Actually, Julia smiles in my kitchen every day. There is a picture of her that my wife found years before we met. She hung it up as a “kitchen icon” for culinary inspiration. The Julia Child icon remains in our kitchen to this day.
Since both my wife and I had to work late on Valentine’s Day, and we were both off on the Sunday prior, we decided to celebrate the day on Sunday instead. For our Valentine dinner, I went online and found Julia Child’s recipe for beef bourguignon. I had never seen the dish served and had certainly never tried to prepare it.
Well, it was quite an adventure, but well worth it. The recipe allows for one hour preparation time and six hours cooking time, so you can see that it is an all day affair. You can do a few other things around the house while the recipe is cooking, just don’t plan to be away from the house at all on the day you set out to make beef bourguignon! There are many steps to the process, but Julia lays them all out in an orderly way, easy to follow. You’ll have lots of pots to wash (some of them twice!) during the process.
I was exposed to new things during my culinary experiment. I learned about lardons, made from thick sliced bacon, simmered in water prior to sautéing in the frying pan. So much of the day was out of my ordinary custom of cooking. I have cooked with wine before, but this recipe called for 3 cups (that’s almost a whole bottle!) of red wine. There was the process of sautéing the stew meat prior to slow-cooking in the oven. There was the careful sautéing of vegetables, the preparation of the mushrooms, the meticulous caramelizing of pearl onions in beef stock – each done separately prior to combining into one magnificent dish! Of course, I used extra virgin olive oil and real butter – there is one thing I heartily agree with Julia on. I heard her in a TV interview in which she was asked about the use of butter. Her response was “I always use butter, and I never mention the other spread.”
While I was cooking that day, I recalled images of Julia in the kitchen on Public Television so many years ago. I remembered the scene in the movie, Julie and Julia, when Julie fell asleep while the bourguignon was in the oven, leading to great disappointment (I had a cup of coffee halfway through the process – I wanted no disappointments).
In the end, we had a wonderful French stew that was exquisite in flavor! I served it over basmati white rice, accompanied by steamed French-style whole green beans. My wife gave it 5 stars and an A-plus! In fact, it was my wife who said, “I think Julia is smiling today!” It was a most satisfying day and it was certainly worth the endeavor. I was reminded of my own statement that cooking, like poetry, is a wonderful kind of alchemy – you take ordinary ingredients and create something quite extraordinary. I heartily recommend Julia Child’s beef bourguignon to anyone who finds joy in cooking.