I don't speak French

So I know I'm supposed to be blogging about baking and bourbon, of which the bourbon part has been severely neglected, and this is actually cooking with wine. But just bear with me for a while, because this meal is worth it.

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I've had a recent desire to get better at cooking... and that's really weird for me. I've always been okay-ish at it, but other than big holiday meals I really just tolerated it. Baking has been the thing I truly love to do. So i'm not entirely sure where this new compulsion is coming from, but I'm pretty sure it has something to do with the boyfriend. You see... he's an incredible cook. He's the guy who throws things together without a recipe and it ends up tasting better than anything you've ever had ever. And his smoking and grilling skills are to die for. So while I've always been a capable cook, I haven't really done much cooking for him over the past 5 years since we've been together. Its just too intimidating! He's so good at it and he makes fancy things and uses his zester a lot and makes his own barbecue rubs and stuff. So its part intimidation and part resignation that he's just better at it. So why not just let him do it while I sit back and enjoy the spoils?

I think I've also been inspired by those sped up cooking tutorial videos that litter my Facebook page - they make everything look so easy and tasty. A few weeks ago, I came upon one of those very videos showing how to make a balsamic chicken and potatoes thing in a cast iron skillet. It looked delicious and pretty, and I adore balsamic chicken. So I told the boyfriend I was going to cook for him the following week, and I got to work on it. And by "work" I mean obsessing over the minute details of the recipe, reading hundreds of Facebook comments looking for tips and critiques that would ensure it didn't turn out disgusting and reading about which stone-ground mustard would be best. Other than the potatoes taking WAY longer to cook than the recipe said, the dinner turned out scrumptious and the boyfriend was happy.

My next venture was a Cajun shrimp... also the result of a sped up video tutorial. I'm not really a seafood person, but the boyfriend really really is. So I figured I'd try it out, and did plenty of research on that too. This dish actually led to a really interesting trip to the grocery store. My 7 year old son was under the weather, so I let him go shopping with me wearing his fleece zip up hooded Christmas jammies and signature cowboy boots. He was quite the spectacle. It was made more interesting by the fact that I, because of a series of events that day, was shopping in a grocery store that I never go to. So I had no clue where to find anything. And one of the ingredients I needed was white wine - I drink red and haven't one clue about white. So my son was helping me try to find a Pinot Grigio in this huge wine department by loudly repeating over and over again as he read the labels, "Pino Grigiooooo.. Pinot Grigiooooo.. PINOT GRIGIOOO..." Then he had a colorful conversation with the employee who was stocking the wine in that very aisle about said Pinot Grigio, talking like a little expert. I was pretty much waiting for the police to show up and make me blow into a PBT. No one must have called, even though plenty of people stared, because had they made that call they would have had plenty of time to find me. Between not knowing my way around and spending 25 minutes trying to find the right kind of shrimp (again - I don't do seafood) that trip was a solid hour. But the meal also turned out delicious, so it was all worth it.

Fast forward to a week ago-ish. Its 2am, I'm at work, and I'm come across another freaking sped up video tutorial. This was for something called Beef Bourguignon. I was intrigued and it looked yummy, so I started looking through all of the video comments. Then I expanded a bit and googled the dish, finding out that there are a lot of ways to make it and that the french consider most of those methods to be bastardizing it. So I started looking at recipes and blogs that showed the more traditional recipes and came upon this one:

http://www.frenchtoday.com/blog/beef-bourguignon-recipe

This recipe takes 3 days to complete, and it uses things like boquet garni and lardons and they spell it beouf instead of beef. But by this point I was on a mission to make this stupid thing, so I did my obsessive research in the wee hours of the mornings during my shifts that week and told the boyfriend to expect a 3-day-prep French dish. Because I just HAVE TO escalate things.

DAY ONE: WINE

In a big pot, combine the wine, carrots, onions, bay leaves, garlic and the bouquet garni. In my bouquet I just used thyme and parsley. In hindsight, I should've tied the bay leaves in with it. They're really hard to find once its cooked, and you really don't want to eat a bay leaf. Lesson learned.

The writer gave some good advice: boil the alcohol out, then let it cool before adding the meat. That way you get the good flavor of the wine without the meat tasting like alcohol. The nice guy at Total Wine helped me pick out a reasonably priced Pinot Noir, which is apparently the same thing as Burgundy, which is what the "bourguignon" part means. So that worked out well.

Fun fact: It's now known in our house as "Beef Borgnine" because that's easier to say.

While the marinade is cooling, cut the meat into cubes. We were fortunate enough to have a beautiful 4lb cross rib roast from a local, grass fed cow in the freezer. Had that not been the case, I would have gone with a chuck roast to save money.

Once the marinade is cool and the meat is cubed, put them all in a big dish or deep tray to marinade in the fridge overnight. It says "non-reactive" so I believe that means anything but metal. I used a plastic marinating dish thing.

DAY TWO: YOUR HOUSE WILL SMELL INCREDIBLE

This is the day that you sear the meat, cook the bacon, onions and mushrooms and add the rest of the ingredients. Then you let it all simmer together. I really love the way the recipe is written here - the writer takes the time to explain why you do things like pat the meat dry before searing, and why you don't salt the meat prior to searing it. I feel like understanding the why behind these processes will help me to be a better cook. And maybe even eventually cook without a recipe like the talented boyfriend.

Side note #1: I didn't use tomato paste. When I was obsessively researching different recipes, some fancy chef said that the acid in the tomato would negatively effect the texture of the meat or something. So I didn't use it.

Side note #2: The recipe calls for 3 squares of

chocolate, so that's what I added. The chocolate smell was immediately apparent, and once it melted in it seemed to completely change the flavor of the sauce. I thought the effect was supposed to be more subtle, so I started to worry and decided to scour the comments some more while the sauce simmered. Lo and behold, I came across a guy who explained that squares of french chocolate are tiny. GHIRADELLI CHOCOLATE SQUARES ARE NOT TINY. BECAUSE THIS IS AMERICA AND WE GO BIG. So I had inadvertently added waaaaaaay more chocolate that I was supposed to. Luckily, the chocolate flavor ended up mostly cooking out and the sauce ended up tasting incredible in spite of my screw up.

Side note #3: You'll create a lot of smoke when you sear all that meat and cook the bacon. Make sure your significant other isn't home for that, or they might mock your cooking skills and threaten to call the fire department on you and go on and on about how firemen are heroes. Whatever.

DAY THREE: EASY

This is the best day. Reheat and eat!

I steamed up some red potatoes and served it all with crusty french bread. I wanted the beef to be the star of the show, not the side dishes, so I opted for simple. Our friends brought a spinach salad and we served it all up with some actual Bordeaux wine.

Holy CRAP was it good! I knew it was going to be good when the meat fell apart as I plated it with a wooden spoon. The meat was tender and flavorful, and the sauce was heavenly.

So we ate and ate, then had bread pudding with whiskey sauce for dessert... because if you're going to feast, do it until you hate yourself. That's my motto.