Tag Archives: Julia Child

Happy 100th Birthday, Julia Child!

Mastering the ArtA very grown-up birthday present

I’ve been dragging my feet about writing this post as there were so many tributes going around yesterday to honor the late Julia Child on what would have been her 100th birthday.  I’ve written several times about her influence on my cooking and on my mother’s cooking and about how I received my own personal copies of Mastering the Art of French Cooking as a very grown-up present for my 25th birthday, having fallen in love with my mother’s own battered and taped-together copy.

Not sure that crêpes were something that my grandmothers made, ever

What actually struck me is that, when I did the math, earlier this year would have been my grandmother’s (my father’s mother’s) 100th birthday, too. She was not much of a cook, by all accounts. When I would eat out with my grandfather, his tastes didn’t seem to stray very far either, as I recalled in my post shortly after he had passed away. I wonder what it was like for my grandmother when this culinary revolution started, as her children were grown up and married by the time the fervor took full hold of the American appetite. I’ve never heard from either my father or grandfather that her culinary repertoire changed as a result of this opus.

Stovetop Hollandaise – my mother swore by this recipe

Even more interesting, I realized, two of my great-grandmothers were still alive when the original volume of Mastering was published.  They were much older and well past the stage where they would have been preparing meals for their families (in fact, I think they might have even been living in retirement communities by that time).  For them, as well as for my grandmothers, modernization had meant canned and convenience foods, moving them further away from the farmland products with which they’d all grown up and away from spending time in the kitchen.

Spinach Salad – another favorite recipe of my mother’s

The dinner table at my parents’ house was definitely influenced, even in subtle ways by Julia Child.  I think she gave my mom the confidence to be a more adventurous cook.  When she did an episode on how to make homemade pita pockets, well before these showed up at every corner bodega, guess what we ate our tuna salad sandwiches in all summer long?  Looking for a way to get the kids to eat seafood during Lent?  My mom tackled her recipe for Crêpes avec Fondue de Crustacés (seafood crêpes).  They are creamy, rich, and oh-so-delicious and were a special treat for us, a big change from pizza or fishsticks on a meat-free Friday evening.

New school uniforms – look how bright and clean they are!

I guess, however, one of the biggest ways that Julia Child had an influence on my life and what I eat is evident in the next stage of my professional and personal life.  This past Monday, I started at the International Culinary Center as a student in their Classic Culinary Arts diploma program, which is based upon classic French cooking techniques, methodology, and recipes.  Pursuing this chef’s training program has been something I’ve wanted to do for many years.  After taking the Culinary Techniques course earlier this summer, I realized that now is the best time to take this next step if I’m ever going to do it.  It will definitely be an interesting journey over the next few months as I tackle this challenge.  Merci, Mrs. Child for all the impact that you have had on my life and on my future culinary career.

Buon appetito!

Julie/Julia Movie


This afternoon, I took in one of the greatest guilty pleasures ever invented: a mid-day movie. I’d originally taken off a couple of days to travel to see family, but then I screwed up my knee last week by twisting it as I walked up the stairs exiting the subway. With my travel plans scuttled, I reached out to a few friends to see about catching up, as I still needed to take the vacation days. One of the first ones to confirm that he was available had mentioned over a dinner of lobster rolls and Old Bay french fries at the Mermaid Inn a few weeks back that wanted to see Julie & Julia when it came out.

After reading several reviews and many blog posts about Julie & Julia, I have to confess, I was wondering if I really did want to see it. Almost everyone seemed to agree that the parts of the movie that cover Julia Child’s life and her personal and culinary development while she was living overseas, are the most interesting. Most folks seemed lukewarm about the parts that highlight Julie Powell’s goal of making all the recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I have to say that while I definitely could have watched an entire film about Julia Child, I am left admiring Julie Powell for tackling this task. I had read parts of her blog while she was writing it.


I received my own two-volume set of these cookbooks as a 25th birthday present, at my request. I’d been cooking for many years, but it was really just the basic 70s-80s family type of stuff and dorm food. Then, after subscribing to cooking magazines for several years, and after trying to spread my culinary wings, I felt as though I was ready to take the ‘adult’ step of learning how to cook from Mrs. Child’s opus.

