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

A Tale of Three Recipes: Story 3

 

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“Tears mess up your makeup.” – Julia Child

And now, the exciting conclusion of our epic tale: “Triple D: D is for Disaster”…

Story 3: Feeling a Little Deflated
Between the lamb stew disaster and the Apple Charlotte flop, I was about to give up entirely on my final culinary task for the night: Galettes au Fromage (cheese wafers). And yet, I couldn’t. I’d made it this far, and my stubborn will power wouldn’t let me throw in the towel…so to speak.

Wafer Dough

While the apple dessert had been cooking, I had already begun mixing the dough for these little snacks. I kneaded grated Swiss cheese, butter, flour and some seasoning until it formed a dough, then I rolled a tablespoon-sized ball in my hands, set it on my Silpat-covered cookie sheet and flattened it with the heel of my hand. I did this for the remainder of the dough, then brushed the tops of the wafers with beaten egg and topped each one with a pinch of grated Swiss.

Just before going in the oven.

I popped them into the 425 degree oven for about ten minutes and got off my feet, cursing myself for ever having dared to attempt all of these recipes in one night – especially when I had gotten a later start than planned. It was about this time that I made a promise to myself that the next time I find myself in the predicament of a shortage of time, I will let one recipe go. Nobody would notice if the cheese wafers or the Apple Charlotte – or even the lamb stew, for that matter – weren’t on stand-by in the kitchen for a potentially hungry guest. Instead, I will take the advice of my husband and scratch the recipe altogether, opting for Taco Bell and relaxation instead. Because this marathon cooking? It’s for the birds.

When I took the wafers out of the oven, I determined I was pretty much par for the course. While Julia describes these as “featherweight wafers” that should “spread slightly, puff lightly, and brown”, I somehow did not yield such results. For starters, my wafers were completely flat…there was no sign of even a hint of puffiness to these cakes. Additionally, they were kind of chewy and really greasy. But they were done!

This is how they're supposed to turn out. Lovely!

After letting them cool on a rack for awhile, I picked one up and took a bite, and was at least glad to discover they weren’t entirely awful. The edges had turned a golden color, but the middles were still pretty soft. The Swiss cheese flavor was overpowering, and the pinch of cayenne gave them a little bite that I could have done without. Overall, not my favorite snack, but then again, it’s possible I wasn’t completely open-minded at this point, either.

All in all, this cooking experience was a bit of a whipping. Three recipes and none of them turned out just right? Frustrating. I will say that the end result of the stew was delicious; the Apple Charlotte was a complete failure; and the cheese wafers were mediocre, but pass-able. Moral of the story? When it comes to cooking, it’s okay to draw a line at some point.

Don’t bite off more than you can chew.

As you can imagine, I gave myself last night off to regroup and come back this week with a strategy and a renewed sense of energy. We had the leftover stew, and it was even better the second time around because all of those flavors really had time to meld together. Yum! Tonight’s dinner will be a new and improved roast chicken with risotto – stay tuned for more adventures in cooking!

– Jessica

A Tale of Three Recipes: Story 2

 

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“Tears mess up your makeup.” – Julia Child

Last time, on “Triple D: D is for Disaster“, our heroine had finally conquered her nemesis: lamb stew. Could she defend herself against her next challenger, Charlotte aux Pommes? Let’s see what happens in the latest installment…

Story 2: WWJD?
Now that the stew was out of the oven, I could move on to the Apple Charlotte. I had done the prep work while the stew was cooking – I peeled, cored and sliced a bunch of apples and tossed them into a pan on the stove, covered them and let them cook for about 20 minutes. When they were nice and tender, I added apricot preserves that had been run through a seive, sugar, vanilla, rum and butter. I boiled this mixture on the stove until most of the liquid had evaporated, which took about 30 minutes.

Before baking...

Next, I cut the crusts from about 15 slices of white bread, and cut the bread into strips to fit into the bottom of my ring mold. I sauteed the bread in butter, then lined the pan with the bread pieces. I packed the apple puree into the mold and covered it with some more of the buttered bread strips. I set the pan in the oven and baked it for about 30 minutes, while we ate our stew.

When I pulled the pan out of the oven, I was skeptical – the bread hadn’t really formed a crust as I had expected it would. It was more like crispy bread strips on top of a bunch of apple puree. Hm. This didn’t bode well. I could see that some of the edges of the bread had begun to burn, and I had a sneaking suspicion the end result wasn’t going to be good.

Sure enough, when I went to invert the pan onto a serving platter, I could tell that not all of the Apple Charlotte had released from the pan onto the plate. I flipped the whole thing back over and let it sit for a little while to cool, as Julia suggests. Later, I tried again – and got the same results. I used a butter knife to separate the bread from the sides of the pan, but even when I was finally able to get the whole dessert onto the plate, it wasn’t pretty, my friends. It wasn’t pretty at all.

The apple puree looked okay – but the bread lining was black and coagulated and gross. I peeled it away from the pan and set it aside – just to be sure, I took a little bite of one of the pieces and my suspicions were confirmed. Blech.

After the whole lamb stew debacle, I was already a little frustrated with the kitchen that night. This new development wasn’t helping. But as I stood there, staring at the ruined dessert on the counter at 2:30 in the morning, my husband watching me quietly to see how I would react, I took a deep breath and thought, “What would Julia do?”

