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.

I have hunted and gathered, on perhaps the most intimidating day to hunt and gather in America, the day after Thanksgiving. When normal human beings turn into rabid animals lusting for blood — blood in the shape of cheap goods. I don’t do a lot of traditional “shopping” for Christmas, so there was no tearing through department stores, list in hand, seeking the best price on whatever is “the cool thing” to give this year. There were a few sales that I wanted to take advantage of, though, so I now have winter underarmour for running in sub-zero temperatures, two pairs of running shoes (for the price of one!), and the soundtrack to Love Actually (the best contemporary Christmas movie).

I also have all the makings for Boeuf Bourguignon, including two pounds of perfectly marbled stew tips, a sack of gorgeous mushrooms, and a terrific bottle of wine.  (The day after Thanksgiving is the single *best* day to visit the grocer’s; I had half of the produce section to myself.)  The rest of the weekend will be quite simple, full of cooking, sewing up half-finished holiday projects, completing embroidery on stockings for the twins, and decorating the Christmas Tree.  Clearly my craft muse has struck again, as she does every year around the end of daylight savings time.

Such a plan for decadent industry.

Also on the food note, I made a pitcher of iced chai for the first time since last fall, and man is it good. Next time, I’ll add a bit of nutmeg to the brew basket, and try agave instead of cane sugar for sweetening. Forget Starbucks; this summer, I’m back to do-it-myselfing.

It’s been a rough few months for edibles in my little household. A growing zealotry for “local, organic food” meant that I spent many a Saturday standing in the produce section of my supermarket, seeking out one small plant grown in the state of New York that I wouldn’t feel guilty for purchasing, let alone eating. On several occasions I left with a half gallon of milk, a few packages of yeast, and not much else — returning home to make root vegetables, overwintered apples, and a freezer full of local protein into a week’s worth of meals. My waistline (and my rear-end) have grown a bit from all of the carbs and starch. My energy levels shrank. And my poor palate has been tormented and neglected. I find that I’m just not all that interested in food most of the time, and when I am, I don’t really have much sense of what I might actually enjoy rather than just tolerate.

The past two weeks, I’ve thrown out the “local” requirement altogether, just in the hope of teasing myself back to some interest in food. I’ve been all about yogurt (and will try a local, goat’s-milk variety this weekend), homemade granola (with toasted coconut but no dried fruit), beautiful golden bananas, and fresh spring berries. The strawberries and blueberries have been organic but not local, flown in from California on a daily basis. (Perhaps my colleagues on the West Coast appreciate my support for their local economy?) On Friday, I had a terrific Mexican birthday meal with my best friend — none of it local, none of it organic, but all of it scrumptious and enjoyed, including the frozen Tangerine Margarita rimmed with sugar crystals. Saturday afternoon saw me nibbling raw yellow pepper strips and my Nana’s walnut brownies. But I rediscovered the perfection of cooking last night.

Noodle bowls, my friends, noodle bowls.

A single “happy chicken” breast from the market, diced and sauteed with a bit of black-and-white pepper — 1/3 of it went into a deep-sided ceramic bowl, the other 2/3 into the fridge. Also into the bowl went a bit each of finely chopped carrot, celery, green pepper, asparagus, and bean sprouts. Half a package of uncooked ramen noodles (without the seasoning packet (ick!) as a stand-in for rice noodles, which I haven’t been able to find), a generous swirl of ground sea salt and a tiny flick of cinnamon joined the meat and veggies. Over the lot I poured 1.5 cups of nearly-boiling chicken broth, then covered the bowl with a heavy ceramic plate, sealing the heat into the bowl. 15 minutes later I sat down with a slice of crusty French bread and a bowl of al dente veggies and pasta, delicately flavored and fragrant.

My taste buds are back! Tonight’s plan: a Thai variety, with lemon grass, curry powder, and a bit of coconut milk. I’ll let you know how it turns out.