Posts Tagged ‘Julia Child’

When I was a kid I hated mayonnaise. HATED it. Made me gag. Ick. Pooh. Bleah. Ptooey.

Then I grew older and wiser and broadened my flavor horizons. So now I eat mayo, not regularly, but with relative enjoyment when I do. (But not Miracle Whip. That stuff is just nasty.) I recently polished off a jar of mayonnaise (over the course of months, NOT in one sitting) and on a subsequent trip to the grocery story, thought about replacing my supply.

And then I thought why buy it when I can make it myself!

Having just finished Dearie I was inspired by Julia’s can-do attitude, the story of how many times she made mayonnaise before perfecting the recipe, and by the fact that I have that recipe for mayonnaise in my copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Do you know what’s in mayonnaise, by the way? Egg yolks, oil, salt, mustard powder, and lemon juice or vinegar. Right, mustard. In mayonnaise. I can’t decide if that’s weird or weirdly appropriate.

So, with a can of tuna staring me in the face and lunch to be made, I decided to go for it. It’s not difficult, just a bit time-consuming. It takes a lot of whisking and in the end I decided it’s not appreciably better than Hellman’s. But now I know, right?

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I’ve always been inspired by Julia Child—I mean, she didn’t learn to cook until she was middle-aged, how fabulous is that? Just goes to show it’s never too late to be who you were meant to be.

So when I heard about this new biography, I did something I rarely do: I bought a copy. There are a great many books I need to read but only a few I need to own. Dearie made the cut and I’m so glad it did. It’s fabulous, a warmly affectionate but clear-eyed look at an American icon.

It’s good value, too. Since I bought the Kindle version I don’t know how thick it is, but it took me weeks to read it. I knock off the average novel in 2-3 hours, so you see my point. Dearie is a comprehensive story and clearly well-documented; I kept looking at the little percentage number at the bottom of my Kindle thinking “I’m only 55% of the way through? She’s already in her eighties, for pete’s sake.” That’s because the last 40% of the book is references. The author did his research and has the notes to prove it.

While foodies are the obvious audience for this book, anyone who grew up in the sixties-seventies and remembers watching Julia on TV will enjoy the back story. Anyone who’s ever wondered if they’ll ever find their “place” in life will be inspired by this amazing woman. It’s not just Julia’s story, it’s the story of eating in America over the last century. Dearie may give you an “appetit” but it’s definitely “bon”.

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I don’t know if you realize this but 1912 was a big year. It saw the birth of the Republic of China and the death of 1,500+ people on the Titanic. 1912 marks the first time a man was foolish brave daring enough to jump out of a perfectly good airplane wearing a parachute.* Wilbur Scoville devised the Scoville Unit to measure the heat of peppers, which seems only fitting since that was also the year New Mexico became a state.

The first woman detective was appointed to the NYC police (where would cop shows and novels be if that hadn’t happened?), the Girl Scouts were formed in Savannah (under the name Girl Guides), and the Dixie Cup was invented, changing modern medicine forever. (I don’t want to know how people provided “samples” before Dixie Cups.) Fenway Park opened and 15 young women were fihttps://tastinggod.wordpress.com/wp-admin/paid-upgrades.php?product=1003&view=purchase&loc=admin-bar&ref=go-prored by Curtis Publishing for dancing “Turkey Trot” during their lunch break. (I wonder if there was a ‘no dancing’ clause in their employee handbook?)

Then there are the birthdays:
Danny Thomas
Jackson Pollock
Francis Schaeffer
Pat Nixon
Perry Como
Woody Guthrie
Art Linkletter
Julia Child
Gene Kelly
John Cage
Chuck Jones (animator for Warner Brothers)
Pope John Paul I
Minnie Pearl
Lady Bird Johnson
…just to name a few.

Imagine, if you will, a birthday bash for all the above. I’ll be in the kitchen with Julia and with any luck Danny and Art will hang out with us telling jokes. We’ll give Jackson bowls of melted chocolate in various colors and let him go to town decorating the cake. (We’ll top that cake with cookies & cream ice cream since Oreos turned 100 this year, too.)

Chuck can draw cartoon versions of everyone for party favors. I can imagine Minnie Pearl and Lady Bird getting on like a house afire arranging wildflowers for the centerpieces. Pat will volunteer wherever needed (volunteerism was her ‘cause’). His Holiness can say grace and we’ll let Francis start the dinner conversation (can’t wait to hear Woody’s take on that one). Perry and Gene can collaborate on the dinner playlist and kick off the post-dinner dancing. John can transcribe the whole thing onto staff paper and release it as his new composition “Birthday”. We’ll end the evening at a hockey game since the first NHL game was played in 1912.

