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

Sometimes You Win

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

I can't work under these conditions!

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

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

Meat mixture for patties

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

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

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

Potato Ricer in Action

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

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

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

Not-So-Creamed Spinach

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

Bifteck Hache a la Lyonnaise

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

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

And speaking of winners…

Here are the answers to yesterday’s quiz:

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

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

Until next time!

-Jessica

O Cap’n, My Cap’n

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Well, readers, another Tuesday has come and gone and what do I have to show for it? A bowl full of milk and a plate full of bread crumbs.

Yep. Last night’s dinner was a bowl of Cap’n Crunch and a couple pieces of toast. *sigh*

What can I say? The sink full of dishes awaiting me in the kitchen, the fact that I’d put in a 16 hour day and the lack of groceries in my fridge pretty much sealed my fate. Not that there’s anything wrong with cereal for dinner – in fact, it’s often been my go-to meal when life gets too crazy to figure out what ingredients should go together in a pan. But that was B.J.C. (before Julia Child) – I can’t imagine Julia Child ever came home from a long day of government work, turned to Paul and said, “What do you say, dear? How about a nice bowl of Fruit Loops?”

Growing up, we didn’t really have “kid cereal” in our house. It was stuff like Raisin Bran and Shredded Wheat – maybe a bowl of Cheerios with some raisins on top. I can remember my first year in college, standing in line at the on-campus convenience store in the student center with a box of Lucky Charms clutched to my chest. Some kids didn’t know what to do with the newfound freedom of campus life – smuggling beer (or worse) into their dorm rooms, staying out past curfew, attending wild frat parties. For me, it was buying my own box of Lucky Charms. (Look out, world! Who knows what that girl with the cereal is capable of!)

How long has it been since you’ve eaten kids’ cereal? (And if you only ate it because you HAVE kids, then it doesn’t count.) Let’s test your knowledge, shall we? Here’s a little test I like to call:

SNAP, CRACKLE, POP QUIZ

Can you name the following mascots AND which cereal they represent?

#1.

#2.

#3.

#4.

#5.

#6.

#7.

#8.

#9.

#10.

Simply leave a comment with your answers (all comments have been hidden so nobody will see your answers but me), as well as your favorite kids’ cereal. The first person to get all answers correct will win a box of their favorite cavity-causing sugary goodness. Cut-off for entries will be midnight tonight (central time). (Hey, this could mean you’ve got dinner covered for the rest of the week!) Good luck!

-Jessica

Poaching: Bad for Eagles; Great for Oeufs

 

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“Serving poached eggs for dinner strikes my American bourgeois soul as ad hoc and a tad pathetic, and therefore perversely romantic.” – Julie Powell

 

It’s always hard to come back to reality when you’ve been on a vacation, even if that vacation only lasted a weekend. Despite this fact, I was really looking forward to getting back to the Julia recipes. Because we haven’t had a chance to go grocery shopping since last week’s excursion, last night’s meal had to be something involving ingredients we already had in the house. A quick scan of the pantry and fridge told me all I needed to know. Dinner would be Oeufs Sur Canapes (poached eggs on canapes) with Sauce Mornay (cheese sauce).

I remembered this recipe from the Julie&Julia movie – it sounded easy but looked tricky, so I was fully prepared for the possibility that the poaching of the eggs could be a highly frustrating experience. However, after having just purchased eggs in bulk, I felt equipped to take on the challenge. I decided to start with the cheese sauce first. Julia actually recommends serving these eggs with a cheese fondue sauce, however, since I was out of whipping cream, I used her suggested replacement recipe for the bechamel cheese sauce instead. (Bechamel 101: A bechamel sauce is a quickly made milk-based foundation that only needs the addition of butter, cream, herbs, etc. to bring it to a true sauce.) Because the Sauce Mornay begins as Sauce Bechamel, I tackled two recipes on the sauce alone!

Sauce Mornay

The sauce began by melting a couple of tablespoons of butter in a pan and adding three tablespoons of flour to create a roux, a thickening agent for the sauce. I noticed that it seemed to have a brownish color, which Julia claimed should be white, but I decided to carry on. Next I added some boiled milk, and eventually stirred in some shredded Swiss cheese. The sauce seemed too thin, so I added another tablespoon of flour, and at this point, the sauce just didn’t look right at all. I mean, I didn’t know what it was supposed to look like, but I was pretty sure this wasn’t it. It was the color of pale chocolate milk, and it smelled and tasted a little burnt, but I couldn’t tell where I had gone wrong. I debated about forging ahead with it, and ultimately decided that no, I wanted to taste it the way Julia had intended. So I dumped it down the garbage disposal and tried again.

This time, I didn’t let the butter melt so long (I think I may have burnt it just slightly the first time, but that small flavor made a huge difference in the overall outcome of the sauce). I also added more flour at the beginning while making the roux, rather than at the end, and when all was said and done, the sauce had a nice thick, white creaminess to it, and it smelled and tasted wonderful. I was really glad I had trashed the first batch – this was so much better.

A successfully poached egg.

Next came the eggs. I filled a pot with about 3″ of water and a little vinegar (to help the eggs keep their shape) and brought it to a simmer. I cracked open one egg and let it slip into the pot. I was supposed to take a wooden spoon and immediately begin to fold the white over the yolk so that it would wrap around itself – but the white got away from me before I could pull it all together, and it broke off in whispy flakes throughout the water. I scooped it out and threw it away, then tried again. This time, I followed Julia’s suggestion of breaking the egg into a bowl, then getting the bowl as close to the pot of water as possible and letting it slide in. This worked much better, and I was able to coax the white around the yolk and let it sit for a few minutes. As I worked the egg white around itself, little bits of egg white broke free from the poaching egg and fluttered around the water, like little ghosts floating around in the pot. They reminded me of the bits you see in Chinese egg drop soup, and I realized then that it must be made similarly. But that’s another post for another blog.

Perfectly browned canapes!

When the whites were set and the yolks were still soft, I removed the eggs with a slotted spoon and set them into a bowl of cold water to stop the cooking process and to rinse off the vinegar. They didn’t come out in the “neat, oval shape” Julia mentions, but you know something? Cooking isn’t a beauty contest – it’s okay if the food doesn’t look perfect when it comes out of the pot. (Besides, you’ll cover these babies with some sauce mornay and who will know the difference?) So while the eggs rested in the bowl, I made the canapes. I used the circle cookie cutter from last time and cut four circles of white bread, then made some clarified butter and poured it into a separate pan. And here’s the coolest part…I LEARNED FROM MY PAST MISTAKES! The last time I made canapes, I burned them. Repeatedly. Ah, but this time, I used a pastry brush to coat the entire bottom of the pan with the butter and set the bread circles gently inside, then watched them carefully and turned them every 30 seconds until they were a light golden brown. Perfection!

Oeufs Sur Canapes

I set a canape onto a plate, placed an egg on top, then covered the stack with a spoonful of the sauce. (I also made one egg without any sauce so I could get the full flavor of the poached egg alone. In doing this, I created Oeufs Poches [plain poached eggs] which counts as a separate recipe. Yippee!) When I cut into it with my fork, the egg white was light and fluffy and the yolk was runny, as if it had been fried over-easy. The canape was the perfect way to mop up the soft yolk, and while I liked the sauce, I decided it tasted better on the bread than it did on the egg. My favorite way to eat this was with just the egg and the canape. This would make a great breakfast with a side of bacon or sausage and a glass of orange juice – but it didn’t make a bad dinner, either!

So maybe it’s because I had the advantage of watching the movie and learning from Julie Powell’s frustrations, but poaching eggs wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought it would be. In fact, once I got the hang of it, it was kind of fun! I really like the canapes (although, to be honest, I’m not sure why Julia didn’t just make toast and cut it into circles) and the sauce was okay. Not only did this dinner knock out four of our 524 recipes, but the whole meal took about 15 minutes to make and came out tasting great – a terrific dish to whip up when all you’ve got in the house is eggs, butter and bread – and a slight longing to still be on vacation.

-Jessica

Today’s French Lesson:
“Où aimeriez-vous aller pour les vacances?”

Go Dutch, Baby

 
 
 
 

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“Dining with one’s friends and beloved family is certainly one of life’s primal and most innocent delights, one that is both soul-satisfying and eternal.” – Julia Child

 

Dutch Baby Pancakes

Yesterday morning we got up early for a send-off breakfast and to hit the road for our 12-hour drive home. My dad made us his signature weekend morning breakfast, the recipe to which I had forgotten I have. He made us a batch of Dutch Baby Pancakes. These doughy pancakes are light and fluffy, and are especially good with lemon juice and powdered sugar sifted on top. (I have heard of other toppings being used instead, like apples with cinnamon. I’m sure the possibilities are endless!) With a side dish of turkey bacon, they were the perfect meal to get us revved up for our big drive.

Our ride home was uneventful – we drove through a couple of heavy rainstorms, but nothing major. It felt good to finally roll into our drive way around 11:00 last night and be greeted by our favorite cat. It’s always hard to return to reality after a fun weekend away, but it’s also good to come home and sleep in one’s own bed.

Good news for you, dear reader! Tonight I’ll resume our Julia recipes, kicking us off with some ingredients I already have in my fridge – get ready for some poached eggs served on canapes! Seems easy and is reportedly delicious, which sounds like the perfect meal to ease our way back into cooking. Be sure to tune in tomorrow for a full review of our dinner menu – until then, consider the Dutch Baby Pancakes. Simple yet delicious, they’re a great answer to a hungry family in the mornings.

More tomorrow!

Your favorite road warrior,

– Jessica

A Meal in Midtown

If you’re ever in the Atlanta area and are looking for an incredible meal, you must – MUST – go to Blue Ridge Grill in Midtown. After valet takes your car, you’ll walk into a lodge-themed building with wood beam ceilings, cozy lighting and linen covered tables. The friendly staff will greet you by name (“Welcome, Mr. Ridings!”) and will acknowledge the reason for your visit (“We see that it’s your birthday – thank you for celebrating with us!”) They will then lead you to your table (which has been decorated with birthday confetti and Hershey kisses) and seat you, offering you a white linen napkin (black if you prefer). You’re welcome to order a drink from the bar, or you can bring your own wine from home (which they’ll serve for a slight corking fee) and they’ll immediately bring you a basket of freshly made bread, whose aroma fills the table.

Corn Souffle

Your waitress will tell you about the evening’s specials and give you a menu to peruse, which features anything from trout and scallops to filet mignon and lamb. I ordered the soup of the day, a chilled potato soup with lump crab meat and chives. I’d never had chilled soup before, and it was definitely different – very tasty, but took some getting used to. For the main course, I ordered an 8 oz. filet mignon (medium), which is served with a tomato chutney relish on the side. The meat cuts like butter – the moment I sliced into it, I knew it was going to be perfect. The flavor was wonderful, and while the smoky chutney relish added a new level of flavor to the dish, the meat was so good by itself I had a hard time adding anything to it. We ordered mashed potatoes and corn souffle for our sides, which are served family style. The potatoes were creamy and topped with butter, while the corn souffle was almost like a sweet creamed corn with a breaded crust – dessert like and delicious.

And speaking of dessert, because we were there to celebrate, the staff delivered a complimentary molten lava cake topped with vanilla ice cream. We also ordered a peach cobbler and a banana bread pudding to share – both were amazing. At the end of the meal, the check was delivered with decadent chocolates, and a small gift for the birthday boy (a wrapped box that we believe contained truffles).

Blue Ridge Grill main dining room

This dining experience was outstanding. The food was prepared and priced as an upscale establishment, but the atmosphere was more casual and comfortable. The staff was excellent, providing terrific service and personal attention – from the birthday decorations on the table to the various staff members who stopped by to say, “Happy Birthday, Mr. Ridings,” this restaurant understands (and masters) the idea of customer service. Whether you’re wanting to impress a business client or celebrate a special occasion, the Blue Ridge Grill should definitely be on your list of places to try when you’re in Atlanta.

-Jessica

*Editor’s Note: Blue Ridge Grill has no idea who I am. I am just a customer who had an amazing experience and wants to spread the word – no royalties or free meals have been offered for my review of this restaurant. My tummy is just really, really happy. Over and out.

A Very Merry Un-Birthday to Me!

