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

Gadgets and Gizmos Aplenty

As I’ve mentioned before, Santa was good to me over the holidays. And why not? I was good all year long. I mean, think of all the fun I missed. Think of all the fellas that I didn’t kiss. Next year I could be just as good, if he’d check off my Christmas list. …Wait… that wasn’t me. That was Eartha Kitt. Ah, well. Apparently I was good enough to get some good loot. Among the great clothes and books and new board games (I think we’re addicted to Qwirkle), Santa also brought me a slew of items for my kitchen. What can I say, he knows me. (“I KNOW him!!” Name that movie.) I thought I’d share them with you to give you ideas in case you need to find the perfect something for that foodie friend of yours. I’ve categorized the goodies to give some order to our lives (new year’s resolution, anyone?) – today’s post is all about gadgets.

C is for Cookie, and that's good enough for me!

Item #1: Cookie Press
Long before Julia Child wandered into my life, I really enjoyed baking. Cooking I hadn’t quite mastered, but baking I could handle. Cakes, cookies, cupcakes, you name it. Granted, most of my recipes came from a box mix, but they were tasty just the same. So I’ve had my eye on this little gadget for awhile, and this year it made its way onto my wish list. Perfect for making spritz cookies, the press comes with 12 different shape disks for a variety of pretty cookies. The idea is that you pack cookie dough into the press, attach a disk to the end, then squeeze the pump and force the dough through the shape disk, creating an assortment of fancily shaped cookies. I haven’t tried it out yet, but it looks neat. The best part? You can use softened cookie dough from a tube! Know any bakers? They might like one of these.

Perfect slices every time!

Item #2: Perfect Slice Pie Cutter
I once attended a wedding with a friend who was asked at the last minute to be in charge of cutting/serving the wedding cake. I could see the look of panic on her face and she confessed to me she was terrible at cake cutting, but being the loyal friend she was, she accepted the challenge. (Incidentally, while her pieces really did look terrible, nobody seemed to mind – the cake tasted great!) The point is, I’m not very good at cutting cake either. You wouldn’t think it would be such a difficult thing, but there’s just something about cutting equal size pieces that gives me fits. So this handy slicer is a great idea! A one-piece tool, you simply fit it over your pie/cake/quiche and press down, and voila! Perfectly sized pieces! I’m eager to try this with Julia’s quiches…because so far, I have failed at Quiche Cutting 101.

Clearly, I did not receive a manicure for Christmas.

Item #3: Stem Gem Strawberry/Tomato Stem Remover
I know, this thing looks like some sort of science fiction weapon from the future, but really it’s a stem remover. It’s about 3.5″ long, and all you do is push the button to open the little metal claw on the end, insert it into the strawberry/tomato and release the button. Twist and pull to remove stem. Ta-daa! Isn’t modern technology amazing? While I haven’t tried it out yet, I’ve got a box of strawberries in my fridge that are going to be my test subjects tonight.

These are almost too pretty to use. Almost.

Item #4: All-Clad
Cookware
These stainless pots and pans are amazing! Not only have they been great to work with, but they’re surprisingly easy to clean. They also came with a bonus gift…a cookbook and a new pair of oven mitts! (If you’ve noticed the burned holes in my current mitts, you’ll see what a joy this bonus truly is.) Note to purchaser: if giving these as a gift, I recommend also including a bottle of Barkeeper’s Friend, a cleaning product that’ll help keep these pots and pans shiny and new.

So far, so good, wouldn’t you say? What about you…have you used any of these items? Feel free to leave a review – good or bad – in the comments. We’ve still got more coming your way, including “Cookwear” (aprons), “Reading Material” (cookbooks), and “Miscellaneous” (treasures galore!). Stay tuned, and happy cooking!

– Jessica

Back in the Saddle Again

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“Maybe the cat has fallen into the stew, or the lettuce has frozen, or the cake has collapsed. Eh bien, tant pis. Usually one’s cooking is better than one thinks it is. And if the food is truly vile, then the cook must simply grit her teeth and bear it with a smile, and learn from her mistakes.”  – Julia Child

I mean, really...can you blame me?