Like I said, a big year; and that’s only a small part of the big list. What do you think they’ll say about 2012 one hundred years from now? Will your name be on the list of accomplishments? I wonder if any of the babies I know who were born this year will be on the famous birthday list? Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

*Per Wikipedia, “rather than being attached to the parachute by a harness Berry was seated on a trapeze bar.” Makes me queasy just thinking about it but apparently he survived. There’s also a contender for the ‘first’ title who claims to have jumped in late 1911, but that doesn’t really fit in today’s post so I’m choosing to ignore it.

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The Way to Eat

In honor of Julia Child’s 100th birthday, I bring you the following (genius) video from our friends at PBS:

Later I’ll have a post on our Julia Birthday Dinner, but until then, enjoy. And remember:

“Freshness is essential.
That makes all the difference.
This is the way to eat.
Bon Appetit!”

Happy Birthday, Julia!

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So . . . in what I can only describe as a shocking lack of judgment and good taste, Kerri did not win the Spar for the Spurtle. Some woman from California won with a recipe for something called Italian Pinhead Torta. I’m sure it’s delicious and all, and I hope she beats the kilts off the Scots in October, but I am sad to report there will be no blogging from Scotland to be found here this year. (I’m only thinking of you, my readers–you’d have loved Scotland.)

But never mind! Life goes on and soon we’ll have a report from Kerri about her cook off experience, a new/old recipe for enchiladas (and photos from the enchilada class), and stories from my adventure in glass-blowing. Not to mention cows. (Don’t ask. I told you not to mention them.)

Plus, Julia Child’s 100th birthday is this Wednesday, August 15. There’s still time to plan a proper celebration, even if it’s just cooking with abandon.

Onward and upward, my friends!

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Christmas Dinner
For years my friends Lance & Vikki hosted a Christmas dinner for all and sundry. Lance is no longer with us, but Vikki has kept up the tradition. This year, she decided it would be fun to serve Beef Wellington to the 15 or so who had RSVP’d and asked me to help. Neither of us had ever made it before, but what the heck? We are nothing if not adventurous in the kitchen.

So on Christmas Eve, armed with some magazine detailing the necessary steps, Julia Child’s cookbook, and Gordon Ramsey on telly, we commenced to cooking.

We needed beef tenderloin:


Trim it yourself and save $$

Mushroom duxelle (I was making Julia’s Cream of Mushroom Soup at this point, so I can’t be more specific other than that it’s Portobellos).
mushrooms in pan



Yes, of course it's homemade

And crepes, which I had never made before…
making crepes

…but mastered fairly quickly. (Oh, the dining possibilities THAT opens up!)
finished crepes

So then you sear the tenderloin, set off the smoke alarm, open all the doors and windows…well, maybe YOU can skip those last two steps, but we found them unavoidable. Then mix the pate and mushrooms together, spread it onto a quilt of crepes, add the tenderloin, and roll the whole thing up into a log.
spreading mixture on crepes
meat in crepes
meat roll

This is then surrounded in puff pastry (not homemade, not this time) and swaddled in plastic wrap until needed.
wrapped & rolled

Meanwhile, we made a Madeira sauce which had to be reduced to about 2 cups of liquid. This led to getting out the calculator to determine if there would be enough to go around, which led to suggestion that each guest be given a voucher to turn in for their sauce allotment…but in the end, there was plenty.

Christmas Day came, our bundles of goodness went into the oven to the tune of “Rule Brittania” (we were under the mistaken impression Wellington had been a naval man; actually he was the army guy who defeated Napoleon). It came out looking like this:
Baked Wellington Note the slashes in the crust, which Chef Ramsey assured us was “not a chef-y thing” but an important step for some reason I’ve since forgotten.

William, one of the guests, offered to carve. Or maybe he was commandeered, I don’t recall.
Carving in process

And a room full of happy diners soon tucked in.
Dinner guests

It was, if I may say so, fabulous. I don’t have the recipe to share, but it shouldn’t be hard to find. Next time you want to cook something special and have several hours to spare, give it a whirl!

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This is what happens when you go see “Julie & Julia” with foodie friends: at the end, when Julie triumphantly brings out the “Pate de Canard en Croute” (aka Boned Stuffed Duck Baked in a Pastry Crust) you look at each and vow, “We are SO doing that!”

So, yesterday, we did.


