“Featherblade Bourguignon” from “Gizzi’s Healthy Appetite”

IMG_2303I need to lay all my cards on the table right now: I’ve always hated beef stew. Sure, you can fancy it up by calling it Beef Bourguignoun, but it’s still stew. And I always thought, “Yuck.”

I’m not sure why– does anyone know why they hate perfectly reasonably foods– but I never could abide it. In our family, we always got to pick our favourite meal on our birthdays and my brother Tom always, always, ALWAYS picked stew. So I could count on being forced to eat it one day a year. Yuck.

In recent years, when my cooking became better and we became more adventurous, my husband (who also loves beef stew) encouraged me to try it again. I tried all sorts of variations, but the one that most sticks with me is the time I made the Julia Child version from her classic tome, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” (a cookbook I highly recommend, by the way). I thought surely I would like that one. I sourced the best beef from our local butcher. I lovingly slaved over the dish for an entire afternoon. It even smelled good. But when I sat down and took my first bite, I thought, “Nope. Yuck.”

But to make a long story short, this beef stew, sorry Featherblade Bourguignon, was DELICIOUS. I did not sit down and think, “Nope. Yuck.” I thought, “Yes. Yum.”

It was, by a million miles, the best stew, sorry “Featherblade Bourguignoun” that I’ve ever had. I even reheated some the next day for my lunch. And I’m already planning on making it again for Sunday dinner. And again for when my parents happen to be here for Tom’s birthday, because even though he won’t be here (he’ll be home in North Carolina), I think it would make them happy to have beef stew, sorry “Beef Bourguignoun”, on that particular day since they had it on day so many times before.

That, my friends, is a successful recipe.

I’m really not sure why this one succeeded where so many before it had failed. But succeed it did.

If you want to make this yourself, maybe for your next Sunday lunch or once the autumn really settles in, click through this sentence to find the recipe in Google Books.

“Featherblade Bourguignon” from “Gizzi’s Healthy Appetite”

“Lasagna” from “Gizzi’s Healthy Appetite”

Sorry. No pictures, as I deleted a bunch from my phone in a flurry before leaving for our trip to Paris. Trust me. It looked just like a lasagna.

Maureen: Lasagna Night!

All: Hooray!

Maureen: Though I have to say for the record that this lasagna is different than the ones I usually make.

Tim: How?

Maureen: It’s a meat-based lasagna, rather than a vegetable one like I usually make. What do you think?

Andrew (16): Yum. You know I love lasagna.

Nicholas (12): It’s good, but I think I like the other one better.

Andrew: Me too.

Maureen: Does anyone want to guess how long it took me to make the meat sauce?

Tim: No. That sounds like a loaded question to me, so I don’t want to answer.

Maureen: It is a loaded question. It took me four hours to make the meat sauce.

Andrew: Four hours!

Maureen: Indeed. Not four hours at the stove, mind you, but still four hours. As this is neither Thanksgiving nor Christmas, I don’t want to spend four hours making something. It would never live up to that sort of time commitment.

Tim: The sauce is good, but I can’t taste four hours worth of cooking in it.

Maureen: I think we’ll go back to our usual lasagna. This is fine, but not transformative, and given how long it took me to make it, it ought to be transformative.

“Lasagna” from “Gizzi’s Healthy Appetite”

“Black Velvet Cake” from “Gizzi’s Healthy Appetite”

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Does this cake look like a Great British Bake Off contender to you?

Nope. I didn’t think so.

This cake was a disaster. “How?” you may ask.

Let me count the ways, though it’s so hard to know where to begin.

The reason I wanted to make this cake in the first place was because I was intrigued by the icing, whereby you take a bottle of champagne (not a typo) and boil it down into two tablespoons to act as the flavouring. This was a variation on champagne cupcakes I had made last weekend from “Lola’s Forever,” but in that case, for the icing you add just two tablespoons of champagne to it after adding two tablespoons to the cake mixture. This method comes with a special bonus because you then have to drink the rest of the bottle yourself because it’ll lose all its fizz by the time your guests arrive. I can fully endorse a recipe that has leftover fizz that I need to drink right away. (If you’re curious, those cupcakes were delicious.)

To Gizzi’s credit, she says you don’t actually have to use champagne– though I wouldn’t mind having a life whereby you’d give no thought to having a spare bottle that you could use in that way. I ended up using a bottle of Cava we had kicking around. I was curious as to how it would work, and it was fun to see the Cava fizzing away on the stovetop. But at the end of the day, it meant I spent £6 on two tablespoons of ingredients, which seems a bit rich to me.  We couldn’t even taste the cava in in the icing anyway. Also, as you can see in the picture, the icing was a bit gloopy, which meant I couldn’t really ice the cake well.