I have a confession to make. It’s January 11…and I still have my Christmas tree up. After a wonderful holiday season, I was kind of sad at the prospect of taking it down. We had planned to do it this past Sunday, since we’re kind of pushing it, but then, lo and behold, we awoke Sunday to the sight of big fluffy snowflakes cascading outside our bedroom window! Since it would just be silly to take down the Christmas tree in the snow when we put it up in 80-degree weather, our tree got a reprieve and will stand another week. Yippee!

While the snow didn’t last long, the cold weather seems to be here to stay…at least for a little while. What better dinner to cook in frigid temperatures than a hearty stew/casserole! (Not to mention the fact that I’ve got evening commitments Tuesday and Wednesday this week, so leftovers will be just the ticket.) And so, last night’s dinner was Daube de Boeuf (casserole of beef with wine and vegetables), but to mix things up a little, I substituted ham for the beef. (Hey, sticklers, take it easy…Julia said I could.) With only a couple of slight miscalculations on my part, this meal preparation was really easy. Here’s how it went:

Chopping veggies for the casserole

I began by dicing a 3 lb. ham into 2″ cubes and tossed them into a large bowl with a marinade consisting of a cup and a half of vermouth, a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, and lots of seasoning (salt, pepper, thyme, crumbled bay leaf, and mashed garlic). I also added some thinly sliced onions and carrots as well. Now, this is the point where I should have covered the bowl and let it sit for about three hours, stirring occasionally to mix up all the yummy goodness. However, I didn’t read ahead (when will I ever learn?!) and didn’t have an extra three hours lying around, so I let it marinate for about a half hour. Shh. Don’t tell Julia.

While the meat hung out in its wine bath (wine bath? I wish I were a 3 lb. ham…), I simmered 2″ slices of bacon on the stove for about 10 minutes and sliced some mushrooms and PSJC* tomatoes, then added them to the marinade bowl. When the bacon was done, I drained it and dried it and set the oven to 325 degrees. At this point, I took the ham out of the marinade and drained it in a colander, set it aside and poured about a cup of flour onto a plate.

Simmer down!

I lined the bottom of an oven-proof pan with a layer of bacon, then a handful of the vegetables. I rolled each piece of ham in the flour so it was lightly coated, shaking off any excess, then placed a layer of meat over the vegetables. I covered this with a few strips of bacon and repeated the process, finishing with one more layer of vegetables and a few more strips of bacon. Then, I poured the wine from the marinade bowl into the pan and added beef stock until the contents of the pan were almost covered. I brought the whole thing to a simmer on the stove, then covered it tightly and set it in the bottom third of the oven (ye godz, this thing was heavy! Consider a team lift!) to cook for about 3 hours.

I kept a close eye on the pan throughout the cooking time to be sure there was plenty of liquid inside (no problems). Meanwhile, I had planned to tackle ladyfingers again, since the kitchen is so cold with this arctic blast outside, but realized the casserole would be taking up the oven for three hours. I’ll give it a go later in the week.

Fresh out of the oven

When the casserole was finished, I took it out of the oven and replaced it with a dozen frozen rolls on a cookie sheet and let them bake for 1o minutes while the casserole cooled. Ben came through the door bundled in his heavy winter coat just in time…dinner was ready!

As you can see from the photo, the casserole/stew was more like a soup – more broth than I had expected. The flavors of each of the ingredients was pretty powerful, but overall the dish was tasty. I think the marinade wine came on a bit strong, which is probably my fault for not letting it sit longer before cooking, but all in all not a bad dinner. The broth and vegetables were my favorite part…I didn’t really care for the ham. It had a kind of smoky flavor (not sure why) that didn’t seem to meld with the other flavors in the bowl. I think if I’d used beef instead, it would have been much better. The dish was also pretty salty, given the amount of beef stock that was used. I would make this again, but either with beef or omitting meat entirely and having more of a vegetable soup. Either way, it was perfect for a cold wintery night by the Christmas tree.

Ta-daa!

It felt good to be in the kitchen again, and this was a great recipe to ease my way back into this project. All the work was done up front – once the prep was done, it was pretty much on autopilot until the timer went off. Meals later in the week won’t be so easy…after all, I’ve got a trip to Paris to think about!

