French Saturday…Beef Bourguignon.

Cliché as it may sound, I decided this weekend to create a French inspired dinner. Since visiting Paris for a first time I often found myself reminiscing about French dining experience, about little salad on a side with nice vinaigrette, bit of fresh baguettes with rich butter, rich meaty dishes and potatoes…

When we lived in Edinburgh, we were lucky to have an amazing bistro where you can get nice French steak and fries and some of the most traditional dishes at bistro prices…Since we left, in Lancaster there is actually not that much of a French dinner unless you make one yourself or if want a treat, then you’ll find yourself in Quite Simply French ( my husband took me there for my birthday 🙂 ).

A year ago, I watched a movie, which further sparked my interest in cooking French. It is quite famous, Julie and Julia, which tells you a story of an American woman recreating French dishes at home using a book by a fellow American, Julia Child (the first to bring those recipes to America in English). If you have not watched, but love cooking and see it as one of you rescues from modern world at times, you may really enjoy it!

After watching that movie, part of me felt that I wanted to create a cooking blog too or start experimenting with complex recipes. Not shortly after, it was my birthday and my best friends has sent me two copes of Julia Child’s French cooking. These are quite special books I must say. You won’t find in there picturesque images of dishes but you can learn a great deal about various techniques, variation of famous French dishes, secrets of cooking with meat, sauces and baking…

This weekend to decide on my next complex dish to make, me and my husband were doing some blind guessing, randomly choosing the page numbers and checking out the recipe. We stopped on Beef Bourguignon. Previously, I cooked a little bit similar variation of dinner with chicken, famous Coq au vin. Yet, beef is the whole new level. Simply because this dish will take you good 4-5 hours to make.

Autumn has fully arrived to Lancaster

I started a little later, but my advice would be to maybe start cooking a little bit earlier than noon. I got fresh beef, nice full-bodied wine, onions, carrots and bacon larders. Fresh thyme and bay leaf are also important for seasoning! The weather was rather gloomy so if you a re prepared to stay around all day and want a rich meal, this is just perfect!

The full recipe can be easily located anywhere online. The key for this to be right is to make sure that you dry the meat before cooking it, that way it’ll brown nicely and will have even a little bit of crispy skin when all ready.

To go fully French, I prepared fresh vinaigrette made of a table spoon of white wine vinegar, a half table spoon of Dijon mustard and olive oil, gently added to whisked mixture. It goes perfectly over fresh lettuce leaves, that’s all that you need!

For beef, after it’ll have its nice journey in the oven for a good 3 hours, on a side it is nice to prepare onion gently browned and reduced in stock or red wine. Plus, some mushrooms sautéed. I also made some green beans in the same way in mushrooms, gently sautéed with butter, piece of garlic, a bit of salt and pepper.

Lastly, as a side, I made Dauphinoise potatoes. I used milk and a bit of Lancashire cheese, which some people of course would replace by nice Swiss cheese but I thought why not use something local 🙂

I had a bit of a strategy with preparations, I first looked after beef and before leaving it to cook slowly, slices the potatoes (leave them in the water so they wont get dark), chopped onions and mushrooms. When about half an hour was left on the meat, given that I don’t have two ovens to cook in different temperature, I left the beef to finalise cooking on a slow heat on my stove and started with baking potatoes. I then prepared onions, mushrooms and beans. I served them in little bowls and covered each with foil once they were ready so they keep warm once the final meal is on the table.

And that is it, really 🙂 Because you virtually cook all day the effort is actually nicely spread and it doesn’t feel like you are constantly in the kitchen, you can watch a movie in between whilst the beef is cooking and have a glass of wine.

Ah lastly, I used full bodied Sicilian wine for the beef and to accompany dinner we went with Chianti! I know I should have had French to make it fully French style dinner but oh well, Chianti goes excellently with this dish!

Bon appetite!

Mexican Saturday this week…

I normally cook a lot of Italian of French inspired dishes. Given my lack of knowledge on various spices I simply do not have a good feel for it yet when it comes to Central or Eastern Asia regional food. Neither, I have a good feel for Southern American and African food even though I am always so overtaken by smells any time I passed by kiosk in a street market that serves authentic African stews…

Keeping up with my newly Saturday cooking tradition, this week I was trying to find something different. I came across interesting Ottolenghi recipe for chicken and chocolate aka Mexican style sauce. I normally avoid Ottolenghi too but always inspired by his recipes and images of his food 🙂 Till only recently I started to feel comfortable looking at a little bit more consuming recipes that may require a handful of special ingredients…so, here we go for this week.

