Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Julia Child and All of Us: Our First Anniversary & Seventh Meeting

The Lovely Ladies who braved Mastering the Art of French Cooking in February, from left clockwise: Liz Mortensen, Crystal Armstrong, Catherine Fleming, Sharon Baker, Christine Valada, Laura Brennan, Julia Roberts, Susan Avallone, Michelle Resnick, T Valada-Viars, and Lisa Klink (photo by Kerry Glover.)
Being brave souls and encouraged by the fact that we made it through a year of meetings, the Cook Book Book Club celebrated its first anniversary by turning to the feared Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child on February 4, 2017.


Pan Francais
Aigo Bouido (Garlic Soup), v.1, p. 47
Quiche aux Fruits de Mer, v. 1, p. 149
Camembert Quiche, v. 1, p. 148
Coquilles St. Jacque a la Parisienne, v. 1, pp. 216-218
Filets de Poisson a la Bretonne, v. 1, p. 211 
 Pommes de Terre au Basilic, v. 2, p. 388
Poached Chicken in White Wine w/Provencal, v.1, p. 261 
 Duck with Cherries, v. 1
Vegetables a la Grecque, v. 1, p. 537
Reine de Saba (Chocolate & Almond Cake), v.1, p. 677
Clafouti aux Poires (Pear Flan), v. 1, p. 656 

I find this book somewhat intimidating, not because the instructions are complicated, but more because they are laid out in such an exacting manner that something that should only take a page runs to six, or a recipe that could be done in a matter of hours takes days. We've come to the conclusion that this may be because when the book came out, there were not chefs all over television doing demonstrations, making home cooks far more sophisticated in their cooking skills and much less likely to need such elaborate instruction.

But take the French Bread for example. It is less complicated than Nancy Silverton's bread recipes which begin with creating your own starter from the grapes you have growing on the trellis outside your kitchen in your potager. No kidding. I did this, since how else could I know that my grapes were untreated by pesticides. And I will also add that it is the only time my attempt at making a sourdough starter actually worked the way it was supposed to. What I did not know was how much flour would give up its life to keep the starter alive over the course of about 18 months, because there's no way three people could eat as much bread as would be required to use all of it. The dogs were very happy with the resulting dog biscuits which became the go-to when overwhelmed by the Blob That Grew in My Kitchen and I did pretty much work my way through the entire Breads from the La Brea Bakery cook book. But I digress.

The recipe for bread spans pages and pages. It suggests a time-table of around 18 hours. I started the night before, and I let one rise take place outside on a cold night--I had no room in my refrigerator for that particular proofing of the dough. I decided not to do baguettes because I did not have the cloche or a metal pan to hold the narrow loaves in the manner described. I did, however, have a pair of bannetons, left over from the above mentioned affair with Nancy, that I may never have used. Julia gave me the instructions I needed to be able to use them without the dough sticking to the baskets: a spray of Pam and rice flour. Worked like a charm. 
Shaped loaf before putting it in a banneton.
Finishing the baking.
I did the final rise in my oven at the "proof" setting, which was a setting I knew I wanted once I heard about it. I can use it while the other oven (I have a double electric wall oven) is preheating my baking stone to 550 degrees. (The new oven, which was installed days before Thanksgiving, makes it easier to add a pan of water to produce steam for the desired crisp crust on French bread.)
After the final rise, the dough was carefully rolled out of the banneton onto parchment paper, scored, and slid into the oven onto the baking stone. I added cold water and ice to the heated metal pan on the bottom of the oven to create steam. The bread had plenty of oven spring and it was soft on the inside while crunchy on the outside. I served it with unsalted Kerry Gold butter (because I couldn't find any French cultured butter) and we also ate it with Julia Robert's pate. Needless to say, everyone loved the final product and I fully intend to make it again (although I am now working on wet-batter Pullman loaves for sandwiches since I finally broke down and bought a Pullman pan.)
Chicken liver pate.
Liz Mortensen made Aido Bouido, or garlic soup. It was actually light and not overly garlicy (not that that would have been a problem with our group.) I think that one of the pleasures of these meals is that someone almost always makes soup and we get to serve it in the cute cream soup bowls that go with the Aynsley Cottage Garden soup tureen. (I also just acquired the most wonderful replacement for the plastic ladles we've been using. I can't wait to show it to everyone next month.)
Aido Bouido
We then moved on to two different quiches. Michelle Resnick made Quiche aux Fruits de Mer while Catherine Fleming made the Camembert Quiche.
Quiche aux Fruits de Mer
Camembert Quiche
I know that Michelle had done a dry run on her quiche a week or two before our lunch because she sent me a text mentioning she had a date with Julia that night. Catherine's choice reminded me of the time my husband and I were watching Food Network one Saturday night and there was a show on all about camembert. When it finished, we looked at each other and proclaimed "must have cheese!" We raced out into the San Fernando Valley darkness at 8:30 on a weekend night, looking for any place that might be open and would have the cheese and bread we sought. Trader Joe's let us down, but we were able to get to Whole Foods where the large cheese display did, in fact, have camembert and some other excellent French cheeses that we consumed for our supper. Both quiches would make an excellent meal with a side salad. I always forget how relatively easy quiche is to make and that it is a good way to incorporate leftovers into a different dish.
We were treated to two different fish preparations for our next course, Coquilles St. Jacques a la Parisienne made by Kerry Glover and Filets de Poisson a la Bretonne made by Lisa Klink. 
Coquilles St. Jacques a la Parisienne
Kerry decided to make the scallops in a casserole, rather than in individual dishes, because it would be easier to transport. I let her know that if she wanted to make them in individual ramekins next time, I had more than enough for everyone. Somehow, I became obsessed with the Cottage Garden ramekins and I now own more than two dozen of them. Unfortunately, I only have half-a-dozen ramekin forks. (First World problem, indeed.)