Stay tuned this week for more adventures, and for a recap of some great gifts for the kitchen that Santa brought me. Hope you’re staying warm, wherever you are.

And if you notice that your neighbor is just now getting around to taking down their Christmas tree, be kind…some people have a hard time letting go. Not that I would know anything about that.

Bon appetit!
– Jessica

 *peeled, seeded, juiced and chopped

No, really. I can explain.

Hi, there. Remember me? I used to have this little blog in the far reaches of cyberspace where I would recount my various adventures in the kitchen. You used to read it and laugh out loud at my hilarious wit. We had great fun together. Ring a bell? 

So…*insert awkward pause here*…here’s the thing. I needed a break. December is a crazy busy month for my family, and as much as I love working alongside Julia Child and cranking out gourmet French cuisine day in and day out, that plan coupled with the holidays was really stressing me out. So I skipped a day. And then I skipped the next day. And then I had a bunch of holiday singing engagements so I skipped those days. And the next thing I knew, I was curled up on the couch in my jammies cuddling a bowl of homemade chili and cornbread muffins saying, “Julia who?” And life was good. 

Don’t get me wrong, I still did some things in the kitchen over the holidays – I was ecstatic when the company holiday luncheon called for glazed carrots (I made these again and had zero leftovers!) – but I also spent a lot of time with family and friends. It was a great holiday season (despite the fact that I may or may not have turned 30 just before Christmas), and through it all, my husband didn’t mention this project (or my lack of attention thereof) once.  

But somewhere along week four of our Julia void, we began looking at each other and smacking our lips, eyeing the kitchen where a certain blue paperback cookbook was poking out from behind our spice rack. We both knew it was time to get back to it.

So here I am! And boy, do I have some goodies to share with you! Let’s just say Santa was good to me this year, and my kitchen is bursting at the seams with new toys. I’ll share more about those later, but as a reward for your undying loyalty (hey, after a four-week hiatus, you’re here, right?), here’s a little teaser… Santa brought me THIS for Christmas:

This is exactly what it looks like ... a truly awesome WonderWoman apron!

I hope you’re not too bummed out by the lapse on this blog, but something tells me it didn’t ruin your holiday and you’ll understand. Besides, as my friend Celeste pointed out, “Who wants to think about cow tongue on Christmas?” I couldn’t agree more. 

This Sunday I reunite with my favorite grocery store to stock up on supplies for next week’s meals. (Think they’ll throw me a Welcome Home party?) I just hope I remember how to get there. Monday marks the official return of the “A Year With Julia” project, so mark your new calendars! In 2011, with time ticking away, I’m attacking this thing with vigor. And a plan.

Fasten your apron strings and hang on tight. It’s going to be a wild ride!

Happy New Year! And welcome back.

– Jessica

Just Say “No!”

 

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“Once you have mastered a technique, you barely have to look at a recipe again.”
– Julia Child

What can I say, loyal readers? I love to take on a challenge…and another challenge…oh, and yet another, and…well, you get the idea. I think I just don’t like saying the word “No.” The problem with that is, before you know it, you’re buried under a heaping pile of yesses. 

Between business trips and Thanksgiving and some extra projects on the side, I haven’t been able to give this project the attention it deserves. If you’re still here, I give you a gold star for bearing with me, and you’ll be glad to know that after a longer-than-anticipated hiatus, I spent last night back in the kitchen, reaquainting myself with Julia Child and her cookbook. She has since forgiven me…I hope you’ll do the same?

Dinner was good, but mostly because it wasn’t turkey. I love Thanksgiving leftovers as much as the next guy, but one can only eat so many turkey sandwiches in an attempt to clear the tupperware from the fridge before going a little tryptophan crazy. And so, in an attempt to get my sea legs under me (“But you ain’t got no legs, Lieutenant Dan!”), I took a stab at something a little familiar:

Cotes de Porc Poelees (casserole-sauteed pork chops)
Choux Broccoli a la Creme (chopped broccoli simmered in cream)
Champignons Sautes au Beurre (sauteed mushrooms)
Baked Potato

Mmm...sauteed mushrooms

I started with the mushrooms, which came already sliced. I gave them a quick rinse in the sink, patted them dry with a paper towel, then tossed them into a pan of hot butter and oil. It didn’t take long for them to brown and soften, and I followed Julia’s instructions to take them off the heat before they became too soft.

I sliced the broccoli into flowerets and blanched them for about five minutes in some salted water. Once drained, I gave them a rough chop and poured them into a pan of hot butter, shaking the pan back and forth so the extra moisture would cook out of the broccoli before turning brown. Adding 3/4 cup of whipping cream, I let it come to a simmer then covered the pan and let it cook for about 8 minutes. (I learned my lesson from the time I tried to make creamed spinach and kept a close eye on the cream to be sure it didn’t burn.)

Blanching broccoli

Meanwhile, I seasoned the pork chops with salt, pepper and thyme and then browned them on both sides in a pan of hot oil before setting them aside to drain the fat from the pan. I plopped a bit of butter into the pan, added the chops back in, covered the whole thing and put it in the bottom third of a 325 degree oven for about 30 minutes. Halfway through cooking, I took them out, turned them and basted them with the buttery juices – yum. When time was up, I set the pork chops on a plate and added some vermouth to the pan and heated it over the stove for the sauce. Remembering back to when I first learned these steps, it was encouraging to think how easily these steps came to me now. I didn’t even need to refer back to MTAOFC, except to remember how much vermouth to put in the sauce. Not bad!

Creamed Broccoli

Ben came home just as the potatoes finished baking in the microwave (yes, I said it – the microwave). We loaded up our plates and headed to the living room to catch up on three weeks of missed Survivor episodes (see, this blog isn’t the only thing that’s been neglected lately).

Overall, the dinner was good. I was surprised that the pork chops seemed a little dry this time – maybe because I didn’t marinate them first? I also didn’t use much sauce on my plate, so that could have had something to do with it. The mushrooms were tasty, but I would have liked them more had they been a little softer. But the creamed broccoli was a nice surprise! The greens weren’t mushy, and the cream was light and not soupy – it added the slightest hint of sweetness to the vegetables, and even Ben gave it two thumbs up. (“This is the only way to cook broccoli!” he announced.)

Dinner is served!

More than the food itself, it felt really good to be cooking again. Something about accomplishing a goal can lift a girl’s spirits. (And two more recipes down!)

On another note, I’m proud to announce that I finally said “NO” to a challenge, opting out of baking cookies for this weekend’s holiday bake sale and instead sending Ben to the store for store-bought treats. Maybe I’m learning after all!

Happy December, everybody!
– Jessica

The Most Pitiful Thanksgiving Ever

No, this isn’t some holiday special brought to you by Charles Shulz (although if it were, I’d request that my part be played by The Little Red-Haired Girl. She’s so cute!). No, no – this is a true story of a Thanksgiving from my college years, also entitled “No Good Deed Goes Unpunished”.

My junior year in college, I was a resident assistant in my girls’ dorm with a staff of 10 awesome young women. A week before school began each semester, we would arrive early to get everything set up for the girls to move in. During that time, we’d take some training classes, spend some time bonding with our staff, and we’d also plan our work schedule for the year.

It was a given that at some point, one of us would have to work in the building during a holiday, and we used a “seniority rules” policy of passing around a calendar and letting people choose the holiday they’d be willing to work. As a junior, I was one of the first staff members to choose, and I realized that several of our RA’s were from out of town. My family lived just an hour away, so I felt it was only fair for me to take one of the bigger holidays – so I took Thanksgiving. How bad could it be? Not only could I see my family any time, I had grand visions of hosting a dinner in the building for any residents in the building who couldn’t make it home. This could actually be really fun!

My family had made plans to attend a family reunion that day, but we agreed they’d stop by on their way home and bring me some leftovers and we would have our own little Thanksgiving in my dorm room. No problem – my resident dinner would be done by then.

Only, when Thanksgiving rolled around, there were no residents in the building. Anybody who hadn’t been able to travel over the holiday had gone to friends’ houses – the dorm was a virtual ghost town. Just me and the crickets. Our hall director had also chosen to stay, but her family came from out of state to stay with her in her suite – and it wasn’t until I could smell the turkey baking in her kitchen that I began to feel a little homesick.

