I met Jeanne (above left, with daughter Charlotte) through David, who met her during her decade-long tenure as managing editor of The Paris Review. In addition to being a gracious and generous cook and host, Jeanne is a brilliant editor and wonderful writer. Track down her moving essay about Paul T. Gilberts' childrens' books and, for a lesson in how to conduct an interview, read her conversation with Nancy Mitford, both published by Tin House. Her writing has appeared in Vogue, The New York Times Book Review, Elle, O Magazine, and elsewhere. Jeanne is founding editor of Tin House books. She's writing a memoir, to be published by Bloomsbury USA. Here's what Jeanne has to say about today's recipe for Ewww Stew (aka Boeuf Bourguignon):
I don’t remember when precisely I started cooking, but I remember why. I came shockingly late to the domestic arts. At least that was the opinion of my beloved first mother-in-law, Priscilla Taylor, a woman who majored in Home Economics at Skidmore College in 1953. When we met, I was a young magazine editor in New York City, all of 24, and she was a homemaker—a job description she took great pride in—on the coast of Maine. She’d raised four children, accumulated a towns’ worth of mouths to feed, and several file boxes of family recipes to accomplish it. Though she hid it with grace, she felt an urgent need to catch me up on what I’d been missing with my head in my books all these years. I was married to her son, it was her duty, but I also think it was her commitment to a strong held belief in the womanly arts, which she never saw as a throwback to anything. She made me my first sewing kit, knitted me a homemade sweater and, tactifully hiding her shock at my ignorance, taught me how to bake and ice a cake. On late August afternoons, she’d ask me about the literary world of “New Yaacck” while we sat at her kitchen table snapping the beans we’d just picked, slicing apples for pie, the sun in a slant across the wide pine floorboards of their farmhouse.
It has been many years since Priscilla’s son Dean and I were divorced, but in the last year of her life I was able to visit her and tell her just what an important inspiration she had been in my life. My own mother had bought me my first pair of high heels, and told me how to not get pregnant, but it was Priscilla who had taught me the art of making a home. When she passed away, Dean found Priscilla’s recipe file on her kitchen shelf. On the front page was the one meal I had made for Priscilla from my own family’s archive, a rich, wintery boeuf bourguignon. “The city girl made it” Priscilla would proudly tell her friends when they’d come to her home to eat it. “The city girl made us a real gourmet meal!” Just as the boeuf bourguignon in Paris inspired Julia Child to become a great chef, the boeuf bourguignon in Camden, Maine inspired Priscilla Taylor to think that her “city girl egghead” daughter-in-law just might amount to something after all. I prepare it to this day with my own daughter Charlotte who, despite her vegetarian leanings, makes an exception for the savory mélange of beef, carrots, red wine and pearl onions. Though in my household it is fondly referred to as what it really is: “Ewwww, stew”. “Ewwww stew” should be served on a cold winters night with warm, crusty baguette for maximum sopping up, and followed by a light mesclun salad and a runny cheese—I recommend a Clarines or Camembert. Pour a nice Burgundy, light a few candles and mellow out. It will satisfy everyone from New England mothers-in-law to health-conscious Manhattan tweenagers (who believe if they eat beef too often it might trigger the apocalyse). Now, I figure, Charlotte has something in her bag of domestic tricks to pull out if she’s ever fortunate enough to land a mother-in-law as impressive as Priscilla to impress.
Ewww Stew (with a tip of the toque to Julia Child and Ina Garten—stewardesses non pareil)
1 tablespoon good olive oil
8 ounces diced bacon
2 ½ pounds beef chuck cut into 1-inch cubes
Freshly ground pepper
1 pound carrots, sliced diagonally into 1-inch chunks
2 yellow onions, sliced
2 teaspoons chopped garlic (2 cloves)
½ cup Cognac or good brandy
1 (750 ml) bottle good dry red wine, such as a Burgundy
2 to 2 ½ cups canned beef broth
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, divided
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 pound frozen pearl onions
1 pound fresh mushrooms, stems discarded, caps thickly sliced
6 sprigs flat-leaf parsley for garnish
Crusty French baguette
Soft, creamy cheese such as camembert or clarines
Mesclun salad lightly dressed with olive oil and balsamic
A few bottles of a hearty red wine
Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven such as a Le Creuset. Add the bacon and cook over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the bacon is lightly browned. Remove the bacon with the slotted spoon to a large plate.
Dry the beef cubes with paper towels and then sprinkle them with salt and pepper. In batches in single layers, sear the beef in the hot oil for 3 to 5 minutes, turning to brown on all sides. Remove the seared cubes to the plate with the bacon and continue to searing until all the beef is browned. Set aside.
Toss the carrots, onions, 1 tablespoon of salt, and 2 teaspoons of pepper in to the fat in the pan and cook over medium heat for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are lightly browned. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the Cognac, stand back, and ignite with a match to burn off the alcohol. Put the meat and bacon back into the pot with any juices that have accumulated on the plate. Add the wine plus enough beef broth to almost cover the meat. Add the tomato paste and thyme. Bring to a boil, cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid, and place it in the oven for about 1 ¼ hours, or until the meat and vegetables are very tender when pierced with a fork. Remove from the oven and place on the top of the stove.
Combine 2 tablespoons of the butter and the flour with a fork and stir into the stew. Add the frozen onions. In a medium pan, sauté the mushrooms in the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat for 10 minutes, or until lightly browned, and then add to the stew. Bring the stew to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes. Season to taste.
Snip a bit of parsley and place as garnish on each individual serving, along with a generous hunk of bread. As Julia Child would say, “bon appétit!” Or as Priscilla would have it, “Fancy!”
all photos by William Wadsworth
-- stacey harwood