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. . . .

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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Julia Quote

A reporter once asked Julia what her favorite comfort foods were. After pondering the question for a moment she gave her reply:

"I suppose it would have to be red meat and gin."

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Poulet Sauté aux Herbes de Provence

Chicken Sautéed with Herbs and Garlic, Egg Yolk and Butter Sauce

After spending hours in the kitchen with Bourguignon, Coq au Vin, and Bavarian Creams, it was really refreshing to crank out something this impressive and delectable in under thirty minutes. And with a side of Julia's asparagus to boot.

Seriously, if you want to serve an entree from Mastering that is exceedingly quick and delicious, this is the way to go. It would make Rachel Ray, (that sylph from the 30 minute meal program) smile even more than she does already.

The fact that this recipe utilizes just about every pronounced flavor from Provence (garlic, lemon, basil, fennel, thyme) -- all the better.

Three pounds of chicken are basted in a stick of butter. Again, I did the "unthinkable" and used boneless, skinless chicken thighs instead of a whole chicken. And again, I've done it both ways and the thighs are more appealing, at least to me anyway.

The chicken is coated with thyme, basil, ground fennel, and garlic is introduced.

Once the chicken is done (about fifteen minutes) it is removed and white wine is added to the chickeny juices and reduced.

Meanwhile, the beginnings of a Hollandaise are started. Two egg yolks are whisked until thick and a touch of lemon juice and white wine is added.

Once the flavorsome chicken/wine broth has reduced, teaspoonfuls of it are whisked into the egg yolk mixture.

Egg yolks really are amazing things. Here, you have just two of them but when the hot, buttery, winey juices are added in just the right manner, a pan full of rich, creamy sauce materializes right before your eyes. Whisk in three more tablespoons of soft butter and you have one of those Classic sauces -- the ones that French restaurants back in the 1960s used to max out your American Express for.

Spoon it over the chicken, scatter with fresh basil, and get ready to savor every bite.

I served it with Julia's recipe for asparagus.

Again, this is one of those astounding recipes that elevates chicken to new levels. It's really pretty unbelievable when you taste it. Not only does it have that rich, buttery Hollandaisey sauce, but there's also the punctuation of lemon, thyme, garlic, basil and a licoricey fennel undertone.

Julia's treatment of asparagus is basically sauteing it in butter, covering it with chicken broth, simmering it down to a syrup and finishing it with a touch of lemon. And you've never tasted more asparagussy asparagus than this, trust me.

A Julia classic all done in under thirty minutes. Do you hear that Rachel Ray?

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Julia's Boeuf Bourguignon

Ah! Perhaps no other recipe says "Julia Child" than her famous Boeuf à la Bourguignon, or rather "Beef in the Burgundy Style". For those of you who’ve read her biography, My Life in France, you may recall that this was the recipe that captivated her publisher, Judith Jones, and thus launched the publication, Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

Incidentally, you can find Judith Jones’ blog here if you like.

And Julia's recipe here.

So, of course, this notorious dish is captivating. A good deal of work, yes, but it really is straightforward; one, two, three. Needless to say, it’s well worth the effort and is also one of those creations for which you’ll become known. After all, Julia certainly did alright by it.

Let me begin by saying that I really love this dish but am far from being a fan of beef stew. I’m reminded of my paternal grandmother’s incredible vegetable-beef soup of which I’d greedily eat bowl after bowl as a young child.
For beef stock, she’d make "the real deal" by simmering soup bones for no less than eighteen hours. Seasonings, carrots and onions were added along with tomatoes, potatoes, and finally, the beef.
Although I’d give anything to be able to recreate her masterpiece, I remember her dismay as I’d tediously pick out every piece of beef, set them aside, left uneaten. To me, they were tough, gristly, livery-tasting and probably the result of using “beef for stew.”

So, it’s not beef stew I find distasteful; it’s beef for stew that’s the culprit. Anything labeled as such is most probably scraps from the leg of the animal. It has no marbling and will result in dry, livery-tasting pieces that you may find a finicky grandson picking out.

Solution: Use two, 2-lb chuck blade roasts, cut into 1 ½ inch cubes (minus any gristle, please.)

They’re the easiest things to work with. Simply hold one up, make a cut with a sharp knife and it will tell you where to cut from there on out. Less than five minutes of work, really.
As usual, Julia calls for us to simmer the bacon in water to rid some of the smokiness. I realize that this goes against the trend in which smokiness is “in” these days (chipotle-flavored everything comes to mind) but trust me, do as you’re told. Other flavors will need to come through.

