Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Happy Birthday, Julia Child!

If you're a foodie you know today is Julia Child's 100th birthday.
My mother, who followed the career of the TV chef and author, even mustering the courage to try one of her French recipes, as many homemakers of her generation did, would've known and likely celebrated it by preparing a platter of Julia's famous Coq Au Vin (Casserole of Chicken in Red Wine) and Gratin Dauphinois (potatoes and cream). But I would have never known about Julia, had I not been introduced to her in 2009.
That's when Nora Ephron's film, "Julie and Julia" was released and my editor came up with the notion that it might be fun to set my culinary talents in motion: She assigned me the task of checking out "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" and giving one of its recipes a try.
I found a 1962 First Edition copy of the book at the St. Clair Shores library and upon the recommendation of Julie Powell, the author of the book, "Julie and Julia" on which the movie was based, tackled my first French recipe: Bifteck Saute a la Bordelaise (pan-broiled steak with white wine sauce).
It was like foodie boot camp.
I had to have a butcher show me how to cut a bone in half in order to remove the marrow, a produce guy explain what a shallot is and ask my husband to brave the results.
I was intimidated at first, but as with any new experience, the more I learned about the food (and Julia) the more confidence I gained. In the end, I not only cooked a meal that my husband and I will never forget, but became a Julia fan. In reading her books and stories about her life I began to see what other women knew so long ago. Her determination to succeed among the best culinary students in France, her years in Paris with the love of her life, her humor and the diligence that she possessed in order to see her book published, all of it made her inspiring.
If nothing else, she egged you to try, which I did.
If you'll allow me this one time to serve leftovers - below is a copy of the story that followed my assignment way back when. Who knows? Maybe you'll be inspired to do your own project.

Taking on Julia
Reporter trades notebook for cookbook
Story from The Macomb Daily, Aug. 3, 2009

By Gina Joseph
Macomb Daily Staff Writer
I am not a food critic. Nor do I pretend to be a great cook. But I am enthusiastic. And after my chat with author Julie Powell about her project and seeing a special screening of the movie, "Julie & Julia" based on her book of the same name, I felt inspired to do the same -- only a pinch different. Instead of spending exactly a year cooking all 524 recipes in Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" and blogging about the experience as Powell did, I would spend one evening cooking two recipes for a foodie column. The following are two recipes which Julie suggested I try as they are interesting -- but not too difficult. It is my hope that you enjoy the Joseph project as much as I enjoyed my first attempt at mastering the art of French cooking.

7 cucumbers
2 tablespoons wine vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/8 teaspoon sugar
3 tablespoons melted butter
4 tablespoons minced scallions
(green onions if you're
cooking in America)
1/8 teaspoon pepper
Peel the cucumbers. Slice them in half lengthwise and then scoop out the seeds with a spoon. Be careful not to dig too deep. When done you will have 14 cucumber kayaks. Cut these into strips of about 1/8 inch wide. Cut these strips into 2-inch pieces and toss them into a bowl with the vinegar, salt and sugar. Set them aside for 30 minutes, even an hour. The key to this dish is extracting the water out of the cucumber. If they're not dry you'll end up with cukes a la mush!
Preheat oven to 375 F.
While the cukes are drying, dice/chop the herbs. When the cukes are done you should have quite a bit of liquid at the bottom of the bowl. Remove them from the bowl and place them on a tray covered with paper towels. Once thoroughly dry, toss them into the baking dish along with the butter, herbs, scallions and pepper. Set uncovered in the middle rack, tossing them now and then until tender but slightly crispy. Cook for 1 hour.

(Pan-broiled steak with white wine sauce)
Start to finish: 20-30 minutes
Servings: 4 to 6 people
1-1/2 tablespoons butter
1-1/2 tablespoons oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
2- to 2-1/2 pounds steak
In France, this recipe calls for a couple faux-filets or biftecks. In America a good pan-frying beef would be a sirloin or strip steak. Stan Weiss who is the friendly butcher and co-owner of Weiss' Meats & Deli in Chesterfield Township helped me pick out three strip steaks. The second part of this recipe calls for a sauce that includes bone marrow. Yes, I said bone marrow. It sounds scary even to a grocery store clerk (who might utter something like, “You want what? I think we throw ours out."). My butcher Stan knew exactly what I needed and instead of making me cut the bone down the middle myself (you have to do this in order to extract the marrow) he put the bone under a mighty butcher saw and within seconds handed me what I needed.

Sauce ingredients:
1/2 cup red or white wine
(Barefoot Chardonnay worked marvelously for me)
6 to 8 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons minced parsley
2 to 3 tablespoons of diced bone marrow
1/2 cup of warm bouillon
3 tablespoons of shallots
A shallot to my surprise is an onion with a slight hint of garlic. It is very tasty and sure to become a newfound favorite. But be forewarned -- dicing them is a pain. They are slimy and unless you have a sharp knife, getting 3 tablespoons diced is a chore. If you can't find shallots you can also use green onions.
While the steaks are drying out on a paper towel and the cucumbers are baking, prepare the ingredients for the sauce. Start by chopping and dicing all of the herbs. Put them in separate bowls like you see Emeril doing. Even the wine can be poured into a glass. If your butcher didn't cut it you’ll need to stand it up on one end and split it down the middle with a cleaver. The recipe calls for the removal of one long strip, if possible. Since mine was a beef brontosaurus-size soup bone, I was looking at a valley of marrow that came out in two big clumps. Once removed dip a knife in hot water and then slice or dice the marrow. Set it aside with the herbs.
Preparing the steak is basically a matter of cooking it in a pan along with the butter and oil, over moderately high heat. When you see a little pearling of red juice ooze at the surface of the steaks, they've reached a point of medium rare. When they're done, set them on a hot plate or in the oven on warm.
The bordelaise sauce is the last step as it needs to be hot when poured over the steak. Start by draining the fat out of the steak pan. Add 2 tablespoons of butter (yummy, yummy butter) and then stir in the shallots or onions and simmer for a couple minutes. Now add the wine and boil it down rapidly, scraping the juices from the bottom until it's a syrupy mixture. While it's simmering, drop the bone marrow chunks into the warm beef bouillon (if it's cooled off heat it again before adding the marrow). Drain the marrow and then add it to the sauce along with the remaining butter and minced parsley. Let the sauce simmer before pouring it over the steak. Serve with the baked cucumbers and boiled potatoes topped by yet another blob of butter.
After completing this project I had a whole new respect for Julie Powell. She tackled recipes like this every night after work and on weekends for 365 days! Bon Appetite! Cheers to Julia! Cheers to you!

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