Posts Tagged ‘Julia Child’

The quest for perfection continues…

April 5th, 2011 | Rachel

I gave the chicken another try.  If I hadn’t worked until midnight tonight, I was going to give a third attempt.  In fact, I am going to keep roasting chickens until I figure out how to achieve a perfect, crispy skin.

Yesterday, my friend Maria and I attended a wine class at New York Vintners.  This wine shop shows up on Groupon every now and then, and they let you stock up on half-off wine classes.  Yesterday’s class was entitled “Bad Ass Reds.”  We sampled some bold reds from around the globe, and I walked away with eight bottles of wine for my meager collection (an underground wine cellar is on the list of must-haves for my French maison).  I also learned that the Bandit (Three Thieves) boxed wine I’ve been purchasing from Fresh Direct is considered to be highly decent and superior to other cheap mass productions like Yellow Tail.

At some point we decided we needed some French food to go with all the wine in our bellies.  Maria agreed to be my sous chef, so we schlepped our bottles of wine back to my place and then picked up another bird from the grocery store.  The nice part about roasting chickens is the chickens are pretty cheap.  Both of the chickens I bought this weekend cost around $8-9 and fed three people.  They’d probably be even cheaper if I was open to the idea of eating a chicken that has been fed other chickens.  I try and stick to the vegetarian-fed, free-range, comes-with-a-pedigree chickens.  The most expensive part of my two roasted chicken dinners was actually the tomatoes on Friday.  Two pounds of them cost me ten bucks.  I don’t know what the going rate for tomatoes is, but that seems a little steep.

I’m getting up close and personal with our chicken while Maria peels the carrots

We had a fun time cooking, and I managed to remember to do all of the things that I forgot to do the last time (except trussing the bird… I don’t know where to begin looking for a mattress needle).  In the end, the chicken was absolutely delicious, but just as before the skin was not crispy.  I followed everything I was supposed to do, so I am not sure what the deal is.

I’ll give it a B- this time, although Maria gets an A+ for doing all of the peeling, chopping and dicing.  At this rate, you’ll all get a chance to try my chicken before I figure out what is going wrong.

Perfectionism and Poulet Rôti

April 4th, 2011 | Rachel


Julia (Child) says the best way to judge a cook is by his or her roasted chicken.  Sure, there are other ways of cooking chicken, like wrapping it in bacon and cooking it rotisserie-style (ummm….yum), but those ways doesn’t require anywhere near the level of oversight as poulet rôti.  Julia says it takes a true perfectionist to get it right.  You have to hover over it, basting it every 8 or so minutes, and the way to know it is done is by the sounds it makes.

I guess you could say I am a bit of a perfectionist.  I particularly enjoy projects that are detail-oriented and that put my obsessive nature to good use.  This is probably why baking was such a natural creative outlet to pick up while I was in law school.  I first dabbled with cake decorating, but quickly grew bored with making cakes out of a box.  Next were cookies and cupcakes, the crowd pleasers.  But when that wasn’t enough, I switched to pies.  Pies combine the art of pastry-making with the endless possibilities of cooking fruits, custards, and creams.

Even though I am used to dealing with finicky recipes, I was nervous about attempting the simple dish of French roasted chicken.  I thought about making it my first dish because it is one of my all-time favorite things to eat, but I got scared I wouldn’t do it justice and my infantile run as an amateur French cook would come to an abrupt halt.  Instead I made the more forgiving boeuf bourguignon.

You see, there is a part of me that believes I can get most things right on the first try.  Call me egotistical — or at the very least overly sure of myself — but I’ve never started a project I couldn’t finish and I’ve never met a recipe I couldn’t make.  When it comes to French roasted chicken, however, that part of my brain was strangely quiet.  It was only with great hesitation that I forced myself to attempt this dish this past Friday night.

The other reason I chose this endeavor for this particular evening is the cook time was only an hour and twenty minutes.  Even with a full day of work, there would be plenty of time to stop by the grocery store and cook in order to have dinner ready at a reasonable hour for my two dinner guests who so kindly agreed to be my guinea pigs.