So I busied myself by cleaning my room, dusting and vacuuming – and then the old dorm vacuum burnt out and filled my room with the smell of melted rubber. Great. That would be a nice ambiance for our Thanksgiving meal.

I watched TV to pass the time, and then my dad called from Georgia. I could hear lots of family there, laughing and having a great time. “We’re having home-made pie!” my dad exclaimed, then said, “Here, let me pass the phone around!” I got to talk to everyone, which actually just made me really sad, and when we hung up the phone, I burst into tears. Who wants to spend Thanksgiving alone??

I kept thinking about the turkey leftovers my mom would be bringing with her, and how we could still have a nice Thanksgiving meal out in the dorm lobby at the study tables. And when she finally arrived, I was so glad to see her, carrying a stack of tupperware containers.

Don't be fooled! This isn't the real deal!

We spread everything out on the table, and when I uncovered the plate, she said, “Um…I have to warn you. At the reunion, they didn’t have regular turkey. They had….tofu turkey.”

So that’s the story of Thanksgiving my junior year in college. Stuck in a dorm with tofu turkey. But you know something? It sure made me thankful for all the things I had, and all the people in my life that loved me.

(In case you were wondering, I didn’t sign up for the Thanksgiving duty the following year.)

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

– Jessica

Because Who Doesn’t Need One More Thing to Make This Thanksgiving?

With family in town for Thanksgiving, I’m turning my attention away from the kitchen for a few days – but hey, everyone deserves a holiday, right? In the meantime, I thought it would be fun to teach you an easy Thanksgiving project that’ll really spruce up your holiday table this week. And because it uses a pumpkin, and you have to follow a “recipe”, it’s kind of like cooking…if you squint really hard. And use your imagination.

Here’s what we’re making:

Oooh! Ahhh!

Looks impressive, no? It’s super easy and doesn’t take much time at all. Here’s what you’ll need:

– pumpkin or gourd of your choice (nothing too shallow)
– knife and scooping utensils (that’s a technical term)
– block of floral foam
– fall flowers (I like to choose a cheapo grocery store bouquet)

That’s it! Ready? Here’s the how to:

If your pumpkin is a little unsteady, you can begin by leveling the bottom with a knife – you definitely don’t want this thing to be tipsy. (There’s a drunk relative joke in there somewhere, but let’s move along before things get out of hand.) Lop off the top of your pumpkin and scoop out the insides like you’re making a Jack o’ Lantern (but we’re not, because that was, like, sooooo last month).

Next, take some floral foam (who doesn’t have that lying around the house?) and cut it down to fit inside the pumpkin. (You can also take Martha Stewart’s advice and rather than floral foam, hide a vase inside the pumpkin. Which is perfectly fine. If, you know, you don’t mind CHEATING. <Love ya, Martha!>)

Fill the pumpkin with water (not too full!) as it is now serving as your vase. Finally, trim the flower stems and arrange them in the pumpkin, sticking them down into the floral foam. (I recommend starting with flowers in the top center of the foam and working your way out and down.)

And then, VOILA!! In less than 30 minutes and for as little as $15, you can have a lovely fall centerpiece for your holiday tablescape. I like to use small baking pumpkins and give these as hostess gifts, or you could choose a few gourds of varying shape/size and make a grouping on your table. The possibilities are endless!

Okay, well, maybe not endless. But there’s a lot you could do with these.

So go forth and give thanks, my friends, and later in the week I’ll share with you the story of The Most Pitiful Thanksgiving Ever. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll give thanks…that you aren’t me. It can be our holiday tradition.

Don’t you love traditions?

Gobble gobble!
– Jessica

Fly Me to the Moon

MoonFish

I’m currently in Orlando, attending my last trade show of the year. While I would always rather be home with Ben and the cats than on the road, there are some definite perks to this part of the business. Freebies and give-aways, meeting new people, making connections in the industry, and time with co-workers outside of the office environment are all pretty cool. But by far one of the best parts about traveling for business (especially when the president of the company comes along) is being treated to some really amazing meals. Like last night, for instance. Being that we were in Florida, we decided on seafood for dinner, and went to a restaurant called MoonFish.

Oh, MoonFish. I think I love you.

