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

Anything This Good Seems a Little Fishy

Anyone remember back when Saturday Night Live was funny? I mean really funny. Back in the days of Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood and “Land Shark!” and “What do you all want for nuthin’? A rrrrrrubber biscuit?” I loved those guys, and I pity anyone who came after them, because nobody could possibly live up to that kind of humor. (Although, don’t get me wrong, several have come close.)

One of the things I’ll never forget was Dan Aykroyd’s Bass-O-Matic. Mostly because it was entirely repulsive and nauseatingly funny. See for yourself:

Bass-O-Matic

So the idea that someone would even try this for real, let alone a company trying to sell a product, gets pretty big points in my book. Here’s BlendTec’s version of the Bass-O-Matic…the Tilapia-O-Matic. Will it blend? Check it out!

Tilapia-O-Matic

I don’t know about you, but I’m suddenly in the mood for a milkshake. And some fish sticks.

– Jessica

Are You Sinking What I’m Sinking?

So I know I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again… I am a HUGE fan of the Pioneer Woman. Between her delicious recipes, helpful Photoshop tips and her gorgeous photography, not to mention her hilarious wit as she recounts her tales of life on a ranch, I’m constantly entertained and secretly want to be her when I grow up. But don’t tell anyone.

One of the many things I envy about the Pioneer Woman is her kitchen. She and her husband (fondly referred to as Marlboro Man) have a lodge on their property where guests come to stay and where they host all kinds of gatherings. A few years ago, they renovated this building to give it a much-needed face lift – and one of the things she blogged about during the renovations was the kitchen.

While I could go on and on about the incredible features of this place, this was the thing that really caught my attention. Read about it on her blog…if you don’t mind drooling a little.

Oh, how the other half lives.

– Jessica

Believe It…Or Don’t!

My inner child is calling out for some fun, so let’s play a game I like to call, “Believe It…Or Don’t!” I’ll show you photos of food, and you tell me what they have in common. Ready? Here we go! 

Mmm...a juicy hamburger

A foot long hot dog!

  

Ole! A plate of soft beef tacos!

 Any ideas yet? Here’s a hint: the answer is NOT “foods that are bad for you!” Try again!

To me, nothing beats a good BLT!

 Still can’t decide? How about now?  

Finger lickin' good!

The answer is NOT “food you might eat at a picnic”. Give up? Okay, I’ll tell you… 

The above foods are all made out of cake. 

“Believe It…Or Don’t!”

Thanks for playing!
– Jessica

Sesame Mucho

Every Christmas, my family does an amazing job of finding gifts that combine two things that totally don’t go together, yet ultimately result in a completely awesome gift. Case in point: my figurine of a sock monkey dressed as WonderWoman. Bizarre? Maybe. Suh-weet? And how!

So I ask you. Love the Beatles? Love food? Then this little gem is my gift to you, friends…Christmas has come early:

– Jessica

And the “Husband of the Year” Award Goes to…

So, I don’t mean to brag, but I think you all should know that I’m married to a pretty awesome guy. Like, amazingly awesome. So awesome, in fact, that his most recent victory warrants its very own post on this quiet little website. Are you ready? The other night, my husband…
 
(washed the dishes? did the laundry? rubbed my shoulders? Even better!)
 
…cooked ME dinner!
 
Hey, when you’ve been a slave to the kitchen for two months, as fun as it can be, it’s nice to have someone else take the reins for a night. So while I knew I had the night off from cooking, the meal itself was a surprise. Even as I napped on the couch with a cat on my stomach and some kind of sporting event on TV, a yummy smell wafting through the house from the direction of the stove, I still had no idea what was on the menu. 

Burger Bites!

And then, in a grand unveiling, it was announced that husband had made Sliders!! (By the way, this term makes us both uncomfortable, so we hereby have dubbed these “Burger Bites”. Isn’t that better?) While that in and of itself is pretty darn terrific, it gets even better…because these weren’t just ANY sliders Burger Bites, my friends. These were PIONEER WOMAN sliders!