Getting started with Julia Child and Edith Piaf on Pandora

The makings of roasted chicken

I was about five minutes into the recipe when I realized I overlooked the part in the recipe calling for a carrot and an onion to flavor the chicken.  So, with the oven and chicken ready to go, I ran out the door to the grocery store around the corner.  Buying groceries in the city can be expensive and heavy, but nothing beats beings able to run and grab a few forgotten items from the store and getting back before the end of the next song on the playlist.

Although I ended up with all of the correct ingredients, I still took one shortcut…. I didn’t truss my chicken.  According to the instructions, I am supposed to use a mattress needle to sew up my chicken into a neat, tight bundle of poultry.  I don’t even have string to tie Ms. Poulet’s legs together, much less a six-inch needle.  Julia claims this is done for presentation’s sake, so I skipped over the trussing instructions and focused on the salting and buttering.

The secret ingredient is butter

Julia’s recipe for roasted chicken is simple.  A little bit of salt and layers and layers of butter.  You have to constantly babysit the bird, basting it every 5-8 minutes.  Sounds like a pain, but I assure you the hovering is worth it.  To accompany this dish, I repeated Julia’s buttered potatoes and added roasted tomatoes and buttered green beans.

Roasted tomatoes and buttered green beans

In the end, the chicken wasn’t perfect.  I was running behind schedule, and I quickly learned that trying to entertain guests and cook a French dish for the first time isn’t easy.  Between listening to the chicken and listening to my friends’ stories, I chose the latter.  Perhaps as a result, the chicken ended up far from crispy, although the inside was still moist and delicious.

Crispy or not, we devoured the 3-pound bird, and the stripped carcass is now sitting in my freezing waiting to be turned into chicken stock.

I give myself a C+ on this one.  I am going to have to do some research about chicken skin to figure out why mine wasn’t crispy.  I suspect my oven is not as hot as it should it.  Also, I was paranoid about ended up with dry chicken (what greater sacrilege could there be than a dry chicken?), so I took it out probably ten minutes too soon.  But, like I said, it was still delicious.

The Beginning: Boeuf Bourguignon

March 28th, 2011 | Rachel

Today was my first attempt at French cooking.  A few observations immediately come to mind.

First, is there any better smell than sauteing butter?

Second, I need to learn how to read directions.

Third, why are pearl onions so expensive?  I paid $6 for a bag of about 15 of them, and the recipe calls for “18 to 24.”  If I don’t find a cheaper source, I am going to have to change Ms. Child’s recipe to use a more readily available alternative.  My dinner guest this evening suggested I try frozen.  I’ll go that route first, and hopefully with enough butter frozen will taste just as good fresh.

This afternoon I attempted to cook boeuf bourguignon from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  At first glance, this recipe looks pretty simple, but then you get to the part of the ingredient list that directs you to two other recipes for brown-braised onions and sauteed mushrooms.

On top of that, you also have to cook some sort of starch to serve with your boeuf.  I chose Julia’s buttered potatoes.  In all, this dinner took around two and a half hours of prep time and three and a half hours of cooking.  I started at 2pm and finally sat down to eat around 8:30pm.  Now that I know what is going on, I think I can do the prep work in about an hour and then multi-task while the beef is cooking.  Four hours for a gourmet meal wouldn’t be terrible.

The makings of boeuf bourguignon.

Almost forgot two vitally important ingredients.

Within five minutes of cooking, I had tears streaming down my face.  No, I didn’t burn the bacon or add too much thyme.  It was those cursed pearl onions.  Step one was to peel them.  I didn’t know how to do this, so I did what I would do for a larger onion and cut both ends off.  Then I attempted to cut through only the outer layer of skin so I could pull it off.  That approach was almost a complete failure.  Not only did it fill my kitchen with toxic onion fumes that made me cry, it also made my onions fall apart after I cooked them for the requisite 50 minutes.

Only afterward did I notice that Julia gives some advice on peeling pearl onions (she blanches them) and also very helpfully suggests you prepare them while the beef is simmering in the oven for three hours.  I ended up watching three episodes of My So-Called Life on Netflix because I did everything out of order.

Lots o’ boeuf

Another challenge was hacking my 3+ pounds of beef roast into two-inch cubes.  I believe this is something you can ask your butcher to do for you, but the D’Agostino near me doesn’t appear to have any butchers, just teenagers that talk on the phone while they move stuff around in the meat fridges.

