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

Heart and Sole

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“Last night, by the way, we had Filets de Poisson a la Bretonne, or Fish filets in White Wine and a Julienne of Vegetables. Compared to most of this week, it was a cakewalk. I’ve begun to get used to the persnickityness of French cooking — the pureeing and the many pots. It’s something in the way Julia writes I suppose — even when she’s asking me to press garlic cloves through a fine-mesh sieve, I don’t resent her.” – Julie Powell

My freshman year in college, I minored in Music (which only lasted one year, by the way. Music Theory ate my lunch.) and one of my required classes was Ear Training. My first semester I had this crazy hippie lady for a professor who, as it turned out, had a drinking problem and was asked to not return the following semester. But I digress. One of the things we learned in this class was a technique called “solfege”, which is the teaching of sight-singing where each note gets a syllable (do a deer, and all that). But when this lady first said the word “solfege”, she didn’t stop to explain it – so for the first two weeks of this lesson, we all thought she was saying “sole fish”. I know, it didn’t make sense to us either. We finally had to ask her to write it on the board, and we all had a good laugh. (Of course nobody was laughing the second semester when we showed up for class to find a note on the door telling us our professor would not be returning and we would be joining other classes – who, we found out the hard way, were way ahead of what we had been learning. And so my solid A plummeted to a pitiful C and thus ended my Music minor experience. I’m not bitter.)

All of this to say: as I was cooking last night’s dinner, Filets de Poisson a la Bretonne (sole fish poached in white wine and a julienne of vegetables), I suddenly remembered the whole solfege experience and 1.) thought to myself, “Finally! I get to see what the real sole fish is like!” and 2.) wondered whatever happened to crazy drunken professor lady. Because despite her multiple absences and the faint smell of booze on her breath that wafted our way as we sat next to her on the piano bench, she was a nice person and had a great smile. That and 50 cents will get you a can of Coke from the soda machine.

Sole Fish

So sole fish! This is the fish that Julia recommends using for these fish recipes, and this was the first time we had found it in our store. (Maybe it’s a seasonal thing?) It comes in very small, thin filets, and I noticed right away that several of the pieces still had little bits of bone inside (I put those pieces back in the freezer to deal with at a later date). I prepared it just as I’ve done for the past few fish recipes – poach it in a pan with scallions (the white bulbs this time!) and white wine, dotted with butter. This time I added some sauteed sliced mushrooms and thinly sliced carrot, celery and leeks (there’s a helpful drawing with explanation on how to properly julienne vegetables on page 28 of The Book). I cooked the vegetables in a covered pan with some butter for about 20 minutes, then set them on top of the fish, covered the pan with buttered wax paper and put in the oven for about 12 minutes.

Our side dish was steamed broccoli with Sauce Mousseline (Hollandaise with whipped cream). The broccoli was easy – I followed Julia’s suggestion and left about an inch of stem, cut on the bias, and steamed them in a pot. The sauce was almost as easy – Julia offers a shortcut, which is to make it in a blender. Sadly, our blender bit the dust long before we ever moved into our house nearly a year ago, so I used the next best thing…my Magic Bullet. BACK STORY: When I first met Ben, I was living on my own and had fallen in love with the infomercial featuring this mini blender. Of course, it was way too expensive, but I still thought it was amazing – just look at all the things one machine could do!! So for Christmas that year, what did I get? Oh yes. My very own Magic Bullet. I was ecstatic! And then proceeded to only use it a handful of times. I’ve gotten quite a bit of flack about this situation from said gift-giver, so whenever I get a chance to use the MB, I always like to point it out to him. So ya hear that, honey?? Julia let me use the Magic Bullet!! And there was great rejoicing.

Pay no attention to my weird wrinkly hand or the mushroom underneath my nail.

So into the Bullet I put some egg yolks, salt, pepper and lemon juice. I blended until foamy, then melted some butter on the stove. I used a wooden spoon to strain the liquified butter from the pan (leaving the foam behind) into the Bullet and continued blending. Lastly, I hand-whipped some cream in a bowl until it too was foamy, then folded it into the Hollandaise sauce. I set this aside until I was ready to serve the meal.

