Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Boeuf Bourguignon (aka Beef Stew)

Boeuf bourguignon is a French classic which comes from Burgundy, France – a region that is home to other famous dishes like coq au vin, escargot, gougères, and pain d’épices.  Leave it to the American culinary icon Julia Child to IMG_20180110_164017_821bring this dish to the American diner table.  In Child's book Mastering the Art of French Cooking she describes the dish, "sauté de boeuf à la Bourguignonne," as "certainly one of the most delicious beef dishes concocted by man." And that is a pretty strong recommendation to cook this dish.  

Don’t let the fancy French name of this dish fool you, on our side of the pond it is called beef stew and there are many different variations.  Boeuf bourguignon was originally a peasant dish made with cuts of meat that were undesirable because of their toughness.  But this method calls for a long cooking process in wine which helps tenderize the meat making it savory, rich, and fork-tender.  This is a perfect dish for keeping warm in the midst of this chilly winter weather that is blanketing us.

My rendition calls for the addition of coffee granules, orange zest, and boiling potatoes.  Why coffee granules?  I think it just intensifies the flavor and deepens the richness.  But, by all means, you could omit this ingredient.  I like the zest of the orange to bring flavors to life and the potatoes make this a hearty one-pot meal.  The other difference in my version from the traditional is the lack of bacon. Bacon was added to the pan first and the rendered fat would be used to brown the meat, I use olive oil instead.  You get it ... I'm trying to be health conscious!

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons olive oil
3 lbs. boneless beef chuck, cut into 2-inch pieces
½ cup flour
1 onion, ¼ cut into small dice and the remainder quartered
3 carrots, ½ carrot cut in small dice and the rest in 2” pieces
1 clove garlic
1 tablespoon tomato paste
¼ cup brandy
1 ½ cups of red wine (preferably Burgundy)
2 cups beef stock
4 fresh thyme sprigs
2 bay leaves
2 cloves
1 orange, zest removed in 3 (1-inch) strips
1 tablespoon coffee granules
5 small new potatoes, cut in ½
8 ounces button mushrooms

Directions:

Place flour on a plate.  Season beef with salt and pepper and dredge in flour, shaking off the excess. Heat the oil in Dutch oven medium-high heat.  When the oil is hot, add meat and sear on all sides being careful not to overcrowd the pan, you may have to do this step in 2 or 3 batches.  Remove and transfer to a plate.

Reduce heat to medium and add diced onion and carrots.  Sauté for 5 minutes until softened.  Add garlic and tomato paste and cook, stirring 2 minutes until paste begins to caramelize.  Add brandy to the pan and bring it up to a simmer while scraping the bottom of the pan to loosen up all the tasty bits.  Once the brandy has reduced by ½ add the wine and stock.  Bring to a boil and add the seared beef, quartered onions, carrot pieces, thyme, bay leaves, cloves, orange zest, and coffee.  Reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for 2 hours.

After 2 hours add the potatoes and mushrooms.  Cook uncovered for 30-45 minutes or until potatoes are done.  Scrape off excess fat.  Remove thyme sprigs, bay leaves, cloves, orange zest, and serve.
This can be made a day ahead and reheated to serve.  We actually think it is better the next day as the flavors have time to meld.



























Monday, January 8, 2018

Heading South

There are a lot of miles between Davenport, Iowa and our winter destination in Florida – a thousand in fact. Luckily, the state just south of Iowa is Missouri which is my home state. I  have family in St. Louis so we try to stop twice a year as we make the north-south migration (like the “snowbirds” we are).

The drive south through endless corn and soybean farms left us in a little bit of a trance with a very monotypic view of America’s farmbelt.  We pulled into an Army Corps of Engineers campground near Hannibal, Missouri for a one-night stay and quickly wished we had more than one night to enjoy this respite in the woods.  The fall colors were dancing on the trees in the quiet campground which was occupied by one other camper.  The weather was perfectly sunny and cool so we ventured out for a walk and popped into the nature center which had a great view of the lake and short interpretive hiking trail.

