I'm not sure I'm ever going to get around to making Beef Bourguingnon. Last summer it was all the rage after the release of Julie and Julia, one of Julia Child's most famous dishes. But... it was July. Beef Bourguingnon is a heavy beef stew, one that requires leaving your oven on for four hours. In the insane heat of my un-airconditioned apartment, there was no way that was on the menu last summer. I told myself come winter I will make it. Somehow though, the winter slipped by me. I decided I must hurry up, so this last week I rented The French Chef off of Netflix, and watched the very first episode of Julia's famous show, watched her saute and chop and roast until she had a perfect dinner. It's a classic and I highly recommend you watch it.
I would have gotten down to work, but I don't know if you saw what the weather was like in NY this past weekend, but it was beautiful. Fifty degrees, sunny, birds chirping, and all I could think about were flowery dresses and Spring. Had it been rainy, hanging out in my apartment all afternoon as my dinner roasted would have been lovely, but it was sunny, and I could not remain indoors. Sorry readers, maybe some rainy chilly spring weekend I'll tackle this French comfort food, but this weekend I went to a coffee shop on the Upper East Side, read the paper and sipped an iced cappuccino.
I did however, still require dinner that night. Tucking my paper into my bag, I decided to try my luck shopping at Citrellia, a gourmet shop in the East 70's. It has that fancy food shop thing where everything is arranged really pretty, which makes you suspicious that they are overcharging you. Luckily, the things I bought where comparatively well priced compared to what I've paid in other places, so I got out of there with only one impulse purchase. Good for me.
With the nice weather (and the approach of swimsuit season) I wanted veggies, and if I couldn't make stew I would make soup. A few weeks ago I took a class in soups at the Brooklyn Kitchen, and didn't even come close to fainting this time. We made three soups in class, a Roasted Butternut Squash (too autumn) an Almond Gazapacho (way too summer) and a Mushroom Barley soup. Perfect. The root veggies of winter, with a hint of what's to come with a leek. The barley would give it a fuller texture, while providing amino acids and fiber. It was healthy, and full of flavor. The class was full of good tips, like how to properly clean leeks and mushrooms (let soak in cold water for a minute, then agitate. Sand falls right to the bottom) and that if you are running around with way too much to do in the kitchen while your veggies are sweating, and you just aren't going to get to them before they burn, throw in half a ladle of stock. You're going to add it later anyway and it buys you a bit of time.
Despite my not making Julia's dish this time around, I learned something from her show, and that was how to tell how fresh your mushrooms are, and if the stem is usable. If the flesh of the mushroom cap meets the stem underneath, it is a very fresh mushroom and you can incorporate the stem. If the flesh has separated and the gills are showing (the edge of the cap should still be curled under), you should probably remove the stem and throw it away. The cap is still usable, however. If the edge of the cap is flipping out, that is not a fresh mushroom.
Mushroom Barley SoupAdapted from Chef Brendan McDermott
Ingredients:-2 tablespoons olive oil-1 tablespoon unsalted butter-1 pound of hulled barley-2 carrots, sliced-1 leek, diced and cleaned-2 stalks of celery, sliced-4 cloves of garlic, diced- 20 oz of mushrooms, sliced-1/4 cup of white wine (optional)-2 Quarts of Stock or Water (The class used veggie, I used beef, go with your gut here)-Soy Sause to taste-1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary-3/4 teaspoon dried thyme
Directions:In large stock pot heat oil until hot but not smoking. Add oil and butter. When bubbles subside, saute mushrooms in batches until tender (about 4 minutes per batch). Set aside.
Add carrots to the pot and sweat for 3 minutes. Add celery and garlic and sweat for 2 minutes. Add leeks and sweat for 1-2 minutes. If necessary, deglaze with white wine, and let reduce for 2 minutes.
Add barley and stir. Add the stock and the reserved mushrooms, with any liquid that might have accumulated. Simmer 10 to 15 minutes. During the last 5 minutes of cooking, and herbs and soy sauce.
That's it! If my directions seem less then scientific, you should see the notes I was given in class. That 1 pound of hulled barley? It was given to me as 1# Barley. Thank god I thought to ask. The main idea here is that it's soup, you can do whatever you want with it. I didn't use 2 carrots, I used 1, because I don't really like carrots. This recipe is a great template to do basically whatever you want. I'm thinking about deglazing with red wine next time and then replacing a cup of stock with red wine. I may even incorporate meat at some point, cause I'm just that crazy.
One other fantastic thing about the arrival of spring. As I strolled around Citrellia, looking at its fancy food, I spotted it from across the room. One of those seasonal happy moments when your taste buds are about to know it's spring. I spotted Fleur de Maquis cheese. It is entirely possible this cheese is available all year long, but my affair with it is strictly a March and April fling. It is a sheep's milk cheese, hand made in France and rolled in rosemary, fennel seeds, juniper berries, and a few chilies. It is soft and slightly sweet, and the herbs make you think of lamb and asparagus and that first breeze of the year that carries the smell of grass on it. It makes you want to pop open a bottle of wine, cut some fresh bread, and wiggle your toes in that grass, all while wearing a pretty dress with flowers on it. Welcome spring. Sorry Julia.