The other method she endorses that I’ve never really understood or used when I make cakes myself (though other people, including the Queen of Cakes herself Mary Berry do sometimes do it this way) is to make one large cake. Once it’s baked, you then slice it into thirds for your three layers. I don’t know why you’d do it this way when it’s so much easier to just divide the batter into thirds and bake them.

In this case, this created one large cake that then cratered in the middle. I’m not sure if it was operator error or a problem with the recipe, but either way, it didn’t work. Consequently, it was impossible to then divide it into thirds. I could then use all the icing to fill up the crater in the middle, which was a means to an end but not the way I’d like my cake to be.

It looked a disaster and it tasted fine. Not delicious exactly, but our friends seemed to enjoy it. On the other hand, that might have had something to do with the copious amounts of wine we drank that night. But when I went to eat the cake, I could only taste bitterness, because I thought of the wasted cava and the wasted afternoon lost in the making of this cake.

Important Addendum: Thanks to “A Cookbook Collection,” she told me that Gizzi posted an apology on her Instagram feed that said the recipe should read 2 1/2 teaspoons NOT tablespoons. Duh! I should have known better, but sometimes you just have to trust what they tell you to do. (That was my mistake.) If you want to read the apology yourself, it’s here. As I don’t follow Gizzi on Instagram, I didn’t see the correction. At least now I know it wasn’t operator error. But there’s no way I’m giving this cake another chance, given all the other amazing things I want to bake. As a variation on the saying, “You only get one chance to make a first impression,” I would say, “You only get one chance to boil down an entire bottle of Cava.”

Will I make this again? I think you all know the answer to that one.

“Black Velvet Cake” from “Gizzi’s Healthy Appetite”

“Bolognese Sauce – The real deal” from “Gizzi’s Healthy Appetite”

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Kirstin: So this took 4 hours to cook. What do you think?

Tom: That’s quite intensive!

Kirstin: Only the first hour really. And not really. The rest was just 3 hours of simmering on the hob, which gave me time to get our favourite bottle of red wine to go with.

Tom: Oh yes. Thank you!

Kirstin: Can you taste the milk?

Tom: Not really.

Kirstin: I’m not overly impressed with this recipe. I suppose for 4 hours, I would have expected something with more flavours. Think I’ll stick with our traditional sausage sauce.

“Bolognese Sauce – The real deal” from “Gizzi’s Healthy Appetite”

“Pimped-Up Pad Thai” from “Gizzi’s Healthy Appetite”

IMG_7656I love a Pad Thai. Always have, always will. When I was a young reporter in Chicago, a group of us would go to our favourite Thai restaurant around the corner from our office every pay day without fail, and I frequently ordered Pad Thai.

[Brief pause to go to Google Maps to see if the Thai restaurant is still there. It is! I love it when despite the drumbeat of time, my favourite places are still where I remember them. As you were.]

So I was excited to make this for my family. It was even a Friday, which if memory serves actually was our payday, but that could just be my memory playing tricks on me. I really wanted to like this. But it didn’t work out that way.

I don’t know if it was operator error or the recipe didn’t quite work, but the pad thai was extremely gloopy by the time I served it. I did everything as instructed– had the wok as hot as it would go, followed the rest of the instructions to the letter– but it just wasn’t a pad thai that I could recognise.

The rest of the family, not surprisingly, was less than enthusiastic about the result. I feel bad not being able to whole-heartedly recommend this recipe, since the rest of the book looks so promising, but it didn’t work for me.

Maybe I’ll have better luck with the next thing I try.

If you’d like to try this yourself, The Pool has the recipe, which you can find by clicking through on this paragraph. Maybe you can figure out where it went wrong for me. Answers on a postcard. Or an e-mail.

“Pimped-Up Pad Thai” from “Gizzi’s Healthy Appetite”

Cookbook of the month, October 2015, Gizzi’s Healthy Appetite: Food to nourish the body and feed the soul

Maureen: What do you think?

Kirstin: It looks like there are some mad ingredients in here.

Maureen: Argh! You know how i feel about mad ingredients

Kirstin: It looks like I’m going to have to go to the Asian supermarket to get ingredients.

Kirstin: There’s a shepherds pie with cauliflower but it takes four hours to make. Oh my God. And it’ll take longer than that, right?

Maureen: A four-hour shepherd’s pie! That seems to defeat the purpose of making a shepherd’s pie in the first place.

Kirstin: It’ll probably be more like six when I’m done with it. But there’s a lovely lasagna recipe here.

Maureen: Yes, that looks good. I’ll do that one, as lasagna is firmly in our family’s meal wheelhouse. We all love it.

Kirstin: The recipes look tasty. It’s a little bit of everything.

Maureen: I like the looks of this. After a month of living virtuously, perhaps too virtuously, I like the look of a recipe that uses butter and cheese. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that this month will be better than the last one.

Cookbook of the month, October 2015, Gizzi’s Healthy Appetite: Food to nourish the body and feed the soul