Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Là Française

In case you didn't know, I consider myself one third Chinese, one third American, and one third French. This is not only because I speak the three languages fluently, but also that I enjoy the food from the three countries as well. After all, this blog was first called "Cooking with Julia Child in Chen's Kitchen." It all started with my first encounter with Julia Child: in the movie Julie & Julia. To imitate Julie Powell, I began my own cooking blog cooking through Julia Child's cookbook, except I'm using the much simpler version The Way to Cook. Now that my cooking endeavor has taken a new direction, steering away from the full concentration on Julia Child, I've also not forgotten about my love for that movie and Child's life in France. But before I step into the dangerous realm of motion picture where I can't keep my mouth shut, let's stay focused on her book. I read this book a year ago. Although I can't really say it's a great book, it's certainly a fun read; it would make you laugh and dream about the legendary French cuisine. You can almost smell the fish in the market and touch the greasy duck. You wonder how a gigantic American woman who could barely chop onions would have developed such passion for French cooking and the French people. Don't get me wrong; the French people are not all that difficult to be around, although you do have to give the stereotypes some credit. I spent my junior year in college in Lyon, France and met some wonderful French people, but the general impression of the country is still not all that amazing as one may think. Not everywhere is Paris, and not everywhere in Paris is Champs-Elysées. But the food, the pastry, and the wine, oh my God, is nothing if not divine.

Therefore, I took a second shot on the famous Beouf Bourguignon, a phrase every time I say would cause a disgraceful imitation on Chris's part that I shall not mention here. Please don't butcher the French language; I mean, is it really too much to ask?

Beouf Bourguignon (adapted from Julia Child's The Way to Cook)

Tender beef chunks for stew
3 carrots, chopped
1 big onion, chopped
1 package of mushrooms
1 clove of garlic, minced
2 tomatoes, chopped
beef stock
1 bottle of red cooking wine
corn starch

Use paper towel to dry the beef( if not dried they may not brown properly). Brown the beef in vegetable oil (again, I understand Julia's love for butter, but we are trying to be healthy here). Remove the beef from the pan and drain some of the fat. Put the beef in a pot and begin to stew in beef stock. Brown the onions and mushrooms separately in the pan. Try not to crowd the mushrooms (but of course I always crowd the mushrooms even though I keep telling myself not to, I still do. What can you do; they still get brown though.) Put the mushrooms and onions in a plate. Clean the fat from the pan and cook the carrots, garlic and tomatoes in canola oil until the tomatoes become soft and juicy. Pour everything from the pan into the pot, mix with the beef and add red cooking wine. Keep stewing for about another 40 minutes. As the beef gets tender and the juice begins to decrease, fold in the mushrooms and onions. Keep stewing till there's almost no juice in the pot. Add some corn starch to absorb the last bit of juice. Serve with baguette or rice. (You know what I served with of course, RICE!!!)

You can also bake the stew in the oven for about 2 hours, but if you don't have that much time but concerned about the tenderness of the beef, I suggest you add a pinch of lemon or lime juice: the acid helps to tenderize the beef. At home, my Dad sometimes puts in a little sugared fruit in beef stew or even beer. You can't taste it, but it makes the beef get tender faster.

I don't know if you still remember this wonderful delight in the movie, but this is called Bruschetta, or, as Brittany would say, "fried bread with heirloom tomato salad."

Bruschetta (adapted from If You Give a Girl a Cookie)

slices of crusty bread (I used this marble rye bread that Chris has in the fridge)
fresh basil (I used basil seasoning, it worked out fine too)
cherry tomatoes
olive oil

Chop up the tomatoes, keep all the seeds and juice. Add basil and a swirl of olive oil just enough to coat the tomatoes. Fried the bread in olive oil until crispy on both sides. Rub the garlic on one side of the bread while still hot. Spread the tomato salad on top and enjoy! (Be careful while eating as the tomatoes do tend to fall off the bread if you don't know how to keep you bread balanced: Chris dropped half of the salad on the plate after the first bite!)

Just so you know, apparently I didn't just go French last night: I went entirely European, with this wonderful Italian pear salad with walnuts and feta!
Pear Salad with Walnuts and Feta (adapted from the Family Kitchen)

1 bag spring mix salad
2 pears, cored and thinly sliced
1/4 cup roasted walnuts
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
freshly cracked pepper

Roast walnuts either in the oven or in a small sauce pan over medium heat until just aromatic. Be careful not to burn them. 
Add spring mix to a large bowl. Top with thinly sliced pears, feta cheese and walnuts. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Add freshly cracked black pepper to taste. Toss salad to incorporate all ingredients.

Another Dinner for Two

The Spanish Sangria is the final touch of the European endeavor, and, oh please ignore the picture on the fridge: two of Chris's endearing friends.

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