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“I attribute my longevity to red meat and gin.” – Julia Child

Yesterday was a wonderful day. After an easy and uneventful six hour drive, we arrived at our destination around 4:45. We settled in, relaxed for a bit with some good conversation and drinks, then headed out for dinner at a local mexican restaurant, La Cocina (not to be confused with the larger chain of a similar name) that had live music, great food, friendly staff, and tasty margaritas – a nice way to celebrate a birthday! And even though it wasn’t MY birthday, I got a gift…silpats!! (Apparently SOMEONE has been reading about my ladyfingers mishap!)

Sorry to say I did no cooking today (unless you count spreading Arby’s sauce on a bun “preparing a meal”…that’s life on the road for you!), but in honor of my dad’s birthday (Happy Birthday, Dad!), I share this little gift with you. Enjoy!

Buying in Bulk

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“If you’re afraid of butter, just use cream.” – Julia Child 

 

Well, friends, we’re nearing the end of our second week of cooking here on ayearwithjulia.com, and so far so good! Nobody’s gotten food poisoning, I haven’t set anything on fire, none of the dishes have been completely destroyed, and (miraculously) I’ve only sustained one injury (which is looking pretty good today – red and swollen, but not hideous and life threatening). We may make it through this thing yet!

Ben and I are on our way to Georgia to visit my dad for his birthday, so I’m sorry to report that I did not do any cooking last night. Fear not! Earlier this week I promised to relay to you the tale of my most recent grocery shopping adventure. It was a day of education and enlightenment, all of which I gladly share with you now.

Bulk Spices

In preparation for another week of French cuisine, Saturday was grocery day. We woke up relatively early and headed out to our new favorite market to stock up on ingredients for the week’s upcoming recipes. It was here that I discovered my all-time new favorite thing. I was standing in the spice aisle, trying to justify spending $8 on a small jar of bay leaves, when a store employee approached me and asked if I was looking for anything in particular. I showed her my list, expecting her to say, “It’s right there,” and point to the shelf where I was already looking. But do you know what she said to me? She said, “Don’t pay $8 for that! Follow me – let’s go to the bulk department.” The whooty-whaty? I followed her over to a separate section of the store where wide wooden shelves housed big jars of spices that were labeled with numbers for easy identification. She pulled down the jar of bay leaves and, with a small pair of tongs, she lifted out the amount I wanted into a small baggie. We weighed it on a scale, typed in a code for that spice and then printed a label right there – and do you know how much I paid? 16 CENTS!!! I almost paid $8 for the same amount in a bottle. This has completely changed the way I buy spices from now on. I bought a little bag of nutmeg for 11 cents and cloves for 12 cents. This system is BRILLIANT!! Never again will I buy spices in a bottle, and you shouldn’t either. Bulk spices, people. That’s the way to go.

Roquefort Cheese - looks pretty gnarly, huh?

The spices weren’t the only major victory of this shopping trip – we had a high-five exchange in the dairy department when Ben located a seemingly impossible-to-find Roquefort we’ve been searching for for months. By far the strangest thing we purchased that day was a bag full of mussels. Never having ordered mussels before, I didn’t know what questions to ask. Julia required 6 quarts of them for her recipe, so I asked for 3 quarts. The fish guy (who sold us the rainbow trout the previous week) went to his calculator to translate quarts to pounds, and came back with a furrowed brow.

Bag o' Mussels

“What are you making?” he asked cautiously. “Because 3 quarts is a LOT of mussels.” We eventually determined that for just two people, we could easily get away with a 2-pound bag that was featured in the display case. He put them on ice for us and that was that – we’d just ordered our first mussels. (Of course, my Now self would tell my Then self, “Psst! Hey! Notice how those babies came in a mesh bag and not a plastic bag? That’s a clue! Those things are ALIVE!!” But of course, my Then self had no way of knowing this, and currently holds a grudge against my Now self for being self-righteous with all that new-found knowledge. They’ll have to work it out in therapy.)

All in all, this was a highly successful shopping excursion. We stopped by our neighborhood market on the way home for a few generic ingredients, and then decided to head to our members club store to buy a couple of items in bulk. Our main mission was to stock up on butter, because let’s face it – we’re going to go through that stuff like crazy. Ben opened the refrigerator door and pulled out a package of butter, looked at the expiration date – and stared at me. “Um…” he said, “This expired in April.” (It’s now August.) Four months?? This package of butter has been sitting there for four months PAST its prime?? We looked back at the rest of the packages and realized an entire pallet of butter was this old.

