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

K.I.S.S.: Keep It Simple, Soup

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.


Here is the mother of the family in all her simplicity. You’ll note there’s no chicken stock here, just water, leeks, potatoes, and salt in the soup base.” – Julia Child

Well, folks, another weekend has come and gone where I had to miss out on yet another grocery shopping extravaganza. Saturday night my women’s chorus performed our big annual show (to a packed theater, I might add!) and it was a huge success. We spent the night at the adjoining hotel so we could celebrate our victory into the wee hours of the morning…which, believe me, we did. Sometime around 11:00 on Sunday morning we woke up, packed up our stuff and got home around 1:00 – where we immediately fell back into bed and stayed there, comotose, until about (*cringe*) 6:00 that evening.

I did the math later and realized that for at least the past month (if not longer), I’ve been getting about four hours of sleep a night. (Do you know what it’s like to plan a two-hour performance for 100 women in a venue that holds 1200 people with a program that includes four guest performers and five costume changes? Imagine running a marathon through an obstacle course for four months straight with a sack of potatoes tied to your ankle…it’s kinda like that.) So I didn’t feel too badly then about my five hour nap on Sunday – although I was kind of sad to miss out on my weekly grocery run.

All of that to say when it came time to make dinner last night, I had to resort to ingredients I already had in my fridge. Luckily, one of last week’s planned meals never came to fruition (see previous statement about four hours of sleep a night) so I had the makings for Potage au Cresson (water-cress soup) on standby. Do you know what I love about this recipe? IT’S SO EASY. It’s almost identical to our previously cooked Potage Parmentier, only this time we add some water-cress. In fact, the hardest part of this recipe was actually finding the water-cress at a grocery store.

Water-cress Soup simmering on the stove.

I started out by peeling and dicing some potatoes and thinly slicing some leeks. I put them in a pot of water on the stove and let them simmer partially covered for just under an hour until they were tender. When the timer went off, I added some chopped water-cress to the pot and let it simmer for another five minutes. When done, I took a fork and mashed the vegetables until the mixture became a thickened puree. (Captain Obvious says: Be sure to wear oven mitts during this step because the steam coming off the contents of the pot is HOT.) All that’s left at that point is to take the pot off the stove and add a few tablespoons of whipping cream. What was moments ago a pot full of watery veggies will now be thick and creamy. (I learned my lesson from the time I made Julia’s potato soup and used less water than before, so the texture of the water-cress soup was just right. Yay!)

In all honesty, this soup tasted just like the Potage Parmentier…only better because I finally mastered the recipe. The leeks were super tender and I had managed to mash the potatoes more completely, so the consistency of the soup was just right. I have to say, though, this soup (like the parmentier) needs lots of spices to bring out its flavor. I prefer Nature’s Seasoning, a mixture of salt, pepper, sugar, onion, garlic, celery, and parsley. A few shakes of that bottle and you’ll be right as rain. But feel free to use your own favorite – I don’t think anything could be wrong here.

Potage au Cresson

To fill out this meal, we made simple tuna sandwiches, and this actually turned out to be a great little dinner, considering everything was so easy. There’s nothing that says French cuisine has to be intricate and difficult. Sometimes a delicious easy soup is just what a hectic life needs. Don’t you think?

-Jessica

Today’s French Lesson:
“Il y aura le temps de dormir quand je serai mort.”

Hungry for Self Confidence?

When I watch an old episode of “The French Chef”, I am just in awe of Julia Child’s camera presence. She’s not poised. She’s not perfect. She’s not even really beautiful (no offense, Jules). So what is it that draws me in? I think it’s the fact that she’s so REAL. She knows who she is, she’s comfortable in her own skin, and it radiates from inside her.
 
Let’s face it. Julia Child oozes self confidence.

So how does someone like Julia gain that kind of self confidence? Is it the way she was raised? The times in which she grew up?  How did we get from a society that accepted someone like Julia as a role model to a society that considers a size 12 “plus size” and won’t print a magazine cover without airbrushing and running a few photoshop effects? I predict that if Julia Child tried to get her own cooking show today, she’d be turned down – sadly, I don’t think knowledge, talent and skill are enough anymore.

Personally, I’d take Julia Child over a pretty face any day. Not only could the woman cook, but she showed us it was okay to not be perfect. With her, you know that what you see is what you get. I think we could use a little more of that in our society today…don’t you?

Nothing Beats Home Cookin’

Have I mentioned that I’m in charge of a ginormous event at the local performance center this weekend? No? That’s probably because it’s all I’ve been living and breathing for the past four months and MtAoFC is my only escape. I’m staying at my mom’s house this weekend, which is conveniently located about 15 minutes from the hall. This way I can be close to all the action, yet still have a place to run and hide and curl up into the fetal position while sucking my thumb.

I could go into all the details about the event, but to tell you the truth, I’m kind of spent on the whole topic – the highlights are that this Saturday, August 28 at 8:00 p.m., the women’s barbershop chorus with which I sing will be rocking the stage with some pretty amazing Broadway show tunes. And I have speaking parts. And I dance. And then I pass out and melt into a sweaty puddle on the stage floor and the people who notice I’m missing say, “Hey, what happened to that blond girl? The one who’s put on ten pounds since the last time she wore her show costume because she’s been consuming alarming amounts of butter and cream?” Okay, I don’t think anyone would really say that. But it is what it is. I’m just sayin’.

So I would never lose my way home.

