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Saturday, January 7, 2012

Glitter Dust

The broken ornaments have been swept away and the glitter dust has settled on the holiday season.  It was a whirlwind  run with  head-spinning action, eating, drinking, and merry making.

Although  it's over, reminders of the Christmas carnage still dot our kitchen counters. Gifted bottles of red wine, corked and uncorked, stand at attention like a a vintner's Stonehenge.

Michael and I don't drink a lot of red wine. When we have leftover wine, I usually cook with it.

On the final day of my short holiday break, I used a bottle of Kendall Jackson Merlot for a slow and lanquid braised beef bourguignon. Typically, I'm not fussy with the details of beef bourguinon.  I'll brown some beef,  deglaze the pot with red wine, add beef stock, toss in a few vegetables, and throw it into the oven to bubble away. A few days ago, I felt frisky and had an entire day to putz around in the kitchen. As a final curtsy and nod to the end of a fabulous holiday season, I embraced the details of cooking a good beef bourguignon.

The method was fairly straightforward.  Orderly steps and mise en place were key.
Marinate. Brown. Braise. Garnish.

I sliced 1 1/2 pounds of well marbled beef chuck into large cubes and doused it with a full bottle of Kendall Jackson Merlot. After adding fresh thyme, bay leaves, chopped carrots, onions, and garlic, I slid the red wine beef bath into the refrigerator to marinate for a few hours.

After 5  hours in the fridge, I brought the purple wine-tinted meat to room temperature and patted it dry. 

I sliced a few pieces of thick cut bacon into lardons, browned them in olive oil until crisp, and removed them to drain.  While the sizzling bacon fat was still spitting hot, I browned the beef in batches until the fat melted away and the flesh was beautifully caramelized.  I removed the beef to drain before tossing the marinated vegetables into the smoking crimson-stained bacon fat.

Once the vegetables browned, I slid the beef (with their juices) back into the pot, added a tablespoon of tomato paste, and let it saute until the tomato paste coated the beef.  When the tomato paste caramelized, I flambeed the mix with 1/3 cup brandy,  deglazed the pot with the reserved marinade, let it reduce by half, and added beef stock to barely cover the beef.  I brought the stew to a boil, reduced it a simmer, covered the pot, and slid it into a 325 degree oven to braise for 3 hours.

Michael and I adore eating  beef stew, beef in red wine, or beef bourguignon served over pasta. Specifically, perfectly cooked egg noodles.  Although I can make pasta in my sleep, I've never attempted egg noodles.  That was the challenge.  

While the bourguignon simmered in the oven, I made pasta.

I haven't followed a pasta recipe  in years. By trusting my instincts and feeling the dough, I usually know when it's ready to roll. On any given day, depending on weather conditions, the measurements for pasta dough can vary.

I sifted 2 cups of Weisenberger Mill unbleached all purpose flour onto a large wooden cutting board.  After forming a well in the center of the four, I added 1 whole egg, 2 egg yolks, a pinch of salt, a drizzle of olive oil, and a 1/3 cup water.  Using three fingers, I gently mixed the eggs with a bit of the flour before gradually pulling the remaining  flour into the center and mixing it until a loose, somewhat sticky, ball formed.  After adding a few drops of water to bring it together, I kneaded the dough for several minutes, formed it into a ball, covered it with plastic wrap, and let it rest for 30 minutes to allow the glutens to develope.

After clamping my pasta roller to the side of the kitchen island and preparing the working area, I was ready to roll. I cut the dough into thirds and floured it.  Starting with the lowest setting, I passed the dough through the rollers several times, increasing the setting after each pass until I reached the final setting and the pasta sheets were paper thin.

Freestyle.  After allowing the pasta sheets to dry for  a few minutes, I cut them into 4 inch squares before slicing the squares into 1/2 inch ribbons. I wasn't sure how to form egg noodles, so I simply wrapped the ribbons around a wooden spoon handle and slid them off onto floured dish towels. Unconventional. Not egg noodles. Not even close.  What the hell.  Who cared?  I finished rolling my curly pasta noodles and set them aside to dry.

Nothing can fill a home with warmth like a long simmering braise. Within an hour, amazing aromas seeped into every crevice of our old house, covering  the windows with delicate steam.  Heaven.

After 3 hours, I pulled the bourguignon from the oven to rest before removing the beef to finish the sauce. Classsically, the sauce is thickened with a beuure manie (kneaded butter and flour).  I wanted a bit more body and texture, so I pureed the braised vegetables in the beefy red wine stock and finished it with a few pats of butter for lusciousness. After tumbling the tender meat back into the sauce to warm through,  I pulled everything else together.

I brushed off a handful of small cremini mushrooms and tossed them into a hot skillet with butter, olive oil, and minced garlic. When they turned golden brown, I added blanched pearl onions, fresh parsley, salt, pepper, and let them rip until the onions were caramelized.

I dropped the pasta into heavily salted boiling water to cook for 7 minutes while Michael and I finished our glasses of wine.

Bring the beef.

I drained the steaming noodles, tossed them with butter, plated them, and topped them with gorgeous shreds of beef bourguignon.  After sprinking  the reserved crisp bacon lardons over the top, I scattered the sauteed mushrooms and pearl onions around our plates.

To balance the richness of the stew, I served a peppery watercress, artichoke, and celery leaf salad, dressed simply with fresh lemon juice, olice oil, salt, and pepper. Bright. Clean. Fresh.

The meat was ridiculously moist, tender, and deeply infused with the earthy tannins of the red wine. The buttery rich sauce dripped from the uncutous meat and oozed through the noodles until it puddled on our plates. Crisp bacon added salty crunch to the soft mushrooms and candied onions. Texture. Balance.
Crazy good.

At the same moment (without even noticing it) Michael and I both had moved the  beef slices to the sides of our plates. Although the sensual succulent meat was fabulous, it was all about the pasta, onions, bacon, mushrooms, and sauce. The noodles were perfectly al dente. Velvety and to the tooth.  Brilliant. After absorbing the rich sauce, they were meaty and soft with a wonderful mouthfeel.

Best batch of pasta I've ever conjured up.

I had a dream day in the kitchen. The world was my oyster. No deadlines. No worries. No glitter.

Just fun.

And good food.

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