202 blog posts! Here it is — my 202nd blog post published to Hot Pink Apron. Wow. We’ve come a long way, baby!
It was nearly four years ago, at a time when I was going totally bonkers without a creative outlet to busy myself with between breastfeeding sessions and toddler tantrums, that I decided to tackle my first recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. As I chopped the carrots for her famous beef stew, I updated my Facebook status with something along the lines of ‘Tackling Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon, mastering the art of domestic bliss.‘. That status update created this awesomely engaging thread of curiosities and support from others. Actual adult conversation! I believe that it was that random thread that re-sparked my creativity and launched this strange desire to share my culinary adventures with anyone hungry and curious enough to join in on the conversation.
But it wasn’t until I actually tasted my homemade boeuf bourguignon that my culinary adventures in a hot pink apron really began. It was one of the greatest things I had EVER made. Something truly magical happens in this stew around the 3rd hour in the oven: the red wine reduces to a rich sauce, the meat cooks to a perfect degree of tender, and the flavours meld into this holy grail of beef stew taste. After trying my first homemade beef bourguignon à la Julia Child, I knew no basic pot roast would ever do it for me again. I was hooked on learning all I could about ingredients, ratios, cultural influences, cooking times, Ms. Child herself, and the incredibly flavours I could create at home.
To be honest, it is a little hard to believe that I’ve stuck with this blog project this long. 202 published posts translates to at least 200 times I’ve asked myself, “What the h*ll is the point?!” See, when you’re really into food blogging it kinda dictates everything from your grocery list, to how you spend your free time, to the arrangement of your kitchen based on the best source of natural light. Food blogging isn’t exactly what I’d classify as ‘a simple hobby’. You add to it servers crashing, viruses corrupting, online trolls bashing, kids screaming, kitchen space limiting, and (at least in my own case) the constant desire to bang your head against the desk because the words just. won’t. come. to you.
A snap shot of my food blogging reality, as I prepare my celebratory boeuf bourguignon: Slicing the ends of my pearl onions destined for a boiling pot, Alice (the youngest hellion) “makes art” all over the table, floor and walls, while her big sister stands at my feet devastated that her rainbow loom bracelet “doesn’t look just like the ones in the book!”, insisting that I make one for her. I glance at the clock and realize that I only have 30 minutes to finish this stew, snap a few photos before feeding this zoo dinner and running out the door to a writers workshop.
- 6 ounces bacon, solid chunk (Ask your butcher. Grocery store pancetta will give you a different flavour.)
- 1 Tablespoon olive oil
- 3 lbs lean stewing beef, cut into 2-inch cubes
- 1 carrot, peeled and sliced
- 1 onion, peeled and sliced
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper, freshly ground
- 2 Tablespoons flour
- 3 cups red wine (a full bodied wine like Bordeaux or Burgundy or Chianti)
- 2 to 3 cups beef stock
- 1 Tablespoon tomato paste
- 2 garlic cloves, mashed
- 1 sprig thyme (or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme)
- 1 crumbled bay leaf
- 18 -24 white pearl onions, peeled
- 1 lb mushroom, quartered
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- Parsley springs
- Prepare the bacon: remove the rind (set aside) and cut into lardons (sticks, 1/4" thick and 1 1/2" long.). Simmer the rind and but bacon for ten minutes in 1 1/2 quarts of water. Drain and dry the lardons and rind and reserve.
- Preheat the oven to 450°F.
- Using a large cast iron casserole dish, saute the bacon in the oil over moderate heat for 2 to 3 minutes to brown lightly. Remove lardons to a side dish with a slotted spoon.
- Dry off the pieces of beef using paper towel and saute, 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 (if there is excess) and return the bacon 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. (This browns the flour and covers the meat with a light crust.)
- 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 stove top. Then cover the casserole dish and place in the lower half of the preheated oven. Let the liquid simmers very slowly for at least three 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 until needed.