Where were we? Oh, yes – home. You know, when I was leaving home to head off to college many (many) years ago, I was amazed by how many of my friends immediately lost residency in their homes. Before they could turn around to wave goodbye, their bedrooms had been turned into sewing rooms or guest rooms. When I left for college, I was told that no matter what, I could always come home – and as a gift, I was given a little silver compass on a necklace, “So you’ll never lose your way home to the ones who love you.” Sure, over time, the bedroom I had grown up in made gradual transformations – the pink walls were painted sunset gold; my water bed gave way to two twin beds; my homecoming mums were packed away and new portraits were hung on the walls. But even now, that room is still referred to as “Jessie’s room”. Last night, when I called my mom to let her know I was on my way, she said, “Your room is all ready for you!”

No matter how old I get, or the fact that I’ve now purchased my own home, “home” will always be where the people I love are. During the week when I leave work, I head for home. When I come visit my mom in the house in which I grew up, I’m headed home. It always feels the same – a sense of belonging; happiness; warmth. But one of the best things about coming home? Home cooking.

I remember my freshman year of college, meals were either eaten in the student center or out at restaurants with friends. So whenever I’d go home for a weekend visit, all I wanted was a home-cooked meal. Even now, when I walk through the door, I love to smell food cooking in the kitchen. Last night, I was treated to home-made tacos. They were delicious, made with fresh ingredients; light and tasty. A pile of cheese, shredded by hand, was on the counter along with hand-chopped tomatoes, onions and lettuce. Just like we used to have when I lived there. It was a good combination of happy past memory and comfortable present contentment.

Tonight I’ve been promised we’ll have grilled hamburgers, beans and french fries – this home-made meal beats anything you’d get at a fast-food place. There’s just something reassuring and familiar about a home-cooked meal…something that reaches into your heart and truly lets you know that you’re home.

It’s true what that farm girl from Kansas said. There’s no place like home.

-Jessica

What’s a Pirate’s Favorite Fish?…SWORD Fish!

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.


“I knew that my dear husband has suffered silently lo these many years with my relative distaste for all things fishy, and though now were on a more expansive path, I thought he deserved a big thick fish steak.” – Julie Powell 

One of things Julia Child urges users of MtAoFC to do is to read through an entire recipe before beginning the cooking process. Apparently by “read” she doesn’t mean “skim”…because if she did, I wouldn’t have been blindsided by the second page of last night’s recipe for Thon a la Provencale (swordfish steaks with wine, tomatoes and herbs) wherein I learned an hour into the marinating of the fish that in addition to browning the meat on the stove for a couple of minutes on each side, I also needed to put it in the oven for 15 minutes – and then again for another 30.

Swordfish Steaks

So it was a late dinner for us last night, but delicious nonetheless. Let’s back up and start at the very beginning…a very good place to start. Over the weekend, we bought a large swordfish steak from our favorite grocery store and have been looking forward to giving it a try ever since. Do you know how much a swordfish steak costs? $19. For one steak. Yeowza!! (You know, the more I cook, the greater my appreciation for people who invite friends over for a nice home-made dinner.) So we opted to buy just one steak and share it between the two of us – after all, what if we didn’t like it? I’d rather not spend $40 to learn that swordfish is not high on my list.

First things first, I removed the skin from the meat – which was SUPER easy with our new knives!! (Nothing at all like the infamous butchering of the rainbow trout, rest its fishy soul.) I cut the meat in half, then put it in a marinade of salt, lemon juice, olive oil and pepper. In a wax paper-covered baking dish, it sat in the fridge for about an hour and a half, coming out for the occasional basting and flipping.

Cooking down the tomatoes and onions.

When the kitchen timer went off, I took the dish out of the fridge and removed the meat, draining all the marinade into the sink. I dried the fish with paper towels, then sauted it in a pan with very hot olive oil until each side was lightly browned. I set the fish back into the baking dish, then cooked some minced yellow onion and tomato pulp in the same pan, adding some mashed garlic, seasoning and herbs. I covered the pan and cooked the contents slowly for about 5 minutes, and when I took the lid off, I couldn’t believe how yummy the vegetable mixture smelled. I spread it over the fish in the baking dish and popped the whole thing in the oven for 15 minutes. When time was up, I added some vermouth to the dish, lowered the oven temp to 325 and put the meal back in for another thirty minutes.

Green Beans

While waiting for the meat to finish cooking, I worked on our side dish: Julia’s recommended boiled potatoes and green beans. I didn’t see a recipe for the potatoes in The Book, so I just boiled them in a pot until they were tender. I did, however, find a good recipe for green beans, Haricots Verts a la Maitre d’Hotel (buttered green beans with lemon juice and parsley). These were really easy – snap the ends of the beans off, toss ’em into a  pot of boiling water (with a little bit of salt) and cook until slightly crisp. Drain them, put them in a pan on the stove to evaporate any moisture, then toss with butter, lemon juice and salt and pepper. Ta-daa! Done!

When the fish was done cooking, I took it out of the oven and removed the foil from the top – everything looked perfect! I scraped the tomato sauce off the fish and moved the steaks to a separate plate. (The meat was so tender, it began to fall apart when I tried to use tongs, so I’d recommend using a spatula.) Next it was time to finish the sauce…YUM! I boiled the tomatoes and onions in their juices and stirred in some tomato paste and a mixture of butter and flour. The sauce was really thickening up now, and the aroma wafting from the pan was incredible! I couldn’t wait to give it a try.

Swordfish dinner

I served each steak on a plate, topped with the tomato sauce. Beside the meat was a boiled potato and a helping of the green beans…this was one of the best looking dishes I’d made so far! The meat was perfect, and the sauce on top almost gave it an Italian flavor, with so much tomato goodness. The green beans were terrific – that little hint of lemon juice gave it the slightest bit of tanginess that really made a subtle yet wonderful difference.

All in all, we give swordfish two thumbs up! And the sauce seemed like it would be great over fish or possibly even with noodles – we’ll have to give it a try when we’re feeling more daring.

Bon appetit!

-Jessica

Memories, Like the Cheese Balls of My Mind

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.


“… my note in the kitchen made a splash – ‘Please eat my Roquefort Balls.  They’re in the fridge.’  Ah, yes, no humor like the inadvertent.” – Julie Powell

 

Yesterday’s post about our new knife set brought back a weird memory. In college I was a resident assistant in my dorm, a job I held for two years before obtaining the position of Head RA my senior year. My first year on the job, I was assigned the smallest wing with only 24 girls, and everyone got along really well. So well, in fact, that when it was one of the girls’ birthday, everyone wanted to have a wing party to celebrate her big day. We met in the lobby kitchen, where another resident had bought a cake and stored it in the community fridge. We all sang happy birthday, and the “hostess” of the party went to cut the cake. I noticed she’d been standing at the kitchen sink for awhile, so I made eye contact to see if everything was okay. She was holding her hand in a towel, and looked at me with big eyes. When I went to see what was wrong, trying not to draw any attention, she whispered, “I cut my finger with the knife…I think it’s pretty bad.” When she pulled the towel away, I had to agree – it looked pretty bad.

Beware Sharp Cutting Utensils!

“Everyone have some cake! We’ll be right back!” I said cheerily, then quickly escorted the girl to the nearby campus health center. It was pretty late, and they were just about to close, but the on-duty nurse agreed to take a look. One glance told us all we needed to know. “Oh,” she said. “You’ll need to go to the emergency room for this. Our doctor has already gone for the night.” So we got into my car and took a late-night trip to the local hospital (the first of many I would take in my three-year residency), where we waited…and waited…and waited. I remember having to go to the counter to ask for some gauze, because this poor girl’s finger was beginning to drip onto the floor. We were finally able to see someone, and a few stitches later, we were back at the dorm with a wild story to tell. A few weeks passed before she was able to have the stitches removed, and I went with her to the campus health center for moral support. I took my camera so we could document this momentous occasion, but our plans were squashed by the doctor. Something about privacy or confidentiality – whatever. We were both pretty disappointed, but in the end, her finger healed nicely and we both learned an important lesson about knife safety. Moral of the story: be careful when working with sharp instruments. Oh, and no good deed goes unpunished. The End.

Tonight when I got home from choir, I decided a tasty snack was in order. Preferably something light, quick and easy. I flipped through the section in MtAoFC entitled “Entrees and Luncheon Dishes” (specifically “Cocktail Appetizers”) and found what looked to be the simplest thing ever: Amuse-Gueules au Roquefort (Roquefort Cheese Balls). This cold little appetizer looked super easy to make, and because I’d had a hard time locating Roquefort for previous recipes, I was curious.

The Players in This Dish

First of all, a handy tip: Roquefort cheese is not cheap, my friends. A 1/4 lb. package cost about $7, and this recipe called for a 1/2 lb. Not too keen on the idea of spending $14 on cheese for a snack, I opted for half the recipe, which in the end produced about 6 cheese balls. I was a little concerned when I read the package for the cheese and saw this bit of news: contents – raw sheep milk, salt, cheese cultures, animal rennet (no idea), penicillium, roquefort rind (non-edible).

Um…wait. Non-edible?? So the first thing I did was slice off the rind (which, to be honest, looked pretty edible to me, but then again, this was a piece of cheese filled with green holes we’re talking about). I plopped the cheese into a small bowl with a couple of tablespoons of butter and mashed it up until it was sort of a paste. Then I added some minced green onion and celery (I tell you, those new knives are dreamy!) along with a pinch of cayenne pepper and a few drops of Worcestershire sauce. Wooorchestershire sauce. Wurchesher sauce. Worstchershiresher sauce. Um. Wustersher sauce. Yeah. That. And I mixed it all up, then rolled it into little balls.

Roquefort, Butter, Chives & Celery

For some reason, my cheese balls were a little on the wet side. Maybe I used too much butter, or too much Wor…uh, steak sauce – either way, they were a little gummy. No matter! I formed them as best I could, then rolled them in a mixture of bread crumbs and minced parsley. I reformed them as needed at this point, then set them on a plate and put them in the fridge to chill out for awhile. And I said, “Yo, dudes! Chill out for awhile!” as I closed the fridge door. Okay, not really. But that would be kind of funny, no? No.

So I waited for the balls to set and did other things in the  meantime – kissed my cat on the head, drank a bloody mary, listened to the rain outside on the patio – and finally decided the wait time was over. It was time to try these babies out. I brought the plate out of the fridge, offered a cheese ball to Ben and had one myself. We both took a bite…and felt like we’d been kicked in the back of the throat. Whoooeeee!! Roquefort cheese, in case you didn’t know, is like a really strong Bleu Cheese. It’s the Chuck Norris of the cheese community…and apparently, it takes no prisoners.

