In a stew

My emotions have been all over the place these last couple of months and I’ve found it so hard to get my blogging mojo back. I try not to be an oversharer on my blog, but I consider many of you as friends I’ve never met, and I really want to explain my absence and apologise for not having visited all your lovely blogs for a while. I’ve missed this little corner of my world!
My lovely, funny, generous dad passed away 5 weeks ago from cancer. This beef bourguignon stew was the last meal I cooked for him. Dad loved it. I’ve made it a couple of times since, and I’ve thought of him every time I’ve eaten it. I miss you dad.

[Recipe 1] BEEF BOURGUIGNON without WINE
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I set myself a goal to cook up a flavoursome stew, minus the merlot, and this alcohol-free bourguignon came about after much experimentation.
Beef bourguignon without wine? Mais non! C’est impossible! Au contraire mon ami, it is not only possible, but trés tasty.
My recipe is loosely adapted from Stephanie’s in the Cook’s Companion and Margaret Fulton’s from her 1974 masterpiece The Complete Margaret Fulton. I doubled the orange peel, swapped the bacon for speck, and replaced the wine (and Margaret’s brandy!) with two secret ingredients – verjuice, which adds a sweet wine-like tartness; and a good slosh of balsamic vinegar. The other key to a great wine-free stew is full-flavoured stock. I squirreled away some home-made beef broth (thanks Tracey!) a while ago and this stew seemed a worthy reason to crack it open.
Regular readers will know I wouldn’t dream of making a casserole to serve 4. While the oven is cranked up, it makes sense to cook a huge quantity of Beef bourguignon (in two pots if necessary – see notes). It freezes beautifully, and can be put to use in the most beautiful Beef and mushroom pithiviers. Pithiviers are basically fancy French pies made with two layers of flaky puff pastry. You can use store-bought puff, but if you’ve not tried making your own, you simply must! Rough Puff is the easiest, quickest pastry to throw together; and you will never reach for the Pampas again, I promise! Mine is adapted from Clotilde’s recipe on Chocolate and Zucchini, the first food blog I ever followed and still one of my absolute favourites.
Have a lovely week. I’m off to catch up on some serious blog reading. xxx

Beef Bourguignon and mash. One Equals Two[Recipe 1] Beef bourguignon without wine

Ingredients (serves 12; ie. 3 meals for 4 people):
2–4 tablespoons olive oil
400g (14 oz) speck, rind and large areas of fat removed, chopped
1 kilo (2 lb) shallots (or pearl/pickling onions), peeled
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 kg (6 lb) blade steak, trimmed of large fat, cut into 5cm/2″ cubes
2 tablespoons (30g/1 oz) butter
2 tablespoons plain (all-purpose) flour
1 cup verjuice (verjus)
1 litre (4 cups) good quality beef stock
2 tablespoons tomato paste (tomato concentrate)
4 x 10cm/4″ long pieces of orange peel
2 tablespoons fresh-picked thyme leaves
⅓ cup (80ml) balsamic vinegar
400g (14 oz) small button or cup mushrooms, trimmed, large ones halved
Salt and freshly-cracked black pepper
To serve:
Creamy parmesan mashed potatoes
Flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Steamed green veggies

Preheat oven to 180°C (350ºF).
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large, heavy-based saucepan and gently brown the speck for 2 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and place in a large bowl.
Add onions, and gently brown in the speck fat for 3–5 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, for one minute. Remove and add to the speck.
Seal the beef in batches until nicely browned, adding more oil as required. Remove beef and juices and add to the onions and speck.
Melt butter in the pan, add flour and cook, stirring, for two minutes. Add the verjuice and simmer for 2 minutes, scraping up all the lovely brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Add stock and tomato paste, and simmer gently for 1–2 minutes, until the tomato paste has dissolved.
Lightly oil a large casserole or cast iron baking dish (see notes if your baking dish is too small to accommodate everything). Add prepared speck, onions, beef and juices. Tuck the orange rind pieces here and there, and sprinkle with thyme.
Pour over the verjuice and stock mixture.
Cover with a layer of foil and pop the lid on (or 2 layers of foil if you don’t have a lid).
Transfer to oven and cook for 2½–3 hours. Check if the meat is tender after 2½ hours by prodding it with a fork, then add the balsamic vinegar and mushrooms and cook for a further 30 minutes uncovered. If the meat is still firm and chewy, return it to the oven for an extra half hour before adding the vinegar and mushrooms.
Season well. Remove and discard any large pieces of orange zest (most will have deliciously dissolved).
♦ Divide beef bourgionon into three portions of approximately 1.15 kilo (2½ lb) each. Each portion of borguignon will serve 4 people. Reserve ½ portion (550g/1.2 lb) for the Beef and mushroom pithiviers.
Meanwhile, prepare creamy parmesan mashed potatoes. Divide amongst four serving plates, ladle over bourguignon, scatter with parsley and serve with steamed green vegetables.