Eventually, the beef, bacon, beef stock, red wine, tomato paste, garlic and thyme were safely in the oven, the onions and mushrooms sauteed, and I put out a last minute invite on Facebook to see if anyone wanted to help me eat the 4-6 servings of fragrant deliciousness that was wafting from the kitchen.  My friend and co-worker Sunday accepted the invite, and we were soon stuffing ourselves with some pretty damn good boeuf bourguignon.

Julia Child’s boeuf bourguignon with buttered potatoes

Even though I messed up the onions, and even though I wrongfully assumed I already had carrots when I was at the store and ended up making the recipe without them, I declare Operation Boeuf Bourguignon a success.  I knew going into the project that Julia Child was famous for her precise instructions, but several times I stumbled upon a relevant instruction only after I had amateurishly attempted to do it my own way.  Next time I am going to read the recipes and chapter notes carefully before I even order the groceries.

Can’t wait to eat whatever I end up making next.


The Art of French Cooking

March 25th, 2011 | Rachel

Exciting day!  As mentioned in my previous post, I recently cashed in on a promised gift of a cookbook and today received my copy of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking!

I was a little put off from getting these books after the whole Julie and Julia craze (although admittedly I love the Julia Child storyline of that movie, which was pulled straight from her memoir).  A few months later I was reading Martha Stewart’s The Martha Rules where Martha describes the kinds of jobs she had before authoring a book on entertaining and becoming the Empress of Domestic Arts.  She was a model, a stock broker, and a real estate agent, and then one day she decided to start her own catering business.  As she got into the catering biz, she taught herself how to cook by cooking all of the recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  Just like that.  No year-long fanfare or movie deal as a result.  Martha Stewart wanted to improve her cooking, so she cooked Julia Child’s recipes.

And so, because I love French food, I am going to follow the careful instruction of Julia Child and teach myself how to cook.

Until I come up with something better, I have put my new cookbooks in a place of honor next to my prized KitchenAid Pro 600 and food processor.

I’m still trying to decide what to attempt to cook first this weekend.  So far, in the running are:

  • Soup a l’oignon gratinee
  • Quiche lorraine
  • Boeuf bourguignon
  • Ratatouille
  • Poulet roti


I really need to figure out how insert letters with accents.  The only way I know how to do it is to copy and paste from random words on the interweb that happen to have the accent I want.  Anyone out there familiar with WordPress and know how to insert letters with accents?

Anyway, I digress.

I picked some pretty typical French dishes, and I am wondering if they are so popular simply for lack of further investigation or because they are that good.  I suspect the latter.

I’m a little intimidated by the thought of cooking roasted chicken because it is my favorite thing to order from French restaurants and because 99.9% of chicken attempts in the universe end up dry or flavorless or both.  I’m afraid of insulting the entire genre of French cuisine by cooking dry chicken.  And so, roasted chicken will wait.

The mostly likely choice is French onion soup, but it’ll be a game time decision, and by game time, I mean before the 6pm deadline tomorrow for ordering my groceries from Fresh Direct so they will be delivered Saturday morning.

Here’s a sneak peak into my tiny Manhattan kitchen.  Gourmet cooking is especially fun when it involves a miniature stove and a 4×6 nook known in city-speak as an “eat-in kitchen.”

I have two little touches of France in my kitchen so far: a grater shaped like the Eiffel Tower and a calendar of France photos my brother gave me for Christmas (above).  This month is the amazing Mont St. Michel, which I visited back in 2003.

Its hard to tell the exact scale of my kitchen appliances (left), but both the stove and the refrigerator are miniature.  The foot and a half of counter space you see in the picture is all the kitchen came with.  Having been raised in the land of open kitchens (a/k/a The South), it’s been quite an adjustment.

Since I am doing a little show and tell of my kitchen, I’d also like to point out the hand woven rug (left) that I picked up in Marrakesh, the string of prayer flags (above) that I recently got in Tibet, and the fan on the wall (above) that I purchased in Rome when it was approximately 1000 degrees outside.

Check back in after the weekend to see what I have attempted to cook.  Also check back in the next couple of weeks because I am starting to get some exciting guest writers lined up!