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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[Recipe 2] BEEF and MUSHROOM PITHIVIERS

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.