Newlyweds navigating their way through married life – and the kitchen

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Easy Beef Bourguignon

I can remember watching Julia Child at my grandmother’s house when I was little – she had kind of a funny sounding voice and even on television, where sizes and proportions can be warped, she was one of the tallest people I’d ever seen. And The movie Julie & Julia is one of my faves: there’s a lot of food in it and it’s a chronicle about how Food Blogging can change people’s lives.

One of my favorite parts in the movie though is when Julie makes the Beef Bourguignon – it’s a catalyst of events.  Judith Jones is coming over for dinner – and Julie decides to make Julia’s Beef Bourguignon.  After working all day at her full time job, and this recipe being simple yet extremely time consuming, Julie is waiting for it to be done into the wee hours of the morning.  But when the timer dings, she is in La La land, passed out on the couch (Dave can vouch for how many times this happens at our house, only it’s usually at about 8pm vs. midnight) She awakes – the beef is burnt to a crisp, and after calling in sick the next day to recreate the masterpiece, her dinner guest ends up cancelling because it’s ‘raining out’ – WTF.  I think anyone can relate to this horrendous series of occurences happening, the best laid out plans going completely wrong (especially in the kitchen!).

So when trying to decide the perfect dish to create for a French themed potluck dinner, I immediately thought of Beef Bourguignon – although I must admit, it’s not Julia’s exact recipe – I found a somewhat simplified version from my girl Ina – some day when I have a good 6-8 hours, I’ll try the real thing, but in the meantime, this was a great ‘sped up’ version of an old Julia Classic.

Beef Bourguignon
*Adapted from Barefoot Contessa

*Yields 8-10 servings – 1 serving = about a cup

    1 tablespoon good olive oil
(Ina loves “good” things)

    8 ounces dry cured center cut applewood smoked bacon, diced

    2 – 1/2 pounds chuck beef cut into 1-inch cubes

    Kosher salt

    Freshly ground black pepper

    1 pound carrots, sliced diagonally into 1-inch chunks

    2 yellow onions, sliced

    2 teaspoons chopped garlic (2 cloves)

    1/2 cup Cognac

    1 (750 ml.) bottle good dry red wine such as Cote du Rhone or Pinot Noir

2 cups beef broth

    1 tablespoon tomato paste

    1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (1/2 teaspoon dried)

 2 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature

    3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1) Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F.

2) Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven. Add the bacon and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the bacon is lightly browned. Remove the bacon to a large plate.

3) 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 searing until all the beef is browned. Set aside.

4) Toss the carrots, and onions, 1 tablespoon of salt and 2 teaspoons of pepper in the fat in the pan and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are lightly browned. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute.

5) 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 the juices. Add the bottle of wine plus enough beef broth to almost cover the meat. Add the tomato paste and thyme.

6) Bring to a simmer, cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and place it in the oven for about 1 & 1/4 hours or until the meat and vegetables are very tender when pierced with a fork. (I did mine for 1 hr in the oven and then let it simmer more on the stove top).

7) Combine 2 tablespoons of butter and the flour with a fork and stir into the stew.  Bring the stew to a boil on top of the stove, then lower the heat and simmer for an additional 15 minutes (or up to 1 hour – this will make the beef even more tender). Season to taste.

6) To serve, toast a baquette or loaf of french bread in the oven and serve the beef atop of that (or mashed potatoes would be delicious too!)

Basically, an amped up beef stew if you will – but the meat was so tender and delicious and the vegetables were cooked perfectly.  This could be a really great Christmas Eve dinner for the family, or really on any cold night this Winter (if it ever gets cold – sheesh!) I would definitely give yourself a good three hours to get this together, between the prep time, the cook time in the oven and then some time to simmer on the stovetop.

Best part was that it didn’t take all day and I didn’t fall asleep while making it 🙂 BONUS!

Pecan Pie Squares

Families can be divided for a lot of reasons – money; family secrets; sibling rivalries.  Or, in my family’s case, food network star Ina Garten, aka The Barefoot Contessa.

“I am fabulous – and so is my cooking!”