When the fish was done cooking, I took the pan out of the oven and drained all the juices into a sauce pan. Once it was boiling, I took it off the heat and added a paste of flour and butter, which thickened the sauce immediately, and also some cream. Back on the heat, the sauce was actually a little too thick, so I added some more drops of cream until it was the consistency I wanted. I seasoned it with salt, pepper and a little lemon juice. Done!

I heated up some leftover rice we had made with our veal, and spooned some onto a plate. I used a spatula to serve the fish and vegetables over the rice, then spooned the cream sauce over that. It smelled great! A few broccoli florets and a light drizzling of the Hollandaise sauce, and we were ready to eat! (To aid in the removal of leftovers from the fridge, I also served a fresh salad with Italian dressing, also left over from our neighbor dinner party on Friday.) This looked like a great meal!

The sole fish was good, but different than the trout we usually use. It seemed a little drier and flakier than we were used to, but the meat was definitely cooked just right. Very tender and flavorful. I really liked the slight crunchiness of the julienne vegetables with the soft creaminess of the wine sauce. The addition of the rice gave the main course lots of texture, and all the flavors worked well together. I have to say, however, that despite how good Julia’s fish recipes are, I think I’m kind of done with the fish for awhile. I definitely like these dishes more than I ever thought I would, but I’m still not a huge fan of fish. I’d much rather have a steak or beef patty any day.

Looks as good as it tastes!

The broccoli with sauce was great – the Hollandaise was super light and added a slight flavor to the vegetables rather than drowning the freshness of the steamed broccoli. I probably could have divided the recipe even more than I did, because we still had quite a bit leftover. Julia also says this sauce would be good served over asparagus. I’ll have to try that next.

All in all, this was a great dinner. Despite the fact that everything on our plate had a sauce drizzled over it, nothing felt very heavy. I have to say that while I’m glad I tried the sole fish, I think I still like the trout better. What about you? What’s your favorite (or least favorite) fish?

Tonight I’m finally making a beef casserole that I’ve had to keep postponing due to scheduling conflicts. Ben is off to the Rangers game with his brother this evening, but the casserole will still be here when he gets home. Tune in tomorrow for a full review.

Bon appetit!
– Jessica (mi a name I call myself)

Coming Clean

Last night when I got home from chorus rehearsal, I was faced with two dilemmas: first, I was a little hungry; second, my refrigerator was filling up with leftovers. (Just goes to show that even the best laid plans don’t always come to be.) In order to kill two birds with one stone, I decided to take this opportunity to clean out the fridge and I ate some of the leftover salad and cream of mushroom soup that I had made for our neighbors on Friday night. It was just as delicious the second time around, and was actually a great little dinner. Who says French cuisine has to be a highly involved process? Not me! Full tummy, empty fridge – life is good.

Don't do this.

In other news, I made a shocking discovery last night that I feel I must address here. During a rare moment of down time, I was perusing some of the less frequently read chapters of Mastering the Art of French Cooking and stumbled across a brief section about shallots. Julia always says scallions can be used in place of shallots, which is what I usually do. Only, the way I’ve always seen scallions used is to chop the green part of the onion and toss it into the recipe. So that’s what I’ve been doing. But yesterday, I learned that Julia says to chop the WHITE part of the onion and discard the green part. OOPS!! I’ve been doing it wrong for over a month now…that’s a little embarrassing.

So from now on, let’s make a pact. If you see that I’m doing something wrong, speak up!! And if you don’t see that I’m doing something wrong, but I make a public confession and come clean, then forgive me and we’ll never talk of it again. Deal?

Remember, friends – the truth will set you free. And it’s always best to forgive than to receive. Or something.

-Jessica

I’m Here All Week! Try the Veal!

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“If you don’t have an egg ring, you can use a cat food can, if you’re so fortunate as to have a pussycat.” – Julia Child

Ellie the super kitten

Over the weekend, Ben and I decided to expand our family…we got a kitten. Four years ago we adopted Gracie the wonder cat, and due to our busy schedules we’ve always wondered whether we ought to get her a friend to keep her company. Ellie the super kitten has certainly been keeping her on her toes. The transition is going as well as can be expected – moderate amounts of hissing and playful batting from Gracie, nobody is hiding under the bed anymore, and we even caught the two of them eating from the same food dish. Last night Gracie came and snuggled with me on the couch for a few minutes, so I think she’s past the “What have you done??” phase and has accepted that this new little orange ball of fluff is here to stay.

