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

Expensive Taste

  

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“Fat gives things flavor.” – Julia Child

In flipping through MTAOFC while planning my meals for the week, I was in the mood to try a beef dish that used something other than a typical steak. I came across a chapter of beef sautés, and decided to give one a try. The first recipe in the chapter was Saute de Boeuf a la Parisienne (beef sauté with cream and mushroom sauce) which sounded yummy, so I made a list of the necessary ingredients and looked up recommended side dishes. Julia suggests serving this with green beans and rice, both of which seemed a little boring. Wanting to try something new, I found Julia’s Haricots Verts a la Provencale (green beans with tomatoes, garlic and herbs), which I hadn’t tried yet. And while we had some rice I could use, a friend had recently gifted us with a bag of Spaetzle (German noodles) we’d been curious to try, so I decided to use that instead of rice. Why not? 

I headed to the store to pick up all the necessary ingredients for this dinner, and it’s here I must tell you that when taking on a cooking challenge, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of it all and sort of lose yourself in the moment…especially when it comes to shopping for the ingredients. Which is how I found myself standing at the meat counter, moments away from purchasing a $25 cut of beef for last night’s dinner. Luckily, just as the butcher reached for his “recommended” cut for my recipe, I glanced down and saw that hefty price tag and slammed on the brakes. After some reconsideration, we came to a compromise – the recipe calls for a filet that will ultimately be cubed, so I opted for stew meat which, essentially, was cut from the filet and only cost me $5.99. Much more reasonable than $25. I mean, Julia’s recipes are pretty good and all, but for $25 I want someone to serve me and clean the dishes! Moral of the story: ‘Lert up when it comes to buying meat. There’s usually a more wallet-friendly option available. 

Getting ready for the green beans

With all of the ingredients in hand, I was ready to give this meal a try. Between the three dishes, the green beans would take the longest to cook, so I started with them. I cooked a cup of thinly sliced onions in a bit of olive oil until they were translucent (but not brown). Meanwhile, I prepared a couple of PSJ tomatoes and added them to the pan as well. I also included a mashed clove of garlic, juice from the tomatoes, a small herb bouquet in cheesecloth with a pinch of salt and pepper, and I left the pan to simmer for a half hour. 

While the vegetables were cooking, I worked on the green beans, blanching them and draining them just before they became tender. I checked on the onions and tomatoes and noticed their liquid was evaporating a little too quickly, so I added a bit more water and waited for them to finish simmering. I removed the herb bouquet and tossed in the green beans for another ten minutes. 

Cream sauce with mushrooms

At this point, I filled a pot with water and dumped in the Spaetzle to boil for 15 minutes (drain before serving). I also fired up the front burner on the stove for the beef, sautéing sliced mushrooms in butter and oil with a tablespoon of minced shallots. When they were done, I scraped them into a bowl and turned my attention to the meat. I patted the cubed pieces dry, then seared them in butter and oil in the mushroom pan. Once they were brown on all sides, I put them on a plate so I could work on the cream sauce. I poured Madeira and beef stock into the pan and let it cook until it had reduced to about 1/3 cup, then beat in cream and cornstarch. The sauce really began to thicken at that point, and after it had simmered a minute, I added the mushrooms. Finally, I tossed in the beef, basting it with the creamy sauce – I was surprised to see that this dish was more like a stew, and it was really starting to shape up. 

Easy and delicious...and affordable!

Everything finished at about the same time – the green beans were looking terrific, the beef sauté was finished, and the Spaetzle was done (I think…I wasn’t really sure what “done” Spaetzle looked like). I scooped a spoonful of the noodles onto my plate, then ladled the meat and sauce over them and added a side of green beans. Everything smelled terrific and I couldn’t wait to dig in. 

I tried the Spaetzle first – it really did taste just like thick spaghetti. It worked great as a means to soak up the extra cream sauce, and also tasted delicious with bites of the tomatoes from the green beans, like an Italian pasta. 

Spaetzle

The green beans were excellent. Not only were they cooked just right – nice and tender – but the addition of the tomato gave it a nice flair, reminding me of the flavor of pasta sauce (but nowhere near the consistency). It never would have occurred to me to combine cooked tomatoes with green beans, but the two flavors worked well together. 

The beef was outstanding. The meat was a little tough (I wound up having to reheat it on the stove a little too long before Ben got home), but the flavor was great. The cream sauce was hearty and rich, and the dish reminded me of the texture and consistency of beef tips, but with better flavor. We both went back for seconds. 

This might be my favorite sauce in a dish so far. I’m glad to know there are a few leftovers for tonight, and even more excited that we have two more of these beef saute recipes to look forward to before all is said and done. 

Looking for a hearty yet easy beef dish? I suggest you give this one a try. Not only was it delicious and affordable, but it only took about 20 minutes from start to finish. Heck, why not make it tonight? Trust me when I say you won’t be sorry. 

Bon appetit!
– Jessica

You Say Potayto, I Say Potahto

 

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“You find yourself refreshed by the presence of cheerful people. Why not make an honest effort to confer that pleasure on others? Half the battle is gained if you never allow yourself to say anything gloomy.” – Julia Child

Last night I went to a lovely potluck holiday party. (Yes, I know it’s the end of January. What can I say, we’re busy people!) When the food sign-up sheet was passed around, my first instinct was to sign up for one of my go-to appetizers or desserts – those are always relatively easy. But then I thought, what’s the fun in easy? So I opted for a side dish from MTAOFC. Our hostess was going to make the entrée, a yummy chicken dish, so I flipped through the (now kind of gross) pages of my (exhausted) cookbook to find something new, but also relatively safe. 

And that’s how I came across Gratin de Pommes de Terre Crecy (scalloped potatoes and carrots with cream). It was similar to the Gratin de Jurassien I had made before that were so tasty, so not only did I have an idea of what I was doing, but I also felt pretty confident that it would taste good in the end.  The only thing I wasn’t too sure about was the carrots. I mean, since when do carrots hang out with scalloped potatoes? But far be it from me to promote segregation among the vegetable kingdom. If Julia said it was okay, I wasn’t going to rock the boat. Potayto potahto, right?

Sliced carrots

For the first time since beginning this project, I actually DOUBLED a recipe (*gasp!*). I sliced about 4 cups of carrots and boiled them with a little butter and minced green onion until tender. Meanwhile, I sliced about 12 cups of potatoes and buttered the bottom of a 9×13 baking pan. I created a layer of potatoes, added some salt and pepper, then covered them with a sprinkling of shredded Swiss cheese and a few dots of butter. Next I added a layer of drained cooked carrots, salt/pepper/cheese/butter dots, and ended with one more potato layer with salt/pepper/cheese/butter dots. 

Simmering on the stove

I poured about two cups of cream into the pan, then set it on the stove and brought it to a simmer. Finally, I put the pan in a 300 degree oven for an hour while I went to go get ready for the party. When I came out of the bedroom to check on the dish, I could smell it before I got to the kitchen – it smelled divine! I removed the pan from the oven and could tell the potatoes were cooked through, and the Swiss cheese topping was nice and golden. I let it cool for a bit while I got the rest of my things together, then put a lid on the pan and packed it up in my car.  I had an hour-long drive ahead of me, and on the way I couldn’t help thinking how wonderful it would be if I got stranded somewhere and was forced to live off the potato dish…it filled my car with the most amazing creamy potato smell! 

