Beef

Ragoût D’Agneau aux Artichauts

Artichokes

Shawn and I went to the library on Saturday. Wanna see what I got?

The Country Cooking of France

Ooh. Ahh.

The Country Cooking of France by Anne Willan is a book of, obviously, French country food. All recipes from and in the style of what they eat in Provence. Beautiful photography, incredible recipes and great stories that really get into the daily living in the French countryside. Butchers, cheese shops, farming, fishing, hunting for truffles. Earthy, hearty, unpretentious foods. I do not want to give this book back in two weeks.

Ragoût D'Agneau aux Artichauts Ingredients
Ragoût D'Agneau aux Artichauts

I am something of a Francophile. I have always dreamed about going to France, namely Paris. I used to think the best way to “do” France would be to go for an entire year; that way you have the time to take in everything the country has to offer. The cafes, the museums, the architecture. Montmartre, Lyon, the Rivera, Bordeaux, St. Germain. I want to go. So. Much.

But, until that happens, making French food will have to do. I adore French food, particularly their rustic, country foods. There is something so natural about those Provencal dishes; a lot of stews and soups, breads and pastries, unfussy and slow-cooked with time, love and patience. And gobs and gobs of cheese. I always loved that the French end meals with cheese platters; something we Americans have gotten backwards since we tend to start a meal with cheese platters, with appetizers.

Ragoût D'Agneau aux Artichauts

This cookbook is pages upon pages of truly French food. I mean, there’s a chapter called “Frogs and Snails”. THAT’S French.

The book is divided into main ingredients; Poultry, Beef and Lamb, Savory Tarts, Vegetables, Breads. Every recipe has its proper French name, as well as a translation in English. It talks about where recipes originated from, why you prepare certain dishes in certain ways, recommendations for dishes to serve them with and even advice on how to store them if you’re cooking dishes ahead of time. It talks about each Provence, what type of dishes they’re known for, how the climate affects their vegetable planting and crops. It even goes into detail on annual festivals in certain areas and their traditions.

I knew that I wanted to take on one of the recipes this week for dinner. After flipping through the book a few times, I settled on Ragoût D’Agneau aux Artichauts, basically a lamb and artichoke stew. Yum. I also decided to do a warm bean salad on the side, with a red wine vinaigrette. So much deliciousness.

Ragoût D'Agneau aux Artichauts

This dish was really a bit thinner than most stews, but still thicker than a soup (a stoup!). White wine and beef broth flavored by the garlic, meat, tomatoes and artichokes. I tossed in some fingerling potatoes just for good measure and because I love potatoes in stew.

The dish is supposed to be made with lamb, but this being The Humble Gourmet, and lamb costing an arm and a leg, I chose to go with beef instead. Still delicious, though I’m sure the lamb would have added a whole other level of depth to the broth. Seriously though, why is lamb so expensive? Who decided that the most delicious ingredients have to also be the most expensive? If I were making this for just Shawn and myself, I probably would have gone ahead and got the lamb, but I was making this dish for 5 people. 5 people stew = way more lamb than I could ever afford for one Monday night dinner.

Ragoût D'Agneau aux Artichauts

There is definitely a distinct taste to French food. The wine in the broth really sweetened things up and kept it from being too heavy or salty. The artichokes were a great addition, a nice little variety from the meat/potatoes/carrot/celery stews I’m used to (Irish-style). The recipe called for baby artichokes, but those can be hard to find in the Bay Area this time of year, so I went with regular artichokes and just peeled them down to the inner leaves. Next time, I will definitely go for the smaller artichokes, because the larger ones are just a little more fibrous than I usually like. I also peeled the stems of the artichokes and added them into the broth. They had a much more concentrated artichoke flavor, like a slightly tougher artichoke heart. Very good.

White Beans with Red Wine Vinaigrette

For the bean salad, I went with regular white beans. I wanted to use fava, but my grocery store didn’t carry them dry, and I prefer to cook my own beans to canned in this type of dish. I did a quick soak on the beans, which is a great method if you’re looking to make beans for dinner but either forgot or didn’t have time to soak them overnight. Simply put the beans in a large pot of salted water. Bring the water to a rolling boil over high heat. Let the beans boil for 2 minutes, then move them off the heat and let sit in the pot for another 10 minutes. Drain and cook accordingly. It does the same work an overnight soak does in about 20 minutes; very handy little trick to have. Be sure to pick out any stones or other oddities from your beans; you’d be amazed how many strange little rocks I’ve found in bags of dried beans.