Finished Cheese Balls

Here’s what I’ll say: I’m not sure if it’s the cheese itself or the pinch of cayenne pepper, but the cheese balls were really spicy. The celery bits gave it a nice crunch, and while I’m not a big fan of bleu cheese, I guess I could see how some people are. To me, this was the kind of thing that would taste better served on a cracker. Maybe instead of little cheese balls, the recipe should make one big ball that could be spread onto wheat thins. But then I guess it wouldn’t be very French. Or very Julia. (Did Julia Child ever eat a Ritz cracker? I wonder!)

This is what Ben will say (after one bite of one ball): “It tastes like celery…mixed with butt…and foot.” Lovely. At least I can never say he isn’t honest! (Please note he immediately proclaimed, “I need something to wash it down with!” as he carried the leftover birthday carrot cake to his recliner. Could this all be a ploy? Perhaps.)

All in all, I didn’t hate this recipe, but think it doesn’t work well as a stand-alone snack. It definitely needs to be served on something to help alleviate some of its bite. If you’re a bleu cheese lover, then this is definitely a recipe for you. If you’re eeked out by the idea of eating mold, then I would recommend you skip over this page and move on to other things. Then again, if you’re desperate for a super easy recipe, I’d say you should give this one a try. Just don’t be surprised if Chuck Norris shows up at your door asking, “Have you seen my cheese balls?”

-Jessica

That’s Not a Knife…THIS is a Knife!

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.


“A knife should be as sharp as a razor or it mashes and bruises food rather than chopping or cutting it.” – Julia Child

 

I’ve always been a frugal shopper and try to buy things only out of necessity. Looking around my kitchen, the majority of the nice things I own are items that I’ve received as gifts – my pots and pans; the KitchenAid mixer; my Cuisinart food processor; our dishes. Everything else is pretty generic because, after all, when the most effort you put forth in the kitchen is to toss some ingredients into a crock pot (also a gift), what do you really need?

Dollar General's Finest

Take my knife block, for instance. The block itself was a Christmas gift last year, and is actually nicer than the knives inside of it. Our steak knife collection came in a package from the Dollar General, as did our butcher knife (which has been used for everything from chopping veggies to slicing meat to opening the occasional stubborn package). In fact, I think our nicest knife was liberated from a local Outback Steakhouse – how it fell into my purse I’ll never know, but it sure cuts like a dream.

The thing is, like most “Aha!” moments in life, I didn’t know how bad off I was until I had a taste of something better. My first inkling that my current knife situation just wasn’t cutting it (ha!) was during my recent battle with a filet of rainbow trout. As I wrestled with this piece of fish, all I could think about was the high school shop teacher who only had three fingers on one hand. If I wasn’t careful, that was going to be me! Somehow, I don’t envision the Food Network picking up a show called “The Three-Fingered Chef”…I don’t know, something about credibility.

Which is why, after several concerned and frustrated comments from the peanut gallery (“We have GOT to get some better knives!”), the peanut gallery’s birthday yielded some very positive results.

Ta-daa!! Our very own 7-piece set of Wusthof knives!! Holy moly…no onion is safe, no filet is too thick, no spinach leaf left unturned! These. are. amazing. Here’s what’s included:

What's Included

  • 3 1/2″ paring knife – a general purpose knife used for small intricate work like peeling and coring.
  • 6″ utility knife – handles any small-scale kitchen cutting need from chopping to peeling and slicing
  • 8″ chef’s knife – an evolution of the butcher knife, this was originally designed primarily to slice and disjoint large cuts of beef. Today it is the primary general-utility knife for most Western cooks.
  • 8″ bread knife – serrated edge is perfect for slicing through loaves of bread
  • 10″ honing steel – used for aligning metal from the microscopic edge of blades
  • Stainless-steel pull-apart shears
  • 13-slot storage block 

Wusthof 7-Piece Knife Block Set

I’m sure none of you will be shocked to learn that I’ve never heard of this brand before. But after one use – just one carrot sliced – I was completely sold on this product. Slicing through that carrot was like slicing through butter, so smooth and easy with very little effort. My old knife was ridiculous in comparison – I had to saw back and forth to get through that carrot, and put a lot of pressure on the handle to get anything accomplished. Next I tried mincing some green onions. On my favorite food shows, I always see chefs rocking their knife through something like this to get it nice and fine – I’ve mimicked this with my old knife, never producing such graceful results. But with the new knife? I looked – and felt – like a pro!

Wusthof knives are crafted in Solingen, Germany, and this particular set has specially formulated high-carbon-steel blades that keep a nice, sharp edge and resist stains and corrosion. (I have one knife from the Pampered Chef – a gift, of course – that is now speckled with red rust. I have to say that I don’t care much, but it’s kinda gross when I use it to serve others.)

Knives in Action

It’s funny how you can maintain an ideology for so long, and then one day you realize the error of your ways and would never go back. Lesson Learned: sometimes it’s okay to splurge on the nicer things, because the improvement they make in your life really is worth it. I never would have imagined a knife would make such a difference in food prep – but now, I can’t believe I ever managed the things I did with my old one.

I’m not saying you need to go out today and buy a set of these knives. But I do challenge you to look around your kitchen and ask yourself, “What would make my job easier?” What have you deprived yourself of that could lessen the work load in the kitchen and make cooking less of a chore and more fun?

We could all use a little more fun in our lives – and if that means you get a new kitchen toy out of the deal, all the better!

Happy food prepping!

-Jessica

I Don’t Truss a Chicken Any Further Than I Can Throw It

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.


“Some of the most glorious dishes of the French cuisine have been created for chicken…A chicken should taste like chicken and be so good in itself that it is an absolute delight to eat as a perfectly plain, buttery roast, saute, or grill.” – Julia Child

 

We’re in for another crazy week here on ayearwithjulia.com – I’ve been gearing up for a big performance with my women’s chorus, and our concert is this Saturday. Next week should be back to normal, but until then, just hang on tight and come along for the wild ride. Deal?

My whole life, I’ve never really been into high maintenance – I like to keep things simple. From my lifelong haircut of long, straight, parted down the middle to a machine-wash wardrobe, I like to do whatever I can to make things easy on myself. Which is why, every Thanksgiving, when it comes time to cook a turkey, we just put that baby in a disposable foil pan and stick it in the oven and don’t see it again until hours later when it comes out of the oven golden brown. We don’t stuff it; we don’t tie it; and we don’t baste it. I saw Paula Deen baste a turkey once on her Thanksgiving special, and it looked terrific! I briefly considered doing it for my own turkey, only to then decide at the last minute that I’d much rather lie on the sofa and watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade than stand at the oven catering to the turkey’s beckon call.

So I’ve been putting off the section in Mastering the Art of French Cooking entitled Poultry. In the second week of our project I thought a juicy chicken breast would be a nice change of pace, but when I read that the first step to cooking a chicken was to buy a WHOLE chicken, I began having second thoughts. The second step of cooking the chicken was to TRUSS a chicken. Whoa, what? The only way I even knew what it meant to truss a chicken was by the hand drawn illustrations in The Book – if you don’t know, it’s the act of sewing the legs and the wings to the body with a giant needle and butcher’s twine so that the chicken makes a nice presentation when served.

Nobody here but us chickens.

As you can imagine, this was slightly intimidating. I’ve done some cross stitching and crocheting in my life, but never have I ever sewn up an animal. Yikes. After purchasing the 3 lb. bird, the next thing I needed was a trussing needle. Double yikes. My new favorite grocery store has an entire section on cooking utensils (where I previously purchased butcher’s twine) upon which I was counting on having the needle – no luck. I was directed to a major kitchen supply store across the street – again, to no avail. Yet a third store came up empty, and it was mind boggling to me that none of these well-known stores carried such a thing (I had to actually tell one of the store’s employees, “It’s a giant needle used to sew up a chicken.” File that under “Thing I never thought I’d say to a person.”)

Julia says not to worry if you can’t locate a trussing needle – whew! You can use a mattress needle instead. WHAT?! As if that would be easier to find than a trussing needle? Forget it. I started thinking outside the box (my mom and I are constantly calling ourselves the Queens of Something Out of Nothing – we follow a “where there’s a will, there’s a way” philosophy) and Ben and I had the same eureka moment at the same time. We stopped by a craft supply store on the way home and bought the biggest needle we could find. This would have to hold us over until I could order a true trussing needle off the internet. Not sure if it would work, but better than nothing, we headed home.

After a day spent on home improvement projects, it was finally time to get started on dinner. Planned for the evening was:

  • Poulet Roti (roast chicken)
  • Gratin Dauphinois (scalloped potatoes with milk, cheese and a pinch of garlic)
  • Canned green beans (a couple of weeks ago I had emptied these into a tupperware container so I could use their can for grease and was afraid they would go bad soon – they were French cut, so I figured they would be acceptable)

Trussing a Chicken

The cooking time for a 3 lb. chicken is about an hour and twenty minutes, so I decided to get started on that first. I took the chicken out of the fridge and salted the inside, then rubbed the inside of the body with butter. (Talk about getting personal! That kind of treatment would have cost a $25 copay anywhere else.) Next I studied The Book carefully on how to truss a chicken. There are two steps to this process: tying off the legs and then tying off the wings. I threaded the butcher’s twine through my giant sewing needle and followed Julia’s instructions: with the chicken face down, I ran the needle through the tail end of the body, through one drum stick and back through the lower breastbone and over the second drumstick. I tied the two ends of the string together, then ran a second string through the middle of the body (this was harder with the sewing needle as it wasn’t quite long enough to fit all the way through the body, plus the fact my fingers were slippery) and flipped the chicken over and ran the thread through one wing, then back around the second and again tied the strings together.

Next I dried the chicken with a paper towel, and then came a massage (sadly, this was for the chicken – not for me) where I rubbed butter all over the skin. I set the chicken tummy side up in my roasting pan (it came with my pots and pans when I bought them over five years ago and I’ve never used it!), tossed some sliced carrot and onion around it and set it in the oven. Every five minutes I gave the bird a quarter turn, basting it with a mixture of melted butter and oil and a dash of salt, for 15 minutes, then left it on its side for the next hour and twenty minutes, basting it every 10 minutes. I tell you, this was one high maintenance project. Eight times I checked on that chicken, each time dousing it with butter and oil. Had this been a person, I have to confess that I don’t think I would have had the patience to stick it out. Somewhere around visit number four, I would have said, “Listen, this isn’t working out,” given them the ol’ “It’s not you, it’s me” routine, and hit the road. (Hey, don’t judge. We all have our breaking point.)

