Very high up on the kids list of what they wanted to learn about in France was food. France is a good place to come to learn about food. The markets are bursting with fresh local ingredients, the locals take the preparation of their meals very seriously and the whole of society seems to arrange itself around breakfast, lunch and dinner. Everything around here really closes from noon to 4pm for lunch and rest. The places that serve lunch of course stay open but usually only until about 2pm and then everyone vanishes. One of the first things that struck us about the French and their relationship with food was that everyone in France was carrying not a cellphone but a baguette. It is so funny to see people from all walks of life running to catch the bus with a baguette, walking their dog with a baguette, riding their bike with a baguette, in clothing shops with said baguette. We quickly learned that it is very French to have a baguette with each meal and that it is customary to go out and fetch it before each meal. Why wouldn’t you just pick up 3 baguettes in the morning you ask? You are obviously a lazy American for even asking that question. The French are not fat. They eat more bread than you can ever believe and they are not fat. Some say their smoking keeps them slim, but I disagree. I believe the French stay trim because of their constant activity in and out of doors. The refrigerators are very small and eating left over food or food purchased in bulk quantities is unheard of. Running out to fetch fresh ingredients for each meal burns a lot of calories and their penchant for using their own two feet to propel them to their location instead of their car doesn’t hurt either. There does not seem to be the American 11 hour work day here and working through lunch is not heard of. The French get outside and often, even if it is a work day. Another interesting thing we noticed about the French is their relationship with coffee. We noticed that none of the patisseries and boulangeries have coffee for sale. We found this very strange. But coffee in France is another meal entirely. You may go get your baguette at the boulangerie and carry it home but you would never carry your coffee around with you in France, like some barbarian. No, in France you find a lovely cafe with a seat outside facing the street and you sip du cafe slowly and watch the world go by for a little while. And by the way, no giant cups of coffee in France. They drink out of the teeny tiny demi-tasse. This experience alone makes you realize how out of hand American super-sizing has become. So, you must be wondering what The McHughs have been eating while living in a place so famous for it’s food? Well after the obligatory binge on cheese and chocolate we went straight to work on trying to eat every kind of pastry in the windows. We did an excellent job, although the parents quit long before the children who are experts in this field. We do most of our cooking at home and I am the head chef. The children enjoy chopping and slicing and helping to sautee and stir. My favorite meal so far was a delicious rustic white bean soup with crusty bread and salade verte. Sean’s favorite was omelettes with emmental and olives. The kid’s favorite was Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon which we spent an entire day making recently. It is difficult for me to cook meat dishes, one because I do not like the idea of killing an animal for a meal and two because it is difficult to cook well when you cannot taste the progress of the dish. However, I helped my children create this meal in memory of the great Julia Child and it was a very fun day. The kid’s loved the meal and I loved the day spent together learning about food and cooking in our little kitchen in the south of France. The recipe is below if you’d like to make it too! Bon Appetite!
Vegetable and wine suggestions: Boiled potatoes are traditionally served with this dish. Buttered noodles or steamed rice may be substituted. If you also wish a green vegetable, buttered peas would be your best choice. Serve with the beef a fairly full-bodied, young red wine, such as Beaujolais, Cotes du Rhone, Bordeaux-St. Emillion or Burgundy.
Boeuf à la Bourguignonne
For 6 people
6-ounce chunk of bacon
9- to 10-inch fireproof casserole, 3 inches deep
1 tablespoon olive oil or cooking oil
A slotted spoon
3 pounds lean stewing beef cut into 2-inch cubes
1 sliced carrot
1 sliced onion
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons flour
3 cups of a full-bodied, young red wine such as one of those suggested for serving, or a Chianti
2 to 3 cups brown beef stock or canned beef bouillon
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cloves mashed garlic
1/2 teaspoon thyme
Crumbled bay leaf
Blanched bacon rind
18 to 24 small white onions, brown-braised in stock
1 pound quartered fresh mushrooms sautéed in butter
Remove rind and cut bacon into lardons (sticks, ¼-inch thick and 1½ inches long). Simmer rind and bacon for 10 minutes in 1½ quarts of water. Drain and dry.
Preheat oven to 450º. Sauté the bacon in the oil over moderate heat for 2 to 3 minutes to brown lightly.
Remove to a side dish with a slotted spoon. Set casserole aside. Reheat until fat is almost smoking before you sauté the beef.
Dry the beef in paper towels; it will not brown if it is damp. Sauté it, a few pieces at a time, in the hot oil and bacon fat until nicely browned on all sides. Add it to the bacon.
In the same fat, brown the sliced vegetables. Pour out the sautéing fat.
Return the beef and bacon to the casserole and toss with the salt and pepper. Then sprinkle on the flour and toss again to coat the beef lightly with the flour. Set casserole uncovered in middle position of preheated oven for 4 minutes. Toss the meat and return to oven for 4 minutes more. (This browns the flour and covers the meat with a light crust.) Remove casserole, and turn oven down to 325 degrees.
Stir in the wine and enough stock or bouillon so that the meat is barely covered. Add the tomato paste, garlic, herbs and bacon rind. Bring to simmer on top of the stove. Then cover the casserole and set in lower third of preheated oven. Regulate heat so liquid simmers very slowly for 2½ to 3 hours. The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily.
While the beef is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms. Set them aside until needed.
When the meat is tender, pour the contents of the casserole into a sieve set over a saucepan. Wash out the casserole and return the beef and bacon to it. Distribute the cooked onions and mushrooms over the meat.
Skim fat off the sauce. Simmer sauce for a minute or two, skimming off additional fat as it rises. You should have about 2½ cups of sauce thick enough to coat a spoon lightly. If too thin, boil it down rapidly. If too thick, mix in a few tablespoons of stock or canned bouillon. Taste carefully for seasoning. Pour the sauce over the meat and vegetables.
Recipe may be completed in advance to this point.
For immediate serving: Cover the casserole and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes, basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce several times. Serve in its casserole, or arrange the stew on a platter surrounded with potatoes, noodles or rice, and decorated with parsley.
For later serving: When cold, cover and refrigerate. About 15 to 20 minutes before serving, bring to a simmer, cover and simmer very slowly for 10 minutes, occasionally basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce