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

A Beef Dish That’s Good for What Ales You

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“Having taken eight language lessons before leaving Washington, I could say, ‘Hello, how are you? My name is Child. How much does that cost? I want meat and potatoes. I am learning German.’ I used all of these phrases immediately when we ordered beer, meat, and potatoes. The waitress understood me perfectly and smiled nicely as she placed two enormous foaming steins in front of us. My, that beer tasted good.” – Julia Child 

Aren't they pretty?

My husband and I are meat-and-potatoes kind of people, so when I saw today’s recipe, I knew it was right up our alley…especially Ben’s: Carbonnades a la Flamande (beef and onions braised in beer). This recipe, Julia explained, was more along the lines of a Belgian braise, and the beer was a surprising change from the usual Madeira wine liquid, although not as surprising as actually seeing Julia Child drink a bottle of beer (which I have seen happen on her TV shows). I decided Champignons Sautes a la Crème (creamed mushrooms) and some basic mashed potatoes would go nicely with this – and I was right. This is one of those meals that’s really easy to put together, but it takes a long time to cook…which turned out to be kind of nice, because I got quite a bit of other little projects done in the meantime. So if your laundry is piling up or you’ve got some homework to tend to, or a couple of kids to bathe, this is a great meal – “Set it and forget it!” as Ron Popeil would say.

I started with the main course, because this baby takes a couple of hours to cook. (It’s sort of Julia’s answer to a crock pot recipe.) I preheat the oven to 325 and cut a beautiful hunk of chuck roast into 2” wide slices, about ¼” thick. I browned them a little in a buttered pan, then set them aside. In the same pan, I added about 3 cups of sliced onion and tossed them around until they were translucent and golden and beautiful. Yes, onions can be beautiful. You’ll see. I took them off the heat, added some salt and pepper and included a bit of mashed garlic (a garlic press is an amazing invention, no?).

Don't be alarmed by the raw parts. The meat just needs to be lightly browned - it's still got 2 hours to cook in the oven.

I laid half the browned beef slices in the bottom of a casserole dish and topped them with half the onions, then repeated this process again. A cup of boiling beef stock was poured in, as well as a couple cups of light beer (Ben was glad for the excuse to stock up on some Bud Light) until the meat was nearly covered. I tucked an herb bouquet in among the meat slices, sprinkled a little light brown sugar into the mix, and brought the dish to a simmer on the stove. I covered it with tin foil (I realized belatedly that I didn’t have an oven-proof lid for that particular dish…foil to the rescue!) and set it in the bottom third of my oven for two hours.

Then I went and fiddled around the house. I worked on a couple of craft projects, folded some laundry, cleaned up a bit (but didn’t actually do any real fiddling), all the while smelling the wonderful aroma wafting from the oven. Mmmm. Beer. I mean, beef.

Man, I love sauteed mushrooms.

About fifteen minutes before the meat was ready, I sliced a bunch of mushrooms and sautéed them in a pan with butter. When they were a golden brown, I added a teaspoon of flour and cooked them a little longer. Off heat, I blended in about a cup of whipping cream with a pinch of salt and pepper, and put the pan back on the stove and stirred it until it became nice and thick.

At the last minute, I whipped up some instant mashed potatoes, and pulled the meat out of the oven. I removed the herb bouquet and poured all the liquid from the dish into a saucepan, adding a mixture of cornstarch and wine vinegar to thicken things up a bit. And that was it! Dinner was ready.

Just out of the oven.

I used a spatula to serve some beef slices and onions onto my plate, then topped it with the sauce. I scooped some mushrooms and mashed potatoes on the side and sat down to eat. The beef was terrific. It was fork tender, but not mushy, and I could sense a hint of the beer flavor, which was nice and not overpowering. The onions and sauce not only added some great flavor as well, but gave a nice textural contrast to the hearty beef. This dish reminded me of a pot roast, which I always like.

The mushrooms were by far the best creamed vegetable I’ve made yet. I think I’ve finally mastered the art of creaming (huh?) and have learned that the longer I leave the cream on the stove, the thicker and heartier it gets. It was thick and sweet and a perfect combination with the tender mushrooms. I give this side dish two thumbs way up.

Deeeeelish!

I highly recommend these two recipes. This would be a great meal to make for a group dinner, because it can easily feed lots of people as it is, or can be easily modified to feed more or less. Guys will like the beer aspect (especially since you’ll have a little leftover in the can, and it would be a shame to pour it out…) and women will like the home-cookin’ pot roast aspect. Give it a try! You won’t be sorry.

Stay tuned for even more adventures in cooking!
– Jessica

Orange You Glad?

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“I, for one, would much rather swoon over a few thin slices of prime beefsteak, or one small serving of chocolate mousse, or a sliver of foie gras than indulge to the full on such nonentities as fat-free gelatin puddings.” – Julia Child 

I realized the Dessert section of my MtAoFC book was looking pretty clean and crisp, which can only mean one thing: I haven’t made enough French desserts. Looking for something relatively easy, I flipped through the section on Fruit Desserts and came across Oranges Glacees (glazed oranges – a cold dessert). The entire ingredient list contains two items: whole oranges and sugar. I decided, after the rounds I’ve gone with those ridiculous ladyfingers, I deserved an easy sweet, and so glazed oranges it was.

Sliced orange peel

I made two oranges, one for me and one for Ben, and started by doing something that seemed entirely unnatural – I used a vegetable peeler to remove the orange skin from the fruit. When all the orange peel was in strips on my counter, I sliced them into matchsticks and simmered them in water for about 12 minutes until they were tender. 

Meanwhile, I carefully cut the white part of the peel from the orange so that all I had left was a couple of fleshy oranges. I barely sliced the end off each so that it would stand upright with no trouble. I set them in a baking dish and drained the orange peel slices, patting dry on paper towels. 

In a stainless saucepan, I boiled water and sugar until it became a sort of glaze. As it began to thicken, I added the blanched orange peel and stirred it all together with a wooden spoon. I brought the mixture to a boil (watching carefully to make sure it didn’t burn, as I’ve made that mistake before) and when it looked ready – thick and syrupy – I poured it over the oranges in the baking dish.

Making the syrupy glaze.

I set the dish in the refrigerator to chill until it was time to eat them (which turned out to be a day and a half later), and went to clean the remaining cooled syrup from the saucepan. I made the mistake of licking the spoon – and realized the glaze tasted like melted orange candies. Whatever you do, do not lick the glaze spoon. Unless you have more will power than me, you will spend the next ten minutes scooping the stuff out of the pan with your finger. It was heavenly, sweet and orangey and delicious in every way. I finally had to wash the whole thing down the sink, because I could quickly see this spiraling out of control: Ben would come home to find me curled up on the kitchen floor, the saucepan hugged to my chest with a ring of sticky glaze around my mouth, smacking my lips, heavy eyelids battling a sugar-induced coma. It was too much for even me to bear. So don’t be like me. Don’t lick the spoon. 

Delicious glazed orange

When the time finally came to taste the oranges, I took them from the fridge and placed one on a plate – Ben opted to eat his out of the baking dish. I was surprised to see the glaze was still soft, having formed little pools at the bottom of the dish. I used a knife and fork to cut mine into slices, which I ate one by one. While the dessert was good, it just tasted like a sweeter orange. The glaze didn’t seem to create an outer layer like I had expected – it was light and barely noticeable, except for the occasional added sweetness when I would taste a slice where glaze had dripped down the side. But Ben cracked the case by dipping one of his orange slices in the sugary syrup at the bottom of his dish – that did the trick. The flavors really came together. The glaze was light and sweet, and the orange peel strips were nice and soft, and didn’t taste nearly as bitter as I had expected. The dish finally seemed more like a dessert and less like a sweet summer snack. I think if we had eaten these oranges right away, the glaze would have been stronger, but because we waited a day, the fruit had absorbed much of the syrup before we could really experience it. Nevertheless, this dish was definitely a success.

So this summer, when temperatures are rising and you need a break from the heat, remember this recipe. It’s easy, quick, and delicious, and the cool, light sweetness is sure to give you a much needed respite from the summer sun.

Happy cooking!
– Jessica

Give ’em Some of That Deep Shoulder Action

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“With enough butter, anything is good.” – Julia Child

A few days ago I made a veal roast, which the butcher actually cut especially for me. (Ooooh, special!) It was Julia’s recipe for Veau Poele a la Matignon (casserole-roasted veal with diced vegetables), and it was pretty tasty! My favorite part was the sauce that was served on top, but I’m getting ahead of myself. 

Who needs veal? This looks good to me!

I browned my veal shoulder roast in a large pan with butter and oil. Once it was browned on all sides (which took some fancy tong work, let me tell you), I set it aside on a plate out of the way so I could work on the vegetables. Into the pan I added diced carrots and onions and more butter, cooking until they were tender (about 10 minutes). Next I added some Madeira and boiled it all down until it had nearly evaporated, and then back in went the meat (salted and peppered). I basted the meat with some of the butter and covered it with some of the veggies, and topped it off with a couple of pieces of blanched bacon (which I made while the veggies were cooking). I then covered the whole shebang with foil (yep, you heard me – shebang) and a lid and popped it into a 325-degree oven for about 45 minutes, basting the meat at 15-minute intervals. 

Blurry Brussels sprouts - my fave!

While the meat was doing its thing, I decided to make some Choux de Bruxelles Etuves a la Crème (creamed Brussels sprouts) and some steamed new potatoes with Beurre Blanc – Beurre Nantais (white butter sauce). The sprouts were really easy. I blanched them in salted water (not long enough, however, and so the end result was crispier-than-intended sprouts…lesson learned), and then set them heads-up in a buttered casserole dish, sprinkling them with salt, pepper and a light drizzling of melted butter. I covered them with buttered wax paper and braised them in the oven for about 10 minutes, then added boiling cream to the dish and recovered it, cooking for another 10 minutes. 

The butter sauce was even easier than the sprouts. I boiled some water with white wine vinegar, vermouth, minced shallots, salt/pepper and a tablespoon of butter. Once it had reduced, I turned off the heat and stirred in two pieces of cold butter. As it absorbed into the water, I added more, turning the heat on low and continuing to add butter until the mixture was a pale yellow. 

A meat lover's dream.

Finally the meat was ready to come out of the oven, and I carefully removed it to a side dish. I added a bit of beef stock to the pan and brought it to a simmer, then removed the bacon. In went a bit of cornstarch to thicken things up and, off heat and at the last moment, I swirled in a little bit of butter. 

I sliced the veal on the bias (that means “on a diagonal”) and set two pieces on a plate, then spooned the thick sauce over the top, making sure to include some of the diced veggies. Everything looked and smelled terrific! A small helping of sprouts and a mashed new potato topped with butter sauce finished things off, and we were ready to dig in. 

Not bad, if I do say so myself!

The meat tasted really good, but I think the real star was the sauce. It was hearty and meaty and added a nice robust flavor to the meat. I stand by my original statement about veal – by nature, it’s a tough meat. Even so, this recipe was the best veal I’ve had so far. The Brussels sprouts were very tasty – the cream gave them a nice hint of flavor without drowning them in liquid – but I wish I’d let them blanch longer. They were a little too firm, even for me. The butter sauce was the last thing I tried, and while I thought it was good, I will tell you that a little goes a long way. The vinegar makes it really tangy, so I wouldn’t recommend pouring it on. Luckily I had barely drizzled my potato, so the strength of the sauce was just right – not overpowering, and giving the bland potato a nice kick. I think this sauce would probably be better on something else, like asparagus, but it wasn’t bad on the starch. 

All in all, I give this meal a thumbs-up. It wasn’t the most fabulous dinner I’ve created, but it was certainly good. And it marks another 3 recipes off our list! I love the feeling of productivity, don’t you? Sometimes I make lists just so I can cross things off and feel a sense of accomplishment. 

I know. I have issues. 

Stay tuned for something sweet coming your way… 

Happy cooking!
-Jessica

Even Julia Gets It

 

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“This is a Basque specialty, and quick to make…As the omelette is not folded, and is served in its cooking vessel, it is not a disaster if it sticks a little on the bottom.”  – Julia Child

Browned ham slices...these smelled so good!

Let’s face it…sometimes, after a long day of work and running errands and tidying up the house, the last thing we feel like doing is cooking dinner. Fortunately, not every recipe has to be a complicated process and elaborate meal. Even Julia Child knew that. So the other night, when I had just a couple of hours between getting home from work and heading out to a meeting, Julia’s Piperade was the perfect thing. This open-faced omelette garnished with onions, peppers, tomatoes and ham was not only easy to throw together, but it didn’t take long at all to make. 

Piperade in progress.

I sliced a few strips of ham and browned them in a pan with butter and set them aside. In the same pan, I cooked some thinly sliced onions and bell peppers, seasoned with a little salt and pepper. I added some mashed garlic and sliced PSJ tomatoes over the onions, sprinkling with a little more salt. I covered the pan and let the veggies cook for about five minutes, bringing all the juices out of the tomatoes. Next I uncovered the pan and brought the mixture to a boil, shaking the pan around over the heat until nearly all the moisture had evaporated and I was left with a pulpy vegetable mixture, the actual piperade of the recipe. 

Not quite scrambled - eggs set in a creamy mass.

In a separate skillet, I melted butter and added 8 beaten eggs. I stirred them quickly with a fork, waiting for them to “set into a creamy mass”. Only, they didn’t really do that. With my perfect hindsight vision, I realized I should have used a wider, more shallow pan as this skillet was a little too deep to cook the eggs evenly. The bottom was cooking much faster than the top, so by the time all the eggs had set, the bottom of the dish was a little too browned – not ruined, just not perfect. Oh, well. Remember that part about quick and easy? I was moving on. 

Eggs topped with piperade and ham.

Once the eggs were set, I turned off the heat and used a spatula to serve the piperade over them, mixing a little of it into the eggs themselves. I lay the strips of ham over that, and topped with a light sprinkling of herbs for a finishing touch. 

I sliced the omelette like a pizza and served a couple of small pieces onto my plate with a side of turkey bacon. I really liked the flavor of this dish. The eggs were thick and creamy, sort of midway between scrambled and a firm omelet (I peeled off the browned bottom and all was well), and the piperade with the ham was terrific. I liked the way the vegetables had cooked – they were tender and added a nice subtle flavor to the eggs. With the exception of the large slices of ham, this tasted just like a typical omelette, but better. Best of all, it was really simple and I had plenty of time to make dinner and get to my meeting, AND there were leftovers for later in the week. Talk about a low-stress meal! 

Voila!

Perfect for a quick dinner or a nice brunch, this dish would make a good stand-by for those times you want something tasty in a hurry. It’s nice to know that sometimes even Julia Child could appreciate a quick and easy meal. 

Bon appetit!
– Jessica

Boeuf: It’s What’s for Dinner

 

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“I enjoy cooking with wine, sometimes I even put it in the food I’m cooking.” – Julia Child 

One of my all-time favorite cooking utensils is my crock pot. (Don’t get too excited…MtAoFC does not have a list of crock pot recipes.) I admit, in the beginning I had to get over my fear of leaving something plugged in all day…would I come home expecting a tasty dinner and wind up finding that I’d burned the house down? So far, no. Many a meal has been slow cooked during the day and my house is still standing strong. I’ve got a whole list of stand-by recipes that are perfect the slow cooker, but one of our favorites is pot roast. There’s something about that super tender hunk of beef that drives me wild. So when I saw a listing for Braised Beef – Pot Roast in the boiled beef section of Julia’s book, I got a little excited. 

So the other night I made Boeuf a la Mode (beef braised in red wine…minus the scoop of ice cream, as the name might have you believe) with Concombres au Beurre (baked cucumbers) and Gnocchi de Pommes de Terre (potato gnocchi). And I feel it’s my duty to warn you ahead of time…cooking this meal wore. me. out. There’s a lot of prep work involved, but in the end, it’s definitely worth it. 

Check out this marinade!

The meal began with a wine marinade for the beef. In a large bowl, I added sliced carrots, onions and celery, a clove of sliced garlic, and some herbs (thyme, bay leaf, parsley, cloves). I poured in a little bit of olive oil and a LOT bit of red wine – about three cups worth. A dash of brandy and some salt and pepper, and we were in business. I had a beautiful piece of chuck roast from the grocery store, and I set it gently into the marinade and let it sit for over an hour (really, it should be at least 6 hours, but I didn’t have that kind of time and Julia says we can speed things along if necessary. Believe me, it was necessary.) 

After awhile, I removed the meat to a rack and let it drain for a bit, then patted it dry with paper towels. Our next step was to give it a nice sear, and that won’t happen if the meat is still damp. In an oven-proof pan I poured a little cooking oil and browned the meat on all sides. I poured the wine marinade into the pan as well, boiling it quickly until it had reduced to half, and then added some beef stock. I simmered this on the stove, then put a lid on the pan and set it in a 350-degree oven for an hour and a half. 

On to the side dishes! I started with the cucumbers, which I peeled and halved lengthwise, scooping out the seeds with a spoon. I sliced the cucumbers into thin strips and tossed them in a bowl with a mixture of wine vinegar, salt and sugar. They sat for a half-hour (to absorb all the extra moisture from the veggies) before I drained them and pat them dry. They would go into a baking dish with butter, basil, green onions and pepper and would go into a 375-degree oven for about 30 minutes. 

The gnocchi (which is much more fun to say than it is to make) was a bit of a problem child. I started with a few medium sized baking potatoes, peeled and quartered. I boiled them in salted water until they were tender, and then I drained them and ran them through a ricer (which, I have to say, seems unnatural…lets not force the potatoes to be something they’re not!). Meanwhile, I made a batch of Pate a Choux (cream puff paste) which is what will cause our potato gnocchi to swell when it cooks. This paste is made by boiling water with butter, salt, pepper and a pinch of nutmeg, then ¾ cups of flour are dumped in and stirred into the mix, and finally egg yolks are beaten into its center until you’re left with a smooth dough. 

Oh, gnocchi...evil, temperamental gnocchi...

The pate a choux is beaten together with shredded Swiss cheese and the riced potatoes, and then you take spoonfuls of the dough, roll them into balls in your hands, and then roll them out on a lightly floured surface until you have made little cylinders that look like packing peanuts. I slipped the gnocchi into a pan of simmering salted water, which Julia warns should never come to a boil, as that will cause the gnocchi to disintegrate. And you know something? Girlfriend knows what she’s talking about. I walked away for a minute…a minute, I tell you!…and when I came back, the water was at a slow boil and my perfect little cylinders were falling apart at the seams. (Note: They do not actually have seams – this is just an expression.) 

I tried to salvage some, because after all, the prep work on these was pretty extensive. But it was useless. None of them would puff up and become the little potato treats they were destined to be. The hour was growing late, my stomach was trying to eat itself, and frankly I was pretty exhausted by this point. I gave up on the gnocchi and will have to try them another time. Luckily, I had a few left over that I hadn’t put in the water, so they’ve been waiting patiently in my refrigerator for their moment to shine. Please shine, little gnocchi. 

I checked the meat a little early and was surprised to see that it was still a bit tough. Julia says the beauty of this recipe is that you can’t overcook the meat, so I put it back into the oven along with the cucumbers. About 30 minutes later, I took both out of the oven and all seemed right with the world. I moved the meat to a plate (which was hard to do, considering it was falling apart – YUM!) and I strained the juices into a pan through a sieve, mashing the veggies to get all their juices. I brought this to a simmer on the stove and tossed in a little cornstarch to thicken it up a bit. Finally, I added a few cooked carrot slices and onions I had prepared separately and let everything hang out over heat for a bit to blend the flavors together. 

Deeeeelish!

Finally, I sliced the meat, which was cooked perfectly, and served it with some of the carrots/onions from the sauce pan, drizzled a little sauce over the top, and added a spoonful of the cucumbers. And just because I could, I poured the leftover red wine from the meat marinade into wine glasses, just enough for a lovely dinner for two. I didn’t have to tell Ben twice that dinner was ready. 

The beef was delicious, although I realized quickly I should have used more salt and pepper during the cooking process. The sauce was light and flavorful, and the entrée overall was super hearty and very much like a slow cooker pot roast. I wouldn’t have minded a little Worcestershire sauce on the side, but I think Julia would have been offended. The cucumbers were interesting – light and fresh yet barely crispy and tangy from the vinegar marinade. As Ben pointed out, this would make a great summer side dish to take to a barbecue or a picnic. Simple to make and transport and easy to multiply for a larger group of people, it could be just the thing that bails you out of a party food sign-up list dilemma this summer. (A side note: I don’t see kids being a big fan of this recipe. The tanginess from the vinegar wouldn’t appeal to them, but adults will like it.) 

I was disappointed about the gnocchi – not only was it a lot of time and effort to prep, but I was really looking forward to some potatoes with my meat. Oh, well. Now we have something to look forward to at our next meal…right? 

The best part about this meal: the meat
The second-best part about this meal: the leftover wine from the marinade 

If you’re looking to feed a hungry army this weekend, give this braised beef a try. I can almost guarantee you’ll have a table of happy plates at the end of this meal, and you can get lots done while the meat is cooking in the oven – like get caught up on that giant pile of laundry that’s been giving you the evil eye. See? It’s a win-win! 

Happy cooking!
– Jessica

Nobody Calls Me Chicken

  

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“Always remember: If you’re alone in the kitchen and you drop the lamb, you can always just pick it up. Who’s going to know?” – Julia Child 

When I was single and living on my own, I used to cook a bunch of meals on Sunday and keep them in my fridge to eat throughout the week. The one thing I always had on hand was chicken breast. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of beef, but I try to choose a leaner option when possible. But as much as I love chicken, to me it’s one of those dishes that gets really old really fast. How many times can I grill or bake a piece of chicken and still get my taste buds excited, I ask you? I guess that’s why I’m so gung-ho about these chicken supreme recipes of Julia’s. They’re so easy, and they really give a tried and true standby a much needed kick. 

Sunday night I was ready to tackle the next one on the list: Supremes de Volaille a l’Ecossaise (chicken breasts with diced aromatic vegetables and cream). Just the sound of it was making my mouth water. Our side dishes would be Laitues Braisees (braised lettuce) and Haricots Verts, Sauce Crème (creamed green beans II). 

Beans and cream, before going into the oven

I blanched my green beans, then drained them and tossed them in a pan with salt/pepper, softened butter and minced shallots. I covered the pan and let it cook slowly for a few minutes while I made a béchamel sauce for the cream. Once I had the basic béchamel in the pan, I added whipping cream and more salt/pepper so that it easily became a cream sauce. When the beans were finished cooking, I folded the hot cream sauce into them and recovered the pan, letting it simmer for a few minutes more. 

Meanwhile, I had been boiling a head of lettuce in a small pot of water until the leaves had wilted, then I ran it under cold water to wake it up a bit. I gently squeezed excess water from the leaves with my hands, then cut the head of lettuce in half lengthwise. I sprinkled it with salt and pepper and formed the leaves into triangle shapes. (And then this song played in my head for a half-hour.) It was at about this point when I realized I had made a tactical error. Much like the spinach from the canapé recipe I made over the weekend, when lettuce has been boiled, it shrinks considerably in size and you don’t end up with nearly as much as you’d expect. Oh, well. I had a feeling Ben wasn’t going to be a very big fan of this recipe anyway. 

It's hard to tell, but there are lettuce triangles beneath all those veggies.

I simmered a few slices of bacon in water, and cooked sliced carrots and onions in a casserole in a bit of butter. When the vegetables were soft, I nudged them to the sides of the pan and set the lettuce squares in the center of the dish, spreading part of the carrots and onions over the lettuce and topping with the drained bacon. With a little bit of beef stock in the pan and a small herb bouquet, I brought everything to a simmer on the stove and covered the dish with  buttered wax paper, then set the casserole in the 350-degree oven for about a half-hour. 

The last thing to make was the chicken, which as we all know by now only takes about 15 minutes tops. No sweat, right? I cooked diced carrot, celery and onion cubes in some butter for about 10 minutes in a covered pan until they were tender. Sprinkling a couple of chicken breasts with a bit of lemon juice and salt/pepper, I used tongs to roll them around in the butter in the pan before covering them with buttered wax paper and a lid. When the lettuce came out of the oven, I kicked up the heat to 400 degrees and the chicken went in. I let them cook for about 10 minutes, which I have found to be just right, and when the timer went off, I could see why Julia refers to the celery/carrot/onions as “aromatic vegetables”…the recipe smelled delicious! 

See how lovely things were before taking a nasty turn for the worst? I would show a picture of the carnage, but I was too mad to take a photo.

I opened the oven and reached in with my oven mitts to retrieve the pan. The pan was heavier than I expected, so I was careful to use two hands, and made it about halfway before the handle of the pan found a thin spot in my oven mitt. The sharp pang of severe heat surprised me, and I did something I’ve never done…I dropped the dish. In slow motion, it teetered out of my hands, and the weight of the contents shifting to one side caused the entire pan to flip upside down, spilling everything out into my clean (and HOT) oven. The stainless lid and pan clattered to the ground, hitting the opened oven door on the way down. The chicken sat pitifully on the oven door, along with a few scattered vegetable pieces. The glorious juices from the pan dripped down the door and pooled at the bottom of the oven. I just stood there and stared in utter disbelief, trying to figure out how it had happened. 

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I threw my oven mitts to the floor in complete frustration. The kitchen was hot and I was sweaty and tired, but most of all HUNGRY. And then a loud voice in my head said, “So, what are you going to do about it?” I took a deep breath and reassessed the situation. 

The chicken was still good, so I used tongs to move them to a plate. With a large spatula, I salvaged the few veggies from the oven door that I could, turned off the oven and closed the door. I would deal with that mess later. The next step in the recipe was to make the yummy sauce that tops the chicken, but unfortunately, the chicken juices that gave the sauce its savory flavor were sitting at the bottom of my oven. Oh, well. I poured the rest of the ingredients (brown stock and whipping cream, and the sad collection of carrots, celery and onion) into a pan and boiled it down until it had thickened. Dinner was served. 

Creamed green beans, chicken breast & braised lettuce

Despite the disaster in the kitchen, the chicken turned out fine – moist and tender as always. I could taste a hint of the aromatic vegetables that it had cooked with, and it made me think of a homemade chicken noodle soup. Definite comfort food flavors in this dish. The sauce wasn’t as good as usual, but that was kind of expected at this point, so I overlooked that issue and gave myself credit for not giving up in the face of adversity. 

The green beans were good, but my ratio of green bean to cream sauce was off, and the sauce was a little overpowering. When I scraped some away and was left with lightly coated green beans, I liked the dish much better. The sauce was thick and the crispiness of the beans gave a nice contrast to the sweet creaminess of the sauce. 

The lettuce was a complete mystery. It was limp and a bit soggy, but more than that, it tasted like…mint. And not like fresh mint from the garden. Like mint mouthwash. I have no idea why. I didn’t use mint in this recipe. I guess it was something about the combination of herbs in the bouquet that did it, but either way, it was a little odd. Needless to say, I wasn’t a huge fan, and neither was Ben. File this recipe under “T” for “Things that make you go ‘Hm.’”. 

I have to say this wasn’t the best meal I’ve cooked yet, but it certainly wasn’t the worst. I think the whole pan dropping incident put a bad taste in my mouth that even the tender chicken couldn’t overcome. But no matter. On the bright side, that’s three recipes I can mark off the list, and that officially brings us out of the 400 range. 

And now I have an excuse to try out the “Self Clean” feature on my oven. 

All in a day’s work!
– Jessica

Today’s French Lesson:
“Servir mon poulet sur une plaque, pas sur le sol s’il vous plaît.”

Get Your Game On

  

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“People who love to eat are always the best people.” – Julia Child

Over the weekend, Ben and I got together with friends and family for a used-to-be-monthly-but-now-we-get-together-whenever-we-can Game Night. Our new favorite is the card game 31 – everyone brings some single dollar bills for the chance to win big, and while I left this time with empty pockets, I still had a blast.

The cheese melts with the heat of the spinach - a perfect topping!

Everyone was asked to bring an appetizer so there would be plenty to munch on throughout the night, because let’s face it – only half the fun of Game Night is actually playing games. The other half is eating lots of good food and trying new adult beverages (let’s hear it for peach margaritas!).

I flipped through MtAoFC half-heartedly, not expecting to find much in the way of snack foods. But while looking for a side dish for one of this week’s dinners, my eyes landed on the perfect dish – Canapes aux Epinards (spinach and cheese canapés). Julia says these can be served as a hot first course or, if made smaller, as appetizers. Sounded good to me!

Headed to the oven...

I used a loaf of French bread to prepare the canapés, which I then cut in half to be more bite-sized, and set them on a cookie sheet. Meanwhile, I blanched some fresh spinach (word of warning: start with a lot more than you think you’ll need. You’ll be amazed by how much it shrinks once it’s been been boiled.) and then drained it, gently squeezing out excess moisture with my hands, and then chopped it on my cutting board. I tossed the cooked leaves into a pan with some butter to evaporate the extra water, then added a bit of flour and beef stock. Finally, I emptied the spinach into a bowl, added some shredded Swiss cheese (the hot spinach melted the cheese perfectly) and I topped each canapé with a spoonful of the mixture.

I dusted the spinach covered canapés with a sprinkling of bread crumbs, a little more shredded cheese, and finally a light drizzling of melted butter. I set the cookie sheet under the broiler for a few minutes, and took it out when I could tell the tops were bubbling and the cheese/bread crumbs were turning a light golden brown.

Easy to make and easy to eat! Even if you lose at Game Night, you'll win with this dish.

I have to say, these were a nice little snack! Easy to make, easy to transport (I just set them on a platter covered with aluminum foil) and easy to eat (some finger foods are too messy while trying to play games – not this one!). The crunchiness of the bread was a great contrast to the smooth spinach topping, and the melted cheese gave the spinach an extra level of flavor I liked. I should have added a little more seasoning to the spinach/cheese mixture before topping the canapés, but all in all, it was a successful recipe.

The next time you need an idea for a finger food recipe or an easy appetizer, give these a try. They make a nice presentation, and they taste good, too!

Game on!
– Jessica

You Win Some, You Lose Some

 

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“This is where it got tricky.  I spooned the batter into a pastry bag. I squooshed out lines of ladyfinger batter onto the cookie sheet – I was supposed to make them four inches long and 1 ½ inches thick.  But something was wrong.  The batter was too loose or something, it spread out on the sheets until the lines were nearly three inches long.  And though the recipe was supposed to make 24 ladyfingers, I only ended up with maybe fifteen.  I was getting a very bad feeling about this.” – Julie Powell  

Over the weekend I tackled a few recipes, and while I wish I could say I came out victorious on all counts, I’d be lying if I said I was completely successful. I noticed recently that I haven’t tried many of Julia’s dessert recipes, so I thought this weekend would be a good time to get some baking done. Determined to finally check Biscuits a la Cuiller (ladyfingers) off my list, I gathered all of the ingredients together and gave it another try. You may recall that the last time I attempted this recipe, I failed miserably. Unfortunately, this time didn’t go so well, either.

I used a wire whisk to beat sugar into three egg yolks, adding a little vanilla extract until the mixture did what Julia calls “forming the ribbon” – when you lift your spoon out of the bowl, the batter that drips back down into the bowl should look like a ribbon folding over itself. This step I’ve got down, no problem.

Stiff peaks, here we come!

Next, I used an electric hand mixer to beat the egg whites from those original three eggs (along with a pinch of salt) until it formed soft peaks in the bowl. I sprinkled a tablespoon of sugar into the bowl, and continued mixing until the foaming eggs finally formed stiff peaks. So far, so good.

Using a rubber spatula, I scooped a fourth of the egg whites onto the egg yolk/sugar mixture and sifted a fourth of 1/2-cup of flour over the top. I carefully folded the whites and flour into the yolks, not wanting to over-mix the ingredients and deflate the fluffy whites. I added some more of the egg whites and a bit more flour and repeated the procedure, then finished with the remaining ingredients. And I suspect that this is where I ran into trouble.

Hm...not quite thick enough.

I think I might be over-mixing these items, which is causing the batter to lose some of its solid consistency. Because as I pour it into a pastry bag (which, in actuality, is simply a ziploc bag with the tip cut off), I can tell that the mixture isn’t thick enough. I squeezed even lines onto my silpat-covered cookie sheet, and while the consistency was better this time than the last, it still wasn’t enough to keep a solid form. The batter was thin and it quickly spread out, refusing to retain its ladyfinger shape. I went ahead and finished the recipe, dusting the top of the biscuits with powdered sugar. I baked them in a 300-degree oven for about 20 minutes, fingers crossed and hoping for the best.