Scalloped Potatoes

While the chicken was doing its thing in the oven, I turned my attention to the scalloped potatoes. I peeled and sliced about 1 lb. of potatoes, then smeared an oven-safe pan with garlic and butter. I covered the bottom of the pan with a layer of potatoes, seasoned them with salt and pepper, added a little butter and some grated Swiss cheese, then repeated these steps with a second layer. I poured a half-cup of boiling milk over the top, brought the whole thing to a simmer, then popped it into the oven for about 30 minutes. When the milk had evaporated and the top of the potatoes was nice and brown, I pulled them out and set them aside.

When the chicken was done in the oven, I pulled her out, set the bird on a platter and poured the majority of the fat out of the pan. I added some minced green onion and a cup of chicken broth, scraping the bottom of the pan to render all the yummy brown bits, and made a nice sauce with which to top the chicken.

Chicken, Sauce and Potatoes

Julie Powell had a rough time with this recipe. She reported that the chicken came out dry, and that nobody could beat her own recipe of how she preferred to roast a chicken. So my expectations for this meal were pretty low. But when we served up a piece of chicken breast with a scoop of potatoes and a side of the green beans, my interest was piqued. The chicken smelled wonderful, and the skin was a lovely golden brown. I cut into the meat and took a small bite, and was immediately impressed by how juicy and tender the meat was. And considering I didn’t use any seasonings except salt and pepper, the meat exploded with flavor. The potatoes were equally as good, cooked just right – not overly creamy or runny, but not completely dry either. The Swiss cheese was barely noticeable in flavor, but gave the potatoes a nice texture. We both went back for seconds on the ‘taters. Delish!

This is easily one of my favorite Julia meals so far. I could definitely see cooking this for a group of people (with a bigger bird, of course) or just for Ben and me with some slight leftovers for the next day. And I have to admit, despite my dislike of high maintenance activity, the basting of this chicken made all the difference and was totally worth it. I’m sad to see that Julia doesn’t offer any turkey recipes, because I could definitely see cooking my Thanksgiving turkey this way this year. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

Roast Chicken, Scalloped Potatoes & Green Beans

Again, this meal wasn’t hard at all – not even the trussing was very difficult (although I did look up an episode of The French Chef to see Julia do it firsthand so I could be sure I was doing it correctly). If anything, it just took time and attention – nothing like a crock pot dish where you just toss all the ingredients together and forget about it until hours later. No way. This needed action every 10 minutes, even though it only took a few seconds to care for. But in the end, I wold do it all over again to wind up with that juicy meat. The sauce on top was an added bonus, but I didn’t think the meat needed it – it was good enough on its own.

My dad has a theory about what constitutes an “excellent” meal. If each element of the meal is excellent as a stand-alone dish, then the whole meal can be considered excellent – I definitely think this meal qualifies. The potatoes were super yummy, and the chicken was a real treat. I would definitely make this again – who knows? Maybe this year’s Thanksgiving meal will feature chicken instead of turkey.

Meanwhile, in other news, I’d like to wish my husband a very  happy birthday. As Paul Child once said to Julia, “You are the butter to my bread and the breath to my life.” I love you, best friend, and am glad we get a lifetime of birthdays together.

More tomorrow!

-Jessica

You Say It’s Your Birthday

Cosmic Bowling

Yesterday the family got together to celebrate Ben’s birthday, and we had a blast! Everyone showed up at the house around 2:30 and we headed over to the local bowling alley – we spent a couple of hours playing cosmic  bowling, trying to adjust to the techno lights and watching creepy music videos starring nine-year-old kids (when did pop music get so young??). The highlight of our outing was playing “opposite-hand bowling” at the request of the birthday  boy, something we invented when we were first dating to help level the playing field – no matter how good someone is at bowling, everyone’s equally bad using their opposite hand. (We used bumpers, which helped tremendously.) The embarrassing moment of the afternoon? When I accidentally dropped the ball in mid-swing and sent it rolling backwards (it was quite the Wii moment). The most impressive moment of the afternoon? In the tenth frame when Ben knocked down 9 pins, then got the spare, and then bowled a strike – all left-handed! He was opposite-hand bowling MVP. As it should be on one’s birthday.

Joe T. Garcia's

From there we headed out to an early dinner at one of our favorite restaurants in Fort Worth – Joe T. Garcia’s. While their food is good, the main reason to go there is the ambiance of the outside gardens. Luckily, we not only hit it big by getting there just ahead of the dinner rush, but we also scored a table in a covered patio area. It was warm, but not uncomfortable. A couple of pitchers of margaritas helped cool us down, and we had a really wonderful dinner.

This dish was full - this is all that's left the next morning.

Afterwards, we headed back to our house for presents, games and cake. Ben made out like a bandit in the gift department, and we had fun teaching everyone a couple of card games. We took a break for cake (the carrot cake turned out pretty darn good! It was really dense, and the frosting was super sweet, but all in all, not a bad homemade cake) and stayed up late visiting and hanging out. It was a great day, but of course, no time for cooking. I did have a few little snacks set out on the bar during card play, and I have to say that the  Bouchees Parmentier au Fromage (potato cheese sticks) were a hit! They were soft on the inside, a little crispy on the edges, and perfectly bite-sized. The only thing is that I think they’re an hors d’ouevre that is best served warm, so it’s probably not ideal for an event where people are just leisurely milling about – unless you had some sort of chafing dish to keep them warm. But, like pizza, even served cold the next morning they weren’t that bad.

Today we’re off to do our grocery shopping for this week’s Julia recipes – and to Home Depot to buy sink replacement parts (I promise, more on that story later). I hope you’re all having as terrific a weekend as we are! Tune in tomorrow for the big meal of the weekend…if all goes according to plan, it’s going to involve twine and a knitting needle. Only in a Julia recipe…

-Jessica

No Rats Were Harmed in the Making of This Dish

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.