  • Notes: The flavour of this stew is improved with time. I recommend making it on the weekend and refrigerating for up to 3 days. It can be reheated gently in a saucepan on the stovetop.
  • Unless you have a huge casserole baking dish like this one, which I covet; you can cook the bourguignon in two smaller casserole pots or Dutch ovens. Divide the onion/speck/beef mixture between the two pots. Add 1 tablespoon thyme and 2 pieces orange peel to each. Pour 2½ cups of the stock mixture into each pot. After the specified cooking time, add 40ml (2 tablespoons) balsamic vinegar and 200g (7 oz) mushrooms to each. When cooked, both pots of stew can be mixed together in a large pan or bowl before dividing into portions.
  • You can have your butcher cut thick 5cm blade steaks; or buy two small whole blade roasts and cube them yourself. You’ll need a very sharp knife!
  • Speck is smoked pork, cured in salt and spices such as juniper berries. It has a lovely intense flavour. Replace with kaiserfleisch or bacon if unavailable. If using lean bacon, add an extra tablespoon olive oil at the frying stage. 
  • Verjuice (or verjus) is made from the juice of unfermented grapes. One of my Australian foodie heroes, Maggie Beer, has been producing her verjuice since the mid 1980s. Hers is available world-wide, in large supermarkets and specialty food stores. Verjuice is beautiful sloshed into caramelised apples.
  • Beef bourguignon can be stored in the fridge for up to 3 days, or frozen for up to 3 months.

Beef and mushroom Pithiviers. One Equals TwoBeef Bourguignon Pithiviers. One Equals Two

[Recipe 2] Beef and mushroom pithiviers

Ingredients (makes 6 pithiviers to serve 6):
1 tablespoon corn flour (cornstarch)
1½ tablespoons hot water

♦ ½ quantity (approx. 550g/1.2 lb) reserved Beef bourguignon

½ tablespoon worcestershire sauce
1 x 1¼ kg (2½ lb) quantity rough puff pastry OR 3 x 375g (13 oz) store-bought puff pastry blocks
Egg wash (2 egg yolks, whisked with 1 teaspoon water)
Easy spiced tomato chutney (or store-bought chutney), to serve

Preheat oven to 200°C (390ºF).
Blend flour and hot water until smooth.
♦ Spoon reserved Beef bourguignon into a large saucepan. Add flour mixture and worcestershire sauce and bring to boil. Simmer gently, uncovered, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes, until the meat starts to break down and the mixture is thickened. Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate until cold.
If using home-made rough puff pastry, roll out each prepared pastry block on a lightly floured surface to 5mm (.2″) thick. You’ll end up with 2 x 32cm² (12.5″) pieces of pastry. If using store-bought puff, roll out the three blocks to 5mm (.2″) thick.
Using a 12cm (4.7″) diameter plate, cut out 12 rounds from the puff pastry. Pastry scraps can be loosely stacked on top of each other (don’t roll into a ball or the pastry will lose its puffiness), and lightly re-rolled.
Divide cooled beef mixture amongst 6 of the pastry rounds, mounding up a bit in the centre. Leave a 1.5cm (.6″) border. Brush edges with egg wash and top with remaining puff pastry rounds, lightly pressing down edges to seal. Lightly brush with egg wash, and score a shallow radiating sunbeam pattern in the top with a very sharp knife. Pierce a small hole in the top of each.
Place pithiviers on an oven tray lined with baking paper, loosely covered with cling film and rest in the fridge for 15 minutes.
Bake pithiviers for 20–25 minutes, until golden and puffed. Serve with tomato chutney.

  • Cooked pithiviers can be stored in the fridge, covered, for up to 3 days. To reheat, place on a baking tray lined with baking paper, lightly cover with foil, and bake at 180°C (350ºF) for 15 minutes. Remove foil and heat for a further 5 minutes.

58 thoughts on “In a stew

  1. Pingback: Beef Pies - Tim's World

  2. OH MY GOSH I cooked this and it was GORGEOUS!! When I cook meat, this is not always the case and I can never quite work out why. I forgot to add the mushrooms, cooked it a little longer than the recipe, and probably sloshed in a fair bit more verjuice than was strictly necessary but it was absolutely DELICIOUS, not too rich for my gf family (gf and not digesting rich food comfortably seem to go hand in hand) and straightforward to make with your excellent instructions. And it made a mountain of delicious meals. Thanks Sass!

