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

Happy Weekaversary!

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“Maybe I needed to make like a potato, winnow myself down, be part of something that was not easy, just simple.” – Julie Powell


 

Yesterday marked the one weekaversary of the cooking portion of this blog – hooray!! We celebrated with a yummy breakfast of Julia’s Oeufs Brouilles and Crepes de Pommes de Terre (scrambled eggs and grated potato pancakes). To be honest, the scrambled eggs were pretty basic – whisk eggs and milk in a bowl, then pour them into a buttered pan over low heat. Let the eggs sit for a couple of minutes until they thicken into a custard, then stir rapidly with a rubber spatula until you reach the consistency you want. Take them off the heat, add a little whipping cream and voila! Super easy. The potato pancakes, on the other hand, were a different story.

This multi-step process involves mixing softened cream cheese with flour into a sort of batter, then adding eggs, salt and pepper, and diced swiss cheese. Next, peel some potatoes and rub them over a vegetable grater (I used a cheese grater). When finished, twist them into a towel to squeeze out any excess water (I made the mistake of using a paper towel at first – it quickly fell apart, leaving me with a paper potato mess. Follow Julia’s advice and use a real kitchen towel. It’ll make your life easier.) Then stir the grated potatoes into the egg mixture, and add whipping cream until you get the consistency of a thick, creamy cole slaw.

Potato Pancakes

In a skillet over high heat, drop three piles of batter into hot butter and oil and let cook for about three minutes. Here’s where I made my first tactical error – I left the pancakes on the skillet too long. When I went to flip them, the bottoms were black, so I tossed them out and started over. I had the same problem a second time, so I threw out the second batch as well. I started over with a fresh, clean pan and kept a close eye on the potatoes, flipping them well before the three minutes was up. This time, the bottoms were a light brown – perfect. (It was a good thing, too – I was almost out of batter!) This batch turned out perfectly, and we were finally ready to give them a try.

The eggs, while not my favorite consistency, came out really thick and fluffy. The potato pancakes were very much like hash browns, and while the swiss cheese gave them a nice creamy texture inside, it also added a strange tangy flavor that I’m not sure I liked. If I made these again (and to be honest, after three tries, I’m not sure I would), I would definitely consider omitting the swiss cheese. And I like swiss cheese. All in all, when the meal was over, Ben and I both turned to each other and said simultaneously, “That was a pretty good breakfast!”

Scrambled Eggs and Potato Pancakes

After eating, we spent the day watching “Love in the Afternoon” (it takes place in France!), and napping in the cool A/C – somehow we managed to avoid the sweltering outdoors entirely – and before I knew it, it was time to head back to the kitchen and begin working on dinner. *sigh*

I couldn’t decide between two meals for dinner last night, but the realization that I was supposed to marinate some meat for two hours for one recipe narrowed down my options considerably – Jambon Braise Morvandelle it was! This ham braised in wine with cream and mushroom sauce looked relatively easy. I think the hardest part was figuring out what kind of meat to buy. The recipe calls for an 8-lb. cooked ham shoulder. Wha-huh? The only thing I knew for sure was that 8 lbs. was entirely too much, so I divided the recipe by 4. Then, after an educational session with my local butcher at the grocery store, I learned the following:

If a recipe calls for “Ham”, then it needs cooked meat. If it calls for “Pork”, then it needs raw meat. Interesting, no? I had a very limited selection of cooked ham from the store that wasn’t sliced, so I chose a 2-lb. leg. I took it home and immediately cut the skin off while sauteing some sliced mushrooms and green onions in a buttered pan. Next, I preheated the oven to 325 and sliced carrots and onions, which I put in a stove/oven-proof casserole dish and sauteed for about ten minutes. When they were nice and brown, I put the ham on top of the vegetables and added several seasonings (bay leaf, peppercorn, thyme, etc.) as well as 1 1/2 cups of Vermouth and 2 cups of beef stock. I let it simmer on the stove, then put the whole thing, covered, into the oven.

Mushrooms and Onions for the Cream Sauce

While that cooked, I worked on the side dish: Epinards Blanchis (blanched, chopped spinach). This was so easy, it was almost silly to follow directions from a book. Boil water in a pot with some salt, add spinach leaves (with stems removed) until almost tender. Then, drain the water with a colander, run cold water over the spinach to preserve its color and texture, then use your hands to squeeze the spinach leaves and extract as much water as possible. I admit, I left the leaves in the pot a little too long, so they came out really soft, but that’s the way I eat it anyway, so it was fine with me. The one thing I would recommend, though, is to start out with many more leaves than you think you’ll need as they really do shrink up when cooked.

I checked on the ham, which was fork-tender, so I went ahead and pulled the casserole dish out of the oven. Here comes the exciting part – making the cream and mushroom sauce! I removed the meat from the casserole and used a colander to strain the ham juices into a sauce pan. Adding a paste mixture of butter and flour, as well as 1/4 cup of Madeira wine and 1 cup of whipping cream, I stirred the mixture together while bringing it to a simmer and added the sauteed mushrooms. It smelled wonderful, and looked so deliciously creamy. I couldn’t wait to give it a try!

Braised Ham w/ Cream Sauce, Spinach, Stuffing

I sliced the ham and put it onto a plate, then ladled the cream sauce over the meat. A side of spinach, a helping of stuffing (Ben’s not a fan of spinach, so I let him pick another side – you can never go wrong with StoveTop!) and a dinner roll rounded out this meal. The ham was juicy and tender, really tasty! But the SAUCE!!! *insert closed eyes and lip smacking here* Oh, the sauce! It was amazing. The flavor was incredible, and I used my roll to sop up the excess on my plate. By nature, the sauce is a little on the thin side, and I wished it were thicker so I could have really scooped it onto my plate. It was by far the best part about this meal. The spinach was pretty standard, and will actually serve me better as a filling for quiches and souffles down the road.

All in all, yesterday was a good day for cooking. Between breakfast and dinner, we knocked out four recipes, and didn’t encounter any major disasters. And I cleaned my kitchen a total of three times. C’est la vie!

My pots and pans have never gotten so much use – I think it’s good for them.

Builds character.

-Jessica

If You Can’t Take the Heat, Get Out of the Kitchen

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“I would far prefer to have things happen as they naturally do, such as the mousse refusing to leave the mold, the potatoes sticking to the skillet, the apple charlotte slowly collapsing. One of the secrets of cooking is to learn to correct something if you can, and bear with it if you cannot.” – Julia Child

 

I have an announcement to make…are you ready? We live on the sun. It is summertime in Texas, and the temperatures are blazing. Well into the 100’s during the day, still in the 90’s at night, I’m here to tell you that this does not make for a pleasant mid-afternoon cooking experience. I’ll start from the beginning…

This is what they're supposed to look like...*sigh*.

Last night we got together with some friends for a semi-monthly-when-everyone-has-time-to-get-together Game Night. The hosts of this shindig provided snacks, and the rest of us were in charge of bringing desserts. I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to mark off one of Julia’s sweets! I flipped through MtAoFC and found the simplest thing I could that would travel across town easily and wouldn’t have to be served warm. I wound up with Biscuits a la Cuiller (ladyfingers) with apricot glaze.

Side Note – One of the few things I really remember from junior high French class is this song (which played through my head every time I read the title of this recipe):
Qui a volé les biscuits de la jarre à biscuits?
Qui, moi? Oui, toi! Pas moi! Alors, qui?
Qui a volé les biscuits de la jarre à biscuits?
Kind of sad, huh? It’s this kind of useless information that’s taking up valuable real estate in my brain where basic math skills should go. I’m just saying.

I called in for reinforcement. Tag team!

Okay, enough silliness. Back to the recipe. Now, I was a little strapped for time, and we had just gotten home from running errands out in the heat (I’ll tell you about our shopping adventure later this week…), so I was already breaking a bit of a sweat. First things first, I prepared two cookie sheets by coating them with butter and a little bit of flour, then began making the batter for the ladyfingers by mixing egg yolks, sugar and a little vanilla into a mixing bowl. Once it became a light yellow, I beat egg whites, salt and sugar in another bowl until stiff peaks were formed (I had to call in for reinforcement during this step – the kitchen was so hot, and I was really working up a sweat by this point, so Ben took pity on me and stepped in to give me a little rest). He finally acheived the goal of a nice thick mixture, and I folded it into the egg yolk combo.

The batter was really looking good, light and fluffy as the recipe described. But the next part was a little tricky – I was supposed to scoop the batter into a pastry bag with 1/2″ tip. Now, believe it or not, I actually DO own a pastry bag. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen it since we moved into our house over nine months ago. So I did the next best thing – I used a zip-loc bag and cut one of the corners off. I’ve done this before for cupcake decorating – why should this be any different?

This can't be right...I'd hate to meet the lady with these fingers!

I was supposed to squeeze out even lines onto the baking sheets, making finger shapes about 4″ long and 1 1/2″ wide, spaced about an inch apart. However, I’m not sure if the opening in my makeshift pastry bag was too big, or if it was the fact that the heat in the kitchen was so great the batter couldn’t thicken, or maybe the combination of both – but the size and shape that I managed to get onto the cookie sheets were not like any lady’s fingers I had ever seen. More like the elephant man’s fingers (sorry, Mr. Merrick, but it’s true). The consistency of the gooey blobs on the sheets was way too thin, and the liquid spread so quickly I couldn’t maintain any sort of control over the size or shape. I kept working until I was out of batter, then went back with a paper towel to scoop off any excess liquid from the cookie sheets and try to regain some kind of structure.

It was a pretty hopeless situation (MAN, it was hot in there!), so I did the best I could, then covered the batter with a little bit of powdered sugar and eventually put the sheets in the oven for 20 minutes. I watched them nervously through the oven window (this wasn’t looking too promising) and when the timer went off, I pulled them out for a closer look. They didn’t look very done, but when I tapped their tops, they seemed crispy enough. At this point, I had the bright idea to take a knife and cut off the sides off each cookie so that they would be more in the shape of a typical ladyfinger. (Sadly, much to the chagrin of Julia and myself, the ladyfingers also came out very flat. Julia warned me about this on page 666 – how appropriate! – when she said, “A batter that is too liquid will form flat rather than rounded ladyfingers.” Drat! Somewhere she was looking down on me, shaking her head and saying, “I told you so.”) With the sides trimmed, I felt much better about their overall appearance and decided to move them to a cooling rack.

Straining apricot preserves for glaze.

The first batch was no problem – a little thin, but nice texture and easy to remove from the cookie sheet. The second batch, however, would not budge from the sheet. I chiseled away at them with a spatula, but to no avail. All I wound up with was a pile of crumbs. This was bad news. My plan was to make these into little sandwiches, with an apricot glaze spread between two cookies. But now I only had half the amount – barely enough to serve to my Game Night friends. That’s when I got creative.

I gave up on the second batch completely and focused all my efforts on the eleven cookies that had survived the oven. (This suddenly reminds me of the time I took a ceramics class in high school, and every time our class put our bowls and pitchers into the kiln to be fired, it never failed that someone’s project would explode, thus ruining the rest of the class’s pieces. Apparently I have a very low success rate for items surviving an oven.) I took each ladyfinger and cut it in half, which then doubled my final count. They weren’t pretty – not by a long shot – and they were now barely bite-sized, but at least there were enough to justify bringing to a party.

While the arthritic ladyfingers cooled, I made the apricot glaze – the one piece of this dish that didn’t go horribly wrong. Using a seive, I strained a half cup of apricot preserves into a sauce pan along with some sugar and heated it until it became a syrupy sauce. I took it off the heat, then spooned a little bit onto one half of the ladyfingers, using the other half to complete the little cookie sandwich.

Ladyfingers make it to the party - yikes. That's all I can say.

I have to say, considering that nothing seemed to go right in this recipe, the end result was pretty impressive – it was definitely something out of nothing. They were a hit at the party, but if I’m going to be perfectly honest, these were NOT ladyfingers. If I had served these to Julia Child, I imagine she would have said, “These are lovely, dear. Now…what do you call them?” and I would have had to make up some ridiculous name (“Uh, these…I call these Biscuits de Rigor Mortis. Bon appetit!”) because there’s no way I could have passed these off as something as delicate and lovely as ladyfingers.

And so, if we were on the TV show Mythbusters, this is the point at which a giant stamp would come on the screen saying “Myth Busted!” This experiment failed. Badly. And to be honest, I’m okay with that. Sure, it’s disappointing, but this project isn’t about doing everything perfectly. It’s about trying new things and learning from my mistakes. But I also want to do things the right way; therefore, I can’t allow this attempt to pass – I can’t check it off our list just yet. It’s back to the drawing board on these babies. I promise, when it happens, you’ll be the first to know. But when I do give it another go, you can bet it’ll happen under the cool darkness of night. And I’ll be using the electric mixer for those danged egg white peaks.

For the record, when we got home from the party, my tupperware container was empty. There were no leftovers…so maybe it wasn’t a complete failure after all.

-Jessica

When Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

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“Physically it’s exhausting to cook every night. Existentially speaking, I have so much more energy having that time to myself in this project, this gift to myself at the end of the day. Even if it didn’t go smoothly, it was still a gift.” – Julie Powell

 

I’m not gonna lie – yesterday was a reeeeally bad day at work, and for the first time I really understood where Julie Powell was coming from. It was kind of strange to find myself looking forward to cooking. I think it was less about the actual work of cooking and more about the idea of being able to accomplish something. Either way, I couldn’t wait to get in the kitchen and start making dinner.