Taco cups with beef

Since I picked a sort of Mexican theme, I also located interesting idea for a starter known as taco cups. I had a bit of mince beef in my fridge that I cooked with a bit of tomatoes and taco style spice. I then placed it with a bit of cheese into little envelopes made of pastry I got from Asian shop (traditionally designed for spring rolls) but in fact perfect for mini pockets that you can stuff with whatever you like.

During my shopping, I also have been fortunate to check out for the first time our local wine shop, Chapel Street Wine in Lancaster. Unusually, those who run the shop have quite a special love for Italian wine, as I do 🙂 They recommended to pair my chicken with a bit of Nero D’Avola which indeed was an excellent choice.

So, here we are. Chicken actually was quite easy to make. Food processor is required to make the marinade and few special ingredients like dry chipotle chillies, cinnamon and a wee bit of dark chocolate. Also a little bit of prep with roasting/grilling peppers that I put in straight away and whiles those were cooking focused on the starter. It worthy the effort though, as the taste that coats the meat and potatoes does resemble a bit of sharp dark sweet taste and nicely both sweet, savour and spicy. Husband loved it so another success and less fear now when I am checking out Ottolenghi’s recipes.

Here it is, enough to two dinners 🙂

Hope you may try this one too!

Ending therapy during the pandemic…

Today I had my last session with the therapist. I must that say that we’ve known each others for almost 5 years but it was not continuous and I have had three different time intervals and in all of these cases I came to therapy in a quite displaced state. It is hard to describe what is like, what I have learnt and how I feel today in a short post but let me just put few things down that I d like to share…

Everyone has their own reason when and why to start therapy. It can be a conscious choice for self-care or desperate call for someone to rescue us. In my case, eventually, it has become a little bit of both and, it is through that search for the rescue, I found new ways to look after myself…

This, last time, I had more than a year in therapy: leaving my old job, moving city and getting through the first wave of the pandemic – all did feel like I could not have done it all without a support. Therapy is unique as we are. As we all have different journeys in life, different things will become central in the sessions..

I was incredibly lucky to work with someone who understood where part of me might need healing and where I was maybe beating myself up a little. I understood how much we carry from our childhood and that love, in its first form given to us by our parents, can change the way we place ourselves in the world.

During the first wave of the pandemic in the UK, I literally found myself lying on the floor, not really sure what to do and how to possibly realise fully what is happening with the world. Now, as the second wave is literally by our doors, I feel prepared, with tools up my sleeve. I guess that what is really about, about finding tools, what work for you, realising that whatever it is you can work on it and that you are a human being, after all. It is a hard work I must say and part of me decided to face the challenge by getting on my own feet and try to work things out on my own now.

Having my family far away in Russia, building my life abroad with different language, culture, new friends has actually been a challenge and therapy has given me space to realise that and be kind to myself where things are not as smooth as I wish them to be. To be patient and to acknowledge the journey and process with which we go through life. My therapist has given me a chance to see how unique and special our journeys are.

Autumnal walk in Lancaster

However, what I also felt for a while that therapy defined me as a patient, I struggled to let go of the thought that my identity is defined by all the troubles and pain I went through in the past. This can be quite heavy and some can deal with this aspect a little be better than others. Crucially, realising that having therapy is not equivalent of being ill is important for the process, even though sometimes we are truly ill and we need therapist to help our healing. Seeing it as self-care is vital to build good relationships with your therapist too as you move through time together..

It was quite emotional to leave again after my longest period with my therapist. First time she found me during my masters where everything felt like falling and then slowly rebuilding itself. Next in my PhD, when I truly felt like I was losing the ground under my feet and then again, now. I know that I might be back again as life will continue throw challenges that might not always be easy to get through on my own but I am slo happy and excited to give it a go and see how far I can go with my little bag of tools and tricks and resilience that I built during this year…

P.S. I am sure someone may have already written about it this way but autumn this year felt as if I was literally dropping my own leaves, feeling lighter, letting things go… maybe we all feel like that a little, just like the trees…