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Life's Most Important Lessons... Duh!

I recently came across an enlightening article/blog posting that I wanted to share with all of you… And expand a bit. The story is about the top 15 culinary dishes that one should master by the age of 30. I immediately forwarded it to my daughter, Gracie, in a slight panic. Having a limited number of days on this earth, there are so many things I want to share with Gracie. When I first got sick, I started writing letters to Gracie. Well, they were more like bossy instructions and rules. How do you cram a lifetime of advice into a few short years for your child? With ALS, one can perish within a year, three years, five years. I didn’t know which one I had. I didn’t know which dice I rolled. I started cranking out these letters to Gracie. When I was diagnosed with ALS Gracie had just finished the 10th grade of high school… she was 15 years old. So my first letters to her were how to avoid peer pressure, focus on her studies, look forward towards college, get her drivers license, and get a part-time job. Surprisingly, we got through high school unscathed. The summer before she started college, I literally would not shut up with my advice. Gracie was on her way to Paris to live on her own for the first time. I was not going to be able to help her physically because at this point I was totally paralyzed. All I had was my big fat mouth. Do this, do that, don’t do this, don’t do that, pack this, pack that. I thought she was going to run away from home because I was so obnoxious. Finally, Gracie said to me, “Mommy, I got this.” I finally realized that my fears were just my fears and not Gracie’s fears. She was confident and ready to tackle this new chapter of her life. She was now 18 years old and had been in the school of Ellie her entire life.
As the months rolled by Gracie was living in her own apartment in Paris, going to college full-time, had a part-time job, a successful relationship with a cute French boy, learning French and surprisingly to me, had not burned down her apartment. Yes, this was a huge concern to me. Why? Because I was not there to watch over her as she lit a candle, turned on her heater, turned on her stove, turned on her hair straightener, or lit incense. I would wake up in the middle of the night racked with fear thinking, “Did I teach Gracie not to put a metal object in her toaster?” She looked at me and said, “Mommy, I told you, I got this.”
And then more months rolled by and a horrible horrible thought crossed my mind. I started to think, “Oh my God, did I fail my daughter in the most important aspect of her life? Was I so selfish that I didn’t stop and take the time to step-by-step show my daughter what life is all about? How will we ever make up for lost time? Oh my God, she needs to drop out of college and focus on this one skill alone.” Yes, of course I’m talking about cooking! I freaking panicked. Does Gracie know how to make French toast? Does Gracie know how to make chicken piccata, spaghetti and meatballs, bearnaise sauce, veal Marsala, a fucking omelette!?? Of course Gracie has eaten all of these dishes but did I actually show her how to make them? Of course Gracie has seen me cook her entire life but did I actually show her step-by-step? Oh my God, I don’t think I did. Of course Gracie has been in the kitchen with my mother watching my mother make Beef Bourguignon, salmon with dill sauce, meringue, Eggs Benedict, pot roast, peach cobbler, salad Nicoise, roasted chicken and every other recipe under the sun but did my mother actually show her how to do it all? Jesus Christ, what the fuck is wrong with us? How is Gracie going to survive in this world without knowing all of this? How is she going to get a husband? How is she going to cook for her children? How is she going to have a successful dinner party?
