This post comes to you courtesy of my partner-in-crime (or my wonder twin, depending on how you view our partnership!) at my workplace. She and I conspired over the summer to celebrate Julia Child’s 100th birthday with good food and wine. I posted about it here and here. Now, I give you her post about her cooking experience. Thanks, C.!!
In the movie, “Julie and Julia”, the character of Julie describes a dinner party where her mother made boeuf bourguignon for a dinner party. She remembers her mother saying it was like Julia was in the kitchen with her, on her side, cheering her on as she made the signature dish. After last week, I know exactly what she’s talking about in that scene.
For many years, I have dabbled in cooking. I watched my mother make her own pasta sauce without a recipe, and then as an adult, recreated her sauce simply by remembering what was laid out on the counter while she cooked. Mine is a bit different than hers, but everyone who’s eaten it loves it. I’ve watched the Food Network ad nauseum and tried to recreate recipes seen there. I have cookbooks about chicken, baking, pasta, “old fashioned cooking”, vegetarian dishes (which reminds me, I love that spinach and rice casserole from Moosewood), and countless others. I am in no way a professional cook; I wouldn’t even call myself a semi-professional amateur, but I know my way around a pantry. I daydream in Williams-Sonoma.
So when I realized that this year was the 100th birthday of Julia Child, I felt compelled to mark this occasion. StellaCarolyn has already written here about our continued bonding over her Julia mementos, and I knew she would be the perfect co-conspirator. I texted her in the middle of a family emergency (hers, not mine) and told her to think about it. She just replied, “Absolutely in. We’ll talk.” My darling partner decided for me what I would cook—the grande dame, boeuf bourguignon.
The reason is this: many years ago, an ex with a gift for gift giving gave me the combination of Julie and Julia and Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
Which scared the crap out of me. A few years later, another more casual ex and I decided we would start cooking the recipes. I got as far as the roast chicken and a perfect soft boiled egg before putting him (and the book) aside. My darling, who believes in me like no other, was convinced that the boeuf was the only way to go for this dinner. So, Stella and I planned, and I went shopping.
I bought the recommended red wines.
And lots of amazing groceries at Whole Foods. I even consulted the butcher counter about a good substitute for the bacon, and was not disappointed with the pork belly.
I read the recipe again. And again. And again. And I discovered something quite interesting about Mastering the Art of French Cooking:
The cookbook is REALLY EASY to follow, once you understand the organizing principle. Which is, the left hand column is the ingredients, laid out in the groupings and order in WHICH YOU NEED THEM, not in one grand master list. The right hand column are the exquisitely written steps to Les Trois Gourmandes recipes. The special educator in me studied the format, studied the lists, and realized, “I can do this.”
And even if it isn’t perfect, no excuses, don’t apologize.
I woke up really early the day of the cooking, eager to get chopping. Realizing I was about 4 hours ahead of schedule, I made some copies and watched Season 1, Episode 1 of The French Chef, read the paper, and drank coffee. Finally, I started chopping. I pulled out all my great prep bowls, and my needing-to-be-sharpened santoku, and within half an hour, the recipe was laid out in a neat grouping on my counter.
At noon, the cooking began. I chopped, blanched, then sautéed the pork belly.
The beef was dried,
and browned in batches.
and then all combined with wine and stock to begin the initial cooking.
While that all bubbled away, I prepared the braised onions
and the sautéed mushrooms,
which I could have eaten straight out of the pan. I have been doing this wrong for years. Never again. Cleaned the house, set the table, and finally checked on the stew.
Now, here’s the step where I yelled at the ghost of Julia watching over my shoulder. The step requires that you drain the beef out of the casserole and strain out the sauce into a sauce pan, wash out the casserole, and return the beef to it while you simmer the sauce to skim off the fat. Draining the beef and sauce into the pan was easy enough, but that cassrole was the temperature of the surface of the sun, so washing it was really challenging. I decided to begin skimming and wait for it to be a more reasonable degree of hot. Which, actually made cleaning it out really easy. I returned everything to the pan, with the onions and mushrooms (picture 9), and let it cool until my guests arrived, where it would resimmer just before serving.
StellaCarolyn, her husband, and another couple arrived at our house, SC with dessert and sparkling wine, couple number two with more wine. We had brie and pate while I reorganized the stew, and finished the boiled potatoes and roasted brussel sprouts.
We served ourselves, and then conversation briefly stopped. It had been a success. We toasted Julia, and her inspiration and her legacy, and toasted the good friends around the table. We ate every last bit of dinner. SC assembled the bombes des trois chocolates, which has been previously described.
Julia was definitely with us this night. Julia, who loved a good meal, with people she loved. Who brought this beautiful world of food to American women and convinced us, in words and grainy black and white tv, and later, better, clearer color tv, that this world was ours to explore. All we needed was a good knife and the right skillet, some friends and some good French wine. And she’d be with us as we went.
Happy Birthday, Julia. It was a pleasure celebrating with you.