Let's take this show on the road!

Of course any time you try a new recipe and serve it to people for the first time without having tasted it yourself, you’re setting yourself up for possible disaster. But despite my disclaimers, my friends assured me that even if I had botched the recipe, they would love me anyway, so I figured I had nothing to lose. And you know something? The potatoes/carrots turned out great! The potatoes were crispy on the edges and soft in the middle, and the soft carrots added a nice sweetness to the dish. The melted cheese and cream tied everything together, and made for a really nice accompaniment to the chicken. Best of all, this dish got rave reviews from the party goers! I even noticed people going back for seconds. In fact, I hardly had any leftovers to bring home, which is always a good sign. 

This was all that was left for me to bring home.

Everyone had a wonderful time at the party. The hostess had small tables set up in her living room with candle centerpieces and red/green table cloths, and she surprised us by hiring a guitar quartet to come play for us while we ate. Everyone brought delicious food, and we enjoyed visiting and planning activities for the new year. 

Why don’t we have holiday parties more often? 

Since the potatoes were such a hit, I thought I’d celebrate this culinary victory with a little video to get your week off to a great start. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did! 

Happy Monday, everyone!
– Jessica

Winner Winner, Chicken Dinner!

 

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“When I finally got myself invited to a large ladies’ lunch, we were served canned shredded chicken in a droopy, soupy sauce, and brownies from a mix. Yuck.” – Julia Child 

For the past few weeks, I’ve had a whole chicken taking up valuable real estate in my freezer, so Friday night I decided it was time for it to fulfill its destiny. I followed Julia’s recipe for Poulets Grilles a la Diable (chicken broiled with mustard, herbs and bread crumbs) with a side of Oignons Glaces a Blanc (white-braised onions), corn and new potatoes. I can officially report that this dish was a winner!  

I'll be honest, this whole process kinda freaked me out.

Right off the bat, I knew I was in trouble… Julia said I had to quarter a chicken. So before getting started, I did some research online to figure out how this was done, because – can you believe it? – I’m 30 years old and have never quartered a chicken. I found a helpful video on youtube and made some mental notes, then headed to the kitchen. I started with the chicken face-down on a cutting board and found its backbone with my fingers. With a pair of kitchen shears, I cut a slit all the way up one side of the backbone, then another slit along the other side until I could remove the whole section in one piece. (Voice of experience: don’t be alarmed by the sound of crunching bone. As awful as it sounds, you’re doing it correctly.) At this point, I spread the chicken open and, with a really big, sharp knife, cut down the center of the chicken to divide it in half. (I may have had to call in some reinforcement – it took a little more upper body strength than I was prepared to give.) Once I was looking at two halves of the chicken, I cut away some of the extra bones (a few ribs, a breast bone…yikes, this was more work than I had bargained for!) and, having no idea what I was doing, realized at this point that a butcher I am not. That’s one point where Julie Powell and I differ. Big Time. So it is here I’d like to say a few words…  

To the chicken who gave its life for my dinner,
I’m sorry I’m not a better butcher. I’m sorry you gave your life for the benefit of someone with no professional training whatsoever, who demolished your poor little body for the sole purpose of education and sustenance. I appreciate you, and hope you can find the good in your ultimate sacrifice. I’m a better chef for having known you. 
 

And to the waste management workers for the City of Fort Worth, please do not look inside our trash can on Monday morning. Not only will you be shocked and horrified by the discovery of its contents, but I really don’t want to have to explain to a jury that it really is just chicken parts and has nothing to do with my neighbor whose house alarm wakes us up every morning like clockwork. He’s out of town on business, okay?    

– Yours Truly   

Halfway through the quartering process. Looks to me like this chicken has a ... split personality! *ba dum pah!*

 With that out of the way, I finally flipped the chicken halves over and used my sharp knife to separate the halves where the thigh meat connected to the body. With both sides done, I had officially quartered my first chicken. It wasn’t pretty, but it was done. I dried the meat with paper towels and smeared the pieces with a butter/oil mixture, setting them in the bottom of a roasting pan (no rack). I put the pan under the broiler for 10 minutes, flipping the meat half-way through and basting with more of the butter/oil.    

Meanwhile, I peeled a handful of small onions and put them in a pan with vermouth, butter, and a small herb bouquet. I covered the pan and let it boil slowly for about 40 minutes, keeping an eye on the onions and rolling them around with a spoon so they wouldn’t burn. About halfway through I had to add more vermouth because the liquid had nearly burned off, but it was no big deal and worked out fine.  

Mustard shmear

 When the chicken was done basting, I took it out of the oven to see it was getting a nice tan under the broiler. I mixed dijon mustard (yep, from a bottle) with minced shallots and thyme, then added a few spoonfuls of the chicken juice to create a mayonnaise-like texture. I then smeared all four pieces of chicken with the mustard, then rolled each piece in white bread crumbs. (What do you know! After the terrible job I did of cutting the chicken apart, my messy handiwork was hidden in the end. Victory is mine!) I put the rack in the roasting pan, then set each piece of chicken on it, skin side down. I drizzled a little more basting fat over the meat, then put it back under the broiler for another 10 minutes. When I went to flip them, I noticed they were getting a little too browned, so I turned down the heat on the broiler and only cooked the other side for about 8 minutes. During the last few minutes of cooking, I could really smell the tanginess of the mustard and the sweetness of the onions on the stove. I also steamed some new potatoes and corn we had lying around.    

Before a mustard bath and bread crumb dip. Lookin' good, huh?

 Right away, I couldn’t believe how great the chicken looked. It was more American than I had expected, looking like familiar fried chicken. The bread crumb crust was golden brown, light and lovely, and not the least bit thick or overly crunchy, and not greasy at all. I had a thigh, with a small serving of the onions and other side dishes. Everything looked and smelled great – even the bottom of the chicken that I thought was too browned turned out fine.  

 I tried the onions first and was surprised to find them to be extremely tender and sweet, without a strong onion flavor. They were less like onions at all, really, and more like a true side dish. The chicken was also a hit. The breading, as I said, was light and delicate, and the meat was juicy and tender. (My piece probably could have cooked for a few more minutes, but Ben’s piece seemed to be just right.) The mustard coating beneath the bread crumbs was hardly noticeable at all – I could smell it while it was cooking more than I could taste it while I was eating. Delicious.   

What a meal!

 My favorite thing about this meal was the fact that there weren’t a whole lot of detailed steps to this recipe, and best of all, the chicken didn’t take long to cook at all. Under the broiler for a total of 40 minutes (and not even that, since I took it out a little early to avoid scorching the breading). With the exception of wrestling with the chicken quartering, the preparation was really easy. And now that I’ve done it once, I feel confident I would do a better (and quicker) job of it the next time.    

Overall, we give this meal two thumbs way up. A couple of glasses of wine and an episode of Parenthood later, and we’re living the high life.  