Deja vu all over again...

Meanwhile, I thought it would be fun to serve them with one of Julia’s recommended fillings. I opted for Creme au Beurre, Menagere (butter cream I – with powdered sugar) because it seemed easy enough and I had all of the necessary ingredients. In a hot bowl, I beat a couple of egg yolks, powdered sugar, orange liqueur and 1.5 sticks of butter together for a few minutes until it was a nice, creamy consistency. I set it in the fridge until the ladyfingers were ready.

After 20 minutes, I took the ladyfingers out of the oven with disgust. They turned out just the way they had the last time – thin, unshapely, not resembling a lady’s fingers in the slightest. I went ahead and sandwiched some of the butter cream filling between two cookies and gave it a try. YE GODS, people. The cookies were an epic fail, but I already knew that. I’m talking about the butter cream. This filling was so incredibly buttery and rich, I could hardly stand it. At first, it seemed okay – creamy and sweet, a nice contrast against the crispy cookies. But then reality set in and I nearly gagged. I wondered why I had even bothered with the eggs and the sugar, because as far as I was concerned, I could have peeled a stick of butter, dipped it in orange liqueur and taken a bite. UGH. Julia Child, forgive me, but I am NOT A FAN of your butter cream. No amount of ladyfingers, whether executed well or poorly, could give this heavy, artery clogging, tastebud shriveling filling any purpose whatsoever. In fact, the only good thing about this was that I had made it, and therefore would never have to make it again.

Don't be fooled...this stuff is nasty!!

We ate a couple of the ladyfinger imposters before deciding they weren’t worth the calories, and – quite literally – tossed (out) our cookies. I have to admit, I was frustrated. Really frustrated. How can a person ruin the same recipe TWICE?? As I angrily scraped the cream into the trash can, I thought about the whole process and ultimately decided that I needed to consult someone with experience…I looked it up on youtube. After some in-depth research, I can now say that I think my downfall is the beating of the egg whites. I think I’m not doing it long enough, which is resulting in a weak consistency that appears to be forming stiff peaks, but in reality only the surface is solid enough – the mixture needs to be thicker throughout. So, needless to say, it’s back to the drawing board for those stupid cookies. And never again for that yucky butter cream. It makes me cringe just thinking about it.

Good grief.

At this point, the whole thing seems pretty ridiculous – I can make soup from scratch, boil live mussels and create my own whipped cream, but I can’t make a successful batch of ladyfingers? These things are going to be the death of me.

Well, death to YOU, ladyfingers. You may have won this round, but the battle has just begun.

Stay tuned for the next chapter in the continuing saga. After all, failure is not an option.
-Jessica

Easy Does It

 

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“Supremes de Volaille Archiduc is a very familiar kind of dish, nothing haute about it.  Only a couple of steps are different, and both, it winds up, refine the taste a good deal. It was, I must say, absolutely excellent. We ate the chicken breasts napped in the sauce.  I proceeded to eat leftover sauce off a wooden spoon dipped into the casserole for the rest of the night. Yeah, that diet thing’s gonna happen.  Any day now.” – Julie Powell 

I don’t know about you, but this has been a pretty exhausting week. Between Monday’s excitement with the Pioneer Woman, and planning a big work event for Wednesday, I’ve gotta say…I’m wiped out. The good news is that Julia Child offers some recipes that are pretty simple, with tasty results. (I wonder if Julia ever felt wiped out? It certainly doesn’t seem possible.) 

Wednesday night I dragged my weary body into the kitchen and was able to come up with a pretty darn good meal, for someone who was a little bleary eyed. The menu consisted of Supremes de Volaille Archiduc (chicken breasts with paprika, onions and cream) with Frozen Asparagus (yep, it’s in the book!) topped with Sauce Crème (cream enrichment) and a side of Chou-Fleur aux Tomates Fraiches (cauliflower gratineed with cheese and tomatoes).

Cauliflower and tomato strips

The dish that took the longest to prepare was the cauliflower, and even that wasn’t bad. I cut a head of cauliflower into florets and blanched them in boiling water, then ran them under cold water and drained them in the sink. Meanwhile, I prepared PSJ tomatoes and cut the pulp into half-inch strips. The cauliflower was poured into the center of a buttered baking dish, and I situated the tomatoes around the perimeter. A slight dusting of salt and pepper gave the veggies an added kick, and I drizzled a bit of melted butter over the top. A combination of shredded Swiss cheese and white bread crumbs topped the dish, along with a bit more melted butter, and the whole thing was put in a 375 degree oven for about a half-hour. 

The sauce thickens up with the addition of the whipping cream.

Next I made the cream sauce for the asparagus. The first step is to make a Bechamel sauce (a combination of flour, butter and stock) and bring it to a simmer on the stove. I beat in whipping cream by spoonfuls until the sauce was the thickness I liked. I added a bit of salt and pepper to taste and set the sauce aside. 

The chicken, similar to the recipe I made last time, was quick and easy and again, a big success. I patted a couple of chicken breasts dry with paper towels and drizzled them with lemon juice and a bit of salt and pepper. Meanwhile, I boiled minced onions for a minute, drained them and ran them under cold water, drained them again and cooked them slowly in a pan with butter, salt and paprika over low heat. With tongs, I set the chicken into the pan and rolled it around in the butter, covered the pan with buttered wax paper and put it in a 400 degree oven for about 10 minutes. (Julia says 6, but when I took the meat out it was still obviously pink on the outside. Ten minutes seems to be just right.) 

As an aside, for some reason I can’t quite explain, any time I put wax paper in the oven, it sets off my smoke detector, which is located down the hall and around the corner from the kitchen (never mind the distance…it always seems to pick up on culinary hazards). I don’t understand it – there isn’t really any smoke, but there is a bit of a funky smell that comes from the oven when the paper is in there. Anyone else have this problem?

Back to the chicken. 

Boiled asparagus ready for its cream sauce

After ten minutes, I took the chicken out (perfection!) and removed it to a side plate. Adding a little brown stock and whipping cream to the pan, I brought the sauce to a boil and stirred with a wooden spoon. I added a little salt and pepper to taste, and it was done! 

The very last thing I made was the asparagus, because it only has to cook for about five minutes until it’s done. I brought a pot of water, salt and butter to a boil and added the package of frozen asparagus. With a cover on the pan, I let it cook until it was done. It was a little limp, as Julia said it would be (when it comes to asparagus, limpness is unavoidable), but I let the remaining liquid cook off and then moved the veggies into a serving bowl. 

It's so good, you'll wish you'd made more.