Butter from the future??

Ben took a package and tracked down a manager, who, upon looking at the packaging said, “Oh, this isn’t the expiration date. It’s the production date.” Ben looked at her with a raised eyebrow. “Really? Then why are there packages over there marked November 13, 2010?” I clapped my hands excitedly. “It’s butter from the FUTURE!!” I squealed. The manager sheepishly tracked down another employee, who was ordered to remove this pallet of butter from the fridge. He apologized and thanked us for bringing this oversight to their attention. But it got me thinking:

A.)   What if we hadn’t checked the date? How long can butter hang out in a refrigerator before it spoils?

B.) How often does this store do inventory?

C.) What does this say about the lack of a need for bulk butter in our society…and the contrasting necessity of it in my kitchen?

It was too much to think about, so we took the butter that had the latest expiration date and moved on with our day.

After all, I had ladyfingers to make! (Darn you, Now self…)

-Jessica

Turning the Other Cheek

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“The criss-crossed layers of burns on my left forearm are my special power symbol.” – Julie Powell

 

How does one tell one’s husband that he’s married a complete idiot? By serving up a plate full of pork chops and buttered green beans, of course!

I had been planning last night’s menu for days, and I must say, it sounded tasty: Cotes de Porc Poelees with Haricots Verts a l’Anglaise – I (casserole-sauteed pork chops with blanched, buttered green beans). I had marinated the meat the day before in a mixture of lemon juice, olive oil and herbs (my hands smelled like garlic all day), and the thick chops were finally ready to cook when I got home. They looked and smelled incredible!

First things first, The Book said to preheat the oven to 325 degrees while heating up a couple of tablespoons of cooking oil in a casserole on the stove. I used an oven-safe pan, and let the heat really crank up. Meanwhile, I was supposed to remove the meat from the marinade and dry it off with paper towels. First obstacle: it seemed we were out of paper towels. I almost resorted to toilet paper, then remembered we had some party napkins in the pantry – gold and silver from our New Year’s Eve party. They’d do in a pinch!

Only, I didn’t realize how much the napkins would stick to the meat, and I spent a good five minutes peeling soggy bits of gold and silver paper shreds off the chops, the whole time thinking to myself, “Thank goodness I didn’t use toilet paper!!” Finally ready, I carried the meat over to the stove on a plate to set into the oiled pan. And here’s where things took a nasty turn…

I have to pause here and broadcast the following disclaimer: there are times in life when one’s lack of knowledge is overruled by one’s use of common sense. There are some things we just inherently know not to do: don’t use a hair dryer in the bath tub; don’t play golf in a lightning storm; don’t wear red into a bull fighting ring. I know hot oil is hot. And I know it pops and splatters when it’s heated in a pan. I know this. Really. I do. Now back to our story.

I picked up the first pork chop with a pair of tongs and, from what I felt was a safe distance away, held it over the pan with the intention of setting it carefully into the hot oil. But at the last second, the meat slipped out of the grasp of the tongs and dropped heavily into the pan, sending an explosion of grease up and out of the pan…and splattering onto my arm and – worst of all – my face. Yep – I’ve sustained my first cooking-related injury. Let me tell you, it was a doozy.

The two major spots on my left arm stung the worst at first, but I was most concerned about the large spot on my left cheek. I abandoned the pork chops momentarily and rushed to the bathroom mirror. I felt like Kevin Spacey in the movie “Pay It Forward”, but was relieved to see that in reality, I looked more like Tina Fey. A large, crescent shaped burn was forming just to the side of my mouth, but it didn’t look too bad. I put some ice on it to keep the swelling down and forged ahead.

Pork Chops on the Stove

By the time all of this drama had died down, the pork chops were a nice light brown on the bottom, so (armed with tall oven mitts) I used the tongs to turn them over and cook the other side. When they were done cooking, I set them onto a plate and drained the fat out of the pan. Adding some butter, I put the meat back in and basted it with the melted butter, then covered the pan until I could hear the meat sizzling (which didn’t take long at all). I set the covered pan in the oven and let the meat cook for about 30 minutes, turning the pork chops over about half-way through and basting with more of the butter.

