In a Stew about the Oscars

(Courtesy of Omelette/AMPAS)

The Oscars are coming!
Abuse them as much as you like. I know all the arguments against Hollywood’s annual tribute to itself. The televised show is long and boring and still manages to leave out many important categories. The statuettes are awarded to middlebrow fare. The whole shebang revolves around money rather than quality.
I don’t care. Oscar Night is a highlight of my year.
Years ago I hosted annual Academy-Award parties. My guests and I ate movie-themed food and watched the awards knowing that most of us had seen many of the nominated films—certainly the majority of the best-picture nominees.
My life is now more complicated, and I don’t get out to the movies as I used to. This year, alas, I have not seen A SINGLE FILM on the best-picture roster, despite the increased odds now that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has expanded the number of nominees from five to ten.
I no longer stay in one place long enough to give a huge Oscar party so I don’t plan a huge Oscar menu.
Nevertheless, on Sunday evening I have to make and eat at least one dish that pays tribute to a film from 2009. Oprah and Barbara are busy getting ready for their star-studded televised Oscar Specials. My own production will be a more modest Blue-Plate Special.
It hasn’t been hard to select a film to honor. Like every other food lover in the United States last year I saw Julie & Julia.
I found the original book Julie & Julia fun but not scintillating. The film adaptation captured my heart, however.
In the book, blogger-turned-author Julie Powell described the “Julie & Julia Project,” in which she spent a year making every recipe in Julia Child’s groundbreaking work Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
To augment her own adventures Powell recreated bits of Child’s biography, bits that didn’t have the sincerity or humor that she projected into her descriptions of her own life and cooking.
In the film, writer/director Nora Ephron had more resources on which to draw. She used Child’s account of her life; her own experiences (a former food writer, Ephron knows the lure of a full plate); and cinematic tools such as set design, costumes, and music. (One doesn’t get to hear both Doris Day and Charles Aznavour on very many soundtracks!)
Above all, Ephron took advantage of a magical cast, headed by Meryl Streep as Julia Child and Stanley Tucci as her supportive husband Paul. The two emerged as the Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon of 2009, a seemingly natural and ideal cinematic couple.
Meryl Streep is cooking with gas as Julia Child. (Courtesy of Sony Pictures)

Meryl Streep is cooking with gas as Julia Child. (Courtesy of Sony Pictures)

Julie & Julia the book is a collaboration of two partners, one of them dead and trapped in a book. Julie & Julia the movie is a collaboration of hundreds of creative partners. It invites the audience into that partnership as well, encouraging us to believe that cooking and love can help a woman of any age fulfill her dreams.
Fans of the book OR the movie who live in western Massachusetts may want to attend some of the Julie/Julia events in local libraries between now and March 20. These include book discussions, cooking demonstrations, and Julia Child impersonations! For details on the innovative “Tale for Ten Towns” project, visit its web site
Those of you planning to watch the Oscars Sunday evening may also want to join me in making a Julia-themed dish. Here is a recipe I always associate with Julia Child, Beef Burgundy—or, as she would say in her indelibly American accent, “Boeuf Bourguignon.“
Because I am neither Julie nor Julia I don’t actually make this dish the way they would. I appreciate Child’s contributions to American cooking and treasure both volumes of Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
Nevertheless, I am a simple cook. I see those volumes as reference books rather than cookbooks. The only dish I ever make straight out of them is Child’s version of scrambled eggs. Even then I cut down on the butter.
I do use one of Child’s tricks to good effect in this recipe, however, and that is saving the little onions and the mushrooms until the last minute so they don’t stew down so much that they are invisible.
My version is simple to make and perfect for a cozy evening spent in front of the television set watching film personalities emote and cavort. I offer it in homage to a great cook and an enjoyable film.
Bon appétit!
Not Julia’s (or even Julie’s) Beef Burgundy
1-1/2 pounds stew beef, cut into bite-size pieces
2 cloves of garlic, 1 crushed and 1 minced
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
several turns of the pepper mill
2 tablespoons flour, divided
1 small onion, finely cut
1-1/2 cups red wine (plus a little more if needed)
1 cup water (plus a little more if needed)
several sprigs of thyme
1 bay leaf
2 carrots, cut into bite-size pieces
a small amount of butter for sautéing
1 cup tiny onions with their ends cut off
10 ounces mushrooms, sliced (the slices should be fairly thick—no more than four per mushroom)
chopped parsley for garnish
Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. When it has heated toss the meat, the crushed garlic clove, the oil, and the salt and pepper together in a sturdy, uncovered Dutch oven.
Place the pot in the hot oven until the meat browns (this takes between 10 and 15 minutes). While the meat is in the oven be sure to stir it every few minutes to ensure even browning. When most of us it has browned stir in 1 tablespoon of flour and let it continue to brown.
When the meat is brown carefully remove the pot from the oven and turn the oven off. Use a slotted spoon to take out the garlic clove (which you may discard) and the meat, which you should reserve.
Add the onion and garlic pieces to the gravy in the pot, and sauté them for a couple of minutes.
Whisk in the remaining flour for a minute or two; then deglaze the pan with a little of the wine. Add in the remaining wine and the water; then stir in the thyme and bay leaf, the carrots, and the reserved meat.
Bring the stew to a boil; then cover and reduce the heat. Cook the mixture until the beef can be pierced by a fork (about 2 hours). Check and stir it every half hour, but make sure you cover it completely after checking (you don’t want it to dry out!).
If you have time after the beef has cooked, allow the stew to cool to room temperature and then chill it. You will then be able to skim off much of the fat easily. If you don’t have time—and/or don’t care about fat—ignore this step.
Shortly before you are ready to serve the stew, melt a little butter in a frying pan, and quickly sauté the small onions and the mushrooms. Add them to the beef mixture, and stir to make sure they are covered in sauce.
Taste the sauce and adjust the seasonings. If the flavor is too strong, add a little water. Simmer on the stove top for 5 to 10 minutes.
Garnish the dish with parsley and serve over noodles or potatoes. Serves 6.