The meal was delicious. I still can’t get over how great this method of cooking chicken is! (Luckily for me there are still a few more of these chicken recipes left to complete…yessss!) The meat is so tender and juicy, you can cut into it with a fork. The cream sauce was light and delicate, and added a wonderful hint of sweetness to the meat. I didn’t notice the paprika as I thought I would, which I think is a good thing. All of the flavors really came together nicely. The cauliflower was also very good – even Ben commented on how much he liked it (he who thinks cauliflower has no taste). The bread crumb/cheese topping gave a light crispiness to the dish, while the cauliflower was tender and scrumptious. The tomatoes, of which I was a bit skeptical, added a nice flavor to the dish as well. The asparagus was just okay – what do you want from a package of frozen greens? – but the sauce really brought it up to a new level. This sauce was much thicker than the cream sauce on the chicken, but I think it needed to be to match the robust pieces of asparagus. While I always prefer my vegetables au natural, this sauce was a nice addition. 

I shoulda stopped while I was ahead...

The other night, I made another super simple meal to help ward off a sore throat that’s been nagging me for a week: Soupe a l’Oeuf, Provencale (garlic soup with poached eggs). I boiled a separated head of unpeeled garlic for a few minutes, which softened them and made them easier to peel. I tossed the peeled garlic cloves into a pot of water, olive oil (only half of the recommended amount, as I remembered the last time I made the master recipe I found the taste to be too oily) and seasonings (salt/pepper, sage, thyme, cloves, parsley and bay leaf). While the water boiled for a half-hour, I prepared a few canapés and poached a couple of eggs (I must not have been feeling the rhythm last night…it took me six eggs to successfully poach two!). 

I strained the soup into a big bowl through a sieve, pressing the juice from the garlic. In smaller bowls I set a canapé, topped it with a poached egg, and ladled the soup into the bowl. It looked and smelled wonderful, but remembering my last brush with the master recipe, I was doubtful that I would like this dish. 

*shudder*

Sure enough, it was like I remembered – oily and odoriferous, yet rather bland. It was like drinking a flavorless perfume. However, I will say that when I took a bite of soup that contained some canapé and egg, it was MUCH better. But as Ben said, “I’d rather just have the canapé and egg!” So we ditched the soup and used our resources more creatively. Ben cooked a couple of eggs over easy, which we set on top of our remaining canapés and topped with the cream sauce from Wednesday’s chicken. And you know what? It was delicious. Sometimes all it takes is a little ingenuity to come up with a really tasty meal. 

After the week I’ve had, I am so happy it’s Friday. Got any fun plans this weekend? I’ll be cooking…and baking! Rev up your sweet tooth and stay tuned for more culinary adventures as we knock out more recipes on the quest for a trip to Paris… 

TGIF!
– Jessica

The Things We Do For Love

It’s true what they say: love makes you do crazy things. 

For some, it’s standing outside a window lifting a boombox over their head while it blares Peter Gabriel lyrics. For others, it’s diving into a pit of quick sand with nothing but a vine from a tree as their lifeline to save the woman of their dreams (after duking it out with some serious rodents of unusual size, mind you). For me, it was standing in line for six and a half hours to meet my blogosphere hero, the Pioneer Woman. 

The Pioneer Woman - Ree Drummond

Two years ago, I didn’t even know what a blog was. Then one day, by chance, I stumbled across thepioneerwoman.com, and I was immediately fascinated by Ree Drummond’s city-girl-turned-country-girl life story. But her site wasn’t just recounting the miscellaneous adventures of life on a ranch with her husband and kids (whom she affectionately refers to as Marlboro Man and her Punks, respectively). Her site was also educational, with a section about photography where she would share photoshop tips and tricks; homeschooling where she shared resources and ideas; and recipes. RECIPES, I say!! The images she posted were incredible, and I found myself coming back for more. Every day. I was hooked. Long story short, it was the Pioneer Woman who inspired me to create my own blog and to give serious cooking the ol’ college try. (Follow her recipe for brisket. You won’t be sorry.) 

So when I read on her website a few weeks ago that she would be coming to Dallas for a book signing (oh, did I forget to mention? She’s written three books with more on the way.), I was PUMPED. I marked my calendar – Valentine’s Day at 6:00 at a local bookstore. I couldn’t wait. 

Before Monday night, I had never been to a book signing, so I didn’t really know what to expect. I knew PW had a huge following, so I figured I’d have to wait in a long line – probably a couple of hours, anyway. But the good news was that she was coming on Valentine’s Day, so that would probably keep some people at home. I was feeling pretty confident when I showed up, her cookbook under one arm and a small token of my undying gratitude under the other…but I immediately began to question my reasoning when I couldn’t find a single available parking space in the entire shopping center. Hm. Maybe there would be a bigger crowd than I thought.

I walked in through the double doors to see a throng of women (and a handful of supportive men) milling around a section of the store. I could see a small stage set up with a table and a backdrop and microphone…and then there she was. The Pioneer Woman herself, in the flesh! It’s always kind of weird to see someone in person who you’ve only seen in photos or on TV. I became a little star struck and watched in awe as she discussed important matters with the bookstore staff, staring in disbelief that this was the same Pioneer Woman who had taken on Bobby Flay in a Thanksgiving throwdown on TV; who wrote the very cookbook I held in my hands; whose writings and photos I looked at every day. I was mere feet away from greatness.

The crowd was unbelievable, but full of really nice people.

I couldn’t really tell where the line began, so I joined what looked like an organized mass of people and waited patiently. Soon a helpful lady beside me said, “Did you get a wrist band?” I blinked at her. “A wrist band?” I repeated. “Yes, you need to get a wrist band from the cashier at the front,” she told me, holding up her own wrist to reveal a neon green band on her arm. “Then they’ll call us in groups by color.” Oh. That made sense. I thanked her and went to retrieve my band. “You’re in group five,” the cashier told me as he handed me a hot pink paper bracelet. Five? That didn’t sound so bad. (What I didn’t know then, and would come to find out much later, was that each group consisted of 100 people. *gulp*)

Group 5, here we come!

I milled around for a bit, listening to all the excitement in the room as women gathered near the stage in eager anticipation for the event to start. As I stood there, I became part of a conversation among some women about the wrist bands. “I got here at 11 this morning to get mine,” one lady was saying. While the younger woman near her frowned and blurted out, “Hey, that’s not fair!” all I could think was, “Ooh, why didn’t I think of that??” 

Lesson #1: When going to a book signing, show up early in the day to get your wrist band and avoid a long line later. 

Ree takes time to answer a few questions.

