The Write to Roam

The Personal Blog of Ethan Brooks

Category: How-To (Page 1 of 2)

How to Set a D.A.M.N. Goal

Back when I was designing and building websites for a living, I used to start each meeting with prospective clients by asking what their goal was.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a designer, a developer, a photographer, or any other kind of —er, as a freelancer you’re paid to help other people achieve their goals and your long term success hinges on your ability to make your clients feel like they got more than they paid for.

To do that, it’s crucial you know what they’re actually after. Hence, the question.

Answers varied from project to project, but generally sounded something like “We want to build a larger online business” or “We just want a better looking website”.

I came to call these V.A.N. Goals because they tend to follow the same verb-adjective-noun structure

 

If you set goals like these, you end up living in a van down by the river. They don’t work.

They’re too vague, too subjective, and don’t offer a clear path forward.

If the business grows, but profit margins disappear, will you feel you’ve gotten your money’s worth? Who decides what “better looking” means anyways? Me? You? Your customers?

I needed something to help my clients think through their projects more rigorously, something that would lay the foundation for a solid plan, and strong likelihood of success, ideally something that would allow me to swear at them while appearing to be helpful.

And so, with this in mind, the D.A.M.N. Goal Framework was born, and I turned it into a free online course. While the course is complete with videos, worksheets, and external resources, this is the first time I’ve written about how to set a damn goal from start to finish.

I’ll be the first to say that I’m no success guru, and while it’s an extremely effective way to boost the likelihood of success for any undertaking, the framework is no silver bullet.

More than anything it’s a method for asking important questions and clarifying your thinking and it can be used for everything from business to education to fitness goals. The idea is that for any given project, your odds of success dramatically improve if you have:

  1. Deadlines
  2. Action Steps
  3. Measurable Benchmarks
  4. Negative Consequences for Failing to Follow Through

For the remainder of this piece, I’ll show how these ideas can be applied to turn a simple V.A.N. Goal into an effective D.A.M.N. Goal. Let’s start with this:

I want to become a good guitarist

Deadlines

Why is it that we find time to do our taxes every year, but not to pursue our dreams? If you ask me, deadlines play a role. You know when your taxes are due. Surely, the process of filing them is less enjoyable than following your heart’s desire. But you’ve got all the time in the world to do that, the taxes have to be done now.

Simply put, deadlines drive action. A well-structured goal should have two deadlines – starting and ending.

The first is the starting deadline; the day upon which you will begin work. It carries with it two primary benefits:

  1. It gives you time to plan and do research before taking action
  2. It protects against analysis paralysis

Most people never set a starting deadline. Instead, they either begin work immediately or never begin at all. For projects that really matter, both are a mistake.

To begin right away leaves no time to do research or figure out the most effective path forward. Instead, you rely on your current knowledge, and rather than learning from those who’ve gone before, you’re forced to throw a lot at the wall and see what sticks. Not only is it time-intensive and resource-intensive, but the potential for failure skyrockets along with the likelihood that you will get fed up and quit.

Better to take some time to research the paths available, look for people who have achieved what you want to achieve, identify the resources and tools which will be most helpful and find the potential pit-falls others have experienced.

Of course, you can’t spend too much time researching. That can lead to analysis paralysis; inaction caused by too much thinking.

Give yourself some space, but set a date upon which you will take the first step.

The second deadline is one people are more familiar with, the ending deadline or the day upon which you want work to be finished. Not only does this spur action, but it also gives you a concrete day upon which you can check in and assess whether what you’re doing is working.

Learning to set these deadlines effectively is an art, and something I’ll discuss further in other articles. But for now, think about your goal and ask yourself whether you know what your exact deadlines are?

When it comes to our sample goal, you will see that the addition of a starting and ending deadline quickly make it more tangible:

Between March 1st, 2018 and March 1st, 2019, I want to become a good guitarist.

It’s still not great though. We know more about when we want to do our work, but still have no idea what we’re going to do. That is where the next piece of the equation comes into play.

Action

Rarely is the work of a project actually the most difficult part. It’s sitting down to do the work that kills us. Procrastination is the enemy of progress. In The War of Art, author Steven Pressfield gave this enemy a face and a new name, calling it Resistance.

Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance. -Steven Pressfield

After a few so many failures of my own, I can say for certain that Resistance is real and in those cases where it has kept me from pursuing my calling — whatever the calling might be — it’s often because I don’t actually know what my next steps are.

So these days when I’m thinking about a goal or project I’m careful to focus not only on the desired outcome, but also on the specific action I’ll take in order to get there. This specific action must be written into the goal so that I am reminded of it each day.

It’s important to be able to identify actions which have a high probability of driving success. You shouldn’t hold yourself accountable for meaningless work. Learning to recognize high-leverage opportunities is a skill all it’s own, and something I’ll write about in more detail later. But for now, you can check your goal by asking either or both of the following questions:

  1. Am I focused on action, rather than outcomes?
  2. Do I actually control this? If not, what can I control?

Let’s take a look at how this applies to our sample goal:

Between March 1st, 2018 and March 1st, 2019, I want to become a good guitarist.

The questions above reveal a couple of interesting issues.

Am I focused on action rather than outcomes?

Clearly, no. There’s no specific action mentioned above, and the goal is built almost entirely around the subjective outcome of “becoming a good guitarist”.

Do I control this? If not, what can I control?

If you ask a dozen people who they think the best guitarist in the world is, you’ll probably get a dozen different answers. That’s a problem when it comes to our goal. I can’t control whether other people think I’m a good guitarist. It’s completely subjective. Therefor, there’s no way to say when we’ve been successful. No bueno.

We can address both of these issues by choosing to focus on an action that we can control, and which we feel has a strong probability of leading to the outcome we want. In this case, I think it’s practice.

Between March 1st, 2018 and March 1st, 2019, I will practice guitar.

That gives us a starting and ending deadline, and an action we can control. The next step is to set ourselves up for success by getting even more specific.

Measurable

What gets measured gets managed, or so the old saying by Peter Drucker goes. There are two ways that measuring helps us to manage our goals.

  1. Specificity – It helps us to be more clear about the action we’ll take
  2. Progress – It helps us to see how far we’ve come since starting

Recall that the great hurdle for most goals is sitting down to do the work. The more specific we can make our action step, the less thought required when we’re deciding whether to sit down. By adding measurable components we remove obscurity and make it easier to take action.

In the case of our sample goal:

Between March 1st, 2018 and March 1st, 2019, I will practice guitar.

We can make this more measurable by adding some detail to our practice schedule. For instance, how long will we practice and how often? The result may look something like this:

Between March 1st, 2018 and March 1st, 2019, I will practice guitar for one hour each day.

We could get even more specific by listing the individual components of our practice schedule, or committing to a certain number of reps. Use your best judgement here, but know that the more concrete your action plan is, the easier it will be to sit down and do it when the time comes, and consistent action is key to success with any goal.

There’s something else we can do to help ensure we stick with our work… Track progress.

Tracking progress is important for two major reasons. First, it allows us to be held accountable for our work. And second, it allows us to see how far we’ve come, which in turn helps keep morale up when things get difficult.

So, it’s important to take a second look at this goal and make sure that some aspect of it will allow us to track progress. Examining our goal above:

Between March 1st, 2018 and March 1st, 2019, I will practice guitar for one hour each day.

We can track the number of times we practice, but unless we spend that time with someone else, we can’t actually prove we did the work. There’s no accountability baked in. And while counting practice sessions might help us keep track of how much work we’ve done, it won’t allow us to concretely see how our skills have progressed.

There’s a simple fix though. We need a record of some kind.

We could use a simple computer application or smartphone to record a song or practice session once a week. The number of recorded sessions becomes our accountability criteria, and by going back to listen to the old ones, we can clearly hear how we’ve progressed.

The sound quality of the recording is not what matters so we don’t need fancy equipment. What matters is that we have a way of proving our output and that it allows us to go back and see how far we’ve come.

With this in mind, the new goal might looks something like:

Between March 1st, 2018 and March 1st, 2019, I will practice guitar for one hour each day, recording one session a week.

Speaking of progress, let’s take a second to see just how far we’ve come with our goal. We started with the very vague V.A.N. goal of:

I want to become a good guitarist

By adding clear starting and ending deadlines, and measurable action we’ve come up with:

Between March 1st, 2018 and March 1st, 2019, I will practice guitar for one hour each day, recording one session a week.

This is much better. But what’s to ensure we actually follow through? That is where the next and final piece of the equation comes into play.

Negative Consequences

This is by far the most difficult part of the process, and it’s also the one which drives the biggest difference between those who are successful and those who never follow through.

The idea is simple: You set up negative consequences for failing to follow through. Rig the game so that if you reach your deadline and have not certifiably completed your measurable action steps, you stand to lose something you don’t want to lose.

The power of this is based in a principle called Loss Aversion. Simply put, people are very very motivated to avoid losing things. The perceived pain of a loss is significantly greater than the perceived pleasure of a gain. So people will often work harder to avoid losing something than they will to gain something of equal or even greater value.

By itself, this can make us risk averse and keep us small, but we can use it to our advantage.

By rigging the game so that failing to follow through guarantees we’ll lose something valuable, we give ourselves the nudge we need to stick to our guns even when it’s difficult or inconvenient.

Now, there are a lot of ways to do this, but each one basically involves choosing collateral and finding an accountability buddy who will take it from you if you can’t provide proof that you followed through on your action steps.