While that was going on, I turned my attention to the green beans. Julia’s method of preparing green beans was just the way my family made them when I was growing up. Rinse fresh green beans and snap the ends off, then add them to a pot of boiling water. After about 10 minutes, when they were tender yet still a little crunchy, I drained them in a colander in the sink. At this point, we had completed the task of Haricots Verts Blanchis (blanched green beans), which is the first step in cooking green beans for other Julia recipes. Why stop there? I took the recipe one step further by tossing the beans into a pan to evaporate their moisture, then emptied them into a serving bowl and added butter pieces to the top. Ta-da! Haricots Verts a l’Anglaise!

Buttered Green Beans

About the time the beans were ready, the meat was done cooking in the oven. I pulled the pan out, peeked inside and couldn’t believe how good the pork chops looked! These were unlike any pork chops I had ever made before – thick and juicy like steaks. I set the meat aside and drained some of the pork fat from the pan, then added a half-cup of beef stock to the pan. Bringing it to a boil, I used a wooden spoon to scrape all the yummy brown bits from the bottom of the pan and it all came together to make a delicious sauce to pour over the meat.

While I waited for Ben to come home, I kept a clean towel of ice pressed against the burn on my face – it didn’t seem to be getting any worse, and I was trying to figure out how I was going to explain this minor setback. Needless to say, Ben was NOT happy when he got home and learned I had done nothing more than to put ice on my wounds. Much to my embarrassment, he immediately called my brother-in-law, a fireman with medical training. His professional opinion (luckily for me) was that it didn’t sound serious, so an ice pack it was. I can laugh about it now, but man, talk about a learning experience. As Ben pointed out (and I had already considered), what if that grease had splattered into my eyes?? Who knew working in the kitchen would necessitate safety goggles? I’ve decided my next purchase should be one of those outfits a bee keeper wears. That ought to do the trick!

Cotes de Porc Poelees & Haricots Verts a l'Anglaise

The dinner was awesome. The pork chops didn’t taste like a typical cut of pork – they were thick and hearty and the sauce on top really brought out the flavors from the marinade. The green beans were the perfect balance of tenderness and crunch (who knew that all this time I’ve been overcooking my green beans??), and they were super tasty! But then again, what wouldn’t be when it’s been flavored with butter and salt? This is definitely a meal we would make again. Until now, we had pretty much written off the pork chop in general. I only knew how to pan fry them, and they always came out overcooked and dry. This recipe has completely changed our view on pork chops. Yum!

So, in conclusion: if you run out of paper towels in the kitchen, don’t try to substitute toilet paper or cheap party napkins; be extra careful while working around hot oil (consider wearing long sleeves and a Halloween mask for protection); and finally, if you experience a slight miscalculation and burn the dickens outta your face, don’t give up – just turn the other cheek and keep on cookin’. 

Off to obtain a cold compress… husband’s orders.

-Jessica

Today’s French Lesson:
“Excusez-moi. Où est l’hôpital?”

It’s Peanut Butter Jelly Time

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“Cooking is my profession and my pleasure. I do all my own cooking, and I love to do it. The ice box is always filled with things like cold roast chicken, and there’s always peanut butter and honey, if worst comes to worst.” – Julia Child

 

Remember how I’ve mentioned that Tuesdays are my long days? Well yesterday was a doozy – I walked through my front door at 11:30 p.m, reluctantly ready to start working on dinner. I had finally found it in my heart to forgive Julia for her mussel trickery from Monday night, and had planned a yummy dinner of French cuisine. Want to know what I made?

Do you like yours in triangles or rectangles?

 

A peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

 

The sink full of dishes, the rumbly in my tumbly and the late hour were all waiting for me to turn the corner into the kitchen, and when I did they tackled me to the ground. I fought long and hard, reaching for the oven door handle to pull myself to safety – but to no avail. Tuesday beat me, and I eventually had to wave the white flag.

Do you think you can forgive me?

For what it’s worth, the sandwich was really good. I used the white bread that I had planned for canapés, creamy peanut butter and some leftover raspberry jam from a dessert recipe I’d made for a party long before this website ever came to be. There’s something really comforting about a well-made PB&J, if you ask me.