I called Gracie one afternoon and said, “I’ve been thinking… I think you need to drop out of the American University of Paris and enroll at the Cordon Bleu cooking school.” I was dead serious. Dead serious. She refused. She said she already knew how to cook. Really Gracie? Where did you learn how to cook? It certainly wasn’t from your selfish mother or grandmother, that’s for sure. We were too busy making sure our beef bourguignon was perfect, we were too busy making sure our sole meunière was perfect, we were too busy making sure our pies set, and obviously we were too busy to actually show you any of it. I have failed as your mother! Gracie looked at me and screamed, “Mommy, I know how to do it all because I watched you! I went to the grocery store with you for the past 18 years. I went to every Friday farmers market with you for the past 18 years. I know how to choose vegetables, fruit and meat. I have listened to you talk about recipes with grandma for the past 18 years. I know how to use a knife properly. I know how to preheat an oven. I have watched 4 billion cooking shows with you. I listen to you talk on the telephone about your new Gourmet magazine or a new cookbook. I watched grandma! I learned through osmosis so relax because I got this.” I cannot tell you what a relief it was to hear that. I took a deep sigh and said, “Hallelujah thanks be to Allah.” Just kidding, I said thank you to Jesus.
Then I started to quiz her… “Okay Grace, how do you make a roux, how do you poach an egg, how do you pound veal, how do you bread chicken, how do you make royal icing, how do you temper chocolate?? Guess what? My kid knew all the answers! She also said, “And guess what mommy? I also know how to read so if I want to make something I can open a cookbook and read a recipe.” Okay smarty-pants.
So, when I came across this blog article today about the top 15 culinary dishes that you should master by the age of 30, I knew I wasn’t alone in my craziness. Other people knew the importance of cooking. These were important things to know… To get you through life. To have a successful life. Don’t laugh because you know I’m right. I have this friend who shall remain nameless (Jenny) and I am convinced that the reason she is still single is because she doesn’t cook. How archaic of me? No, it’s the truth. Cooking brings the family together, cooking makes a house a home, cooking soothes the soul. They don’t call it comfort food for nothing.
So, the top 15 culinary dishes you should master before the age of 30… I decided to go dish by dish until we thoroughly exhaust each one of them. The best ingredients for each, the best preparation, secret tips from experts, and different recipes for each. How fun! I’ll do all the research and you guys sit back and enjoy and we can learn together. And unbeknownst to Gracie, starting the new year, every week we are going to spend our Wednesdays mastering each one of these. God, I’m such a good mother.
Okay, first dish to master… Beef Bourguignon.
Let’s start with the spelling…b-o-u-r-g-u-i-g-n-o-n.
Beef Bourguignon originated as a French dish in the Burgundy region of France. The basic ingredients are always beef, beef broth, red wine, herbs, onions and mushrooms. However, over time, recipes have advanced and new ingredients are added. The dish originally was a peasant dish and the red wine was used to tenderize the meat. Nothing warms a winter day better than a piping hot bowl of beef bourguignon, a fresh baguette slathered with butter and a glass of red wine. But this dish will not come easily… You have to work at this one. This one takes a little practice and patience. If you want something fast, go to Taco Bell.
The best way to start your beef bourguignon is with the ingredients… The best ingredients. Don’t just run to your grocery store and collect all of the ingredients. Think this out and shop wisely. Let’s start with the beef. I have consulted all of the experts and they have recommended blade roast, chuck, beef rump roast or beef cheek. The secret is to get beef with plenty of marbling. It’s best to get your beef from the butcher.
For the wine, the experts vary with their suggestions. Julia Child suggests a Beaujolais. Chantal LeRoux of Food & Wine suggests a Pinot Noir. Tradition calls for a Burgundy.
For the vegetables, go organic. The carrots should be crisp, fresh, long and lean. The mushrooms should be either white or cremini button mushrooms. I have seen Porcini and shiitake mushrooms used as well. The onions need to be pearl onions. The herbs should be fresh. Homemade broth is best. If you have to buy it commercially, make sure it is organic and low-sodium. For the rest of the ingredients, referred to your specific recipe.
Okay, now for some beef bourguignon secrets.…
Always pat dry the beef before you brown it.
Marinate the beef overnight in the red wine. Reduce the red wine first.
Sauté pork belly or pancetta and add towards the end of cooking.
Render the bacon fat and then use the grease to brown the cubes of meat.
Use an entire bottle of wine.
Use already peeled pearl onions.
Okay, now for some beef bourguignon recipes…