Happy weekend, everyone!
– Jessica 

No Me Gusta

 

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“In any case, the soup was godawful.  I added some more water and carefully warmed it, and after that it was edible, even okay, but there is no question that it was far from the glory that I know Aïgo Bouïdo can be.” – Julie Powell

Freshly peeled garlic

Dinner last night was going to be a roast chicken that’s been hibernating in my freezer for the past few weeks, but by the time I finally got home from running errands and doing some grocery shopping, it was already after 9:00. (What can I say? When your shopping partner randomly announces, “We’re only going to speak in Spanish!”, a language you haven’t uttered since the previous decade, it tends to slow the shopping process a bit. Especially when you wind up saying things like, “Please tell the sister I’d like the fish with no hands” because you can’t remember the word for “woman” or “skin”. But I digress.) So I switched gears and opted for an easy soup, because it would only take a half-hour to cook and because it would thaw us out from our latest arctic blast. 

Look at all those beautiful herbs!

I chose the garlic soup Julia calls Aigo Bouido (hey, wasn’t that Danny Elfman’s band?) with crusty French bread. I’ll admit, I was a little leery, but Julia promises that by the time the soup has finished cooking, you can hardly recognize the garlic flavor. I quickly boiled an unpeeled separated head of garlic for about 30 seconds, then drained it in the sink and ran it under cold water. It was much easier to peel this way, and I dropped the peeled cloves into a pot with 2 quarts of water, olive oil and a collection of spices (parsley sprigs, bay leaf, cloves, thyme, salt & pepper). The pot boiled for a half-hour, and the ingredients were so aromatic, it filled our house with this wonderful herbal perfume. This soup had some promise after all! 

Straining the herb mixture into the eggs

When the timer went off, I beat 3 egg yolks in a separate large bowl until thick, then I drizzled in a few tablespoons of olive oil. Next, I slowly added a ladle full of soup to the egg mixture, beating it in as I poured, then strained the rest of the soup into the bowl (which I guess cooked the egg whites?). I mashed the liquid out of the herbs and garlic with a spoon and beat the entire mixture until it thickened a little and had turned a cream color. I spooned the soup into a bowl, topped it with a sprinkling of freshly grated parmesan cheese, served it with a couple of hunks of French bread and sat down to eat. The bowls smelled amazing, and we couldn’t wait to taste this dish!

Dinner is served!

We each took a sip and looked at each other…and both asked the same question. How could something that smelled so incredible have absolutely no flavor? I added some salt to mine, but it didn’t help much. So then we added some crumbled Saltines to our bowls, and that seemed to give it a little boost. (I’m sure poor Julia was turning in her grave at the thought of us putting Saltines in anything, let alone her French garlic soup.) Even so, the brothy soup tasted a little too oily, and neither one of us could finish our serving. On the bright side, Julia was right – you couldn’t taste the garlic at all. You couldn’t taste anything at all. But don’t worry about us…we filled up on the bread.

The good news: this soup was really easy to make; the ingredients were things that I already had in the pantry; and it smelled incredible while it cooked.

The bad news: this soup was more like something you’d soak your feet in at a spa rather than something you’d have for dinner.

Final answer: If I were you, I’d pass. Well, I take that back…this soup would be great to make if you burned popcorn or had a plumbing problem and needed to cover up a foul smell (I’m telling you, it’s super aromatic). But then again, you could just light a candle and move on with your life.

I think tonight we’ll revisit that whole chicken idea…

Bon appetit!
– Jessica

The Crepes of Wrath

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“I was straightening up the kitchen before embarking upon Crepes Farcies et Roulees when Eric said, ‘You know, you haven’t thrown a fit in a long time.  Like one of those where you smack your head against the wall and scream, ‘I hate myself!  I hate myself!’ over and over.’ Well, I thought, surely Crepes Farcies et Roulees will provide ample opportunity for practice.” – Julie Powell

Yesterday’s big disappointment came when I looked forward to crepe casserole leftovers all morning, only to discover that I accidentally grabbed the wrong Tupperware and was faced with a tub of raw crepe batter for lunch.

Le sigh.

I decided that was my cue to go ahead and whip up the rest of the crepes for dinner last night, so I made Crepes Farcies et Roulees (stuffed and rolled French pancakes) with Fondue au Gruyere (cream filling with Swiss cheese and mushrooms) topped with Sauce Chivry (herbal white wine and tarragon sauce). Three recipes for the price of one! 

With this dish, you can either serve the crepes rolled and sautéed in butter or lined in a baking dish topped with sauce and cheese and broiled. I thought it would be more interesting to give the broiler a try, so I opted for the second suggestion. I began by cooking 6 crepes and was excited to see that I had really gotten the hang of it – four of the six were perfect, and the other two weren’t all that bad. I set them aside on a plate and focused on the filling. 

Those aren't raisins...they're mushrooms for the crepe filling.

I cooked some butter and flour in a saucepan and stirred with a wooden spoon until the mixture was almost a paste. I added some boiling milk, which thinned out the contents of the pan – almost too much, I worried – but as I continued stirring, it thickened up on its own. A pinch of salt, pepper, nutmeg and cayenne pepper topped it off, and then a single egg yolk was added to the center of the pan. I mixed it all together, then added some grated Swiss cheese and chopped mushrooms and shallots. When everything was well blended, it took on the consistency of a porridge (the mushrooms did kind of look like raisins…). I plopped a spoonful of filling toward the bottom of each crepe, rolled them up and set them in a buttered baking dish. 

All the components for the sauce: boiling milk, sauce bechamel, wine and herbs

The sauce was similar to the one I had made the other night, but this time I added herbs and wine. I started with a Sauce Bechamel, but meanwhile heated some vermouth with tarragon and shallots in a small pan. Once it had boiled down to a couple of tablespoons, I strained it into the béchamel sauce to get the flavors from the herbs without actually adding them to the recipe. (At this point, the aromas of the herbs with the wine were amazing!) I poured this sauce – which looked like cream gravy – over the crepes in the baking pan and topped with a bit of shredded Swiss cheese. I set the pan under the broiler for about 10 minutes until the top was turning a golden brown. 

Ole! Mexican enchiladas or French crepes? You decide.

When I took the pan out of the oven, I couldn’t help noticing that the crepes looked like cheese enchiladas. I used a spatula to remove them from the pan and plate them. I was surprised to see that the sauce wasn’t overly soupy – just sort of a topping that stayed in place rather than something to ladle over the dish. We gave the crepes a try, and had mixed reviews. Ben was a big fan of this meal, but I found it kind of bland. The mushrooms gave it some texture, but not much – everything was just sort of soft and creamy. The sauce needed something – more salt? – and didn’t do much for me. And there was a certain flavor that stuck out (maybe the crepe batter?) that didn’t really fit with the rest of the flavors and distracted my tastebuds. Overall, I just felt like this meal wasn’t worth the calories. 

Two mushroom crepes with cheese sauce

The big surprise came toward the end of our first crepe, when we noticed a little spice that kept building until it was almost unbearable. It was the cayenne pepper. I didn’t even use that much, but it really made its presence known. (Ben had to resort to a few bites of sherbet to put the fire out. Tough break, huh?) I really don’t like spicy foods, and would certainly omit this ingredient … if I ever made this again. Which I don’t see happening. 

All in all, I have to give this recipe a thumbs down. The best part about it was getting to make the crepes, because that part’s pretty fun. This meal just didn’t do anything for me. With the exception of the cayenne pepper, I suspect the real culprit was the sauce. The next time I make crepes, I think I’ll try something completely different – like a tomato sauce, or something flavorful like that. Either way, I’m looking forward to dessert crepes – I think those will really be something to write home about. 

What can I say? You can’t win ‘em all. 

C’est la vie!
– Jessica

Catch Ya on the Flip Side

 

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“Every French household makes use of crepes, not only as a festive dessert for Mardi Gras and Candlemas Day, but as an attractive way to turn leftovers or simple ingredients into a nourishing main-course dish.” – Julia Child

I decided it was time to delve into a chapter of MTAOFC I haven’t really explored yet…crepes. The idea of crepes doesn’t really worry me. I mean, they’re basically really thin pancakes – and even I can make pancakes. When I read the recipe for Gateau de Crepes a la Florentine, I envisioned a thin pancake wrapped around a creamy spinach and mushroom mixture. Add a couple of those to a plate, and voila! A light dinner of fine French cuisine. 

So when I rolled up my sleeves and really started reading through the recipe, I was surprised to find that this was actually more like a casserole. The finished product would be a dish with layers of crepes, spinach spread, mushroom spread, and Sauce Mornay (a cheese sauce). Say…what was Julia trying to pull? 

Making crepe batter

While I wouldn’t call this recipe difficult, it does have several steps and takes some time to prepare (and dirties a lot of dishes…be sure all of your pans are clean ahead of time to save you the headache of doing some serious equipment juggling). The first step was to make Pate a Crepes (the crepe batter), which was simply a combination of cold water, cold milk, eggs, flour, salt and melted butter. I used a hand mixer to blend it together until smooth, then covered my mixing bowl and put it in the fridge for two hours. 

I took a little break to watch some MTV (note to self: maybe “I Used to Be Fat” isn’t the right show to watch while preparing a Julia Child meal), then headed back to the kitchen to prepare the fillings while the batter set. 

This dish consists of four parts:
• crepes
• Sauce Mornay
• spinach filling
• mushroom filling 

Adding cream to Sauce Mornay

I began with the cheese sauce, cooking flour and butter in a skillet until the mixture was a frothy foam. Off heat, I added in some boiling milk and a pinch of salt/pepper/nutmeg. I boiled it a bit more, then slowly added in a quarter cup of whipping cream, watching the sauce begin to thicken. I removed the pan from the stove and tossed in a cup of grated Swiss cheese (which really wasn’t very much in comparison to the amount of cream in the pan). I set the sauce aside and focused next on the spinach filling. 

This was easy – I cooked some minced shallots in a bit of butter, then added blanched/chopped spinach and salt to the pan until most of the excess moisture had evaporated. Next, I used a big wooden spoon to ladle about ½ cup of the sauce into a measuring cup, then poured it into the spinach pan. I let the mixture simmer for a few minutes before removing it from the stove and setting aside. (There’s a lot of “setting aside” in this recipe. Clear off some counter space beforehand!) 

Mushroom filling

Next came the cheese and mushroom filling. I mushed 8 oz. cream cheese in a glass bowl with salt and pepper, added a ½ cup of the cheese sauce to this bowl, and finally beat in an egg. Meanwhile, I sautéed some minced mushrooms and shallots in some butter/oil in a pan until they were nice and soft, then scooped them into the cream cheese mixture.

It was at about this time that I realized the crepe batter was probably ready. I pulled the bowl out of the fridge and used a spoon to pour ¼ cup of batter into a measuring cup. I heated a stainless pan (whose bottom was about 6” in diameter) and brushed the bottom with cooking oil. I turned the stove on high heat and waited for the pan to almost smoke. When it was ready (and with a mitt on my hand), I picked up the skillet in my right hand and held it off the heat. With my left hand, I poured the ¼ cup crepe batter into the bottom of the pan and swirled the pan around so the entire bottom was coated in a thin film of batter. It began to cook instantly, and I only had to set it back on the heat for a minute before the crepe was ready to flip. The second side only cooks for a few seconds before the crepe should come out of the pan and it’s finished. 

Finally! A perfect crepe!

This whole crepe cooking process happens really quickly. The pan is so hot, the batter cooks almost instantly, and the delicate crepes can burn easily – so you really have to keep an eye on what you’re doing. Julia mentions a technique where, once the batter is in the pan and you’ve set it back over the heat, you give the pan some violent thrusts to loosen the crepe from the bottom. I had zero luck with this, as my crepes kept falling apart when I tried it. So I just used a large spatula to flip mine, and that seemed to work fine. 

This recipe needed five crepes, and it only took six tries to finally produce a perfect example. I saved the rest of the batter to use in the next couple of crepe recipes and moved on to assembling the dish. 

The top wasn't browning but the edges were...oh, well. Let's eat!

I buttered the inside of a casserole dish, then layered the following:
• crepe
• cheese & mushroom spread
• crepe
• spinach spread
• crepe 

I had enough to make two sets of these layers, and finished with my perfect crepe on top, then poured the remaining cheese sauce over the top and around the sides. Topped with a little grated Swiss cheese, I put the dish in the oven (350 degrees) for about a half-hour. The top was supposed to brown, but mine never did. No matter! After about 35 minutes, I took the casserole out of the oven and dinner was served. 

You can see the layers in the plated portion. See? It's like a French lasagna!

Julia suggests cutting the dish into pie-shaped wedges to serve, but mine didn’t turn out so neatly. I used a large slotted spoon to scoop helpings onto our plates, which worked just fine. I hadn’t been too sure about this recipe from the beginning – a crepe casserole? – but was pleasantly surprised. It was delicious! The seasonings were just right, the cheese sauce was creamy (like an alfredo sauce) but not too heavy, and the crepes were light and perfect. The dish actually tasted just like a vegetable lasagna – the crepes were like noodles, and the spinach and mushrooms inside melded together and weren’t weighed down by the cheese at all. Ben and I both went back for seconds, and he doesn’t even like spinach. (Which reminds me… for some reason, my spinach-to-mushroom ratio seemed a little off. Next time I would make more of the mushroom filling.) 

To be honest, I hadn’t been sure before I started, but all the preparation steps were worth it. In the end, this meal was really terrific. Can’t wait for leftovers tonight! 

Later this week…more crepes, a whole chicken, and another crack at ladyfingers. 

Happy cooking!
– Jessica

Four Legs Good, Two Legs Baaaaaad

 

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“We went in and asked for a leg of lamb.  The lady behind the counter basically said, ‘You mean this leg of lamb,’ and pulled out the big honking leg of lamb that was sitting in the middle of the teeny tiny meat case.  Yup.  Seven and a half pounds of the leg of a baby sheep for thirty bucks.  Is that good?  Bad?  I dunno.  But these lambs are going to break me.” – Julie Powell

For dinner last night, I made my first leg of lamb, and you know something? It was surprisingly easy! I’ve never really done much with lamb, because frankly, I find it a little intimidating. (I mean, come on, have you seen those racks of lamb in the meat department display case? What the heck do you do with those things?) I’m glad I gave it a try – you can follow along as the process is documented in a new video posted to the home page of this site. (Notice my new, hole-free oven mitts!) 