There are only three rules in order for this to work:

  1. You must be sure that your accountability buddy will not cut you any slack
  2. You must really really not want to lose the collateral.
  3. You must provide the collateral up front

Beware of your brain on this one. It is programmed to help you avoid losing things you don’t want to lose, so your first instinct will typically be to either choose an accountability buddy that you know will go easy on you, or else choose collateral that you don’t really care about losing.

Similarly, you provide the collateral up front so that your accountability buddy has control of it while you’re working. That way you can’t worm your way out of the deal.

The end result is that something you care about is in the posession of another person and you are going to lose it unless you are able to prove you followed through on your plan.

As a rule, you should not choose collateral that you can’t afford to lose. In other words, don’t bet the deed to your house on your new diet plan.

But do choose something that is large enough or special enough to sting. If you feel an instinctive cringe when you think about losing a thing, you know you’re on the right track.

Once you’ve decided on your collateral and your accountability buddy, you structure the deal something like this:

If by [End Deadline] I can’t deliver [Measurable Proof of Action] then [Name of Accountability Buddy] will [Sell/Donate/Burn/Etc] [Insert Collateral Here]

In the case of our goal, perhaps we have a record collection with a vintage vinyl that we love from one our favorite guitarists. Our Negative Consequences might look like this:

If by March 1st 2019 I can’t deliver 50 recorded practice sessions then Danny Dayruiner will donate my vinyl to the local thrift shop.

Note that this says nothing about “being a good guitarist”. I’m not being held accountable for any level of skill, just for taking the action that I committed to.

Note too that the Negative Consequence is not harsh enough to ruin me. We could probably buy the record back from the thrift shop if we wanted to, but it would be inconvenient, possibly expensive, and there’s a chance that someone else beats us to it. The goal is not to do harm, just to inject enough pain that the thought of practicing seems small by comparison.

In the past I have used everything from money posted as collateral, to small inconveniences, like having my accountability buddy promise to shred my debit card if I couldn’t wrap a project up in 24 hours. In that case, you don’t lose actual money. But replacing the card is enough of an inconvenience to make you knuckle down and focus for a day.

Notice, we chose 50 recorded sessions because our goal is to record one session per week so delivering 50 would be measurable proof of our work. This allows a bit of flex too so that if we happen to miss one recording session we don’t get overwhelmed and quit. You could adjust as you see fit.

Might it be possible to cheat and sit down to record fifty sessions the week before our ending deadline? Sure. But even if we let it slide to the last minute and then recorded fifty hours of practice sessions last-minute, we would probably see a significant increase in our baseline ability, which is the ultimate goal.

There are other subtleties to choosing effective Negative Consequences, and I will cover them at length in a future article. But for now, let’s add this to our goal and see where we stand.

Remember, we started out with:

I want to become a good guitarist

It was vague and had little chance of success. With a few simple changes, and the addition of deadlines, measurable action steps, and negative consequences for failing to follow through, we ended up with:

Between March 1st, 2018 and March 1st, 2019, I will practice guitar for one hour each day, recording one session a week. If by March 1st 2019 I can’t deliver 50 recorded practice sessions then Danny Dayruiner will donate my vinyl to the local thrift shop.

It may not guarantee success, but in my experience starting with something like this offers a damn good shot.

Lessons On Hacking Lessons (How I passed a dozen college courses in one semester)

I spent a while in school. Well, it wasn’t all in school, there was a slight detour into vagabonding, a handful of hair-brained startups, and some time spent living out of a truck in the jungle. But the thirty-thousand foot view of my life shows a whopping six years spent in pursuit of an undergrad degree. In fact, if things had shaken out a bit differently, I might still be in school today. But sometime during the summer of 2013, with about half of a BA under my belt and about a dozen classes to go, I knew I had to end it.

During the four months that followed I read reams worth of course material, completed more than a hundred quizzes and tests, wrote over 230 pages of papers and presentations, and sat for more than a dozen final exams across a slew of subjects. When it was all over and done with I had a degree, and something else that was far more valuable.

This article explores how I did it, detailing the most important concepts I used to stay on track without losing my sanity. If you’re a student looking to get an edge in your work, there may be something here for you. If you’re a teacher or are otherwise invested in education, and are wondering what value I could possibly have gotten from going through so much information so quickly, we’ll talk a bit about that too.

But First A Word On Credentials

What I’m suggesting here – that nearly two years worth of schooling can be buttoned up in just a few weeks – flies in the face of a lot of popular perceptions. So I want to start by setting the stage, and introducing a few key ideas…

First, it’s important to recognize that the typical four-year degree is designed so that just about anyone can complete it in four years. As Derek Sivers has said, if you’re even a little bit more driven than the average person, you can do it faster (he finished Berkley in under 3 years).

If you’re reading this, you probably fall into the “more driven” category, and are perfectly capable of doing this. What’s more, it’s possible to do this without working twenty hours a day, or completely burning out.

Contrary to what you may think, during this period school did not dominate my life.

I’d like to say that was because I was some sort of productivity guru, and that after finishing my work each day I spent time relaxing on a beach somewhere. But the reality is that school didn’t take center stage because I couldn’t afford for it to take up all my time.

I was living on an air mattress in the attic bedroom of a house heated by a wood-burning stove, struggling to build a web development business and painting houses to make ends meet. It seems crazy now, but before I learned how to raise my freelance rates successfully, I used to charge just $10-20 per hour to work on websites, so much of my day was dominated by low-paying, labor-intensive work. School needed to be as brief as possible.

I’ll talk at length about how I pulled that off. But first, I want to outline a few other key concepts which helped to shape the course of this experiment:

  1. The Goal is to Pass, Not Excell – By this point in my career, I was tired of school and just wanted the diploma. Therefor, my goal was to pass the classes and get my paper, nothing more. Even a D was considered a win if it got me closer to graduation.
  2. School was Online – While I spent time at several colleges, the school I graduated from was an online university, and (as far as I could personally verify) offered fully accredited undergrad classes. The online nature meant that the work was slightly different (see below) but the concepts here can be applied to learning of all sorts.
  3. One Class at a Time – I was limited to taking one class at a time, but could begin the next one roughly 24 hours after I had certifiably passed my final exam and project.
  4. One Paper, One Exam – Each class could be taken on a challenge-basis, meaning there was no time requirement for passing. I simply needed to pass the final exam, and project. Each project was generally term-paper length (10-30 pages), and I needed to pass eight quizzes in order to unlock the final exam. The final had to be scheduled at least a day in advance and was supervised by a remote proctor. Papers usually took anywhere from a few hours to a day to be graded and approved. All this meant that if you were disciplined, it was possible to pass a course in a week and start the next one on the following Monday.
  5. Online Materials – I did not have to order or wait for textbooks. All the materials were online.
  6. Financial – I paid per semester, not per class, which meant that I was incentivized to fit as many classes into a semester as possible. This was an opportunity, but also a motivator (similar to the Negative Consequences for failing discussed in the D.A.M.N. Goal Framework) because even if I had just one class remaining at the end of the semester, I would have to pay for another whole semester in order to finish it. Failing, even by a single day would double the cost of my efforts, so it pushed me to progress.

Not in a program like this? Don’t worry about it. The principles here can be applied to traditional schooling as well, and the ideas here have had far-reaching implications for me well beyond school.

Lastly, a quick word on my brain — it’s nothing special. I’m not a genius, a speed-learner, or even a particularly gifted student (see the grade chart below). I’m not even sure if lastly is a real word. If I’m good at anything it’s being willing to give a crazy idea a try, and that is a learned skill, believe me.

Anyone can do this so long as they are willing to think a little outside the box, and experiment.

How to Pass a College Course a Week: Enter Professor Parkinson

One day I may write at length about just how helpful Tim Ferriss’ book The 4-Hour Workweek has been for me, but suffice it to say that I highly recommend it for anyone.

Chock-full of bold ideas and mind-bending case-studies that challenge your assumptions about what’s possible, just about everyone is likely to find something useful between its covers. One concept in particular was extremely helpful during this semester: Parkinson’s Law.

A mainstay of management theory today, Parkinson’s Law was originally handed down to us as a joke. The exquisitely named Cyril Northcote Parkinson was writing a humorous piece based on his experience in government work when he said that in general “work expands to fill the time allotted for it.” Ferriss puts it better in his book when he says that

“Parkinson’s Law dictates that a task will swell in [perceived] importance and complexity in relation to the time allotted for its completion”

-Tim Ferriss, The 4-Hour Workweek

So, what does this mean? It means that the more time we have to do something, the more important and more complex it seems to be in our minds. This often results in overwhelm which leads to procrastination so the task isn’t started until the last-minute, and is generally finished just on time or late. Thus, projects appear to take a large amount of time because there is so much time given for their completion, but in reality can be finished rather quickly.

This is the most important implication of Parkinson’s Law — that our minds can trick us into thinking something is bigger and more complex than it really is, merely because we have more time to do it. Therefor, the key to tackling large projects in a short amount of time is mostly a matter of avoiding the temptation to believe that they should take a long time.

The best example is the age-old term paper. Generally assigned at the beginning of a semester, and given three to four months for completion, just about every student on Earth has experienced the caffein-fueled bender that is researching, drafting, and revising such a paper the night before it’s due. This is Parkinson’s Law in action. In reality, the paper only takes a few dedicated hours to complete. However, because several months are available for its completion, the perception is that it’s really quite a complex undertaking.

It may seem simple, but Parkinson’s Law was the principle I exploited most in that final semester. I set crazy-short deadlines on every single assignment and forced myself to believe they were possible to meet. Merely being aware of Parkinson’s Law makes it easier to get more done in less time.