I tell you all of this because I want you to know…it is really hard to cook a Julia Child dinner with a kitten climbing up your leg. Last night’s dinner was Escalopes de veau a la Creme (sauteed veal sallops with mushrooms and cream) with Fonds d’Artichauts au Beurre (buttered artichoke bottoms, whole) and some buttered rice. As I stood over the stove, sauteing mushrooms for the cream sauce, I juggled Ellie who was literally climbing up my pants leg, up my shirt and onto my shoulder so she could get a closer look at what I was doing. All I could picture was her leaping into my saute pan and the mayhem that would ensue.

Veal Cutlets

The veal was easy to cook. I bought four veal cutlets and dried them with paper towels, then cooked them in a pan with butter and oil. Once they were brown on both sides, I set them on a plate and used the juices left in the pan to make the cream sauce. I added minced green onion to the pan, then poured in some wine and beef stock and brought it to a boil. Some cream and cornstarch helped thicken the sauce, and a little salt and pepper gave it some added flavor. Lastly, I scraped the sauteed mushrooms into the sauce and set the veal patties into the pan, basting them with the creamy sauce. It looked and smelled delicious!

Artichokes take a little more time and effort, as they need to be prepped before actually cooking. I broke off the stems and tore off some of the bottom leaves until I could see where the artichoke bottom ended. I cut off the top cone of leaves and shaved off any remaining green tips around the base. These went into a boiling pot of flour, water and lemon juice and simmered for about 30 minutes. When they were soft, I took them out, scooped out the choke from the center and they were finally ready for the main recipe.

Cream Sauce and Mushrooms

I seasoned the bottoms with salt and pepper and melted some butter in a casserole dish. Setting the artichoke bottoms upside-down in the pot, I basted them with the melted butter, covered them with buttered wax paper and put them in a 325 degree oven for about 20 minutes. While they cooked, I made some instant rice (in case the artichokes weren’t a big hit).

When Ben got home, all I had to do was cover the pan with the veal and cream sauce and bring it to a simmer for about five minutes. A scoop of rice, a veal cutlet topped with sauce, and a single artichoke bottom went on each plate (now that I know how small an artichoke bottom is, I would definitely make more per person). The veal tasted great, but was surprisingly tough. I don’t know if that’s how it’s supposed to be, or if the cutlets cooked too long while I wrestled Ellie from my leg, but either way, the flavor was outstanding. (I can’t tell you enough how good Julia’s cream sauces are!) The mushrooms in the sauce were perfect – you could hardly see them, but you sure could taste them. Delish!

The artichoke bottoms were surprisingly good. They were really tender and light, a little thick on the outside but soft on the inside. Ben commented that this was his favorite way we’ve eaten artichokes so far. I could see how these would be a substantial vegetable side dish (had I made more of them), and I would definitely make them again.

Veal with Cream Sauce, Rice and Artichoke Bottoms

All in all, this was a good dinner! Not my favorite (again, the toughness of the veal just didn’t appeal to me, despite the yummy flavor) but good nonetheless. Tomorrow we’re having sole with julienne vegetables, leftover rice and broccoli with hollandaise sauce.

Stay tuned for more adventures from the kitchen!

-Jessica

There’s Something Fishy About This Quiche

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“It is better to buy only as many anchovies as you need from a big can that’s been freshly opened in the store. But use them soon if you want to get the best flavor from them…Their fragility may be the reason many people just hate anchovies—they’ve been eating stale ones.” – Julia Child

I once split a pizza with my uncle who opted to put anchovies on his half. Now, the idea of fish on a pizza never really appealed to me, but who was I to stand in the way of a man and his dream? Only, when I bit into my pepperoni piece, a rogue anchovy had found its way onto my half…and the memory of the salty fishiness of that little guy has never left me. In fact, I cringe now just thinking about it.

Needless to say, that experience kind of turned me off of anchovies. So when I read last night’s recipe for Quiche a la Tomate, Nicoise (fresh tomato quiche with anchovies and olives) I was incredibly skeptical. But I remembered that one of the chefs on the Food Network had once declared anchovies delicious, saying that they always get a bad reputation because they’re not properly prepared. So I tried to have an open mind and I forged ahead with last night’s dinner.