  3. Hi Sas. I decided to visit your blog to see what’s cooking… I didn’t expect such sad news, and I’m so very sorry for your loss. I hope your heart is beginning to heal as the weeks pass. I wish you solace in your lovely family and community and in your amazingly nourishing and gorgeous food creations. x

  4. Im sorry for your loss my friend, but I know your memories are beautiful. My thoughts are with you xx
    Hugs, Uru
    P.S. This stew looks absolutely incredible, I am sure he would have loved every mouthful.

  5. So sorry to hear of your loss Saskia. If I could I would give you a big hug as I don’t really have any wise words to share. Your lovely Father will live on in your memories. The recipes looks lovely. The stew is comforting in more ways than one.

  6. 2 Amazing tasty delicious recipes, my friend! I love the 2nd recipe the most,…so appetizing looking!
    I hope you are Okey …I missedyou heeps on my blog! Xxx

  7. Have been thinking of you my friend. a girl with your sunny disposition is bound to get on with things beautifully, but a big loss is a big loss. Thank you for taking the time for you, and for bouncing back with such a moving and delicious share. I’m making this, and will drink the wine that isn’t going into it and think of you and yours. xxx

    • Michelle, I’m trying to do your beautiful comment justice but words are failing me! Thank you SO much lovely lady. I’m sitting here smiling. You are ace. Enjoy the stew. And the wine!

  8. Hi Sas, I’m a pretty new reader to your blog but I am so sorry to hear about your Dad. What a wonderful dish to serve to such an important man in your life. Thanks for sharing it with us too.
    Lots of love to you

  9. Saskia I’m so sorry for your loss, I know how hard it is. The time passes, and unfortunately is the only advantage we have in this situation. Btw your post is amazing! Love the recipes, your picture are stunning as usual. Thanks for sharing, big hugs.

  10. So sorry Sass, sad times. Hope you’ve had lots of support and hugs and hot dinners that you didn’t always have to cook yourself. J’adore boeuf bourguignon, and love your variations. Take care. Jx

    • Thanks pinry. So much support and hot dinners, it has been overwhelming and lovely; lots of curries, soups, salads and brownies. Just ace. I’ve been busy making ‘thankyou jam’ for everyone! xx

  11. more hugs and love to you my dearest ‘adult penfriend’! your cooking is so educational, every time i read a post i learn some new things. today: speck, verjuice and pithivier
    i want to bite into one of those pithiviers, send one here!!
    (my 3 new favorite words:) and i love your spooky black cat tea towel too..

    • Thanks lovely penfriend! Love to send you dinner via Pithivier Post (I’m sure that’s a thing). I must post a picture of that tea towel in its’ entirety. There’s a spooky old lady in a rocking chair on it too.

  12. Oh Sas, I was only thinking of you last week and hoping you were in the kitchen cooking up something awesome to share. You have, but I’m so sorry to hear that it’s under these sad circumstances. Cancer is a f**king bugger. Sending loads of love to you and yours in this incredibly difficult time. Preparing a meal for your Dad with such love and care was no doubt appreciated, and now you can think of him whenever you make it, which is a lovely way to remember. Massive hugs to you my friend xx

    • Hey Amelia, thanks for the massive hugs and kind words.
      There was some happiness over the last few months; reconnecting with my amazing aunties and uncle from Holland, and spending lots of time talking with dad. You’re spot on about cancer though; nothing positive to say about that and it absolutely is a f**king bugger. I hope with fingers tightly crossed that the world is free of it one day… xxx

  13. so sorry to read of your loss saskia. thinking of you and sending big hugs. this is the most gorgeous warm comfort meal to be full of wonderful memories of your dad. so nice to see you back blogging xx

  14. So glad you’re back Sakia. I’m sorry about your Dad, he’ll always he with you in your heart. I made Fulton’s recipe over and over in the 70s. Her book was an engagement present! I learned to make a fabulous rough puff from Maggie Beer, with sour cream, easy and dependable.

    • Thanks Sandra. The Margaret Fulton book was a gift for my 12th birthday *many* years ago 🙂 It’s still in my personal Top Ten and I cook from it often. Wow, love the idea of sour cream in rough puff. Actually, love the idea of sour cream in just about anything. I get SO excited making rough puff (I really need to get a life). It’s honestly one of the most rewarding things to make isn’t it! All those beautiful flaky layers rising right before your eyes.