Most days, I devoted just two hours in the morning to course work, and I reserved one full day per week for work on a course project. The schedule looked like this:

Mon: 2 Hrs Quizzes – Identify Knowledge Gaps & Schedule Exam
Tues: 2 Hrs Study Crucial Knowledge Gaps
Wed: 2 Hrs Study Crucial Knowledge Gaps
Thurs: Final Exam
Fri: All Day – Research, Write, and Submit Project or Paper
Sat: Apply for next course
Sun: Off

I was able to keep this rhythm for almost all the courses I took that semester. The trick, as I’ve mentioned, was to avoid believing that the work required more time. No matter what you’re working on, there is always a way to get it done faster.

When I found myself thinking that something was really a big task and required more time, I’d remember Parkinson’s Law, and ask myself how I could get it done in half the time if my life depended on it. The answer was almost always “Stop thinking about it, sit down, and do the work.

But even if you can trick yourself into driving focused action through something as simple as a deadline, you still need to be strategic about which action you take. And that is where the second principle comes into play…

Pareto at School

The Pareto Principle, or The Law of 80/20 as it is sometimes known, is simple — in any system, the vast majority (say, 80% or more) of outcomes are driven by a small minority (20% or less) of inputs.

In economics, a few people have most of the wealth and property. In business, a few products or key clients account for the bulk of annual profits. And in music, a tiny fraction of artists are responsible for just about all of the records sold each year.

When it comes to education, there are two primary implications of Pareto’s Principle.

First, in the strictly academic sense, it means that only a small percentage of the course material will actually be important when it comes to the test. And second, for practitioners, only a few key concepts from any given course will actually be used in the every-day work of the real world.

I used both of these concepts to my advantage in school.

Pareto’s Textbook

First, let’s look at the material dispersion. The traditional mindset behind studying a subject is that there is a textbook and each page of the textbook is equally important. Students go through the book paying attention to all of the information, hoping they are able to absorb it all.

That’s admirable if you’re studying for deep competence. But recall that my primary goal was to pass classes and get a diploma, nothing more.

Pareto’s Law means that most exams do not test material equally. Instead, they focus on certain parts of the subject which are deemed to be most important. If you can suss out these key subjects up front, identifying which you most need to study, you can make your study time dramatically more effective.

Recall too that in order to unlock the final exam I first had to pass eight chapter quizzes. I would begin each week by hacking my way through each of the quizzes, with a goal of unlocking the final exam on day one.

Most of us are not completely ignorant to any topic, and I found that I was often able to get a few questions on each quiz right. I would make notes of questions I consistently got wrong or terms which were totally foreign to me, and those were the things I specifically studied.

Even if you’re in a class that does not offer access to quizzes up front, you can mimic a version of this by looking for review questions at the end of each chapter in your textbook.

The goal is not to score perfect on the final exam, but to have a firm grasp on the 20% of material which will allow you to easily pass 70-80% of the exam.

By starting with the quizzes, I was quickly able to identify the few critical areas of a subject I needed to spend time focusing on, which increased the value of my limited study time. I called these subjects my “knowledge gaps”, or the things I needed to absorb in order to likely do a good job passing the test and project.

Pareto’s Practitioner

But that’s not learning! I hear you say.

In some ways, you’re right. This level of competence is not sufficient for everyone, and I would say the depth of knowledge you have on any topic should vary depending on what you do for work.

But even those studying to be practitioners of a specific topic can benefit from Pareto’s insights.

While you may require a deeper level of knowledge than someone who is just trying to test through, if you’re able to identify the key skills that form the foundation of your practice, you can devote more of your focused time to mastering those, quickly progressing beyond your peers.

In his book, The 4-Hour Chef, Tim Ferriss expands further on this idea saying:

It is possible to become world-class, enter the top 5 percent of performers in the world, in almost any subject within 6-12 months, or even 6-12 weeks. There is a recipe… and that is DiSSS… The recipe for learning any skill is encapsulated in this acronym.

-Tim Ferriss, The 4-Hour Chef

One of the primary concepts in Ferriss’ DiSSS framework is Selection, or the ability to identify the key concepts behind any skill. “Which 20 percent of the blocks should I focus on for 80 percent or more of the outcomes I want?”

Focus on what’s most important, and have the strength to let go of the rest, knowing that you often can look it up if it ever becomes needed.

But What About Quality?

Now, you might think that by limiting the amount of time you give yourself to complete a task, you’re asking for a crummy end-product. Quality work takes time after all, right?

In fact, no. Quality work takes quality work, and on average people work better when the deadline is imminent. Ferriss puts it this way:

“The end product of the shorter deadline is almost inevitably of equal or higher quality due to greater focus.”

-Tim Ferriss, The 4-Hour Workweek

So, What Happened?

Below is an overview of my grades for each of the courses I took. Each point on the line is a class, and they are charted in order from first to last for all of the classes I kept data on during the experiment (the final thirteen). There are thirteen because I actually started this one-week-per-class schedule during the final week of the previous semester to see if it was possible.

Now the first and most obvious finding is that there is was generally a huge, huge difference between my exams and my papers. Interesting by itself, but the real question is, which is more valuable in determining overall education?

Some will say that exams are the true test of knowledge. Your ability to answer questions without resorting to sources or fact-checking is the ultimate measure of what’s in your head. This has been the way of education for quite some time.

However, others will say that the world is changing. 24/7 access to massive amounts of information in the palm of our hands has tipped the scales. Now, it’s not so important to remember facts – the world changes too fast to make rote memorization useful. Instead they say it’s far more useful today to be able to find the answer to a problem. Research, distillation, and ultimately the ability to drive real results – these are the keys to success in todays world.

I lean towards the latter school of thought in work, and elsewhere. By day I’m a freelance front-end web developer. Working with code is interesting because no matter what you want to do, there are multiple correct ways to do it. What’s more, each project is unique and often requires a unique take on something you may have already done in the past. On top of all that, with the web expanding the way it is — to phones and tablets, TVs and even household appliances — you could never in your entire life memorize every facet of code necessary for building a good looking website that works on all devices. It’s just not practical, and practicality pays the bills.

Interestingly enough, there’s an example of this visible within the data as well. About mid-way through the chart there’s a point with the widest distribution between project grade and final exam grade. That course was Managerial Accounting in which I wrote a 16 page paper (scored a 98%) and received a 60% on the final exam. The project was a full workup of a mock-company’s accounting information including a Variable Costing Income Statement, Flexible Budgets, Labor and Material Variances, Analysis of Net Present Value of Capital Investments, and a bunch of other very jargony sounding things.

The point is, I bombed the exam because I couldn’t correctly answer multiple choice questions about accounting. But actual accounting doesn’t involve multiple choice questions, it involves opening up a spreadsheet and bangin’ out some Variable Costing Income Statements, Flexible Budgets, and the rest.

The same goes for the next course, Managerial Finance, where I landed a 66% on the final exam, but garnered a 94% on the 37 page financial analysis I handed in.

Ultimately, it was a hell of a semester, but I was able to finish all of my remaining courses in time for the end of the semester (transcript here) and graduate, coming away with my diploma, and a valuable lesson in doing what at first seems impossible.

Key Takeaways

To recap, the primary principles used to pull this off were:

  1. Set a Deadline – Use Parkinson’s Law to prompt focused action, and avoid tricking yourself into thinking something is more complicated than it really is.
  2. Identify Key Knowledge Gaps – All knowledge is not equally useful. Use Pareto’s Principle to identify the topics you most need to study, and focus your time on subjects that will be most useful for your goal.
  3. Keep the Goal In Mind – Are you studying to become a practitioner? Or simply studying to pass? There’s a difference. Don’t fool yourself into thinking deep knowledge is important if it’s not, and vice versa.
  4. Work Smart and Hard – The right concepts will take you a long way, but ultimately it comes down to work. Be smart about your approach, but don’t be afraid to put the time in when it’s necessary.

What Happened When I Tried to Triple My Rates

Like many people in the web consulting arena, when I first started I was in a constant battle with myself to charge what I was worth. I had bills to pay, and some particularly lean times had led me to lower my prices in order to get anything. Luckily, the new lower rates brought work, but over time as my business matured they also brought a bunch of headaches as well.

To begin with, I was stressed and distracted. In order to try and meet my financial goals I was filling my schedule with as many as twelve or fourteen projects at once, then juggling them throughout the week to ensure they all continued moving forward. Not only was this hard on me, I was beginning to feel that it wasn’t the best situation for my clients either, who relied on my focus and attention to detail in our work together.

Aside from the stress, I was being underpaid and I knew it. Worse, I was the one who was underpaying myself. I didn’t just suspect that I was under-charging, I had peers tell me so. I had clients tell me so. I had one client ask my price, then offer to pay me 30% more. I recognized full-well that my stress was completely self-imposed, and that the only person who could reverse it was little old me.

But the decision to raise my prices was slow in coming. My lean times had been really lean — like, $0.08 in my bank account and no work on the horizon lean — and when my income finally leveled out I promised myself I’d never end up in that place again. Even though people had told me I was undercharging, I was worried that raising my prices might take me straight back to broke-town. I knew logically that if I tripled my rate (which would put me in about the center of the pack in terms of competitive pricing) I could feasibly lose two in three customers and maintain my income. But there was nothing to say they didn’t all leave me, and that was my major hang up.

Beyond that, I develop close relationships with all my clients. Some of them are like family to me, and I enjoy working with them tremendously. I was partly worried about losing the business, but equally worried about offending them, or seeming to pull the rug out from beneath them.

