Sunday, January 24, 2010

French Comfort Food Starts with "Boof"

A few years ago, I received a little gift in the mail from my college roommate, Julia. She'd seen this funny little green book with a title that just urged her to buy it. Can you guess?

The book is called "Julie & Julia". Of course, now it's a major motion picture starring little ol' Meryl Streep and the cutsie Amy Adams. I'll admit, I read the book way before I started blogging or even before I really knew what a food blog was. And I know like a billion people thought they could write a food blog after that everyone who's ever eaten has this witty wise writer lurking beneath the surface. I mean, I feel that way every time I read a book thinking, "There must be an amazing story somewhere in my brain. I could totally have written that book if I, like, wanted to."

Anyways, I liked the movie as a story of its own...not so sure about the choice of Amy Adams, though. As much as I like her, can't say I ever thought "Julie Powell" when considering her acting characteristics. While we were watching, my husband asked if I wanted Julia Child's cookbook, to which I said, "Not really." Don't get me wrong...Julia Child deserves praise as the godmother of the American cooking revolution, but I can't see myself making any aspics.

However, I am a huge beef stew fan...always trying new takes on the dish, whether it's the gravy style with potatoes that my dad adores, the Newcastle Brown Ale (ala Jamie Oliver) that my friend Kasey was so fond of, or my personal favorite...the red wine based dish. So, feeling veeery cliche, I googled "Julia Child beouf borggg.....(that goodness, Google finished that word)". Of course, even with my infinitely minimal knowledge of the French language I know how to pronounce it thanks to the popularity of the movie. It does make me feel quite refined to mouth the word "boof" like a proper Frenchie.

(Is there a way to make stew look good on "film"?)

So here I was facing a full day of's like a 6 hour preparation, you know. But I was excited! I mean, I love cooking and haven't gotten to do it much lately, hence the excitement. Call me a food nerd, but I just love prepping...cubing meat, slicing veg, heating oil, and making sure the meat gets very browned. Building flavors at the bottom of the Dutch oven is strangely exhilarating...okay, I'll move on now...

Like I said before, my personal favorite beef stew is a red-wine based concoction without potatoes (on the side is excellent, but in the stew is mushy). The main difference between what I've made in the past and Julia Child's version is the sheer quantity of wine used. I'm used to the main liquid begin beef stock (well, broth in my case), with like a cup of wine. But she uses 3 whole cups...and just so you're not bitterly disappointed when you make this recipe, 3 cups is a full 750 mL bottle of wine (so buy 2 bottles to make the meal as you'd anticipated to enjoy it).

Plus, she includes mushrooms and separately braised onions which were DIVINE! It calls for 20 small (pearl) onions. Of course, my favorite grocery store was out...something about cold storage and not looking too great. So I took a chance with 12 small white cippolini onions. Good move, let me tell you. They were so buttery and sweet. Wow...I'm still savoring their flavor and texture in my mind...again, I'll move on now... was an amazing dinner. Totally worth the umpteen hours of prep. The house smells amazing, too. Very good, very good. Well, it's not like I invented the dish, so how about a link to the particular recipe I borrowed? Ok, click here. Time to pass out from cooking satisfaction now.

(You know a pot that looks like this after cooking produced something good.)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Spinach Ricotta Manicotti

An excellent vegetarian manicotti perfect for Meatless Monday or Tofu Tuesday or whatever night you take off from eating animals. Sorry, but totally not vegan for Way-Out-There Wednesday.

Spinach Ricotta Manicotti

2 c shredded mozzarella
1 carton (12 oz or so) ricotta cheese
1 (10 oz) package frozen spinach, thawed a bit
1/4 c fresh grated parmesan
1 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 package of manicotti shells (14 pieces)
1 jar pasta sauce (26 oz)
1 c water

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
2. Spray a 9x13 inch pan. Fill with half of the pasta sauce.
3. Combine 1 1/2 c mozzarella, ricotta, spinach, parmesan, oregano, salt, and pepper in a bowl. Spoon into shells, filling them completely.
4. Place the filled shells into the pan and cover with the remaining pasta sauce and the water. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 c mozzarella cheese.
5. Cover with foil and bake for 1 hour. Let stand for at least 10 minutes before serving (or it will be soupy).
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