For years, my mom, aunts and grandmother have been Ina’s number one fans:  they’ve bought every new Barefoot Contessa cookbook, my mom DVR’s almost every episode, and even keeps her flour and sugar in the same glass jars and salt and pepper in the same white ramekins that Ina Does.  At every family holiday, you can pretty much bank on the fact that when you bite into one of the twenty five desserts on the table, when you ask for the recipe, you’ll hear “They’re Ina’s”, as if she’s a second cousin whose sitting in the next room or something.

And then, there’s my cousin Erin: she loathes Ina.  The sheer thought of her standing in her beautiful hampton’s kitchen, with a denim or black blouse on, collar popped, cooking up something for Jeffrey before he gets home from work releases the steam from Erin’s ears.  Perhaps it’s because she herself has a small bakery operation of her own in L.A., and Ina’s seemingly perfect desserts don’t live up to a Bella Boo Brownie or Max’s Monster Oatmeal Cookies.  Or maybe it’s Ina’s exessive use of the word ‘Fabulous’ or the term ‘How easy is that?’ 

America’s Next Top Model Cupcakes from Bella Boos Bakery – take that Ina

And then there’s those of us that are torn, like myself and some of my cousins.  Because yes, Ina, like all Food Network stars, can make you crazy.  We’re jealous of her kitchen, and her hampton’s house, and the fact that she gets to sit home and cook delicous food all day and get paid for it! WTF!  But, I do think her recipes are delcious – they’re basic enough that 9 times out of 10 you’ll have most of the ingredients on hand, and can manage to put them together without burning the house down –  and the woman loves her cocktails.  I’ll drink to that!

One of Ina’s recipes that has become a Murphy Family Favorite is her Pecan Squares.  There are 9 sticks of butter.  NINE.  N-I-N-E.  Oh and, as if the squares themselves aren’t enough, she takes it up a notch and dips half of them in chocolate (see I knew there was a reason I liked this woman).  This recipe goes on forever – you’ll have pecan squares for breakfast, lunch and dinner for a year, because one square inch of them is probably equal to your daily caloric intake.  They are just sinful.  But, the recipe is pretty involved – it feels like it takes forever to make them (I mean do you know how long it takes to unwrap nine sticks of butter? I’m sweating just thinking of it!)

So I was browsing online and found this delicous looking alternative for Ina’s 9-sticks-of-butter-bars (that’s what I’m renaming them) from Just a Taste, and it looked easy and equally as delicious!

Easier-than-Ina’s Pecan Bars



 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened

 2/3 cup packed brown sugar

 2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour

 ½ teaspoon salt

 1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter

 1 cup packed light brown sugar

 1/3 cup honey

 2 tablespoons heavy cream

 2 cups chopped pecans  

1) Preheat the oven to 350ºF and line a 9×13-inch pan with foil, leaving enough for a 2-inch overhang on all sides. (I sprayed my foil with non-stick cooking spray, just in case)
2) First make the crust by creaming together the butter and brown sugar until fluffy in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add in the flour and salt and mix until crumbly.

Pecan Pie Squares

3) Press the crust into the foil-lined pan and bake for 20 minutes until golden brown.

Pecan Pie Squares

4) While the crust bakes, prepare the filling by combining the butter, brown sugar, honey and heavy cream in a saucepan and stirring it over medium heat. Simmer the mixture for 1 minute, then stir in the chopped pecans.

Pecan Pie Squares

Pecan Pie Squares

5) Remove the crust from the oven and immediately pour the pecan filling over the hot crust spreading it to cover the entire surface.

Pecan Pie Squares
6) Return the pan to the oven and bake an additional 20 minutes.
7) Remove the pan and allow the bars to fully cool in the pan.
8) Use the foil overhang to lift out the bars and transfer them to a cutting board. Peel off the foil, slice into bars.

Pecan Pie Squares

9) *An optional, highly recommended last step, stolen from Ina – DIP THE ENDS IN CHOCOLATE!  Milk or Dark – you won’t be sorry! I didn’t do it this time, but, it will only make them that much more amazing.

Well what’s the verdict? Could these put Ina out of business?  I think so! They were absolutely delicious.  Not quite as thick and hearty as hers, but that means you get to eat more of them! The same great flavor, without all the hassle, time, and  BUTTER. 

So Ina, how much easier was that?

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