So here was last night’s menu: Gigot de Pre-Sale Roti (roast leg of lamb) with Choux de Bruxelles Etuves au Beurre (Brussels sprouts braised in butter) and Petits Pois Frais a l’Anglaise (buttered peas). I know, I know…it seems like a lot of butter, but it wasn’t as bad as it sounds. Promise. 

I had a pretty big ah-ha moment that probably seems pretty obvious to everyone else, but for some reason it had never really occurred to me. Whenever I watch a cooking show, they already have all of the ingredients for the recipe laid out on the counter, measured and ready to roll. Why don’t I ever do that? I tend to pull things from the pantry as I go, which leaves me feeling frantic and really makes no sense at all. So last night, I decided to plan ahead and prepared all of my cooking items ahead of time. And you know something? I found it really made the whole cooking process much easier. I felt more in control, which then made me feel more confident, thus making the whole experience much more enjoyable. So if you’re not already following this method of culinary organization, might I suggest you give it a try? 

Into the oven with you, leg of lamb!

Once I had all of my ingredients laid out, I preheated my oven to 450 degrees. I took my lamb and made a few small slits in the thicker parts of the meat and slid in some sliced garlic (this step is optional, but I had seen Julia do it on an episode of The French Chef, so I thought I’d give it a try). Next, I patted the meat dry with some paper towels, then brushed the outside with a mixture of melted butter and oil (it didn’t take much to cover the leg – no need to lay it on thick). I set the lamb in a roasting pan and put it in the oven for 15 minutes, turning and basting it every five minutes. 

Back into the oven for cooking time.

The idea here was to give the meat a nice sear, so that the juices from the meat wouldn’t come out too soon (after all, when attending a dinner party, isn’t it best to be fashionably late?). When the meat was lightly browned all over, I took it out of the oven, brought the heat down to 350, and tossed a chopped carrot and sliced onion into the bottom of the pan. I put the meat back in and set the timer for an hour. (Cooking Time: plan for 30 minutes per pound of meat. Our leg o’ lamb was a 2-pounder, so I only need an hour. I did that math in my head – aren’t you impressed??) And as far as the meat goes, that’s all I had to do! No basting, no turning, no babysitting, no hand-holding. Cool, huh? I was only an hour away from a scrumptious meal…I could do the laundry, work out on the elliptical, take a nap, build a model airplane, put away my Christmas decorations (which is what I actually did)…a whole hour of free time! This is my kind of recipe. 

Blanched Brussels sprouts. Not to be confused with Blanche Devereaux.

About a half-hour before the lamb was ready to come out of the oven, I blanched some Brussels sprouts and drained them, then smeared a little butter on the inside of a casserole dish. I arranged two layers of sprouts, heads-up inside the dish, sprinkled them with salt and pepper and drizzled a little melted butter over the top (we’re talking maybe a tablespoon or so…not an entire stick, so don’t panic). I covered the top with a piece of buttered wax paper and put them over heat on the stove until the veggies began to sizzle. Then I set them aside and worked on the peas. 

Pass the peas, please!

The peas I heated in boiling water for a few minutes until they were tender, then drained them in a colander in the sink. I left them there while I took the lamb out of the oven (which smelled amazing – the garlic was wafting through the kitchen at this point). I removed the lamb to a platter to rest for about 30 minutes (you want the juices to go back into the meat), which was just enough time to finish my side dishes. I put the sprouts in the oven for the 30 minutes, then tossed the peas into a pan and heated them to evaporate any excess moisture. I added some salt and a tablespoon of sugar, then poured them into a serving dish and topped it with a few thin slices of butter. 

This is where sauce comes from...

With the lamb on a serving platter, I set the rack from the roasting pan aside and added a cup of beef stock to the pan. Over the stove, I heated the pan and scraped all of the contents together, mashing the vegetables in the pan to soften them into the sauce. When it seemed well mixed, I poured everything into a small pitcher and took the sprouts out of the oven. Dinner was ready…and not a moment too soon. We were HONGRY*! 

I sliced into the leg of lamb and couldn’t believe how tender and juicy the meat was. I served it onto two plates and topped the meat with the sauce in the pitcher, as well as a helping of peas and sprouts. The meat was cooked perfectly, and while it tasted good, the garlic was a little overpowering. I think next time, I’ll skip that step. I felt the meat seemed a little gamey, but I’m used to steak, which is definitely different in texture. The sauce was beefy and hearty and I really liked eating the mashed carrots – they had great flavor.

Not too baaaaaaad!

The peas were good, not too buttery with a hint of sweetness. But to be honest, if I were making them myself I wouldn’t add sugar to the recipe – I just love the taste of natural veggies. I really loved the Brussels sprouts. In fact, they may have been my favorite part of the meal. While I think they could have been blanched a little longer (they were still pretty crisp in the middle), the outside was delicious. They tasted more like roasted vegetables, with the salt and butter on the outside forming a slight golden coating. Good thing for me Ben isn’t a big fan of any kind of Brussels sprouts, because that means MORE FOR ME!!

This meal was great. Not only did everything really taste good, but I can’t stress enough how easy it was to make. The lamb is pretty much on auto-pilot once it goes into the oven, and the two veggies were a total no-brainer. From start to finish, the whole process took an hour and a half (and that was just because the lamb had to rest for a half-hour after it came out of the oven), and the majority of that time you can be doing other things. This goes to show you that just because you’ve got a busy schedule, that doesn’t mean you can’t eat well. 

Bon appetit!

– Jessica

 *Hungry – having pangs of hunger; Hongry – totally famished and ravenous to the core

Soup du Jour, Aspicable Me, and a Sweet Ending

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“We decided to ‘try’ (read: get over with) the eggs in aspic.  I shook the molds out onto plates.  The things looked like very pretty paperweights…but not particularly like something you’d like to put in your mouth.  And so they weren’t.” – Julie Powell 

I had grand visions of waking up Saturday morning and whipping up some of Julia’s cream cheese, spinach and mushroom crepes and serving them with a tall glass of orange juice by a toasty fire in the fireplace. Instead, I wound up sleeping in until noon (I didn’t actually get out of bed until after 1. Hey, I’m just keeping it real here.) and spent a couple of hours running errands with Ben. By the time we got home, we were pretty hungry, so we had the sirloin and potatoes au gratin leftovers from the other night. (Delicious even two days later!) Then we finally took down our Christmas decorations (I think the neighbors who drove by while we were packing up our outdoor lights were muttering, “It’s about time!”, but I can’t be sure). We couldn’t bear to take down the tree yet, so it stands for one more day. *dreamy sigh* I love Christmas.

It was about 5:30 when Ben finally said, “So…what’s for dinner?” Which I think really means, “Why aren’t you in the kitchen? Don’t you have, like, a billion recipes to finish before August?” So into the kitchen I went and flipped to the page for the crepes. While I’m sure the recipe is fairly easy, there were a lot of steps – for the crepe batter and the fillings and all – and frankly, it kind of wore me out just thinking about it. So instead, I decided to make Potage Creme de Cresson (cream of water-cress soup), Oeufs en Gelee (poached eggs in aspic), and Mousseline au Chocolat (chocolate mousse) with Creme Chantilly (lightly beaten cream).

