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In Season 2, Downton pauses to remember the fallen soldiers of World War I (@ITV).

The 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month signifies the end of World War I. In the United States it is observed as Veteran’s Day, a day aside to pay tribute to celebrate living veterans who served in the military. In May, Americans remember those soldiers who passed in the service of their country on Memorial Day.

Across the British Commonwealth, November 11th is known as Remembrance Day, a day to remember and give thanks to all those men and women who were killed during the two World Wars and other conflicts. This also gives us the opportunity to give thanks to those veterans for their service to our country.

The Poppy

Remembrance Day Poppy worn in the UK.

The poppy has long been associated with war. The seeds can lie dormant in soil for years, and grow once the ground has been disturbed, like those fields ravaged by war. Canadian doctor Lieutenant Colonel John McRae, was so struck by the sight of the bright poppies growing on a desolate field in northern France during WWI that he penned the famous poem “In Flanders Fields”. In response, American Moina Michale wrote “We Shall Keep the Faith“, pledging to wear a poppy to remember the dead; the tradition for the poppy began.

Beef Bourguignon

World War I battlefields are located along the Belgian coast, through the southern Belgian province of West Flanders and regions of northern and eastern France. Some areas are frequently visited by pilgrims and tourists, such as the Somme and Verdun battlefields in France, many by those visiting the graves of those relatives who are buried there. I have written a bit about the Canadian contribution to the war effort. Lord D like many other Canadians, shares the photo of a family member on this day. He plans, like many others who have lost relatives in the war, to visit his uncle’s grave.

My thoughts of France led to the selection of a popular French comfort food to commemorate the day: Boeuf/Beef Bourguignon. This dish is essentially an upstairs version of a simple beef stew, named for Burgundy after the type of wine which was used in the dish. While battle did not take place in Burgundy during the war, the harvest was put in jeopardy as all the able-bodied men left the vineyards to fight for their country.

Frugal cooks have always looked for ways to tenderize cheaper cuts of meat; using alcohol and low heat is a great technique. For St. Patrick’s day we made a downstairs dish, a traditional Irish Stew with beer. Wonder how much alcohol is really “burned off”? In this dish, 95% is evaporated over time, but check out the chart which provides some interesting information.

It was Auguste Escoffier, the influential french chef of the Edwardian era, who brought humble beef stew to fine dining rooms. Escoffier’s approach to the dish was to marinate the beef in red wine prior to cooking in more red wine.

In America it was Julia Child taught us how to make his famous dish, further popularized in Julie & Julia. I love this clip where aspiring blogger Julie talks about her connection to Julia Child and this recipe. I keep saying, food is about love and being inspired to share that love and comfort with others through food… so cook on and remember.

Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon

An elegant, yet hearty dish for winter months

This version of Julia’s recipe comes from her first episode of the French Chef, demonstrating the technique of browning meat, deglazing a pan, braising onions and sautéing mushrooms. There are many steps involved in her process, but it can be done in stages. It also give you practice with french techniques which are important in Downton cuisine.

Serves 4 to 6 people

Ingredients

  • 3 1/2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 3 lbs. lean stewing beef, cut into 2-inch cubes (I personally like to make bite sized 1″ pieces)
  • 1 carrot, sliced
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1 lb. (8 cups) mushrooms, fresh and quartered
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3 cups red wine, young and full-bodied (like Beaujolais, Côtes du Rhone or Burgundy)
  • 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 cups brown beef stock
  • 1 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 2 cloves mashed garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon thyme
  • A crumbled bay leaf
  • 18 to 24 white onions, small (but not pearl)
  • 3 1/2 tbsp. butter
  • 1 tbsp. flour
  • Herb bouquet (4 parsley sprigs, one-half bay leaf, one-quarter teaspoon thyme, tied in cheesecloth)

Method

  1. Dry beef in paper towels; it will not brown if it is damp. Heat olive oil in a saute pan (not non stick) until almost smoking. Add beef, a few pieces at a time, and sauté until nicely browned on all sides. Remove the beef and place in a dutch oven.
  2. Saute carrots and sliced onion in the same pan for 10 minutes and add to the meat.
  3. Deglaze the pan with red wine, scraping up the bits of browned beef from the bottom of the pan. Pour the contents into the dutch oven on top of the meat.
  4. Add two to three cups stock, just enough so that the meat is barely covered.
  5. Add the tomato paste, garlic, herbs. Salt to taste. Bring to a simmer on top of the stove.
  6. Set into a 325F oven. Cover casserole and set in lower third of oven. Regulate heat so that liquid simmers very slowly for three to four hours. The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily which should take 3 hours.
  7. While the beef is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms.

Preparing the Onions

  1. Drop onions in boiling water for 20 seconds and quickly remove. This will allow you to easily peel the skins.
  2. Heat one and a half tablespoons butter with one and one-half tablespoons of the oil until bubbling in a skillet.
  3. Add onions and sauté over moderate heat for about ten minutes, rolling them so they will brown as evenly as possible. Be careful not to break their skins. You cannot expect them to brown uniformly.
  4. Add one half cup of the stock, salt and pepper to taste and the herb bouquet.
  5. Cover and simmer slowly for 40 to 50 minutes until the onions are perfectly tender but hold their shape, and the liquid has evaporated. Remove herb bouquet and set onions aside.

Preparing Mushrooms

  1. Heat oil and small amount of butter over high heat. As soon as you see butter has begun to subside, indicating it is hot enough, add mushrooms.
  2. Toss and shake pan for four to five minutes. As soon as they have begun to brown lightly, remove from heat.

Finishing

  1. When the meat is tender, pour the contents of the dutch oven into a sieve set over a saucepan, and then return the beef back to the dutch oven.
  2. Simmer the sauce, skimming the fat off the sauce in saucepan or if you have time, cool and the fat will coagulate.
  3. To thicken the sauce make paste of 1 tbsp. of flour with 1 tbsp. of softened butter. Take the saucepan off the stove and whisk in the paste.
  4. Put the saucepan back on the stove and bring to the boil. Taste and adjust flavors, adding pepper at this point.
  5. Reduce the heat, add the onions and mushrooms and cook for a few more minutes to combine flavours.
  6. Pour sauce over meat and vegetables. Cover and simmer two to three minutes, basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce several times.
  7. Serve right away but we always find the stew tastes best the next day.
  8. Arrange stew on a platter surrounded with cooked potatoes, noodles or rice, and decorated with parsley.

Own your Own

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Tools of the Trade

As Mrs. Patmore says, “a poor workman blames his tools”. If you want to invest the time in learning to cook you should fortify yourself with proper cooking tools.

I do love the hunt in my local cooking stores, but you can order items directly from Cooking.com (see links on the side) which I have used for years, or now through Amazon, so you have more time to watch Downton.

Dutch Oven: every Downton Cook needs a good dutch oven.

I love my Cuisnart Dutch Oven; its easy to clean and lighter than Crueset. Amazon Image

However, I will be inheriting my mother’s Crueset set which she inherited from her mother and love to use those bright pots when I visit. The enamel will darken so be sure to use proper cleaner to keep them white.

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