French Friday’s with Dorie: Hachis Parmentier and Roast Brussels Sprouts

Today’s post is part of French Friday’s with Dorie, a sort of group cooking club in which each Friday a bunch of bloggers post about their experiences making a recipe from Dorie Greenspan’s new cookbook, Around My French Table.

I first heard about this new group cooking endeavor from Serene at BlogHer Food and thought I should give it a try. I’m not great about sticking to a schedule, but I like the idea of being forced to cook with butter and cream and other French staples that I often stay away from at least once a week. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that I’m a huge fan of Dorie’s and one of my highlights from BlogHer Food was getting to meet her. She couldn’t have been nicer about my coming up to her like a crazed fan and spent at least 20 minutes chatting with me! She’s truly a wonderful and inspiring person – and her recipes are delicious.

For my first recipe from Around My French Table, I made Hachis Parmentier, a shepherd’s pie-type dish. The main recipe calls for stewing beef, but I didn’t have time for that this week so I took Dorie’s short-cut version and used ground beef instead. I made a few small changes, but mostly I stuck to the recipe: subbed Yukon gold potatoes for Idaho, used half-and-half instead of heavy cream, and added a bit more butter to the potatoes than the recipe called for (I just couldn’t help myself!).

I loved the dish, although there’s no way I could eat like this on a regular basis. It was filling and incredibly satisfying, although I am glad I thought to make a vegetable to go with it to balance some of the richness.

And what was that side dish? Thanks for asking – it was oven-roasted Brussels sprouts, very simply made and they cooked right alongside the hachis parmentier.

If you want the recipe for hachis parmentier, buy the book – I promise you won’t regret it. Since it arrived last week, I’ve been staying up late reading the cookbook like a novel and dreaming about the recipes! (Sadly, I’m not exaggerating). If you want the recipe for my easy roast Brussels sprouts, here you go:

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Pressure Cooker: Friend or Foe?

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GifavOHiFMI[/youtube]

I bought a pressure cooker about a year and a half ago. I’m not really sure why I woke up one morning and decided I just had to have one, but that’s what happened. Very soon after I made Mama Shah’s Kitchari and was so terrified of the pressure cooker that I described cooking with it like “trying to calm an errant two-year-old in the middle of a temper tantrum.” After that I put the entire contraption in the cabinet and hadn’t looked at it since.

Now that some time has passed, I was finally able to work up the nerve to revisit the scary pressure cooker and decide once and for all if it’s worth keeping. After all, I have a pretty small kitchen and cabinet space is at a premium – it’s either ship off or ship out (in terms of cookware, of course).

I first wanted to make barley risotto in the pressure cooker, even went out and bought all the ingredients. But when I consulted the terror-inducing manual to make sure I set the pressure cooker up correctly – you know, because it could blow up and all – I saw that barley can’t be cooked in the pressure cooker. Something about the barley foaming and clogging the valve, causing mass destruction.

After that I decided to try something more traditional: beef stew. The beef stew recipe was great, an adaptation of this one from Self magazine (I used sweet potatoes instead of butternut squash and smoked paprika), but didn’t come out quite right in the pressure cooker: the beef was tough and the vegetables a little overcooked.

But the bigger problem was I didn’t see the value of using the pressure cooker. The stew took just over an hour to make using the pressure cooker, and I imagine cooking it the traditional way would’ve only added about 15 minutes and resulted in a better product.

What do I do? Should I retire the pressure cooker to my parents’ basement with my toaster oven, heating blanket, and other items that aren’t worthy of prime cabinet space? Or should I give it once last try to see if I can find value in the product by using it with dried beans or something? And how much does it matter that the darned thing still scares the crap out of me?

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“Quick” Boeuf Bourguignon

Boeuf Bourguignon

Boeuf Bourguignon

Like everyone who saw Julie & Julia when it premiered in August, I sat in the movie theater with my mouth watering over the boeuf bourguignon, a rich, beef stew featured in the movie. The only problem was it was August, and the dish was a rich, beef stew, not exactly light summer fare.

So I made a mental note to revisit boeuf bourguignon when the weather became cooler. And then, when the weather did turn cold a few weeks ago, the dish completely slipped my mind. That is until Saturday when Chris from Pantry Raid posted about her experiences making Julia Child’s boeuf bourguignon.

Boeuf Bourg01 Boeuf Bourg02 Boeuf Bourg03

And just like that I had to make it. The only problem was Julia’s version was a bit too “potchked,” or fussy, for me at that moment. And it took too long, about 4 hours, and I was getting hungry. So instead I turned to a source I knew Julia would approve of, a new book I’d won by participating in a Julia Child blog contest: The Pleasures of Cooking for One, by Judith Jones, the editor of Mastering the Art of French Cooking who is credited with introducing Julia Child to America. There’s even a great scene in the movie where Judith’s character makes Julia’s recipe for boeuf bourguignon, propelling her to publish the book. Let’s just say this is a woman who knows her boeuf bourguignon.