One afternoon while staring blankly at the cover of a Tony Robins book on my coffee table, I finally had a revelation. I realized that the reason I had so many clients wasn’t because I had low prices, but because I’d put my mind to getting each and every one of them. Each had a unique type of business, and I’d really wanted to work with them, so I’d put in the effort and ended up winning the job. I realized that there was very little — maybe nothing — that I’d ever wanted that I hadn’t gotten once I focused and acted. I realized that I wanted to make a better living for myself, and be able to deliver greater value to my clients, and that the only way to do that would be to raise my prices.

I realized that they might leave me, but I also decided that I wasn’t going to be the one to keep myself or my business down. Then I sat down and drafted the following email:

letter1

Then clicked send, and waited for the world to end…It didn’t.

In fact, the response was overwhelmingly supportive, even positive. Part of the reason, I know, is that many of my clients were self employed and understood the exact same struggle. Some were in the exact same industry as me, and subcontracted to me. As I mentioned, we build a close working relationship and routinely offer each other help or advice on our businesses. one

However, even those who were outside of my industry didn’t press the eject button.

two

In the end it may have taken some short-term work off the table

three

But ultimately no one walked, and virtually everyone was very supportive — even a personal friend whom I’d previously been charging nothing.

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In the end I got more than I asked for. My hourly rates went up, my existing project-load may have been lightened a bit, and I kept all of my clients.

How to Duplicate These Types of Results

I don’t think these results are a given for everyone who raises their rates, even if they’re currently undercharging. There are two things I’ve been doing that I think had a profound effect on the outcome of this move. Both of them come from Richard Koch’s book The 80/20 Principle and have to do with developing clients that take your business to the next level.

1. Define the Right Types of Clients

When I first started out I was hungry, and eager, and worried about making it to happy hour with my friends so I took on virtually every project that came my way. Some clients didn’t feel like a good fit, but I took them on anyway with the idea that – when things were better – I’d be more selective.

Then, I proceeded to work straight through happy hour, servicing accounts that took up way too much of my time, and paid way too little (sometimes even shirking the bill). It’s hell, and if you’re self employed you’ve probably been there. The change came when I began listening to Seanwes, and realized that the better work would never come until after I began being more selective.

It’s scary to tell yourself that you’re going to turn down work. Especially when those bills are marching your way, and it seems like the phone’s gone silent. But very quickly I found it to be the best business decision I’d made in months. My project load dropped off a little bit, but the things I was working on were going unbelievably smoothly. What’s more, the good clients were referring more good clients, and the whole system was building on itself.

Now, before taking on work I’ll sit with a prospect to talk and ensure our personalities are a good fit. As a result, my client list is filled with the names of respectful, attentive, successful people who work hard and value my time. I have no doubt this selectivity was a huge driving force in the response I got.

2. Provide Extraordinary Service

The second thing Koch suggests is to go above and beyond for your existing clients.

Whether or not I’m successful at that is ultimately for my clients to say. But the one thing I can control is how much thought goes into providing them with extraordinary service.

Each day I wrap things up by spending fifteen minutes brainstorming ways in which I can take our relationship from good to extraordinary. Ways in which I can step outside the role of my typical advisory position, and provide extra value to them and their clients. That habit has yielded a lot, and I’d recommend it to everyone.

There are other tips in Koch’s book, and I believe every business owner should read it. I also hope that for those who are considering raising their prices this article has served to convince you it’s possible.

Homemade French Pastry

Before handing me the keys to my temporary home in the French countryside, the owner gave me three simple instructions: Play fetch with the dog, Gyp, at least twice a day. Give the cat, Ella, plenty of lap-time. And check the inflatable pool house each week, to be sure it wasn’t leaking.

I followed all three instructions diligently, and for nearly a month everything was fine. Then… drama.

Table of Contents:

Intro
Quick Recipe
Background
Why Learn This Dish?
Ingredients
Instructions
Video

A storm howled like a freight train through the region, battering the countryside with rain, and hail, and gail-force winds. It tossed the pool house like a toy, slamming into it broadside and sliding more than a thousand pounds of water and plastic five feet across the deck and into the pool itself. With time the storm passed. But in its wake it left a massive, heavy, sodden, plastic mess sunk beneath roughly a metric shit-ton of grimy water. And it was my responsibility, as the house-sitter, to get it back up.

To her credit, Gyp tried to lend a hand. She sat dutifully by the edge of the pool, keeping a watchful eye on the donkeys which grazed in an adjacent field. I’m not sure whether she thought this was their fault, or simply that their proximity would thwart any repair efforts, but whenever they got close enough to the fence for their ears to hang over she’d run and bark and scare them off.

Ella, on the other hand, was perfectly useless. She’d slink out to  the pool whenever I was knee-deep in muck and plastic, then sit on the deck looking at me in that judgy way that only felines can.

It took two days of siphoning, pumping, draining, lifting, and stretching. There were more than a few close calls. More than a few setbacks. More than a few sudden hailstorms. But at long last, I was able to get the foundation of the bubble back in place, skim the water off the top, and restore it to it’s bubbly grandeur.

When it was over, I needed to celebrate. More than just a drink — I’d really strained myself. I’d waded through icy green water, gashed my foot on something mysterious, pulled muscles I didn’t know I had. At one point I was almost vacuum-packed by a five-hundred pound blanket of deflating plastic. No a cheap bottle of wine wasn’t going to cut it. I wanted something forbidden. I wanted some fucking cake…

Excuse my french.

What is Kouign Amann?

Kouign Amann (pronounced queen a-mahn) is a buttery, flaky, sugar-coated pastry from the Brittany region of France, where all of this drama took place. Its name literally translates to butter cake in the local dialect. Sweet, crispy layers of laminated dough, with peaks of caramelized sugar and just a hint of sea salt to make the flavors pop. You haven’t lived ’till you’ve tried one, which is ironic because once you have you’ve removed about nine years from whatever life expectancy you had left.

 

“The sea conditions everything in Brittany; its salt is in the blood of the people.”

-R.A.J. Walling, The Charm of Brittany

Salt is the life blood of Brittany. It’s a place that grew up around the sea — “ar mor” as its called — and for more than a thousand years it lay secluded from the rest of France, accessible only by its beautiful rugged coast. Then it was known simply by its Gaulish name, Aremorica, the place by the sea.

According to R.A.J. Walling, author of The Charm of Brittany, even Caesar himself commanding the armies of Rome was unable to conquer Aremorica by land. It took Decimus Brutus and a great naval battle to finally subjugate the region and its people.

But it wasn’t to last. Rome fell, at the feet of invading hordes, and just as the sea brought Brutus’ fleet to Aremorica’s horizon, it ushered in the next wave of people who would call this place home. Small bands of Celts, fleeing the islands of the north, settled at various points along this new land’s shores. They came from Britain. They named this place Brittany.

Like many things in this region of France, Kouign Amann is patently un-French. Brittany is a French region, but the culture is Celtic, and the language spoken around the hearth for many generations was actually closer to Cornish than it was to French.

All of this helps to explain why searching for kouign amann in Google Translate produces no useful results. It also hints at why many people living nearby looked utterly lost whenever I tried to communicate in my (very) basic French.

Why Learn to Make Kouign Amann?

The most practical reason to learn to make Kouign Amann is that in doing so you’ll learn to make laminated dough, which can easily be used to make dozens of other pastries and baked goods from around the world.

Laminated dough is a combination of yeasted bread dough and a slab of butter, laid out carefully, chilled, and folded a few times in order to create dozens of alternating layers. When the heat from the oven hits the dough, the water inside turns to steam which puffs up the layers, while the heat causes the butter to essentially deep-fry some of the dough. The end result is a product with the flakiness of puff pastry, and the heft of something more substantial.

Croissants, turnovers, cinnamon rolls, cheese twists, danishes, and even some pie crusts and tops all use laminated dough. Master this process, and you’ve basically become the king of brunch.

At the Market

Let’s talk about what you’ll need. Below you’ll find a recipe card, complete with ingredient names translated into French so you can find them while you’re wandering a foreign market.

Photo Mar 05, 11 28 24 AM

Further down, you can find in-depth explanations of each item, along with ideas for substitutes.

Substitutes?!

Yes, substitutes.

Some people rail against the idea of substitutes when cooking, and especially when baking. Different ingredients will yield different results, they say. They’re right.

But the point of Cooking Travelers is to make recipes accessible no matter where in the world you are. According to ClassoFoods’ extensive course on bread and bread-making, there are enormous differences in the various types of flours, salts, yeasts, and even water that go into doughs like this. There can even be noticeable differences between two bags of the same flour that were processed by different workers at the same factory.

With so much potential variability, you can either opt for anal-retentive, monk-like obsession with detail, or you can shoot for the main gist of the thing, and enjoy some damn cake. Don’t get me wrong, there’s something inspiring about watching a masterful pastry chef do their thing. But when it comes to this piece, and other pieces on this site for that matter, it’s more important that you understand the concepts, so you can make smart substitutions when you need to.

Then substitute away.

[amd-yrecipe-recipe:2]

yeast

There are a lot of different types of yeast available, and it’s important you choose the right one because the yeast does some heavy lifting in this recipe.

You want Baker’s Yeast, not Nutritional Yeast or Brewer’s Yeast. Both Nutritional, and Brewer’s yeasts are dried at very high temperatures, which deactivates the yeast cells, rendering them useless for leavening.

Baker’s Yeast, on the other hand is dried at low temperatures, so while some of the cells die off, they encapsulate other living cells and preserve them. This is why many supermarket yeasts need to be mixed with water before use. You’re re-activating the dormant yeast cells.