Last night’s menu was Tournedos Sautes aux Champignons (filet steaks with mushroom and Madeira sauce), Choux de Bruxelles (frozen brussels sprouts) and baked potatoes. (Ok, so the potatoes didn’t come from The Book, but that’s what we were in the mood for. And the brussels sprouts we had in the freezer already, so that was an easy choice.) I’ll tell you up front, because I value our relationship and I believe in honesty – this meal did not turn out perfectly. But it suuuure tasted good! I started the sprouts first. I’ve always been a fan of brussels sprouts and have tried them a couple of different ways – Julia’s method for cooking frozen sprouts is really easy. Basically you just boil them in a pot with water, salt, pepper and butter. They cooked really quickly – and in hindsight I realize that when I took them off the stove I should have left them uncovered, because in the end, they came out a little overcooked and brown on the bottom. But still tasty! (I’m proud of Ben for giving them a try, even though brussels sprouts in general are not his favorite.)

Crispy Canapes - back to the drawing board.

While the sprouts cooked, I began work on the entree. The filets are served on canapes, which are fun and easy to make. I used a circle cookie cutter Ben got me for Christmas (now renamed the Canape Cutter) to make rounds of white, crustless bread. These are sauteed in a pan of clarified butter, which you get when you heat butter in a pan and then scoop all the foam off the top until you’re left with clear yellow liquid. I made three canapes at first, but unfortunately underestimated how quickly they would brown, and in the end they were too crispy. So I started over, trying to salvage whatever butter was still left in the pan. Not enough. So I scrapped those and tried one more time. (I think the canapes took longer to make than the meat!) This time, I started from the beginning and made more clarified butter, and here are my words of advice: make more than you think you’ll need. Because when you scoop off that foam, you wind up with a lot less butter than you started with. I barely had enough to saute the amount of bread rounds I had made, but this was getting ridiculous. Luckily this batch turned out alright, so I could finally move on to the next steps.

While it sounds like the  main attraction of this meal is the filet mignon, don’t be fooled! I am here to tell you that the mushroom and Madeira sauce completely steals the show, and here’s how it’s made. Saute mushrooms and shallots in some butter and oil, season and set aside. Meanwhile, cook the meat in – yep, you got it! – butter until cooked through. HOWEVER. Let it be known that the moment you put the meat into that pan of hot butter and oil, your entire kitchen will fill with smoke. I turned on the stovetop fan, but the smoke just got thicker and thicker, so I opened windows – doors – turned on ceiling fans. (As I struggled to unlock our back door, whose lock is perpetually stuck, I imagined that I was trying to escape a house fire, but couldn’t get the door open. It was my only route of escape, and I briefly wondered if I should throw a kitchen chair through the window. Then I remembered it was just smoke from the steak, and I got over my momentary fictitious scenario. I can’t explain why my mind works this way, but it sure makes life interesting.)

Sauteed Mushrooms for Madeira Sauce

Eventually, I couldn’t take it anymore and decided the meat had cooked long enough, and moved it to two plates, setting it on top of the canapes. It was about this time Ben got home from work and felt his way through the smoke-filled house to the kitchen, where he asked rhetorically, “How can you tell your wife is cooking?” Which reminded me of a sign we had in our kitchen when I was growing up. It was a cartoon goose wearing an apron, and the words read, “You know it’s ready when the smoke alarm goes off.” I get it now.

But back to the sauce. Once the meat is out of the pan, empty the fat and then add beef stock and tomato paste. Boil rapidly, scraping all the yummy brown bits into the mixture, and then – and THEN, I say – add a mixture of corn starch and Madeira wine. Now, if you don’t know, Madeira is a really potent wine with a super high alcohol content. So much so, in fact, that our local grocery store wasn’t allowed to carry it and we had to go to the liquor store to find it. But this is the leading lady in our culinary play, and shine she must! Once the alcohol has evaporated, add the sauteed mushrooms and shallots to the sauce and stir it all up. It’ll become a beautiful rich dark red, and it will smell almost as divine as it tastes. Now do as I say and heap this sauce over your meat – don’t hold back! You won’t be sorry.

Tournedos Sautes aux Champignons

I added a spoonful of the sprouts to the plate and a baked potato (which I confess I made in the microwave – don’t tell Julia) and we sat down to eat. The meat was okay – in my haste to breathe clear air I took the filets off the stove too soon and they were on the rare side, but still tasty. The sprouts were a little mushy because I had left them covered after taking them off the stove and so they had continued to steam (hey, I had a lot going on in that kitchen – I can’t think of everything!), but they still had great flavor. But the mushroom and Madeira sauce!! It gave such a great flavor to the meat, and the canape underneath soaked up all the yummy juices and added a nice texture to the meal. The combined flavors of the mushrooms and the wine/tomato sauce really added a lot of depth to an otherwise typical piece of meat. Delicious!!

As we sat around with full tummies, feeling happy and satisfied, I noticed the stress of the day had melted away. And then the phone rang – it was a call about work. My big disaster of the day had been rectified and the vendor on the phone called me from her home to let me know she had resolved my issue. Talk about amazing customer service! It  was 9:00 where she was. I give Wendy from GES a HUGE shout-out – if you lived locally, I would invite you over for some Madeira sauce. Because really, is there any better reward then wonderful food and good company? I don’t think so.

– Jessica

Today’s French Lesson:
“Je voudrais un verre de vin, s’il vous plaît.”

A Bowl of Simplicity

  

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“As far as I know, the only evidence supporting the theory that Julia Child first made Potage Parmentier during a bad bout of ennui is her own recipe for it. She writes that Potage Parmentier…’smells good, tastes good, and is simplicity itself to make.’ It is the first recipe in the first book she ever wrote. She concedes that you can add carrots or broccoli or green beans if you want, but that seems beside the point, if what you’re looking for is simplicity itself.” – Julie Powell

 

You know what’s fun? Learning! I’m learning to cook. You’re learning from my mistakes. And now, we can both learn a fun story about…potatoes! So gather round, snuggle up with your favorite blankie and settle in for the telling of the history of Potage Parmentier (French potato and leek soup).

When Europeans first came upon the potato, they thought it was poisonous, like many of its nightshade and tomato plant cousins. Because of this unfounded accusation, potatoes weren’t popular and spent the majority of junior high sitting in the back of the classroom trying to go unnoticed with their noses buried in their books. Oh, wait. We were talking about potatoes. Moving right along…

Auguste Parmentier

In 1784, Count Rumford was experiencing some budget issues at the local workhouse, a place where people who were unable to support themselves could go to live and work. Looking for ways to save money, he began using cheap potatoes in place of expensive barley in the gruel served to the inmates. He had to be sneaky, though, because he feared if they found out he was using potatoes, they wouldn’t eat it. (That rascal!)

So how did potatoes ever get over their bad reputation? In 1756, during the Seven Years War, a French army officer named Parmentier was taken prisoner in Hamburg, Germany. While there, his prison diet consisted of…yep, you guessed it!…potatoes. And what’s more, he found that he liked them! (Ah, things are looking up for our little spuds.) Once released, he managed to introduce them to the French court, where Marie Antoinette became a fan. Now, you must understand that when it came to trends, the queen pretty much set the standard for what everyone else did. So the potato finally caught its big break and became fashionable, thus entering the French cuisine and eventually, that of the rest of the world. And this, boys and girls, is where Potage Parmentier gets its name. And our taste buds lived happily ever after. The End.

Wasn’t that a great story? I especially like the part where the potato gets to meet the queen – how exciting! But do you know what’s even more exciting? That Julia Child gave us the recipe to a delicious Potage Parmentier in MtAoFC – and I made it last night in my very own kitchen.

Potage Parmentier simmering on the stove.

The recipe consists of a whopping five – yes, FIVE – ingredients: water, potatoes, leeks, salt and whipping cream. This is crazy easy, I tell you! Begin by peeling and dicing ½ lb. of potatoes and thinly slicing ½ lb. of leeks. Now, I have never seen a leek before, and never really understood what it was. But the moment I started slicing it, I knew it was a member of the onion family – whoooeee, those babies are odoriferous! Put those two items in a pot of 2 quarts of water and simmer partially covered for about 45 minutes. (Here’s where I made my one and only mistake during this process…apparently I put in too much water, because the consistency of the soup came out a little thin in the end. Oh, well.)

When time is up and the vegetables are tender, take a fork and mash them in the pot. I recommend wearing an oven mitt, because the steam coming out of that pot is fierce and there’s no need to give your arm a facial or run the risk of scalding your fingertips as hot water splashes up while you mash. When I took the pot off the heat just before this step, I couldn’t help noticing that this didn’t look much like soup – more like cooked vegetables in a pot of water. But once I started mashing, the overall consistency began to thicken and seemed much more recognizable (despite the fact that I used too much water). Put the pot back on the heat, bring it just to simmering, then remove and add about 4 tablespoons of whipping cream. Once mixed in, this will also thicken the consistency a bit. Add some seasoning as needed, pour into bowls, top with a little bit of parsley and serve.

Potage Parmentier - Delish!

Whatever concerns I had about my version being too watery disappeared when I tasted the first spoonful. The potatoes and leeks worked great together, making this a perfect comfort food. Light yet satisfying, this would be ideal for a cold winter’s night by the fire or a dreary rainy day curled up on the sofa with a good book. The recipe says you can add other ingredients, like carrots and broccoli, but part of the charm of this recipe is its simplicity. Plain ingredients, easy steps, traditional cooking – good home cooking for home town folks. Why mess with perfection?

Even after dividing the recipe in half and going back for seconds, we still have a good amount of leftovers in the fridge…leftovers that I hope will thicken up when reheated. Either way, these extras might be just the ticket for a quick lunch over the weekend in between shopping for more groceries as we begin to tackle our second week of French cooking.

Have I mentioned that I love potatoes?

10 recipes down – 514 to go!
– Jessica

Scrambling for Time

  

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“(When making omelets) you must have the courage to be rough or the eggs will not loosen themselves from the bottom of the pan.” – Julia Child

 
Last night was another late one. I got home around 11:00, having eaten nothing but a handful of pretzels, so despite the late hour I headed to the kitchen. I had planned accordingly, so the menu for dinner was omelets – they take minutes to make and require very few ingredients, so they’re perfect for the chef on the go.

The thing about Julia Child’s omelets is this – the recipes are more about technique than they are about ingredients. According to MtAoFC, there are basically two ways to make omelets: there’s the scrambled omelet and there’s the rolled omelet. Each one gives a basic recipe of eggs and seasoning, but is accompanied by a list of possible additions (ham, cheese, tomatoes, etc.). I decided to give both techniques a try, making a total of two omelets, and splitting those between the two of us for dinner.

Scrambled Omelet in the Making

The scrambled omelet, l’Omelette Brouillee, was first on the list. I used 3 eggs for one omelet (which turned out to be a pretty generous serving, probably too much for one person but great for two) and beat them in a bowl with some salt and pepper. I melted a tablespoon of butter (shocking!) in a pan on high heat to coat the bottom, and then it was time to pour the eggs into the pan. Now, get ready, because these next steps go by FAST. Once the eggs hit that hot pan, they’ll immediately start to bubble up. You must instantly begin sliding the pan back and forth over the heat, while simultaneously stirring the top of the eggs with the flat side of the fork (thus, scrambling, see?). As they become solidified, it’s time to add any extra fillings (I added some shredded swiss cheese and ham). Then you lift the handle of the pan up at a 45-degree angle and gather the eggs at the far lip of the pan with the back of the fork. Smack the handle of the pan with your fist a couple of times to make the eggs curl over themselves and hold it over the heat for a couple of minutes to lightly brown the bottom of the omelet. (I couldn’t quite get mine to curl all the way over, but got pretty close.) Then, turn the omelet onto the plate and voila! A lovely omelet!

Yanking the Pan to Roll an Omelet

The other technique (l’Omelette Roulee) is a little trickier, but the first time I saw Julia Child do it on The French Chef, I was in awe. Granted, my attempt wasn’t nearly as graceful as hers, but amazingly enough I was able to make it work on my first try! Same first steps as before (beat eggs and seasoning in a bowl, pour into a buttered pan), and let the eggs settle for a few seconds to form a coagulated egg in the bottom of the pan. Next (here comes the tricky part), you hold the handle in both hands and immediately start yanking the pan toward you at a 20-degree angle over the heat. The force of pulling the pan will throw the eggs against the far lip of the pan, then back over its bottom surface. Eventually, it will roll over itself, forming its shape. While the technique itself isn’t difficult, you have to use force, which is hard when there is the fear that you’ll send the eggs flying out of the pan. But really, if that’s the worst that can happen, what is there to be afraid of? Nothing, I say! (Although I admit, I did find myself muttering under my breath, “Must have courage. Must have courage,” while flipping eggs around the pan.) Once your eggs have rolled into an omelet, slip it out onto a plate and celebrate. You did it!

It tasted a lot better than it looked. Promise.

I know omelets aren’t very exciting, especially for dinner, and to be honest, they didn’t look very pretty on the plate when I was finished. But the taste? Holy moly. They were so light and fluffy, and the insides were a perfect creamy texture. While Ben is the official omelet maker in our house, even he admitted that these were the best homemade omelets he’s ever had. My favorite technique was the rolled omelet – it really is cool when you see it happen and it was fun to make! Unfortunately, while I had planned to add spinach as a variation on the original recipe, I ultimately decided I was just too tired to take the time to cook and prepare the spinach before making the omelet. MtAoFC counted the plain omelet as a recipe with the spinach as a variation (it has its own recipe in the vegetables chapter), so the meal I made still counts as one of Julia’s 524. However, from the beginning I’ve promised I won’t cut corners, so if any of you feel the need to call “Foul!”, I’ll gladly go back and make the spinach omelet. Sometime when it’s not 11:30 on a Wednesday night.

And last but certainly not least, we finally got to enjoy the Creme Plombieres Pralinee for dessert! I have to say, it was really tasty! Sweet and light. The rum and coffee drizzle came across pretty strong in the spongecake, but I didn’t feel it was overpowering, and the toasted almonds added a nice, light crunch which complimented the smooth texture of the cream. The portion size of each little dessert cup was just right, although for some reason I ended up with a ton of leftover cream (which is firming up in the fridge until I decide what to do with it. I’ll see if Julia has any suggestions). I think coffee drinkers (which I am not) would particularly like this little treat. Give it a try!

Tonight we tackle Potage Parmentier – leek and potato soup. Thursday nights I play on a bowling league with some co-workers and get home around 9:00. Soup sounds easy, filling and we already had a ton of potatoes, so it’s also efficient! (Now, that’s my kind of meal!) Tune in tomorrow for the how-to, my reviews and an entertaining anecdote about French potatoes (no, really!). You won’t be sorry!

-Jessica

Today’s French Lesson:
“Quelle heure est le dîner?”

Victory is Sweet

 

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“Some (processes) can be accomplished by machine, others are better performed by hand. None is difficult, but all contribute to the success of your dish and must be done precisely.” – Julia Child

  
Tuesdays are my longest day of the week. I get up for work at 6:15, put in a full day at the office, then head over to chorus rehearsal at 6:00. We work from 7:00 until 10:00, and I get home about 11:00. So as you can imagine, tackling a Julia recipe was the last thing I felt like doing last night. In fact, before we even got into this adventure I had already made an agreement with myself that Tuesdays would be my day off from cooking. But as soon as I sat down at the dining room table for a light snack (the third artichoke I’d made on Sunday), I saw Julia’s cookbook on the table. One thing led to another and, long story short, I decided to get a head start on tonight’s dessert. (The book says it needs 2-3 hours to chill in the fridge before eating, and since I’ll be getting home late tonight due to a meeting, I decided I don’t have that kind of time.)

 

Because of tonight’s weird schedule, I plan to make an easy dinner that won’t take much time – omelets! I’m going to make two different kinds for us to share; with dessert, that’s THREE more recipes I can check off the list. (Who’s clever? Me!) Our menu includes:

This recipe is a two-parter: the caramel toasted almonds that are mixed into the dessert and used as topping, and the cream that makes up the body of this treat. To begin, the first step was to toast some slivered almonds. I spread them out on a roasting pan and popped them into the oven, careful to keep an eye on them so they wouldn’t burn. Do you know what smells WONDERFUL? Almonds toasting in the oven! Three minutes in and the whole kitchen already smelled like a dessert. Do you know what smells AWFUL? The leftover fish parts in the trash can from the other night. Note to self: make fish the night before Trash Day.

Mixing the Cream

While the almonds toasted, I began to work on the caramel. Sugar and water in a saucepan on the stove were supposed to become this magical syrup, but I have to say I didn’t have a very magical experience. I stirred the mixture as it boiled, waiting for it to become a light brown color. But instead of becoming a syrup, it suddenly became a solid paste. Apparently I had boiled all of the water out of the mixture before it could caramelize – weird. I added some more water which brought it back to its liquefied state, stirred in the almonds and poured the contents of the pan onto a wax paper-covered cookie sheet. While that cooled, I began to work on the cream.

Now, this recipe calls for spongecake, which I happened to have (of course, Julia would prefer that we make it from scratch using a previous recipe in her book, but it wasn’t required, so we’ll do that another time. Did I mention I got home at 11:00?), but it wasn’t stale as the recipe instructed. So I popped it into an oven at 200 degrees to dry it out for an hour (a smart method which worked perfectly). Meanwhile, I followed the directions for the cream, combining egg yolks, sugar, flour and milk in a sauce pan, boiling it on the stove until it was time to remove it from the heat to mix in some vanilla and butter. So far, so good! Things were moving right along with no trouble at all – until I got to the next step.

Victory is Mine!!

Have you ever tried to beat egg whites into stiff peaks? I have not, but I saw Meryl Streep do it in the Julie&Julia movie, so I figured it couldn’t be too hard. I started out with a small bowl and the leftover egg whites from the yolks I’d used earlier in the recipe. I added a pinch of salt and whisked away until it was time to add some sugar. Using a balloon whisk, I beat those eggs for ten minutes and all I could manage was a little bit of foam. Convinced I had done something wrong, I finally scrapped the whole thing and started over.

This time I used a bigger, more shallow bowl and fresh egg whites (maybe some yolk had contaminated the first bowl?) and tried it again. I whisked and whisked and whisked and, while I was able to coax some foam from the eggs, it couldn’t be considered “peaks” by any stretch of the imagination. I got to the point where I was ready to reach for the electric mixer, and even flipped ahead a few pages to read about the technique. But no. I had come this far; I couldn’t give up now. It had become a ridiculous battle of will power – who was more stubborn, those eggs or me? Fifteen minutes later, it happened. I scooped my whisk into the bowl, and raised it upright…victorious!! A small little eggy peak curled proudly over the tip of my whisk. These are the moments, people – these small achievements – that make me think that I can do this after all. I just have to remember to not give up!

Creme Plombieres Pralinee

With a renewed sense of confidence, I folded the egg whites into the cream, along with the caramelized almonds which I had broken apart and ground up into a paste. Next I scooped the finished cream over the spongecake pieces, which were drizzled with a coffee/rum mixture. I put everything into the fridge to chill until tonight, and while I have no idea how it turned out, I’m excited to have completed my first Julia Child dessert! I’ll tell you how it is tomorrow…but something tells me it won’t be quite as sweet as my taste of victory last night.

-Jessica

Les Poissons – singing a new tune

 

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“The French are magnificent with fish. Not only is fresh fish abundant all year round, but the art of its cooking and saucing is accomplished with great taste and skill.” – Julia Child

 

"Les Poissons" - The Little Mermaid

When I was about eight years old, I went to visit my grandparents in California at the same time my aunt, uncle and cousins were visiting. After a day at Disneyland, we all came home with souvenirs – magic tricks, candy, jewelry – and one cousin had purchased the prize of the day: a book of Disney sheet music. We three kids decided it would be fun to take turns performing the songs for our grandparents, and when Jenna got up to sing Les Poissons (from The Little Mermaid), she kept mispronouncing the title. Being older and wiser, I felt it was my duty to keep correcting her, much to the annoyance of everyone else, but she eventually made it to the end of the song for a big round of applause. Then it was my turn to get up and sing. I got to the chorus and paused, and everyone applauded. They thought it was over, I thought they wanted it to be over, and I ran to my bedroom in tears. I know, I was a weird kid. The important thing is that this, my friends, is my childhood memory of Les Poissons.