Julia Child wouldn’t cry. Julia Child wouldn’t throw the whole mess across the room, sending it splattering all over her lovely kitchen walls. Julia Child would shrug, give a little operatic laugh and piece the whole thing together. Which is exactly what I did (minus the operatic laugh) while Ben played “Another One Bites the Dust” on his ipod. Because really, what else can you do in that situation?

Another one bites the dust.

I picked out the burnt bread pieces (which, as it turned out, was all of them) and scooped the apple filling into a separate bowl. I packed it in, then proceeded to make the sauce that was to go on top of the Apple Charlotte. I boiled some rum, apricot preserves and sugar in a small saucepan until it was thick and sticky, and I drizzled it over the top of the apples. Just for the heck of it, I sprinkled a little powdered sugar over the top to make it look a little prettier than it really was.

Apple Charlotte this dessert was not…but maybe it could be Apple Jessica? Sadly, I had to give this recipe attempt an F, which means I’ll have to tackle it again in the future, as the rules of this challenge clearly state the completed recipe has to be edible. Which this had not been. On the bright side, perhaps I had created my very own amazing French dessert!

Not-Quite Apple Charlotte

As it turned out, I had not. When we tried it Saturday night, it was way too sweet and I could only handle a couple of bites. Rats. I guess the purpose of the bread “crust” is to counteract some of the sweetness of the apples and the apricots. (I’m sure my “pretty” powdered sugar didn’t help the cause, either.) Oh, well. At least I didn’t cry. Besides, I still had those cheese wafers to look forward to!

Stay tuned for that story – the conclusion of our saga – later today…

-Jessica

A Tale of Three Recipes: Story 1

 

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“Tears mess up your makeup.” – Julia Child

I’ve been thinking long and hard about what excuse to give you about why I’ve been missing in action for the past three days. My first thought was to tell you that I’d been kidnapped by gypsies, or that I’d run off to join the circus (it’s my secret dream to one day be an elephant rider in a sparkly leotard, leading the pachyderm parade. No, really.). Then I thought maybe I would just tell you that I’ve been trapped under something really heavy. But the truth is, I’ve just been busy. That’s it. Sorry.

This past weekend, one of my college friends got married, and two of our other friends came into town for the wedding and stayed at my house. It was wonderful! The weekend flew by way too fast, of course, and we didn’t have much time to laze around and do nothing, but we sure did have fun. It had been about four years since we’d all seen each other, so it was great to sit and talk and catch up on what’s been going on with everyone. Overall, I give this weekend two thumbs way up.

Of course, you know what a house full of guests means, right?

It means I spent Friday night cooking up a storm!

Unfortunately, it was also a night of culinary disaster, the details of which I will reveal to you now as a reward for your patience of an entry-less weekend. In trying to plan ahead (because when you’ve got friends over, the last place you want to be is stuck in the kitchen slaving over a hot stove), I decided to make all the food for the weekend ahead of time. I knew I would get home from work at 6:00 on Friday, and if I started cooking right away I’d have plenty of time to get everything done. I had three recipes I wanted to make:

  • Navarin Printanier (lamb stew with spring vegetables) – not only would this make a great dinner for Ben and me on Friday night, but it would leave enough leftovers for my guests when they arrived Saturday afternoon. Bonus: all I would have to do was toss the ingredients together in a pot – it would practically cook itself so I could spend time working on other things.
  • Galettes au Fromage (cheese wafers) – these sounded like a good snack food to have on hand in case a game of Nertz should break out
  • Charlotte aux Pommes (Apple Charlotte, unmolded) – in case anyone’s sweet tooth started calling out, I thought this would be good to have on stand-by.

I find the best way to recount these experiences is through a series of short stories. I call it: “Triple D: D is for Disaster”. Enjoy!

Story 1: I Feel Sheepish
All week long I was looking forward to trying a particular Julia recipe: lamb stew. I don’t think I’d ever had lamb before, and I was excited to try something so different. I bought all the ingredients over the weekend and had them in the fridge, ready to rock and roll. I had planned to make this dish on Wednesday, but because I got tied up after work, decided to postpone until Friday. I got home, went straight to the refrigerator and pulled out the lamb (two big shoulder chops) and unwrapped the meat. But what I saw made me hesitate. The meat looked…green. Huh. I didn’t expect that. Maybe that’s what lamb meat looked like? Maybe the sunlight coming through the window was playing tricks on my eyes?

I do not like it, Sam I am.

No. That meat was definitely green.

I leaned in to give it a sniff, and the odor coming off the green meat socked me right in the nose. I think it then called me some mean names, but I couldn’t really hear them over the volume of the stench filling my kitchen like a seafaring fog. And then it occurred to me that I probably should have put the lamb meat in the freezer when we bought it the Sunday before, rather than leaving it in my refrigerator for a week. Dang it.

The refurbisher in me grasped at ideas to cut off the “good” meat and use it, but who was I kidding? There was no way this meat could be edible, so I wrapped it back up and threw it in the trash. And then I washed my hands thirty-five times because I could not for the life of me get the lamb stink out of my skin. Grody.

I debated about what to do next, and Ben finally convinced me that we should just go to the store and get some new meat. This was disappointing, because our store is a good fifteen minutes from our house – so that’s thirty minutes of driving plus ten minutes of shopping. I was going to be an hour late getting this meal started, but Ben was right – if I was going to do this thing, I had to do it right.

