Cooking and eating through a new culture

Bringing out the Big Guns


Time to pull out all the stops, throw down the gauntlet and show what I’m made of. No apologies, no excuses. This is the time for me to rise to the challenge and prove my mettle…or at least cook a fucking fantastic meal for Rafa’s parents.

Lets just say, that I knew this would happen eventually. Not me just cooking a meal for them, but cooking for my life…or at least my good standing. I am a foreigner, in a foreign country, who followed a man she adored into a strange, new wonderful family. I am also an only child, who never quite took herself too seriously and has a wicked, sardonic sense of humor…and something was lost in translation. I am mortified beyond belief. The funny thing is, his parents were not the ones to take offense, but another family member. Being an only child limits my understanding of big families, let alone Latino ones, and all I know is that I need to repair the damage and the only way I know how, since communicating is still limited, is cooking.

So, who do you turn to when you want the ultimate meal?

Oh yeah! Time to channel my inner Julia cause it’s Boeuf Bourguinon time!…with a Costa Rican flare. Not only am I cooking this famous recipe but I am doing it ovenless, with a lot of talk and very little translation flying around.

Cooking a Julia with limited resources is a little like herding cats but it keeps me focused, and calm. The recipe itself is wonderfully basic, leaving me without having to improvise on anything. One of the hardest aspects of cooking for me is proportions. I have been single so long, basically cooking for myself, that bigger dinners leave me sweating. So to cover me and also use up whats here, I am also making salted, rosemary potatoes too. It’s not an advanced recipe but any Julia requires ample amounts of love and patience.

It’s time to get my lardon! (I’ve always wanted to write that). Now, I don’t care what kind of mood you are in, but when you smell wine soaking meat cooked in bacon fat simmering away, all is well with the world. I pace myself and cook, prep and clean as I go. I am orchestrating a divine symphony of flavors and each ingredient yields perfectly to my desire. I am in my groove.

Needless to say, it was a hit. Devoured by all to a chorus of “Que rico!” and “Delisico!” All my worries about not fitting in or being ostracized evaporated. It was a great meal and all is truly well with the world.

  • 9- to 10-inch, fireproof casserole dish , 3 inches deep
  • Slotted spoon
  • 6 ounces bacon (lardons)
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil or cooking oil
  • 3 pounds lean stewing beef , cut into 2-inch cubes
  • 1 sliced onion
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. pepper
  • 2 Tbsp. flour
  • 3 cups full-bodied, young red wine , such as a Chianti
  • 2 to 3 cups brown beef stock or canned beef bouillon
  • 1 Tbsp. tomato paste
  • 2 cloves mashed garlic
  • 1/2 tsp. thyme
  • Crumbled bay leaf
  • Blanched bacon rind
  • 18 to 24 small white onions , brown-braised in stock
  • 1 pound quartered fresh mushrooms , sautéed in butter
  • Parsley sprigs
Remove rind from bacon, and cut bacon into lardons(sticks, 1/4 inch thick and 1 1/2 inches long). Simmer rind and bacon for 10 minutes in 1 1/2 quarts of water. Drain and dry.Preheat oven to 450 degrees.Sauté the bacon in the oil over moderate heat for 2 to 3 minutes to brown lightly. Remove to a side dish with a slotted spoon. Set casserole aside. Reheat until fat is almost smoking before you sauté the beef.Dry the stewing beef in paper towels; it will not brown if it is damp. Sauté it, a few pieces at a time, in the hot oil and bacon fat until nicely browned on all sides. Add it to the bacon.In the same fat, brown the sliced vegetables. Pour out the sautéing fat.Return the beef and bacon to the casserole and toss with the salt and pepper. Then sprinkle on the flour and toss again to coat the beef lightly with the flour. Set casserole uncovered in middle position of preheated oven for 4 minutes. Toss the meat and return to oven for 4 minutes more. (This browns the flour and covers the meat with a light crust.) Remove casserole, and turn oven down to 325 degrees.Stir in the wine, and enough stock or bouillon so that the meat is barely covered. Add the tomato paste, garlic, herbs, and bacon rind. Bring to simmer on top of the stove. Then cover the casserole and set in lower third of preheated oven. Regulate heat so liquid simmers
very slowly for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily.While the beef is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms. Set them aside until needed.When the melt is tender, pour the contents of the casserole into a sieve set over a saucepan. Wash out the casserole and return the beef and bacon to it. Distribute the cooked onions and mushrooms over the meat.Skim fat off the sauce. Simmer sauce for a minute or two, skimming off additional fat as it rises. You should have about 2 1/2 cups of sauce thick enough to coat a spoon lightly. If too thin, boil it down rapidly. If too thick, mix in a few tablespoons of stock or canned bouillon. Taste carefully for seasoning. Pour the sauce over the meat and vegetables. Recipe may be completed in advance to this point.For immediate serving:Covet the casserole and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes, basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce several times. Serve in its casserole, or arrange the stew on a platter surrounded with potatoes, noodles, or rice, and decorated with parsley.For later serving: When cold, cover and refrigerate. About 15 to 20 minutes before serving, bring to the simmer, cover, and simmer very slowly for 10 minutes, occasionally basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce.


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