The truth is, however, that aside from consulting her books for certain techniques and general information, I don’t really cook from them. I am not the audience for which she was originally writing, nor was Julie Powell. While I am definitely servant-less, I am also not a stay-at-home wife who can spend the multiple hours on preparation and cooking these kinds of meals. I admire Julie for taking on that task, after working a full and (from the depiction in the movie) tedious job. Do you remember New York City in 2002? It was awful to be here in the post-09/11 funk and depression and working for the LMDC couldn’t have been fun.
I definitely recommend seeing the movie for both stories. I agree with everyone else whose reviews I have read that I could have seen a whole movie about Julia and Paul Child, and I hope that they get Meryl Streep to play that part again because she was amazing. Keeping up with a blog, a life, a marriage, a job, and the recipes couldn’t have been easy for Julie Powell, but she did it. Like many folks, I predict, I will pull these books off of my shelf again to read them and perhaps even to tackle some of the recipes. Both of these stories have given me back some of my cooking inspiration, which I think is a great reason to see any movie.

Buon appetito!

Spinach Salad

Before you turn up your nose or click away from this post, I ask you to at least consider trying a freshly-made spinach salad. This is still from the series of recipes from the family card file that I’m testing once again. Like usual, I’ve made some minor tweaks to it but really nothing drastic.

Like you, I was turned off from this vitamin-packed leafy green as a child. Poorly cooked, drained of all flavor, and lifeless, it was really not one of my favorite vegetables. I’m not sure that you could have paid me to eat this when I was growing up, and I remember it appearing only a couple of times at the dinner table. Now I realize that crisp, bright green, seasonal leaves make all the difference in this salad.


The Greenmarket did not fail to deliver when I was shopping there today, looking for something wonderful to pair with my leftover flank steak. Just see how amazingly fresh and full of life these leaves look. A few strips of meat alongside the lightly dressed spinach topped with toasted walnut pieces and a glass of red wine and I’m in iron-packed, anti-oxident heaven!

Spinach Salad*

Prep time: 15-20 minutes
Servings: 4-5 adults

Ingredients:
4 cups loosely-packed and thoroughly cleaned spinach leaves (baby are best)
1/2 cup walnut pieces, dry toasted and cooled
2 Tbsp good white wine vinegar
1 medium garlic clove, crushed
1 Tbsp dijon mustard (not grainy mustard)
1/3 c. extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Assembly:
Place walnuts in a non-stick pan on low heat or on a baking tray in a 300 degree Fahrenheit oven. Let roast for about 5-10 minutes until lightly browned but not burned.

While the walnuts are roasting, prep the spinach leaves. Rinse completely, possibly several times, to remove all traces of dirt and grit. Trim off the woody ends (if using larger leaves). Run through a salad spinner or pat dry with paper towels and put into a serving bowl. Check the walnuts to see if they are done. Remove them from the oven and set aside to cool.

Stir together the white wine vinegar, garlic, and mustard. Whisk in the olive oil in a thin stream until the dressing is fully combined. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour the dressing over the salad. Top with the walnuts, and toss everything together until it is fully incorporated.

*There are two things to add to this recipe. One is that my mother makes a version that omits the walnuts and, instead, takes sliced mushrooms, adds them to the dressing, lets them sit for about 30 minutes or so, and then pours everything over the spinach leaves. Why she didn’t then also add bacon to it is one of life’s culinary mysteries. This would make a good steakhouse type salad.

The other addition is an attribution. My mother thinks that this recipe actually came from one of Julia Child’s newspaper columns. She’s going to do some research for me on this, as I couldn’t come up with anything online by way of substantiation. Aside from the tweaks I made about toasting the walnuts, which I think bring a heartier flavor to the salad, I am not going to claim that this is my own creation, rather it is something that found its way into our family card file, and I’ve decided needs to be kept in mine as well.

Buon appetito!

How to Make Hollandaise Sauce

Hollandaise Sauce, like Bearnaise and Mayonnaise, is part of the emulsion family of sauces that really should be taught in high school chemistry for their amazing combining effects and delicate nature. Even though my attempts at Mayonnaise failed a couple of years ago, and I’ve never tried to do it again, Hollandaise is one of those things that I was able to make on the first go. Don’t ask me why, as the principles are basically the same.

This velvety, slightly tangy sauce is perfect over vegetables, like now-in-season asparagus, and lovely over poached eggs for an indulgent Sunday brunch (New York Times optional). Below, I’ve listed several tips that can help lead you to success in preparing this sauce. It’s not fool-proof, but once you’ve made this from scratch, you’ll never use pre-made versions again. Once you understand the tricks to it, it goes very quickly and you can adjust to avoid culinary disaster and scrambled mess (much the same as with making a custard sauce).