Ah, much healthier looking.

I finally got cooking about 8:00. This time, we had a nice lamb shoulder to work with (after closer inspection of The Book, I noticed Julia advises against using chop meat…perhaps it was SHE who turned the original cuts of meat green as a way to save us from dry, undercooked stew. Or something.) I cut the meat into 2″ cubes and dried them with paper towels, then browned them in a pan over the stove and tossed them into an oven-safe pot. I sprinkled some sugar over the meat and heated it on the stove until it caramelized, and then added some salt and pepper and mixed in some flour, which would help give the meat a slight crust.

Spring vegetables

Next, I put the casserole into a 450 degree oven for about 10 minutes. In the meantime, I began peeling potatoes and cutting them into ovals; I peeled and quartered some carrots and turnips, as well as some small onions. Then I took the meat out of the oven, turning the heat down to 350. I followed the directions (did you see that? This is important, so I say again: I followed the directions) and added 2 cups of beef stock to the skillet I had browned the meat in and then poured the liquid into the casserole. I simmered it, added some tomato paste and seasonings, then read that I was supposed to put the covered pot back into the oven for an hour. But what about all the vegetables I had just peeled and chopped??

I read ahead and learned that the recipe I thought would only take an hour to cook would actually take a total of TWO hours to cook. Oops. I looked sheepishly at Ben and said quietly, “Maybe we should have something else for dinner.” I guess when I skimmed the recipe for cooking times, I was looking for numbers rather than words (1 hour vs. one hour) and didn’t catch the two separate one-hour cooking times. Drat.

During that first hour, I began working on the other two recipes, prepping them for the oven as well, and when the timer went off, I pulled the stew out of the oven. When I took the lid off, I discovered that the “stew” didn’t look very stew-like – there was hardly any liquid in the pot. Hm. Weird. My next directions were to pour the contents of the pot into a bowl through a seive, removing any bones (there were none – I used boneless meat. But I guess you never know. Anything could happen!) and then drop the meat back into the pot and pour the remaining liquid from the bowl into the pot as well.

Only, there was no liquid. In fact, absolutely nothing came through that seive. This couldn’t be good. And I had just used the last of my beef stock. I called Ben in for a second opinion. He took one look at the pot, then went and put his shoes on. He came back from the local grocery store about ten minutes later with three large cartons of beef stock, which I used to pour into the pot and create more sauce. The time was now midnight. But I refused to give up.

Lamb stew

I added the vegetables to the pot, simmered the whole thing on the stove, then put it back into the oven for another hour. While it cooked, I boiled shelled green peas and green beans. When they were tender, I drained them and added them to the stew when it was done cooking. I covered the pot one last time and let it simmer on the stove for another five minutes. And then it was ready. Finally. At about 2:00 in the morning, we were finally ready to eat dinner. *sigh*

Trying to make up for the craziness of the bad lamb meat and the emergency beef stock run, not to mention the fact that I had originally told Ben dinner would only take an hour to make, I decided to make a special French bread using a recipe from one of my internet heroes, the Pioneer Woman. She had just posted a recipe on this bread that very day, in fact, which I thought was incredibly serendipitous. I followed her directions – I cut the bread in half, spread butter on each piece and put them in the oven for about 10 minutes for the butter to soak in. Then I put the bread under a broiler and watched it through the oven window carefully, per the recipe instructions.

Check out the one in the back...

It’s supposed to get really black on top, so you know it’s nice and toasty. As Ben and I watched through the window, I wasn’t entirely shocked when I found myself in a situation where I had to say, “Oh, it’s on fire.” And it was. One piece of bread had burst into flames, and as I sat there pondering my next my move, Ben pushed me aside and reached into the oven with his oven mitts, pulled the bread out of the oven and tossed it into the sink. So much for that plan.

Finished Lamb Stew

So despite the challenges I seemed to face at every turn and the doom and gloom of this particular recipe, I have to say the final outcome was fantastic. The stew was excellent! Lamb, it turns out, tastes very much like beef, and who doesn’t love a beef stew? I’m glad I added more beef stock to the pot after the first hour- it really created a nice sauce for the meat and vegetables. I would definitely make this dish again – only next time, I would plan much, much better.

Tune in later for the next installment of our saga, “Triple D: D is for Disaster.”

Exhaustedly yours,
-Jessica

The Bachelorette Party

Last week I got an invitation to attend a bachelorette party for a friend who’s getting married this weekend. The plan was to meet for dinner and drinks, and then spend the rest of the evening bar hopping and ultimately wind up at a local hotel for a slumber party. Sounds fun, right? Unfortunately, this Girls’ Night Out took place…last night. On a Thursday. And I’m sorry to say that my days of bar hopping and waking up early for work the next morning are over.

Despite the fact that I didn’t expect to know anybody at the party other than the Bride-to-Be, I decided to accept for the dinner portion of the evening. (Have I mentioned that I like to eat?) After all, it’s not every day my friend has a bachelorette party, and it’s not every day I get invited to a Girls’ Night Out!

