Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The First Flambé

I am a self-confessed francophile, and my obsession runs deep. I might even love France almost as much as I love the South. I dunno; that's a little extreme I spose. I've spent way more time in the South than I ever did in Europe, but, they do have something in common, the French and Southerners that is: they like to relax, enjoy, share a delicious meal with friends and family, relish the sheer beauty of the day.

In any case, my story is as cliché as the rest. I was lucky enough, very lucky, to visit Paris as a teenager. I became enamored, of course, by the life, the food, its appreciation for simplicity with a tacitly complicated way of getting there (just like Southern cooks!). Walks on the Seine, a rainy day in Montmarte with a perfect strawberry tart, my first-and-only-perfect steak au poivre inciting a lifetime quest for the same steak, just like at that one restaurant, Angelique? Maybe I made that name up. I've searched and searched for it, online and other ways. I should probably just ask Jordan; it was her father who took us with him for his annual summer trip to the Geneva Convention. I think I will.

Sixteen and gallavanting around France with my two best girlfriends. Is it any wonder my undying amour pour France began that sweet summer? Did I mention we even got to end our school year nearly a full month before all the other students? I guess this was education after all – Nelson Mandela speaking at the UN (wow, although I can't remember a thing he said); a strange man masturbating in the street (ew grody plus freaky); art at the Louvre, the Musée D'Orsay, Notre Dame. Man, art just saturates that city; our subways do NOT look like that. Melted hot French milk chocolate with a dollop of fresh sweet cream and a cinnamon stick – a masterpiece in itself. We woke up at noon everyday to fresh croissants and jam. So ordinary, so fresh, so divine. You just don't get that anywhere else in the world. You really don't.

Seems I've gotten a little off course, but isn't that the point? Food has a story. Jon is intrigued by these "cravings" I get. "What made you think of making that?" he asks. It's usually a time, a memory, a feeling I'm craving more than the food itself. Isn't it like that for everyone? Isn't that why people get fat?

I wanted to feel France, French, so when I saw Ina Garten, a francophile herself, making Beef Bourgignon on an episode of Barefoot Contessa, I couldn't wait to while away a Sunday, drink some daytime wine, and flambé my first stew.

Here's Ina's recipe.

This is my new comfort fave, even though it could use a little refinement. Few things are perfect the first time. There is lots of bacon – which you clearly don't want to mess with – LOTS of mushrooms, which I can deal with but some people like my Jon would rather avoid, and also a shit ton of pearl onions. I don't know about those little devils. Makes me feel a little like I'm eating mothballs, only sweeter. Or flower bulbs. I guess they are kind of flower bulbs, right? I'm going to get some fresh baby onions from the farmers market and sauté them in butter first– mmm, that sounds better.

As for my first flambé, I was nervous about lighting liquor on fire, on top of a highly combustible furnace; it goes against everything I've ever been taught about kitchen safety. But the French are unconcerned with such trivial matters. I felt like a real chef for a hot second. My house didn't burn down. And I even used the airplane bottle of Courvoisier ( I'd wondered what desperation would drive me to drink such poison) that my sis gave me as one day of my Twelve Shots of Christmas gift. Lesson learned: I will continue to use alcohol in food as much as possible, particularly alcohol with bacon. They both lend a depth, richness, the velvety melt-in-your-mouth butter gravy that beef bourgignon should have, that as many dishes as possible should have. Pour the stew right on top of the best crusty bread you can find. A fine antidote for my Parisian pinings.

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