I am aware that I appear to have jumped on the Julia Child bandwagon here, but yesterday on a spur of the moment decision, I decided to cook boeuf bourguignon following her recipe.
It was a 4-5 hour endeavor. Granted, 2 1/2 hours of that time was spent keeping an eye on a simmering casserole in the oven, and about 1 hour of that time was spent crouched over, reading and re-reading the recipe as though I were deciphering the Dead Sea Scrolls. But still. It was a long project. I probably should have begun it earlier than 5pm, but in my initial shopping trip, I forgot to buy bacon, and I knew that turkey bacon would be an insult to this recipe, so I had to venture back out to the supermarket at the last minute.
The last time I attempted boeuf bourguignon, it was with a dear friend of mine, at the tender age of 12. We had decided that we would prepare it for her grandmother. I don’t remember much from that escapade, although my friend has since reminded me that we skipped about 1/3 of the steps in Julia’s recipe. Now that I’ve done it again, on my own, I can see a bit more of the whole picture, rather than the daunting step-by-step process. Sort of like climbing Mt. Everest– once you’ve done it, you have an overview of the process in its entirety, rather than the dull, plodding one-foot-in-front-of-the-other bits and pieces that you saw on the way up and down. Not that making boeuf bourguignon is like climbing Everest, but it could be.
I can also see the steps that I might gloss over, the next time I attempt it. Boiling the bacon before frying it, for one thing, seems unnecessary (although it made the house smell cheerfully, and oddly, like boiled bacon). Next time I might add some chopped celery, and coat the beef with a little more flour before adding the wine, to further thicken the sauce. (I enjoyed learning that “3 cups of wine” is an oblique way of saying, “1 bottle of wine”.)
Overall, though, I enjoyed the experience. It was fun to undertake a large cooking endeavor on a cold, dreary winter day. And the end result was boeuf-licious.
It feels pretty weird to be this sad about a magazine folding. I mean, I feel like I want to cry, like I’ve lost a loved one…except it’s a magazine.
But I love Gourmet. I’ve had a subscription for the last few years, and every month I fall in love with its incredibly rich, gorgeous photographs of food. I dive into scenes of sumptuous feasts and tables laden with exotic delicacies. I may not have made very many recipes that came from the pages of Gourmet, but the magazine was more than a cookbook to me, it was an inspiration. It showed me what it’s possible to create in the kitchen, and taught me to dream big.
Cooking light is my everyday workhorse recipe magazine, Cooks Illustrated is my scientific, anal-retentive how-to guide, and Gourmet was my fantasy escape cooking magazine. Maybe I will never buy a $35 box of imported organic sea-salt chocolates, but I sure as hell enjoyed reading about them. I’ll probably never make goat tacos, but a girl can dream.
I made fun of Gourmet magazine, yes, but it was out of love. Just one or two issues ago they did an alphabet themed magazine, with meals that all started with one letter. It was incredibly daring, and seemed all at once goofy and whimsical and yet serious. It was great fun.
I never would have thought this could happen to Gourmet. Tonight I poured some hollandaise sauce on the floor for my homey Ruth Reichel. I will miss your delicious magazine.
I’ve recently begun a stint as the Raleigh Fresh Foods Examiner on Examiner.com. I’ll be sharing delicious recipes there several times a week. Check it out! (Yes, that picture may look familiar. Truth is I don’t have many pictures of myself where I’m not either eating or drinking).
Internet, I love you for your cooking blogs.
Seriously. For someone who likes to dabble in home cooking and try new recipes, the internet is a foodie’s fantasy-land. Everywhere you turn, you find artful, delicious cooking blogs like this one and this one.
I like to cook so much that I’ve occasionally thought about trying to start a cooking blog, but I usually give up after remembering how many good ones have already been established. It’s like wondering if you should take up the piano at the tender age of 28, and then flipping through channels and seeing a 4 year old pianist headlining at Carnegie Hall. It kind of rains on your parade a little. Not that you would have expected to end up at Carnegie Hall yourself, but…it gives you an excuse to be lazy and not try.
Plus, I don’t like to experiment a lot when I cook. I am a recipe-slave. All of the paper recipes I’ve printed out and tried at least once are flour-encrusted and water-stained; the recipes I use most in cookbooks are wrinkled and gritty. This is because I lean over a recipe twenty times every time I use it double-and triple checking the order in which I am supposed to add ingredients and the correct amounts to use. I prefer recipes that tell you exactly what the food should look like at each stage of the process. I am an anxious, hovery cook. And I don’t like to make up my own recipes, or experiment with other recipes, unless it’s to add more of an ingredient than it calls for if I like it– can you ever have TOO MANY green onions? No way.