I looked up the location of the restaurant online and mapped out directions: Nick & Sam’s in Uptown. My heart sank a little…Uptown is a sort of high-end part of town with a sort of high-end kind of people. Between you and me, I don’t feel that I particularly fit into the Uptown scene. Billy Joel would never write a song about me. (When I told my husband where I was going for dinner, his first question was, “Do you have anything to wear?”) The fact is, I’m not quite as trendy as the area seems to call for – but I love to go and people watch, and I’m always up for a good adventure, so I picked out a trendy-esque outfit from my closet and made the trek out to that part of town.

Nick & Sam's in Uptown

As I pulled onto the street where the restaurant was located, I was amazed that the surrounding restaurant patios were already really busy – on a Thursday evening! But in this area, people live in loft apartments and walk around the corner to the local hotspots, so I guess it made sense. I found the restaurant with very little trouble, and after a couple of tries was able to pull into the correct parking lot for valet. I was surprised by this place – it was a really upscale steak and seafood restaurant, which seemed kind of odd for a bachelorette party, but then again, nothing in this area would surprise me.

Only, when I told the hostess I was there to meet a group for a party, she looked over the reservation list, then back at me. “Is it possible you’re supposed to meet at Nick & Sam’s Grill?” she asked. I was confused. Isn’t that where I was? Oops. Apparently my intended destination was a casual offshoot of the steakhouse and was located a mere three blocks from where I stood. Now I ask you…why in the world would a restaurant ownership name one place Nick & Sam’s and then three blocks away have a place called Nick & Sam’s Grill?? That’s Uptown for you.

So the valet had to bring my truck back around to me (embarrassing) and I climbed back into the driver’s seat to find the right place. Finally parked in the correct lot, I headed for the front door of this more relaxed yet still trendy restaurant. As I made my way there, I wondered how I would recognize the party. I figured I would just look for a group of girls wearing little black dresses…isn’t that what girls wore to a bachelorette party?

Nick & Sam's Grill

Only, when I got to the front door, I realized immediately that all the girls who worked at that restaurant were wearing – yep, you guessed it! – little black dresses. D’oh! So much for that strategy. I knew right away I must have looked more out of place than I felt when the host at the door greeted me with a look on his face that said, “Aw, look at the cute stray kitten! Come on in, poor thing – we’ll give you a home.”

“I’m here to meet a big party,” I smiled. He nodded. “Yes, perhaps with these ladies?” and he motioned toward a large table in the next room. I peeked around the corner…and didn’t recognize a single face. Looking back at the host, I replied, “Maybe?” When I explained my predicament, he suggested I look around for my friend and then feel free to wait at the bar. So I did. When the bartender asked what I wanted, I went to my comfort zone. I ordered a Bloody Mary.

Nick & Sam's Bar

I positioned myself so I could see the front door and hopefully recognize a familiar face when members of the bachelorette party arrived. As I waited, I began to take in the interior of this place. If this restaurant were a Spice Girl, it would be Posh Spice. The main dining room was decorated in black and dark orange tones with dramatic floor-to-ceiling curtains. The brick walls were adorned with a mural replicated from the steak place I had visited earlier, and the bar area featured a large painting created by one of the company’s partners. It wasn’t a very large building, about 3,000 square feet, but offered several garden patio areas and open windows to make the space feel more open.

I also noticed there was an upstairs balcony, with several tables draped in white linens whose place settings displayed nicer china. It was very cozy up there, perfect for private parties, and it was on this level that the restrooms were located. (Note to self: wear sensible shoes while climbing the steep staircase to the second story. I almost died. In Uptown. Nobody at my funeral would have believed it.)

Despite the restaurant’s best efforts to provide a warm, comfortable atmosphere, I still felt out of my element. For me, this was definitely the kind of place that was perfect for people watching – and boy, were there some people to watch. (Can anyone tell me when bobby pins became a fashion accessory? And when did it become okay to throw a big belt over a silk shirt and call it a dress? I’m so behind.)

Eventually, a girl came into the restaurant looking a little confused. The host gestured toward me, and she looked in my direction. I recognized the look of uncertainty on her face and, while I had no idea who she was, I waved enthusiastically. He walked her over to me and asked if I was there for a bachelorette party. Hooray! He made a match! It was only then, up close, that I realized I recognized this girl from a bridal shower we had both attended awhile back for this bride-to-be. Thank goodness for familiarity! We were both relieved to have found each other, and we sat and drank and made small talk until we saw the rest of our party come in, then went to join them at a large table on the side covered patio.

When she and I turned the corner, we were both shocked to see that all of the girls at the table were also from that same bridal shower! We had all only met that one day, but it was the very same group. This changed things entirely. Suddenly my concerns of making forced small talk with strangers vanished, and I was excited to see that I could really enjoy this evening.

Grown-Up Grilled Cheese

The patio area was great. Even though it was a warm summer night, there were plenty of overhead fans to create a perfect breeze – the temperature was very comfortable, and the atmosphere was fun and casual. Best of all? The food was great! The items on the menu were really reasonably priced (especially considering the neighborhood we were in), and everything was a familiar dish with a unique spin. I ordered the “Grown-Up Grilled Cheese Sandwich”, and it was terrific! Served on a long white rectangular plate, the sandwich included cheese, smoked ham and pears between two slices of bread. Don’t wrinkle your nose…it was really good! The ham gave the sandwich a nice body, and the pears weren’t even noticeable – they added just the slightest hint of sweetness to the sandwich. I loved dipping it into the bowl of thick, creamy tomato basil soup that came with the meal, and a small salad with strawberries finished off the trio. I highly recommend this dish. It didn’t look like much food, but when all was said and done, I sat back in my chair with a full belly. Yum!!