Though I may have forgotten to process the photos, I don't seem to have any pictures of Lisa's dish, or the Pommes de Terre au Basilic that Sharon Baker made, which we ate with the fish dishes. If I find the photos, or if anyone else has them, I will add them to this post later.

We moved on to a poultry course with Poached Chicken in White Wine with Provencal, made by Crystal Armstrong, and Duck with Cherries, which I made.
Poached Chicken in White Wine with Provencal
Duck with Cherries
Crystal's chicken looks like a good choice for a large group of people and tasted very good in its tomato-based sauce. While there was enough duck to go around for a tasting meal, as this obviously was, I think that there's really never enough duck which really is a stretch if there's more than 3 people eating. I would definitely consider two ducks to be the minimum for six people if it is the main course. The cherry accompaniment is made separately and spooned over the duck portion when it is carved and plated. I would definitely consider spatchcocking the duck to help it render the fat and cook a little faster.

We ate Laura Brennan's Vegetables a la Grecque with the poultry course and they could almost serve as a European salad course prior to dessert. She made one version with eggplant and a second with mushrooms. Both were finished with an oil and lemon juice dressing, which was good for cutting the fat from the bird dishes.
Vegetables a la Grecque (Eggplant).
Vegetables a la Grecque (Mushrooms).
Also missing from the photographs is the braised red cabbage with chestnuts I made, which was the book's suggested side for the duck. It was very popular with everyone, but it is another of those dishes which take a lot longer to make than even the cook book indicates. It is definitely a winter dish.

There were two desserts, a pear clafouti and Reine de Saba. My sister T Valada-Viars made the Clafouti aux Poires, which the cook book translated as "pear flan." It was a very light dough, but not so creamy as a flan which is more like a pudding.
Clafouti aux Poires on the range.
Clafouti aux Poires after it finished baking in the oven.
The Claflouti started on the stove-top but finished in the oven. She cooked it in a 10" Le Creuset braising pan.

Susan Avallone, who always looks for something to bake, took on the Reine de Saba, one of Julia Child's favorite recipes. It is a very rich, chocolate and almond torte with a chocolate glaze. Susan tried it two different ways, with different textured almond meal or flour.
Two versions of Reine de Saba.
Either way, it was delicious.

I might very well suggest we revisit Julia sometime in the future. There are so many more recipes to try and we did such a good job with it the first time around, it will be far less intimidating when we go back to it again. However, so many cook books, so little time. Bon appetito!

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