Pinto beans keep the crust from puffing up too much in the oven

I made the quiche shell ahead of time (having learned from my previous mistake) and followed the advice of one of my readers – I bought a bag of pinto beans to pour into the shell to keep its shape while I baked it. This nifty trick worked perfectly! My crust came out of the oven without any deformities, and while I have yet to perfect this technique (my crust edges are still far from pretty), this time was definitely better than the last.

While the shell baked in the oven, I cooked some onions in some olive oil, then added the chopped pulp from some juiced tomatoes. I tossed in some seasonings, then covered the pan and let it cook for just over 5 minutes, careful not to let the contents burn. Later, I uncovered the pan and raised the heat to cook off the excess juices.

Just before going in the oven

In a mixing bowl, I beat some eggs, olive oil, tomato paste and (*cringe!*) chopped anchovies along with some seasonings. I was encouraged when I couldn’t really tell that there was any meat in this mixture – maybe it wouldn’t be so noticeable. I added the cooked tomatoes to this bowl, then poured it into my partially cooked pastry shell.

I topped the whole thing with some sliced olives, shredded Swiss cheese, and a slight drizzling of olive oil. I popped the whole thing into a 375 degree oven for about 30 minutes until the quiche had puffed and browned on top.

Baked pears with macaroon crust dotted with butter

While the quiche was baking, I worked on our dessert: Pores au Gratin (pears baked with macaroons). I peeled, quartered and cored two large pears, then sliced them lengthwise. I arranged the slices in the bottom of a baking pan, then mixed some vermouth with apricot preserves and strained the liquid over the pears. With my food processor, I ground up about a cup of macaroon cookies (Julia says to crumble them and bake them on a cookie sheet first to make them crisp, but mine were already pretty stale so I bypassed this step) and sprinkled them over the pears. I dotted the top of the dish with little bits of butter and put it in the oven as well. The aroma of the pears baking wafted through the house, and they smelled sooo good! Ben kept coming into the kitchen, looking around hopefully asking, “What’s that smell?”

See? Looks like a pizza!

When the quiche was done, I pulled it out of the oven and realized that it looked kind of like a deep-dish pizza. (Yes, an anchovy pizza…trust me, the irony wasn’t lost on me, either.) It smelled pretty darn good, too, so I released it onto a serving platter and cut it into slices.

When I bit into my piece, I was pleasantly surprised. The tomato filling had the consistency of a puree, and the olives and Swiss cheese made a great combination. The quiche really did taste like a pizza, only with less sauce and more crust. Things were going really well, and I was just commenting to myself how you really couldn’t taste the anchovies, and then I took a bite that had an imbalanced ratio of anchovy to puree – and the memory of my uncle’s pizza came flooding back to me.

I tried to talk myself out of my own weird taste aversion, but for the rest of the meal, all I could think was, “There’s fish in here. Did you know there’s fish in here? There is most definitely fish in here.” So sadly, there were no seconds and there were certainly no leftovers – the rest of the quiche was donated to the public service workers who remove our trash every Monday.

In defense of this dish, here’s what I’ll say. If you like anchovies, you would really like this meal! It wasn’t hard to make (as long as you remember to make the pastry shell ahead of time) and didn’t take very long. The ingredients are easy to find, and cleanup’s a breeze. I would definitely make this again if I could omit the anchovies – that was really the only hang-up I had with this meal, and that was just a personal preference thing. Ben and I both agreed that this recipe would be great with a few slight modifications (other than the whole anchovy business). Try it with some tomato sauce, or adding some sort of sausage or ground beef (or heck, even some pepperoni!). This quiche has potential – we just didn’t care for it as is.

Mmm...baked pears!

But the baked pears, on the other hand! Now that was some tasty goodness! The pears came out a little juicy, but the macaroon crust on top became a nice crumble and the whole thing was very much like a cobbler. We both really liked it – good mix of sweet and crunchy – and I’d love to try this with apple slices instead of pears. Maybe with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. But let’s not get too carried away.

Tonight, we try something new: veal cutlets with buttered rice and artichoke bottoms! Stay tuned for more adventures from the kitchen…

Bon appetit!
-Jessica

Food Fight!