Sushi Bar

Located in a shopping center area, this place could easily be overlooked – because I was on the look-out for it, and because they had a sign close to the main road, we saw it just in time and pulled into the crowded parking lot. We used their complimentary valet service to park the rental car, and a greeter at the main entrance opened the door for us. The dim lighting and swanky decor gave the place a pretty hip, upscale atmosphere. The entry was lined with glass cases filled with slices of fish on ice, and I was thrilled to discover that I actually recognized some of them from Julia’s recipes! (When I saw the trout with the skin on, I shuddered and pitied the fool who had to prepare that thing.) We waited at the bar for the rest of our party and watched chefs create sushi roll appetizers. I perused the menu and realized this was sort of an asian-inspired seafood restaurant – several dishes had ginger sauces and dressings, and there was a large sushi offering on the main menu. We were seated quickly at a roomy booth, and our waitress greeted us with a platter of warm towels for our hands. (I wondered if it would be rude to use them on my bare feet after having stood on them all day long, then decided against it.)

Coconut Shrimp & Fried Calamari

We ordered appetizers for the table, crab cakes with a mango relish (the crab was pure meat with light breading, and the gentle sweetness from the sauce made my tastebuds cry, “YUM!”); fried calamari and coconut shrimp (these were monster shrimp who had clearly been body doubles for a sci-fi thriller at one of the nearby movie studios); and snow crab claws (already cracked for ease and less chance of embarrassment, served on a bowl of ice). Everything was delicious. And to be honest, I considered not even ordering a meal because the amount of food on the table was obscene.

But I didn’t stop there.

Next came a basket of sliced, warm raspberry bread and sourdough bread. I had a slice of the raspberry, which was sweet but not quite a dessert bread. With a little melted butter on top, it was perfect. And then came the house salad, which had a ginger dressing and spicy cracker croutons. I ate almost all of it, because I have no self control and it was delish.

Dining Room

And THEN came the actual meal, which was crab stuffed shrimp and scallops with ginger steamed vegetables and rice. I tell you, I ate about five bites before I had to finally throw in the towel, because there was just so much food! The presentation of my dinner wasn’t what I expected, but it was wonderful. The crab-shrimp and scallops were all mixed together in a tomato-based red sauce in a shallow bowl, seasoned with spices and piping hot. The vegetables were terrific – the hint of ginger was subtle but surprisingly good. I was sad when I had to ask for a to-go box, because I wanted to finish everything on my plate. But alas, one person can only eat so much. Yes. Even me.

I will say despite the perfection of everything else, we did have one slight mishap when our guest of honor cut into his fish and realized it wasn’t cooked through. The waitress whisked it away, and while they prepared a new plate for him, at least two managers came to our table to personally apologize for the mistake and made sure we knew that they had “handled it” with the chef in the back. (Side note: Dear chef in the back, I hope you still have a job tomorrow. Everything else was so wonderful, we can overlook one minor infraction.) To be honest, we had all eaten so much before the meal, nobody was too upset about the undercooked fish – I promise, nobody went hungry last night.

This is an actual moonfish. He's one gnarly looking dude, huh?

The selection on the menu was not to be believed. Printed that day, it not only listed each available fish, but also the name of the captain who caught it and where it was caught! In addition to seafood, they also offered a selection of steaks, chops and chicken, so there was certainly something for everyone. While I couldn’t imagine eating here every night (I would consider this a “special occasion” restaurant), I highly recommend this place – from the selection of food to the quality of everything on our table, this was easily one of the best seafood meals I’ve ever had.

In Orlando? Hungry for seafood? Check out MoonFish. You won’t be sorry.

Even if your fish is undercooked. This place is that good.

Your favorite roving reporter,
– Jessica

*Please note: despite the fact that I did have the pleasure of meeting two of last night’s managers, MoonFish has no idea who I am and has never heard of this site. I’m just passing on the story of a really good dinner. The end.

You Say Tomayto, I Say Tomahto

 

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“When I follow (Julia’s) cooking times for pork (or even when I don’t) I wind up with sawdust, usually.  Maybe it’s because she was cooking before pork was the Other White Meat.  Turned out good this time, though.” – Julie Powell

Remember these guys? Well, after three days of solitary confinement, they have fulfilled their destiny. Over the weekend, I finally got around to making our Cotes de Porc Robert (pork chops braised in fresh tomato sauce) with a side of Puree de Navets Parmentier (turnip and potato puree). While I began marinating the meat Thursday night with the intention of cooking this meal on Friday, some things came up that kept me from the kitchen, so the meat had to wait until Sunday. (Did you know that pork chops can keep in the fridge up to 5 days? I know, I looked it up.)

