Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Better Than Boeuf

Not all went as planned in the kitchen this holiday season. There were some definite highs and lows. Unfortunately, our Christmas Eve dinner of Boeuf Bourguignon was a low. I used Julia Child's recipe, of course, and all seemed fine as I prepared the dish. The end result, however, was just not to my liking. The braised onions and sauteed mushrooms were quite good, and the sauce was fine, but the boeuf was not tender and the overall beefy flavor was unpleasant.

The tenderness issue could have been because of the cut of beef I chose lean stew meat, cut not specified; or the size of the beef cubes a little on the small side; or the meat may have been overcooked beyond the point of tenderness, or maybe it wasn't cooked long enough and never reached the desired tenderness to begin with. There was still plenty of stewing liquid when I removed it from the oven, so I doubt it was overdone, but I'd never made Boeuf Bourguignon before and I'm not much of a beef person anyway, so I'm really not sure.

That was the other issue the fact that I'm not much of a beef person. The dish sounded so good: rich stew, red wine sauce, carrots, onions, and mushrooms. But the kitchen smelled like, well, beef. The whole house smelled like beef. I smelled like beef. And the meaty beefy-ness of the dish was kind of a turn-off, not just to me, but to my husband and kids too. I had a few bites of beef then picked out onions, mushrooms, and pieces of carrot, which were good with the sauce even though a little less... let me think... beef flavor would have been nice.

That night, I couldn't wait to get my clothes into the laundry, wash my hair, and air out the house to get rid of the beef smell that seemed to be everywhere. And for days now, the boeuf leftovers have been sitting in the fridge, mocking me. "Where's the boeuf? Here's the boeuf!" I know it's going to end up in the trash. I really don't know why I haven't dumped it already. I guess I just feel bad. It's such a waste.

Next was Christmas Day. Our tradition is to make homemade pasta with red (marinara) and green (basil pesto) sauces. My husband is the pasta expert, so I usually leave that to him and the kids, who have a lot of fun running the dough through the pasta machine. I focus on the sauces and a side salad. Well, the first problem was that I had trouble finding fresh basil. Trader Joe's, my usual source, was out. I got the very last bunch from another store, but it looked a little iffy. Indeed, when I opened it up on Christmas day to make the pesto, it just didn't smell or look right. On top of that, my husband had a bad head cold and wasn't in the mood to exert any effort into making pasta. Plan B: dry pasta and marinara sauce. It was fine. Everyone likes spaghetti, right? Yes. And to change things up a bit, I had my pasta with a drizzle of olive oil, freshly grated Pecorino, and a few grinds of black pepper. It was yummy!

Moving on to the highs... I received a cookbook for Christmas: The Big Book of Soups & Stews. Yes, there's a recipe for "Oven Burgundy Beef Stew" (pictured on the cover, in fact), which I definitely will not be making, ever. Then there's a recipe for Coq Au Vin, which is probably what I should have made for Christmas Eve dinner (we'll do it next year). There's also a recipe for "Greek Chicken Stew with Rice." I made it the other night and we loved it! Many other recipes look delicious too, and I think I'll make a number of them over the next few months during our cold, rainy season. I'll be steering clear, however, of the boeuf section. At least for a good while.

Another high was lobster! About ten days before Christmas, I arrived home to find a box on the front porch marked "Legal Sea Foods." At first I thought, Oh how nice. Instead of a box of Omaha Steaks, the husband's company has sent us sea food for Christmas. That idea was quickly discarded from my brain (they would never do that). Next I checked the return label Boston  and I started to think about the unlikely possibility of lobster. I opened the box and looked at the packing slip, which sat atop a slab of Styrofoam. It was an early Christmas gift from my in-laws. My heart was pounding as again, I dared to think lobster. I lifted up the Styrofoam and there, surrounded by a bunch of seaweed, were two live lobsters! Also in the box, I found jumbo shrimp cocktail, crab cakes, and clam chowder with all the necessary fixings, even claw crackers and plastic bibs. All we needed was butter!

Coincidentally, it was my husband's birthday. Birthday dinner plans obviously changed and I completely forgot what we were originally planning to have. We got out the big wort pot from our beer-making days, and put on the water. We munched on shrimp cocktail and drank white wine while we waited impatiently for the water to boil. With only a little squeamishness (I'm sure the wine helped), I plunged the poor guys into the boiling water, melted some butter with lemon juice and thyme, and 12 minutes later we were feasting on lobster! It was one of the best gifts ever, obviously perfect for me, and definitely the funnest gift I've received since Barbie's Dream House! Thank you so much to my in-laws!

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