Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Easy Beef Bourguignon

You've probably noticed that I tend not to post detailed recipes but rather, method notes for preparing main meals. That's because I prefer not to use recipes and I want to encourage you to avoid becoming recipe-dependent.

When dependent on recipes, there is a proclivity to make extravagant purchases at the grocery store in the effort to ensure that we have all ingredients on hand for a particular dish. If you're trying to stay on-budget, then cooking directly from recipes is a recipe for going off budget!

That said, I did mention in a prior post that when I write up my grocery list for the week, I sometimes peruse my favorite recipe books for ideas on what to cook. But I tend to modify recipes to suit my budget.

For instance,
Beef Bourguignon is a classic French beef dish (featured in the movie "Julie and Julia"). It calls for lots of ingredients including:
  • a pound of good quality beef
  • top-quality bacon
  • a red wine, like Cote du Rhone or Pinot Noir
  • Cognac (though it's not listed in the link above)
  • mushrooms, onions, garlic, carrots, thyme, and tomato paste.
Because of my French culinary training, it's easy for me to manipulate recipes and I want to encourage you to do the same by trusting your instincts, your palate and your creativity -- you can't go too wrong when you trust your inner-chef in the kitchen.

With that in mind,
instead of buying all the ingredients listed in the classic version of the recipe, I'll make a modified version of Beef Bourguignon to suit my budget, and the ingredient list might look like this:
  • cubed stewing beef
  • leftover red wine -- I'll use that rather than dashing out and buying a bottle
  • I'll probably leave out the Cognac because it's not something I have on hand
  • Bacon-- I might use turkey or I've also taken to using prosciutto chunks that Whole Foods sells in small containers for $3-$4. It's delicious in soups, casseroles and for jazzing up bean and lentil dishes and for sauteing with veggies.
  • Mushrooms, onions, garlic and carrots are veggies I often include in my weekly grocery list so I'll probably have those on hand. If I don't, I'll leave them out and maybe just add extra onion, and fresh tomatoes or good quality spaghetti sauce if I don't have tomato paste in the cupboard.
My method for preparing the ingredients might involve the following:
  • Brown the beef cubes in a hot, deep-sided skillet lined with a little oil. Remove browned beef to a plate. (Classic recipes call for tossing the beef cubes in flour before sauteing, but I tend to bypass that step for the sake of time and convenience.)
  • Turn hot plate to med, add bacon or prosciutto chunks and saute gently, allowing the fat from the pork to release.
  • Add chopped garlic and your choice of veggies. Saute gently in fat.
  • Add browned beef, stir, and now add red wine or red wine mixed with stock or water.
  • If you have some tomato paste on hand, add a blob of that or a slurp of some good quality bottled, plain-tomato spaghetti sauce.
  • If you have bay leafs pop in a couple or some dried or fresh thyme or a mix of both.
  • Allow the contents of the skillet to simmer before putting the lid on and placing it in a 350-degree oven for about 2 or so hours or until the beef is tender. Check periodically to make sure there is still liquid in the skillet, if not, add more stock, wine or even water.
  • If you prefer that that your mushrooms and onion not turn to mush in the cooking process, saute them in some additional bacon or even a bit of butter, and add them just before serving. And if you do have cognac in the cupboard, once you've sauteed the mushies, slurp a bit into the pan, allowing the alcohol to evaporate, and then pour contents of pan into the skillet with the cooked beef.
So as you can probably tell, my Beef Bourguignon might morph into succulent Beef in Red Wine casserole, which is perfectly acceptable if you're open to improvising and being creative, and I hope you are.

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