Not that I am unfaithful or disloyal to Julia Child, but my favorite recipe for beef bourguignon is The Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garner, recipe. One time, years ago, David was super mad at me for something that was obviously not my fault but I felt like I needed to “smooth out the bumps” so I thought the best thing to do was to make homemade Boeuf Bourguignon for my French husband. Good news, it worked and somehow I also got a ring out of it. So now we call it The Barefoot Contessa’s Good Luck Beef Bourguignon. I think the secret to its success is the slice of French bread. You’ll see…

 The Barefoot Contessa Boeuf Bourguignon. Recipe HERE. Video HERE.

Next up, the classic… Julia Child. This recipe is from her book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and it is a “must master” recipe. Read the recipe about 400 times and then watch the video 400 times and then prepare yourself to be patient with this recipe.

Julia Child's Boeuf Bourguignon. Recipe HERE. Video HERE.

The next recipes are definitely recipes to check out to master Beef Bourguignon! Good luck!

 Rachel Khoo of The Little Paris Kitchen. Video HERE.


Boeuf Bourguignon from Sunday Suppers. Recipe HERE.
Boeuf Bourguignon from Anthony Bourdain. Video HERE.

Boeuf Bourguignon with Williams-Sonoma. Video HERE.

Boeuf Bourguignon from Thomas Keller. Recipe HERE.

What are your secrets to mastering Beef Bourguignon?

* Something you don’t know about me? I am currently in the French Alps at my husband’s family’s house hiding out in the guest room. The rest of the family is enjoying a big fat French dinner. Gracie is hiding out with me. Why, you ask? Summer of 2013, David’s family hated me and I’m not sure if they still do so I think it’s safer if I separated myself a bit. Safer for the whole family. David said he was going to have to drink an entire bottle of alcohol to get through this week with me and his family. This ought to be fun. Stay tuned…


  1. Dammit I couldnt figure why I was still single but now I know why, I can only cook pasta & seafood. ..all those yrs of watching my mother cook greek didnt help...I dont have this but im glad Gracie does ..:) xo

    1. I hear you Jeannie about watching your mum cook Greek & not learning a thing & I understand your concern Ellie.
      Before our first baby was born i realised I'd never cooked a greek dish as my late mum & my mother in law are superb cooks. Both hubby and I were born in sydney Australia & we cooked mod oz or whatever you want to call it. I spent last month of pregnancy not nesting but cooking or rather learning how to cook some greek foods! Only tip I can give is to google greek recipe you need and only cook the ones that are 5 stars! Haven't failed yet in greek food stakes although repetoire is small it's growing. Good luck Jeannie and Ellie i hope you leave guest room soon. Den xxx

    2. I am 67 years old; (much older than most or your readers....just so you know; Ellie is the exact age of my daughter Ella....who knew Ellie when Ellie lived in Santa Barbara!!!)

      Anyway; I was lucky, lucky, lucky to meet Ellie when she had the chicest shop I have ever seen in my life! (I know chic when I see chic! I have been a decorator for 44 years now!!!) (Chic shops are few and far-between!!)

      Ellie had the chicest shop EVER! "Circa"; it was on the best street; and she had the chicest idea ever to paint the inside "BLACK"!!!

      Hey, Ellie....everyone is doing that NOW!! Black cabinets; black woodwork, black walls! You were seven or so years ahead of your time!!!! Just so you know.......

      The store that moved in there made the terrible mistake of painting it all white.....they had to move out.....and down the street. Think of the money they could have saved.....and her cool stuff would have looked so much cooler had she left it the way it was!

      one asked me!!!

  2. OMG! This is so funny! Beef Bourguignon was always the one I cooked to let a boyfriend know who he was dealing with or to smoothe things over with the ex.
    A girlfriend and I once decided to cook BB for a dinner with our boyfriends. We went into the market and I headed for the fresh vegetables section assuming she would follow me because I thought we were on the same page but she had gone to the spice aisle looking for the Schilling or whoever "beef Bourguignon" packet of spices. And you think you know your friends!

  3. Hello Ellie! I'm pretty lucky; my Mister is a former executive chef. When we have dinner parties my job is setting the table. At least you have Gracie with you during the hide out. Hope you leave soon!

  4. This is fun! I am going to make each one of them after your posts. You are encouraging me to cook! xoxo

  5. I hope your hide-out room includes your most favourite drink of choice! Fingers crossed things go better, but so nice you have your daughter to hang with!

