My mother, although multi-talented, had an aversion to the kitchen and has often said that I learned to cook at an early age “out of self-defense.” When she made chicken à l'orange by smearing a chicken with powdered Tang, I quickly developed a necessary passion for creating tasty things to eat. Somewhere in the family photograph album is a picture of me at the stove, age ten, happily stirring marinara sauce.

I developed a lifelong fascination with food; good food. There was even a foray of working as a chef’s assistant at a French restaurant during my mid twenties, just for fun. I had always loved watching Julia Child and knew that Mastering the Art of French Cooking was to be revered. It wasn’t until I read her biography (long before the Julie & Julia movie) that I really became fascinated with her work. From that book, I decided to prepare her recipe for mayonnaise.

Upon tasting it, I wept. . . .


Search This Blog

Loading...

Monday, October 22, 2012

Julia the Vixen

Julia Child as a senior intelligence officer with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) while in Ceylon, 1944. 
Julia referred to this pose as one of "anticipatory lechery." 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Guacamole Compuesta

You know how it is at the end of an intense, difficult workday. Pretty much all you want to do is flop down, eat Capn' Crunch and bang on your high chair. I imagine even Julia had days when the thought of making a meal would send her over the edge. 

Here's my go-to meal for days like that. I call it guacamole compuesta, giving a nod to my south Texas heritage. (compuesta means "composed" or, in south Texas, "piled with extra stuff"). It's quick, easy, and the epitome of comfort food. 

Oh, and it's healthy, too. What's not to like?

Side note: My wonderful grandmother, Budgie, could not say "compuesta", or just about any word in Spanish for that matter. She loved the chalupas compuestas featured at the local Tex-Mex restaurant, but when ordering it, it would always come out "com-pray-sto." To this day, my family laughs about it.  

Brown the tortillas: One can do this by frying them in oil. Tasty, but fattening and who wants to fry anything on days like this. I like this method even better. Spray a couple of whole wheat tortillas with I Can't Believe It's Butter spray (you can pretend you're macing your boss) and bake them in a 400 oven for ten minutes or until brown.

Meanwhile. . . 

Guacamole: I love avocados, so I really don't like onions, cilantro, or lime juice getting in the way. I just mash two avocados with a quarter tsp of salt. That's it. If you have an ear of corn, better yet. Strip the kernels off and add them in raw. Wow. It really is an excellent addition. 

Spread the tortillas with the guac, smear with sour cream, add sliced grape tomatoes.

Easy-peasy.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Mastering the Joy of Julia

Having prepared a multitude of recipes from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, I finally decided to tackle the notorious Pâté de Canard en Croûte -- the boned, stuffed duck in pastry that seemed so frighteningly daunting to Julie Powell in the film, Julie and Julia

However, a pâté, no matter how extravagant or daunting, just didn’t seem like it could be the main feature of a meal. I decided to go “over the top” with an all-out Julia extravaganza for this event. After all, Julia always advised, "everything in moderation -- including moderation." So, in the vein of obligatory immoderation, one recipe from Mastering just wouldn’t do; I went for seven.

“Over the top” meant that the famous Pâté de Canard en Croûte would be the appetizer. 

Fortunately, I prepared the pastry the night before. The steps in preparing the pâté seemed to be a never-ending story. Of course, we all know about the “boning of the duck,” so here it is from start to finish. (Many thanks to my friend, Steve, for the video production. The music was performed and recorded by yours truly.)
Vegetarians may want to look away at this point:


Let me just say that ducks are very well-constructed little beasts; much more so than their chicken cousins.

Monsieur duck was now de-boned and ready for the veal and pork pâté -- oh, and it's a pâté that also contains truffles, although Julia writes that they are an “optional extravagance.” Since I was going all-out, I had a jar containing two truffles at hand -- extravagant, indeed. 

Once the pâté was placed inside, it was time to stitch it up. However, my makeshift trussing needle kept catching on the skin of the duck and was in danger of tearing it. It was then that my friend, Steve, gently reminded me that he was quite adept at suturing animals; after all, he is a veterinarian for crying out loud. I happily handed the task at hand over to him. (Hint: Preparation of Pâté de Canard en Croûte requires an actual trussing needle – that, or a veterinarian on standby). 

Armed with a pair of pliers and my makeshift needle, Steve expertly went to work. 


“Someday I’ll get you down to the clinic and have you stitch up a cat,” he said without looking up. 

After the duck was professionally sutured, I was able to truss it using butcher’s knots. Julia didn’t mention that it would resemble a giant larva. 



