BOEUF À LA MODE* AUX CAROTTES FOR THE CHANGES IN OUR LIVES
The call came Friday afternoon as things were winding down for the day, heading towards dinnertime, melting into the weekend. We had truly put it as far out of our minds as it was humanly possible to forget something one loves, missing something one has never possessed as we did. I was in the bedroom, French doors flung open to the cool breeze, sunshine washing over me, making the bed, smoothing down crisp, fresh sheets when I heard the telephone ring. JP answered as he usually does now that the phone is his work tool. My heart jumped when I heard the lilting cheer sweep through his words, normally so businesslike and efficient, heard him mention “my wife and I just spoke about it yesterday”! My heart skipped a beat as I listened to his cheerful half of a conversation, pulling me into his enthusiasm. There was only one thing he could be talking about, one person with whom he could be having this particular conversation.
So much activity, so much excitement has kept me from my kitchen these past few weeks. My insatiable appetite for adventure has surely been sated by now, or so one would think. An explosive week in New York proved to be both exhausting and inspiring. New connections and relationships leading to new projects have my nose stuck firmly to the grindstone. The flurry of a son applying to university, putting together a portfolio, learning to draw, growing up in leaps and bounds before our very eyes. And now this… in the course of our hurried, frantic search for a new home, we had both fallen in love with an apartment…correction: we had both fallen in love with a set of law offices, seeing in every room the makings of a cozy home, the perfect love nest. We had sent in a bid the very same day of our unique visit only to learn that someone else had done the same but earlier. Our hopes dashed, we hung our heads, tried not to think of what we had loved and lost without ever having possessed it, and continued on our search.
Yet, here was the call we had been praying for. That deal fell through and we could, with just one simple word, be the proud owners of this new, our future home. “Yes!”
We analyze the price of real estate past, present and future, our hopes rising and falling with the numbers across the charts, calculating our purchase price against provisions for a future sale. We walk briskly into town, slowing down as we arrive at the foot of the building in which our possible future home nestles behind pale walls. We look up, up, craning our necks as we count the number of windows up and over, scrutinizing the brightness of the sunlight as it hits the apartment, listening to the noise as the tram rumbles past. We nod in the direction of our former boulanger, boucher, traiteur of years past and whisper “welcome back, us!” as we prepare to return to our old neighborhood.
We excitedly list all that needs to be done in the months to come, the phone, the gas, the parking garage, as we flip through catalogues, choosing a new kitchen, bathroom, colors of paint which will grace and brighten the walls of a future livingroom and bedroom. We’ve surely been through much, much worse! Our first apartment in Nantes was twice as large, twice as deteriorated, had been twice as costly to renovate. Yes, that one had a bathroom albeit an ancient relic from the early 1950’s, and a kitchen sink, although not much else, whereas this apartment has neither, but little facts like this never dissuaded us before. We love ourselves a little adventure!
And so, as the excitement mounts, as we prepare for this new phase of our life, it is ever so appropriate that JP made Boeuf aux Carottes. I often laud my husband’s cooking, extol his talent in the kitchen, his genius in taking whatever is huddled in the back of the refrigerator threatening to die a lonely, smelly death or his expertise in purchasing only the most seasonal at the market and with a few flicks of his wrist, a wave of his hand, a flourish and a mere embellishment or two, creating a sensational meal. But his Boeuf aux Carottes, Beef with Carrots, may have been the best thing he has ever cooked for me. The last time he made this, I had just arrived home from the airport, weary, exhausted and feeling terribly despondent. I had just returned from New York and my last visit with my brother. And when JP ushered me through our front door after that interminable flight and a sleepless night, as he set down my luggage in the livingroom and guided me into the kitchen, he placed a plate of Boeuf aux Carottes in front of me. Fragrant steam rose and curled around my head, satisfying and luscious, at once lifting up my spirits and awakening an appetite long gone. Although rarely in the mood to eat after a long voyage and even less inclined now after such a sad trip, his Beef with Carrots soothed my soul, each mouthful of meltingly tender beef and sweet carrots in a rich wine sauce simply made me feel loved, safe and home.
Sharp changes in our lives are mellowed by good food, the bumps and doubts softened by a wonderful homecooked meal. JP’s Boeuf aux Carottes is one of those dishes that will ever be associated with those times in my own life when changes have disrupted a daily routine or threatened to turn everything ordinary on its head; a wonderful dish infused with the goodness of so many generations of loving mamans yet ennobled with the old JP magic, elevated to extraordinary by his own wonderful, modern twist on something homey and comforting. His Boeuf aux Carottes lies somewhere between a Boeuf Bourguingon and Boeuf Mode yet capturing his recipe to write down in black and white and transmit it to you is difficult. This is a recipe best made au pif, by instinct, by feel, to taste. But so worth the effort! Here is a simple guideline to follow to adjust as you see fit: adjust the quantities of meat, wine, carrots and seasoning, serve over pasta or add potatoes into the stew alongside the carrots, cooking until tender.
This classic French dish will be shared as part of my Monthly Mingle (an event created by my friend Meeta) April in Paris. Please join me by cooking or baking something French or French-inspired – please follow the rules on my April in Paris Monthly Mingle post… Bon Appétit!
* Pot Roast
BEEF AND CARROTS
JP’s Boeuf à la Mode aux Carottes* for 4 people
28 oz (800 g) beef for stew, cut into 5 or 6 large pieces
2 medium yellow onions, peeled, cut in quarters and sliced
3 or 4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed or coarsely chopped
3 to 4 Tbs (45 to 60 g) margarine
Handful – or about 1 heaping Tbs (30 g) – flour
1 bottle dry red wine (about 2 cups/500 ml for cooking and the rest for drinking with the meal)
Scant cup (200 ml) tomato coulis or purée
Bouquet garni or loose dried herbs (thyme and bay leaf)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
One bouquet or bunch baby carrots or about 1 ½ lbs (750 g), peeled and sliced into coins
1 lb (500 g) fresh or dried pasta, preferably something thick or shaped to help scoop up the sauce
-or- about 1 – 1 1/5 lbs (500 to 750 g) fingerling potatoes
In a large heavy pot or Dutch oven, melt the margarine. Add the chunks of meat and brown on all sides. Add the onions, the garlic and the handful of flour and continue cooking, stirring and tossing until the onions are tender and the floured meat golden.
Add about 2 cups of red wine or until the liquid covers the meat not more than about halfway. Heat just to the boil. Add the tomato coulis or purée, the thyme and bay leaf, salt and pepper and then add enough water just to cover the meat. Bring to a boil then lower the heat to a simmer, cover and cook for 1 hour 30 minutes.
At the end of the first 1 hour 30 minutes, add the carrot coins and continue to cook for another 45 minutes to an hour, adding water only as needed. The meat and the carrots should be beautifully tender and the wine, water and juices should have formed a nice thick sauce. Add more water to thin out if desired. Taste and adjust the seasonings.
We make the Boeuf aux Carottes early in the morning for lunch (or even for dinner), counting on finishing the cooking about an hour before lunch is served, then removing it from the heat and allowing it to rest and the flavors to develop. When you put your water for the pasta, turn the heat under the Beef and Carrots to low or medium low to gently and slowly heat up and heat through.
If reheating any leftovers just add water to keep the sauce and meat from burning and to make sure there is plenty of sauce.
Serve over pasta.