- For the onion, chop the root end of each pearl onion. Boil water in a large sauce pan. Drop onions in boiling water for 45 seconds, remove with a slotted spoon in dunk in an ice bath (bowl of cold water with ice). Remove onions from water and simply peel back the outer skin of each onion. Set aside.
- In a large skillet, saute the mushrooms in butter until golden brown on all sides. Toss in pearl onions; stir gently.
- To Finish the Stew: When the meat is tender, remove the visible bacon rind from the casserole dish and discard. Add the mushrooms and pearl onion; stir gently.
- The sauce should be 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.
- If you are serving immediately, place the covered casserole over low heat and simmer, gently stirring frequently. 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.
- - Like all good things (including building a food blog audience), this stew takes time. Prepare a day in advance or grant yourself at least 5 hours to prepare before serving.
- - Using a cast iron casserole dish allows you to easily heat on the stove top as well as cooking in the stove.
As it is with this recipe — the stew turns out great. Dinner table happiness is achieved once again and I actually manage to capture some decent light before the sun goes down. I plant a drive-by-kiss on my hubby as he walks in the door and I run out it; I head to my writers group feeling a certain sense of pride. I made something from scratch. It wasn’t necessarily easy but I did it.
These are the moments that keep me food blogging. Better yet, is when you publish the finished post and someone actually comments some gratitude for inspiring them to make something too. That is kinda the best. It’s enough for me to dust my troll-badgered ego off , bandage up that bloody forehead and head out to the market, camera in hand, to do it all over again… possibly another 200 times.
Some advice for anyone considering a life in the land of food blogs:
– Make a list of 10 food blogs that you really like and write down why. Be inspired by other blogs but don’t try to mimic their style.
– Be yourself! Write about your own experiences and preferences. Develop your own voice and blog style. (Note: It’s taken me 3 years to find mine so be patient).
– Ask yourself, why do I want to have a food blog? (i.e. Just for fun? To share Grandma’s recipe box gems? Your adorable and like to cook so think it’s only natural that you be the next Jamie Oliver?)
– Write down the goals your setting for your blog (i.e. book, advertising, 500 twitter followers…). Set realistic timelines and strive to reach each goal.
– Put some thought into your blog’s name and brand. Establish it and stick with it (it’s a personal pet peeve of mine when I have new fan page requests from the same person each week. Brand tenacity is key in blogger success! Hire a talented freelance artist to help you design a logo to attach to it.
– Accept your strengths and work on improving your not-as-strongs. (The visual stuff comes FAR EASIER to me than the written word but the more I write, the more confident I become with it.)
– Research your blog platform options — WordPress is great, especially if you know some basic web development and want to customize a theme; tumbler already has an excellent community ready to engage with and is very image-friendly; blogspot is more content-driven but you’ll be in the company of one of my favourite blogs, Orangette.
– Choose recipes that would naturally land on your dining table. Be adventurous as you grow, prepare for failures and don’t strain too far outside of your comfort zone as you’re getting started.
– NEVER steal a recipe. Legally speaking (and I’m REALLY not a lawyer here) a list of ingredients cannot be copyrighted but a recipe’s descriptive details can be. If you are inspired by/adapt from/use another author’s recipe I recommend 1) contacting that author and asking permission — a great way to open a dialogue. 2) Give as much credit to the author as your post will handle. 3) ALWAYS write the recipe in your own words. For more on this subject, read this post from David Lebovitz on The Food Bloggers Alliance site.
– Make friends. Engage this food blogging community by reaching out to other bloggers by email, posting to their comments section and Facebook pages, tweet them questions and/or praise, attend conferences… get involved!
– Have fun!! As the Hot Pink Apron slogan says: Eat well. Have fun. Wear a foxy apron. Seriously, what’s the point of any hobby if you’re not enjoying it?!
– The world wide web is a vast and sometimes cruel place. Ignore all haters. Be confident about what your posted.
– Educate yourself on a good photo editing platform. Because, if your house is anything like mine, you never know when the Queen of the Wild Things will photo bomb your shot. ↓
She’s going to eat it up!