“No wonder I associate eggplant with vegetarians.  If I was a vegetarian, I’d eat it all the time too.” – Julie Powell

Happy Weekend, everyone! It is an especially happy weekend in our house – it’s Ben’s Birthday Weekend. To celebrate, we’re having a family get-together this afternoon, and then he and I will celebrate his actual birthday on Monday. I thought our weekend of celebration would be the perfect opportunity to make up for this crazy week of Julia deficiency, so I decided to tackle a few recipes last night. I was a machine of culinary productivity, I tell you, and it all began with dinner: Ratatouille (eggplant casserole). The first time I’d ever heard of this dish was when the Pixar movie of the same name came out, and even then I didn’t really know what it was. I thought it was some sort of soup or stew, both of which I like, so I figured I’d give this recipe a try.

The first roadblock was finding eggplant, the main attraction in this dish. It took me three tries before I found a store that carried any, but it was worth it – what they had was big and beautiful. Once home, I set to work – first things first, peel and slice the eggplant and some zucchini and leave them in a bowl with salt for a half-hour to draw out their moisture. While that was going on, I began prepping the rest of the ingredients: thinly sliced yellow onion; green bell peppers; mashed garlic; and peeled, seeded and juiced tomatoes.

Peeled Tomatoes - weird, huh?

The process for the tomatoes was kind of odd. I boiled them in water for 10 seconds, which loosened the skin enough for me to easily peel them. Then, after slicing them in half crosswise, I squeezed all the seeds and juice through a seive until I was left with the tomato pulp. This was sliced and set aside for later.

Once the eggplant and zucchini were finished drying out, I patted them with a towel and sauteed them to a light brown, then set them aside. In the same pan I sauteed the onions and peppers along with the garlic, then laid the sliced tomato pulp on top and seasoned with salt and pepper. I covered the pan and let everything cook for a few minutes, letting the tomatoes render their juices. I basted the vegetables with the tomoto juice from the pan and boiled a few minutes more, until there was hardly any juice left.

Tomatoes, Onions & Peppers

I set about half the tomato mixture into the bottom of a stovetop casserole dish (it was only supposed to be a third of the vegetables, but for some reason I came up a little short) and sprinkled it with a tablespoon of chopped parsley. Next came half the eggplant/zucchini on top, then the rest of the tomatoes and parsley. One more layer of eggplant/zucchini topped with the final third tomatoes (I had a few left on my cutting board, so I sauteed them quickly and added them to the top of the dish). The casserole dish was covered and sat on the stove for about 20 minutes, and I checked in every few minutes to baste the dish with its own juices. I was really surprised at this point to see how much juice there was in the bottom of the casserole. There was barely any when I had started, but the cooking process was not only bringing out the juice from the tomatoes – it was also extracting the oil all the veggies had picked up during sauteing.

Ben wasn’t home from work yet, so I took the casserole dish off the stove and began tackling my next task – Ben’s birthday cake. His special request this year is a carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, but sadly, Julia Child doesn’t offer such a recipe. I found one online and got to work. The hardest part of the whole thing was grating all the carrots – 3 cups worth. I peeled them in the sink (which was now full of purple eggplant skins) and then used the finest side of my cheese grater. It seemed to work perfectly. By the time I got the cake into the oven, my hands were orange, but the batter smelled terrific!

It was at this point that I decided to start cleaning up after myself – the kitchen looked like a bomb had gone off. Julia (and my mom) always says to clean as you go, but when?? I feel like I’m constantly working when I’m in there…this is something I’ll have to improve upon. Time management in the kitchen. I focused on cleaning out the sink, as it was filling up fast – dirty dishes, carrot pieces, eggplant peelings, egg shells. What a mess! I emptied the dishwasher, loaded it with a new round of filth and then worked all the food pieces down the garbage disposal. I ran it a little at a time, and all seemed to be going well.

And then the sink began to slowly fill up with murky water.

This can't be good...

I flipped the switch for the garbage disposal, but to no avail. The water kept rising. I reached down the drain, thinking there were carrot pieces blocking the water flow – but all was clear. This couldn’t be good. Not to be deterred, I decided to leave that business for the husband of the house and get to work on my next recipe: Bouchees Parmentier au Fromage (potato cheese sticks). Julia lists these under “Luncheon Dishes”, and I thought they’d be great to have sitting around the bar area this afternoon at Ben’s party – easy to nibble while playing a game of cards or while sitting around visiting.

I peeled two potatoes (into a trash bag, rather than into the sink – see, I CAN be taught!), quartered them and boiled them on the stove until tender. I drained them and put them into the potato ricer, squeezing them out into a pan on the stove. The heat from the stove evaporated the moisture from the potatoes, and they quickly acquired a mashed potato consistency. I stirred in some flour, butter, an egg and grated Swiss cheese with some seasoning, and the mixture became a creamy batter. I scooped the batter into a pastry bag with a fluted tip…and here’s the best part…then squeezed the mixture out onto a couple of cookie sheets that were covered with my brand new SILPATS!! (Huzzah! Take THAT, ladyfingers!!) I’ve learned my lesson from that last disaster and couldn’t wait to use my new gifts. They were amazing. When I pulled the cookie sheets out of the oven, the little potato sticks were sliding around the mat – nothing like the block of cement I pulled out of the oven the last time I tried a recipe like this. Victory!