When I was in middle school, I was once involved in a massive food fight that resulted in the majority of the cafeteria having to stay late for clean-up duty. I’m sorry to say our experience wasn’t nearly as cool as this one:

Hidey Ho, Neighbor!

Dinner With Neighbors

I’m happy to report that our “meet the neighbors” dinner party last night was a success!! We’ve lived in our house almost a year now, and while we’ve visited with our next door neighbor David out in the driveway several times, we’ve never really had a chance to get to know his wife Jennifer. With two young girls at home and an early bedtime, their busy schedules don’t allow many opportunities to do much beyond the normal daily routine.

But last night, Jennifer’s folks (who live in our neighborhood) took the girls, and we had a night of good food and great conversation. I got home about 6:00 and made the bitokes a la russe. My goal was to finish these before our guests arrived, because usually when I make this dish, it’s inevitable that our kitchen gets more than a little smoky. Since I usually cut our recipes in half, I didn’t take into account this meal would take twice as long to cook, but I finished them just in time. I made a total of 10 patties for four people – they always shrink up significantly in the pan – and we had 2 patties leftover at the end of the night, so it was just the right amount.

David and Jennifer showed up around 7:00, which was perfect timing. We sat and visited for a little bit, and then Ben gave them a tour of the house while I made the sauce madere for our meat (super easy – mix a little corn starch with beef stock, let it simmer, then add some madeira to the pan the meat had cooked in and finally pour both mixtures together). I also reheated the potage veloute and added a mixture of eggs and cream, finishing it with a little butter. I set out the salad and some various dressings, and we were ready to try our first course.

Jennifer’s not a soup person (both she and David knew about the Julia challenge and I gave the disclaimer that it wouldn’t hurt my feelings if they didn’t want to try something, or if they tried it but didn’t like it), so she had some salad. The rest of us tried the soup, and I have to say, it was excellent! Really creamy with great mushroom flavor; not too thick but not too runny. I went back for seconds and if you like mushroom soup, you must try this recipe. I would definitely make this again.

While we had our soup and salad, I popped the tomates a la provencale in the oven and the potatoes into the microwave to bake. When we finished our first course, the side dishes were ready – perfect timing! We were ready to dish up the main course. Jennifer and I split a baked potato (they were huge!) and we each put a couple of meat patties on our plate with some of the brown sauce. I was proud of David, who was willing to try the stuffed tomato. The meat turned out okay – I had to heat them up in the microwave, so they weren’t right-off-the-stove fresh, but still pretty good. The sauce was tasty, but not my favorite – I think I’ll stick to the cream sauce from the last time we made this dish. I was impressed with the tomatoes – they were pretty good! The ones I had used were pretty large, so next time I would try using smaller ones so that the bread crumb stuffing would fill up more of the tomato. As for the baked potatoes, you can never really go wrong there.

A very runny custard

After dinner, Ben called for dessert, so I went back into the kitchen to unmold the creme renversee au caramel – and it was a minor disaster. When I inverted the mold onto a plate, the custard pretty much fell apart (all I could think of was the scene from Julie & Julia when Julie unmolds an aspic and it goes slopping all over her floor. Luckily, my experience wasn’t that bad…but pretty close.) For some reason, a lot of liquid had collected at the bottom of the pan, so the custard was a little runny. No matter! I brought out some coffee cups and scooped some custard into each one, draining the excess liquid. Everyone was willing to try it, but nobody finished it – including myself. To be honest, it came out smelling kind of strange and it tasted kind of eggy. Once Ben said that out loud, everyone kind of looked down at their dish and slowly pushed it away. But he was right. It was kind of eggy.

All in all, the dinner was a hit! I’m really proud of our guests for having an open mind and being willing to try new things (even when David, while flipping through MtAoFC said, “Man, the French people sure use a lot of mold in their dishes!” Then we realized he was looking at the section on souffles, and the “mold” was actually the pans the dishes were cooked in. We all had a really good laugh over that one.) We really enjoyed our time with our neighbors, and we’re looking forward to getting to know them even more.

– Jessica

A Beautiful Day for a Neighbor

 

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“It’s fun to get together and have something good to eat at least once a day. That’s what human life is all about — enjoying things.” – Julia Child

Tonight we’re having our next door neighbors over for dinner – the first time the four of us will have all gotten together since we moved into our house almost a year ago. While the husband is eager to try some French cuisine, the wife I hear is somewhat particular when it comes to food. I’m not sure how our dinner’s going to go over, but it’ll be an adventure.