I really love the concept of this book. Like the title suggests, it’s about cooking for one and using leftovers to create other meals. Many of the recipes are a bit too old-fashioned for my tastes, like minced chicken on toast, but there are also some great ideas that have inspired me to approach about my cooking differently, especially because like Judith I often cook for one.

Boeuf Bourg04 Boeuf Bourg05

Judith’s version of boeuf bourguignon is less fussy than Julia’s with no straining or cleaning of the pot involved, fewer ingredients, and takes about half the time. It also makes a much smaller portion, although I did go ahead and double the recipe because I’m a huge fan of leftovers.

The recipe was fantastic. In just two hours I had a wonderfully rich, tender, and fragrant dish that warmed me and my apartment. The only significant change I made was to simmer the cooking liquid separately at the end to make it more flavorful and give the finished dish a better mouthfeel because a thickened broth clings better to the meat.

Boeuf Bourguignon

Boeuf Bourguignon

Here’s the recipe:

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Camera Drama Ends Well with Roasted Red Pepper Beef Salad

Roasted Red Pepper Beef Salad

Roasted Red Pepper Beef Salad

It’s strange how people develop routines and when one thing goes wrong, the whole routine is out of whack. That’s pretty much what happened to me this week after my camera broke. Well, it only half broke, the truth is that it’s still functional but the focus is hit-or-miss and the macro setting is kaput.

No macro + no focus = unappetizing food photos. And that’s something I desperately want to avoid.

But as someone who’s become accustomed to using a camera while cooking (think wooden spoon in one hand, camera in the other), this was quite a setback. So much so that I spent most of the week bringing my poor little point-and-shoot to camera doctors all over the Chicago area. And I was afraid to cook anything important without my camera by my side lest I miss something good.

In the end I was forced to make a very adult decision: yesterday afternoon I purchased a brand spanking new DSLR, a Canon EOS Rebel XSi.

I’m still trying to learn how to use my new toy, so please be patient while I get the hang of it. You wouldn’t believe all the buttons and options this thing has! My first attempt at using it was for this roasted red pepper beef salad, and I took the photo before I’d even looked at the manual. What can I say, I was too hungry to study.

Despite the distraction of a new toy, I did take a few minutes to enjoy this fabulous roasted red pepper beef salad. There’s no exact recipe for it as I used ingredients I had on hand including leftover top sirloin, my new favorite cut of meat, so consider this “recipe” to be a “guide” instead. The flavors in this salad work extremely well together, although I felt it could have used a bit extra punch, so next time I’ll add some very thinly sliced red onions.

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Recipe: Balsamic Beef Bites with Caramelized Shallots & Sauteed Spinach

Balsamic Beef Bites with Caramelized Shallots and Sauteed Spinach

Balsamic Beef Bites with Caramelized Shallots and Sauteed Spinach

This has been a rather strange food week for me. It started off strong at the all-you-can-eat-NRA show but quickly dwindled when I came down with something resembling the flu (not actually the flu, but a cold/fever). So there went a day and a half worth of good eating.

Luckily, I’m starting to feel a bit better although my appetite and taste buds aren’t at their normal levels…. yet. Good thing as today was another exciting foodie shopping/tasting day in Chicago with visits to the Green City Market (my first time attending the outdoor market this year) and the grand opening of the giant new Whole Foods in my neighborhood. And that one was a serious feast with tons of local vendors sampling products, not to mention the cool new food court.

Between the two food shopping endeavors I came home with a nice amount of produce, then quickly collapsed on the couch as the effort of shopping wiped out all my energy. I had recharged a bit by dinner time, but not enough to make the morel risotto I’d originally considered. Instead I turned to my bag of farmer’s market spinach and the package of beef stew meat in the refrigerator (it was the cheapest meat available at WF).

As a side note, I don’t normally have beef just sitting around in the refrigerator. I bought it this afternoon at WF because I had a weird craving for beef and I believe if I’m craving a specific ingredient it’s because my body really needs it. Of course this can be a bit tricky because I’m always craving chocolate, but that’s a whole ‘nother story.

Anyways, I thought back to a few months ago when I had some beef scraps leftover from another dish I had made that I had seared quickly in a hot pan and deglazed with balsamic vinegar. I decided to do that again but add some caramelized shallots for a bit more flavor and sauteed spinach, sort of like a hot beef salad I’m calling balsamic beef bites with caramelized shallots and sauteed spinach.

Trim spinach Sliced shallots Diced beef

It was great, something that came together very quickly in just one pan and was relatively healthy. I think most tender cuts of beef would work (stay away from flank or strip steaks) and should be trimmed of excess fat and cut into small bite-sized pieces. I like cutting them small because they cook quickly and evenly, and you don’t need a knife to eat them.

The real key to this dish though is to use a high quality balsamic vinegar; mine was aged 18 years and is rich and a little sweet.

Sear beef bites Deglaze with balsamic vinegar Cook spinach

Also, I used regular spinach from the farmer’s market which needs to be trimmed of the rough stems and washed very well. Feel free to use baby spinach if you prefer.

Here’s the recipe:

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