Among the Baker’s yeasts, you’re most likely to run into one of three: Active Dry, Instant, and Rapid Rise. Among the three, each should work fine, but may require different activation so read the instructions carefully. The debate rages on as to whether Rapid Rise is worthy of being used in recipes. I used it, and enjoyed the results.

The one type of Baker’s Yeast you want to avoid if you see it is Deactivated Yeast. It’s usually reserved for pizza doughs, and like Brewer’s Yeast and Nutritional Yeast, it’s got no leavening properties.

Elevation changes the way doughs rise. If you’re traveling high above sea level, and the recipe isn’t seeming to work out properly, try consulting King Arthur Flour’s helpful hints for high-altitude baking.

flour

Flour is another ingredient with loads of options. Most recipes for laminated dough, and Kouign Amann in particular, advise against using All-Purpose (or AP) flour. Some say it doesn’t have enough protein to put out a nice firm dough, others point to the fact that the recipe requires so much time and attention, you might as well use the best you can get.

That said, I used AP flour, or Type 55 as it’s called in France, end enjoyed the results. You can experiment with other flours for fun if you like. But if all you can find is AP, then don’t be afraid to use it.

Some people ask whether they can use gluten-free flour for a recipe like this. Most bakers agree that a gluten-free flour alone won’t give you the kind of consistency you’re looking for. But Nicole Hunn of Gluten Free on a Shoestring has a handful of all-purpose gluten free flour blends which are much more likely to get the job done. She’s even got a recipe for croissants which doesn’t seem much different than this one (save the flour blend).

If you’re avoiding gluten just because you’ve heard it’s bad, then my advice would be to throw caution to the wind for this recipe. The sugar is going to do more damage to your system than the gluten will. But if you’re avoiding gluten because it makes you ill, then opt for Nicole’s flour blends.

butter

You want to use salted butter. You’ll need about a half-pound for this recipe. It’d be best if you can get it as a single large block. But don’t be afraid to simply use two sticks (or a lot of little restaurant butter packets) if that’s all you have access to.  Keep it in the refrigerator until you’re ready to work with it.

sugar

You don’t need anything fancy. Plain old granulated sugar will work just fine.

salt

Most recipes call for a 10-1 sugar-to-salt ratio, but I found that produced a sickly-sweet end product that I didn’t enjoy eating at all. You need some salt, otherwise the sugar just tastes bland. But rather than mixing it into the sugar and dough, I recommend simply sprinkling a small pinch on the pastries right before they go in the oven.

Use the finest textured salt you can find. Kosher will work, but a very fine sea salt will work better.

Wine

What?! I didn’t see wine on the ingredient list!

Shame on you. You should always cook with wine nearby. In this case, it doesn’t go in the mixing bowl, it goes in your mouth. You can use the empty bottle as a club to beat the butter senseless (see step #3), and as a rolling pin.

You could just opt for a rolling pin. But Ella, the cat, would judge you.

In the Kitchen

Alright let’s talk process. In order to make this recipe globe-trotter friendly I’ve tried to remove as many steps and tools as possible, while still getting high quality results.

Equipment

All you need to make this is a large mixing bowl, a baking pan, a knife, a kitchen-towel, and the afore-mentioned rolling pin/wine bottle.

“But what about the dough hook I see in other recipes?” I hear you ask, “What about the wax paper? The plastic-wrap? And the spoons… What about the measuring spoons?”

We need to have a talk about your precious measuring spoons. Did you ever stop to ask yourself where measuring cups or spoons came from? The answer is that they were popularized at the turn of the century by a woman named Fannie Farmer (I’m not kidding).

They were popularized in large part to make reading and writing recipes easier, not because precise measurements were actually needed in cooking. A lot of kitchen equipment is this way; nice to have, but by no means necessary.

Your Italian grandmother didn’t need a set of measuring spoons and with some practice, neither do you!

Use the measuring cups the first few times you try a recipe. But pay close attention to how things look when they go together. The very best batches I made (the fifth and sixth) were eyeballed from start to finish.

The one thing you really can’t do without is some kind of low-temperature environment. If the house is cold, that will work, but a refrigerator or freezer is better. This dough works by creating distinct layers of dough and butter. If it gets too warm, the butter begins to melt into the layers of dough, which will inhibit your puffing/layering effect.

So, with your mixing bowl, knife, and freezer space ready, lets get started.

Part I: Making Laminated Dough

Step #1: Activate Yeast

Pour 1 Cup of warm water into your mixing bowl. Add to that a tablespoon of sugar, and two teaspoons (or one standard packet) of yeast. Stir it lightly, then leave it to activate for about ten minutes.

After ten minutes you should see a very light foam forming on the surface of the liquid. This is important. It’s a sign that your batch of yeast is good. Yeast is extremely sensitive to heat, and can only be stored for so long even at room temperatures. When live yeast begins processing the sugar you put in the water, it releases small amounts of ethanol along with carbon dioxide, which bubbles to the top creating the foam. The carbon dioxide bubbles are what cause bread to rise.

Yeast Activation for Kouign Amann -- Cooking Travelers

If there’s no foam forming on the surface of the liquid, it’s a sign that the batch of yeast you got is de-activated or dead. You need to scrap it and start with a new batch. Otherwise, your dough won’t rise.

Step #2: Mix Dough

Once the yeast has had time to activate, add your flour to the bowl. Stir or mix with floured hands until the flour and water combine into a shaggy dough. It will be sticky at first. Continue adding flour one small hand-full at a time until the whole thing forms a single ball, and no longer sticks to everything it touches.

Then lay it in the bottom of the bowl, and cover the bowl with a clean, dry kitchen towel, and set it aside for about two hours until the dough doubles in size.

While the actual work of laminated dough doesn’t take long, there’s a lot of waiting involved.

Once your dough has doubled in size, roll it out roughly onto a floured baking pan, then store it in the freezer while you move to the next step.

Step #3: Soften Butter

Now that your dough is chilling, it’s time to create the slab of butter which will give the final product all its layers.

Lay your butter out on a floured work surface. Then sprinkle the top with more flour, and proceed to beat the hell out of it with your rolling pin/wine-bottle. Your goal is to smoosh it flat, then fold it over and smoosh it flat again.

Floured Butter for Kouign Amann -- Cooking Travelers

Repeat the process two or three times, flouring as needed to keep the butter from sticking to the counter, and working the butter down into a rectangle that’s about twice as long as it is wide.

Butter for Kouign Amann -- Cooking Travelers

Try not to touch the butter with your hands while you work. Instead, lift the edge with your knife to fold it over onto itself. It’s approaching the right softness when it folds, rather than breaking.

Folded Butter for Kouign Amann -- Cooking Travelers

Work it until it’s a little thinner than your pinky. Watch the surface to be sure it’s not getting too warm and melting. You want a pliable slab of butter, not a melted puddle. If it starts to get even a little bit shiny, simply put it on a plate and return it to the fridge for a few minutes, allowing it to cool once again.

Pound it into a rough rectangle, then set it aside and pull your dough from the freezer.

You want your dough, and butter to be roughly the same texture. As Grant from Chef Steps points out, if the butter is way harder than the dough, then the dough will simply tear when you begin folding. If the butter’s way softer, it can get too warm and begin soaking into the dough.

People get really intimidated by this recipe, but they needn’t be. Practice makes perfect, but even if you’re a knuckle dragger like me, it’s pretty forgiving.

Step #4: The Fold

Okay, this is the basis of laminated dough. It’s the difference between warm, flaky layers, and a pile of bread and butter.

Lay the dough out on a floured surface, and roll to a rectangle that’s abut three times as long as it is wide. Place your butter slab on top, with the bottoms matching. The butter should be almost as wide as the dough, and roughly 2/3 the length.

Dough and Butter for Laminated Dough -- Cooking Travelers

Then you’re going to fold it in thirds. Fold the top of the dough down, then fold the bottom up, then rotate 90° as shown in the photos. This process is known simply as “a fold”. Perform the whole thing once and you’ve done a fold, repeat it four times and you’ve done four folds.

Folding Laminated Dough -- Cooking Travelers

That’s it. That’s the move you have to master. Roll the dough out, fold the top down, bottom up, spin 90°. Repeating this is all that’s involved in making laminated dough.

Folding Laminated Dough -- Cooking Travelers

The real trick is to keep your dough cold, so after each fold return it to the freezer for 5 or 10 minutes. As long as your dough stays cold, you keep the butter from melting into the dough. Real pastry chefs will chill dough for hours between folds. But Grant from Chef Steps says that you can be a little less precise when you’re making Kouign Amann. Cold dough is the force-multiplier in getting really great pastries.

Folding Laminated Dough -- Cooking Travelers

Because of the compounding effect of folding layer after layer, it doesn’t take long to reach the three and four-digit layer zone. After a mere four folds, you’ll have more than 240 layers, which is plenty for Kouign Amann. Make your last fold, and return the dough to the freezer to chill before proceeding to the next step.

Rolling Laminated Dough -- Cooking Travelers

Part II: Turning Laminated Dough into Kouign Amann

Step #1: Add Sugar

This is the step that takes laminated dough, and turns it into Kouign Amann dough. Clear your work surface, then coat it liberally with granulated sugar.

Sugar for Kouign Amann -- Cooking Travelers

Roll your dough out on the sugar, coat the top with even more sugar, and continue rolling.

Roll the sheet out until it’s a large rectangle a little thinner than the width of your pinky. When it’s finally rolled out, coat the top with another layer of sugar, and lift the edges to throw sugar underneath it as well.