Cream of Mushroom Soup (in progress)

Last night, I did a lot of prep work to get ready for tonight – I made a salad and got a head start on our Potage Veloute aux Champignons (cream of mushroom soup). I cooked some minced onions in butter, then added a little flour and added some boiling chicken broth and chopped mushroom stems. After about 20 minutes, I drained the soup through a seive into a big bowl, squishing all the juice out of the mushrooms, then poured the liquid back into the pot. I sauteed sliced mushroom caps in another pan with a little bit of lemon juice, then added them into the soup broth. I’ll finish the rest when I get home tonight – just adding some eggs and cream to the liquid and finally thickening the soup with some butter. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Frothy custard

Next, I made our dessert: Creme Renversee au Caramel (caramel custard, unmolded). I lined a mold with caramel (melted sugar and water) and began heating up some milk on the stove. In a mixing bowl, I beat together sugar, eggs and egg yolks until it became light and frothy (I’ve learned to use an electric egg beater for this rather than rely on a wire whisk…a person’s arm can only take so much of a work-out). I added the hot milk and a little vanilla extract, then poured the whole thing into the mold. I baked it at 325 for nearly an hour until a knife came out clean when inserted into the custard. I put it in the fridge overnight and will unmold it when I get home. It can be served warm or cold – I’ll probably serve it cold for simplicity’s sake.

Lastly, I got our Tomates a la Provencale (tomatoes stuffed with bread crumbs, herbs and garlic) ready for tonight. I cut tomatoes in half crosswise and gently squeezed all the juice and seeds out of them. I sprinkled each half with a little salt and pepper, and because there wasn’t much room in the center for any kind of filling, I used a melon baller to scoop out some of the middle. In a mixing bowl, I combined seasonings, shallots, olive oil and white bread crumbs, then scooped a spoonful into the center of each tomato. I covered them and set them in the fridge and tonight will drizzle them with a little olive oil and bake them for about 15 minutes until the bread crumb filling has begun to brown.

Our main course will be Bitokes a la Russe (hamburgers with cream sauce) which I’ve made before, but this time we’ll also offer Sauce Madere (brown Madeira sauce). Another side will be baked potatoes, since that’s a dish that most people like. I don’t know how much of all this food will actually get eaten, but regardless, I’m excited to have dinner guests and for the chance to get to know our neighbors. I promise to give a full report tomorrow.

Happy weekend!

-Jessica

Love Me Tender(loin)

 

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“I wouldn’t keep (my husband) around long if I didn’t feed him well.” – Julia Child

Last night’s meal was really good…but it was also kind of confusing. To be honest, I’m surprised it turned out tasting as good as it did. One of our favorite things to make is pork tenderloin – I usually wrap it in bacon, cover it with olive oil and pop it in the oven until it’s done. Add a little au jus, and mmmmm, boy! It’s gooood! So when I saw that Julia Child had a recipe for pork tenderloin, we were all over it.

Porc Sylvie (pork stuffed with cheese) seemed easy enough – pork loin stuffed with Swiss cheese. And while I had to roll my eyes a little at the use of Swiss cheese yet again, I knew this would taste good in the end. The confusion came when I noticed Julia’s instructions to follow the recipe for a veal dish mentioned earlier in MtAoFC, omitting an ingredient here and switching to a different marinade there. This recipe left room for some interpretation…including how to initially cut the meat.

But let’s back up. For starters, I was supposed to have marinated the pork loin overnight. And I didn’t. Oops. I mixed the Marinade Seche (salt marinade with herbs and spices) and rubbed it into the loin. I then scraped most of it off, per Julia’s instructions, dried the meat with some paper towels, and set it onto my cutting board.

Cheese stuffed tenderloin

Now, at this point, Julia says to cut the pork lengthwise from the top to almost the bottom, making 3 or 4 “leaves” like a book. Instead of cutting the meat so that the back side was like the binding of the book, I cut it so that the bottom of the loin was still in one piece. As soon as I finished cutting the meat, it suddenly occurred to me what she meant, but at that point it was too late. And really, what difference could it possibly make? I laid slices of Swiss cheese between the “leaves” then tied the meat with butcher’s twine to hold it all together.