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14 Responses to “In a Stew about the Oscars”

  1. Donna says:

    Fabulous posting. Like you, I saw Julie & Julia, but I am far less forgiving of the blogger Julie Powell, her story was far less compelling than that of Julia and her Paul. I adored “My Life in France.” I no longer eat boeuf, but your photo made me hungry and want to!

  2. Peter says:

    Hmmm… We need to get you out of the kitchen, away from your computer and into a movie theater on a regular basis. Maybe enroll you in a weekly matinee therapy program (with popcorn, of course). You’re right to recall the Oscar parties you once hosted – they were a bright spot in the too-long, too-cold winter and I was amazed that so many townspeople were willing to venture out (on a weeknight back then), but of course the food, the conversation, the décor (with all your movie memorabilia), the red carpet arrivals and gossip and then the ceremony itself were obvious draws. And the food was terrific and plentiful. The wonder of it all, beyond your energy in producing the evening at your house, which was the local equivalent of a Hollywood production, was that almost every year Charlotte Thwing (who hadn’t seen a single one of the nominated films) would win the prize for most right award guesses!

    Let us hope you can arrange your schedule to resume hosting the Oscars in Hawley, and perhaps to celebrate your return, one of us will be the guest who makes the Boeuf Bourguignon to share on that future winter night. It’s too early in the morning to contemplate such a dish, but it certainly looks delicious. Since you’re (this year) in nearly the same predicament as Charlotte was, aren’t you going to take a shot at guessing the winners? My hope for Best Picture is “The Hurt Locker” (short on food inspiration unless MRE’s count). Maybe Ruth Reichl will get a movie deal for one of her books, or “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook” will become the next “Fried Green Tomatoes”. But thank you for this posting: Sunday night it’s the comfort of today’s recipe (and perhaps some left over cherry pudding for dessert).

  3. E. Sheppard says:

    Wow – those parties sound like they were great! I have not seen Julie and Julia yet, but hopefully will. I just saw the 3D Avatar again… it was great! So I suggest it and will be crossing my fingers to support it this year. But I have heard good things about J & J so hopefully they will both get awards.

    This posting reminds me of Movie Night at my house growing up. When something was coming on TV, sometimes we’d go all out and have Movie Night complete with decorations, special hors d’oeuvres, and streamers. It really did make the night more fun. Love the posting! Off to Twitter and get downtown to make a birdbath. Later!

  4. tut-tut says:

    Hmm. I stayed away from the movie because I didn’t want to see a cartoonish characterization of Julia Child. You say it’s worth it, so I’ll watch it.

