For the past 18 years I have lived in 5 countries. In 1990 I moved to Paris to study cooking with the intention of lingering on after my cooking program finished and finding a job. Originally I planned to work as an interior designer. After all, that was my profession in Boston before I moved, and while I loved cooking, I approached it more as a hobby and a ticket to Europe. I figured that once I got myself to Paris, learned the ropes of La Cuisine Française, magically learned French (I studied Spanish in school), endeared myself to the all-embracing French population and became a local, well, then, I might just get a design job with Euro-Disney, which was in the process of being constructed on the outskirts of Paris. I would nimbly straddle the French-American culture, drinking café au lait and eating baguettes (I was on a tight budget, after all) while involving myself in the construction and decor of the Magic Kingdom and home of Mickey Mouse. Sounded like a plan.
As all best laid plans go, before I even boarded the Jumbo to take me to Paris, I met a Dane who was in town on business from Geneva, Switzerland. What does this have to do with anything, you may ask. Well, everything. We hit it off, we liked each other. I thought he was cute, and apparently he felt the same about me. So, when I did fly over to Paris to cook, that was not the only thing that began cooking. Geneva and Paris are a 3 hour TGV train ride apart, and for the next 6 months we spent nearly every weekend together either in Paris or Geneva. So, upon my graduation from La Cuisine Base de Française in Paris, I decided that Euro-Disney would have to be built without me, packed my bags and took another TGV ride to Geneva – this time with the plan to stay.
And stay I did. For 9 years, to be exact. The Dane became my husband; we were married and had 2 children. Initially I found a job as a design consultant on a large new construction project which landed me the desired and very necessary permis de séjour, or residence permit, which meant I was a legal, albeit FOREIGN, mind you, resident of Switzerland. All the while, I continued cooking and pursuing my love for food. I dabbled in catering, I cooked for family, I cooked for friends. In fact, I found my above mentioned design job by cooking for the director of the organization I was hired to design. He was a guest for dinner one evening, lamenting his situation with this enormous, unwieldy, emotionally-charged, and predictably political, new construction project. I clucked sympathetically as I sautéed lardons. I rolled my eyes as he recounted the daily shenanigans he had to sit through, as I passed the gratin de pommes de terre. I nodded sagely as he complained how this was distracting the purpose and work at hand of his institution, and I ladled another serving of beef bourguignon. When he took a breath and politely inquired about my cooking experience in Paris and general interest in cuisine, I unabashedly segued directly (remember, I am American at the end of the day) to my design experience, credentials and previous construction projects, confusing the gentleman so much he actually offered me a position on the spot as a design consultant. Bon appétit.
3 lbs. beef chuck, cut in 1 1/2″ chunks
Flour for dredging
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup cognac
3-4 large carrots, sliced 1/2″ thick rounds
1 large yellow onion, cut in large chunks
4 large garlic cloves, smashed
1 bottle red wine
1 cup beef stock
1 small can tomato paste
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1/4 pound white mushrooms, halved
1 small net pearl onions, peeled
1 tablespoon brown sugar
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat in a large oven-proof pan.
Dredge beef chuck in flour, shaking off excess. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Working in batches, add beef to pot in one layer and brown on all sides. Transfer to a bowl. Add cognac to pan and deglaze pan over medium-high heat, scraping up bits. Allow to reduce by half. Pour cognac over beef and set aside.
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in same pan. Add carrot, onion and garlic. Sauté 3 minutes over medium heat. Add beef mixture, wine, stock, tomato paste, and thyme. Beef should be covered by the wine and stock. If not, add more stock to cover. Bring to boil, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer. Continue to simmer on stove top until beef is tender, about 2-3 hours. (Alternatively, beef can be placed in an oven at 325 F.)
While beef is cooking, sauté mushrooms and onions in a skillet with olive oil until they turn light golden brown. Remove from heat and set aside.
When beef is tender, remove from heat. Strain liquid from stew into a saucepan. Boil liquid until sauce is reduced by 1/2 and has a sauce consistency. Add sugar. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour sauce back over beef. Add mushrooms and onions. Simmer 15 minutes. Serve.
Beef bourguignon can be prepared one day in advance. Reheat over medium-low heat, or in a 325 F. oven to serve.
Salad of Mixed Greens with Lardons and Mustard Vinaigrette
1/2 lb. (250 g.) lardons (bacon cubes)
One medium frisée
One half head escarole
Mustard Vinaigrette (yields 1 cup):
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt, to taste
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper, to taste
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Cook lardons in a sauté pan over medium heat until fat is rendered and they begin to turn golden brown. Remove from heat and drain on paper towel.
While lardons are cooking, combine garlic, mustard, salt, pepper and red wine vinegar in small bowl. Slowly add olive oil in a steady stream, constantly whisking until dressing is emulsified.
Pour desired amount of dressing over greens in a large salad bowl and stir to combine (best with hands). Arrange on plates and sprinkle lardons over greens.
Potato Gratin – Gratin de Pommes de Terre
2 cups creme fraiche or sour cream
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 lbs. Yukon Gold potatoes, thinly sliced
3/4 lb. Gruyère cheese, grated
Preheat oven to 375 F.
In a bowl, combine creme fraiche, garlic, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Mix together.
Butter a rectangular oven baking pan.
Arrange half of the potato slices, overlapping in pan.
Spread half of the creme fraiche mixture evenly over the potatoes. Sprinkle half of the Gruyère over. Top with remaining potatoes, overlapping. Spread remaining creme fraiche mixture over potatoes. Sprinkle Gruyère over.
Bake, uncovered, in oven 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until top is golden brown all over and potatoes are tender.