Special Feature: Susan’s Dinner Adventure with Julia Child

Posted 15 August 2012 by

I’ll confess: That title is a little misleading. Julia was only with me in spirit one hot day in July. I was mid-researching her life  for the podcast and was inspired to crack open her first book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I love the title- it sounds so romantic, so dreamy. It’s also kind of  ironic since Julia’s approach to cooking was that of a scientist. Her methodology and her recipes- test and re-test,  measurements precise and the directions exact.

(X Eggs+ Y Cream)+(Z Temperature+ A minutes)= souffle. Every time. Science.

But Mastering the Science of French Cooking probably wouldn’t have appealed to the servantless American housewife  of 1961, and it sure would not have appealed to me, a servantless American housewife of 2012. But Julia Child was part of my upbringing, her books part of my home cooking education. Reading about her life- who she was beyond the recipes and the TV personality- inspired me.

Courtesy Lisa Graves Designs

Let’s get some things straight:

I’m not a foodie. I am a decent home cook, but I am a thirty minute cook. If dinner doesn’t come together in thirty minutes, I usually don’t make it.

If it takes a lot of pans, I usually don’t make it.

If it’s expensive, I really don’t make it.

But Julia helped create Mastering the Art of French Cooking for the average American housewife. Trust me when I say- they don’t get more average than me.

Enter: French Chef Dinner night.

Coq au vin, parsley potatoes, fresh steamed green beans and pear and  almond custard tart for dessert.

The plan was to do it right- not take any shortcuts. From shopping to serving all in one day-, each step savored and enjoyed with a Frenchified American accent.  I was going to have a day of lovingly preparing food for my family. In my head they oooh’d and ahhh’d at the results, they lavished me with adoration…

Like most overly romanticized plans, it didn’t actually work out the way I had imagined. I did shop, prepare and serve my family a dinner straight from Mastering The Art of French Cooking. I also spent the day taxi-ing my three children to camps and activities in 104 degree heat. I don’t have enough romantic in me to make that day dreamy. It was work.

And I took shortcuts. I like coq au vin with dark meat, but two of the people at the table of  six that I serve dinner to each night will only eat white meat. Precut and packaged meat won me over.

The pearl onions that I wanted to use would have cost me close to 10 dollars for the quantity that I needed. I couldn’t shut up my inner cheapie long enough to toss them in my shopping cart.

The grocery store was out of baguettes which Julia would have purchased. I did toy with the idea of making my own bread (I’ve done it before) but frozen dough won me over as a nice compromise.

And I grabbed a package of premade pie dough on the off chance that I didn’t have time to make the sugar pastry crust that Julia recommends for the tart.

Now that it’s all spelled out- I took a lot of shortcuts.

I did get to banter some French phrases around at the check out lane. I told the cashier, “Bonjour” and “Fantastique” when she greeted me and asked how I found everything. When the total came to four times that of a normal dinner for my family, I uttered the one French cuss that I know.

(Note to self: Don’t banter French phrases around in small town grocery stores unless a) you are in France or Canada or b)you want to hear crickets and see dental work.)

At home I set to work. First up: bacon. (Honestly, a day that begins with frying bacon can’t go bad, can it?)

Shopping finished, I began to cook.

I cut fresh herbs from the pots on my porch, sliced onions, cleaned button mushrooms and played scientist with them in pans of butter.

My herb garden, some of it made it into the dinner

While the fifty minutes that the onions were supposed to braise in chicken broth astonished me, the entire preparation of the entree was fun. It was. Wine! Bacon! Beautifully browned chicken! What’s not to love?

Yes, that is a Bota-box. Don't judge.

It was the rest of the meal that reminded me why I am a 30-minute cook.

By the time that the bread had finished cooking, the outside temperature was nearing 104 degrees, and the kitchen temperature wasn’t too far behind. Time was also getting away from me, and the thought of the mix, chill, roll, chill then bake of the sugar pastry crust added more time and more heat. The filling took a lot of both and really, my family never would know what they were missing.

Peeling, coring and slicing the pears that were then poached for far longer than Julia had said they would need to be.

While the pears poached, I beat the custard as it cooked. You thought I would beat by hand? hahahahahno.

Almond custard in crust

Finished.

Upturned noses when I mentioned,”boiled parsley potatoes” altered the dish to mashed red potatoes. Not a big deal, Julia would have rolled with it, right?

Eight hours, and nearly a pound of butter, after I began I was serving dinner.

A food blogger I am not. Dinner, is served

I would love to be able to carry on about the reaction of dinner. That my family enjoyed it all the more because of the time and energy that I spent cooking it…but the truth is far from that. They liked it. They devoured the potatoes and one scraped the sauce off the chicken. My darling husband actually had the nerve to say, “Did you cook this in the crock pot?”

Oh, sigh, yes, he did.

But Julia taught me to enjoy the process, serve the results and never apologize. Two out of three ain’t bad.
I really liked the meal, the chicken was wonderful and the dessert was really fantastic. Would I do it again? Probably not. It was a lot of work and only some of it was enjoyable. But I’m glad that I took a day to remember Julia and cook a dinner in celebration of her memory.

Happy birthday, Julia!

If you haven’t listened to the podcast on Julia, click on over here, or listen via iTunes or on Stitcher Radio.