Looks kinda like...weeds.

The soup was pretty simple, which I love. I heated minced green onions in butter until they were soft but not browned. I stirred in about 3 cups of watercress with a pinch of salt and covered the pot until the leaves were tender and wilted. About five minutes later, I added some flour and stirred it together for a few minutes. (At this point, I realized that the smell of the cooked watercress reminded me of summertime, and I didn’t know why…until it occurred to me that it smelled like a freshly cut lawn, and I grew slightly skeptical about how this was going to turn out.) Meanwhile, I brought some chicken stock to a boil and then poured it into the pot with the watercress. After it simmered for a bit, I needed to puree the mixture, which was basically just a bunch of stringy leaves in some stock. And here’s where I had to get a little creative.

Not feeling too confident about this plan.

Julia says to run the soup through a food mill, which I don’t have. I do have a food processor, however, so I poured the soup into that and locked it into place. Already I could see this may not work, as I noticed some of the liquid dripping out from the bottom. So I put the whole thing on a plate to catch any spills and gave the “grind” button a quick press. Sure enough, soup spouted up through the top of the processor…nothing like the other night’s steak juice explosion, but a definite geyser nonetheless. So I covered the top with a towel and gave it another try. Nope. Still got sprayed. So maybe a food processor isn’t meant for liquids? Think. Think.

Then I realized that my trusty Magic Bullet would do the trick! So I poured everything from the food processor into the bullet and tried it again. While the results weren’t perfect – by no means could this pass for a true puree – it was as close as I was going to get, so I settled for that plan and poured the “puree” back into the pot. In a separate bowl, I mixed two egg yolks with a half cup of whipping cream and gradually added in the soup. I gave it a quick stir, noticing how it was all starting to thicken up at this point, and poured it all back into the pot and heated it up on the stove. Finally, I took the pot off of the heat and added a couple tablespoons of butter. By now the soup was a nice creamy thickness, had turned a lovely shade of green, and smelled really good (that lawn smell was gone, thank goodness). I set the soup aside so I could focus on the poached egg aspic.

So here’s the idea of an aspic: You line a mold with liquid gelatin, then layer a variety of food items on top of it (the bottom of the mold will actually be the top of the aspic, so you put the pretty foods in first) and cover the creation with another layer of liquid gelatin. Once it’s chilled and set, you flip it out onto a serving dish and you have a lovely edible… paperweight. At least, that’s what they look like (Julie Powell agrees).  Now, I have never eaten an aspic, and while I hate to be judgmental, even the word “aspic” kind of grosses me out. I don’t really understand the idea of eating gelatin, but hey, if Julia says it’s good, who am I to question? I started by poaching a couple of eggs, which is something that I’m doing pretty well these days. When they were done, I set them aside on a plate and turned to the gelatin.  

Hm...something doesn't seem quite right.

The closest thing I’ve ever made to pure gelatin is
Jell-o. While there’s a recipe in MTAOFC for home-made gelatin, it involves ingredients such as cow hooves, so I opted for the more reasonable option and went with gelatin “leaves”. The leaves come 12 to a package, and look like thin plastic rectangle sheets. I followed the directions and set a few of the sheets into a bowl of cold water for a few minutes. When they were ready, I pulled out rubbery film … and couldn’t understand how this was supposed to work. I set a few sheets into the bottom of a couple of small pyrex bowls and sprinkled tarragon leaves on top. I set a poached egg on top of the leaves (ugly side up because, remember, the bottom of the mold will be the top of the dish when it’s all said and done) and then took a step back. This wasn’t looking right. I re-read the instructions on the gelatin, and realized I had misunderstood them. So I removed the eggs and tarragon leaves, and put all the gelatin film into a bowl which I heated in the microwave for a few seconds. When it came out, the gelatin was liquefied and much easier to work with. I spooned a bit into the bottom of the bowls, then replaced the tarragon and eggs, then topped the dishes with the rest of the gelatin. Ah, yes, NOW we were getting somewhere! I set the bowls in the fridge, where they needed to rest for an hour.

Watercress soup...mm mm good!

It was at about this time when Ben wandered into the kitchen and started nosing around my pots and pans. “So…” he said hesitantly, “…is there any meat in any of these dishes tonight?” To which I had to say no. Unfortunately, when you take on a food challenge, there are going to be some days that just aren’t your favorite. But I pointed out that we had some pork tenderloin leftovers in the fridge, along with the rest of the potatoes au gratin, and that seemed to offer a silver lining. Since the eggs were going to take an hour to set, we went ahead with the soup (and leftovers). I thought the soup was great! Granted, it would have been much better had I actually succeeded in pureeing the leaves, as there were still some stringy bits in the bowl. But even so, not even Ben could argue that the dish had great flavor. (It kind of reminded me of spinach artichoke dip…if spinach artichoke dip were a soup.) I tossed a few saltines into my bowl and it made a great meal.

Awhile later, we were ready to give the aspic a try. I took the bowls from the fridge and used a spoon to carefully pop the gelatin out of the bowls. It came out really easily (too easily?) and I inverted the dishes onto a plate. All things considered, they looked pretty good, except I couldn’t help noticing their strong resemblance to silicone. I’ll admit it…we were both a little leery. I set the plate between us on the table and Ben made me try it first. I cut into one with my fork, breaking the egg inside and spilling creamy egg yolk onto the plate. The eggs were perfect. I took a bite, and immediately wondered….

WHY WOULD ANYONE EVER DO THIS TO FOOD?!?!

Aspic or decorative soaps? You decide.

The taste of the egg was amazing, and really the gelatin didn’t taste bad, except that it was like chewing on a piece of hard rubber. I. Don’t. Get. It. What did food ever do to deserve this kind of imprisonment?  It’s like a bad fairy tale story – the eggs ticked off the evil queen, and now only the kiss from a prince could free them from their rubbery doom. (I know, my imagination is a strange place.) We tried to keep an open mind, but neither Ben nor I could finish the aspic. It was too weird. In fact, we took half of his to the kitchen for a scientific experiment…we dropped it from a 6′ height to see if it would bounce. Much to my relief (I think), it did not. I just couldn’t see the benefit of putting the gelatin in my stomach. And to think…we’ve got at least seven more aspic recipes to go. *shudder*

The only thing that got us through the aspic debacle was the promise of chocolate mousse. This recipe was also surprisingly simple. In a glass bowl, I beat four egg yolks together with 3/4 cups of sugar until the mixture was a pale yellow, then poured in a quarter cup of orange liqueur. Once it was all mixed together, I set the bowl on top of a pan of nearly simmering water on the stove. I whipped the mixture until it became foamy, then put the bowl over a basin of cold water and whipped it some more. (You’ll know it’s ready when it has the consistency of mayonnaise. Pale yellow mayonnaise.)

Hello, orange liqueur. Where have you been all my life?

Then, I dropped six squares of baking chocolate into another glass bowl along with four tablespoons of coffee. Now, at this point Ben and I got into a heated discussion about the rules of this challenge…I don’t like coffee. I love chocolate mousse. Why put something I hate into something I love? So I asked if I could omit the coffee. Ben said no. Ultimately, he was right…rules are rules. But ick. Coffee? *sigh* Okay, back to cooking.