In any event, yesterday I wanted to do something nice for Brian, who spent all day yesterday volunteering at the World Beer Festival in Raleigh (poor baby!), so I decided to make his favorite dessert: Key Lime Pie.
At the local grocery store, I started crestfallen at the pile of normal limes in produce. Supermarkets never seem to have those little mesh baggies of tiny round key limes when you need them. A woman stocking apples next to me asked if I needed something, and I told her what I wanted. “It looks like you may not have them,” I said.
“No,” she said, “but we have Ki-wis.”
She kept repeating that statement. She was not joking. I appreciated her trying to help, but when she started selecting limes from the normal lime pile and saying, ‘this one is smaller’, I wandered away. Eventually I found a bottle of Key Lime juice. Saved!
Pre-pie, after settling on this recipe from Gourmet by way of Epicurious; (I tend to like Epicurious.com’s offerings), I realized I was going to be left with 4 egg-whites. It seemed like a waste to throw out 4 whole egg whites, but I’d already had eggs for breakfast and was not in the mood for a 4-egg-white omelet. I just wasn’t.
So after doing some searching around (all of the egg-white recipes I found were either for meringues, these weird sounding cookies you make and leave in a turned-off oven overnight, or angel-food cake, which calls for at least 8 egg whites), I found this recipe for Sweet Milk Three Egg-White Cake. I don’t always like the recipes I find on Cooks.com; there aren’t reviews that I can locate, and I tend to come across a lot of ‘buy a store-made pie crust, fill it with jello pudding, refrigerate’ recipes, but sometimes one comes through for me. You never know. Plus, it’s a good place to find general ideas and themes for recipes, due to the huge volume of recipes listed.
I’m not as big on pie, I’m more of a cake person (sorry Laura!), so I figured this Sweet Milk Cake (doesn’t that just SOUND good?) would work nicely. You will note that the original recipe is charmingly OCD; it has you greasing the cake pan, lining it with waxed paper, and then greasing the waxed paper. It also instructs you to sift the flour and other dry ingredients a total of 4 times. This seems a little excessive. Lacking the proper amount of sugar, throwing in an extra egg white because I had one, and baking in a bundt pan were all my little lazy touches. Oh, and also I started sifting the flour, and gave up about 1/4 cup into the first sift. So there was also that. (I have found that where cooking is concerned, I tend to overestimate my patience and attention to detail. My meals are always paved with good intentions; I may start out cutting up a chicken breast into small, uniform pieces so that my stir-fry is consistent, but I almost always get bored of that and end up with chicken pieces of a gradually increasing size. This never stops me from considering myself to be a patient and meticulous cook, even though that is just not really the case.)
In any event, I made my version of Sweet Milk Three Egg White Cake, and I. LOVE. IT. Enough to share the recipe!
Sweet Milk Cake With Liberties Taken:
1/4 c. butter, 1/4 c. shortening
4 egg whites
1 c. sugar
1 c. milk
2 1/4 c. flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla
You pretty much know how this goes: Oven to 375. Stir the flour up with the salt and baking powder. Cream the butter and the sugar. Add the vanilla. Add the flour and the milk alternately to this mixture. Grease a bundt pan. Bake for 40 min or so. The outside of the cake will be dark golden brown and just this side of crusty; the inside will be white and have a moist, tight crumb and be alllmost too sweet, but not quite (glad I skimped on the sugar!). Top with a ring of frosting (I used leftover creamcheese frosting from a can) when cake is still warm so that frosting will drip appealingly down sides of cake. I think any kind of frosting will work nicely.
Anyway, I really liked this cake, and it was really easy to make. I recommend it any time you have some leftover egg whites and a sweet tooth.
I think I will try posting an occasional recipe on here. This wasn’t so hard!
Spurred on by this delightful post from Leanne, I’ve been thinking a lot about cooking and eating habits, specifically my curiosity about the food that other people buy and the meals they make.
It seems like a particularly personal, intimate topic; only when you have gotten to know someone very well do you begin to learn much about their eating habits and the groceries they stock their kitchens with. When I am in line at the supermarket, I find myself checking out the items other people are buying and wondering how often they buy them. There are some things Brian and I run out of constantly, like milk, bread, cheese, eggs, and creamer. There are other things we purchase less often, but still like to have on hand because we use them a lot in recipes; onions, garlic, fresh spinach, pasta and olive oil, to name a very few.
It’s made me look back at my eating habits and the things I used to cook often in various stages of my life. In college I used to steal greens and sliced vegetables from the cafeteria and add them to my hot-pot ramen back at the dorm. I made a lot of chicken quesadillas and drank gallons of frozen, canned juice when I lived in Honolulu. When I first moved to Boston I made a lot of those Goya boxes of beans & rice, to which I would add more canned beans, fresh vegetables, and meat when I had it on hand. Now, Brian and I take turns cooking each other large breakfasts on the weekends; scrambled eggs, bacon and egg sandwiches; eggs Benedict and breakfast burritos. For dinner we like to bake frozen pizzas and top them with chicken or vegetables and more cheese to make them more filling.
