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

Something Out of Nothing


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“You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces – just good food from fresh ingredients.” – Julia Child
Somehow when I planned out this week’s meals, I seem to have left out a day. I got home last night and realized that my pork chops hadn’t thawed and needed to be marinated, and the chicken was still in the freezer. But as it turns out, I didn’t feel much like cooking either of those anyway. So I rummaged around my kitchen to see what other ingredients I had, and came up with a pretty good “something out of nothing” dinner.

I made Bifteck Saute Bercy (pan-broiled steak with shallot and white wine sauce) and, after a failed attempt at Braised Leeks (which quickly became Burnt Leeks), I found some carrots in the crisper drawer of the fridge and made Carottes Etuvees au Beurre (carrots braised in butter). The leek situation was a bit of a disappointment. I had sliced them and trimmed them and they were boiling on the stove as directed, but apparently a combination of not enough water in the pot and too high of a boiling temperature led to their demise. Mostly I was annoyed that my house reeked of onions (a leek reek?) for nothing.

But as the old saying goes, there’s no use crying over burnt leeks (huh?), so I moved on to Plan B. I peeled and sliced some carrots and tossed them into another pot (one with less burn inside) and added water (a half-cup extra, just to be safe), butter, a bit of sugar for flavor, and salt and pepper. I covered the pot and let it boil slowly for about 40 minutes.

Carrots braised in butter

The meat wouldn’t take long at all, so I waited until the carrots had about ten minutes to go before making the steaks. Given my history with smoking up the house every time I cook steaks on the stove, I tried an experiment last night in which I used the back burner directly under the vent over the stove. I thought this might be more effective in diminishing the amount of smoke that would billow out into the kitchen. While this seemed to work really well, that particular burner is not the hottest of the four, so I had a hard time getting a nice sear on the meat. Eh, I still think it was worth it.

I started by dropping some butter and oil into a pan, then, in pairs, cooked six small eye of round steaks. One trick I thought of after the fact that Julia had taught me early on was to cut little slits around the perimeter of the meat before cooking. This would have been helpful, as my steaks did start to curl up, but in the end they turned out fine. As they finished, I set them aside on a plate and, when the pan was empty, I poured out all the fat and added a little butter back into the pan. I tossed in some minced scallions and let them cook for a minute, then poured in a quarter-cup of Vermouth. Once the mixture took on a syrupy texture, I took it off the heat and stirred in some more butter to thicken the sauce (not to mention my waistline).

Something Out of Nothing looks pretty good, huh?

And just like that, dinner was done! I wasn’t too hungry, so the small steak and side of carrots was enough for me. But Ben, predicting accurately that he wouldn’t be a huge fan of the carrots, added a side of leftover stuffing from the other night as well as some leftover pasta. We sat down together and dug in. The sauce on the steaks was my favorite so far, and it’s easily the simplest one yet. It gave the meat a nice rich flavor and kicked the little steaks (which were okay but nothing fancy) into high gear. But the carrots were the greatest surprise. I couldn’t believe how tasty they were! They were sweet and buttery, but not overly so. They were the perfect texture, tender without being mushy. It occurred to me that before this venture, I’ve never really eaten many cooked carrots. In fact, the only time I can recall having them is in pot roast or soup. I was glad to learn that I liked them. And I was even more glad to learn that Ben didn’t…more for me!

Considering I really didn’t have any grand plans for last night’s meal, it was surprisingly good. I challenge you to peruse your food supplies tonight and see what you can come up with. Not every meal has to be complex or elaborate. In fact, I think it’s the Something Out of Nothing meals that taste the best.

Happy cooking!

– Jessica

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