    Tinky, you can see many of the nominated films from the comfort of your own home via Netflix. I hadn’t realized that Hurt Locker was available to view outside of the theatre until a friend suggested Neflix. I think Crazy Heart also is available that way. Frankly, the movies I go to see don’t exactly attract crowds, so it’s not as though I’m missing the reactions, etc., from fellow movie goers.

    It’s brisket tonight and latkes!

  5. Tinky….your beef stew looks fabulous and I feel warmed and enriched just looking at it! I adore beef stew….it’s hard to think of anything else that makes winter wonderful.

    Marty and I just saw the movie (via netflix) a couple of weeks ago. We loved it!

  6. Sue says:

    Your boeuf stew looks yummy. Thanks. I agree with you on the “Julie & Julia” book–didn’t finish it. Loved the movie and Meryl Streep. Also loved Julia’s book “My Life in France” co-written with her grand-nephew, Alex Prud’homme. It’s her love story about Paul, France, and of course, French food!

  7. I haven’t read the book or seen the film, so I guess I’ll just have to cook your recipe!!

  8. commonweeder says:

    I am glad that Peter has already written a suitable tribute to your Oscar parties which were so much fun! I couldn’t read the book (I tried) but the movie is a delight. I actually saw the movie in a theater with women friends, but then had to see it with my husband as well, through the magic of Netflix. It is a great date movie. I make Julia’s Estoufade de Boeuf (Daube de Boeuf) which requires marinating, but no browning and is a wonderful, and I think really easy dish. I like your technique of doing the browning in the oven. I’ll give that a try.

  9. commonweeder says:

    I forgot to say thank you for the link to Tale fro Ten Towns. I knew they were reading the book (Ugh!) but had no idea of all the great events. Last year I did attend a Senior Symposium at GCC with a Smithsonia curator talking about the installation of the Child kitchen. The place was mobbed, and rightfully so.

  10. Grad says:

    I loved loved loved the movie (did not read the book, and was not at all enamoured by what I read of Powell’s blog). My only regret about the movie is that Julia Child’s life deserved a movie of its own – with Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci in it – but it will probably never be made now. The boeuf bourguignon was the first recipe I made from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. At the time I said, “This is the best thing I’ve ever tasted.” I made it twice in the last six months, and it remains one of the best things I ever ate. On top of it, it’s very, very easy to execute and virtually “does” itself in the oven. Oh, and when I was young I saw Jacques Brel Is Alive And Well And Living In Paris, and I believe Charles Aznavour was its star. I was too young to realize who he was. I’ll have to look for the old playbill.

  11. tinkyweisblat says:

    Peter and Pat–Next year I’ll try to get home in time to resurrect the Oscar soiree. (Perhaps we’ll do the Daube then!) I believe much of the decor is still in my attic, including the cut out of Bruce Willis holding a gun that made the dog so crazy!

    Donna, Debbie, and E. Sheppard, thanks for visiting! I love the movie night idea.

    Anne and tut-tut, GO SEE THIS MOVIE! (I know, I’m a fine one to talk.)

    Sue, you’re so right about the book, which is what Ephron used in large part for the film.

    As for Grad, I’m just plain jealous of you!

    Happy Oscars, all…..

  12. Bernard Yin says:

    Great post and great comments. Julia’s TV show was fascinating to me as a kid. I remember something about simmering pennies in a pot just for the smell. Can anyone verify this? All that said, I wish to share some Bakerella recipes that Hyundai is sharing. They have clever Oscar related titles such as Inglorious Custards or Up In Éclair. Check them out here:
    Media Needle | Hyundai

  13. Leo Lo says:

    Great post! I was fortunate enough to have spent a summer studying abroad in Dijion when I was younger, and I have such fond memories of the boeuf bourguignon there! I’m definitely going to try your recipe. 🙂 Thanks for posting it.

    I also really liked Julie & Julia the movie. It’s a clever adaptation of two memoirs and the dual protagonists/storylines work surprisingly well. And I think we have exhausted all superlatives on Meryl Streep. She does something brilliant – a flick of an eyebrow here, a rise in the intonation there – in every single scene! I’ve to admit I had low to medium expectations going in, but ended up highly enjoying the movie.

  14. tinkyweisblat says:

    Thanks, Leo. Your summer in Dijon sounds lovely. I was a little disappointed that Streep didn’t take home the Oscar for “Julia”–despite the general expectation that it would go to Bullock–but she’s so golden she doesn’t need another golden statue in her house!

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