The Julia Meal
Julia Child still continues to amaze me. After preparing six recipes from her book for a dinner party yesterday, I cannot begin to comprehend the amount of work that went her opus, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Composing the recipes, testing, re-testing, perfecting them -- that amount of work boggles my mind.
Here’s a recap of last night’s meal.
First, I stopped by Best Buy and purchased a new camera on my way to Jack and Steve’s place who were hosting the dinner. Steve, ever the electronic guru, promptly programmed the camera for me. (I didn’t know they had internal dates and clocks -- imagine that.)
Our friend, Karen, brought some lovely Roquefort and Wisconsin Gruyere along with champagne for us to enjoy while everyone arrived. She also supplied some incredible wine pairings for the meal.
I got to their place at noon -- dinner was at 7:00 pm. Steve was a wonderful kitchen-angel, cleaning up behind me and keeping things organized. I would put down and balloon-whisk and within minutes, Steve had it washed, dried and returned to the balloon whisk-section of the appropriate drawer. The kitchen would have probably looked like a meteor crater had he not been there.
He also sets an incredible table. Thank god -- it's something I've seldom enjoyed.
Since this was a Julia Child dinner and a French one at that, it seemed that I was constantly at the sink separating egg yolks.
Dear, sweet Portia was at her usual post by the kitchen door, ever ready for a treat.
First, Fonds d'Artichauts au Mayonnaise (Steamed artichokes with mayonnaise)
Julia’s mayonnaise is made by hand, whisking oil into egg yolks, drop by drop at first. Then in her page-long instructions, part of which she instructs you to whisk at the rate of two strokes per second, she lets you know that “the crisis is over” and you can whisk in the oil a bit more rapidly. The stuff is amazing.
Here is a serving of the main meal:
Fricasée de Poulet a La’Ancienne (Old Fashioned Chicken Fricassee) Chicken cooked in white wine and a cream-egg-yolk sauce.
Tomates á La Provençale (Baked tomatoes with fines herbs)
Asperges au Sauce Maltaise (Asparagus with orange-flavored Hollandaise)
The dessert was really a showcase.
Bavarois aux Fraises (Bavarian Cream with Strawberries)
It involved making an egg-yolk and cream custard, then whipped cream, then egg whites, then a strawberry puree, adding some gelatin to the puree, folding it all together and letting it set up in the fridge and serving it with the strawberry puree. Again, this was one of those recipes that showed off the main ingredient -- strawberries. It really was an incredible dessert.
I didn't take photos of the steps along the way for I really didn't want to mess something up. Custard can curdle in a second if the heat's too high. Mayonnaise has a crisis point while making it. And I'm really not adept at doing two things at once.
One principle of cooking that was reiterated is that you have to continually taste everything as you go along the way. This is crucial.
Case in point: As instructed, I had added some grated orange peel to the hollandaise, tasted it and said, "This tastes rancid!" The oranges I had been supplied with were the most beautiful, juicy, tasty oranges you would ever want, but it turned out that the peelings had absolutely no orange flavor at all; just a burning, acrid taste.
I started to dump the whole thing and make a plain hollandaise or maybe head in a Bearnaise direction. A few drops of lemon juice and a pinch of sugar straightened it out though. But that just goes to show you that you should taste everything as you go -- even grated orange peel.
Again, I have even more admiration for Julia Child. How she found the fortitude to test and perfect the hundreds of complicated recipes contained in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, I'll never know. (And that was just the first of many cookbooks the woman created.)
When I see the work that went into this book and the drive it must have taken to produce it, I cannot help but wonder how she did it. As far as I'm concerned, something supernatural was behind it all. . . .
The next morning -- I awoke in time to get ready for choir rehersal. My stomach was a bit queasy from all the rich food. The plantar fasciitis was killing me from having stood so much. Leg muscles were sore from striking a continual egg-separating pose.
Pepto Bismol with a Valium chaser straightened everything out.