It's Saturday and the sun is just coming out after overnight rain. And the weekend's food is in the oven.
Yesterday we went to buy some Beaujolais Nouveau and some Touraine Primeur wine at the big SuperU up in Contres. While we were there, I picked up some carrots, celery, and beef because I had in my head, on my mind, a nice dish of beef with vegetables for the weekend. It's supposed to rain again tomorrow.
This is the kind of cooking I really enjoy doing, and the kind of food I enjoy eating. It's country cooking, and it's comfort food. I can spend hours in the kitchen washing, peeling, and cutting up vegetables when I know I'm going to get to eat them later.
I chopped an onion and a couple of big cloves of garlic and put them in a pan with some butter and oil. I cooked them at a fairly low temperature until they started to soften. Then I pushed them to the side and put in some big chunks of beef (stew beef, I guess we would call it — it's bœuf à bourguigon in French) to brown them. I did the beef in two batches so it wouldn't be crowded in the pan. I let it brown on each side for maybe 5 to 7 minutes.
While the beef was browning, I peeled and cut into large pieces about half a dozen big carrots. I peeled half a dozen small onions, leaving them whole. I broke about 6 cloves off a head of garlic and cleaned them up but left on the husks. And I trimmed, washed, and cut into long pieces about 8 stalks of celery.
By the time the second batch of beef was getting brown, I had everything all laid out on the table, ready to be put in an oven-proof dish. I planned to let it all cook in the oven at a fairly low temperature for at least a couple of hours.
Rather than make a stew out of it, I thought it would look better arranged in the dish with the pieces of beef and the two vegetables all in their own place. I put three bay leaves, about 6 allspice berries, and a good dozen black peppercorns on the bottom of the dish before I put in the second batch of browned beef.
Then, after I took the second batch of beef out of the frying pan, I stirred the onions around and put in about a cup of wine and about a cup of water to make a cooking liquid. At that point, I added about a tablespoon of salt and a pinch of dried thyme. On an impulse, I also put in a few drops of liquid hickory smoke and a tablespoon of tomato paste.
I still had the whole "baby" onions and the garlic cloves to put in, so I just scattered them around on top of everything else.
I poured on the cooking liquid, covered the dish, and put the whole thing in a very hot oven to come up to the boil. After 15 or 20 minutes, I turned the heat down to about 375ºF, or 190ºC.
A few minutes later, I had another idea. I had a whole leek in the refrigerator, and some Belgian endives. I washed the leek and cut it into two big pieces (white part only — I save the green tops for making stock). I trimmed up four endives. I opened the oven, took off the cover, laid those extra vegetables over the top of the others, basted all with the sauce, turned the heat down to about 325ºF (160ºC), put the cover back on, and now I'm letting it all cook for about another hour. That'll be about 2½ hours in the oven, in total.
Aftermath: So how did it come out? After all the cooking, I still wasn't convinced the leeks and endives were done. So I took them out, put them in a pan, added some of the cooking liquid, and cooked them for another 30 minutes in a covered pan on top of the stove. Then they were right. Meanwhile, the dish of beef, celery, carrots, and onions just rested in the warm oven. Here's what it looked like when I took it out.
The beef was pretty tender (some pieces more than others), the celery was a little tough still, and the carrots were just the way we like them — cooked but not mushy. It was a good lunch and will make two more meals for us over the next few days.