Mom and Dad have left me to my own devices (and demanded that I feed them at day’s end), so I have spent the afternoon in the kitchen making tarragon-infused stock from the turkey carcass, prepping ingredients (mirepoix, shredded dark meat turkey, herbed white rice) for travel meal portions of turkey soup this week, and cooking what has every indication of being an incredible supper of French comfort food: boeuf bourguignon.  It seems like a typical Sunday in my own home — except the kitchen is double the size of any I’ve rented and houses a fantastically seasoned, cast iron Dutch Oven.

Since we’re going for “typical solo-living Sunday,” I’ll share my cooking-without-recipes instructions for the bourguignon.  I cook the way some people attempt science experiments, so if you’re going to try this at home read all the way through first.

  1. Drop a half-pound of pearl onions into boiling water for three minutes then drain; set aside. Dice together half of a large Vidalia onion, a pound of baby carrots, and one celery heart into a bowl; set aside. Prepare a sachet of bay leaves, thyme, and sage; set aside. When cool, peel the pearl onions into a bowl, leaving them whole, and set aside.
  2. Chop a pound of bacon into roughly one-inch strips; set aside.  Cleave two pounds of stew beef into roughly 3/4-inch cubes; set aside.
  3. Coat the bottom of a Dutch Oven in olive oil and bring to temperature over medium heat. Add the bacon and brown, stirring regularly.  When the fat has liquified and the bacon meat is dark and crispy, remove the meat into a bowl and allow it to cool completely; leave the liquid in the DO.
  4. Reduce heat under the DO to medium low, and add the mirepoix (onion, carrot, celery).  Stir steadily until well cooked — do not brown.  Remove most of the mirepoix to the original bowl, leaving just enough vegetables to layer the bottom of the DO — leave all liquid in the pan as well.
  5. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  6. Add the beef to the DO, stirring regularly, until browned on all sides.  When color is even, add the bacon and remaining vegetables back into the DO; turn off the heat.  Stir well, and allow to stand for ten minutes.
  7. Sprinkle 1/4-cup flour (I prefer Spelt flour) to evenly coat the surface of the meat and vegetables, turn to cover all contents of the pan. Sprinkle another 1/4-cup of flour over the surface, and place the DO, uncovered, into the oven for fifteen minutes.
  8. Remove the DO from the oven and stir; you should have a lovely, browned selection of meat and vegetables in a thick gravy.  Reduce the oven heat to 350 degrees.
  9. Add a spoonful of tomato paste, two whole garlic cloves, and the sachet of herbs to the DO.  In equal measures, add beef broth and a full-bodied red wine, so that the contents of the DO are covered with liquid.  Stir, then place the DO, uncovered, into the center of the oven, and set a kitchen timer for two hours.
  10. Clean the kitchen.
  11. Forty minutes into baking time, melt a half-stick of butter in a saucepan over low heat. When melted, add the pearl onions to the pan.  Allow them to brown over low heat, stirring occasionally, for fifteen minutes.  Then raise the heat to medium low, add 1-1/2-cups of beef broth to the pan, and allow to simmer for twenty minutes.  When onions are completely caramelized set them aside, reserving remaining cooking liquid in the saucepan. (Side note: this is also a perfect start to a French Onion Soup base.)
  12. Spread one quart of mashed potatoes into a casserole dish; dot with butter and cover with foil. When 25-minutes of baking time remain, shift the DO to one side of the oven, and place the casserole dish alongside.
  13. When two hours of baking time have passed, remove the DO from the oven and allow to rest.  Place the saucepan with reserved cooking liquid over medium-low and heat to temperature.  Add 1/2-pound of sliced mushrooms to the saucepan, and saute lightly for three-to-five minutes.  When cooked through, remove from heat and discard liquid, adding mushrooms to the caramelized pearl onions.
  14. Fish the whole cloves of garlic and the herb sachet out of the DO.  Stir the onions and mushrooms into the stew. Remove the casserole dish from the oven and discard the foil.

For presentation I place a serving of potatoes into a shallow bowl, creating a well in the center, then ladle stew into the well.  Freshly sliced apples and pears are a terrific accompaniment.

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