You should basically be thinking “Wow, this is a ridiculous amount of sugar”. If you’re not, there’s either a problem with your Kouign Amann, or the rest of your diet.

Step#2: Cut & Fold

Trim the edges of your sheet so that it’s rectangular. When you’re cutting the dough, try to cut straight down, lifting the knife before each cut, rather than slicing. Slicing can crimp the edges, inhibiting puff. You don’t want to inhibit puff.

Next, cut the sheet into squares roughly 4″x 4″. They don’t have to be perfect. We’re going to use these squares to make our final pastries. Here I’m going to show you three different ways you can fold your pastries. The first is the most commonly suggested muffin-tin method. It’s perfect for making interestingly shaped, perfectly caramelized, single-serve portions as long as you have a muffin tin.

Pastry Square -- Cooking Travelers

If, like me, you find yourself elbow-deep in pastry flour only to realize you’re in a house with no muffin tin, you’ll need another solution. That’s where the other two folds come in. They’re my favorites after testing nearly a dozen variations, and judging the results based on final look, caramelization, and  general un-fuck-up-ability.

The Muffin Tin Fold

Fold the corners of your squares into the center, and pinch them lightly together. Place each inside a buttered, sugared muffin tin hole.

Muffin Tin Kouign Amann -- Cooking Travelers

The Vol au Vent Fold 

Fold your square diagonally so it’s a triangle, then make one cut parallel to both of the triangle’s legs, roughly a half-inch from the edge. Don’t let the incisions meet otherwise you’ll just be left with a smaller square of dough.

VOL AU VENT Kouign Amann -- Cooking Travelers

Open the triangle back up into a diamond, so that the uncut sections are at the top and bottom of the diamond. Take the right outer-corner and fold it across to the left, then repeat by folding the left outer-corner over to the right, as seen in the images below.

VOL AU VENT Kouign Amann -- Cooking Travelers

VOL AU VENT Kouign Amann -- Cooking Travelers

VOL AU VENT Kouign Amann -- Cooking Travelers

Not only does this give you a nice final shape, but it also gives you a pocket in which you can stuff fruit jam, or diced apples tossed in sugar. While fillings of various types are popular, they’re not required.

The Pinwheel Fold

Make four diagonal cuts toward the center of your square, leaving the middle untouched, as shown in the photos below.

Pinwheel Kouign Amann -- Cooking Travelers

Then, fold one corner of each triangle down toward the center of the pastry, overlapping them as you go.

Pinwheel Kouign Amann -- Cooking Travelers

Pinwheel Kouign Amann -- Cooking Travelers

Pinwheel Kouign Amann -- Cooking Travelers

Once again, this gives you a little spot in the center of the pastry to add filling if you choose.

Step #3: Bake

Heat your oven to 400°F.

Take a tablespoon of butter and smear it around the bottom of your baking sheet, then coat it liberally with a handful or two of sugar. Tilt your tray side to side in order to coat the whole bottom. This will give your pastries the patent caramelized bottom which is so important for Kouign Amann.

Place your pastries on the baking sheet, then sprinkle them with more sugar. Finally sprinkle just the tiniest bit of salt over the top of each one. A little salt goes a long way here so really go easy on it. A single two-finger pinch spread between all your pastries should suffice.

Put the tray in the oven for 15-20 minutes. Check them at the fifteen minute mark, and roughly every 2-3 minutes after that.

You’re getting very close when the laminated dough is puffed, and you begin seeing browning on the peaks of the pastries. There is a point, just as the caramelized sugar begins to give off little wisps of smoke, which is when you should pull them. But be careful, these things go from caramelized to burned quickly. Keep an eye on them, and pull them early rather than late.

One-Pot Boeuf Bourguignon

I’d gone to France for my very first long term house-sitting job. For five weeks I’d be living in the home of a complete stranger I’d met online, taking care of her pets while she traveled.

My duties were simple: Play fetch with the dog, Gyp, several times a day. Give the cat, Ella, a comfortable place to lounge (like my lap or more often my keyboard while I was trying to work). And make sure the donkeys — Bill & Ted (and Dan) — hadn’t wandered off on any excellent adventures.

In exchange, I had the place to myself.

Table of Contents:

1. Intro
Quick Recipe
2. Background
3. Why Learn This Dish?
4. Ingredients
5. Instructions

The setting was beautiful; Shockingly beautiful for someone who’d grown up on New England winters where February meant iced windshields and burst plumbing. Gyp and I walked along endless fields of lush green cow pasture with hillsides speckled with wood violets, primroses, and wild daffodils.

French Countryside -- Cooking Travelers

Many days it was warmer outside than in. The house’s thick stone walls sucked heat from every corner of its open floor plan. Nights I’d sit near the crackling blaze of the enormous fireplace. Days I spent in the kitchen, where heat from the gas range, hair metal from my laptop, and deep concentration in the bottom of a pot or pan made the cold disappear.

After nearly six months traveling I was surprised to find that France reminded me of home. The cars drove on the right side of the road. It wasn’t always cloudy (unlike in some certain united kingdoms I could mention). Even the region’s flag had a strange familiarity.

Flag_of_Brittany_(Gwenn_ha_du).svg

And of course, there was the food…

What is Boeuf Bourguignon?

Boeuf Bourguignon, or Beef Burgundy as it’s sometimes called, is essentially a stew. It’s similar to American beef stew, except instead of being cooked in just beef or chicken stock, the meat is braised in a combination of stock and red wine.

It’s not technically from Brittany, where I was staying. But then, it’s probably not actually from Burgundy either. Most people believe it was concocted there, and that it’s named for the Burgundy wine traditionally used in the sauce. But according to Adam Balic of The Art and Mystery of Food, there’s more to the story.

While a chef named Auguste Escoffier usually gets the credit for bringing Boeuf Bourguignon into the main, the truth is that his recipe is only similar to the traditional dish. In his now legendary book Le Guide Culinar, he shares a recipe for Piece de Boeuf a la Bourguignonne. But that dish uses one large chunk of beef, rather than the cubes found in today’s recipe.

In the exact same year, and from the other side of the Atlantic, a contemporary of his named Adolphe Meyer published another recipe that’s much closer to the modern interpretation.

“As both Meyer’s and Escoffier’s recipes were published independently in the same year,” Balic says, “This implies there are earlier origins for the modern recipe.”

The most likely source, according to Balic, is a Parisian chef named Joseph Favre who published the Dictionnaire Universel de Cuisine Pratique (The Universal Dictionary of Practical Cooking) in 1894. It includes a recipe for Boeuf Braise à la Bourguignonne which practically mirrors the modern recipe.

In his writings, Balic says, Favre hints at the possibility that Boeuf Bourguignon may have actually developed in the restaurants of Paris, not Burgundy. The name, he says, comes from the ingredients involved. Specifically the use of small glazed onions, lardons, mushrooms and wine, which are together a hallmark of Burgundian cooking.

So while it’s common to use Burgundy in Boeuf Bourguignon, and it’s indeed a popular dish in Burgundy and throughout France, the name comes from the unique combination of onions, mushrooms, and wine rather than the type of wine, or the place of origin.

Why Learn It?

By learning to make Boeuf Bourguignon you’re learning the skills needed to make dozens of other famous dishes from around the world.

Swap the wine out for beer or chicken stock and you’re making American beef stew. Pull the bay leaf, and add ground chilis and you’re making a bowl o’ red. Opt for a dry white wine and veal shanks and you’re cooking Ossobucco. The ingredients vary from place to place, but the process is exactly the same.

And what is that process?

All you’re doing is slow-cooking meat in some liquid until it’s nice and tender. That’s braising in a nut shell.

You don’t need fancy equipment, just an oven and a cast-iron pot. It’s extremely forgiving, so you don’t have to worry about messing it up. And because braising works best on the toughest (read: cheapest) cuts of meat, learning these types of recipes can help stretch your budget when you travel.

At the Market

Below you’ll find a quick reference recipe guide. The shopping list has been translated into French so you can find what you need if you’re wandering a foreign market.

Further down you’ll find more detailed info on the major ingredients and steps involved. It’s not required reading, but if you’re wondering why you should buy chuck rather than tenderloin, or what you can substitute for the wine, check it out.

Some people get touchy when you talk about substitutions in a recipe. Substitutions go against tradition, they say.

I won’t comment on tradition, but here’s my stance when it comes to substitutions for this recipe: If you can’t get your hands on an ingredient, or are opposed to using something (like alcohol), make a substitution.

Cooking isn’t about following the rules all the time. It’s about exploring, and experimenting. Here at Cooking Travelers, the point is to learn about cooking in a way that enables us to re-create a dish’s essence no matter where in the world we are. There will be times when you don’t have access to wine. There will be times when you can’t find pearl onions. That’s perfectly fine.

I’ve personally tested several variations of this recipe, using substitutions for everything from the onions, to the stock, to the wine. Anything good is included here.

Quick Recipe

English
2-3Lbs Chuck Roll
1 Bottle Red Wine
1Lb of Mushrooms
1Lb of Pearl Onions
1Qt Beef Stock
Tomato Paste
Flour
Garlic
Bay Leaf
Thyme
Butter
Olive Oil
Salt
En Français
1Kg Paleron de Boeuf
Vin rouge
500g Champignons
500g Oignons Grelot
1L Bouillon de bœuf
Pâte de tomate
Farine
Ail
Laurier
Thym
Beurre
Huile d’olive
Sel

Wash, dry, and quarter mushrooms. Peel onions, poking a hole at the root, then braise for 20-25 minutes in a mixture of water, butter, and salt. Drain and set aside. Brown quartered mushrooms in batches, taking care not to overcrowd the pan. Once browned, set aside with onions.