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While we didn’t want to leave our quiet, woodsy campsite the need to get our Aqua-Hot heating system serviced was nagging at us – especially with temperatures dipping into the 30’s.  After our service appointment, we decided to stay at a state park nearby in case the repairs were not done properly and needed follow-up (yes, that has happened before so we were just being smart!).  Bennett Spring State Park is one of my favorites for a couple of reasons.  Not only do we like the campground but there are beautiful historic Civilian Conservation Corps buildings that add character, plenty of hiking trails, and it is one of Missouri’s “Trout Parks.”  The park has been in the business of raising fish since the 1930’s at their fish hatchery which are released into the the spring and stream flowing through the park.  Thousands of anglers are attracted to this trout hot spot which can be shoulder to shoulder at times.  Luckily for us, the late fall has less crowds and on weekdays will only draw a handful of anglers.

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Next up on our trek through Missouri was a stop in St. Louis for some family time and to enjoy a Thanksgiving feast.  It was great for us to get to see so many family members especially those who drove up from Arkansas and in from 20161124_174729Pennsylvania.  The fall weather cooperated and was perfect for being outside.  South of the city is Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery and Military Post - the oldest operating U.S. military installation west of the Mississippi River which is now used as a base for the Army and Air National Guard.  Jefferson Barracks was an important and highly active U.S. Army installation from 1826 through 1946 and by the 1840’s was the largest military establishment in the United States.  It was decommissioned in 1946 and some of the buildings have been transformed into museums, one of which was the Telephone Museum which peaked our interest.  The museum houses hundreds of pieces of telephone-related equipment and tools, and memorabilia from the 1880s through the 2000s.

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St. Louis County has lots of free museums everything from the art museum, the zoo, and a large science center and more.  Since the weather was conducive to being outside we opted to visit the Laumeier Sculpture Garden.  The Laumeier was founded in 1976 and is one of the first and largest sculpture parks in the country.  It all started in 1968 when Mrs. Matilda Laumeier bequeathed the first 72 acres of the future Laumeier Sculpture Park to St. Louis County in memory of her husband, Henry Laumeier.  Shortly thereafter in 1976, local artist Ernest Trova donated 40 works of art (estimated at nearly one million dollars) to St. Louis County for the formation of a sculpture park and gallery.  The park, which is free and open daily, attracts nearly 300,000 annual visitors who come to meander through the grounds decorated with shiny, whimsical, and abstract pieces of art.  They also offer education programs, art classes, guided tours, and much more. One of our favorite pieces was “Deer.”  This 20’ high fiberglass and steel structure garners your intrigue because of its size and interest with its sweet fawn face.  The artist created this much larger than life-size animal to emphasize that nature is out of balance in today’s urban and suburban spaces and humans have impacted other species in the environment.

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With the glorious weather continuing to shine on us we kept looking for outdoor activities and decided to venture across the Missouri River to St. Charles, Missouri.  Historic St. Charles comes alive the weekend after Thanksgiving as they kick off the Christmas season when yesteryear merriment meets the present.  The "Christmas Traditions Festival" is one of the nation's largest Christmas festivals.  Legendary Christmas figures stroll down Main Street, live music fills the air, a festive parade rolls through town, live street performers entertain the crowds, and there is plenty of shopping to help you get a jump on your Christmas lists.  The town is charming with its brick-lined streets that highlight this Nationally Registered Historic District. 

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Before getting too deep into the shopping and events on the street, we popped into the Lewis and Clark Boathouse and Museum.  The museum is appropriately located here as the legendary explorers began their momentous journey westward from St. Charles via the Missouri River.  The museum is an educational attraction with exhibits, artifacts, and videos displayed upstairs about replica keelboats and piroques that resemble those used by the men. 

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After spending a week and a half in St. Louis, it was time to get on the road and make a couple quick overnights so we could get to Florida in time for work.  Yep, it’s back to “work” for us. We will be volunteering at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park (in the Florida panhandle) for the winter.  Walks on the white squeaky beach and through the sunlit longleaf pine forests will give us plenty of time to ponder our 2018 travel plans.