I sometimes wonder what my friends and coworkers eat at home. Do they dine out at restaurants often? Where are their favorite take-out places? Do they have standard meals they prepare together if they live with significant others; if they live alone, do they cook smaller portions more frequently, or do they make bigger meals for the leftovers? If they have roommates, do they share meals with them, or is everyone on their own in the kitchen? I wonder what their pantries and fridges contain. Do they go through a lot of orange juice? Are their freezers filled with ice, or frozen meals, or frozen vegetables? Do they buy oreos?
I suppose a lot of one’s eating habits as an adult were learned in childhood. At least half of the meals on my rotating list are on there because I ate them all the time growing up. We had sit-down dinners every night; sometimes I wonder how my mother managed to have dinner on the table every evening after working all day. Only now do I realize how impressive that is, and how much preparation and tactical planning-ahead that must have taken.
Cooking and eating is a big part of life, and yet it is a part of life which to me seems shrouded in mystery, even for many of those I am closest to. There are a plethora of cooking-based blogs on the internet, but I’m not interested in the cooking habits of strangers. I feel somehow that knowing what my friends and loved ones do in the kitchen, will help me to know them better.
Dear reader, what are your favorite weekday meals to make? What do you like to cook when you have the leisure time and the money? What are the groceries you buy most often? I’m listening!
Gourmet magazine, your standards of living are so utterly unattainable for me. I envy you your Olde Worlde charm and sophistication and your goat tacos. GOAT TACOS. For that article the author actually went to some neighborhood in Long Island City that has a goatery (I assume that’s what a place is called where they raise goats) and handpicked the goats for the goat tacos.
No really, I love to hate you, Gourmet. Your enchanting glossy photographs leave me breathless, not to mention painfully aware of my own shortcomings as both a cook and a decorator. But they give me hope for the future. I may not have mosaics of vintage Italian tile in my kitchen, or antique plates hand-painted with stylized birds of paradise, but I do have an iron skillet from Target and a snazzy red enamel paper-towel holder, from Target. And a girl can dream.
Lately, though, I’ve noticed that the people in your delicious event-themed photo spreads are rather close to my age, which seems strange. Would a bunch of bronzed twenty-somethings spending a lazy summer day lounging on a dock really be serving up oil-poached red snapper with a chipotle-scallion glaze? Or am I just getting invited to the wrong parties? The last time I lounged on a dock with a bunch of attractive twenty-somethings, we put away two thirty-racks of Bud Light. We also grilled up some burgers. And those burgers were great, but to my knowledge they had not been rubbed with cumin and paprika and spiked with garlic-infused peppercorns. We were on that dock for most of the day, and nobody complained about the lack of homemade cucumber-mint granita. At least, not out loud.
Part of the problem is that I know the way twenty-somethings eat, especially at parties when the drinks are flowing. You can bring out a tray of pretty much anything and it will be devoured before you can say, “Please enjoy these Cajun-rubbed beef-tip skewers with garlic mole—” BAM. Gone. Why did you waste your time in the kitchen Cajun-rubbing those beef tips? You may as well have spent ten minutes in there with a box of brownie mix and saved the fancy stuff for your boyfriend’s parents.
Not only that, it is unlikely that people of my generation have the skills, patience, or budgets for these kinds of kitchen accomplishments. We leave those fancy and delicious efforts to our elders—whose stately kitchens and houses are more evoked by the glossy spreads of Gourmet anyway. They’re the ones who actually own massive, artfully distressed wooden dining tables, antique silver bowls and art-deco flatware. They have stately china plates with crackle finishes; they are aware that less is more when it comes to décor, that cloth napkins exist, and that a beer bottle with an ostrich feather stuck in it is not a table centerpiece. But apparently nobody wants to see pictures of worldly, tasteful fifty-somethings cavorting on a dock, even if they probably built that dock, and own the house it goes with. So instead we have the unlikely image of a tanned, muscular young man in swim trunks, standing waist-deep in water and leaning casually on a dock…with a glass of wine in his hand. This is an image found nowhere in Nature.
Gourmet! I may mock the images you show me, but I also cherish them, because they are a window into a different world; I daresay a more elegant and beautiful world. You make me feel as though if I only believed, I could journey through the back of a wardrobe and find myself in a mystical land where even the most outrageously expensive, frivolous kitchen gadget is a household necessity. A land of endless farmer’s markets where the idea of spending $40 for a pound of imported cheese doesn’t make you want to punch yourself in the crotch. I thank you for these dreams. You make me want to reach for the stars, and to encrust them with apricot-glazed pine nuts.