And so to the final country of my year cooking the world challenge…
France is my favourite country in the world, although the Maldives comes a very close second. A trip to France, for however long, never disappoints me. A few of my ultimate picks include Samoens Alpine ski resort, Biarritz beaches, Toulouse food, picture postcard Annecy, Provence’s lavender fields and the stunning architecture of Paris. It’s no surprise that it is the world’s most visited country with 83.7 million visitors in 2014. The Louvre is the most visited museum in the world with 9.3 million visitors annually.
France has the world’s sixth-largest economy by nominal figures. It is one of the largest exporters of luxury goods in the world, with the top four companies Cartier, Chanel, Hermes and Louis Vuitton alone worth billions. The French perfume industry is world leader in its sector and the town of Grasse is considered the world capital of perfume.
France has produced some of the world’s most influential writers and thinkers. They have won more Nobel Prizes for Literature (15) than any other country. It is also the birthplace of cinema, thanks to the Lumière brothers who held their first private screening of projected motion pictures in 1895. The Cannes film festival was founded in 1946 and is an invitation-only festival, set up to preview new films of all genres, from all around the world. The Palme d’Or is the highest prize awarded and was won by Ken Loach in 2016 for the drama file I, Daniel Blake.
In January 2010, International Living magazine annual Quality of Life survey ranked France as “best country to live in” for the fifth year running, crediting it to an unsurpassable quality of life and what is described as ‘the best health service in the world’.
French gastronomy was awarded UNESCO World Heritage Status in 2010, when it was added to the list of ‘intangible cultural heritage of humanity’. They produce nearly a billion tons of cheese a year in around 1,200 different varieties. French cuisine is regarded as a key element of the quality of life and the attractiveness of France. Traditionally, each region of France has its own distinctive cuisine. Some of my favourite French dishes would be Escargots à la Bourguignonne (snails with garlic butter), Moules marinière (mussels in wine and cream sauce), Cassoulet (slow cooked casserole with pork sausages, goose, duck, pork skin and white beans), Bouillabaisse (fish and seafood stew), Soupe à l’oignon (French onion soup), Coq au vin (chicken braised in red wine, lardons and mushrooms), Croque monsieur (ham and cheese toasted sandwich), Duck a l’orange, Îles flottantes (meringue ‘islands’ floating in custard), Tarte Tatin (upside-down pastry tart) and Crêpes suzette (pancakes with orange caramel sauce and Grand Marnier). I opted to make my husband’s favourite dish, Bœuf bourguignon (beef braised in red wine with onions and mushrooms). As I mentioned before, one of my favourite films is Julie and Julia, so I used Julia Child’s recipe.
Prep time: 1 hour
Cook time: 4 hours
For the Stew
6 ounces smoked bacon with rind
1 tbsp olive oil
3 lbs lean stewing beef, cut into 2-inch cubes
1 carrot, peeled and sliced
1 onion, peeled and sliced
1 tsp salt
1⁄4 tsp pepper, freshly ground
2 tbsp flour
3 cups red wine (a full bodied wine like Bordeaux or Burgundy)
2 -3 cups beef stock
1 tbsp tomato paste
2 garlic cloves, mashed (you may choose to add more)
1 sprig thyme (or 1/2 tsp dred thyme)
1 fresh bay leaf
For the braised onions
18 -24 white pearl onions, peeled
1 1⁄2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 1⁄2 tbsp olive oil
1⁄2 cup beef stock
salt & fresh ground pepper
1 fresh bay leaf
1 sprig fresh thyme
2 sprigs fresh parsley
For the Sauteed Mushrooms
1 lb mushroom, quartered
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp olive oil
First prepare the bacon: cut off the rind and reserve.
Cut the bacon into lardons about 1/4″ thick and 1 1/2″ long.
Simmer the rind and the lardons for ten minutes in 2 1/2 pints of water.
Drain and dry the lardons and rind and reserve.
Pre-heat the oven to 450°F.
Put the tablespoon of olive oil in a large (9″ – 10″ wide, 3” deep) fireproof casserole and warm over moderate heat.
Saute the lardons for 2 to 3 minutes to brown lightly.
Remove to a side dish with a slotted spoon.
Dry off the pieces of beef and saute them, a few at a time in the hot oil/bacon fat until nicely browned on all sides.
Once browned, remove to the side plate with the bacon.
In the same oil/fat, saute the onion and the carrot until softened.
Pour off the fat and return the lardons and the beef to the casserole with the carrots and onion.
Toss the contents of the casserole with the salt and pepper and sprinkle with the flour.
Set the uncovered casserole in the oven for four minutes.
Toss the contents of the casserole again and return to the hot oven for 4 more minutes.
Now, lower the heat to 325°F and remove the casserole from the oven.
Add the wine and enough stock so that the meat is barely covered.
Add the tomato paste, garlic and herbs and the bacon rind.
Bring to a simmer on the top of the stove.
Cover and place in the oven, adjusting the heat so that the liquid simmers very slowly for three to four hours.
The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily.
While the meat is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms and set them aside till needed.
For the onion, if using frozen, make sure they are defrosted and drained.
Heat the butter and oil in a large skillet and add the onions to the skillet.
Saute over medium heat for about ten minutes, rolling the onions about so they brown as evenly as possible, without breaking apart.
Pour in the stock, season to taste, add the herbs, and cover.
Simmer over low heat for about 40 to 50 minutes until the onions are perfectly tender but retain their shape and the liquid has mostly evaporated.
Remove the herbs and set the onions aside.
For the mushrooms, heat the butter and oil over high heat in a large skillet.
As soon as the foam begins to subside add the mushrooms and toss and shake the pan for about five minutes.
As soon as they have browned lightly, remove from heat.
To Finish the Stew:.
When the meat is tender, remover the casserole from the oven and empty its contents into a sieve set over a saucepan.
Wash out the casserole and return the beef and bacon to it (discarding the bits of carrot and onion and herbs which remain in the sieve).
Distribute the mushrooms and onions over the meat.
Skim the fat off the sauce and simmer it for a minute or two, skimming off any additional fat which rises to the surface.
You should be left with about 2 1/2 cups of sauce thick enough to coat a spoon lightly.
If the sauce is too thick, add a few tablespoons of stock.
If the sauce is too thin, boil it down to reduce to the right consistency.
Taste for seasoning.
Pour the sauce over the meat and vegetables.
If you are serving immediately, place the covered casserole over medium low heat and simmer 2 to 3 minutes.
Serve in the casserole or on a warm platter surrounded by noodles, potatoes or rice and garnished with fresh parsley.
If serving later or the next day, allow the casserole to cool and place cold, covered casserole in the refrigerator.
20 minutes prior to serving, place over medium low heat and simmer very slowly for ten minutes, occasionally basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce.