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

It’s a Hard Knock Life


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“Guilt has reached the saturation point.  There is no time when I am not neglecting something important – my job, my husband, my family, my Project.” – Julie Powell 

Well, dear friends, if you’re still following along on this nutty journey, I give you major kudos. After having been out of town for a couple of weeks, followed by a week of our household being stricken with The Plague, I’m sure by now you’re beginning to think I’ll never cook another Julia Child recipe again. (And really, with enough leftover Halloween candy to last me through the weekend, I’m beginning to question this theory myself.) But NAY, says I! The project must continue! The show must go on! The bulk supply of butter in my fridge must be consumed!

And so, the other night, when I was actually vertical – before pestilence chained me to my bed for an 8 hours of sleep … during the day – I actually cooked a Julia meal. I’ll admit, it was a little rough getting back into the swing of things (the smoke alarm may or may not have gone off for twenty minutes, and certain neighbors may or may not have checked in to be sure all was well) but the end result was tasty and an overall success.

mixed peppercorn

After two weeks of eating turkey sandwiches and BLT’s while on the road, I was really craving a good steak, and I couldn’t help noticing our local grocery store was having a special on NY strip steaks. How convenient! And so, my first Julia meal after a not-so-brief hiatus was to be Steak au Poivre (pepper steak with  brandy sauce) with mashed potatoes and steamed corn on the cob. First, I poured a couple tablespoons of peppercorn into a small bowl and used a wine bottle to crush them into a rough powder. Drying two steaks on some paper towels, I rubbed and pressed the crushed peppercorn into both sides of the meat. I wrapped the meat in wax paper and let it sit for about 30 minutes so the steaks could really absorb the pepper flavor.

In the meantime, I steamed some corn on the cob in a small pot on the stove, and heated up some mashed potatoes in a bag (I know, I know…I didn’t have a lot of time, okay? I had scary movies to watch with my husband. I had a pumpkin to carve. I had a sock drawer to organize. I had a headful of hair to perm. Wait, what?)

When the 30 minutes was up, I then sauteed the steaks in hot oil and butter on the stove for a few minutes on each side until they were cooked through perfectly. I removed them to a plate and seasoned them lightly with salt. Then, I poured the fat out of the pan and added a tablespoon of butter and minced shallots, cooking them slowly for a minute. Next I added a half-cup of beef stock, boiling the mixture rapidly and scraping up all the coagulated juices. Finally, I poured in a third-cup of cognac and cooked the liquid for another couple of minutes, removed the pan from the heat and gradually stirred in another 3 tablespoons of butter.

sizzling steak

Now, I have yet to figure out how to cook meat on the stove without the kitchen filling up with smoke. I’ve opened windows, turned on fans, used the vent on the stove – all to no avail. And so, with a house full of smoke, a high-pitched smoke alarm piercing my brain with its warnings of danger, two cats reacting negatively to said alarm, and an ever-rising stress level, I finally called it quits and yanked everything off the stove and yelled, “Dinner’s ready!!”

The steaks were actually pretty big, so I split one with Ben. When I cut into the meat, I could see that they were just right – tender and juicy, slightly pink in the middle, with a nice peppercorn crust. YUM!! I ladled the brandy sauce over the meat, then scooped a spoonful of mashed potatoes onto each plate, as well as a half-ear of corn on the cob. Not a bad looking dinner, I must say!

Delish! (and yeah, those potatoes came from a bag...don't judge)

When I bit into the steak, I immediately noticed two things: 1.) the peppercorn flavor was just right, not overpowering at all; and 2.) I was in too big a hurry when it came to the sauce and committed the very sin Julia warned me of: I didn’t let the alcohol cook out of the brandy sauce enough, and it was a bit on the strong side. Rats! Was I surprised? Honestly, no, I wasn’t. Given the chaotic situation evolving in my kitchen toward the end of the cooking process, frankly I’m surprised the sauce turned out to be edible at all. *sigh* Oh, well.

For what it’s worth, I discovered that by putting a bite of meat on my fork, then scooping up a bite of mashed potatoes, the flavor of the sauce was cut dramatically and the meal was actually very good. All in all, not a bad recipe to ease my way back into the kitchen. Next up on the agenda? Fish Soup.

Good thing I’ve got all that Halloween candy to curb my appetite…

– Jessica

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