The bacon is then dried, sautéed and set aside while the beef is diligently browned in the bacon fat. (Remember to dry the beef or it won’t brown.) And here comes another technique that strikes me as somewhat strange:

After placing the browned beef in a large casserole, dust it with 2 Tbs of flour and place it in a 450-degree oven, uncovered for 4 minutes. Turn the beef, and return it for 4 more minutes. My guess is that this cooks away any raw flour taste and gives the beef a tasty crust.

With Julia, I do as I’m told. Technique is everything.

Sauté the chopped onion and carrot and add it to the beef.

The wine: Of course, a red burgundy comes to mind but that can be difficult to find. I like a pinot noir or even better, a Côtes du Rhône. I’d stay away from a cabernet sauvignon with its dark, jammy “cabby-ness”. Merlot? I don’t know. I wouldn’t risk it. Julia even suggests a Chianti.
Anyway, add 3 cups which will leave the cook a small glass for yourself. Or better, pour yourself a small glass (quality control, remember?) and pour in the rest of the bottle.

Add another 2 cups of good beef broth, 1 Tbs tomato paste, 1 crumbled bay leaf, ½ tsp thyme. I leave out the 2 tsp of salt because the beef broth can be salty and I tend to use salted butter (later) for the onions and mushrooms. You can always add salt to taste later. If it’s over-salted, there’s only so much you can do with butter and sugar to correct it.

While this is cooking away at 325 for 2 ½ hours, you can get on with the pearl onions and mushrooms.

Pearl onions can be awfully tedious to peel when raw. Solution: Cut off the root end and plunk them all in boiling water for about three minutes. The peels will then slip off in the most cooperative way. They get sautéed in butter, covered with chicken broth and simmered down until the broth has reduced to a syrupy glaze.

Mushrooms: I prefer to cut them in half and place them face-down in the butter and let them brown. That way, I only have to cook one side of them really well.

The mushrooms stay juicy and mushroomy that way. And remember, don’t crowd the pan or they won’t brown. You’ll just be braising mushrooms in mushroom juice.

When the beef is done, Julia instructs us to remove the beef and strain the sauce. I have to admit that I’ve done that – once. It’s a hot, messy ordeal and in all honesty, I fail to see how straining the sauce will make this creation any more appealing than it already is.
For one thing, the sauce always comes out with the perfect consistency. (Follow Julia's instructions, remember?) There's never been any need to thicken it or thin it out.

Also, it tastes even better left over and served the next day. Any difference in sauce-texture (smoothness, maybe?) that might be achieved by straining will be long gone by then.

Add the mushrooms and onions to the beef and serve. For the accompaniment, egg noodles are good. Rice drinks up too much of the sauce. Small potatoes, boiled and sautéed with butter and parsley might be best.

How many superlatives can one use in describing this creation? The wine sauce gives it such a rich, tangy complexity. Combine that with the sweetness of the onions, the rich, earthiness of the mushrooms along with the perfect balance of spices – the French have a word for “unctuosity” that I wish I knew. “Unctuous” describes it best.

I love this dish. Yes, even though I’ve made it numerous times, I got tears in my eyes the last time I made it – its goodness is that overwhelming. I made it on a Friday night and spent the entire weekend having it all to myself. Talk about a glimspe of heaven. . . .

. . . And remember, this is from someone who really doesn’t like beef stew.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Deux Bavarois aux Pralines

Two Bavarian Creams Flavored With Almond Pralines.

My last post espoused the glories of Julia's Bavarian Cream with Almond Praline. I have to tell you that this dessert was such a hit that it's been commissioned to make a double-appearance at a gathering for approximately forty guests in a couple of days.

I must also tell you that the host of this gathering is another Julia fan and friend of mine who actually met her during a cooking class in San Francisco during the early 90s.

I'm looking forward to presenting this dessert, but feel that I must document such an endeavor.

Now that you know how astounding this dessert is, hopefully, you'll be soon doing the same for dozens of your friends as well.I've seen lots of other bloggers giving measurements to Julia's recipes here and there. I've yet to hear of any litigious pursuits over such endeavors, so I'll tentatively do the same.