I put the glass bowl over the pan of hot water on the stove and stirred the contents until the chocolate was melted. It was pretty thick, but the stick of butter I stirred in next (off the heat) made the mixture super creamy and lovely. (But don’t be fooled…baking chocolate tastes nothing like regular chocolate. Give it a taste and you’ll be sorry!) I beat the chocolate into the egg yolk/sugar bowl, and then used my hand mixer to combine the whites from the original four eggs (remember them? back at the beginning of this recipe?) with a pinch of salt until soft peaks formed. I then added a tablespoon of sugar to the bowl and used the mixer to beat the eggs until stiff peaks formed. I used to do this step by hand with a wire whisk. Never. Again. Only electric hand mixers from now on. Got it?

I stirred a fourth of the egg whites into the mousse, then folded the remainder of the bowl in as well. Once everything was combined, I turned the mousse into a pie plate and put it in the fridge for a couple of hours. Given the amount of butter and sugar that went into this recipe, our plan was to each have a small serving, then deliver the rest to our next-door neighbors. Share the love, right?

Chocolate mousse...or, as I like to call it, Heaven On a Plate

When the mousse was ready, I poured some whipping cream into a bowl and added a couple tablespoons of powdered sugar and used the electric hand mixer to make some whipped cream topping. I scooped a little mouse onto dessert plates, added a dollop of whipped cream and we dug in. Let me just say this. The mousse TOTALLY made up for the icky aspic. Holy. Crap. This is by far the best dessert – if not best recipe – that I’ve made so far, and it’s amazing on several different levels. First of all, the home-made whipped cream is amazing. Light, fluffy, and just sweet enough without being overwhelming. I’m a big fan of Cool Whip and toppings that come in cans, but I think from now on I’ll just make this. Then, the chocolate itself was incredible. (I believe my exact words were, “I want to bathe in this!”) Creamy and rich, I could pick up on the orange from the liqueur and the coffee tones, yet the flavors worked great with the chocolate. (Is it bad form to lick one’s plate? What if nobody’s watching?) So much for will power…we both went back for seconds. (Although, between you and me, the mousse is so rich that seconds was almost a bad idea. Almost.)

I’m telling you…if you want to impress someone with a sweet tooth, make this mousse and serve it in a wine glass, topped with the home-made whipped cream and a sprinkling of mini chocolate chips. Valentine’s Day is just a month away…

Tonight I’m tackling a leg of lamb. How’s that for a mental picture?

Bon appetit!
– Jessica

A Series of Unfortunate Events

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“…this Julia who walked into a cooking school in France – no longer a spring chicken herself, but with an unquenchable fire in her that she herself didn’t quite understand.  That’s the Julia I’m striving toward, the Julia that I hope someday to be like.” – Julie Powell

When I was in college, I joined a burgeoning archery team taught by an olympic coach at a local gym. When we were really showing some promise, he took us to an indoor archery range to test our skills.  Everything was going well and we were all having a great time. And then it was my turn. I took careful aim, pulled back the arrow and let it fly…and the weirdest thing happened. Between each hay bale target was a hairline-wide metal frame to hold them in place. My arrow struck that tiny bit of metal and ricocheted off – not just once, but several times. At first it was kind of funny – what were the odds?? – but when one arrow came launching back and people had to jump out of the way…well, that’s when I decided that maybe archery wasn’t for me. Fluke things – no, fluke life-threatening things – tend to happen to me, and I’m not sure why.

I bet you’re wondering what this story has to do with cooking.

Last night, I had a plan. Because I’m a little behind on my recipes, I thought I’d grab this project by the horns and knock out several recipes at once. Rather than make one entree and a couple of sides, I had this brilliant idea to make three different entrees (which Ben and I could split) and two sides plus a sauce…SIX recipes!! Ah! Ah! Ah! (Sesame Street anyone?) So the menu for last night looked a little something like this:

Now, granted, I realize this seems like a Dinner: Impossible mission, but I really felt confident that I could handle it. After all, once the vegetables were prepared, they were pretty much on their own for the duration of their cooking time, and the meats weren’t too involved. If I got home at 6:00, I’d have plenty of time to work my way through the list of dishes. So really, this should be no problem.

I encountered my first minor setback on the way home from work, when I got sidetracked by entering a ping-pong tournament (don’t ask), and didn’t get home until around 9:00. No matter! Dinner would be a snap!

I started with the veal – I sauteed some diced onion in vermouth with tarragon and beef stock, then browned one piece of veal on both sides. I removed the meat to a separate plate, then added butter to the sauce in the pan. One dish done! This was going to be a breeze.

Slicing potatoes

I realized at this point I should probably get the veggies started so they could be cooking while I finished the meat (that’s called multi-tasking), so I sliced some carrots and onions and dropped them into a pan with olive oil and simmered them on the stove. Then I sliced a couple of baking potatoes, smeared butter on the bottom of a baking pan, and created layers of potato slices, salt/pepper, grated Swiss cheese and butter dots. I topped the whole thing with some whipping cream and put it over the stove to bring to a simmer.

I then turned my attention to the steak, heating oil and butter in a pan until the buttery foam disappeared and added a beautiful piece of sirloin to the pan. At this point, I checked the carrots and realized that they were beginning to brown (a Julia no-no), so I turned down the heat and added a clove of mashed garlic and some flour.

Potatoes, cheese and cream go into the oven

Meanwhile, I flipped the meat to the other side and started working on the Bearnaise sauce. Seemed easy enough – I mixed wine vinegar, vermouth, minced onions, and tarragon/salt/pepper in a small sauce pan and brought it to a boil on the stove. (Here I put my potatoes into a 300 degree oven for about 45 minutes, which freed up one of my burners – so far, so good!) Next, I beat some eggs in a bowl to add to the vinegar/wine mixture for the Bearnaise sauce, and strained them into the sauce pan. I was a little leery…any time you add eggs to a hot pan, it’s only logical that the eggs will either fry or scramble, so I couldn’t quite picture how this was going to turn out. But I put my trust in Julia and sallied forth.

Next, I took the sirloin out of the pan and set it on a plate out of the way and added some vermouth to the meat pan to deglaze the juices for the final addition to the Bearnaise sauce. I must have been in a little bit of a rush at this point, because while stirring the juices in the pan, I accidentally sloshed a little over the side, and…well, when working with alcohol and an open flame, one must be very careful because…

*sigh*

I set the pan on fire.

Moments after being engulfed in flames...

I guess the juices spilling over the side of the pan were ignited by the open flame on my gas stove, and the flame followed the juice up and into the pan, and there it was. A big ball of flames. I did the only thing I could think of – I called for Ben to bring the camera, turned off the burner and kept stirring. I figured it would just burn off the alcohol, which would be a good thing. Right?

Ben got there in time to witness my pan flambe, but the fire went out before he could snap a picture, so he stood by to be sure I had everything under control. (Note to self: purchase fire extinguisher.) Since the fire was out and the sauce wasn’t scorched (whew!), I turned the burner back on and went back about my business. I had a few things to pull together yet, so I had just asked Ben to lend a hand and give the sauce a stir when I turned my back and heard

“KABOOM!”

come from my stove – like a gun shot. I jumped and ducked, then looked back and could not believe my eyes.