I sauteed some carrots and onion slices in a mixture of oil and butter, then added the tenderloin to brown the bottom. I basted the meat with the butter/oil from the pan, then put the whole thing, uncovered, in a 450 degree oven for 15 minutes, basting it every five.

Rinsing the green beans

At the end of the 15 minutes, I turned the heat down to 325, added a little lemon juice to the sauce in the pan and brought it to a boil on the stove, then covered the pan with foil and set it in the bottom third of the oven for another 30 minutes. Meanwhile, I began working on our Haricots Verts a la Creme (creamed green beans). I trimmed and washed about a pound of green beans, then tossed them into a pot of boiling salted water. When I could tell they were within minutes of becoming tender, I drained them and put them into a pan over high heat to evaporate their moisture. I added some salt, pepper and a little bit of butter to the pan, then poured in a cup of whipping cream. I covered the pan and boiled it for a little over five minutes, making sure to give it a stir every now and then to avoid the catastrophe I had with the creamed spinach.

Ready for the oven

Going back to the meat, in following the instructions for the veal dish, I was supposed to cook the meat for 2 1/2 hours or until a meat thermometer told me the meat had reached 175 degrees. I checked the pork at 30 minutes and, while the meat thermometer told me it was ready, the pork didn’t look as though it had cooked thoroughly. So I popped it in for another ten minutes or so, and ultimately decided to call it good.

I pulled the pan out of the oven and moved the tenderloin to a cutting board. After removing the butcher’s twine, I cut the meat in crosswise slices so each piece had cheese in it. A scoop of creamed green beans and a half-ear of corn on the cob finished the meal. I was a little worried that the meat would turn out dry, since I hadn’t used a liquid marinade, so I made a side of packaged au jus sauce.

Looks gooood!

As it turned out, the au jus sauce was totally unnecessary. A spoonful of juice from the pan as well as some of the sauteed carrots gave the pork plenty of flavor and juiciness, and the meat was cooked through fine. It tasted wonderful! Best of all, the Swiss cheese didn’t steal the thunder from the meat – it simply enhanced it. The creamed green beans were excellent. The beans were crisp, not mushy, and the cream gave it a hint of sweetness. And if you want to be REALLY bad, you could dip your pork into the cream sauce from the beans. MMMMM!!!

“I’m so full!” Ben declared as he took another bite of pork. “I couldn’t possibly eat another bite!” he announced as he added another piece of meat to his plate. This meal definitely ranks in our top 10 and is a must-make-again for sure. I’m constantly amazed by pork tenderloin. How can one piece of meat go from a delicious roast to a wonderful brisket sandwich to an amazing cheesy French cuisine??

Here’s the best part… not only was this whole meal really easy to make, but I only had to dirty a few dishes in the process! Clean-up was a breeze, and we had a little bit of leftovers for a yummy lunch today. This is one of those meals that would be great if you’re trying to impress someone – it looks much harder than it really is, and it tastes phenominal. In the doghouse? Make this for your sweetie and you’ll be off the couch and back in your own bed that very night. Trying to get a raise? Invite your boss over for dinner and serve this meal, and I’ll bet you not only get that raise, but you’ll even score that premium Employee of the Month parking space! (Hey, it’s worth a try!)

Bon appetit!

-Jessica

Knowing is Half the Battle

After Monday night’s chicken carving experience, I decided to do a little research and learn the proper way to carve a chicken. Chef Marc Bauer of the French Culinary Institute demonstrates how it’s done, and he makes it look so easy! No sense in keeping all this newfound knowledge to myself – check it out:

Nobody Calls Me Chicken!

 

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“I pour cognac over the chicken and set in on fire.  Everyone gathers around to watch as I shake the pan and the flames gradually die out.  Very impressive and all that, but by now I’m far too far gone to enjoy it. ” – Julie Powell

Last night I took another crack at a roast chicken. Poulet au Porto, to be exact (roast chicken steeped with port wine, cream and mushrooms) and it was incredible! To me, chicken is one of those meals that everyone likes to make because it’s easy, but it also gets really boring really quickly. (How many ways can you grill a piece of chicken, I ask you?) So if you’re looking for a new spin on an old classic, you MUST make this recipe. Like, tonight. In fact, why wait? Make it right now. You won’t be sorry. Unless you’re at work and you get fired for cooking at your desk, but even then, I think this dish might be worth it.