It was at that precise moment that I realized I had forgotten to include my extravagant truffles! 

Mistakes happen in the kitchen. They certainly happened to Julia and on PBS television to boot. But my truffles? 

“No apologies,” as Julia had often said. I realized this could be a happy mistake. As much as truffles cost, they might as well be noticed rather than diced up in the pâté. I would simply feature a slice or two on each serving later on. Prominently.   

The giant larva was browned, cooled, en-croûted, decorated, and egg-washed.



After baking and letting it cool, here’s a proud guy with his Mastering masterpiece. 


Another friend arrived a couple of hours before the meal. She’s an excellent cook and I was only too happy to have an extra pair of hands on hand. I’m fine with preparing a meal, but last-minute sauces, plating up, and I tend to cower under a table. 

My friend, Steve the veterinarian, also sets a lovely table and for that, I am eternally grateful. 


The meal for eight began with an amuse-bouche of small toasts topped with horseradish sour cream and black caviar accompanied by tiny shots of icy-cold Stolichnaya vodka – a very happy and effective way of amusing the bouches of one’s guests I might add. 


It was time for the pâté. Since the duck-encased pâté is baked in its pastry sarcophagus while trussed, one must de-truss it before serving. Julia instructs us to cut the top of the pastry off, retrieve the trussed pâté, remove the strings, return the pâté to the pastry, return the top of the pastry to its place, present it to the guests and slice it at the table. 

All I have to say is, "Rub a lamp, Julia."

The pâté and the bottom of the pastry had fused and become one. There was no removing of the pâté without destroying the pastry. Guests were waiting. 

The pâté was removed, sliced, adorned with awaiting truffles and served with a dry Italian sparkling red – sans croûte.

 
After all, the pâté itself was a slice of juicy, porky, ducky heaven. The croute would have been a pasty afterthought.  Again – no apologies.

Next, Soupe à l’oignon. No gratinée or crouton included; just the luscious, oniony soup served along with a dry California chardonnay (2010 Bin 36 Monterey Chardonnay.)

Main event: Sauté de Boeuf à la Parisienne -- beef filet with mushrooms in a port and cream sauce. It’s one of my favorite entrees of Julia’s and, surprisingly, relatively quick and easy to prepare (Nigella Lawson, take note). Served with asparagus with beurre blanc, pommes de terre Parisienne, petit choux au fromage, it was a meal that pretty well epitomized what our Julia was all about. 

 

 A 2009 Domaine Chêne Bourgogne Pinot Noir was luxurious and just acidic enough to stand up to the cream and butter sauces.

Bavarois Praliné (almond praline Bavarian cream) is my go-to dessert, as much of it can be prepared the day before. 


With all the requisite steps (toasting almonds, making a caramel, beating egg whites, whipping cream, preparing a custard and a Crème Anglaise), one really should prepare it the day before. Trust me. 

Why not end such a meal with a dessert containing twelve egg yolks? Remember, obligatory immoderation.

Sortilège is a maple syrup and whiskey liqueur that has been produced by our Canadian friends for over 300 years and is a favorite of mine that is always kept on hand. It never ceases to invoke ooohs and aaahs from every guest, so of course, it accompanied the Bavarian cream. The expected ooohs and aaahs ensued.  

Laughter among friends poured into the night. My feet and back were sore from day’s preparation, but it’s a small price to pay; the payoff of sharing such a meal with friends one loves is priceless. 

 True, I knew how to cook before encountering Julia Child. However, I’m still happily learning to Master the Joy of Julia. 

 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Julia Child Extravaganza

As I mentioned before, I'll be preparing an "over the top" Julia Child meal this coming Saturday for eight guests. I just bought truffles for the Pâté de Canard en Croûte. (Ouch.)

Here's the menu:

Amuse Bouche: Sturgeon caviar, tiny shots of very cold Stolichnaya vodka

Appetizer: Pâté de Canard en Croûte -- the infamous boned, stuffed duck in pastry featured in the movie, Julie and Julia.
 
Wine: A very dry Uruguayan sparkling red. 

Soup: Soupe a l'Oignon -- French onion soup.
Wine: 2010 Bin 36 Monterey Chardonnay

Entree: Sauté de Boeuf à la Parisienne -- beef filet with mushrooms in a port and cream sauce.

Sides: Asparagus with beurre blanc, pommes Parisienne, petit choux au fromage. 

Wine: 2009 Domaine Chêne Bourgogne Pinot Noir

Dessert: Bavarois aux Praline -- Almond praline Bavarian cream. 