The other day, I posted this article about one of my favorite blogger’s website. Husband not only read my post, but actually clicked on the link that took him to her site, where he perused her recipes and found one with which to surprise me. C’mon. That’s pretty stinkin’ awesome.
The burgers were terrific. Not only did they look just like the ones Ree makes, but they tasted even better than I imagined. There was all sorts of hidden surprises in the meat (and I mean “surprises” in a “Hey, worcestershire sauce and cream!” kind of way. Not in a “Hey, where’s the other half of this worm?” kind of way. Ew.) and melted Swiss and mushrooms topped everything off nicely. But the absolute best surprise? Spice Fry Sauce. Read the recipe – it’s all there. Just know that in a pop quiz, I was able to identify all three mystery ingredients (and I mean “mystery” in a “Hey, cayenne pepper!” kind of way, not in a … well, nevermind.) Ben also made a plate full of seasoned fries for us to share, which he knows is my ultimate weakness.
So let’s recap, shall we? Surprise dinner with delicious Burger Bites. French fries. A meal I didn’t have to cook. A husband who loves me and reads my blog. I’ve just stripped myself of all Pouty Points – I’ve got nothing to complain about because life is pretty dadgum good. So the next time I start to whine about something, I’ll stuff a Burger Bite in my mouth and be glad I’m livin’.
Thank you, Husband!
– Jessica
 

A Lonely Little Petunia in an Onion Patch

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“Good stuff.  Eric’s got a problem with croutons (don’t ask, I don’t get it), so he’s got something of a problem with the soup.  Actually, now that you mention it, I guess I can understand not liking soggy bread in your soup.  But it’s soggy with onions, so how bad could it be?” – Julie Powell 

After having been separated from Julia and MtAoFC for a week, I was going through a cooking withdrawal. So over the weekend I decided to whip up a light lunch before we headed off to the circus. The easiest and quickest thing I could come up with was a soup, and it was up to Ben to determine which one we’d have. He decided on Soupe a l’Oignon (onion soup), and I have to admit, I was a little skeptical. The idea of an onion soup – with nothing else – seemed a little boring. But surely Julia wouldn’t put a boring recipe in her book, would she? No, she wouldn’t. And don’t call me Shirley.

Dang it!

While this recipe was really easy, it did take a little bit of time. I cooked sliced onions in a pan with butter and oil for about 15 minutes. Next, I added some sugar and salt and let the pan cook for about 30 minutes. And then I burned the onions. And then I threw them away and started over. And then I thought to myself, “So much for quick and easy.” But that was my own fault. The second time, things went fine.

While the onions cooked on the stove with the sugar, I made croutons by slicing a loaf of French bread and cutting the slices into cubes. These were tossed into a roasting pan and baked in the oven at 325 degrees for about 30 minutes, drizzling with olive oil and flipping them over halfway through the cooking process. These croutons turned out great – nice and crispy, golden brown.

Croutons and Onion Soup

When the onions had turned an even brown, I stirred in some flour and added about 2 quarts of boiling brown stock. A little vermouth and some seasonings, and I simmered the soup for about 3o more minutes. When done, I used a ladle to scoop servings into a bowl, which I topped with croutons and some shredded Swiss cheese.

Sitting down to eat, I couldn’t help noticing how much this French onion soup looked like the soup from La Madeleine. It was delicious!! A little on the salty side (not that I’m complaining!), the flavor of the brown stock was strong enough to match the power of the onions, so you couldn’t really notice one over the other. The cheese really made the meal, melting into the hot soup and bringing all the flavors together. The onions were super thin and soft, so you could hardly even tell they were in the bowl, and the croutons soaked up the soup enough to add a hint of crunch to the meal. Julia recommends serving the soup over rounds of hard-toasted French bread (follow the same recipe as the croutons, but leave the bread in big slices rather than cubes). I would definitely try that next time. Ben and I both had seconds before we had to, hit the road, and we couldn’t believe how tasty the soup was.

French Onion Soup

But fair warning, folks – you might want to pop a mint before heading out into the world after eating this soup. This meal leaves a strong aftertaste that you’ll be noticing for hours. Mmm. Onions.