But you didn’t. So please disregard previous statement. Thank you.

I promise, I’ve got a really good lineup for tonight’s dinner – check back tomorrow to hear all about our Cotes de Porc Poelees. In the meantime, I leave you with the following entertainment…remember, even professionals have to wave a white flag sometimes:

 

 

My, What Big Mussels You Have!

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“I don’t have much experience with mussels myself, and in the past have not been much of one for bivalves, but what the hey!” – Julie Powell


Julia Child, I’m mad at you. You’ve really done it this time. For someone who’s so big on informing the public and teaching the ways of cooking, you sure do manage to leave out some pretty important details. Take last night’s dinner, for example…

Sitting in my refrigerator was a mesh bag of mussels, just waiting to fulfill their destiny and become Moules a la Mariniere – I (fresh mussels steamed open in wine and flavorings). Have I mentioned enough times now that I am NOT familiar with cooking seafood? Let me say it one more time. I am NOT familiar with cooking seafood. Yet there I stood, MtAoFC in one hand and a bag o’ mussels in the other. Julia gives very explicit instructions on how to go about preparing mussels for cooking. “Before they can be cooked,” she writes, “mussels must have a rather long and careful cleaning process.” I opened the mesh bag and dumped the shells into a big bowl, as the first step is to sort through them and discard any that are not firmly closed.

Bowl of Fresh Mussels

The contents of the bag were pretty stinky, I have to say. And as I stood there, looking down on this bowl of shells, I could feel my anxiety level rising…it was Les Poissons all over again. Some of the shells were open, white and black creamy ooze holding the halves together. And as I lifted them out of the bowl and into a trash bag, I couldn’t help remembering the time I was a little girl and we took a field trip to the zoo. There was this large bird, out in the open, who had made a nest in a drinking fountain. I was so enthralled, I inched my way up to her, and she moved slightly so that I could see eggs in the nest! I couldn’t believe it! I took a step closer and pointed with my little finger to say, “Hey, everybody, look at this!” And do you know what that bird did? CHOMP!! She clamped that beak of hers right down onto my finger. Now, it didn’t hurt, mind you, but it surprised the heck out of me – and now, I couldn’t help noticing the uncanny resemblance between the black shells of the mussels and the black beak of that bird.

So I gingerly lifted each opened mussel out of the bowl (by the tail end) until all I had left was a bowl full of tightly shut shells. I realized I was being ridiculous – those mussels weren’t going to chomp down on my finger! Those mussels were dead!

And then I heard a strange noise coming from the bowl.

It was like a sucking sound – or a kissing sound. And that was it.

I went straight to my computer and googled “Are mussels alive when you buy them from the store?”, and I found a highly educational video in which a tattooed man showed me a neat trick – if you come across a partially opened mussel shell, tap its tail end gently on the countertop. If it closes slowly, then you know it’s alive.

ALIVE!!!

I crept back to the bowl on the counter and peered inside. Some of the shells I had checked just moments ago were open. I picked up one and tapped it…and it slowly closed shut. And it was at this moment that I said out loud, “Julia Child, you dirty dog.” I mean, there are some things you should tell a person! Like, discard all the shells that aren’t firmly closed because THEY’RE DEAD ROTTING CORPSES AMONG A LIVING COLONY IN YOUR FRIDGE!!

Ahem. Now, where was I?

Oh, yes. It was at this point that I began muttering my mantra (“Must have courage; must have courage.”) and began washing all the mussels from my bowl, giving them a good scrub with a brush under running water and dropping them into a fresh bowl of cold water, where they would hang out and commiserate together for an hour until it was time to seal their fate. Once the hour was up, I would drain them in a colander, rinse them again and prepare them for the stove.