I also tried the evening’s drink special: Sangria. Do you know, I’ve never had this drink before, and I have to say…I LIKED IT!! Most of us at the table ordered the Pink Passion (appropriate for a bachelorette party, don’t you think?), which could be purchased by the glass or shared by the carafe (both of which were priced well). It’s a champagne-based fruity beverage, very light and perfect for a warm summer Girls’ Night Out. (Ladies, I recommend you try making these at your next shower/party/game night.)

Bachelorette Sash

I have to say, overall I enjoyed my experience in Uptown, and Nick & Sam’s Grill was great. The food was tasty, the prices were fine, and the service was friendly (albeit a little slow…but we did have a pretty big group.) Most of all, I had a really great time sitting and visiting with all the girls. The host of our party brought a goody bag full of treats for the bride-to-be (and for the guests who would be joining them for the hopping of the bars) – sashes, tiaras, buttons. She did a great job, and even provided some special “bachelorette party” cupcakes for dessert.

It was fun to spend some time with girls only, and I briefly toyed with the idea of joining the party on its next leg of entertainment at a bar within walking distance of the restaurant. But as the hour grew later, and a package of “Truth or Dare” scratch-off tickets were passed around to be played at the bar, I knew it would be best for me to just head on home – or else I would really be sorry in the morning. It’s hard to be a grown-up sometimes.

As I made my way back to my house, stifling a yawn, I kept thinking about how nice it was to be included in the party. Not just to have time with the girls, but to pretend for a few hours that I really belonged in a trendy neighborhood surrounded by posh socialites. And then I went home and ate a bag of fruit snacks until I got a stomach ache…a gentle reminder that comfy jammies, a cat in my lap and my sweet husband are where I really belong.

-Jessica

Today’s French Lesson:
Ne vous inquiétez pas … ce soir, nous cuisinons!

No Escaping Destiny

Forgive me readers, for I have sinned. I had planned a wonderful beef stew for last night’s dinner. I bought all of the ingredients over the weekend, and I had the page bookmarked in MtAoFC. But when I got home with a list of things to do (I have friends from college coming to visit this weekend…so excited!! We’ve had a guest room for over four years now and finally someone’s going to put it to good use!), I decided that Julia would have to wait this time. And do you know something? Despite all the wonderful and impressive French meals I’ve cooked over the past 48 days, last night was the most productive I’ve been in over a month.

I did three loads of laundry, including guest bedding and towels. I cleaned out my closet, which had not only become a catch-all for any random needs-a-home item, but had gotten so out of control that even my husband finally led me by the hand to face the growing mound of junk on the closet floor and said to me, “Honey, I’m messy…but even I don’t know what’s going on here.” I even reorganized our kitchen pantry and cleaned out the refrigerator. It was the best use of three hours I’ve spent in a long time, and it felt great. Even as I sat at the dining room table, eating a bowl of cereal for dinner and flipping through a pile of catalogs that had been building up in my neglected mailbox, I knew I had made the right decision in putting Julia on the back burner (so to speak). And then I turned the page of my Smithsonian Catalog and saw this:
 

Smithsonian Catalog - Fall 2010

Yes, friends. Believe it or not, it’s a two-page spread of merchandise inspired by the French Chef herself, Julia Child. The brief introduction explained that, as owners of her donated Massachusetts kitchen, the Smithsonian had developed a line of kitchen gifts “inspired by kitchen accessories and serveware in the museum’s home life collection.” Here’s what’s included: 

A. Mastering the Art of French Cooking Boxed Set
Includes Mastering the Art of French Cooking and Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume Two; hardcover books with slipcase. This of course is a much nicer set than my paperback copy, and the idea of making even MORE recipes kind of makes my eye start to twitch – but I’m sure it would be a nice addition to a cookbook enthusiast’s collection. 

Dessert dishes

B. Cupcake Platter and Dessert Plates
Okay, these are pretty darn cute. These curved glass plates feature Parisian patisserie signs and would be a darling way to present some of Julia’s own French desserts or just to put on display. The platter is 16″x12″ and the set of four square plates are 6″x6″. I could certainly picture a set of ladyfingers on one of these little dishes. (Of course, not the way I make ladyfingers, but you get the idea.) 

 C. Hot Seat Swivel Stool
Now THIS is creative. I have absolutely no use for something like this, mind you, but it’s clever nonetheless. This swivel bar stool is an upside-down professional 10-quart brazier pot. I would imagine there might be some logistical issues with the placement of those handles, not to mention the fact that I think I’d rather just have the pot! But hey, I like fun in the kitchen, and this is definitely that. 

D. Ceramic Canisters
This set of three sure-lock canisters are a classy way to store your dry foods. Made to look like rustic stoneware and labeled with metal nameplates, the set features Cookies, Flour and Sugar. If you had some extra counter space and used these three items frequently, this would be a really nice way to store/present them. I, however, am not so classy and just cram the opened bags in my pantry. Don’t be like me. Be classy. 

E. Glass Fruit Jewelry
These are so stinkin’ cute I can hardly stand it. Bohemian glass beads in the shape of little strawberries, bananas, apples, pears and grapes are wire-wrapped and interspersed with glass teardrops in a bracelet, necklace and earrings (each sold separately). While I don’t imagine Julia Child would ever have worn anything like this, I have to give it two thumbs up in the “adorable” category. 