  6. Thank you Ellie!! I love this post...oh gosh that first picture is heavenly

  7. Some clarification - I have made the Julia Child recipe and it was a marathon. I understand the Ina Garten recipe is much less labor intensive. Thanks for the tips, but I have a question about your recommending marinating the meat overnight in the wine. You say the wine should be "reduced", not sure what this means. Also, do use the same wine in the final recipe as in the marinate or do you get another bottle? Gracie is lucky to have you and your mother teach her how to cook. I was not so lucky. Barbara

    1. Hi Barbara! Here is some additional info that will help… "Before letting the meat marinate in the wine and aromatics, you’ll simmer the wine for 15 to 20 minutes with some aromatics and cool it completely. This simmering step allows most of the alcohol to evaporate so that the meat taste remains integral without taking on that slightly unpleasant “winy” flavor so noticeable in the stew meat that has been marinated in raw wine."
      Read more:
      and yes also use a different bottle of wine for the three-hour cooking marathon in the oven. Hope this helps! XOXO

    2. Thanks! That helps a lot. I think I will make soon for a dinner party! Happy New Year to you! I am assuming you are in Annecy - which has moved to one of my top places to visit because of your postings! Barbara

  8. I have never in my life commented on a blog post--it always seemed a little pathetic for some reason, especially if you don't know the blogger. But I adore yours so thought I'd jump in and say thank you. I'm in with the cooking countdown. Just watched Julia making her boeuf bourguignon--great to be reminded of how fabulous she was. Thanks again.

  9. You are so right The Barefoot Contessa's recipe is the absolute best. BUT, I double the amount of sauce. Otherwise it is the most delicious of all of them. But please don't tell dear Julie. After all she was the one who taught me how to cook. Bon appetite.

    1. Oops, my name is misspelled. I wonder who did that? ;-)

  10. Ellie, come out of the guest room and make them hide!!!!!

  11. I loved this post, thanks Ellie.

  12. I am so delighted I found your blog. Your word can bring my soul anguish and delight. I will not go on and on about your bravery or you fight. You know who you are. But I will tell you, your momma lion and your "mouth" speak to me in my language. I get it. My youngest just had her first child. I am terrified and awestruck at the same time. I see the results of my big mouth and I am so thankful. I am also so devastated because sometimes I see her self doubt and I am afraid I planted that. Now on to the topic at hand. I am 54. I cannot make many of those dishes. I do not beef, pork or much poultry. I am a vegan at heart with a love of dairy. Sigh. But this post has inspired me to try and make these dishes. My husband will think I have lost my mind for good this time. After 32 years of marriage, it is good to keep them guessing! I will wait on pins and needles to hear how bad of a hangover David has after this week of family fun and games. And I will pray you and Gracie have a delightful Mother/Daughter time hiding out in the guest room. Don't worry, she got it. She learned from the best! Barb

  13. I wish I would have read your post earlier as I just made The Barefoot Contessa's Beef Bourguignon last night for dinner. I agree with everything you said except I use filet mignon instead of chuck. I know, I know, such a waste of filet but my husband prefers it this way and I will admit it is excellent in the stew. I also used a bottle of Cabernet as I did not have a Cote du Rhone that I typically use and it was good as ever. This blog entry resonated with me as I too am a perfectionist and at times feel overwhelmingly too busy to teach my daughter in the kitchen. Although I passed on her offer to help me yesterday she did manage to join me in the kitchen the entire time I was making the Beef Bourguignon. I know she learned a thing or two when she managed to look up from her lap top or phone. Like how not to add the remainder of Cognac directly from the bottle until the alcohol from the initial cup you lit on fire in the pot is extinguished. Talk about a fear of fire!

  14. I'm in with the cooking countdown, too. I haven't made BB for forever. It's a shame to spend your week in the French Alps locked in your room, but at least you've got Gracie for company! Hugs!

  15. Great post. I'm looking forward to all the recipes, videos, and your comments.

  16. Ellie, I didn't see a link to the article I think you're referring to, but here it is.

  17. Wonderful post...I have made Julia's recipe for years, now upon your suggestion I shall try Ina's. I love her books and show, and I gifted myself her new cookbook for Christmas. It is wonderful to be able to pass along cooking traditions and family recipes to your children, they recall precious pieces of time and memory.

    Take care.

  18. Hi Ellie, I'm with Fairy Kitty! My son's in-laws hate I pretend they don't. It works and we have to play "nice". Love the recipes and I did learn to make Beef Bourguignon by the time I was 32. Good luck with the in-laws! Happ New Year. xoxoxo Mary

  19. What a great post. Particularly about the combination of fear/pride that you have with your daughter. It definitely resonates with me and my daughter is almost 40, a mother of two children. All those worries and concerns and it turns out they are just fine! Except, of course, that she doesn't cook. Despite the fact that I am a great cook, her grandmother was a great cook, her aunt's a great cook. Somehow this acorn didn't fall quite close enough.