The best thing about this soup is that it could stand alone as a main course, or it could be a light side dish for a bigger meal. Either way, I highly recommend you give this one a try. Even if you’re not a big fan of onions, I bet you’d like this dish. We sure did!

– Jessica

You’ll Roux the Day!

 

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“For the casual reader (of Mastering the Art of French Cooking), we have tried to make every recipe stand on its own. Cross references are always a problem. If there are not enough, you may miss an important point, and if there are too many you will become enraged.” – Julia Child 

After what seems like an eternal hiatus from French cuisine, I finally got back in the kitchen and cooked up a pretty mean dinner last night: Cotes de Porc Sauce Nenette (pork chops with mustard, cream and tomato sauce) with Chou-Fleur a la Mornay, Gratine (cauliflower au gratin with cheese) and corn on the cob. It seemed simple enough, and overall, it was. I started by browning the pork chops on the stove in some oil, then cooking them in the oven in butter for about thirty minutes at 325 degrees. Meanwhile, I focused on the cauliflower – I chopped an 8″ head of cauliflower into florets, then blanched them in boiling water for about ten minutes, then drained the pot and set it aside. 

pork chops

Next I was to make the mornay sauce for the cauliflower, which I discovered involved some cross-referencing. The mornay sauce begins with two cups of bechamel sauce (a white sauce), so I flipped back a few pages to remember how it was done. Butter and flour are mixed in a small saucepan over low heat until they froth together and form a roux. Then, two cups of heated milk and salt are poured into the pan off the heat and beaten together with a wire whisk before going back on the stove until it all comes to a boil. I added some salt and pepper for taste, then set it aside.
 
The timer was going off for the pork chops, so I turned my atention back to the meat. I removed them from the oven and let them cool a little while I began working on the cream sauce.I simmered cream on the stove, then added it to a mixture of tomato paste and dry mustard. Next, I took the pork chops out of the pan and set them aside and added the cream mixture to the meat juices in the pan. I brought it to a boil, and it was ready to be served over the meat. Easy!
 

Adding the sauce to the cauliflower.

 

Time to finish the cauliflower dish. I followed Julia’s directions and added a third of the white sauce to a casserole, then poured the cauliflower on top. Adding a little salt and pepper, I then poured the rest of the sauce on top, topping it off with some bread crumbs and a little bit of shredded Swiss cheese. This was all coming together quite nicely!  And then I noticed that I still had a bowl of shredded Swiss cheese with parmesan sitting on the counter. Hm. You know that feeling when you’ve just assembled a piece of furniture and it’s up and standing and you’ve come to the end of the directions only to then realize you’ve still got a handful of screws staring you in the face? This was kind of like that. I quickly flipped through the recipe for the pork chops – nope, no Swiss cheese in Sauce Nenette. The cauliflower? Nothing mentioned there. So I went back to the Sauce Mornay – and realized during the cross-reference process, I never made it to the next recipe. So instead of Sauce Mornay, I had only completed the preliminary steps of Sauce Bechamel. Rats. I looked at the bowl of cheese, then back at the cauliflower dish. And I could hear my inner voice calling out to me, “What would Julia do?” So I gave a shrug and sprinkled the cheese over the top of the casserole and popped it into the oven. Because sometimes, all you can do is move on with your life. Am I right?

Cauliflower au Gratin

When Ben got home from work, everything was ready. I served up a plate of pork chop with sauce spooned over the top, a helping of the cauliflower dish (would it be au gratin? we were about to find out!) and an ear of corn on the cob. The meat had been sitting out for about an hour before we were ready to eat, so the meat was a little tougher than I think it would have been had we eaten it straight from the oven. But no matter! The sauce was delicious (no surprise there!). I wondered if the mustard would overpower the tomato, but the flavors complimented each other perfectly. So far, so good! Now time for the test of the cauliflower (sounds like a movement from the Nutcracker, doesn’t it?). 

Dinner is served.

