Posted by: michellelowrey | September 7, 2009

Bouf Bourguignon, Beef Cheeks and Other Mishaps

When hosting cooking club, coming up with an appropriate main dish to serve is of the utmost importance. The rest of the meal…hell, the evening, is determined by how great that main dish is. Serve a boring, bland, or otherwise uninspired main dish, and the whole shebang falls apart like a house of cards. If your main dish is bad, everyone hates you, and you have to wait another eight months for the next chance to prove yourself. …. Okay, okay, none of that is true, nobody hates you, but it sure feels like that to me when I’m coming up with my menu. I put that burden on myself for no other reason, other than I want to do the best meal I can. All that aside, coming up with the menu is my absolute favorite part of the entire process of hosting a cooking club event, and where this little tale shall start…..

So it’s my turn to host, and the just released movie, Julie and Julia has inspired me to select the theme of French cuisine. Sounds appropriate enough, and I start to work on planning my menu. In honor of the movie, I decide to do an entire menu based on recipes from Julia child’s cookbooks. I decide to “go old school” and do all the recipes from her The French Chef Cookbook. First published in 1961, and based on the recipes from her television show, I plow through the book trying to come up with the main dish, and decide on Boef Bourguignon. First, I decide to make the dish prior to serving it at cooking club, so as not to be embarrassed if it doesn’t work out…..and it doesn’t work out. …It’s dry, and kind of leathery. Leathery like I would imagine an old shoe would taste, if I ever decided to eat an old shoe. So after some tinkering around, I come upon Ina Garten’s recipe for Boef Bouruignon in her cookbook Barefoot in Paris, where she states that the traditional French stew is almost always overcooked and dry because of the long cooking time. Well honestly, by this time, the fancy name has really revealed to me, that Boef Bourguignon is nothing more than stew with a fancy sounding name, but stew nonetheless, so I decide to scratch the Boef Bourguignon altogether. So now what? And I come up with to me, the perfect main dish. Beef Cheeks! Yep, beef cheeks.

I’d eaten them a few times, and had even had them in Paris, and couldn’t wait to serve them for my French inspired cooking club theme. Julia Child’s recipes had now given way, to just a really good French meal, that I liked to say that Julia Child would certainly approve of….sorry Julia, you know I love you…. Anyway, I had never cooked beef cheeks before, but from the sounds of it, and from the recipes that I had been pondering, it didn’t look too difficult. Beef cheeks are from the actual cheeks of the cow, and not the butt cheeks, in case you were wondering, and since it’s from such a large muscle in the face, can be pretty tough if not cooked properly. I read that as long as you cook them “low and slow”, they are absolutely delicious. Oh, my gosh, I was so excited to try them!

Okay, here is where the story gets good. I couldn’t find them. Anywhere! I looked high, I looked low, and everywhere in between. I had read that they were becoming easier and easier to find, and that more and more places were starting to carry them. Well not here in the Sacramento area darn it! So now is where I start to panic. I panic, because the invites are out, and we are only a week from cooking club. Yes, I know, I probably should have ordered my cheeks earlier, but as I said, they were supposed to be pretty easy to find these days! I look everywhere and really thought that my favorite meat market, Orangevale Meat Shoppe would be able to get them for me lickety split. Well no such dice. When Manny, the butcher said that not only did he NOT have beef cheeks, he said I was the first person to ever even ask for them!! The first person! Say what?? Right then, the flop sweat starts forming, and I know that I’m done. My turn at hosting cooking club is going down in flames.. ….

It’s then that Manny sees the flop sweat, and gives me a suggestion. He tells me about a little carniciera (Mexican grocery store) in Citrus Heights called Valencia’s Carniciera and Taqueria that will probably have some beef cheeks. I drive my car over there going 101 miles an hour, and the minute I walk in, I start to feel better. The place has a gorgeous meat counter filled with all kinds of glorious meats. Goats head, beef tongue, sheep testicles, and BINGO, they have beef cheeks!! Yes!! Crisis averted. Turns out, the Latin community loves their beef cheeks…..and I love the Latin community!!

With my package in hand, I place them in the fridge and can’t wait to get started on preparing them the next day. I had read from another recipe that the flavor was greatly enhanced by making them a few days ahead and letting the flavors develop. My plan was to make a test run a few days ahead of schedule, and if those worked out, I still had another three days before cooking club to make another new batch. Well I woke up the next morning, and I felt a little off, and by that night, I couldn’t move. Every bone in my body ached, and my eyes stung with fever. I was really feeling like crap. I felt so much like crap, that my beautiful glorious beef cheeks languished in the fridge.

Okay, long story short. I got the swine flu. THAT swine flu. I felt better, the day before cooking club, but would YOU want someone that was recovering from the swine flu making a meal for you? So cooking club was canceled for the first time ever. In all the years of cooking club, this had never happened before. Oh well, there’s always a first time for everything right?

So after all that, my beef cheeks were never eaten by anyone in cooking club, and the theme of French cooking will be continued on another night. Stay tuned for when the new date is set, but in the meantime here is the recipe for Beef Cheeks, so that you can make them for yourselves…..and don’t bother trying to get them from a “traditional” grocery store. The “good stuff” is at your local carniciera…..

This recipe is from the September, 2008 issue of Gourmet Magazine.

Joues de Boef aux Agrumes

Beef Cheeks Braised in Red Wine with Orange Zest

Serves 4
  • Active time:45 min
  • Start to finish:3 1/4 hr
The flavor of the wine looms large in this meaty braise, lending an extraordinary savoriness to the melt-in-your-mouth carrots.
  • 2 lb beef cheeks or boneless beef chuck roast
  • 2 tablespoons grapeseed or vegetable oil
  • 1 lb onions, coarsely chopped
  • 1 lb baby carrots, peeled
  • 1 (750-ml) bottle dry red wine
  • 6 to 8 (3- by 1-inch) strips of orange zest
  • Preheat oven to 350° with rack in middle.
  • If using chuck, cut across grain into 4 pieces.
  • Pat beef dry and season with 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper. Heat oil in a 4- to 6-qt heavy pot over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Brown beef on all sides, 6 to 10 minutes total. Transfer to a plate with tongs.
  • Add onions, carrots, 3/4 tsp salt, and 1/2 tsp pepper to pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened, 8 to 10 minutes. Add wine and zest and bring to a boil. Add beef and return to a boil. Cover pot and braise in oven until meat is very tender, 2 to 4 hours (beef cheeks take longer than chuck). Season with salt and pepper. Serve beef with carrots and sauce.


  1. I’m amazed that y’all went *8 years* without ever missing your club night! Having the host come down with H1N1 is surely a good enough excuse, though.

    I just borrowed the book from the library. Based on the recipes I’ve read so far, I think I’ll be buying my own copy!

    • Hi Jim!
      It feels great to hear from people like you that are enjoying the book! Thanks for the kind words….. Yes, can you believe that we have never had to cancel a cooking club event before? It took the H1N1 virus to hold us back. When you are truly passionate about something, and are connected with like-minded people, it makes it so much easier. Are you thinking of joining a cooking club, or are you doing some entertaining? Either way, I wish you much luck, and if you have any questions about a recipe, by all means keep in touch! 🙂

  2. You had swine flu!!! Oh no – was this right after Bunco??? Yikes!!!

    I love reading your blog by the way!!! Awesome job ladies!

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