Mise en Place--we're ready to begin

Rosemary, Vikki, Carol and I began just after 11 am, bearing in mind that the thing has to bake 2 hours, sit several hours, then chill for hours more–and that’s AFTER you bone & stuff the thing. We eventually dined at 8 pm, which seemed quite reasonable, really.

First step, boning the duck.
Cutting into duck

Well, honestly, the first step was Rosemary’s mistletoe mojitos. Dissecting a duck can drive a girl to drink.

Rosemary making mojitos

It's 5:00 somewhere

Then the butchery commenced. Julia warns “…the procedure may take 45 minutes the first time because of fright” and while we weren’t exactly frightened, it did take about that long.

This could explain why it took that long...

Eventually we did accomplish what Julia calls “an unrecognizable mass of confusion” which was seasoned with allspice, cognac, port, and truffle oil and left to sit while the stuffing was prepared.

half-boned duck

Yep, that's pretty confusing

Note: at this point I had to run out for a hair appt–it was unavoidable. But my friends carried on in my absence, ransacking my kitchen, creating the pork & veal stuffing…

duck stuffing

Pork, veal, & pork fat. Mmmm.

…wrapping the boneless duck suit around said stuffing, and lacing it all together…

stuffed trussed duck

It looks just like the book!

And browning it beautifully.

Browned duck

It's a thing of beauty!

Upon my return, my job was to make the crust, the “croute” of the title.

Team Duck

Then our avian friend was wrapped in swaddling dough and laid in a baking pan–and off to the oven it went. Two hours later, the house smelled divine and it looked like this:

Baked duck

Wouldn't Julia Child be proud?

Of course, it had to cool and chill for hours more, so a movie or two later Rosemary whipped up a fantabulous cheese souffle:

Cheese souffle

Souffle au Fromage

And attempted Hollandaise sauce for the broccoli…

Rosemary reading recipe

This ain't how Emeril does it...

…which was rather less successful.

Hollandaise gone horribly wrong

But never mind. The duck was divine, the souffle perfection, the broccoli was fine with a little butter & lemon juice, Carol’s chocolate bread pudding with brandy sauce was delicious, and a grand time was had by all. (Vikki & Rosemary had such a grand time they ended up spending the night.)

So, we have conquered the duck. And while it’s not something I’d make every week, I would consider it for a (very) special occasion. Meanwhile, our merry band of foodies is already plotting next year’s holiday cooking extravaganza. We’re thinking “Filet de Boeuf Braise Prince Albert” which in English is “Braised Filet of Beef Stuffed with Foie Gras and Truffles”. Or maybe…

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Retro Look for History Day

Retro Look for History Day

I’m starting the day at the National Museum of American History.

I’ve chosen this little number for my outfit du jour, because the shirt has that whole prairie spinster vibe (but in a good way) and it seemed appropriate for a history museum. Besides, it’s pretty. Now if only I had Jane Seymour-esque hair to go with it, but I gave that up years ago and I left my concert hair at home. (Don’t ask.)

So. American History. If you’ll hearken back to my Vacation Rules, you may recall that I advise choosing one “must-do” thing per trip. Today I’m going to do mine. It’s on the first floor of the Museum and it’s one of the things that brought D.C. to the top of my “need to visit” list more than a year ago. Today—this morning, in fact—I’m going to visit Julia Child’s kitchen.

Julia Child's Kitchen

Julia Child's Kitchen

You have to love the scope of the Smithsonian. They didn’t just take some pots and pans, they moved the whole shebang from Julia’s Cambridge, Mass home. It’s quite appealing in a retro kind of way and the color scheme is fabulous. See for yourself here: Julia will even welcome you to the exhibit in her own words.

But there’s much more to see. For example, up on the second floor is the star-spangled banner. THE. Star. Spangled. Banner. I’ve been singing about this flag my whole life, and here it is, in the . . . in the cloth. It’s a HUGE (30-by 34-foot) flag and used to be even bigger. The poor thing is full of holes (apparently pieces were cut out over the years for souvenirs) and just about worn to shreds. But it’s majestic and touching and brings a lump to my throat. I’d serenade it, but I’m not sure the guards would appreciate my singing, no matter how round my tone may be, so I’ll just sing in my head. (Oddly enough, in my head my Star-Spangled Banner sounds suspiciously like Sandi Patty’s version.)