Liqueur: Sortilège - A maple syrup and whiskey liqueur 

Let the games begin!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Confronting the Duck

Well, this is exciting. I’ve been selected by my blog-sponsor, Foodbuzz, to be one of twenty-four bloggers to prepare an “over-the-top” meal on February 25th. Since our Julia is near and dear to my heart, my event will be titled, Mastering the Joy of Julia and will feature six recipes from Mastering.

I’m sure many of you remember the film, Julie and Julia, in which the Julia character kept putting off the recipe in which she had to de-bone a duck. The recipe is actually Pâté de Canard en Croûte which is the de-boned duck stuffed with duck pâté, wrapped in pastry and baked. 

I’m serving it as the appetizer for my meal on the 25th. Like I said – over the top. 

Having remembered Julie’s trepidation over this endeavor, I decided to do a bit of rehearsing with a practice-duck. Then, having shelled out twenty-five bucks for a duck, I decided to practice on a four-dollar chicken instead. Fowl is fowl, after all. 

It’s not as if this seemed like a hugely challenging activity to me. Having carved hundreds of turkeys during my restaurant days, I knew my way around a bird’s carcass pretty well. 

As Julia says, one must be fearless. No fear!

First, confront the chicken. 


For this recipe, one must de-bone the fowl, but leave the skin intact. A very sharp boning knife is essential. I’m glad I had one.

Vegetarians, you may wish to look away at this point. . . .

Make a slice down the backbone and begin scraping along the bones down one side. Easy enough. 

What Julia failed to mention was the wishbone which turned out to be a bit tedious to maneuver around.
Finally, half the breast meat was carved away from the carcass. (No, it's not a pretty sight.)


Flip Miss Chicken around and repeat on the other half. Hold the bird by the carcass, let it hang by the end of the breast bone and you’re ready to carefully cut it away from the carcass. 


Now, one is left with a de-boned chicken except for the limbs. 


Scraping along the bones with the knife and you’re left with a de-boned chicken, skin intact. 


I did feel like giving myself a little ta-dahh. Come Saturday morning when it’s show-time, I’ll have no fear of the duck. 

For tonight, though, a little massage with olive oil, garlic, lemon, and my practice-chicken provided a lovely little supper.


Saturday, February 11, 2012

My Favorite Julia Recipe So Far

Sauté de Boeuf à la Parisienne
This is, by far, my most-prepared and favorite of all recipes from Mastering the Art.
­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­

Hands down, it's the most delectable of all the recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

Hands down, it's the easiest of all the recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking. 

Such a combination, one would think, should have brought the likes of Nigella Lawson to her knees by now. After all, our Nigella has established herself as the queen of “Maximum pleasure; minimal effort.”
How could she have possibly missed this jewel of Julia’s?

It baffles me. 

If you want to do the impressive, epitome of Julia’s French mastery of the art, then by all means, spend an enjoyable four hours cranking out her Boeuf Bourguignon. 
If you would rather spend a mere half hour producing a luscious, exquisite, over-the-top,  pinnacle of gastronomic indulgence, then Julia’s Sauté de Boeuf à la Parisienne is your go-to recipe. 
Trust me. 

Mushrooms and shallots get browned in butter; sliced filet of beef, likewise. The pan is deglazed with Madeira, beef stock is added and reduced to a strong, dark syrup. A liberal amount of cream is added, reduced, thickened and finished with the addition of butter. The beef and mushrooms then get swathed in this sauce-for-the-gods.


It's beef Stroganoff on crack.

I wish I could express how pleasurable and divine this creation really is. Thanks to a boyhood friend of mine who now lives in France, I can relay what his French family exclaims whenever they’re dining on something really delicious:

"C'est la Sainte Vierge en culottes de velour!"

(It's the Virgin Mary in velvet panties!)

Ha! I don’t think I could have ever come up with anything as descriptive as that. (I really hope Julia had heard that exclamation during her stay in France. I’m sure she would have loved it.)

If any recipe deserves a comparison to the Holy Mother’s velvet underpants, this one is it.

Invite Nigella for dinner while you’re at it.

For 6 people (serve over white rice)

Ingredients:

1/2 pound fresh mushrooms (I much prefer Crimini mushrooms)
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon good cooking oil
3 tablespoons minced shallots
1/4 teaspoon salt
pinch of pepper
2 1/2 pounds filet of beef
2 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon cooking oil, more if needed
1/2 cup Madeira or dry white vermouth
1 cup beef stock
1 cup whipping cream
2 teaspoons cornstarch blended with 1 tablespoon of the cream
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons softened butter
parsley sprigs
Directions:

1) Trim off the surrounding fat and filament from the beef and cut into 2-ounce pieces, about 2 inches across and 1/2-inch thick. Dry thoroughly on paper towels.