Trim roast into steaks, and brown whole in pan over high heat. Pull steaks, and deglaze pan with roughly 1/2 bottle of red wine. Reduce wine over low heat for about 10 minutes. Cut browned steaks into large cubes, and add back to reduced wine. Add beef stock until cubed meat is 3/4 covered. Add 1 tablespoon of tomato paste, a bay leaf, a three-finger pinch of thyme, and minced garlic. Bring to a boil on the stove, then cover (leaving the lid cracked slightly) and place immediately into a 275°F oven for 2.5 hours.

When meat’s tender enough to be cut with the edge of a spoon, pull it from the oven, and remove the bay leaf and cubed meat. Add 1 Tablespoon flour for every cup of sauce remaining in pan. Stir over medium heat with a large dollop of butter until thickened. Add meat back in, along with braised onions and browned mushrooms, and return to the oven until everything’s hot. Serve with red wine, and fresh baguette.

Meat

Jaques Pepín, Martha Stuart, YouTube cooks from around the world; They’ve all got their favorite cuts of meat for this recipe.

When it comes to Boeuf Bourguignon, you can break beef down into two categories— collagen-rich cuts, and tender cuts.

Collagen is an extremely tough connective tissue that can be found within muscles. The more work a muscle does on a regular basis, the more collagen you can expect to find within it.

When it comes to stewing, the more collagen, the better.

Many people assume that stewed meat is tender because it takes on the moisture of the liquid it’s cooked in, but that’s actually not the case. In fact, meat loses moisture when it’s stewed. Heat causes the muscle proteins to contract during the cooking process, squeezing moisture out.

But that very same heat also converts the tough collagen into a delicate gelatin, and that’s what we’re after.

According to Daniel Gritzer of Serious Eats, meat that’s rich in collagen will lose about as much moisture as meat that’s low in collagen. But because of the gelatin created the collagen-rich meat will seem far more moist.

Cuts like tenderloin start off tender precisely because they’re low in collagen. But what makes them eye-rollingly delcious on the grill is exactly the same thing that makes them dry and awful in a stew.

One of Gritzer’s top picks for Boeuf Bourguignon is the noble Chuck roll, which comes from the shoulder of the cow. Remember, the more work a muscle does, the more collagen is likely to be found inside it. Chuck is cheap, and flavorful, and loaded with collagen.

It was also the meat of choice for Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon, as well as the go-to stew beef of J. Kenji-Lopez, best-selling author of The Food Lab.

Opt for a single large piece rather than anything that’s pre-cubed. We’ll cube it ourselves thank you very much, but not before we add some flavor. I recommend a little more than a half-pound of meat per serving, since you’ll lose some to trimming later on.

Red Wine

Ah, the essence of Boeuf Bourguignon. Without the red wine, there’s not much separating this dish from standard beef stew.

Traditionally Boeuf Bourguignon would have been made with red Burgundy. But Red Burgundy is made from 100% Pinot Noirt grapes, so you can actually use a standard Pinot Noirt for this dish and it will taste delicious.

If you can’t find a Pinot Noirt, you can sub in any dry red wine as long as it’s not labeled “Cooking Wine”.

It doesn’t need to be fancy either. Daniel Gritzer of Serious Eats did a series of tests on cooking with wines, and found that there were very few noticeable differences in the results.

Make sure it’s red, make sure it’s dry (Pinot Noirt, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Bordeoux, and Burgundy will all work), and make sure you’d drink it if it came in a glass. We’re only using some of the bottle. You’ll need to find a good use for the rest ;)

According to Chef Mark Thomasson, if you either can’t get your hands on red wine, or don’t want to, you can opt for a smaller amount of red wine vinegar mixed with a bit of Worcester sauce. You’ll want to use much less liquid, since those flavors are really strong. But it can be done.

Opt for about a 3-1 mixture of red wine vinegar to Worcester sauce, and limit it to maybe a half cup total liquid.

Onions

Aside from the wine, another ingredient that makes this dish uniquely Burgundian is the small onions. The recipe calls for Pearl Onions, which you may have seen packed in little mesh bags at the grocery store. They range from gum-ball to golfball size, and are lighter and sweeter than standard onions.

While Pearl Onions are very popular in parts of Europe, they’re more difficult to find elsewhere due to their two-year crop cycle.

If you can’t find pearl onions, you can substitute standard onions from your grocery store, roughly chopped. Like garlic and other aromatic vegetables, the finer you chop onions the more potent their flavor becomes. So keep it coarse.

Seasonings

Besides the tomato paste the three other seasonings which play a main role in this dish are garlic, bay leaf, and thyme.

Always opt for fresh garlic when possible, either minced by hand or put through a press directly into the pot.

If you’re using whole sprigs of thyme, tie them in a bundle with the bay leaf so that they’re easier to fish out later. I was able to find pre-tied bundles which worked perfectly.

Seasoning for Boeuf Bourguignon -- Cooking Travelers

Beef Stock

According to both Julia Child, and J. Kenji-Lopez, the best beef stock is home made. However, if you don’t have access to that, Child says you can swap in beef bouillon.

Thickener

After the beef braises, we’ll want to thicken the sauce in order to give it that hearty, stew-like texture.

For simplicity’s sake, and to make this recipe as universal as possible, we’ll use a combination of butter and flour, similar to Julia Child.

Flour will dull the flavors of your sauce a bit. It’s also suffered a reputation crisis since the paleo/gluten-free movement.

To maintain your flavor or your figure you could use unflavored gelatin instead. If you opt for gelatin, you’ll want to use about one teaspoon for every 2-3 cups of sauce you’re thickening.

What about The damned carrot I see in other recipes?

Even a basic search for Boeuf Bourguignon turns up dozens of recipes with dozens of different ingredients. Some call for bacon, others call for carrots, or shallots, or celery, potatoes, and even soy sauce.

Anything this famous is bound to have lots of variations.

Remember that the basic flavor profile was beef, wine, small onions, mushrooms, and lardons. Everything outside that can safely be excluded.

Okay so what the eff are lardons, and why aren’t they in this?

Lardons are small pieces of fat used for larding. In larding, thin strips of pork fat are actually sewn into tough pieces of meat using larding needles. It’s a technique that evolved from a time when most meat was wild game, and was therefore very lean. The idea is to try and artificially inject some tenderness into meat by via man-made marbling.

However, today’s beef is so well marbled that larding is becoming less and less necessary. Both wikipedia, and Adam Balic of The Art and Mystery of Food say that the lardons are being increasingly worked out of modern interpretations of Boeuf Bourguignon. While Julia Child’s includes them in her book Mastering the Art of French Cooking, she actually left them out of the process in the premiere episode of The French Chef.

For simplicity’s sake, I’ve left them out here.

While we’re at it, you also don’t have to worry about marinating the beef. According to Daniel Gritzer’s recipe for The Best Boeuf Bourguignon, it’s impossible to tell the difference between beef that marinates for up to 24 hours, and beef that first meets the wine the moment it hits the pan.

In The Kitchen

You only need one cooking vessel for this recipe, a cast iron dutch oven. You may see me refer to it as a pot or a pan at various points, but rest assured it’s just for variety. One dutch oven will get you through this if you follow it step by step.

There’s one trade-off though: heat control.

In order to get a good brown on a piece of beef you need a very hot pan. Later on when you’re reducing your wine, you need lower heat.

As Alton Brown regularly points out, cooking is just food plus heat. Your job as a cook isn’t to memorize exactly what stove-top setting is best for browning mushrooms. Your job is to understand the browning process, so that you can adjust the heat depending on how your food is reacting.

Then you can cook on gas, or electric ranges, or over an open fire no problem. Because you understand the principle, rather than just memorizing the recipe.

Aside from the dutch oven for cooking, you’ll also need a mixing bowl, a cutting board, a sharp knife, a large spoon, and a non-metal spatula. You’d be smart to set these things out before you start cooking, along with organizing your ingredients and opening your bottle of wine.

This act of organization is called mise en place.

Let’s dive in…

Step #1: Wash & Quarter Your Mushrooms

Drop your mushrooms into a large bowl of water. Toss the mushrooms lightly by hand. The goal is to knock off any loose dirt which should sink to the bottom.

Quartered Mushrooms for Boeuf Bourguignon -- Cooking Travelers

Pull your mushrooms out by hand, pat them dry with a clean kitchen towel, cut them into quarters, and leave them spread out on a cutting board to continue drying. Empty and rinse your bowl.

step #2: Peel & braise Onions

First we need to choose how many onions we’re going to cook. It’s important to get the ratio of onions to beef right in this meal. If you ladle someone a nice big bowl of onions with one or two pieces of beef in it, they’ll look at you weird.

I like 3-4 pearl onions per serving of stew. Count them out and set them aside.

Next we need to peel them. Fill your pot with about an inch of water, then set it over high heat on the stove. When the water’s boiling, drop the onions in and wait for the water to return to a boil. Let them boil for about 20 seconds, then fish them out of the water and put them into the bowl you washed your mushrooms in. Turn the heat off, and empty your pot.

Use your knife to shave the very ends off each onion, then remove the skin.

Use the tip of your knife to poke one or two small holes in the root-end of each bulb. This will help them to keep their shape later on.

Peeled Onions for Boeuf Bourguignon -- Cooking Travelers

Put the peeled onions in your pot, then fill with water until the onions are roughly 1/2 covered.

