The January pick for Food 'n Flix is the 1987 Danish film Babette's Feast (now included in The Criterion Collection), chosen by Culinary Adventures with Camilla. This is the story of two deeply religious and puritanical sisters who live on the remote coastline of 19th Century Denmark. They give up much in their lives in order to live the way that they were raised and to help the people of the village. Late in their lives, a French refugee comes to stay with them for many years and cooks them a fabulous meal to thank them. The sisters and villagers are afraid to give in to the decadence of the meal, but it ends up healing many of their wounds and rifts. It is a story about the healing power of food and how it can show love and thanks.
The food cooked in the movie is quite extravagant and I didn't think I could take on turtle soup or quail stuffed with foie gras and truffles, so instead I decided to just go French in general. I must have been influenced by all the soup that the Danish villagers ate (and the stew meat in my freezer), because I made a French stew with beef and red wine - cooked low and slow in a crockpot.
Beef is seasoned with salt and pepper and placed into a bowl with onion, garlic, shallot, celery, carrot, thyme, bay leaves, and lemon zest.
This is the fun part - a whole bottle of red wine is poured over the ingredients and then left to marinate (refrigerated) overnight. The wine is the stock for this stew, and the flavor permeates everything. So make sure that you use a good one! I suggest a Cotes du Rhone for this.
Then, the beef is separated out and browned. Check out how purple it is from the wine! My slow cooker insert is safe for the stovetop, so I cooked right in it. You may have to use a separate pan (or use a dutch oven for the whole process). Even though I strained the beef before cooking it, a lot of liquid was released. I wanted to sear the meat, not steam it, so I spooned most of the liquid back into the marinating bowl and let the rest evaporate.
Then I kept cooking the beef until it was nicely seared. Brown food = flavor. Remember that!
Next, all the other ingredients and the wine go into the pot with some water, and simmer for a few minutes before being placed into the slow cooker.
I wanted to serve the stew over a luscious potato puree, so I used my favorite method. Cover yukon gold potatoes in cold water and bring to a boil in a covered pot, then remove the cover, reduce the heat, and simmer. Pour into a strainer, then return the pot to the stove and add butter, cream, salt, and pepper. Once the butter is melted, press the potatoes into it using a ricer or food mill.
This is the best way to get smooth, creamy, lump-free potatoes that aren't dense or gummy. It's all about not breaking down the starches and other science-y reasons - trust me.
Anyway, stir it together but don't over-work it. Then you will have some gorgeous mashed potatoes.
Spoon some stew on top and dig in. Enjoy with a big glass of wine, of course.
Daube Provencal (French beef stew with red wine)
adapted from Katie at the Kitchen Door
3 lb stew beef, cut into 1 inch cubes
1 (750-ml) bottle good quality French red wine
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
3 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch slices
3 stalks celery, cut into 1/2 inch slices
zest of 1 lemon (or orange)
1 large onion, peeled and cut into rings
1 shallot, peeled and cut into rings (optional, I had one on hand)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
1 6-oz can tomato paste
Season meat with kosher salt and pepper on all sides. Place meat in a big bowl with wine, thyme, bay leaves, carrots, orange, onion, and garlic. Cover and marinate in the fridge for at least 12 hours, and preferably 24 hours.
Heat some olive oil over medium heat in the insert of a slow cooker or dutch oven. Remove the meat from the marinade and brown the pieces in the oil on all sides (see above for how to get a good sear). Pour the marinade (including all the vegetables and herbs) over the meat and bring to a boil. Boil for 5 minutes, skimming any foam from the surface. Lower the heat to a simmer, stir in the tomato paste, and add 4 1/2 cups water. For a slow cooker - Cover and set on low for 6-8 hours. For a dutch oven - Cover, and let stew on low heat for 2-3 hours, stirring occasionally.
Let cook for 15 minutes on medium heat without the lid to thicken the stew. Serve with mashed potatoes (recipe below).
from Alton Brown
5 lbs Yukon gold potatoes
1 cup heavy cream
8 oz (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Peel the potatoes and cut into uniform 1/2-inch pieces. Place into a 4-quart saucepan and cover with cold water by at least 1-inch. Cover, set over high heat and bring to a boil. Once boiling, remove the lid, decrease the heat to maintain a simmer and cook until the potatoes can easily be crushed with a pair of tongs, approximately 15 to 20 minutes. Drain in a colander.
Put the cream, butter, salt and pepper into the now empty 4-quart saucepan and place back over the heat until the butter has melted. Remove from the heat and set a food mill fitted with the smallest die, on top of the pot. Add 1 cup of potatoes at a time to the mill. Once all of the potatoes have passed through the mill, stir to combine. Taste and adjust the seasoning, if necessary. Serve immediately.