Well, after this little Monday night jaunt to Provence, I can tell you for certain that my desire to travel to France went from “desperately-want-to-go” to “oh-my-god-someone-buy-me-a-plane-ticket-now-I-MUST-GO!”. While I wait for my first-class ticket (you are sending it, right?), I’ll just indulge in some pain au chocolat and café noisette. Ne pas vous joindre à moi?  THG

Ragoût D'Agneau aux Artichauts

Ragoût D’Agneau aux Artichauts

(adapted from Anne Willan’s The Country Cooking of France)

1 4- to 5-pound lamb breast or shoulder OR stewing beef

salt and pepper to taste

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 Tbsp. flour

1 cup dry white wine

2 cups beef or veal broth, plus more as needed

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 large tomato, seeded and roughly chopped

1 Tbsp. dried thyme

juice of 1 lemon

8 to 10 baby artichokes OR 4-5 medium artichokes

1 lb. fingerling potatoes

2 Tbsp. fresh parsley, finely chopped

2 lemons, cut into wedges

Trim the meat and cut into chunks.  Pat dry the meat and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven over high heat.  Working in batches, brown the meat on all sides, about 5 minutes per batch.  Remove each batch with a straining spoon and set aside.

Over medium heat, whisk the flour into the remaining olive oil until brown, about 3 minutes.  Add the wine and bring to a boil.  Add the beef broth, garlic, tomato and dried thyme.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add the meat and push down so all the meat is completely submerged in the broth.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and cover.  Simmer over medium-low heat for 1 hour.

In a large bowl, fill up halfway with cold water and add the lemon juice.  Trim the stem from the artichokes.  Cut off the dried end and peel the outside layer.  Cut into chunks and add to the lemon water.  Cut the artichokes in half across the equator.  Peel back the tough leaves to the center.  Cut into quarters lengthwise.  Cut out the furry thistle (this section is inedible).  Immediately add the cut artichoke hearts to the bowl of lemon water.  Set aside.

Wash the fingerling potatoes and cut in half lengthwise.  Add to a bowl of cold water.  Set aside.

When the meat is tender, drain the artichokes and potatoes and add them to the Dutch oven.  Add more broth to cover if necessary.  Increase heat to medium and cook, covered, until artichokes and potatoes are tender, about 30 minutes.

Skim off any excess fat on the surface of the pot.  If the broth is too thin, increase the heat and boil it down to the desired thickness.  Remove from heat.  Stir in the parsley.  Serve immediately.

Serves 6-8

Warm White Bean Salad with Red Wine Vinaigrette

1 lb. dried white beans, soaked

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1 whole shallot

1 bunch fresh sage and 1 bunch fresh thyme, tied together (bouquet garni)

salt and pepper to taste

8-10 cups water

Vinaigrette:

2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

1 shallot, roughly chopped

1/2 cup red wine vinegar

1 1/2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard

1 Tbsp. fresh parsley, finely chopped

salt and pepper to taste

1/2 cup olive oil plus 1 tsp.

In a large pot, bring beans, garlic, shallot, bouquet garni, salt and pepper and water to a rolling boil.  Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until beans are tender, about 45 minutes.  Drain and set aside.

In a small saucepan, heat 1 tsp. olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add garlic and shallot and cook until tender, about 5 minutes.  Add red wine vinegar and bring to a boil.  Reduce vinegar by halt.  Drain vinegar into a large measuring cup.  Whisk in mustard, parsley and salt and pepper.  While vigorously whisking, add in olive oil.  Whisk until emulsified.

Pour vinaigrette over beans and toss to coat.  Serve warm.

Serves 6-8

Simple Beef Pho

Simple Beef Pho

Alright, so I have confessed my deep-running distaste for all things pie.  It felt good to get that off my chest, though I’m sure the backlash will be brutal. 