Place the pot over medium heat, and bring it to a simmer. Drop a dollop of butter into the pot along with a dash of salt. Then reduce the heat, cover and simmer for about 20-25 minutes. The onions are done when they’re tender enough to pierce with a fork.

Braised Onions for Boeuf Bourguignon -- Cooking Travelers

When the onions are finished, turn off the heat, fish them out, and put them aside in your bowl. Empty any remaining water out of your pot.

Step #3: Brown Mushrooms

Return your empty pot to the stove and set it over medium-high heat. It’s time to brown some stuff. As it’s heating up, add some oil and a tablespoon of butter into the pan.

Tradition has long said that you should brown in a combination of butter and oil, claiming that the oil raises the smoke point of the butter. But kitchen myth-buster J. Kenji Lopez put this idea to the test and found it wasn’t true.

In order to brown food quickly, and avoid drying it out, you need to be cooking up around 300°F. The proteins in butter start breaking down rapidly between 300°F and 350°F. By the time the pan hits 375°F you’ve got smoke, whether or not there’s oil.

However, according to Kenji there’s still a benefit to cooking with a mixture of the two. First off, diluting the butter in oil makes the burnt flavor less pronounced. But more importantly, those proteins will actually speed up the browning process, which helps avoid overcooking the food.

Browned Mushrooms for Boeuf Bourguignon -- Cooking Travelers

Don’t over-crowd the pan with mushrooms. Drop in enough for a single layer to loosely coat the bottom, but no more. If you add too many, the tight space traps moisture down near the surface of the food. This lowers the temperature of your pot, inhibits the browning process.

Onions and Mushrooms for Boeuf Bouguignon -- Cooking Travelers

If you’ve got more mushrooms than you have space, simply brown them in batches. Stir each batch every minute or so, so that all sides of the mushrooms are exposed to the heat. When brown, remove them to the bowl with your onions.

Step #4: Trim Your steaks

If you know what you’re doing, this step won’t take long so you can leave your pot on low heat. If this process is new to you, turn the heat completely off so that you can focus.

We’re going to take our roast and turn it into a couple of steaks. The reason for steaks rather than cubes is that, according to Kenji, it’s better to brown two or three steaks in a pan than it is to try and brown a dozen smaller cubes.

Smaller cubes lose about 25% more moisture than steaks when browned, which drags out the browning process, and dries the beef out.

Lay your roast out on a cutting board, and get your sharpest knife. Depending on the cut of beef you chose, you may find a thick, sinewy layer of fat or silverskin on the outside of the roast. The first step is to remove it.

Trimming a Roast for Boeuf Bourguignon -- Cooking Travelers

Depending on your experience level, and the quality of the knife you have access to, this can feel intimidating. Try not to worry too much about it at first, it doesn’t have to be pretty. We’re ultimately going to be chopping these into cubes, and cooking them down to melt-in-your-mouth texture. All that’s important is that you remove the tough exterior.

Trimmed Roast for Boeuf Bourguignon -- Cooking Travelers

Trim, and slice until you’ve removed any tough exterior fat or silverskin, then set it aside. It can be frozen and used later to make broth or stock.

Examine your roast. Look for the grain of the muscle fibers. Similar to wood, muscles have a grain that runs in a certain direction. Cut across the grain in order to give the steaks shorter fibers, and make them fall apart easily when cooked.

Cutting Steaks for Boeuf Bourguignon -- Cooking Travelers

Cut your roast into a series of steaks that are about 2 inches thick. Pat them dry with a paper towel. Remember, moisture is the enemy of browning, so you want to get them really dry. If you want to go above and beyond, you could pause now and place them in the freezer for up to an hour. The freezer is the driest environment in the entire house, and is often used to remove moisture from meats before cooking.

Otherwise, simply move on to the next step once you’re happy with how dry they are.

Step #5: Brown Your Steaks

Return to your stove and kick the heat up to high underneath your dutch oven. Add oil and let it heat up for a good 2-3 minutes. Things might start to get a little smokey. Billowing clouds are bad, but a bit of smoke is fine. It’s likely excess butter proteins burning off, showing that we’ve got enough heat to begin browning.

When the dutch oven is good and hot insert your steaks and let sit for a solid minute or two. Remember not to crowd the pan. You can always brown the steaks in batches if you need to.

Don’t poke at them, there’s an important chemical reaction going on. Just stand there and think about this:

For a long time common lore was that browning was used to lock moisture into a piece of beef. It’s not. It doesn’t. Browning is simply done for the resulting flavor reactions. So rather than trying to brown every side of your meat as though you’re sealing it up, just focus on getting a good sear on the two broad sides.

Browning Beef for Boeuf Bourguignon -- Cooking Travelers

After about a minute or two, flip the steaks and let the other side brown. Then remove the meat from the pan and let it rest on a plate.

Step #6: Deglaze The Pan

What you now have is a very hot dutch oven with bits of beef stuck to the bottom of it. Grab your bottle of wine and pour about half of it directly into the hot pan.

This is a process known as deglazing. When the liquid hits the bottom of the pan, it boils violently releasing air bubbles. The bubbles agitate the bits of meat, lifting them off the bottom of the pot and incorporating them into the resulting sauce.

If you were working with a substitute, like red wine vinegar & Worcester sauce, you’d want to use less liquid — just enough for a thin coating, and to get those bubbles going. I found it’s best to pour the vinegar in first, then continue adding Worcester sauce until the aroma smells more wine-like than vinegary.

After deglazing, turn the heat down to medium-low, and stir with a wooden spatula, scraping any stuck-on bits off the bottom of the pan.

Pre-heat your oven to 275°F.

Continue to stir lightly for about ten minutes as the wine reduces. This reduction process concentrates the natural flavors of the wine, while lowering the alcohol content to approximately 1%.

Step #7: Make Your Stew

As the wine finishes reducing, you can begin adding the rest of your braising ingredients.

Cut your seared steaks into large chunks, roughly 2 inches on each side. This may seem big at first, but they’ll cook down in the oven.

Place the cubes of meat into the dutch oven. It’s critical that they go in first, because you’re going to use them to eyeball how much beef stock you need.

Add beef stock until the meat is about 3/4 submerged.

Add your three-finger pinch of thyme, bay leaf, minced clove of garlic, and about a tablespoon of tomato paste. Don’t worry about exact measurements.

In general it’s better to taste a dish often, and adjust based what’s in your mouth, rather than what’s written in a recipe.

Bring this mixture to a boil.

As soon as it boils, put the lid on. Leave the lid cracked. This is a tip straight from the pros over at Serious Eats. When you seal the lid of the dutch oven, it increases the pressure inside actually cooks the meat at a slightly higher temperature than the oven itself.

Dutch Oven Boeuf Bourguignon -- Cooking Travelers

This can throw off your cook time, and dry out your meat.

Place the dutch oven in the actual oven, and set a timer for two hours and fifteen minutes. This is far shorter than most Boeuf Bourguignon recipes call for, and at a much lower temperature too. But it’s a suggestion that comes from Serious Eats food scientist, J. Kenji Lopez.

“The idea of a stew simmering away all day sounds appealing.” he says, “If 2 1/2 hours of simmering makes tender beef, shouldn’t 6 or 8 hours make even more tender beef? Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way.”

Kenji explains that when you stew you’re playing a delicate balancing act with two opposing forces. On the one hand, the heat is breaking down the tough collagen, turning it into the gelatin that we so desire. On the other hand that same heat is causing the proteins to contract, voiding the meat of its moisture.

The secret to the most tender Boeuf Bourguignon is to catch the meat just as the collagen is turning into gelatin.

According to Kenji, this takes around 2.5 hours for large chunks of beef in a dutch oven with the lid cracked at 275°F. He suggests checking around the 2:15 mark, poking the pieces with the edge of a spoon to gauge just how tender they are.

Step #8 Chill Out

You’ve got a couple of hours. Now’s a good time to wash up the few dishes you have, wipe down your counters, then kick up your feet. Another huge benefit of braising is that it’s mostly hands off once the pot’s in the oven.

Grab a spot in the sun, and put the remainder of that wine to good use.

Chill Out -- Cooking Travelers

Step #9: Thicken and Serve

When the meat in your pot can be cut easily with a spoon, it’s ready to pull.

The last step is to thicken the braising liquid so that the meal has the hearty consistency of beef stew. There are many ways to thicken a sauce like this, but in order to keep this as simple as possible, we’re going to take a page out of Julia Child’s book, using a simple combination of butter and flour.

Pull the meat cubes out of the pot, and rest them on  a plate. Pull the herb bundle too. You’ll be left with a pot of semi-thick sauce with garlic. Tilt the pot to estimate how much liquid is in it. Then add one tablespoon of flour for each cup of liquid you’d guess is in there. Add about two tablespoons of butter, and stir vigorously over high heat.

You want to work the butter and flour into the mixture, while bringing it to a boil. This won’t take long since everything in the pot is already hot. Let it boil for a minute or so, until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon when you dip it in. Then add the meat back in along with the onions you braised and the mushrooms you browned and cut the heat.

Put it back in the oven to let everything heat up together then pull after about ten or fifteen minutes.

If you see a layer of grease on the top of the stew, you have two options for removing it. First you can simply drape a paper towel over the surface of the stew, quickly removing it along with the grease. Or allow it to cool, then skim off the solid fat from the surface with a slotted spoon.

Serve it hot with red wine and delicious french baguette.

Boeuf Bourguignon -- Cooking Travelers

No matter where in the world you find yourself when the temperature starts to dip, I guarantee you can take the edge off with a piping hot pot of Boeuf Bourguignon.

Bon apetit!

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