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

A Tale of Three Recipes: Story 1


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“Tears mess up your makeup.” – Julia Child

I’ve been thinking long and hard about what excuse to give you about why I’ve been missing in action for the past three days. My first thought was to tell you that I’d been kidnapped by gypsies, or that I’d run off to join the circus (it’s my secret dream to one day be an elephant rider in a sparkly leotard, leading the pachyderm parade. No, really.). Then I thought maybe I would just tell you that I’ve been trapped under something really heavy. But the truth is, I’ve just been busy. That’s it. Sorry.

This past weekend, one of my college friends got married, and two of our other friends came into town for the wedding and stayed at my house. It was wonderful! The weekend flew by way too fast, of course, and we didn’t have much time to laze around and do nothing, but we sure did have fun. It had been about four years since we’d all seen each other, so it was great to sit and talk and catch up on what’s been going on with everyone. Overall, I give this weekend two thumbs way up.

Of course, you know what a house full of guests means, right?

It means I spent Friday night cooking up a storm!

Unfortunately, it was also a night of culinary disaster, the details of which I will reveal to you now as a reward for your patience of an entry-less weekend. In trying to plan ahead (because when you’ve got friends over, the last place you want to be is stuck in the kitchen slaving over a hot stove), I decided to make all the food for the weekend ahead of time. I knew I would get home from work at 6:00 on Friday, and if I started cooking right away I’d have plenty of time to get everything done. I had three recipes I wanted to make:

  • Navarin Printanier (lamb stew with spring vegetables) – not only would this make a great dinner for Ben and me on Friday night, but it would leave enough leftovers for my guests when they arrived Saturday afternoon. Bonus: all I would have to do was toss the ingredients together in a pot – it would practically cook itself so I could spend time working on other things.
  • Galettes au Fromage (cheese wafers) – these sounded like a good snack food to have on hand in case a game of Nertz should break out
  • Charlotte aux Pommes (Apple Charlotte, unmolded) – in case anyone’s sweet tooth started calling out, I thought this would be good to have on stand-by.

I find the best way to recount these experiences is through a series of short stories. I call it: “Triple D: D is for Disaster”. Enjoy!

Story 1: I Feel Sheepish
All week long I was looking forward to trying a particular Julia recipe: lamb stew. I don’t think I’d ever had lamb before, and I was excited to try something so different. I bought all the ingredients over the weekend and had them in the fridge, ready to rock and roll. I had planned to make this dish on Wednesday, but because I got tied up after work, decided to postpone until Friday. I got home, went straight to the refrigerator and pulled out the lamb (two big shoulder chops) and unwrapped the meat. But what I saw made me hesitate. The meat looked…green. Huh. I didn’t expect that. Maybe that’s what lamb meat looked like? Maybe the sunlight coming through the window was playing tricks on my eyes?

I do not like it, Sam I am.

No. That meat was definitely green.

I leaned in to give it a sniff, and the odor coming off the green meat socked me right in the nose. I think it then called me some mean names, but I couldn’t really hear them over the volume of the stench filling my kitchen like a seafaring fog. And then it occurred to me that I probably should have put the lamb meat in the freezer when we bought it the Sunday before, rather than leaving it in my refrigerator for a week. Dang it.

The refurbisher in me grasped at ideas to cut off the “good” meat and use it, but who was I kidding? There was no way this meat could be edible, so I wrapped it back up and threw it in the trash. And then I washed my hands thirty-five times because I could not for the life of me get the lamb stink out of my skin. Grody.

I debated about what to do next, and Ben finally convinced me that we should just go to the store and get some new meat. This was disappointing, because our store is a good fifteen minutes from our house – so that’s thirty minutes of driving plus ten minutes of shopping. I was going to be an hour late getting this meal started, but Ben was right – if I was going to do this thing, I had to do it right.

Ah, much healthier looking.

I finally got cooking about 8:00. This time, we had a nice lamb shoulder to work with (after closer inspection of The Book, I noticed Julia advises against using chop meat…perhaps it was SHE who turned the original cuts of meat green as a way to save us from dry, undercooked stew. Or something.) I cut the meat into 2″ cubes and dried them with paper towels, then browned them in a pan over the stove and tossed them into an oven-safe pot. I sprinkled some sugar over the meat and heated it on the stove until it caramelized, and then added some salt and pepper and mixed in some flour, which would help give the meat a slight crust.

