Friday, October 30, 2009

Bookclub 2009: "My Life in France" meets "Savor the Moment"

As I had mentioned before in a previous entry, last month I offered to host our October Bookclub meeting at Chez Miskew. The book selected this month was “My Life in France” by Julia Child and my plan for the menu was to make something inspired by Julia as well as a dish (or two) from “Savor the Moment."
Now, if you have seen the movie Julie & Julia or are familiar with Julia Child you are probably aware of a particular dish that's synonymous with her cuisine. Yes, I am talking about Boeuf Bourguignon. I am a big fan of this dish, making it AND eating it. It also generally garners rave reviews from my guests. It is made with an entire bottle of red wine (usually Burgundy), sautéed mushrooms, carrots, bacon, thyme and pearl onions. The recipe I use also calls for some Cognac which gives it a wonderful, rich flavor. While it is absolutely delicious, the only problem I’ve had involves the meat called for in the recipe. Beef chuck tends to dry out the longer you cook it. So while the soup itself tastes better the longer it cooks, the meat - not so much. Enter Thomas Keller, culinary god and chef/creator of world-renowned, Michelin 3 star restaurants French Laundry and Per Se. The month the movie was released, as an homage to Julia Child, he shared his version of this classic French dish with Wine Spectator Magazine and made it with short ribs. I was so excited when I saw this – problem solved! The beautiful thing about short ribs is the longer you cook them the better they get. In fact, they need to be cooked at least 4 hours in order to reach the perfect consistency; at which point they literally melt in your mouth. So that was the top secret, experimental recipe at my dinner party the previous weekend. I used my tried and true Boeuf Bourguignon recipe, and used short ribs instead of the beef chuck. I am happy to report it turned out perfectly both times.
Because there are a few vegetarian girlies in Bookclub, I wanted to have an alternate, non-meat dish as well. (Although, come to find out, the Boeuf Bourguignon was fabulous enough to get a few non-meat eaters to convert – at least for the night!) I had been wanting to make the Golden Butternut Squash Lasagne (pg. 195) and being as the weather had dipped below 90 degrees last week, it seemed like the perfect choice. One of the great things about this dish is the filling, consisting of roasted butternut squash and rosemary infused milk. I opted to use fresh rosemary which gave it a fresher flavor. This recipe can also be made a day or so in advance. The day of Bookclub, all I had to do was cook up the noodles, assemble the lasagna and whip up the topping. Let me assure you, this dish is worth every amount of effort that goes into it and then some. I know I have previously mentioned my disdain for vegetarian dishes but this one was almost enough to convert ME. It has a creamy texture and a wonderful sweetness as well. You absolutely have to make this dish at some point during the holiday season - it will definitely be making an appearance at my Thanksgiving dinner and, judging by the requests for seconds, it seemed to be a big hit with the girls as well, vegetarians and carnivores alike.
As for the wines, because I know you were wondering, I decided to have a little pairing contest. With the help of Bob Leone, Manager of Crown Wine & Spirits, I selected 3 different wines from 3 very different areas of the world: a Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley in Oregon, a Shiraz from the Barossa Valley in Australia and a Rioja from Spain. Now you might ask, “Where is the French wine? It is Beouf Bourguignon after all.” I selected the other wines, frankly, based on value. European wines are currently quite costly and with a nice sized guest list, people requesting suggestions of wines to bring and a husband in commercial real estate I decided to go with great values. I chose great wine-making areas and stuck with what they did best. I set out the 3 wine selections on each table and let my guests experiment with tasting. By the third wine, these girls were getting pretty darn good with their tasting notes. You might think the Pinot Noir would’ve been a sure bet to win the best pairing. Boeuf Bourguignon is made with Pinot Noir after all; however, the hands down winner of the evening was...drumroll…the 2006 Kaesler Shiraz from Australia!!! The luscious fruit flavors of ripe black cherry and some nice spice really complemented the dish beautifully. I think the short ribs gave the Boeuf Bourguignon an extra layer of decadence that required something with more body to it. I will tell you though, we had a lot of fun in the process!
As for dessert, I served Crème Brulee with fresh raspberries and the Deep Chocolate Raspberry Cake (pg. 253) from “Savor the Moment.” I made the Crème Brulee the night before and carmelized the sugar right before serving. It turned out perfectly creamy and I got to use my new, bad-ass Home-Depot blowtorch. Despite having a few glasses of wine, it worked out just fine. I love digging into a Crème Brulee while the sugar is still warm and the custard is nice and chilled – YUM! The cake was also delicious: rich, dense and veeery chocolately. It was made with mostly semisweet chocolate with creamy chocolate ganache frosting and luscious, raspberry filling. To be honest, I could have pulled the cake out of the oven a few minutes earlier – it was a lit-tle on the dry side. But as Julia Child famously said, "Make no apologies!" The cake did go very well with the creamy Crème Brulee. Judging from what was left, I think the two desserts were pretty well received.
After going around the table and taking turns sharing everyone’s most memorable dining experience (ranging from dessert at J. Alexander’s to a meal on the Orient Express) the evening drew to a close. I sent everyone home with a CD of music inspired by my trip to France in May and offered a selection of Halloween candy to go. It was such a wonderful evening enjoying food, wine and lots of laughs with some fabulous girls. I think Julia definitely would have approved!

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