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Steak Bordelaise

Few will be the times when a hot water holding tank malfunction leads to an enjoyable experience. I don’t know this for certain because my sample size is small – only one incident. But I imagine people get hung up on the multiple gallons of scalding water pouring out of the system’s safety release valve and the cursed way water flows naturally to find itself soaked into “dry”wall, pads and carpets in the adjoining room. I know I did.

In a way, I suspect my enjoyable experience found me, because I wasn’t in the right mind to discover it. Too many trips to the curb to dump soaked stuff left me not thinking much at all, let alone anything positive. I’ll spare you the details, but you know how this goes. I need to move stuff out of room A, so I look for space in room B, which I’ll have if I can bring a few of those things to the attic or garage, but I can’t do that until I move/donate/trash those other things I’ve been meaning to move for the past 10 years.

While I fed this cycle throughout a day, I discovered an old cookbook of French recipes that’s been in my family since 1957, created by the Chamberlains – The Chamberlain Calendar of French Menus. You might know about these collections. I had to research them.

Narcissa G. and Narcisse Chamberlain were household names in the 1950s and 1960s when it came to these cookbooks – filled with black and white photos of France (and Italy in The Flavour of Italy book I have, c. 1965) and recipes of rustic, authentic and sometimes ambitious dishes. The recipes are written in long form, without bullet lists, and weave together anecdotes and step-by-step instructions. They’re not always for the reader/cook who needs specific details. Often, a recipe depends on “a good lump of butter” or a stove with “the lowest fire possible.” I love the loose and artistic approach.

The paternal side of my family has roots in northwestern Italy and southeastern France, and I like to eat Franco-Italian comfort food. There’s something deliberate and appealing about reading through an old family cookbook to prepare a meal. I landed on Steak Bordelaise in the French cookbook because the boys enjoy grilled steak and I wanted to try my hand at making the sauce.

The base of the sauce, unsurprisingly, is red wine and strong beef stock. I had a decent bottle of red wine I sipped on a few nights earlier and took 1/2 cup to pour over a bay leaf, healthy pinches of thyme and marjoram, one chopped shallot, salt and pepper. I simmered the mix until it reduced to half and then added 1/2 cup of beef stock before reducing it again. The Chamberlains suggested adding bone marrow to the sauce, but I didn’t. Some butter made its way in, though, and I poured the sauce over eye round steaks that needed only a couple of minutes of flame on both sides.

Bordelaise is an authentic, easy to make French sauce that fills the kitchen with aromas and questions about the evening’s meal, both equally inviting. Since it was my turn to cook, I felt accomplished for doing something more than serving a slapdash supper after a busy day. And our boys enjoyed it so much we ate it again the next night.

With the French cookbook rediscovered, I made a spot in the cupboard next to the vintage Italian cookbook, favorite recipes my wife and I have found, and others handed down by family.

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