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

Sometimes You Win

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“I get home, and there are dirty dishes everywhere, which is totally fine, because with the amount of dishes my dear husband has to do, he has the right – within reason – to choose when he’s going to do them.” – Julie Powell 

I can't work under these conditions!

On the way home from a hectic day, I stopped by the local grocery store and picked up a few items for this week’s recipes. By the time I got home, unpacked all the groceries and changed out of my work clothes, I was feeling pretty tired so I thought I’d take a quick nap. I vaguely remember my alarm going off, and something about me hitting the snooze button, and the next thing I know, two hours had passed. Oops. Luckily, I’d had the foresight to set out some ground beef to thaw for dinner – but hadn’t considered the fact that I needed to wash some dishes in a major way.

But no time! Ben would be home soon and I didn’t want to make our dinner hour even later, so I had to get a little creative. Our meal was to be Bifteck Hache a la Lyonnaise (ground beef with onions and herbs), Puree de Pommes de Terre a l’Ail (garlic mashed potatoes), and Epinards a la Creme (creamed spinach). I started with the potatoes. The first thing that happens is to get all the garlic good and ready to add to the potatoes later. I used an entire head of garlic, separating all the cloves out and dropping them into a saucepan with butter, covered, for about 20 minutes to get them nice and tender. While that was going on, I peeled and quartered some potatoes (three baking potatoes was plenty for two people) and began boiling them in a pot of water.

Meat mixture for patties

Next I turned my attention to the ground beef. I diced some  yellow onions and cooked them in some (any guesses?) butter for about 10 minutes, then put them in a mixing bowl. I added about 1 1/2 lbs. of hamburger meat, as well as an egg, MORE butter and some seasoning (salt, pepper and thyme), then used a wooden spoon to mix everything together. I formed the meat into patties, about 3/4″ thick, dusted them with flour and set them aside on a plate.

About this time, the garlic/butter was finished cooking, so I mixed in a tablespoon of flour, removed the pan from the heat and added a 1/2 cup of boiling milk. At this point, the liquid had become a thickened sauce, and it was time to turn it into a creamy puree. And it’s here that I need to tell you an embarrassing story…

I was recently digging through my pantry, taking inventory of ingredients for some upcoming recipes, when I came across a box at the far back of the shelves. I moved some jars and bottles out of the way to get a better look…and discovered that I OWN A FOOD PROCESSOR!! And in this weird movie-esque flash of memories, I suddenly recalled a time when I was invited to attend a cooking lesson party at a local cooking school, and at the end of the party, each guest was given a gift certificate to purchase something from the store downstairs. Excited about the meal we had just prepared (okay, watched someone else prepare), I chose a food processor. (A pretty sweet parting gift, right?) However, it has been living at the back of my pantry, unopened (I prefer to call it “mint condition”) for the past SEVEN YEARS. *GASP!*  People, I have moved THREE times since obtaining this kitchen appliance, and I have carried this thing with me to each residence, yet I have never used it. Until last night!

Potato Ricer in Action

I took the garlic puree and poured it into the food processor, and within seconds the garlic had been pulverized and all that was left was a creamy paste, perfect in every way. Now that that was done, I was to take the boiled potatoes, drained, and put them through a potato ricer. I had never heard of such a thing until reading about it in MtAoFC – have you? It’s a hand-held contraption – like a giant garlic press – that reminds me of a PlayDoh spaghetti maker (remember those?). You set the potato inside the container, then press down on the handle and the potato is forced through a metal disk with little holes in it – and when all is said and done, the end result really does look like a bowl full of rice. (“So it’s not just a clever name, then.” Name that movie!)

I riced the potatoes (what?) into a mixing bowl, then added the puree – and a magical thing happened! Within moments, the contents of the bowl became mashed potatoes! A little dry, but clearly mashed potatoes. All that was left to do was to add some whipping cream, which smoothed out the otherwise paste-like contents of the bowl. Add some salt, pepper and parsley (optional) and voila! Garlic mashed potatoes!

To paraphrase Fred the Baker, “Time to cook the meat!” I heated some butter and oil in a pan, then added the hamburger patties, cooking for a few minutes on each side until finished. I set the patties on a side plate, drained the fat from the pan and then added some beef stock and butter and scraped all the goodness together with a wooden spoon. It was all starting to come together!

Not-So-Creamed Spinach

The last thing on the menu was the creamed spinach, which I knew wouldn’t take long at all to make. I put some spinach leaves into a pot of boiling water, and drained them just when they were getting tender. Next I put them into a pan with some butter, and eventually added some whipping cream. Julia told me to cover the pan and leave it for about 15 minutes on the stove. As the spinach cooked, I began working my way through the sink of dishes. And despite Ben’s lamenting over the discovery of spinach leaves in the kitchen (“Epinards! Epinards! Everywhere I look, all I see are epinards!”), the yummy aroma coming from the pan was revving up my taste buds. But then the smell turned from good to…bad. I peeked inside and realized I hadn’t been stirring the cream in the spinach, so it had burnt to the bottom of the pan. I tried to salvage some of the leaves, but it was useless – the dish was ruined. (“Yay!” Ben cheered when I told him the news.) Oh, well. Another day, perhaps.

Bifteck Hache a la Lyonnaise

I was finally ready to plate our meal – I set two small hamburger patties on the plate and spooned the brown sauce over them, then added a pile of mashed potatoes to the plate. A dinner roll and a glass of milk finished our dinner, and we were ready to dig in. The patties were un.be.lievable. First of all, the meat was cooked perfectly – the outside was nice and brown but not charred, and the inside was a nice medium – and juicy! The flour dusting on the outside of the meat gave it a light crust, so the patties had the consistency of a sausage patty rather than a typical hamburger patty. But the SAUCE!! Oh, my, the sauce!! It was delicious, sooo flavorful. It definitely made the dish. It was nice to dip my mashed potatoes into it (the potatoes had great garlic flavor, but I felt that they were a little dry), and I only wished I had made the full recipe rather than dividing it in half for two people.

This was a great meal, and easily ranks as one of our favorites (I’m sure the lack of spinach helped gain Ben’s vote). While it wasn’t difficult to make, it was a little hectic to orchestrate – not only did I make life harder by not having a clean kitchen ahead of time (NOTE TO SELF: it is nearly impossible to work around a sink full of dishes, especially when it contains all of your pots and pans!), but the combination of these dishes takes up all 4 stove burners at once – prepare to do some juggling. In the end, it was totally worth it. This meal is a winner!

And speaking of winners…

Here are the answers to yesterday’s quiz:

1. Tony the Tiger–Frosted Flakes
2. Toucan Sam–Froot Loops
3. Dig’Em Frog–Sugar Smacks
4. Sugar Bear–Golden Crisp
5. Sonny–Cocoa Puffs
6. Trix Rabbit-Trix
7. Count Chocula-Count Chocula
8. Chef Wendell-Cinnamon Toast Crunch
9. Buzz Bee-Honey Nut Cherios
10. Chip the Dog–Cookie Crisp

While we didn’t have anyone answer all 10 correctly, the closest person was Mary – congratulations!! You’ve won yourself a box of fruit-flavored Cheerios! (Look for them to arrive next Tuesday.) Thanks for participating – and for those who didn’t take home the grand prize, no worries. I’m sure we’ll have more quizzes and contests within our year together.

Until next time!

-Jessica

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