Spring vegetables

Next, I put the casserole into a 450 degree oven for about 10 minutes. In the meantime, I began peeling potatoes and cutting them into ovals; I peeled and quartered some carrots and turnips, as well as some small onions. Then I took the meat out of the oven, turning the heat down to 350. I followed the directions (did you see that? This is important, so I say again: I followed the directions) and added 2 cups of beef stock to the skillet I had browned the meat in and then poured the liquid into the casserole. I simmered it, added some tomato paste and seasonings, then read that I was supposed to put the covered pot back into the oven for an hour. But what about all the vegetables I had just peeled and chopped??

I read ahead and learned that the recipe I thought would only take an hour to cook would actually take a total of TWO hours to cook. Oops. I looked sheepishly at Ben and said quietly, “Maybe we should have something else for dinner.” I guess when I skimmed the recipe for cooking times, I was looking for numbers rather than words (1 hour vs. one hour) and didn’t catch the two separate one-hour cooking times. Drat.

During that first hour, I began working on the other two recipes, prepping them for the oven as well, and when the timer went off, I pulled the stew out of the oven. When I took the lid off, I discovered that the “stew” didn’t look very stew-like – there was hardly any liquid in the pot. Hm. Weird. My next directions were to pour the contents of the pot into a bowl through a seive, removing any bones (there were none – I used boneless meat. But I guess you never know. Anything could happen!) and then drop the meat back into the pot and pour the remaining liquid from the bowl into the pot as well.

Only, there was no liquid. In fact, absolutely nothing came through that seive. This couldn’t be good. And I had just used the last of my beef stock. I called Ben in for a second opinion. He took one look at the pot, then went and put his shoes on. He came back from the local grocery store about ten minutes later with three large cartons of beef stock, which I used to pour into the pot and create more sauce. The time was now midnight. But I refused to give up.

Lamb stew

I added the vegetables to the pot, simmered the whole thing on the stove, then put it back into the oven for another hour. While it cooked, I boiled shelled green peas and green beans. When they were tender, I drained them and added them to the stew when it was done cooking. I covered the pot one last time and let it simmer on the stove for another five minutes. And then it was ready. Finally. At about 2:00 in the morning, we were finally ready to eat dinner. *sigh*

Trying to make up for the craziness of the bad lamb meat and the emergency beef stock run, not to mention the fact that I had originally told Ben dinner would only take an hour to make, I decided to make a special French bread using a recipe from one of my internet heroes, the Pioneer Woman. She had just posted a recipe on this bread that very day, in fact, which I thought was incredibly serendipitous. I followed her directions – I cut the bread in half, spread butter on each piece and put them in the oven for about 10 minutes for the butter to soak in. Then I put the bread under a broiler and watched it through the oven window carefully, per the recipe instructions.

Check out the one in the back...

It’s supposed to get really black on top, so you know it’s nice and toasty. As Ben and I watched through the window, I wasn’t entirely shocked when I found myself in a situation where I had to say, “Oh, it’s on fire.” And it was. One piece of bread had burst into flames, and as I sat there pondering my next my move, Ben pushed me aside and reached into the oven with his oven mitts, pulled the bread out of the oven and tossed it into the sink. So much for that plan.

Finished Lamb Stew

So despite the challenges I seemed to face at every turn and the doom and gloom of this particular recipe, I have to say the final outcome was fantastic. The stew was excellent! Lamb, it turns out, tastes very much like beef, and who doesn’t love a beef stew? I’m glad I added more beef stock to the pot after the first hour- it really created a nice sauce for the meat and vegetables. I would definitely make this dish again – only next time, I would plan much, much better.

Tune in later for the next installment of our saga, “Triple D: D is for Disaster.”

Exhaustedly yours,

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One Response to “A Tale of Three Recipes: Story 1”

  1. Gwen Frazier says:

    We LOVE to play Nertz!! Maybe we can get together some weekend and play!

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