julia child, mastering the art of french cooking, julie powell, french cuisine

Back in the Saddle Again

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“Maybe the cat has fallen into the stew, or the lettuce has frozen, or the cake has collapsed. Eh bien, tant pis. Usually one’s cooking is better than one thinks it is. And if the food is truly vile, then the cook must simply grit her teeth and bear it with a smile, and learn from her mistakes.”  – Julia Child

I mean, really...can you blame me?

I have a confession to make. It’s January 11…and I still have my Christmas tree up. After a wonderful holiday season, I was kind of sad at the prospect of taking it down. We had planned to do it this past Sunday, since we’re kind of pushing it, but then, lo and behold, we awoke Sunday to the sight of big fluffy snowflakes cascading outside our bedroom window! Since it would just be silly to take down the Christmas tree in the snow when we put it up in 80-degree weather, our tree got a reprieve and will stand another week. Yippee!

While the snow didn’t last long, the cold weather seems to be here to stay…at least for a little while. What better dinner to cook in frigid temperatures than a hearty stew/casserole! (Not to mention the fact that I’ve got evening commitments Tuesday and Wednesday this week, so leftovers will be just the ticket.) And so, last night’s dinner was Daube de Boeuf (casserole of beef with wine and vegetables), but to mix things up a little, I substituted ham for the beef. (Hey, sticklers, take it easy…Julia said I could.) With only a couple of slight miscalculations on my part, this meal preparation was really easy. Here’s how it went:

Chopping veggies for the casserole

I began by dicing a 3 lb. ham into 2″ cubes and tossed them into a large bowl with a marinade consisting of a cup and a half of vermouth, a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, and lots of seasoning (salt, pepper, thyme, crumbled bay leaf, and mashed garlic). I also added some thinly sliced onions and carrots as well. Now, this is the point where I should have covered the bowl and let it sit for about three hours, stirring occasionally to mix up all the yummy goodness. However, I didn’t read ahead (when will I ever learn?!) and didn’t have an extra three hours lying around, so I let it marinate for about a half hour. Shh. Don’t tell Julia.

While the meat hung out in its wine bath (wine bath? I wish I were a 3 lb. ham…), I simmered 2″ slices of bacon on the stove for about 10 minutes and sliced some mushrooms and PSJC* tomatoes, then added them to the marinade bowl. When the bacon was done, I drained it and dried it and set the oven to 325 degrees. At this point, I took the ham out of the marinade and drained it in a colander, set it aside and poured about a cup of flour onto a plate.

Simmer down!

I lined the bottom of an oven-proof pan with a layer of bacon, then a handful of the vegetables. I rolled each piece of ham in the flour so it was lightly coated, shaking off any excess, then placed a layer of meat over the vegetables. I covered this with a few strips of bacon and repeated the process, finishing with one more layer of vegetables and a few more strips of bacon. Then, I poured the wine from the marinade bowl into the pan and added beef stock until the contents of the pan were almost covered. I brought the whole thing to a simmer on the stove, then covered it tightly and set it in the bottom third of the oven (ye godz, this thing was heavy! Consider a team lift!) to cook for about 3 hours.

I kept a close eye on the pan throughout the cooking time to be sure there was plenty of liquid inside (no problems). Meanwhile, I had planned to tackle ladyfingers again, since the kitchen is so cold with this arctic blast outside, but realized the casserole would be taking up the oven for three hours. I’ll give it a go later in the week.

Fresh out of the oven

When the casserole was finished, I took it out of the oven and replaced it with a dozen frozen rolls on a cookie sheet and let them bake for 1o minutes while the casserole cooled. Ben came through the door bundled in his heavy winter coat just in time…dinner was ready!

As you can see from the photo, the casserole/stew was more like a soup – more broth than I had expected. The flavors of each of the ingredients was pretty powerful, but overall the dish was tasty. I think the marinade wine came on a bit strong, which is probably my fault for not letting it sit longer before cooking, but all in all not a bad dinner. The broth and vegetables were my favorite part…I didn’t really care for the ham. It had a kind of smoky flavor (not sure why) that didn’t seem to meld with the other flavors in the bowl. I think if I’d used beef instead, it would have been much better. The dish was also pretty salty, given the amount of beef stock that was used. I would make this again, but either with beef or omitting meat entirely and having more of a vegetable soup. Either way, it was perfect for a cold wintery night by the Christmas tree.

Ta-daa!

It felt good to be in the kitchen again, and this was a great recipe to ease my way back into this project. All the work was done up front – once the prep was done, it was pretty much on autopilot until the timer went off. Meals later in the week won’t be so easy…after all, I’ve got a trip to Paris to think about!

Stay tuned this week for more adventures, and for a recap of some great gifts for the kitchen that Santa brought me. Hope you’re staying warm, wherever you are.

And if you notice that your neighbor is just now getting around to taking down their Christmas tree, be kind…some people have a hard time letting go. Not that I would know anything about that.

Bon appetit!
– Jessica

 *peeled, seeded, juiced and chopped

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