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Posts Tagged ‘comfort’

mushroom bourginon

Upon ordering roasted marrow bones and toast at an Ann Arbor restaurant recently, the waiter asked me if I was from France, or had lived in France. When I told him that I had studied there years ago, he said, “Well that explains it. Only people who have spent time in France ever order marrow bones.” “Ah, but I was a vegetarian when I lived in France!” I thus confounded his theory. (The story of how I went from eating no meat to loving marrow bones is perhaps for another day. Let’s say that bacon played a key role.)

Since I learned my way around the kitchen during the years when I was not eating meat, vegetarian cooking is my foundation. I don’t really feel like anything is “missing” from a dish if it lacks meat. That said, I had been on quite a tear lately with the heavy, meat-laden dishes: in the space of about two weeks, I had made braised short ribs, cassoulet, roast chicken, coq au vin, and a meaty lasagne. I think this is my way of battling the brutal Michigan winter: spend hours in the kitchen, tending to something steamy and comforting in the oven or on the stovetop. This has the lovely effect of filling the house with awesome smells and the belly with hearty fare. It also has the unlovely effect of fattening up both me and E.

Something had to give.

The dish I want to share with you is the best of both words: a traditional French dish, sans beef. It’s great for when you want something that will sustain you on a cold February night, but don’t have the time or will to go to the gym twice a day to pay for it.

pearls

Mushroom Bourguignon
[Modified version of the recipe from Smitten Kitchen]

2 T or more olive oil
2 T or more butter
2 pounds mushrooms (I used some portobello and button, but crimini would be nice as well)
1/2 carrot, finely diced
1 small yellow onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup red wine
2 cups broth (veg, chicken, or beef – whatever you have on hand)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup pearl onions, peeled
Egg noodles, for serving
Sour cream and chopped chives or parsley, for garnish (optional)

Heat the one tablespoon of the olive oil and one tablespoon of butter in a medium Dutch oven or heavy sauce pan over medium-high heat. Depending on the size of your pan, you may need to do this in two batches. Sear the mushrooms until they begin to darken, about three or four minutes. Remove them from pan.

Lower the flame to medium and add the second tablespoon of olive oil. Add carrots, onions, thyme, salt and pepper into the pan and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are lightly browned. Add the garlic and cook for one more minute.

Add the wine to the pot, scraping any stuck bits off the bottom, then turn up the heat until the liquid reduces by half. Stir in the tomato paste and the broth. Add the mushrooms with any juices that have collected and once the liquid has boiled, reduce the temperature so it simmers for 20 minutes, or until mushrooms are very tender. Add the pearl onions and simmer for five minutes. Combine remaining butter and the flour with a fork until combined; stir in. Lower the heat and simmer for 10 more minutes. If the sauce is too thin, continue to boil it down to reduce to the right consistency. Season to taste.

Spoon the stew over a bowl of egg noodles and sprinkle with chives or parsley; add some sour cream if you like, though I don’t think it’s all that necessary.

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The prodigious amounts of leftovers from our Thanksgiving feast are tucked away in many (dozens?) of tupperware containers or wrapped in various layers of foil and plastic. I indulged with such abandon yesterday that today I wasn’t even tempted by the possibilities of turkey sandwiches or any creative way to use up what remains. I was, however, seduced by the pan of noodle kugel my mom made this afternoon — one of her standbys, a traditional dish she learned how to make from her mother-in-law. It was due to accompany my sister back to school tomorrow, and I had to plead with her to let me have some. She finally relented, and I savored this pudding which I have never thought to make myself. I’m not sure why, exactly, except that it’s one of those special things I look forward when I come home. It’s my mom’s dish, but I think it’s time I add it to my repertoire. Tasting it today, I was struck by the small but unmistakable miracle of such humble, traditional foods — how a few eggs and noodles and cheese and butter, sweetened with some sugar and spice, becomes something so much greater than the sum of its parts.

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Lokshen Kugel (Noodle Pudding)
8 oz. broad noodles, cooked and drained (we use Mrs. Weiss’s broad egg noodles)
1 cup sour cream
1 cup cottage cheese
4 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup raisins
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon

Combine all ingredients and mix well. Pour into greased 8 x 8 pan. Bake, uncovered in 350 F oven for an hour.

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Time for Chili

ancho chili sauce prep

One of the ways that my brother and I used to weather the boring moments of childhood was–I wish I were joking–to practice telekinesis. (I wonder, do children these days have boring moments? Do they bide the time doing similarly weird shit? Discuss.) We’d be sitting at a relative’s house, or at a restaurant, and one of us would say to the other, “I bet you can’t get that fork to move across the table.” Or, “try to make the plate levitate.” And we’d concentrate really hard, with constipated looks on our faces, trying to will matter into obeying our psychic commands.

