Boeuf Bourguignon

When I first met Michelle at the University of St Andrews, in the post-Prince William/Kate Middleton days, her cooking skills ranged from tea to toast. She has come quite a long way since.

(Coincidentally, just as William gave Kate a sapphire engagement ring, I gave Michelle a sapphire ring, but our on-bended-knee ceremony took place at Edinburgh Castle.)

In 2007 we moved from our post-graduate student housing in St Andrews to a flat in Edinburgh, after a search that tasted like “Alice in Wonderland” with a dash of “Catch-22”.  The kitchen was one of our favorite rooms, with lots of light and a view of the park. I did 99% of the cooking, but there in Edinburgh she felt a bit more adventurous, and showed some culinary courage.  One night she cooked a marvelous meal of Indian food that she claimed she had made before back in Boston; it was hard to believe. Astounded, I watched her prepare the dishes: one was a chickpea extravaganza featuring 877 ingredients and exotic spices, and requiring 422 steps; the other was a chicken and cashew dish that featured 1038 ingredients and required 612 steps.  It was all very surreal to think that this tiny toast maven could prepare such impressive and delicious food.

But mostly, in the roughly three years since, she has proven to be a microwave girl.  Her kitchen skills include popping in a Lean Cuisine bag, and opening individual containers of cottage cheese. If she opens a container, pours a cup of coffee, or puts a slice of delivery pizza on a plate, she shouts, “I cooked!”  We disagree on what constitutes ‘cooking’ but I am a lenient kitchen policeman.

We bought the “Julie & Julia” movie that came out last year, about the young New York blogger who cooked her way through Julia Child’s seminal “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” of 1961, and have watched it several hundred times.  (Trust me, I have it memorized.)  In addition, we bought Julia Child’s memoirs, “My Life in France”, which also seasoned the movie.

Recently, something inside Michelle snapped.  She has cooked difficult and demanding items from “Mastering” and she keeps on plugging. She sits on the couch and flips through recipes, proud that many of the pages now look well-used. Then in a flash she jabs a page with an épée thrust and shouts “Ah HAH!”  It’s my job to encourage her, so when she says that she wants to try a new recipe, I grab a wine glass and my monogrammed Swiss cutlery. Friends who have been to my house for dinner will tell you that I’m pretty comfortable in the kitchen, but my most important kitchen implement is still the corkscrew. “Sweetheart, you want to try what?  OK, I better go buy a bottle of wine.”

A few months ago she cooked the roast chicken with mushrooms in cream and port wine recipe featured in the movie (Poulet au Porto), which was fantastic, along with potatoes sautéed in butter (Pommes de Terre Sautées), which is just like it sounds, only more so.   For our anniversary dinner a few weeks ago, she cooked Lobster Thermidor, and she needed me to perform just one function, crustacean execution.  Like with Michelle’s counterpart from the movie, the Julie character, plunging a live lobster into a boiling pot was a problem. Someone with a hairy chest had to kill them first, which somehow seemed more humane.  After I dispatched the unlucky lobsters with a knife, Michelle still needed to hold my hand when she picked up a lobster and plopped it into the pot.  The result was delicious, a prize winner.

Last week she cooked the classic French chicken in wine dish, Coq au Vin, which was very yummy.  This week, she has set her mind on mastering the art of cooking Boeuf Bourguignon, a beef stew made with bacon, onions, mushrooms, and two and a half gallons of wine, half of which goes into the chef, again as featured in the movie.  To make this demanded the proper cooking equipment, a casserole dish constructed of enameled cast iron, which can be used to sauté on the stove, and then transfer seamlessly into the oven.  Last night the man of the house brought home one marketed by Mario Batali, and this savior was treated to much jubilant, giggly dancing and squealing by the female chef of the house.

In her cookbook, Julia Child refers to Boeuf Bourguignon as “one of the most delicious beef dishes ever concocted by man.”  We’ll find out soon.

“If the women don’t find you handsome, they should at least find you handy with a corkscrew.”

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