The actual, original Star-Spangled Banner

The actual, original Star-Spangled Banner

Also on this floor is the First Ladies at the Smithsonian exhibit. We’re talking gowns, Inaugural gowns, plus other personal memorabilia. I did not know that Eleanor Roosevelt was a tall woman until I saw this exhibit; somehow my mental image of her was kind of short and dumpy. Her dress is that pale pink one (it does strike me as slightly dumpy, but not short); it’s made of rayon, which was a new fabric at the time and probably a patriotic gesture—wasn’t silk in demand for parachutes or something during the war?

First Ladies Exhibit

First Ladies Exhibit

All this wandering and gawking and silent singing, not to mention imagining the delicacies that came from Julia’s kitchen, made me hungry. Fortunately, I don’t even have to leave the building. The Stars and Stripes Café is celebrating Hispanic Heritage month, and a bowl of tortilla soup will hit the spot nicely. So I’ll just go there now and meet up with you later, ‘K?

All images courtesy National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution (more…)

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Cream Puffs & Cookbook

Dedicated food nerd that I am, I’ve been eagerly anticipating the release of the new movie Julie & Julia for months. Being of a social disposition, I thought it only right that my personal premiere should include food—and not just any food, but dishes from Julia Child’s seminal work, Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

After scaling back my original party vision (handmade invitations, houseful of people, 5 course meal, Julia Child impression contest, fabulous prizes…) due to budget constraints, I ended up inviting a few friends over for a Julie Child pot-luck and trip to the movie.

My guest list included two of my Dallas Symphony Chorus foodie group friends. We’ve been singing together for 15 years, give or take, and for something like 8 of those years we’ve held several dinner parties each season, all themed around the music we were performing. Menus have included everything from schnitzel and spaetzle (we sing a lot of German music) to New York-style pizza (Bernstein) and borscht (Tchaikovsky). With all this experience (literally) under our belts, we felt pretty confident tackling The French Chef.

Unfortunately, only one of us actually owned the cookbook—and that someone was not me. On the plus side, the fabulous McKinney library does own a copy, and it was even on the shelf when I went to look for it. Considering this was the week before J-Day (August 7, the day Julie & Julia released), I took that as a sign of divine favor and left the library rejoicing.

After several phone calls, we had our menu. Rosemary would make vichyssoise, which while not actually in Mastering the Art… was a JC recipe. Vikki, who does have the book, offered to make coq au vin. Holly, who is not a foodie, brought a wonderful whole-grain baguette.

I—surprise, surprise—tackled dessert. But which dessert? I bake cakes all the time, so I didn’t want to go there. The apple tart sounded delicious but. . . I eventually decided on cream puffs. I really wanted to make a croquenbouche—it’s kind of a Christmas tree-shaped tower of cream puffs decorated with lacy sugar garland—but apparently one has to have a special form, along the lines of a metal traffic cone, to pull that off. So plain old cream puffs—filled with Cream St. Honore flavored with crème de cacao and topped with homemade caramel—would have to do. Cream puffs are ridiculously simple, btw, so if you’re thinking of trying to make them: do.

While I would have preferred opening night, we couldn’t give proper attention to both a gourmet dinner AND a movie after work on Friday. Saturday, August 8, it was, then. And what a fabulous evening. Vikki came in costume with a vintage apron over her dress and pearls; the rest of us made do with wearing my collection of bridesmaid pearls to the movie. And the food? Oh. My.



Here’s the vichyssoise, which Rosemary informed us was created by happy accident. Apparently it was meant to be hot potato-leek soup, but someone forgot to reheat it before it went out to the customers. Nobody complained, and a new dish was born.

Coq au vin

Coq au vin

Next course, coq au vin. As Vikki said, “I knew it was going to be good when the first step was ‘Brown the bacon in butter.’” The (almost) two bottles of wine that went in it didn’t hurt either. If you’ve never tried coq au vin, run, don’t walk, to the nearest grocery store for ingredients and make it tonight. It was lick-the-plate good. Those potatoes are roasted garlic and shallot mashed potatoes left over from an earlier dinner, btw.

Roused from a food-induced coma by the sight of the clock, we dashed to the movie. Fortunately the theater is just 5 minutes from my house. It was delightful—but we were SO glad we’d eaten before we got there. It’s a rare and beautiful thing to find a film that has very little bad language, no nudity—except for a couple of chickens—happily married couples, and a satisfying ending. Not to mention the food porn…which is why we were so glad to be well-fed.

Cream Puffs

Cream Puffs

Afterwards we went back to my house, resolved to make that boned duck in the not-too-distant future, and stuffed ourselves with cream puffs. And they all lived happily ever after. Amen.

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