So of course that was the first thing I thought of when I selected last night’s dinner menu (open the links, then click on the speaker icon for pronunciations):

I decided to start with the fish, because I figured it would take the longest to prepare. Now, I’ve always been honest with you, so today will be no different. I don’t eat fish. I don’t cook fish. It smells and tastes too…fishy. (Shellfish, however, is another story! Yum!) So I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. But Julia would talk me through it, right? I could be fearless! (Besides, I had some turkey sandwiches on stand-by in the fridge in case this went horribly, horribly wrong.) 

Over the weekend, we had bought some beautiful filets of rainbow trout from the grocery store. I had asked for “boneless, skinless filets” and wound up with a bag of fish meat with a silvery skin on one side. I didn’t think much about it until I unwrapped and it felt kind of scaly. Was this considered skinless? I began to panic. I flipped through MtAoFC, but Julia didn’t give much detail. Hm. I went to the internet, fishy fingers and all, and searched frantically for any information on skinless filets of fish. No luck. Finally I decided to play it safe and cut the meat away from the silvery skin. How hard could it be?

Here is where I could skip ahead and tell you all went well and the fish turned out lovely. But instead, I will sheepishly relay the true story.  I tried to cut the meat the way I’ve seen it done on the Food Network – but I was literally butchering these once-lovely fish filets. I held onto the silvery skin and used my (unfortunately dull) knife to try to separate the meat cleanly, but instead it came off in messy chunks. And then I realized something felt funny in my hand, and I looked down to discover I was holding onto the little flipper fin of the fish. The fins were still connected to the body! Here I was, hacking away at this poor fish, and we were holding fish hands!! I have to confess to you that it freaked. me. out. Big Time.

You know how women are portrayed in the movies when they see a mouse? Dancing and jumping in place, shaking their hands like a crazy person and shuddering with eyes rolled back in their heads while whimpering uncontrollably? Yeah, that was me. (Remember when I told you awhile back that certain animal parts freak me out? Add fish fins to that list.) And of course I felt ridiculous, but I don’t care. That meat was slimy, and the silvery scales were leaving a weird gray film on my cutting board, and all I could think was, “If I can’t even handle a dead fish, how am I going to boil a live lobster??” Let’s cross one bridge at a time, shall we?

Poached Fish in White Wine

Eventually, I had a stern conversation with myself, during which my husband’s voice came to mind – the voice he uses to talk to our cat when he takes her to the vet. “Listen,” he says forcefully, “This is happening. So just accept it.” And that’s what I told myself. I made a quick apology to the fish meat (because really, something so lovely really should have been treated more nicely) and I overcame the horror of fish fileting. In the end, I wound up with enough pieces of meat to feed a family of two. (Julia DOES say to cut into serving sizes…maybe this was what she meant after all?) I followed the recipe and poached the meat in a pan with butter, green onions and vermouth. After covering it in wax paper, I put a lid on the pan and put the whole thing in the oven. (I admit, I was skeptical – the last time I put wax paper in an oven, it melted. But who am I to challenge Julia Child? So I obeyed. She was right – it worked fine.)

Meanwhile, it was time to prepare the asparagus tips. Now, again, because there are only two of us and I am determined not to have loads of leftovers in the fridge week after week, I cut the recipe in half. And I couldn’t help thinking this blasphemous thought: This sure was a lot of work for only enough food for two people. Then I gave myself a mental slap on the wrist and continued on, cooking the veggies on the stovetop and finishing them in the butter sauce in the oven – and it was wonderful.

The rice was a last minute addition when I realized that there was barely enough asparagus to count as a side dish for two of us. (I’m used to steaming asparagus in its entirety – not only using the tips. When you only use part of something, there is less of it. Fascinating lesson, no? Next time I would make the full amount from the book.) So the rice was super easy, and it almost seemed silly to follow a recipe. (I’m sorry, Julia, but it’s true. Even a noncook such as myself has boiled rice before.) But I obeyed her directions and you know what? It came out perfectly light and fluffy.

Not everything can be perfect.

Finally it was time to take the fish out of the oven and begin working on the white wine hollandaise sauce. Listen to me very carefully. You must make this sauce. For everything. Pour it over your pancakes, drizzle it into your coffee, dip your toast into it. It is amazing!! And so easy. I took the pan with the fish and drained the juices into a separate pan. Adding butter, egg yolks and seasoning, I whisked it over heat until it thickened (I kept thinking, “This doesn’t look right,” and then all of a sudden, I blinked, and it was done. Perfect consistency. So be patient while whisking. As John Malkovich said in an SNL skit, “A great work of art doesn’t happen overnight. Unless you stay up all night working on it.”) Patience is key. Well, patience and butter.

Even more so than Sunday’s dinner, things in the kitchen got hectic toward the end. But you know what? Rather than panic, if I felt like things were getting away from me – I just took the dishes off the stove or out of the oven while I gathered my thoughts and formulated my plan. No need to panic. And the best thing of all? The food all came out looking terrific!! But…how would it taste?

Filet de Poisson Poches au Vin Blanc

We were skeptical. Again, we’re not fish fans, so I honestly didn’t expect us to eat very much of this meal. But do you know something? It was AWESOME. The fish was the perfect texture – not too dry, just flaky enough and fork-tender. And it didn’t taste too fishy at all! I suspect the white wine sauce didn’t hurt…how can anything be bad with wine and butter, I ask you? But seriously, the sauce was incredible. I served the fish on top of the rice and spooned the hollandaise over that, and the sauce really pulled it all together. The asparagus was especially tender and delicious, but again, I’m sure the braising in butter helped. We were shocked. The kitchen didn’t reek of fish, the fish didn’t taste “fishy”, and we both went back for seconds, leaving just enough leftovers for a small lunch tomorrow. (I think we’re going to fight over who gets to it first.) This meal left us both feeling completely satisfied without feeling heavy. We are now HUGE fans of trout (and even huger fans of hollandaise sauce!). If you aren’t a big fish person, I challenge you to try this recipe. It wasn’t hard (once I made a decision about how to handle the fish meat…poor little guys) and now that I know what I’m doing it wouldn’t be nearly as chaotic in the kitchen. (In all the excitement, one little egg made a break for it – literally – but other than that, no major disasters to report.)

So, between the fish, the wine sauce, the asparagus and the rice, that’s FOUR recipes we can mark off our list! We’re moving right along, wouldn’t you say? I give this meal two thumbs WAY up. As far as I’m concerned, Les Poissons has never sounded so good!

Bon appetit, indeed!

-Jessica

Day #2 French Lesson:
“Où sont les toilettes?”

It’s a Home Run!