Before you try this recipe, make sure someone is watching the kids, turn off the TV and radio, and make sure that you can concentrate fully for 15 minutes on making this sauce. You cannot afford to be distracted, not even for an instant. That’s my word of warning. This is very easy to make and even easier to make a hash of in seconds. So, how is that for scaring you off of making it before you’ve even started?

Tip 1: Get everything together and laid out (mis en place) before starting the recipe. Allow the butter to have cooled for just a bit before starting.

Tip 2: Put the burner on the lowest possible heat, even if it doesn’t seem very high just by looking at it. If cooking with a gas fire, the residual heat from melting the butter will be enough to warm the mixture.

Tip 3: Don’t be afraid to take mixture off of the heat, if it seems as though it is starting to curdle. Whisk vigorously to recombine ingredients if it looks like this is happening. You have mere moments to avoid the sauce collapsing once it has started.

Hollandaise Sauce

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Serving size: makes about 1 cup sauce

Ingredients:

2 egg yolks at room temperature
2-3 tsp. lemon juice
2 tsp. water
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
2 tsp. cold unsalted butter
8 Tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

Assembly:

In heavy saucepan over lowest heat setting on stove, beat together egg yolks, lemon juice, water, salt, and pepper until thoroughly combined for about 2 minutes. Add cold butter and whisk in until completely incorporated, about another 2 minutes. Be careful not to let the sauce start to break up or look like scrambled eggs.

The mixture will start to get thicker, like heavy cream, as you whisk it continuously. At the point where you start to see the bottom of the pan between strokes, start adding the melted butter 1/2 tsp at a time. Incorporate each addition of butter thoroughly before adding the next portion and stir constantly to keep the sauce from breaking apart.

You can take the pan on and off the heat, whisking all the while, to keep it stable during this process (which I sometimes do). When all the butter has been added, remove from the heat and taste for seasoning. The mixture should look like a thick golden custard. Serve immediately while still warm.

Here’s a serving suggestion, or at least one of my favorite ways to eat asparagus.

Steamed Asparagus with home-made Hollandaise Sauce 

Buon appetito!

Making Crêpes – I’m so not Julia

I was checking on on the folks at “Is My Blog Burning” and came across another group effort in which I thought it might be fun to participate. The blogger who hosts Champaign Taste asked for contributions in honor of Julia Child’s birthday on 15th August.

Remember a few months back when I said that I really should learn how to make Crêpes Suzette as I do love to eat them? This blog round-up seemed like the perfect opportunity to get me motivated to attempt this recipe. The timing seemed even better as I’d recently brought back to New York the two-volume set of Julia Child’s (and company’s) “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” from Virginia, where they’d been in storage at my parents’ house, along with my other cookbooks.

This also gave me an excuse to use the crêpe pan that my youngest sister had given me as a present many years ago – something else that came out of storage recently (not my sister, the pan). Even though I’d made crêpes several times before under the watchful eye of my mother, this time I didn’t feel as though I was really getting the hang of it, as tries #1 and #2 show.

Not the most beautiful things, but still edible
By attempt #4, things seemed to be working better (see below). One trick is to get enough, but not too much batter coating the surface of the pan. Much like making waffles (sorry if that sounds insulting to Ms. Child), one has to get just the right amount. Too much and they are gooey and undercooked, and too little and they are crunchy thin and overdone.


#4

#5
See what I mean about the waffle analogy?

The other trick is in the wrist. This was probably the harder part for me. I had to wait until just that point where I could guess how done the one side of the crêpe would be and then work quickly to get the spatula underneath it to flip it without having the sides curl underneath. I lost a few earlier attempts by messing up that part of the process. “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” had a great tip – shake the crêpe to loosen it from the pan before trying to flip it. Once I got the hang of that, it went much more easily and with greater success.

Of course, once it did start to come easily, I was about three crêpes away from being done with the batter. Still, now that I know the tips and tricks, I think the next time I try it, it will go much better. To finish, I added the orange butter sauce and liqueur, lit a match to flambée it, and dessert was sûr la table. Despite the fact that these tasted fine and looked o.k. in the end, I realize, I have a long way to go before I can even come close to touching the art of French cooking, much less trying to master it.

Zesting the orange
Orange-butter-sugar sauce
Ready to plate and ready for me to eat!


Buon appetito!