Christmas Day without a Turkey

IMG_0898A month ago, we had turkey, dressing, green bean casserole, pumpkin pie, and other traditional holiday foods.  I love those foods, but a month later, I’m not ready to eat them again.   A few years ago, we started a new tradition–one that includes beef, wine, and hearty vegetables.  Instead of turkey and dressing, etc., we have Boeuf Bourguignon.

Usually my holidays go off without a hitch. Not this year.  As I began to prepare our holiday feast, I realized no one had ever bought the meat.  There was yelling, tears, frustration, but finally, SAFEWAY came to the rescue.

I like this recipe on Christmas Day because it takes very little time away from my family.  I’m not spending hours in the kitchen basting a previously feathered beast.   I get to enjoy the excitement my children have as they run down the stairs to see what Santa brought them.

The recipe is simple enough.  I can throw everything in a pot in about 20  minutes and let the rest slow cook away….And the smell is amazing.

I have adapted my recipe from Ina Garten’s Barefoot in Paris with Julia Child’s famous recipe.  Truthfully, I’ve made this recipe so many times that I don’t really follow a recipe anymore.  I’ve found techniques I like and techniques I don’t like.  Now I get to  “eyeball” it.

I use my kitchen scissors to cut bacon into one-inch strips (called lardons).   I cook them on medium heat in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil in my Le Creuset enameled cast-iron Dutch oven.  If you don’t have one of these, you should invest in one.  I bought a whole set of Le Creuset cookware with a commission check ten years ago, and I use it more than any other cookware in my kitchen.  It is completely worth the investment.  It also looks beautiful in the kitchen, which is an added bonus.

After about 10 minutes, I remove them with a slotted spoon and set aside.  I keep my scissors close to me to ward off unwanted bacon thieves.

While I sautéed the bacon, I seasoned my cubed chuck roast with salt and pepper and then dredged the meat in flour.   Once I removed the bacon, I added the meat in small batches, searing on all sides.  I do not cook the meat through but remove it once it’s been browned.



To the remaining fat in the pan, I add sliced yellow onions.  Then when the  onions are translucent I add the sliced carrots.   Once the onions begin to brown,  I add minced garlic and cook a minute or two more, make sure not to burn the garlic.  Then add the bacon and meat back to the pan.

At this point, you can become showy.  You can flambé your stew with brandy or Cognac.  We were out of both Christmas morning, so I skipped this step all together.  I didn’t notice a tremendous difference.  It’s a great trick, however, if you want to impress your in-laws. (If you choose to do so, add about 1/2 cup of brandy, light it with a match, and step back until the alcohol dissipates.)

I then add a whole bottle of dry wine.  We like Cabernet but a good Pinot Noir works as well.  I like Cabernet because it has a nice peppery flavor.   I add enough water to the pan to completely cover the meat and vegetables. You can add beef stock, but I have come to love Better the Bouillon beef paste.  I add 2 tablespoons of it to the pot with 2 tablespoons of tomato paste.  I add more salt, pepper, and dried thyme.  Once the stew comes to a low boil, I cover it and  put it in a 250 degree oven for about 2 hours.  I check it after 90 minutes to see if the meat is fork tender.  If it’s not, I leave it in for another 30 minutes or so.


When it’s finished, I put it back on the stove.  I add frozen pearl onions and some mushrooms that I sautéed in butter beforehand.  I cook it another 15 minutes until it thickens.


I realize there should be a finished photo here, but my camera ran out of batteries.  Still, the pot looks pretty yummy. With a lovely salad and French country bread, it really is a warm winter meal.  I know that Christmas has come and gone, but it would be a perfect supper for New Year’s Eve or Day.



My mother, Helen, and Me

Don't you love her hip glasses? I do!

Don’t you love her hip glasses? I do!

My mom cooked a lot when I was young. She got to be a SAHM for a spell, and she would prepare gourmet meals. She made bunuelos (light cinnamon and sugar-coated pasteries). She made Baked Alaska and Cherries Jubilee. I barely remember this, but there are flickers of recollection when I eat certain foods. She returned to the work force when my brother and I started elementary school. She still cooked, but it was meatoaf, hamburger stroganoff or Hungarian goulash–your standard working mom family dinner.  We also ate A LOT of left overs.  (I’m not a fan.  You can read about that here.)

When I began cooking, my mother was an encyclopedia of gourmet knowledge. “Where did you learn this?” I would ask as she would explain to me how to prepare Bananas Foster. My Nanna definitely didn’t cook this way. One day, she showed me.

My mother only had three cookbooks, a dim comparison to my 75+ books of recipe collections, but she knew so much about specialty food–especially for a Texas housewife. During my studies in college, she showed me that one of these volumes was responsible for her vast entertaining knowledge–The Helen Corbitt Cookbook.

Before Julia Child populated the screens of televisions and Martha Stewart planned her first soiree, Helen Coribitt, a New Jersey chef, taught Texas housewives how to cook and Texans how to eat. What ?!? You haven’t heard of her? That’s not a huge surprise.  Most people outside of the state of Texas haven’t heard of her, but the inventor of “Texas Caviar” and talented purveyor of poppyseed dressing brought elegance and beauty to the state which prided itself on barbecue, burritos, and chicken-fried steak.  In the 1950s and 1960s, she changed the way Texans ate, and we are better for it.  She would definitely be a household name if Food Network existed in the 1950s.  Her name has mostly disappeared from the world of food.  Her cookbooks are out of print, but she’s a chef worth knowing.

When I got married, I took my mother’s Helen Corbitt cookbook with me.Like my mother before me, I have learned several cooking lessons from the food-stained pages of her book. No holiday is complete with out the Chess Pie recipe.  (I swear it is the reason Jedidiah married me.)