Oh, dear...

For whatever reason, the juices in the pan had literally exploded, with enough force to lift the pan off the stovetop, and the eruption of Linda Blair proportions had literally covered the room in sauce splatters. The floor was sprayed with brown spots, reaching to the far corners of the room. My poor husband (and Ellie, who had been sniffing around the kitchen moments before) were covered in grease, and the cabinets, walls, and…are you ready for this?…CEILING were sprayed with juice. I raced to the stovetop and turned off all the burners before anything else could happen, then hurried Ben to the bathroom to wash the grease off his face. Miraculously, he wasn’t burned (thank goodness he wears glasses), and Ellie was only a little dirty (she and Gracie took turns washing the steak juice out of her fur). Once we knew all family members were safe and sound, we went back to survey the damage.

Messy Jessie strikes again.

It took a mop, a ladder, a load of laundry and a roll of paper towels to clean the majority of the mess. We had never seen anything like it. All Ben could say over and over again was, “Doesn’t Julia warn about this happening??” (she doesn’t) and we kept muttering how lucky we were that nobody was hurt. Imagine if I had been leaning down to pull the potatoes out of the oven and that explosion had happened…boy, this cooking stuff is a dangerous business.

Bernaise sauce...scrambled eggs...whatever!

With the majority of the mess behind us, we looked at each other and shrugged. “Back to cooking!” Ben announced, and so I went back to it (although I will say, I was done with that steak sauce). In all of the commotion, we did lose the carrots – they were burnt to a crisp – and the Bearnaise sauce looked like a pan of scrambled eggs. Not to be deterred, I added the last few ingredients – cold butter, then melted butter, and finally the contents of the meat pan – and mixed it enough to wear it looked less like scrambled eggs and more like corn meal. Having no idea what Bearnaise sauce was supposed to look like, I called it good and moved on with the last dish of the meal.

The chicken, luckily, was extremely easy. I rolled a seasoned chicken breast in flour, then browned both sides in a pan of clarified butter. Finally, a mixture of clarified butter and lemon juice was drizzled over the top, and I was done.

I pulled the potatoes out of the oven (honestly, they probably should have cooked longer, but in all the excitement of the fire and the stovetop explosion and whatnot, I lost track of the time and frankly just wanted to be done for the night). I cut the veal and the chicken in half and put each piece on two plates. The steak was much bigger than I had planned, so I sliced small pieces and added them to the plates as well. A scoop of potatoes and the veal and Bearnaise sauces on the side finished the plate and we were finally ready to eat.

L-R: Veal, Sirloin, Chicken, Potatoes

At this point, I was starving, so I’m not sure how accurate my description of these dishes can be, but I must say…everything on our plate was delicious. I tried the potatoes first, and was amazed by how tasty they were. Don’t tell Julia Child, but when we make potatoes au gratin, they come from a box. These were SO much better, and so easy to make! If you’re intimidated by the thought of following a Julia Child recipe, I highly recommend you tackle this one. Anyone can do it, and it tastes great. We won’t be buying boxed potatoes au gratin anymore.

Next I tried the chicken, which really surprised me. I don’t know if it was the coating of flour that made the difference, but the chicken was extremely tender and moist. It tasted great, which surprised me because all that was on it was butter and a little bit of lemon juice, but I guess sometimes simplicity is best. Ben usually makes baked chicken – I think I’ll use this method from now on. And you should, too.

The steak was PERFECT. I was so happy – it was cooked perfectly on my first try (I usually have to take it out of the pan, cut into it to check its doneness, then put it back on the stove for a few more minutes). I must be getting pretty good at this cooking thing! I overcame my objections and gave the Bearnaise sauce a try – and was really surprised to learn that I loved it! It added a little extra zip to the meat without overpowering its natural flavors. I saved those leftovers for the weekend.

The veal was good, but not my favorite. I think I’m just not a big veal fan. The meat seems tough and a little stringy and I’d rather put those calories towards the steak. But the brown tarragon sauce was pretty good – Ben’s favorite so far. I think it was the tarragon that did it. It was nice to use an herb other than thyme for a change.

All in all, this was a terrific meal. While it sounds like a ridiculous amount of food, it was actually just right – the veal patty and chicken breast pieces were small, and the steak could be cut to size, so I’d say (with the exception of a few small crises) that this cooking plan worked well. When all was said and done, I was able to knock out five recipes (yee haw!), all of which I would make again.

Tonight we’re heading to a belated New Year party, and I think my kitchen could use a rest (not to mention a final cleaning) before I return to the stove. But I’ve got lots of good stuff planned for the weekend…crepes, desserts, soup, leg of lamb. Rev up your tastebuds, because the party is just getting started.

Meanwhile, anyone know how to get steak juice off a popcorn ceiling?

Happy Friday!
– Jessica

Dress to Impress

I have to be honest – I didn’t even set foot in my kitchen yesterday. When I got home from a late-night meeting, it was all I could do to plop down in front of the fireplace to thaw out with a bowl of leftover ham casserole. HOWEVER, I’ll be back at it tonight, trying out several recipes for dinner. (Veal, steak, chicken, veggies…it’ll be a real schmorgasbord! Stay tuned!)

In the meantime, I thought I’d continue sharing more of the goods that St. Nick gifted me this year. I’m telling you, if you’ve got a cooking fanatic in your life, these could be great for the next gift giving occasion…

 

Ooh, la la!

Item #1: The FiFi Poodle Apron
Okay, I made up the name, but no matter. This one-pocket apron is absolutely precious. The pink fabric features drawings of French scenes, girls walking poodles among bistros and cafes – perfect for someone working their way through a French cook book. The sweet touch of polka dot black ribbon and the bow across the top adds a sweet feminine touch. The neck strap is adjustable and there are waist ties in the back. Tres bien, non? 

You can use your lasso of truth to see what folks really think about your cooking.

 

Item #2: The WonderWoman Apron
All the world is waiting for you, and the powers you possess! This apron knocked my socks off – how could you not feel like a superhero in the kitchen while wearing this?? An awesome replica of the Amazon woman’s iconic costume, this apron is almost too good to cook in – it may be a “serving only” piece after all the dirty work is done. Know a super mom or avid comic book fan? This apron is just the ticket! 

   

I think this is what I'll wear when I star in my own Food Network show...someday.

 

Item #3: The Official AYWJ Apron
Flattery will get you everywhere!! I actually got this from Ben for my birthday just before Christmas, and I was so excited to see…yep, you got it!…my very own logo! This apron is terrific. The waist strap is a drawstring that, when tightened, also shortens the neck strap. Pretty clever, really. Two big roomy pockets and really durable material make this really functional – I wouldn’t be afraid to wipe my messy hands on this baby. Best of all? This bad boy could be yours! Just go here to order. 

Who says you can’t be adorable while slaving over a hot stove? With sweet aprons like these, you’ll have to be careful not to outshine the dish you’re making. Wonder which one I’ll wear in the kitchen tonight… Tomorrow, a review of our schmorgasbord dinner. And stay tuned for a list of culinary reading material! 

TTFN!
– Jessica

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