Ruffled Apron

F. Ruffled Aprons
Sold in adult and child sizes, these black and white aprons are sweet. Who says you can’t look sweet while slaving away over a hot stove? Retro-chic in design, they’re  made of three coordinating fabrics with neck and waist ties and two front pockets. But the best detail? The feminine pleated ruffle along the hem. I can guarantee Julia wouldn’t have worn this, for the same reason I couldn’t…the aprons are so cute, I’d need an apron to protect the apron! 

 It was fun to look at these Julia-inspired items, even if I was trying to take a night off from my culinary mentor. Practical or not, all of these “kitchen gifts” got high marks from me for “Cute Factor”. My favorite things were the dessert plates and the glass fruit jewelry. What were your favorites? Window shopping aside, I can’t get over the fact that Julia Child has been gone for six years and yet she still impacts our society today. It’s been nine years since she donated her kitchen to the Smithsonian Museum, and here she is, featured in the Fall 2010 issue of the Smithsonian Catalog. While I’m sure the recent Julie & Julia movie has given her popularity a new boost, the fact remains that it was her own legacy that inspired the story from which the movie came in the first place. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…

I heart Julia Child. 

Even on my night off.   

-Jessica  

Something Old, Something New

A very packed truck in a very small garage

Last night I was tasked with hauling a truckload of stuff from our rehearsal hall to my house so that it could be delivered to its rightful owner this evening. It took three of us to load the truck (including an obstetrician who was helping me cram some large plastic storage bins into the tiny back seat of the truck when she announced, “I’m used to taking things out! Not putting things in!”), and then I took it low and slow on the drive home, so I came rolling through the front door well after 11:00. Therefore, last night was leftover night. We don’t have Julia leftovers very often due to some careful calculations, but every now and then it just can’t be helped. And it’s a good thing, because let me tell you, that quiche from the other night? It was just as good the second time around!

In other news, do you know what I like almost as much as eating? Shopping! Check out my new store with unofficially official “A Year With Julia” gear. Click on the Store tab at the top of the home page and follow the link. More designs coming soon!

Happy shopping!

-Jessica

But, oh! Those Summer Nights

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“Cold vegetables, composed salads…any of these may be served as a first course for a dinner, or be the  mainstay of a summer meal.” – Julia Child

Last night I greeted Ben at the front door when he arrived home from work. I was leaning in for a “welcome home!” kiss when he stopped suddenly and straightened up, nose in the air like a blood hound. “It smells like meat in here!” he exclaimed hopefully, and he scurried off to the kitchen to see what was for dinner. It’s true what they say, folks…the way to a man’s heart really is through his stomach.

Floured Meat Patties

Because it’s still 94 degrees in the middle of September, because nothing’s better than a good ol’ cook-out during summer, and because we haven’t had any in awhile, hamburger patties were on the menu for last night’s Julia-inspired dinner. We had Bitokes a la Russe (hamburgers with cream sauce), which was a simple variation of the previously-made Biftek Hache a la Lyonnaise. I sauteed some onions in a pan, then mixed them in with some raw hamburger meat, an egg, seasoning and a little bit of butter. I formed them into patties, then dusted them with flour and cooked them in a buttered and oiled pan. I made a total of 5 patties, then drained the fat from the pan and added a little beef stock, bringing the liquid to a boil while scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Next I added some whipping cream, brought it to a boil as well and watched as it slowly began to thicken. Removing it from the heat, I stirred in some butter and the sauce turned to what looked like a very thin mushroom soup. It smelled terrific, and I couldn’t wait to try it.

It was during my forming of the meat patties that I realized I didn’t really have any side dishes planned for this meal. I happened to have a bunch of frozen corn on the cob in the freezer, so I steamed a few ears while the meat cooked. I also had a big bag of bulk potatoes on my counter, so I figured a potato dish would work well. I flipped through MtAoFC to see what Julia had to offer that we hadn’t tried yet. I wasn’t up for scalloped potatoes, so I went with a cold dish – Pommes de Terre a l’Huile (French potato salad). First I scrubbed four potatoes and boiled them in a pot on the stove until they were tender. I kept a pretty close eye on them, poking them with a knife every now and then to see how they were coming along. They still felt a little tough, but I decided to move things along, so I took them off the stove and drained the pot.

Cream sauce in the works

I had to wait for the potatoes to cool enough for me to hold them and peel them, and finally I grew tired of waiting so I held them with a paper towel in one hand and peeled them over the trash can. I noticed immediately that the potatoes had grown much softer than I had realized – have you any idea how hard it is to peel a mushy potato? It was a struggle, let me tell you. I lost one to the trash can when it broke in half and fell out of my grasp. The gummy peels kept filling my potato peeler with mush, making things that much harder. It wasn’t until potato #3 that I realized the peeler was unnecessary and I could just peel the skins off with my fingers. Note to self: work smarter, not harder.

I sliced the potatoes thinly and tossed them into a mixing bowl, then poured in some vermouth and tossed everything together. I let the potatoes bask in their wineness for awhile as I made the dressing for the salad – a mixture of vinegar, lemon juice, mustard and olive oil. I poured the sauce over the potatoes and mixed everything together, then seasoned the bowl with a mixture of green herbs and salt.