This memory comes to me tonight as I lie on the couch, swaddled in sweaters and blankets, with mummy-arms stretched out over my laptop keyboard, wishing and hoping that somehow, some way, the chili I made yesterday that’s sitting in the fridge would open the door, float over to the stove, turn on the range, and heat itself up for me.

Sigh.

Even though it was a relaxing, nicely-paced weekend, I’m feeling . . . ragged. Not for any particularly good reason, but I’m sure it’s due in part to having dragged my butt to the gym four times this week (2x the usual). And there’s the weather, which encumbers me with coats and scarves and hats and just makes everything feel like more of a production. And this craziness of putting up a blog post every. single. day. It’s been great to be reconnected with this space and with our readers, but folks, this little blogger is getting tuckered out.

But the chili. The chili. That was a production, but well worth it. It gave me a good chance to slow down and chop and tear and measure and mix. It filled the house with the most seductive, warm, spicy aromas. And after more than four hours in the oven, and several hours to rest, the flavors mingled beautifully and the texture was velvety and [if I only concentrate hard enough, a steaming hot bowl of it will appear in my hands any moment now . . . ].

texas beef brisket chili

Texas Beef Brisket Chili
Modified from Bon Appetit, October 2008, via Epicurious

As is my habit, I made a bunch of modifications to the recipe, which are indicated below in brackets. The reasons for the modifications were: in order to save some dough, to eliminate a trip to a big grocery store, and to cook this beast of a recipe in my favorite 5-quart enameled cast iron Dutch oven.

This recipe has lots of steps, so I suggest starting it first thing in the morning–or better yet, a day or so in advance–so that the flavors have a chance to mingle.

A final note: butternut squash in another otherwise all-beef chili might sound odd to some. It certainly doesn’t adhere to any chili traditions I’m familiar with. And yet. And yet. Butternut squash is a really good vehicle for ancho chiles; it absorbs the sauce really nicely and is a sweet and mellow counterpoint to the deep, rich, and spicy sauce.

Ingredients

6 large dried ancho chiles [to the local readers: Sparrow sells packages of 6 ancho chiles for $1.99)
6 ounces bacon, diced [I used applewood smoked bacon]
1 1/4 pounds onions, chopped (about 4 cups) [I used 2 medium onions]
1 5-pound flat-cut (also called first-cut) beef brisket, cut into 2 1/2- to 3-inch cubes [I used just under 4 pounds]
Coarse kosher salt
6 large garlic cloves, peeled
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
1 1/2 10-ounce cans fire-roasted diced tomatoes with green chiles (1 3/4 cups) [I used a can of whole tomates that I diced myself]
1 12-ounce bottle Mexican beer [I used Dos Equis lager]
1 7-ounce can diced roasted green chiles
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro stems
4 cups 1 1/2- to 2-inch chunks seeded peeled butternut squash (from 3 1/2-pound squash)

Garnishes: [I only used fresh cilantro]
Fresh cilantro leaves
Chopped red onion
Diced avocado
Shredded Monterey Jack cheese
Warm corn and/or flour tortillas

Preparation

Place chiles in medium bowl. Pour enough boiling water over to cover. Soak until chiles soften, at least 30 minutes and up to 4 hours. Mine were soft in about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Sauté bacon in heavy large oven-proof pot over medium-high heat until beginning to brown. Add onions. Reduce heat to medium; cover and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle beef all over with coarse salt and pepper. Add to pot; stir to coat. Set aside.

Drain chiles, reserving soaking liquid. Place chiles in blender or food processor. Add 1 cup soaking liquid, garlic, chili powder, cumin seeds, oregano, coriander, and 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt; blend to puree, adding more soaking liquid by 1/4 cupfuls if very thick. Pour puree over brisket in pot. Add tomatoes with juices, beer, green chiles, and cilantro stems. Stir to coat evenly.

Bring chili to simmer. Cover and place in oven. Cook 2 hours. Uncover and cook until beef is almost tender, about 1 hour. Add squash; stir to coat. Roast uncovered until beef and squash are tender, adding more soaking liquid if needed to keep meat covered, about 45 minutes longer. Season chili to taste with salt and pepper. Tilt pot and spoon off any fat from surface of sauce.

If you’re making this ahead of serving it, cool for 1 hour. Chill uncovered until cold, then cover and keep chilled.

If using garnishes, set them out in separate dishes. Rewarm chili over low heat. Ladle chili into bowls and serve.

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