julia child, mastering the art of french cooking, julie powell, french cuisine

But, oh! Those Summer Nights

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“Cold vegetables, composed salads…any of these may be served as a first course for a dinner, or be the  mainstay of a summer meal.” – Julia Child

Last night I greeted Ben at the front door when he arrived home from work. I was leaning in for a “welcome home!” kiss when he stopped suddenly and straightened up, nose in the air like a blood hound. “It smells like meat in here!” he exclaimed hopefully, and he scurried off to the kitchen to see what was for dinner. It’s true what they say, folks…the way to a man’s heart really is through his stomach.

Floured Meat Patties

Because it’s still 94 degrees in the middle of September, because nothing’s better than a good ol’ cook-out during summer, and because we haven’t had any in awhile, hamburger patties were on the menu for last night’s Julia-inspired dinner. We had Bitokes a la Russe (hamburgers with cream sauce), which was a simple variation of the previously-made Biftek Hache a la Lyonnaise. I sauteed some onions in a pan, then mixed them in with some raw hamburger meat, an egg, seasoning and a little bit of butter. I formed them into patties, then dusted them with flour and cooked them in a buttered and oiled pan. I made a total of 5 patties, then drained the fat from the pan and added a little beef stock, bringing the liquid to a boil while scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Next I added some whipping cream, brought it to a boil as well and watched as it slowly began to thicken. Removing it from the heat, I stirred in some butter and the sauce turned to what looked like a very thin mushroom soup. It smelled terrific, and I couldn’t wait to try it.

It was during my forming of the meat patties that I realized I didn’t really have any side dishes planned for this meal. I happened to have a bunch of frozen corn on the cob in the freezer, so I steamed a few ears while the meat cooked. I also had a big bag of bulk potatoes on my counter, so I figured a potato dish would work well. I flipped through MtAoFC to see what Julia had to offer that we hadn’t tried yet. I wasn’t up for scalloped potatoes, so I went with a cold dish – Pommes de Terre a l’Huile (French potato salad). First I scrubbed four potatoes and boiled them in a pot on the stove until they were tender. I kept a pretty close eye on them, poking them with a knife every now and then to see how they were coming along. They still felt a little tough, but I decided to move things along, so I took them off the stove and drained the pot.

Cream sauce in the works

I had to wait for the potatoes to cool enough for me to hold them and peel them, and finally I grew tired of waiting so I held them with a paper towel in one hand and peeled them over the trash can. I noticed immediately that the potatoes had grown much softer than I had realized – have you any idea how hard it is to peel a mushy potato? It was a struggle, let me tell you. I lost one to the trash can when it broke in half and fell out of my grasp. The gummy peels kept filling my potato peeler with mush, making things that much harder. It wasn’t until potato #3 that I realized the peeler was unnecessary and I could just peel the skins off with my fingers. Note to self: work smarter, not harder.

I sliced the potatoes thinly and tossed them into a mixing bowl, then poured in some vermouth and tossed everything together. I let the potatoes bask in their wineness for awhile as I made the dressing for the salad – a mixture of vinegar, lemon juice, mustard and olive oil. I poured the sauce over the potatoes and mixed everything together, then seasoned the bowl with a mixture of green herbs and salt.

French potato salad

When we sat down to eat, the meal looked outstanding. The hamburger patties had shrunk up quite a bit in the cooking process, so each plate got two, drizzled with the cream sauce. We each had an ear of corn, a scoop of potato salad, and a thick slice of french bread with butter. Ben was ready to dig in right away, and the moment he tasted the meat, he immediately announced, “It’s BURSTING with flavor!!” I tried it and decided he was right – the meat and the sauce were definitely a winning combination. While I’m not sure this cream sauce was my #1 pick so far from all of Julia’s recipes, it was definitely a close second. It was a little thicker than I had expected, but it worked great with the hamburger patties.

The potato salad was … different. The mustard was definitely noticeable in the dressing, and overall it had a great tanginess to it that really perked up the otherwise plain potatoes. However, my only complaint was that it was reeeeeally olive oily. I think I would cut back on the olive oil next time, as I felt it really overpowered the rest of the flavors in the dressing. In general, it was okay – much lighter than American potato salad – but I think I’ll always prefer an American potato salad over a French potato salad. Personal preference, that’s all.

Like a cook-out, but with air conditioning

This meal was really great. So great, in fact, that someone at our table may or may not have said, “It’s like a French fairy came and sprinkled France all over everything!” That same person also may or may not have said, “Everything tastes so good, but so different. Everything’s been Francified!” And there you have it.

“By the way,” adds Ben. “It really was bursting with flavor.”

Enjoy the last of your summer!

– Jessica

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One Response to “But, oh! Those Summer Nights”

  1. Mom says:

    Hamburgers and “Francified” potatoes? WAIT A MINUTE, that sounds like Whataburger!

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