I was finally getting over my initial shock of being coerced into serving as an accomplice to murder and was about halfway through rinsing off all the mussels, when I dropped one of them down the garbage disposal. For a minute I thought about just leaving it down there, but even I could recognize the fact that that was a bad idea for so many reasons. So I grabbed a pair of tongs and proceeded to spend the next five minutes fishing it out. It was at about this point that I began calculating how long the rest of the meal would take to cook – I would HAVE to finish this before Ben got home. It was hard enough at the grocery store convincing him that mussels would be fine and dandy, but if he knew they were alive this whole time?? He wouldn’t touch ’em with a ten-foot pole. Then a second thought came to me…thank goodness we had Sunday night’s leftovers in the fridge – the chances of a mutiny in the kitchen seemed to be increasing at an exponential rate.

Luckily, my timing was just right. Once the hour was up, I combined vermouth, minced green onions, parsley, bay leaf, thyme and butter into a kettle and brought it to a boil. After a couple of minutes of letting the alcohol evaporate, I carried the bowl of cleaned mussels over to the pot…and hesitated. Then, with a quick, “Sorry, little fellas!” I dumped the mussels in and slammed a lid on top before I could change my mind.

Mussels simmering in wine sauce.

Wearing oven mitts, every now and then I would grasp the handles of the pot while holding the lid down at the same time and give the whole thing a couple of good shakes to be sure the mussels were getting even heat. Julia says within five minutes the shells will swing open, announcing that the meat is cooked – and she was right. It didn’t take long at all (thank goodness) and when I lifted the lid to check on our progress, the delicious smells wafting from inside that pot were divine. I also noticed that the juices at the bottom had thickened into what looked more like a broth.

I heated up some French bread in the oven (per Julia’s recommendation), and as an apology to Ben (I couldn’t bear to think of the look on his face when he came around the corner like a kid on Christmas morning asking, “What’s for dinner??” only to learn that Santa hadn’t brought him his Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle, but instead brought a stockingful of mussels) I had made a batch of potatoes au gratin (from a box). It actually had the potential to be a pretty tasty dinner…if the mussels had behaved themselves in all that wine sauce.

Then Ben came home. He came bounding into the kitchen, fooled by the yummy aroma coming from the stove, and began to look around for context clues. First he spotted the empty mesh bag on the counter, then the single pot on the stove, and looked at me woefully. “Oh, no,” he muttered. He lifted the lid off the pot and wrinkled his nose at the sight of the shriveled mussel meat inside. “Ewwwww.” I assured him it would be great, and quickly began to plate our meal. I used a slotted spoon and scooped several of the mussels into a bowl, then ladled some of the sauce from the pot over them. It was the moment of truth.

We sat in the living room in a face-off – on the count of three, we would both take a bite simultaneously. I should have known not to fall for that old trick – when “Three!” came, I was the only one to actually eat any of our dinner. And really, it wasn’t bad! I have to say that, even with an open mind, I’ve decided that I’m not much of a fan of mussels. More than anything, it’s the rubbery texture that doesn’t appeal to me. As always, the sauce was delicious, and I dipped my bread into my bowl for an extra treat.

Moules a la Mariniere - I

Ben sat there with a mussel perched on his fork, staring at it menacingly – he finally managed to get it into his mouth (by chanting, “It’s a bean, it’s a bean, it’s a bean,” as the fork neared his mouth). But the moment – and I mean, the MOMENT – he bit down into that rubbery texture, that thing came launching back out of his mouth and landed right on his shirt. There was moaning and groaning and complaining and gnashing of teeth until I said, “Listen, you have to eat one – and swallow it – and then you can have something else.” Eventually, to his credit, I have to say that he did it. He ate one good bite of mussels, then immediately washed it down with three bites of potatoes au gratin.

I’ll tell you now that I really thought I would like this dish more than I actually did – the sauce smelled so good, and the cooked mussels actually looked pretty nice. But when it came down to it, neither Ben nor I could get past the chewy texture. We agreed the sauce was good, but could concur that this dish would not be on our list of must-make-agains. Too bad. Those poor little mussels gave their all.

So Julia Child, wherever you are, I just want you to know that you’re in the doghouse. At least for today. We can be friends tomorrow – but, like a zoot-suited mobster, I’ve still got a trash bag full of carcasses to make disappear. And so, fair readers, I leave you now with a favorite childhood poem that kept running through my mind whilst preparing our dinner. (Kindly replace the word “Oysters” with “Mussels” for maximum impact.)

Until our next murderous encounter… *insert Alfred Hitchcock theme here*

-Jessica

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