Sunday, March 24, 2013

A Plateful of Spring

For years now, at least since the early '90s, I've been making the same dinner every year on the first day of spring. I do salmon patties, new potatoes boiled and slathered in butter before being sprinkled with snippets of fresh dill, and steamed asparagus stalks with lemon or lime juice mixed with melted butter for dipping. Jeannene says spring has not sprung in our house until I've made this dinner. This year on the first day of spring, I was enjoying a yummy chicken casserole at a Lenten dinner at work and Jeannene was in Michigan for her job. So, we were late celebrating. That's okay, the spring weather is late, too, with a big snowstorm on its way.

Springtime Salmon Patties

14 oz. can salmon, drained & flaked
1 sleeve of saltines, crushed
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
A healthy splash of Worcestershire sauce
1/4-1/2 c. oil

Mix everything but the oil. Form into patties (it'll make 4-5). Heat oil in a skillet and fry patties until they are browned on both sides. I like mayonnaise or tartar sauce on mine, but ketchup or cocktail sauce would also be good, if you like those better.

Boeuf Bourguignon, Simplified

Our church has a lovely tradition called Dinners for 8, a collection of dinner parties scattered across the congregation, the purpose of which is for people to enjoy one another's company and get to know one another better. I love attending. It's one of my favorite things. However, given the 4 late nights I worked last week and the upcoming Holy Week, combined with an early Saturday work morning at Breakfast with the Bunny (we like to eat), I knew I would be too fried to stay in town all day. So, I made the wise decision to skip this dinner I'd so been looking forward to attending. However, I'd promised a parishioner that if she & her husband hosted, I would cook. I wasn't about to break that promise, so I made 2 pots of boeuf bourguignon Friday night. One was for Dinners for 8, one for our own Saturday supper. It turned out wonderfully! I served ours over mashed potatoes, while the church diners got noodles for theirs. My recipe is based upon one from Ina Garten's wonderful "Barefoot in Paris" cookbook. I may have posted this recipe before---It's my go-to recipe for entertaining and also one Jeannene likes for her birthday---so forgive me, if so. This serves 6-8 & is best the next day.

Boeuf Bourguignon, Simplified

1 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 lb. bacon, diced
2 1/2 lbs. sirloin steak, cut in 1" cubes
Salt & pepper
1 lb. baby carrots
2 onions, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 c. cognac or good brandy
1 bottle good dry red wine (I used a nice Malbec last night)
2-2 1/2 c. beef stock
1 tbsp. tomato paste
1 tsp. or so fresh thyme
1/2 stick butter, room temp
3 tbsp. flour
1 lb. frozen pearl onions, thawed
1 lb. mushrooms, thickly sliced

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Heat oil in large Dutch oven (or oven-safe pot---I just treated myself to a Lodge cast iron Dutch oven and it's perfect). Add bacon and cook 8-10 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove to plate. Pat beef cubes dry, then salt & pepper them. Sear, in single layers, in hot oil 3-5 minutes, turning to brown on all sides. Remove to plate with bacon. Cook carrots, onion slices, 1 tbsp. salt, 2 tsp. pepper in bacon grease and oil in pan, 10-12 minutes, until onions are brown. Add garlic & cook another minute. Add cognac, stand back (not kidding!), ignite, and allow flames to die down on their own. Return meat to pot. Add wine, plus enough beef broth to almost cover the meat. Stir in tomato paste & thyme. Bring to boil, cover with tight-fitting lid, and bake about an hour & 15 minutes, until everything is very tender. Remove from oven. Mix 2 tbsp. butter with flour, then stir into stew. Add pearl onions. Sauté mushrooms with 2 tbsp. butter about 10 minutes, until lightly browned. Add to stew. Bring to a boil, then simmer, uncovered, another 15 minutes. Adjust seasonings and serve over mashed potatoes or noodles or in a bowl with garlic-rubbed toast.