I started with the master recipe for roasting a chicken – smearing it with butter inside and out, tying up its legs and tucking up its wings, and basting it for an hour. While it was in the oven, I worked on making the cream sauce. I boiled some quartered mushrooms with a little bit of butter, lemon juice and salt. After about 8 minutes, I poured out the cooking liquid and set it aside. I added some whipping cream as well as a mixture of cream and cornstarch. I let it simmer for a few minutes, then set it aside as well.  

Beginnings of cream and mushroom sauce

When the chicken was done, I took it out of the oven (man, was it juicy and wonderful!) and set it on a cutting board. While it cooled, I added some minced green onions, some madeira wine and the mushroom juice I had reserved earlier to the roasting pan. I boiled it all together, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon, and finally added the mushrooms and cream. I let it simmer for a few minutes and it turned to a nice brown, thickened sauce. I added a little bit of lemon juice for flavoring and gave it a little taste…whoo boy, this was going to be goooood!

I smeared butter inside an oven-safe pot, then carved the chicken into serving pieces. Okay, so maybe “carved” is being really nice…it was more like “sawed away at” because apparently I have yet to learn how to properly carve a chicken. I’ve made a mental note to look it up tomorrow. At this point, I realized there were some pieces of the chicken that were still slightly undercooked, so I put all the pieces in the pot and put the pot back in the oven for about 10 more minutes – that did the trick. Next, I set the pot over heat on the stove and when I heard the meat start sizzling, I added 1/4 cup of cognac. And then, the most incredible thing happened.

Julia Child told me to set the cognac on fire.

Yes. On fire.

Now, don’t think for one minute that the irony of this step was lost on me. It was not. Between my pizza flambe and the french bread from the other night, if there’s one person who has mastered the art of setting food on fire in the kitchen, it’s me. So I waited for Ben to get home before completing this step, since he’s the one who manages to think quickly and keep his wits about him in a time of crisis. Julia warns to “avert your face” (great advice!) and use a match to light the alcohol. I opted for a barbecue lighter, since I figured it would give me more distance between my hand and the open flame. I held my breath, pulled the trigger…

See the flames over the chicken? Who doesn't love pyrotechnics?

…and it worked!! A flash of blue flame burst over the pot, and it was completely under control. Hooray for a great culinary victory! The next step was to slowly shake the pot back and forth until the flames died down, so I used a pair of tongs to do so (I could just see myself setting my oven mitts on fire…again). Once the flames had subsided, I covered the pot and let the meat cook with the mushrooms for another five minutes.

While all of this was going on, I was also working on our side dish: Risotto (braised rice). In a casserole dish, I cooked some minced onion in some butter, then added raw rice to the casserole. When the rice turned a milky translucent color, I added some boiling chicken stock to the dish. I also added an herb bouquet – a collection of bay leaf, thyme and parsley that I wrapped up in a little bit of cheesecloth. I let everything simmer on the stove, then covered the dish and put it in the oven for about 20 minutes. When it was done, I took it out, gave it a little fluffing with a fork, and it was done!

Poulet au Porto with Risotto

I scooped a spoonful of rice onto a plate, then used a large spoon to serve the chicken and mushroom cream sauce over the rice. I tasted the risotto first, and it was really moist and fluffy. I liked it even better than Julia’s steamed rice. But then I tasted the chicken and cream sauce…and then I died a thousand deaths. When I got to Heaven, I told everyone about this recipe and how they must try it, and they sent me back to Earth so I could finish the meal. The cream sauce was so rich and wonderful – the wine flavor was really strong, but blended well with the mushroom and cream flavors. As cheesy as it sounds, I really felt like one bite of this meal transported me to another place and time. The meal tasted so…fancy. Ben and I both went back for seconds, and cleaned our plates twice. This dinner has made its way to our Top 5 list (and might even be in 1st place for favorite Julia dish so far). With the exception of the time and attention it takes to roast the chicken, this meal is really easy to make. Have I mentioned that I highly recommend it? Because I do.

And you get to play with open flame, so that’s just an added bonus.

Okay, for real now. Stop reading this and go make dinner! You won’t be sorry.

-Jessica

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