Building the Foundation

Older son, Frank the 2nd (my father is the 1st), and wife Megan, the Little Irish Lass, visited from New York recently. They are aspiring writers (plays and books), actors (stage and TV), producers and directors. On top of all of that, they pay their expenses by tutoring the young elite of the upper Eastside. They are busy people and always conscious of their physical appearance. As a result, they look great but were not very healthy. As Meg’s doctor said after a fainting spell, she had “skinny white chick disease”. So I guess Frank has skinny white boy disease. Both were encouraged to eat better, with an emphasis on increasing their proteins and fats but also with a diverse Paleo-like diet. As they were told, “a bag of Cheetos is not really lunch.”

So, they have turned over a new leaf, bragging that their grocery bill is now their biggest monthly expense and planning to keep it that way. Wanting to improve their evening meals, Frank asked me to take him through building the foundation for soups, stews, pot roasts, those kind of dishes. You know, mirepoixs and the like.

So we started out making a beef soup with a simple mirepoix base, but I soon decided to show him all of the tricks I knew of to build the strong foundation, full of vegetables and other good stuff. While the beef broth was simmering, we did the following:

  1. We sauteed fresh mushrooms in garlic butter in the soup pot. Removed the mushrooms but left the jus. Added sherry to that and watched it get creamy. So now we had a mushroom/sherry base.
  2. We added two meaty ribs to that base to instill some beef flavor. Cooked until the meat was done then removed the meaty ribs to the broth for more richness there.
  3. Next we made a butter roux on the side and when golden, added it to the beefy- mushroomy-sherry jus to thicken it. (See the JVF Cooking Book if you don’t know what a butter roux is.) With this thickening addition, we realized we were turning this into something a little thicker than a soup, but what the heck. In for a penny, in for a pound.
  4. Now it was time for the mirepoix. We used the South Louisiana version known as the holy trinity; celery, onion and bell pepper. Minced. Dropped that onto the base and when it started to soften, added another 2 cloves of crushed garlic. Softened the vegetables to a soft, almost pasty stage.
  5. Here we added cubed stew beef and ladled in a bit of the broth so we could mix the base with the beef. When the beef was browned on all sides, we added more broth but in this case, not so much as to make it juicy but instead maintained some thickness - like a thin gravy.
  6. We simmered this for 45 minutes, checking to see that the beef was beginning to tenderize. Then we added potatoes and carrots. When all was tender, we were ready to serve.
  7. We put toast points in our serving bowl, used a slotted spoon to pull out meat, potatoes and carrots, topped them onto the toast points, then surrounded that with the gravy like a moat around the toast and toppings. Topped it all with green onion and fresh parsley. We named it Beef Bouillabaisse. Delicious! Brett, take the picture of the finished dish from the JVF FB and place it here)

So what do you do with all of this information? Well, you can simplify it and just make a mirepoix soup, stew or pot roast. Or you can do all of it on a Saturday or Sunday as a great way to relax and clear the brain of everyday distractions. Either way, you have experienced some of the ways to build a foundation. And the foundation is the key to a good meal.