smelled so good. I ended up only putting in half of the mushrooms because when I sliced them, it looked like a lot. However, they add so much flavor that next time I will add in the full amount. That's what I love about this dish: you can play with it. It's not like with baking; you can alter the amounts of different ingredients to get the taste you want. While it was cooking, I spruced up and even shoved my bed into place and pulled out my table.

Eating dinner like a big girl
Step 4: Eating! Yum! This is my favorite step. It was sooooo good. The thickener really did the trick for the sauce too. With some fresh bread, what could be better? It's a good thing I like it, because I'm going to be eating it all week. I filled three tupperware containers with leftovers. I think I can get another 6 to 7 meals out of it, for a total of 8 Jackie-sized servings. With my grocery costs (adjusted for items that will carry over for multiple recipes) divided by 8, my Beouf bourguinon costs 1.89 euros a meal. Much better than the 4 euros per microwaveable meal. And now I don't have to cook this week. Win!


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