For two almond pralines, I find it best to begin with a 2-cup package (16 oz) of slivered almonds and toast those. The recipe for each calls for 1/2 cup of pulverized almond praline plus 2 Tbs of pulverized praline for the topping. You might as well toast twice as much as you need and freeze the rest. Or, if your almonds or caramel don't appear to be really toasty, freely double the amount.

I've learned that excessive almond praline in this recipe can seldom be a bad thing.Having prepared this dessert so often and studied J. Child pedagogy, I feel confident that she would agree. Just as with performing a Bach Fugue, liberties may be taken, but only with hands full of knowledge and respect.

Here is what two cups of toasted almonds look like after having been submitted to three minutes at 350, stirred, then two more minutes.
The extra toasty bits on the side would taste awfully burnt if they'd gone 30 seconds more. This is when you want to stop and mix the toasted almonds in. Any more, and you will have wasted five bucks worth of nuts.

Here are two cups of sugar and 1/4 cup of water, very gently swirled, and bubbled away to make a caramel. This is the point where the toasted almonds should be quickly stirred in, and very quickly and poured out onto a greased baking sheet.

I'm toying with the idea of using toasted Macadamia nuts instead of almonds. They weren't available to Julia back in the 1950s like they are now. Macadamia nuts can hardly be considered a "French" food item either, and now that I think about it, I'm not so sure we should be heading off into Nigella Lawson territory, scrumptious though she is.

Let's stay with what's known and relish it.Now that the recipe is doubled, here we have the requisite fourteen egg yolks, ten egg whites and the remaining four egg whites.

In olden days, I'd be saving the four remaining egg whites, pouring them into a plastic Ziploc bag, collecting them, and freezing them for later use.

But let's be honest here. Julia's recipes call for a huge amount of egg yolks compared to egg whites. Saving the whites, while may be admirable, is hardly practical and a messy ordeal. Unless you have an inordinate desire for egg-white omelets, dump the remaining whites down the Dispose-All.

Next is the making of an egg custard. In this case, the fourteen yolks are beaten with two cups of sugar in the mixer until frothy, lemon-colored, and ribbony.

Meanwhile, three cups of milk (full-fat only, please) is heated in a large sauce pan until boiling, then added in driblets to the egg yolks. That mixture is returned to the sauce pan and heated to make a custard.

As I've said before, custard can be a tricky thing. When I thought I knew Everything-You-Always-Wanted-to-Know-About-Custard, my custard surprised me and broke, resulting in a grainy mess of hard-scrambled eggs and whey.

Oh well. Life is often like that. Just when you think you know everything, your work results in curds and whey. Learn from it, laugh at yourself, be sure to pass on the lessons, wash the dishes, and head on.

So, here are some helpful custard hints for you that I hope will make your life easier:

Use a rather large sauce pan or pot. You'll want a large enough pot to enable some rather vigorous stirring with a rubber spatula -- and you'll want to be able to "feel"the bottom of the sauce pan for any scratchiness. Such would signify that the egg yolks are cooking too fast and scrambling. A small sauce pan would inhibit your free movement of the spatula.

Regarding the proper heat source: Something that is hot enough to cook the egg mixture without scrambling them is best.

Fortunately (or unfortunately) I am stuck with the original 1964 General Electric, push-button stove that came with my apartment, in Harvest Gold to boot.

The large, front burner only works on "high" and nothing else. Therefore, I've grown quite comfortable with moving the egg custard pot back-and-forth from the large, full-bore burner to the smaller burner set on medium. That way, I'm able to gauge exactly what the heat is doing to my custard.

While this may seem cumbersome, I'm reminded of my paternal grandmother in Texas who preferred preparing the family meals on her wood-burning stove in the ranch house even though a gas stove had long been supplied. Obviously, she had developed an extremely keen heat-source intuition that served her very well. My old-fashioned, GE push-button clunker does the same for me.

So, here is what a double-recipe of egg custard should look like when you stir it.

Again, the moment you feel any scratchiness on the bottom of the pot when you're stirring it with the rubber spatula, move it away from the burner and all will be well. Once you get used to the proper heat source, this should take no longer than 8-10 minutes on the burner(s).

Set the custard aside and prepare the coffee-gelatin mixture. One cup of really strong coffee should be on hand with four Tbs of gelatin. When you think about it, it's never a bad idea to have a large cup of your best, really bold Italian roast on hand for the cook either. The extra cup, actually, should be an after-thought.