I was a little worried that the herb marinade was going to be too strong at this point, but when I opened the tupperware container, I was relieved to find the meat smelled delicious and the seasoning wasn’t too overpowering. I poured some oil into a pan and browned the meat on both sides, then set it aside while I worked on the tomato sauce.

Dumping the oil out of the pan, I added some butter and sauteed some minced yellow onion, then added a tablespoon of flour. I tossed in some chopped tomato (peeled, seeded and juiced). With a little bit of seasoning, I let the vegetables cook together, then added Vermouth and beef stock to the pan. While that came to a simmer, I peeled and quartered some turnips and blanched them (boiled them in salted water for a few minutes). I drained them and tossed them into a saucepan with some butter and poured beef stock in until they were almost covered. I put a lid on the pan and braised them for about thirty minutes. (Meanwhile, I was boiling peeled and quartered potatoes in a separate pot for the potato puree. More on that in a bit.)

Back to the meat, I stirred the tomato sauce and added each pork chop to the pan, basting them with the sauce. I covered the pan and let the meat simmer in the sauce for a few minutes, then moved the pan to the bottom third of a 325-degree oven where it baked for a half-hour.

Just before the timer sounded, I took the potatoes off the stove (they were nice and soft now), drained them, and mashed them in a bowl with a little bit of milk. I also drained the turnips (the liquied was supposed to have evaporated, but I still had a bit left in the pan and needed to move on with my life) and dumped them into a food processor to puree them. When I was left with a creamy texture, I poured them into the potato bowl and mixed everything together, adding some salt and pepper and a little butter for flavor. They looked like mashed potatoes, but I could definitely smell the turnips and wondered how this was going to taste.

I took the meat out of the oven and served the pork chops on two plates, letting the reamining sauce in the pan simmer on the stove before ladeling it over the chops. With a small scoop of turnip/potato puree on the side, we were ready to eat.

The meat was excellent. The tomato sauce was thicker and more substantial than I had originally envisioned, and because it was so easy to make and so tasty, I’d like to try it on other things as well – chicken, burger patties, maybe even some pasta. The marinade on the meat was just right, adding a little extra kick to the overall taste.

The puree, on the other hand, was not my favorite. While I love mashed potatoes, and the texture was just right, I couldn’t get past the bitter aftertaste of the turnips. This is the second time I’ve tried them, each time cooked a different way, and this is the second time I haven’t liked them. So I think it’s safe to say that turnips are just not my thing. But if YOU like turnips, and you’re a fan of mashed potatoes, you might like this creamy side dish.

The meal was pretty simple, but it was just right for us as we weren’t super hungry. Tonight we’re trying something entirely different…spinach and mushroom crepes! I have a feeling this is going to take a few attempts before success, but I’ll let you know how it all turns out.

Bon appetit!

– Jessica

Letting it Marinate…

Marinating Pork Chops

Because my poor husband had some unpleasant dental work done yesterday, we opted to postpone our pork chop dinner plans until tonight and had soup and leftovers instead. I did go ahead and thaw the meat, and before I went to bed I used Julia’s recipe for Marinade Seche (salt marinade with herbs and spices). It was super easy. All I did was toss some salt, pepper, thyme, ground bay leaf and allspice into a tupperware bowl, mix it around a little and rub it into the sides of the pork chops. I covered them and put them in time-out in the fridge overnight to think about what they had done. When I get home, they’ll be ready for cooking…stay tuned for tomorrow’s review of Cotes de Porc Robert (pork chops braised in fresh tomato sauce).

In other news, it seems my pork chops aren’t the only thing benefitting from a little marinating these days. Have you heard? Looks like Food Network and Uverse have come to some sort of understanding and all of our favorite programs are back on the air. (And there was great rejoicing!) But here’s the BEST part…this couldn’t have come at a better time, because guess what’s happening on the Food Network next week? (No, I haven’t been picked up for my own show…yet.) Are you familiar with a little show called “Throwdown With Bobby Flay”? Next Wednesday, he takes a certain Oklahoma ranch by storm when he challenges the ever-popular Pioneer Woman to a Thanksgiving dinner cook-off!!