2) Sauté the mushrooms in the first amount given of butter and oil for about five minutes, or until lightly browned. Stir in the shallots and cook for a minute longer. Season the mushrooms and scrape them into a side dish.

3) Place butter and oil in the skillet and set over moderately high heat. When the butter foam begins to subside, sauté the beef, a few pieces at a time, for 2-3 minutes on each side to brown the exterior but keep the interior rosy red. Set the beef on a side dish and discard the fat.

4) Pour the wine and stock into the skillet and boil it down rapidly, scraping up the coagulated cooking juices, until liquid is reduced to about 1/3 cup. Beat in the cream, then the cornstarch mixture. Simmer a minute. Add the mushrooms and simmer a minute more. The sauce should be lightly thickened. Correct seasonings.

5) Season the beef lightly with salt and pepper and return it to the skillet along with any juices which may have escaped. Baste the beef with the sauce and mushrooms, or transfer everything to a serving casserole.

6) When you are ready to serve, cover the skillet or casserole and heat to below the simmer for 3-4 minutes, being very careful not to overdo it or the pieces of filet will be well done rather than rare. Off heat and just before serving, tilt casserole, add butter to sauce a bit at a time while basting the meat until the butter has absorbed. Decorate with parsley and serve over white rice at once.




Saturday, May 7, 2011

Comfort Food

We all remember the food prepared from our childhood.

As for me, I grew up in what was called the "Dishwater Generation" -- a few years after the babies had boomed, but not quite into the sexual revolution.  Our moms simply stood there, staring into back-yard windows; sighing, as their hands moved about in quiet, fetid, dishwater while Eisenhower droned on about how good life was.

1956 - 1961: The "Dishwater Generation"

When I was born, Elvis was old news yet John F. Kennedy was not yet new. A few years later, I don't think that anyone grew up with more of an Epitome of Mid-Sixties Bland Cuisine than I did.

Just take a look at the homestead where I was raised (I captured this frame from Google maps.)


It's a large, white-brick home, constructed in the early sixties with no windows. I was six years old and loved it.

The kitchen was in the back and had an ivory, 1960s, push-button stove. My mom was barely 23 years old when I was born and had very little experience in the kitchen.

Mom worked hard. She was the drama teacher and athletic coach at the local high school and, at the age of 26, was the sponsor of just about every high school club that existed.

My dad, two years younger, was the counselor at the high school and a part-time Baptist minister. Lots of hugs, snugly rough-housing, and loving bed-time stories were administered by them to me and my younger brother.

Needless to say, meals in this household were the epitome of "Mid-Sixties-New-Quick-and-Easy-In-And-Out."

Mas was definietly an active young mother in the Dishwater Generation and had been well-armored with a very few recipes.

One was called "Weenie Stew."

It consisted of a pound of wieners, cut into 1" chunks, browned in a skillet -- then tomato sauce was added, maybe a chopped onion, and served over Minute Rice. Always with a side of canned peas and canned pears as a dessert.

That was it.  
Weenie Stew, canned peas and pears.
Supper.
At least once a week for three years running.

Then mom and dad divorced.
Child support ensued.
Dad continued to nurture my brother and me a lot and we listened to "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" during our every-other-weekends together with him (he was 31 years old).
He was always an intelligent, supportive, and a loving parent.
I thought that was really cool.
Mom was a wonderful single parent and was incredibly loving, dedicated and supportive. As she was a single parent, I'll always be in awe of what she accomplished. Whenever I had a recital or concert, she was always there. She eventually learned to cook quite well.

To this day, though, she happily admits that, as a child, I learned to cook "out of self defense."

Even though my young parents divorced, I was a very fortunate kid.

So, in that vein, I happily give you the epitome of "Mid-Sixties Comfort Food" for me.

Weenie Stew with Canned Peas.

Cut a pound of wieners into 1-inch chunks, and brown in a cast-iron skillet. (Preferably on a 1964, General Electric, push-button stove just like the one we had back in 1966 -- mine is the same, still works and I love it.)


Add a chopped onion

Add 2 small cans of tomato sauce. Simmer for a half hour.
Or not.

Serve over Minute Rice with canned peas


There you have it. THE epitome of Mid-Sixties American Cuisine.

Whenever I want "Comfort Food" - - 
Weenie Stew and Peas

That is it!