French potato salad

When we sat down to eat, the meal looked outstanding. The hamburger patties had shrunk up quite a bit in the cooking process, so each plate got two, drizzled with the cream sauce. We each had an ear of corn, a scoop of potato salad, and a thick slice of french bread with butter. Ben was ready to dig in right away, and the moment he tasted the meat, he immediately announced, “It’s BURSTING with flavor!!” I tried it and decided he was right – the meat and the sauce were definitely a winning combination. While I’m not sure this cream sauce was my #1 pick so far from all of Julia’s recipes, it was definitely a close second. It was a little thicker than I had expected, but it worked great with the hamburger patties.

The potato salad was … different. The mustard was definitely noticeable in the dressing, and overall it had a great tanginess to it that really perked up the otherwise plain potatoes. However, my only complaint was that it was reeeeeally olive oily. I think I would cut back on the olive oil next time, as I felt it really overpowered the rest of the flavors in the dressing. In general, it was okay – much lighter than American potato salad – but I think I’ll always prefer an American potato salad over a French potato salad. Personal preference, that’s all.

Like a cook-out, but with air conditioning

This meal was really great. So great, in fact, that someone at our table may or may not have said, “It’s like a French fairy came and sprinkled France all over everything!” That same person also may or may not have said, “Everything tastes so good, but so different. Everything’s been Francified!” And there you have it.

“By the way,” adds Ben. “It really was bursting with flavor.”

Enjoy the last of your summer!

– Jessica

Rolling in the Dough

 
 

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“As you can probably tell by reading this blog, I do not have the hands for pastry.  And yet here I am, kneading pate brisee on an August evening in an un-air-conditioned apartment in Brooklyn.  I’m doing it as quickly and adeptly as I can.  We’ll see.” – Julie Powell

 

Last night, I had a small group chorus rehearsal that didn’t get me home until about 8:30. When I walked in the door, Ben was watching the Cowboys game and doing some work, and for just a moment I considered heating up Saturday’s spaghetti leftovers. However, I’d already eaten that for lunch and, while it was really tasty, I couldn’t bring myself to eat it three meals in a row. So I decided to make an easy dinner: Quiche Lorraine (cream and bacon quiche).

I’ve never really made a pastry recipe from scratch before. I always use frozen pie crusts, or pre-made dough. So this was a new experience. I thought it would be really tricky, but it wasn’t! This recipe begins by making Pate Brisee (pastry dough). I mixed flour, sugar, salt, butter and shortening in a big bowl by hand, rubbing everything together between my fingers until the butter and shortening had broken up into small flakes. I added some ice water and stirred the mixture with my hand, and it gradually turned from a watery paste to a solidified dough.

Ball o' dough

I rolled the dough into a ball and put it onto a floured mat, then dusted it with flour and used the heel of my hand to press the dough out. This helped mix up the rest of the butter, and then I rolled all the dough back up into a ball again and wrapped it in wax paper. This is where I realized I was supposed to let it sit in the fridge for 1-2 hours (oops) so I put it in the freezer while I worked on the rest of the recipe.

I cut several strips of bacon into small pieces and simmered them on the stove for about 5 minutes, then drained them, dried them and browned them in a skillet. Next, I mixed eggs and cream with some salt, pepper and nutmeg in a big mixing bowl – this would be the filling of the quiche.

Uncooked pie shell

At this point, about a half-hour had passed, so I took the dough out of the freezer and rolled it out into a big circle, then set it into a springform pan. I worked it down into the pan, then trimmed off the excess dough around the edges (Julia suggested a neat trick: roll your rolling pin over the top of the pan so that it cuts the dough just at the edges. Worked perfectly!). I used a fork to poke little ventilation holes in the bottom of the shell, and used the handle of the fork to make pretty little lines in the edge of the crust. Then, to help the dough keep its shape as it bakes, Julia says to put buttered foil down into the pan over the dough and fill it with beans – unfortunately, as it turned out, I didn’t have any beans, so I just used the foil. This recipe calls for a partially cooked shell, so I baked it in a 400 degree oven for about 8 minutes.

When I took the dough out of the oven and removed the foil, I could see why Julia said to fill it with beans. The center of the bottom was puffing up, and the edges had begun to slide down into the pan. Oops again. Oh, well! So it wouldn’t look pretty…I bet it would taste great! I pressed the bacon pieces I had browned into the bottom of the shell, then poured in the egg and cream mixture. I put the pan back in the oven for another 30 minutes and used that time to clean up after myself (yes, I’m actually beginning to master the art of time management in the kitchen! Exciting!).

Pouring in the eggs & cream

I removed the quiche from the oven, and I could see one place where the bottom of the shell was bubbling up and baking kind of weird, but other than that it looked pretty good! The top was beginning to turn a golden color and the edges of the crust looked nice and brown. I unlatched the springform pan and removed the sides from the bottom, then slid the quiche onto a serving platter. I cut a triangle piece and set it onto a plate for Ben, and I could tell from the profile that a.) the shell hadn’t completely cooked all the way through (just goes to show you can’t rush these things) and b.) the insides were cooked, but still a little jiggly. Maybe I didn’t leave it in the oven long enough? Julie Powell mentioned the same thing in her blog about this recipe, so maybe that’s just how it’s supposed to be. Maybe that’s the “Lorraine” part of Quiche Lorraine, and if so, who am I to judge a jiggly Lorraine?