I’m so excited I can’t begin to tell you. You can read a little teaser about the show here, and if you know what’s good for you, you’ll tune in (if for no other reason than to check out the sink I told you about). Oh, Ree…if we would only switch places for a day, the adventures I could have!

You, not so much.

– Jessica

Something Out of Nothing

 

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“You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces – just good food from fresh ingredients.” – Julia Child
 
Somehow when I planned out this week’s meals, I seem to have left out a day. I got home last night and realized that my pork chops hadn’t thawed and needed to be marinated, and the chicken was still in the freezer. But as it turns out, I didn’t feel much like cooking either of those anyway. So I rummaged around my kitchen to see what other ingredients I had, and came up with a pretty good “something out of nothing” dinner.

I made Bifteck Saute Bercy (pan-broiled steak with shallot and white wine sauce) and, after a failed attempt at Braised Leeks (which quickly became Burnt Leeks), I found some carrots in the crisper drawer of the fridge and made Carottes Etuvees au Beurre (carrots braised in butter). The leek situation was a bit of a disappointment. I had sliced them and trimmed them and they were boiling on the stove as directed, but apparently a combination of not enough water in the pot and too high of a boiling temperature led to their demise. Mostly I was annoyed that my house reeked of onions (a leek reek?) for nothing.

But as the old saying goes, there’s no use crying over burnt leeks (huh?), so I moved on to Plan B. I peeled and sliced some carrots and tossed them into another pot (one with less burn inside) and added water (a half-cup extra, just to be safe), butter, a bit of sugar for flavor, and salt and pepper. I covered the pot and let it boil slowly for about 40 minutes.

Carrots braised in butter

The meat wouldn’t take long at all, so I waited until the carrots had about ten minutes to go before making the steaks. Given my history with smoking up the house every time I cook steaks on the stove, I tried an experiment last night in which I used the back burner directly under the vent over the stove. I thought this might be more effective in diminishing the amount of smoke that would billow out into the kitchen. While this seemed to work really well, that particular burner is not the hottest of the four, so I had a hard time getting a nice sear on the meat. Eh, I still think it was worth it.

I started by dropping some butter and oil into a pan, then, in pairs, cooked six small eye of round steaks. One trick I thought of after the fact that Julia had taught me early on was to cut little slits around the perimeter of the meat before cooking. This would have been helpful, as my steaks did start to curl up, but in the end they turned out fine. As they finished, I set them aside on a plate and, when the pan was empty, I poured out all the fat and added a little butter back into the pan. I tossed in some minced scallions and let them cook for a minute, then poured in a quarter-cup of Vermouth. Once the mixture took on a syrupy texture, I took it off the heat and stirred in some more butter to thicken the sauce (not to mention my waistline).

Something Out of Nothing looks pretty good, huh?

And just like that, dinner was done! I wasn’t too hungry, so the small steak and side of carrots was enough for me. But Ben, predicting accurately that he wouldn’t be a huge fan of the carrots, added a side of leftover stuffing from the other night as well as some leftover pasta. We sat down together and dug in. The sauce on the steaks was my favorite so far, and it’s easily the simplest one yet. It gave the meat a nice rich flavor and kicked the little steaks (which were okay but nothing fancy) into high gear. But the carrots were the greatest surprise. I couldn’t believe how tasty they were! They were sweet and buttery, but not overly so. They were the perfect texture, tender without being mushy. It occurred to me that before this venture, I’ve never really eaten many cooked carrots. In fact, the only time I can recall having them is in pot roast or soup. I was glad to learn that I liked them. And I was even more glad to learn that Ben didn’t…more for me!

Considering I really didn’t have any grand plans for last night’s meal, it was surprisingly good. I challenge you to peruse your food supplies tonight and see what you can come up with. Not every meal has to be complex or elaborate. In fact, I think it’s the Something Out of Nothing meals that taste the best.

Happy cooking!

– Jessica

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