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

Happy Weekaversary!

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“Maybe I needed to make like a potato, winnow myself down, be part of something that was not easy, just simple.” – Julie Powell


 

Yesterday marked the one weekaversary of the cooking portion of this blog – hooray!! We celebrated with a yummy breakfast of Julia’s Oeufs Brouilles and Crepes de Pommes de Terre (scrambled eggs and grated potato pancakes). To be honest, the scrambled eggs were pretty basic – whisk eggs and milk in a bowl, then pour them into a buttered pan over low heat. Let the eggs sit for a couple of minutes until they thicken into a custard, then stir rapidly with a rubber spatula until you reach the consistency you want. Take them off the heat, add a little whipping cream and voila! Super easy. The potato pancakes, on the other hand, were a different story.

This multi-step process involves mixing softened cream cheese with flour into a sort of batter, then adding eggs, salt and pepper, and diced swiss cheese. Next, peel some potatoes and rub them over a vegetable grater (I used a cheese grater). When finished, twist them into a towel to squeeze out any excess water (I made the mistake of using a paper towel at first – it quickly fell apart, leaving me with a paper potato mess. Follow Julia’s advice and use a real kitchen towel. It’ll make your life easier.) Then stir the grated potatoes into the egg mixture, and add whipping cream until you get the consistency of a thick, creamy cole slaw.

Potato Pancakes

In a skillet over high heat, drop three piles of batter into hot butter and oil and let cook for about three minutes. Here’s where I made my first tactical error – I left the pancakes on the skillet too long. When I went to flip them, the bottoms were black, so I tossed them out and started over. I had the same problem a second time, so I threw out the second batch as well. I started over with a fresh, clean pan and kept a close eye on the potatoes, flipping them well before the three minutes was up. This time, the bottoms were a light brown – perfect. (It was a good thing, too – I was almost out of batter!) This batch turned out perfectly, and we were finally ready to give them a try.

The eggs, while not my favorite consistency, came out really thick and fluffy. The potato pancakes were very much like hash browns, and while the swiss cheese gave them a nice creamy texture inside, it also added a strange tangy flavor that I’m not sure I liked. If I made these again (and to be honest, after three tries, I’m not sure I would), I would definitely consider omitting the swiss cheese. And I like swiss cheese. All in all, when the meal was over, Ben and I both turned to each other and said simultaneously, “That was a pretty good breakfast!”

Scrambled Eggs and Potato Pancakes

After eating, we spent the day watching “Love in the Afternoon” (it takes place in France!), and napping in the cool A/C – somehow we managed to avoid the sweltering outdoors entirely – and before I knew it, it was time to head back to the kitchen and begin working on dinner. *sigh*

I couldn’t decide between two meals for dinner last night, but the realization that I was supposed to marinate some meat for two hours for one recipe narrowed down my options considerably – Jambon Braise Morvandelle it was! This ham braised in wine with cream and mushroom sauce looked relatively easy. I think the hardest part was figuring out what kind of meat to buy. The recipe calls for an 8-lb. cooked ham shoulder. Wha-huh? The only thing I knew for sure was that 8 lbs. was entirely too much, so I divided the recipe by 4. Then, after an educational session with my local butcher at the grocery store, I learned the following:

If a recipe calls for “Ham”, then it needs cooked meat. If it calls for “Pork”, then it needs raw meat. Interesting, no? I had a very limited selection of cooked ham from the store that wasn’t sliced, so I chose a 2-lb. leg. I took it home and immediately cut the skin off while sauteing some sliced mushrooms and green onions in a buttered pan. Next, I preheated the oven to 325 and sliced carrots and onions, which I put in a stove/oven-proof casserole dish and sauteed for about ten minutes. When they were nice and brown, I put the ham on top of the vegetables and added several seasonings (bay leaf, peppercorn, thyme, etc.) as well as 1 1/2 cups of Vermouth and 2 cups of beef stock. I let it simmer on the stove, then put the whole thing, covered, into the oven.

Mushrooms and Onions for the Cream Sauce

While that cooked, I worked on the side dish: Epinards Blanchis (blanched, chopped spinach). This was so easy, it was almost silly to follow directions from a book. Boil water in a pot with some salt, add spinach leaves (with stems removed) until almost tender. Then, drain the water with a colander, run cold water over the spinach to preserve its color and texture, then use your hands to squeeze the spinach leaves and extract as much water as possible. I admit, I left the leaves in the pot a little too long, so they came out really soft, but that’s the way I eat it anyway, so it was fine with me. The one thing I would recommend, though, is to start out with many more leaves than you think you’ll need as they really do shrink up when cooked.

I checked on the ham, which was fork-tender, so I went ahead and pulled the casserole dish out of the oven. Here comes the exciting part – making the cream and mushroom sauce! I removed the meat from the casserole and used a colander to strain the ham juices into a sauce pan. Adding a paste mixture of butter and flour, as well as 1/4 cup of Madeira wine and 1 cup of whipping cream, I stirred the mixture together while bringing it to a simmer and added the sauteed mushrooms. It smelled wonderful, and looked so deliciously creamy. I couldn’t wait to give it a try!

Braised Ham w/ Cream Sauce, Spinach, Stuffing

I sliced the ham and put it onto a plate, then ladled the cream sauce over the meat. A side of spinach, a helping of stuffing (Ben’s not a fan of spinach, so I let him pick another side – you can never go wrong with StoveTop!) and a dinner roll rounded out this meal. The ham was juicy and tender, really tasty! But the SAUCE!!! *insert closed eyes and lip smacking here* Oh, the sauce! It was amazing. The flavor was incredible, and I used my roll to sop up the excess on my plate. By nature, the sauce is a little on the thin side, and I wished it were thicker so I could have really scooped it onto my plate. It was by far the best part about this meal. The spinach was pretty standard, and will actually serve me better as a filling for quiches and souffles down the road.

All in all, yesterday was a good day for cooking. Between breakfast and dinner, we knocked out four recipes, and didn’t encounter any major disasters. And I cleaned my kitchen a total of three times. C’est la vie!

My pots and pans have never gotten so much use – I think it’s good for them.

Builds character.

-Jessica

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One Response to “Happy Weekaversary!”

  1. Emily says:

    I do not envy the amount of cleaning and prep work that goes into this experiment.

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