  15. Sas, still thinking about you and your family since I heard the news about your Dad, and continuing to send hugs your way. What a wonderful dish to have made for your Dad. It sounds absolutely delicious, and the pithiviers are, again, a new thing for me! I’m always learning from you and I love that. I adore the background with the black cat!

    • Thanks lovely df for the continuing flow of cyber hugs. I love the cat on that tea towel too – well spotted! I’ve vowed to use as many of my tea towels as I can for backdrops in the coming months. I/they need to justify their existence and shelf space!

  16. Oh Saskia…it is so nice to see your post this morning. I really feel for you and I can imagine how difficult it would be to even try to sit and write or be creative with your camera. I am very sorry for your loss. Your post seems a perfect way to step back in and I love how you posted beef bourguignon stew, the last meal you cooked for your dad. So good to see you back. The beef and mushroom pithiviers sound and look beautiful.

    • Thanks Seana. It was so difficult to get back into the swing of things; here and at work too. This post has been a nice ice breaker. It’s really good to be back! Looking forward to pouring a cuppa and catching up on all your recent posts.

  17. Oh Saskia. I am sending so much love your way. Losing someone that you love is something that leaves a permanent scar on the heart. As you were part of them, so they were also an irreplaceable part of you. As Sawsan said so eloquently, the heart learns to adapt and I know that you’re going to continue to create beauty from the displaced threads that might feel ‘missing’ from life’s tapestry right now. I can see the outpouring of love in your pot of beef bourguignon and in the intricate folds of the pastry on your pies. Words fail in times like these but just know that we missed you, we love you as a dear friend (despite distance and the strangeness of internet connections!) and we understand if you need more or less time to feel back in the swing of things again. Thanks for confiding in us and sharing what is a very, very special recipe to you and your family. Huge hugs. Ah, words. They just fail sometimes xxxx

    • Laura you are lovely. I’m feeling quite teary reading all these heartfelt messages. Thanks for the huge hugs and beautiful words – they didn’t fail you at all xx

  18. I admire both your beef and your spirit. There is one meal I can still not cook after 22 years having received dreadful news in the middle of eating it. Yours looks yum.

    • I can remember exactly what I was eating at precise moments in my life too. So many of my memories are linked to food! I can totally understand your 22-year aversion. How awful 😦

  19. Welcome back Saskia.
    So sorry for your loss, it takes time for the heart to heal after such a loss..(I think the heart never actually heals, it just learns to redefine the world without that special someone)

    I’ve attempted an alcohol free Beef bourguignon for a daring cooks challenge and we loved it but I think the flavor combination in yours is more complex and beautifully layered
    I look forward to giving it a try.

    • Thanks lovely Sawsan. Grief is the weirdest, most foreign feeling and is so hard to define. Your words are beautiful. You’re right – my world is a different place now. Grief sits with me the whole day, usually a bit muffled but other times rearing up like a massive slap in the face.
      PS. Very intrigued to check out your alcohol-free beef bourguignon!

  20. keep up the great work Saskia – i love reading your blogs (big hugs too 😦 i miss my Dad but i hope like me, your happy memories dilute some of the sadness x)

    • Thanks so much Allison. So, so sorry to hear you’ve lost your dad too. Yes, sooo many happy memories. My old family photo albums have been pulled out of mothballs and have been much-thumbed these last few weeks 🙂 😦

    • I know, right! The fact my unwell dad was going to be eating it made me determined to perfect it. Have never been hugely comfy serving wine-filled stews to my kids either. I know the alcohol evaporates, but meat marinating in a pool of sulfites… eeeeeuw!
      PS. Thanks for the pithiviers compliment!

    • Thanks heaps Michelle. Have really missed being here too. It’s hard to put my finger on why blogging is so enticing. It’s such a time vacuum (although what else would I do at 5.30am?), but sharing and connecting with like-minded peeps around the world is one aspect I adore! It’s like Penfriends for Adults!

  21. Hi Saskia, I’m so sorry for your loss. Of course this is a hard time for you. Cooking a beef bourguignon is a wonderful masterpiece and cooking present that you can give your father. I’ve only made this once and yes there is a lot of effort put into this., so I’m sure he must have appreciated the effort indeed.
    A version without wine? Now thats something.. I love la version après in a pie.
    Sending you and your family big warm hugs. xx

  22. I must try your recipe, Sas, as boeuf bourguignon used to be one of my favourite dinner party recipes in the seventies. Your French is tres bien aussi.

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