It was at about this time that my husband arrived. Yes, my husband. Arrived to a book signing. Of the Pioneer Woman. For six and a half hours. You see, that’s HIS crazy love…for me. We were there just in time for a question/answer session to begin with PW, and while I couldn’t get very close, I got a pretty good view from the back of the room and could hear the guest of honor answer some questions about life on the ranch. She received a big round of applause when she announced her plans to release a new cookbook next year (to follow her first success, the one I had brought for her to sign). But my ears really perked up when she explained that another of her books (the real-life love story of her romance with Marlboro Man) was being eyeballed by the movie producers of – are you ready for this?? – Julie&Julia!! (Uh, can someone say FATE?? Hey, Ree, if you want to work on a joint project, I’d be happy to toss around some ideas over a big plate of that brisket…) She answered a few more questions, and then – THEN – much to the delight of her camera-weilding audience, she had her whole family join her on stage for some photos.

And then the epic signing of the books began. 

Marlboro Man and the Punks pose for some pictures.

Obviously we had some time to kill while the first group lined up, so we wandered around the store for a bit, only to realize that Marlboro Man and the Punks were hanging out in the center of the store for photos and autographs. Ben convinced me to jump in the line, although I felt kind of silly asking for a photograph with someone else’s family. At least, I felt kind of silly for about five minutes, and then I got over it and joined the other star-struck women in line. As I got closer, I reached into my purse for a pen…only to realize I had switched purses for the night and had forgotten to pack any kind of writing utensil. 

Lesson #2: Don’t go to a book signing without a pen. 

Being the kind of man he is, Ben left me in line while he ran to the cashier to purchase a pen and returned with a selection of ball point and Sharpie. What a guy! I had MM sign my cookbook and pose for a quick photo, then I waited to visit with the Punks and have them sign my book as well. While they were very polite and friendly, they weren’t as chatty as I thought they might be, and so my visions of getting some good quotes from them didn’t quite work out. But no matter, it was still a good meeting.

Marlboro Man is the first to sign my book.

Then, all that was left to do was to meet PW herself. So we waited. And we waited. And waited. And finally we walked down to a nearby pizza place and had some dinner. And then we went back to the store and waited. And then we walked over to a nearby McDonald’s and had an ice cream cone. And then we waited. We waited in the bookstore. We waited in the car. We stood, we leaned, we sat. Hours passed. People bailed. We did not. Three hours turned into four, and I questioned our sanity, but Ben wouldn’t let me leave. We were in it for the long haul. 

Lesson #3: Wear comfortable shoes. 

It was about 11:00 when they called our color and we actually got in line – which wrapped around the perimeter of the store. As we fell into place, we looked behind us and realized that we were three people from the end, which struck me as kind of funny for some reason. But then again, this was also the point in the night where I became a little punch drunk. What can I say? Five hours of anticipation is a lot for a person to handle. 

Dear Ree: Please adopt me. I could be one of your Punks...I fit right in!

Part of the fun was listening to the stories of the people in line around us. One man from Virginia was in town on business. His wife had mentioned this event to him, saying, “You’re going to be in Dallas on Valentine’s Day? You know, you could get my cookbook signed…” He had pretended not to hear her, but later looked up the info online and had come to surprise her. He hadn’t counted on a six-hour wait, especially after putting in overtime hours on his job, but I have to hand it to him – he stuck it out. Another man was there for his sister; the lady behind me had come from a long day of school and tutoring just because she’d never been to a book signing before. (She eventually called a friend to come keep her company.) 

Lesson #4: Bring something to occupy your time, because you’re going to have a lot of it.

Ben and I began finding different ways to entertain ourselves. We picked up some trivia books off the nearby shelves and quizzed each other; we judged books by their covers; we people watched; we discussed how I was ever going to make this up to Ben (I think I’m on the hook for a six-hour Marx Brothers/Three Stooges marathon), and the whole time, I could hear the Pioneer Woman greeting each guest as if it was the first person she’d seen all night. She signed books, posed for pictures, held babies, and smiled graciously throughout the event. Out of boredom, we used Ben’s stopwatch and found that she spent, on average, about a minute with each person who came to her table. 

It was as we were rounding the final bend in the line at the six hour mark when Ben and I decided we may as well be the last ones in line. If nothing else, maybe I could sneak a few more seconds of her time. So we wandered back, casually looking at books on shelves so as not to seem obvious, and struck up a conversation with the bookstore staff – who, I have to say, were real troopers the whole night. It was here we learned that the Pioneer Woman is among the top five most popular book signers that the store hosts, ranking up there with President George W. Bush and his wife Laura. We also learned that when PW comes to town, there are no rules – no cut-off for how many people can get a wrist band, no limitations on how long she’ll stay. In fact, it’s her policy to stay as long as it takes to sign the very last book that comes through that door. I was blown away. She really is as great as she seems. 

Totally. And completely. Awesome.

And then, there we were. Next in line. I watched as the two ladies in front of us walked up to the table to have their books signed, and then she – yes, PW herself – looked over at us and announced, “The last man standing!” It was my turn. At this point, things are kind of a blur. I remember walking up to her table and saying, “Are you as happy to see me as I am to see you?” to which she laughed and answered, “I think we’re both glad to see each other for a myriad of reasons.” She thanked us for waiting and signed my book (asking, “Should I sign with the rest of my family? That way I can say we’re all on the same page!” bah-dum-pah!) and we took a picture together. A lady in her entourage came up and put her arm around me and announced, “We saved the best for last!” (Didja hear that?? The best for last!) She was kind and personable and gracious and concerned about whether we’d had to pay for a babysitter (see? Always thinking of others!) and commended Ben for being such a trooper. And to be honest, I couldn’t think of anything very profound to say, other than, “I’ve waited two years to meet you. What’s another six hours?” But the thing is, everything I wanted to say I wrote in a card, which I gave her along with a shirt quoting Julia Child. So hopefully, she’ll know how inspirational she is, to me and others, without my having to say much at all. After all, doesn’t waiting in line for six and a half hours kind of speak volumes in and of itself?

Then, a minute later, it was over. Ben and I were walking outside and the staff was locking the doors behind us. And I was happy. And exhausted. And my husband, my loyal sidekick who bought me a pen and documented the entire evening through photos and video and stood by me for six and a half loooooong hours, beamed proudly at me.

Lesson #5: Marry someone who will stand by you for six and a half hours…or six and a half decades. You won’t regret it.

We had done it. We had met the Pioneer Woman. I opened my book to the inside cover and saw in big beautiful Sharpie marker script, “Love to Jessica!  -Ree D”

Two nights ago, Ree Drummond spent her Valentine’s Day sitting at a table in a warm, crowded bookstore from 6:00 at night to 1:00 in the morning while a total of 650 people asked her to sign around 2,000 books before waking up a few hours later to make the drive back to her ranch in Oklahoma. See? It’s true.

Love makes you do crazy things.

Thanks, Ree! I love you more'n my luggage!

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