Ben’s first observation about the cauliflower was, “It kind of looks like potatoes au gratin.” Good start! I was skeptical as to how this had turned out, but I’m glad to announce that it was terrific! The Swiss cheese had worked its way down into the cauliflower, so while it wasn’t mixed into the creamy sauce, it still blended all together in the end. The bread crumbs were golden brown on top, and the creamy sauce had thickened a little in the oven, giving a nice contrast to the crunchier texture of the cauliflower itself. Was it a success? Ben, who has repeatedly told me he’s not a fan of cauliflower, went for seconds. I’d consider this a huge success. 

This dinner (with the exception of my own failure to remember all of the steps…*sigh*) was really easy to make. My favorite thing about it is that it was food that was familiar, but with a different twist. And while it pretty much goes without saying, I’ll say it anyway… long live the mustard, cream and tomato sauce. Amen. 

– Jessica

Call Me What You Want, Just Don’t Call Me Late For Dinner

I have just been informed that when I was a toddler, my Grampa Bob had a pet name for me…

He liked to call me “Chuck Wagon” because I had a hearty appetite and wasn’t a picky eater.

Some things never change.

– Jessica

Take a Hike and Hit the Pike!

In a mere four days, I’m headed off to Seattle to attend (and perform at) my annual barbershop convention. I’ve only been to Seattle once, but it has one of my favorite places to visit… the Pike Place Fish Market!

What a selection!

Ever been there? Founded in 1930, the Pike Place Fish Market is an open air fish market located in Seattle, Washington’s Pike Place Market at the corner of Pike Street and Pike Place. While their selection of seafood is outstanding, this place is actually known for its tradition of “flying fish” – when a customer has made their purchase, the fishmongers toss the fish through the air in an entertaining performance before finally wrapping up the meat and sending it on its way.

A quick, inspiring read

I actually first learned about this place when my co-workers and I were required to read the book FISH! Philosophy (an easy read that I highly recommend.) It tells the story about how, after nearing bankruptcy in 1986, the fish market owner and employees decided to change the way they did business. So they introduced their flying fish and began interacting with customers in a new way, and four years later had become world famous. As you’ll see, the store is now a popular tourist attraction in Seattle, entertaining nearly 10,000 visitors a day!

Having read about the fish market, I knew it was a place I wanted to see first-hand, so Ben and I stopped by there on our honeymoon roadtrip. We really got a kick out of the fish market, but what amazed me was how much other stuff there was to see and do in the rest of the Pike Place Market. We purchased a bag of tiny donuts from a man with a stand and took our time walking through the market, admiring all the vendors’ goods. From fresh produce and candied nuts to clothing and jewelry, we spent the morning wandering through the place and admiring the view from the upper level windows.

If you’ve never been to Pike Place Fish Market, and you’re going to be in the Seattle area, I highly recommend you take some time to visit. Allow yourself at least a couple of hours so you can really take your time and enjoy your experience. Where else can you literally catch a fish with your bare hands?

Here’s a sneak peek at the Pike Place Fish Market experience. Go there!

-Jessica

The Turkey Leg

Yesterday’s fair excursion was great! For some reason, the place was packed, but we were still able to do all the things we love to do. We saw our favorite shows (the Backyard Circus is the best!), ate our favorite foods (a corn dog and a caramel apple – not bad!), and had fun people watching. While walking around, seeing all the families gnawing on big smoked turkey legs, I was reminded of my all-time stand-out fair story.

State Fair Turkey Leg

When I was younger, my family took a trip to the fair and we had a blast. We rode all the rides and played some games and were having a great time. But things took a weird turn when my mom and I were standing in line for one of the tilt-a-whirl rides and the lady in front of us was eating a turkey leg. It came time for her to get on the ride, so what did she do? She stuck that turkey leg in her BACK POCKET and got on the ride!! We couldn’t believe it. But if you think that’s bad, there’s more! We watched as the ride came to an end, the lady went through the exit gate – and took that turkey leg out of her pocket and CONTINUED EATING IT!!

I think it was at about this point when we all looked at each other and decided we were ready to call it a day. Sometimes, you’ve just had all the fun you’re going to have and it’s time to go home.

– Jessica

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