Tasted better than it looks. But hey, we're not trying to win any beauty pageants here.

Despite a few little glitches here and there, I thought the overall dish was pretty good! The egg and cream was super light and fluffy (albeit slightly undercooked), and the pie shell wasn’t too dense or dry. Everything was well-seasoned, and the bacon added a nice bit of crunch to the otherwise soft insides. Now that I’ve got one quiche under my belt (so to speak), I imagine the next one will turn out even better. I have a better understanding of how to go about making the fraisage, and next time will be able to better identify the consistency of a “done” quiche. With the exception of the amount of time one is supposed to leave the raw dough in the fridge before baking the pie shell, this recipe doesn’t take long to make at all. I would highly recommend making the pastry dough a day in advance – the rest of the steps just take a few minutes to put together. Even though this would obviously make an ideal breakfast, it was a great dinner – especially when we wanted something relatively quick and easy.

-Jessica

Leave the Gun, Take the Pommes Normande

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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

Last night was a fun time at the Edwards house. We had some friends over for a “Godfather” night – Ben made his signature spaghetti supper (with a 3-meat sauce recipe he pulled from the movie itself!) and we watched the first “Godfather” movie. We planned to start around 6:30, and Shelby was the first to show up. While Ben put the finishing touches on his sauce, Shelby and I hung out at the kitchen bar chatting about this blog and how things were going, what ingredients I’ve had a hard time finding, etc. It was nice to hear from someone in person who’s been following along on this culinary adventure. Not long after, Ben B. and Vivienne arrived, and we poured drinks, stood around talking, and finally were ready to serve up the pasta.

Cooking apple slices

We had a pretty tasty salad, followed by Ben’s spaghetti with thick slices of warm rustic durum bread, and of course lots of wine. Lots. of wine. Despite the fact that none of these recipes was from MtAoFC, dinner was great, just as I knew it would be. And to finish it all off, I made a Julia dessert:
Pommes Normande en Belle Vue (applesauce caramel mold) with Creme Anglaise (custard sauce). While the recipe took a bit of time to prepare, overall it was actually pretty easy to make. It began with peeling and coring about 4 lbs. of red apples and slicing them into 1/8″ pieces. I plopped them into a big pan and cooked them on the stove for about 20 minutes until they were nice and tender. (By the way, do you have any idea how good warm apples smell? If this were sold in the form of a perfume, I would definitely buy it.)

Next, I beat cinnamon, sugar and the grated peel of a lemon into the apples. I have to say, just between you and me, there’s nothing much stranger than seeing a naked lemon. (Side story: As I was grating the lemon peel, the smell reminded me of a time when I was young and ate an entire bag of lemon drops…a decision I immediately regretted. To this day, the smell of lemon makes me a little queasy.) Forging ahead, I put the mixture back on the stove and mixed it until it gained the consistency of a puree. Taking it back off the heat, I added cognac, eggs and an egg white.

Caramel-lined mold (couldn't find a cylindrical mold, so this had to do)

I worked on making a caramel sauce to line the mold in which the apple mixture would be baked. I anticipated this to be the hardest step of the entire recipe – from past experience, I know how easy it is to burn a caramel sauce, so I expected it to take a couple of tries. And I was right. The first time, I poured some sugar and a little bit of water into a pan over the stove and stirred it carefully. I must have waited too long, because all of a sudden, the liquid in the pan turned into a paste and was instantly useless. I dumped it out and started over. This time, I took the liquid off the heat early, poured it into my mold and tilted the pan until the inside was well coated with the caramel. Then, I tipped the pan upside down and set it on a plate so the extra sauce would cover the rest of the walls of the pan.

Ready for the oven

I poured the apple mixture into the mold, then set it inside a pot with boiling water and put the whole thing in a 400 degree oven for about an hour and a half. As a topping for the dessert, I followed Julia’s recommendation and made a custard sauce. I beat sugar and egg yolks together in a pan, then added some boiling milk. I poured it all into a clean pan and put it back on the stove until it had thickened; finally, I took it off the heat and added in some vanilla extract, giving one last mix with the whisk.

Artistically delicious

When the apples were done in the oven, I pulled out the pan and removed the mold from the pot of water. I let it cool for about 20 minutes, then inverted its contents onto a serving dish. I drizzled the custard sauce over the top and served it to our guests. Final results? SUCCESS!! The dessert got two thumbs up – the texture was like a combination of apple pie and bread pudding. There was just a hint of lemon from the grated peel, which worked well in juxtaposition (whoa, bust out your thesaurus!) with the super-sweet custard sauce. (Trust me when I tell you that a little of this sauce goes a long way.) If you like cinnamon-apple treats, you’d really enjoy this dish. And did I mention it was really easy to make?? (Of course, don’t tell your guests that – tell them you slaved over a hot stove all day just for them. You’re sure to get rave reviews that way.)

Good food with good friends.

We had a really fun night with our friends. This just goes to show that food really does bring people together. The next time you want to get your friends together, do what we did…make them an offer they can’t refuse.

-Jessica

Feeling Patriotic Today?

Today I’m thinking about the men and women who selflessly risk their lives to protect our freedoms. Want to celebrate them with me? Here’s a simple yet delicious way to say “Thank you!” to our heroes.

Proud to be an American,

-Jessica

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