Whip the ten egg whites (pinch of salt, spoonful of sugar) to medium peaks. Not limpy whites, but not firm screaming peaks either. Just regular egg whites.
You know.

Fold them into the custard in The Usual Manner: 1/3 mixed in to lighten the batter, the next two-thirds in the folding manner; cut the whites in with a J formation, turning the bowl, so as not to deflate them.
Next, whip one cup of heavy cream. (Please -- there's never any need to dirty another measuring cup with buttery cream if your cream came in a 16-oz container).

Do the math. Dump half of it in.
Whip the gelatin together with the hot, delicious coffee that should always be on hand for the cook.
Fold in the ground praline, (be sure to save about 1/l4 cup for the toppings later) the whipped cream, the gelatinized coffee all together. Use your best folding technique so that the final result will "have a most lively, light, creamy, velvety quality," as Julia puts it.

Divide the custard into two 9-inch containers lined with Saran Wrap (cling-film).

I use one 9-inch springform cake pan and one 9-inch Tupperware container because that's what I happen to have on hand. Be sure to line the bottom of each with plenty of plastic wrap, more than you think you'll need, as it's all pretty unwieldy.

Fold the plastic wrap over the top and refrigerate it overnight or at least eight hours.

Meanwhile -- and I hate to tell you this -- but you'll need to get your custard-making tool-belt back on. You'll be making it again as a topping and side-sauce, but please, make it at your leisure. It won't be needed until you serve it and it can be refrigerated until needed. (Whew!)

Un-mold the custard onto a serving platter, pour half the custard on top along with the remaining praline. Serve the remaining custard on the side.

Again, words cannot express how pleasurable this dessert is.

To me, there really is something supernatural about her endeavor that she left behind.

And that's what I love so much about the work that our Julia provided for us all.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Bavarois aux Praline

Almond Praline Bavarian Cream

I think I'm in love.
Pure, head-over-heels, Ali-McGraw-in-Love Story in love

I recently made Julia's Bavarois aux Fruit which is a Bavarian Cream flavored with fresh strawberries and it was incredible. It was one of those desserts where everyone sort of has this stunned look on their faces upon taking the first bite; it's that good.
Here's a photo:

As with most recipes in Mastering, there's a main recipe and then several variations. The strawberry Bavarois was so luxurious and impressive, I decided to try the variation flavored with an almond praline.

Holy-Mother-of-God, I didn't think it was possible, but it was even better. Seriously, this is one of those recipes you must have in your culinary repertoire. After you're long gone, your great-nieces-and-nephews will sit around the Thanksgiving table with their grandchildren and they'll all reminisce about your Almond Praline Bavarian Cream.

It's that good.

Yes, this recipe sounds pretty involved and there are a number of steps to it. But aren't all legendary feats worth the effort? Besides -- and trust me on this one -- once you've made it a couple of times it won't seem nearly as intimidating. You'll be whipping out Bavarian creams with insouciance; with careless ease.

First, there's the almond praline which I've told you about here. Yes, there's carmelized sugar involved along with toasting slivered almonds. If that seems too daunting of a beginning, make it the day before and be done with it.

The almond praline is ground in the food processor and you're on to the Bavarian cream. A custard is made with seven egg yolks, sugar, hot milk, and flavored with vanilla. To set up this molded dessert, gelatin is dissolved in a half cup of strong coffee. (The coffee gives it another layer of flavor that really doesn't say "coffee", but rather, just another dimension that makes this dessert so appealing.)

If you're making this dessert all in one go, now would be the time to tackle the almond praline while the hot custard is cooling.

Five egg whites are whipped and folded into the custard. Then, fresh whipped cream is folded in along with the coffee/gelatin and the crushed almond praline.

The whole thing sets up in the fridge -- I use a 9-inch springform cake tin lined with plastic wrap.

Julia did always say, "Everything in moderation; including moderation."

So, in the vein of obligatory immoderation, another batch of custard is prepared as the topping. Yes, there are, indeed, fourteen egg yolks in this recipe and that's what your ancestors will be remarking about after you've left this good Earth.

The dessert is unmolded onto a serving platter, about half the custard is swathed on top along with the remaining praline. Serve the remaining custard on the side.

Trust me, this is food from the angels. You need to make this dessert.


I mean it. . . . Go.