Smile

Simple Beef Pho Ingredients

But for today, I wanted to talk about something that I absolutely love: soup.  I love soup, really.  Cream soups, bisques, broths, noodle soups, wonton soups, anything really.  I have several different restaurants that I love to get a particular soup from.  San Francisco Soup Company, a chain in the Bay Area, has the most delicious Tomato Bisque ever.  So smooth and creamy and rich, I could eat gallons of it.  In San Leandro, there is a small Greek restaurant called Luke’s Grill.  It has the best avegolemono, a lemon/chicken/rice soup.  It’s made with egg yolks which gives a super velvety, thick consistency to the broth, and the lemon really brightens up the flavor of the chicken and rice, which could be fairly bland on its own.  It’s such an unexpected taste, to have a lemon flavored savory soup, but it works so well, you will want to order it in every Greek restaurant you step into.  Incredibly filling but refreshing.

Lemongrass and Ginger

Right next door to Luke’s is Le Soleil.  Le Soleil is a Vietnamese restaurant that serves fresh spring rolls, Vietnamese coffees, vermicelli plates and Pho.  Pho, for those who have never had it, is a rice noodle soup served in a very light and specially seasoned broth.  It comes in all sorts of flavors, the most popular though seem to be chicken, veggie and pork.  It’s a great soup, and Le Soleil’s is particularly good.  Gingery, sweet broth with an assortment of fresh veggies, just barely cooked through.  The dish is almost big enough for two (or one incredibly hungry blogger) and it’s generally very inexpensive (Shawn and I can usually eat for under $20).

Sliced Beef

So for all the dozens and dozens of bowls of Pho I have eaten over the years, I’ve never attempted to make it.  I always figured that the broth would be too difficult to figure out, that I would have to search down expensive, foreign ingredients, and that it would take hours of simmering and stewing to get everything just perfect.  I don’t know why I thought that was the case, but nevertheless, I convinced myself that it would be better to not try my hand at it.

Simple Pho Spices

But then this month, while perusing the newest issue of Bon Appétit, I stumbled across this recipe: Faux Pho.  An easy, quick, simple way of preparing Pho at home, and making it with beef, which I had yet to try.  Well, I absolutely had to try it.

Simple Beef Pho

I added my own spin to the dish.  First, I substituted lemongrass for the onion; none of my family are onion eaters, so I omit them from most recipes.  The lemongrass give it a nice little kick and really helps to flavor the oils before adding in the broth.  I also omitted the anise star, but that was because I didn’t have any; next time I would definitely add it in.  I also added in some sweet potatoes for depth and texture, and green snap peas for crunch.

Sweet Potatoes and Snap Peas

I decided to follow the recipes suggestion to use Raman noodles instead of rice noodles.  I figured with the heartiness of the beef, Raman would go better than the light and subtly-flavored rice noodles.  I just used regularly packaged Raman noodles (Ichiban) and boiled them in plain water; the broth would provide plenty of flavoring for them without using those overly-processed-super-salty packaged seasonings.  I finished the bowls off with a lime wedge and a handful of bean sprouts (which my sister Caiti calls “crunchy water”.  Yeah, she’s a little weird.).

This soup was so flavorful and so delicious, I know it will work its way into our regular rotation.  Which is fine by me: definitely always on the lookout for some new, delicious soups.  But I’m sure you’ve already figured that out.  THG

Simple Beef Pho

Simple Beef Pho

(Based on this recipe)

1 tsp. olive oil

1 stalk of lemongrass, trimmed and sliced thinly

4 cloves of garlic, crushed

1 3” piece of ginger, thinly sliced

1 tsp. red pepper flakes

4 cups organic beef broth

2 cups water

1 cinnamon stick

2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and diced

2 cups green snap peas, stringed

4 packages instant Raman noodles, boiled to al dente and drained

2 1/4 lb. piece of beef round, sliced on diagonal to 1/8”

Bean sprouts

2 limes, quartered

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat until almost smoking.  Add lemongrass, garlic, ginger and red pepper flakes to oil.  Cook until garlic is browned and lemongrass becomes translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add broth, water and cinnamon stick; heat to a rolling boil.  Reduce heat to low and add sweet potatoes.  Simmer while flavors meld and sweet potatoes cook, about 10 minutes.  Add snap peas and cook another 2 minutes.  Remove pot from heat.  Add beef and cook until sides are browned and centers pink, about 30 seconds.  Spoon broth, veggies and beef over Raman noodles in soup bowls.  Garnish with bean sprouts and lime wedges.

Serves 4-6