Potato Stick Batter

The potato sticks looked good, lightly browned with crispy edges and soft centers. The melted Swiss cheese smelled delicious, but we won’t know how they turned out until Ben’s party this afternoon. I’ll keep you posted on the final results!

I was about halfway through the potato recipe when Ben came home from work. There’s nothing like greeting your husband with, “Welcome home and happy birthday weekend! Now, could you take a look at the sink? The disposal’s backed up.” I could tell you all about what happened next – about how the plunger came out, and then the emergency supply of towels, and the mayhem that quickly ensued, and the near-disaster including an overflowing pipe and a series of plumbing mishaps – but trust me when I say that whole story needs to be told in its very own post. Just know that when it comes to adventures in home ownership, nobody gets outta here without singin’ the blues.

Ratatouille

Ultimately, the important thing is that we finally got to sit down and eat the Ratatouille. Unfortunately, I didn’t heed Julia’s warning (when will I learn?) and the bottom layer of the dish got a little scorched from the heat on the stove. But it didn’t matter – everything survived. And everything was really tasty! The vegetables were tender (the eggplant was especially good), and it was even better with a little extra salt and pepper (I’m always hesitant to use seasonings when I cook, but this is one recipe that really benefits from it). I was surprised by how much oil was in the dish from sauteing the vegetables. It was a little bit much for me, but I could easily eat around it. As it was, this casserole would have made a great side dish for a meat entree; I think with less oil it would have  made a better stand-alone meal.

I’ll say this for Ratatouille – I like the meal a whole heckuva lot better than the movie. Was it just me, or was that not one of Pixar’s best? Maybe it was the far-fetchedness of the plot (talking animals I can accept, but the whole puppet master twist was kind of weird), or the fact that none of the characters were very relatable, or maybe it was because I prefer Patton Oswalt in supporting roles (give me an episode of King of Queens any day!). Whatever the reason, it doesn’t matter – they won me back with UP. *dreamy sigh* But I digress.

The Movie

This meal was really easy to make – there seemed to be a lot of steps, but none of them were difficult. (Well, except that step where we had to disassemble the pipes underneath our sink, but again…we’ll tell that story another time.) If you’re looking for something different to try, if you have lots of mouths to feed and not much time to whip something up, or if you’re in need for a movie-themed party dish, I recommend giving this one a try.

Tune in tomorrow for a review on the potato sticks and carrot cake. Until then, party on!

-Jessica

Foiled Again!

This is who I pretend I am when I go bowling.

Every Thursday night for the past 11 weeks, I’ve been the captain of my company’s bowling team for the summer league. Not because I’m particularly good, mind you, but mostly because nobody else wanted the responsibility of signing the score sheet every week. In all honesty, I like being the captain, if for no other reason than the fact that it’s earned me one of the better nicknames on the team (I’d much rather be called “Captain” than “Fatty”, “Mute”, or “2-2-4”).

Last night started out pretty great, as far as bowling goes. High scores, great marks… but then somewhere along the tenth frame of the second game, one of our lanes broke down. Pins began pouring from the setting machine, like potato shreds from a ricer (ooh, my first culinary simile!). All I could think as they came showering down was the song, “It’s raining pins! Hallelujah, it’s raining pins!” (Hey, I can’t help the way my mind works. I’m just along for the ride.) It took them fifteen minutes to figure out how to fix it, which set the entire series back and, long story short, I didn’t get home until 9:45.

Late night? Eh, what else is new? Unfortunately, this came the day after an unsuccessful shopping excursion, during which I was unable to locate watercress. No big deal, right? Well, it is when you’re planning to make watercress soup. So driving home, worn out from an abnormally long bowling match, further exhausted by the thought of driving from store to store in search of watercress (I had to look it up – it’s a leafy plant, like giant parsley) only to then come home and make the soup…forget it.

This is watercress. See? Giant parsley.

I decided that, rather than spend the remainder of my evening doing that, I would much rather go home and spend some time with my husband, my cat, and the pile of laundry that was beginning to take on science fiction proportions. (Ben already tackled the dishes – what a guy!) So that’s what I did. And I must say, it was definitely the right decision. (Sometimes there’s nothing better than taking a little time out for yourself to really put your soul at ease, wouldn’t you agree?) But fear not! Tonight I’ve got a whole slew of recipes to conquer. Tomorrow the family is celebrating Ben’s upcoming birthday, and what’s a party without some Julia-inspired snacks? (Of course, she would never call them snacks. She would call them hors d’ouevres.)

Disappointed that no meals were created last night (besides a bowl of chips and salsa)? Come now… you didn’t think I would leave you without SOME kind of treat, did you? Nay! Today I tell you exciting news. Perhaps you’ve noticed some recent funkiness on the home page of this site – only a month old, it’s already undergoing some cool changes. Please bear with us as we do a little construction on our end, and stay tuned for new pages and some eye candy.

Speaking of eye candy, I leave you now with a little parting gift before I sign off. Here’s a video that pretty much depicts how awkward I feel in the kitchen. But boy howdy, give me 344 more days, and I’ll feel right at home! Enjoy!

 

-Jessica

To subscribe via email, enter your email address:

Powered by WordPress | Find Wireless Deals at BestInCellPhones.com. | Thanks to iCellPhoneDeals.com Free Cell Phones, Find Highest CD Rates and Incinerador De Grasa Revisión