    LOVE your blog. The best.

  20. I'm late to the PARTY or you are putting these out at FULL SPEED cause you are hiding OUT!I have made the CONTESSA's BB after visiting YOU in PARIS and you told me the was REALLY REALLY GOOD.It would be fun for me to make the other ones and compare............But what I want to tell everyone is I bought your CHRISTMAS COOKBOOK and made our dinner from that and am SO HAPPY I DID!EVERYTHING and I mean EVERYTHING is so DELICIOUS.................we are still munching on the leftovers!XOXOXO

  21. Hi Ellie...I'm so with you on the mother guilt. Once I woke in the middle of the night panicked that I had forgotten to tell my girls not to mix bleach with ammonia. They know me and understand that I just care a lot, thankfully.

  22. Keep on posting! Love every word! In fact I savor them! Reading them over and over again like a good book that you do not want to end so thank you!!

  23. Hi everyone! I am Penny; and I knew Ellie when she had the chicest store ever!! "Circa" on Coast Village Road!

    Ellie is the exact age of my daughter, Ella. 44. Ella's oldest child is Penelope (known as Poppy) who is 16! (Penelope is my name she is named after me.....SOB!!!)

    Anyway...I met Ellie when she had her incredibly chic store and it closed during the recession......she and her mother...(I think I have that right) shopped all over and bought the best of the best.......and started this store.

    BOOM!! A year or so later........
    The recession hit! It remains in memory as the chicest store Montecito (or anywhere else.....has ever seen!!!)

    So point is.....Well....I can cook....but not really cook. Not these recipes we are supposed to know by 30! NONE!!!!

    I am 67; and have been married to the most wonderful husband on this earth for 36 years! (my third husband whom I married at 30!!!)

    I cooked family dinners 4 nights a week for 20 years.....simple things... grilled chicken breasts....vegetables....we had sit down dinners with candles, placemats, linen napkins...and conversations......4 to 5 nights a week! Family dinners out on Sundays; and "date nights" Wednesdays and Saturdays!

    (When we were married I had one daughter, 7; he had two.....12 and 13!) They came to stay for a month.....(going into 7th and going into 9th grades) and they never left!!

    Lucky me! Their Mom decided to stay in Europe!

    (now they are 49 and 51!) And my daughter is 44 and thanked me "for marrying Adam and getting me these sisters"!

    Anyway.....I do have a point....and it is this....

    The point of family......and

    "Life's most important lessons" (I don't mean to contradict you, Ellie) but they aren't cooking. They are "being such a wonderful Mommy"!!!

    Gracie knows how powerfully she is loved and how powerfully you want to protect her and teach her.......Those are, to me...."Life's most important lessons!!" You are teaching them to Gracie in the way you are living your life!!!

    I admire you more than I am able to say. Honestly.


    ps I am sure that Gracie will be a great "chef";(if she wants to be), however, most of all she will be a great "Mother" to her own children or others.....way more important to me.....because she HAS the best mother I have ever seen in ACTION!!!!!!! EVER!!!!!

    You are nothing short of wonderful!!!


    pps. since we have moved to santa Barbara 17 years ago; we have gone out to dinner every single night. That is the truth!

    Just so you know!

    1. Oh my, Penny, Penny, Penny! What sweet kind words! I so wish I had gotten to know you better when I was in Santa Barbara. I admired you from afar. After I left your house that day, I couldn't stop thinking about what an amazing person you are… Full of life, kindness, generosity and complete joie de vivre. I know your daughter Poppy and she is as lovely as lovely gets.. Thank you for all of the compliments regarding my shop and thank you for being such a warm loving person. XOXO Ellie

  24. Hope this isn't seen as heresy, but here's my secret to mastering Bourguignon:
    "it’s a bourguignon without the heft of beef, but all of the indulgence. Plus, since you don’t need to braise it in the oven for three hours, it can be a weekday night dinner. And you can serve it to vegetarians. And nobody will miss a thing." She's right. Trust me. Try it.