 

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“The steak was quite good…Artichokes tasted like, well, lemon butter mostly…Nothing went wrong.  It was good, though after one meal we’re already feeling the buttery side effects.  I cooked Julia and lived to tell the tale.” – Julie Powell

 
Ted Williams hit 521 home runs in his baseball career – and after last night, that’s exactly how many more recipes I have to make this year. Yep, that’s right! Last night I cooked my very first round of recipes from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and you know what? Not only did I survive, but the food turned out great! The menu was Artichauts au Naturel with Beurre au Citron and Bifteck Saute au Beurre – that’s three, count ‘em THREE, recipes we can check off our list. Here’s how it went:

 

First things first, I divided every recipe for last night’s dinner in half, considering the recipes in this book are intended for 4-6 people and there are only two of us in this household. Not being the quickest mathematician, I had to keep reminding myself not to put in the full amount of ingredients – hopefully the more I do this the more natural it’ll become.

Preparing Artichokes for Boiling

Because the artichokes took the longest to cook (at 45 minutes), I began with those. I’ve eaten artichoke once before when I was a young girl, but had never paid attention to how they were prepared. It takes some prep work to get them ready for boiling – first you have to use a knife to cut off the stems and the top points of the cone, and then use scissors to remove all the little sharp points of the leaves. Rinse ‘em off in the sink, then rub lemon juice on the exposed tips so they won’t have any discoloration in the cooking process. Plunge them into a bowl of cold water and vinegar until a pot of water and salt has come to a full boil. Drop the artichokes in the pot – they’ll float – and cover them with cheesecloth. Put the cloth right on the veggies, like you’re tucking them in for a little nap, and come back in 45 minutes.

About ten minutes before the artichokes were done, I got the steak ready for cooking. Trim off the extra fat, make little incisions around the perimeter of the meat so it won’t curl up in the pan (smart!) and heat up some butter (not as much as you’d think) and a little bit of oil. Drop the meat in the pan (carefully…that hot butter/oil will pop right up and smack you in the face if you’re not careful!), give it a good sear for about 5 minutes, then flip it and do the other side. (Note to self: turn on the stove fan before getting started. The moment that meat hit the hot butter, the kitchen filled with smoke. Smelled delicious, but was pretty ridiculous.) The outside of the meat came out pretty dark, but the inside was just right. If nothing else, I’ve decided that this method of cooking meat is super easy and definitely the way to go. Next came the au beurre sauce, and that plus some seasoning really gave the meat some terrific flavor. (This step involved my only fatality of the evening, when I accidentally dropped a pat of butter onto the floor – that stuff is slippery! No worries – I had plenty more in my reserve.)

Melting Butter in the Au Beurre Sauce

The last thing I made was the lemon butter sauce for the artichokes – super easy. All in all, the experience of cooking this meal was pretty simple. Like any big menu, things got a little hectic toward the end as everything finished cooking at about the same time, but with a little bit of juggling and only a tiny bit of panicking, all turned out well in the end. (To fill out the meal, we added some mashed potatoes and dinner rolls to the menu, but these were not inspired by Julia – we just know what we like.)

Once seated, it came time for the best part – tasting the food! The meat was perfect. I was worried because the outside looked a little black, but it didn’t taste charred at all. Julia’s meat only needed four minutes on each side, but I found mine needed about six to eight minutes each side. (We prefer our meat to be medium to medium-well, and this cooked it perfectly through for us.) Because of a medical condition I had in my teens, I don’t typically cook with seasoning – I figure anyone who wants it after the fact can add it as needed. So out of habit, I didn’t season it as much as Julia had encouraged, and she was right – a little more salt and pepper really put it over the top as it seemed to bring out the flavors of the butter sauce. Delish! (Side note: I had asked the butcher for 1 lb. of meat, and he offered us a cut of 1 ½ lbs. – Ben was skeptical and thought it was too much but I went ahead and bought it. Please note that there are no leftovers.)

Bon Appetit!

The artichokes were also cooked perfectly. The soft meat on the underside of each leaf was just right, and it was fun to show Ben, who had never eaten an artichoke before, how to scrape all the tasty flesh off the leaves. Artichokes are kind of like crab meat – it’s a lot of work for a little reward, but still fun to eat. We dipped the leaves in the lemon butter sauce, which for some reason came out reeeeeally tangy. It was good, but a little went a long way. Luckily for my hips, I wasn’t a huge fan – there’s no concern about going overboard with this sauce. Of course the best part was the heart of the artichoke. Soft and tasty, it was a nice surprise after eating through all those leaves.

By the time we finished our meal, we were stuffed and happy. My first attempt at a Julia Child recipe went really well. As Julie Powell said on her first night, “It was easy. Too easy.” I don’t want to get too confident too soon, but this meal was really encouraging. If anyone else wants to attempt this challenge, I’d definitely recommend this as the meal to begin with. It’s complex enough that you feel you’re really cooking in the kitchen, yet straightforward enough you don’t feel you’ve attempted an impossible feat. All in all, a great start! I’m proud of Ben for being open-minded and trying new things, and I’m proud of me for producing a delicious dinner. Here’s to 364 more!

-Jessica

Day #1 French Lesson:
“S’il vous plaît me passer le pot.”

Day #1 Waistline:
30″

 

Mastering the Art of French Cooking – Don’t Leave Home Without It

 

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“You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces – just good food from fresh ingredients.” – Julia Child

 

Store #1 "Scoop Your Own" Spice Shelf

Yesterday we went on our first shopping expedition for the ingredients needed for this week’s recipes, and let me just say…the experience was highly educational. Knowing our local market wouldn’t carry some of the items on our shopping list, we set out for uncharted territory. Our first stop was a grocery store that specializes in organic foods. It wasn’t a very big place (which went along with its small-town farmer’s market feel), yet it carried lots of great stuff. There were aisles of “scoop-your-own” bins, with nuts, baking needs, trail mixes, granola and candy. It had a small yet impressive meat counter, a large selection of cheeses, and (my favorite part) a spice shelf that would allow you to scoop out the amount you needed and pay a lesser fee. Brilliant! (I hate having to pay $6 for a small jar of something I only need a little of and will probably never use again.) We didn’t make any purchases here, but this was mostly a fact finding mission anyway.

Our next stop was a much bigger store with an amazing selection of food items. We walked through the building and were continually amazed by the presentation of merchandise, the friendly and knowledgeable staff and the wide variety of foods and products available. (We were excited to find the same items from the previous store and much more!) All of this, plus the fact that this place isn’t far from home, led us to the decision that this would be our go-to store for those harder to find ingredients. We headed to the fish counter (a first for both of us), excited to buy our first ingredient – and instead came face to face with our first hurdle. They were out of the fish we needed. So Ben brought MtAoFC in from the car and there I stood, in the middle of the produce section, frantically flipping through the book trying to find a replacement meat. With a Julia-approved stand-in ready to go, we were able to move forward with our plans.

A bag of rainbow trout, a package of cheesecloth and a roll of butcher’s twine later, we found ourselves at the meat counter. Things were loud and hectic, so we took a number and waited our turn. When called, I asked for a sirloin steak and, in a moment of panic, I couldn’t remember the next thing I needed. So I took the wrapped meat, and then took another number to buy me some time to look back over my shopping list. Eventually deciding I could probably buy the next piece of meat cheaper at my neighborhood grocery store, I decided to ask some questions for future reference. When called again, I asked the lady behind the counter about some of the more unusual meat ingredients I knew I would need down the road. As I mentioned each one her eyes got bigger and bigger, and when I asked if they sold calf brains, she stopped. “Let me go find out,” she said. “Don’t go anywhere.” And she disappeared around a corner in the back.

I waited patiently while Ben wandered to the other end of the aisle, and eventually the lady returned. “Um,” she said, “come down here,” nodding to the end of the counter. I felt like I was being called to the principal’s office, and when I met her at the entryway to the counter, she said, “As for the sweetbreads and cracked knuckles, we keep all of that in the freezer so you can come in any day and pick that up. But we aren’t able to get the calf brains… they’re illegal.” I thought for a moment the next words out of her mouth were going to be, “And now I have to report you to the FDA.”

I suddenly felt like I had just tried to purchase a human kidney on the black market – or worse, a baby – and immediately apologized. “Oh, it’s okay! You must be using an old recipe,” she smiled. She went on to explain that while this is easier to find in European countries, due to health concerns, and the fact that major diseases in cows typically begin in the brain, regulations had been put into effect that now kept this from being available for sale domestically. When I explained what I needed it for (“I figured that’s what you were doing, but I didn’t want to ask,” she smiled), she gave me some advice on how to go about finding this obscure ingredient. Advice which included words like “online ordering” and “direct from rancher” – oh dear. I thanked her, still feeling a little like a dog with its tail between its legs, and met back up with Ben to continue our shopping.

Artichokes, the Bully of the Vegetable World

This was definitely going to throw a kink in our plan. Sure, it had occurred to me that some of these ingredients may be a little hard to find over the next 365 days, but illegal?? The words “illegal” and “Julia Child” just don’t go together. I couldn’t focus on it too much…we had other things to buy. We filled our small cart with the rest of the items we needed, paid for our purchases, and headed back to familiar territory – our neighborhood market. Here we found the rest of the things on my list, including asparagus, green onions, mushrooms, and artichokes. (I have since decided that artichokes are the bully of the vegetable world – those spiny points will really get you if you’re not careful!)

It was exciting to come home and fill our refrigerator with all of our goodies. (There’s fresh fish in my meat drawer! I’ve never had fresh fish in my refrigerator.) Do you know what this means? It means we’re just a few hours away from our first cooking adventure with Julia Child! As a heads-up, here’s the plan for our very first meal of French cuisine (open the links, then click on the speaker icon for pronunciations):

To be honest, I hadn’t planned on starting with the same meal as Julie Powell – but when I began mapping out the week, this combination seemed like a good way to ease into this experiment. (After an honest conversation with myself, I’ve decided I’m not quite ready to truss a chicken.) We’ll see how it goes! Tune in tomorrow for a recap of the cooking experience and full review of the meal.

Let’s get cooking!

-Jessica

Mastering the Art of Technology

 

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“Nowadays anyone with a crap laptop and an internet connection can sound their barbaric yawp, whatever it may be.” – Julie Powell

 

Julia Child got her start on television in 1961 when she was interviewed on a program called I’ve Been Reading to talk about her new cookbook, Mastering  the Art of French Cooking. Unfortunately, before her scheduled on-air appearance, the television station caught fire and burned to the ground. The interview eventually took place in a makeshift “station”, during which – to everyone’s surprise – Julia made an omelette.

The program staff had been planning to produce a cooking show and liked Julia’s on-camera personality, and so she was invited to outline a cooking series. The president of the station was so impressed, he decided to produce three half-hour pilot programs during the summer of 1962. When all was said and done, The French Chef totaled 119 programs.

Julia Receives Help from Hidden Assistants On-Air

Because the TV station’s fire had destroyed everything at the station, seven “studio sites” were quickly improvised in various parts of Boston while a new facility was built. One of these sites, the industrial Cambridge Power and Light Building, is where the first few episodes of Julia’s show were produced in a demonstration kitchen on the second floor. The place featured a freight and passenger elevator which set off a loud bell that could be heard throughout the building. In these early days of production, most TV programs were rehearsed, then shot in their entirety without interruption and recorded on kinescope with little or no editing. While filming her first episode, Julia was 20 minutes into the show when the elevator bell rang. Quick on her feet, Julia paused her whipping and said, “Oh, somebody’s at the door, but I’m much too busy.”

Julia Child jumped through some serious hoops to get her message out to the public, yet fifty years later, all it takes is a computer and an internet connection. Julie Powell started her blog when it was still a fairly new concept, and for the first few entries, there’s no sign of life where readers are concerned. She was months into her blog experience before finally receiving a comment – and even then, it was from her own mom. I’m not criticizing her efforts – I’m merely pointing out that she had no way of telling people about her blog other than word of mouth. And photos? Forget it. She was a self-proclaimed “technological moron who couldn’t make the pictures post.”

And that brings us to today. Less than ten years after Julie’s blog success, I’m already one technological step ahead – I have the magic of facebook at my fingertips. In moments, I can alert thousands of people that this little website in a remote corner of cyberspace even exists. Viral marketing has made our world so small when it comes to communication; people from Great Britain are reading these posts. I don’t even know anyone in Great Britain! Today’s technology is truly amazing, and in many ways I’m sorry that Julie – and especially Julia – weren’t able to fully take advantage of the luxuries that I have in this endeavor.

Flip Slide HD Camcorder

Which brings me to the final point of this post. (Were you beginning to wonder?) Today, I took a step into the next level of tech savviness…I got a Flip Video Camcorder. (A Flip Slide HD Camcorder, to be exact.) While I would not recommend this little video camera for documenting family vacations, it is perfect for the purposes of a website. Small enough to fit in the palm of my hand, it takes up to four hours of high definition footage. Then – and this is the best part – a concealed USB arm slides out from the side, which plugs directly into your computer so you can instantly upload the video. Which means, friends, that when the time comes, I’ll be able to bring you live action footage of cooking demonstrations! We can literally master the art of French cooking together! Granted, it’s highly likely that some of these little videos may serve the purpose of learning what NOT to do, but hey…learning is learning, right? What would Julia Child say about a Flip Video Camcorder? I can’t help but think she’d be pretty fascinated by it.

I’m excited about this new addition to our site, and hope you are too. It’s almost time to get started…have you cleared off your countertops and washed all your pots and pans? We’ll be cooking before you know it!

-Jessica

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