Julia Child’s birthday is August 15 and this year marks her 100th. I decided I wanted to honor Julia by baking a birthday cake for her on my birthday, just a few days before, using a recipe or two from one of her many collections.
I must admit that while I am an admirer, I am not a Julia Child disciple. Even though I own “The Way to Cook” with this inscription: “Christmas love to Kendra, from Mom, 1998,” I remain somewhat intimidated by it.
My birthday this year fell on a Sunday, and the weekend seemed like the perfect opportunity to host a little backyard picnic with some friends, offered in a kind of casual elegance that describes August. My mom’s house on the Cape is the ideal setting for this kind of thing. More so than me, I think my mom and Julia would have been good friends, had they ever met. A intellectual fervor and the tendency to not sweat the small stuff are characteristics they share.
On Sunday morning, however, a steady rain drummed on the roof. Jenna, Gretchen, and I could all hear it from our beds tucked under the eaves. A text arrived from my brother who would be on his way soon with his family to join us in the backyard. “Is there a Plan B?”
No, there was not.
After glumly deciding against a swim in the pond, Jenna, Gretchen, and I set to work on not one, but two cakes: Orange and Almond Sponge Cake and Reine de Saba (Queen of Sheba) from Julia's “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.”
Cooking, at least successful cooking, tends to be a solitary affair. A cooking party, which this turned out to be, is more fun, and more chaotic. When you have many cooks, things go faster and they can also go awry. They did.
I sat at the long kitchen table and called out instructions as Jenna and Gretchen tried to navigate an unfamiliar kitchen. The electric mixer wasn’t working, so Jenna beat the egg whites by hand (a strong swimmer’s arm is good for this).
Another setback, the sudden arrival of guests ready for lunch was a distraction in our work flow and more ground almonds went into the cake than necessary. We were nowhere near ready.
Another distressing discovery: I had called out the instructions for the wrong cake – I had wanted to make a Queen of Sheba cake that required no filling and had instead skipped ahead a page and was directing a Chocolate Sponge Cake without realizing it. Two sponge cakes was not in the original plan. But the chocolate sponge cake and Queen of Sheba are so similar in their ingredients it hardly mattered, we thought, except for one thing. The sponge cakes didn’t rise.
Maybe it was the rain. Humid Cape air is a constant presence in the summer as it blows in one window and out the next. It’s one reason why things are so causal on the Cape. Everyone slumps around in wrinkled clothes and tugs at swollen doors because that’s the way it is. The kitchen, with its low raftered ceiling and bones dating back to 1840, has no air conditioner. Or maybe we beat the egg whites too hard. Or maybe we shouldn’t have used unbleached cake flour.
But this is what I love about Julia’s example. I don’t think she’d worry too much over our flat sponge cakes. She says to master cooking, and that means doing things many times until it clicks. It also means don’t get hung up on a failed dish. You don’t master something on the first try, after all. Maybe on the 10th or 20th try. I think Julia would be satisfied that we had tried at all.
“The measure of achievement is not winning awards,” Julia once remarked. “It’s doing something that you appreciate, something you believe is worthwhile. I think of my strawberry souffle. I did that at least twenty-eight times before I finally conquered it.”
It looks like I have some more sponge cakes to make.
In the prologue to her memoir “My Life in France” are these thoughts on her own learning process:
“I would approach the stove armed with lofty intentions…. My meals were satisfactory, but they took hours of laborious effort to produce. I’d usually plop something on the table by 10:00 p.m, have a few bites and collapse into bed. [Husband] Paul was unfailingly patient. But years later he’d admit to an interviewer: ‘Her first attempts were not altogether successful…. I was brave because I wanted to marry Julia. I trust I did not betray my point of view.’ (He did not.)”
This quality of forging ahead is one of the endearing traits viewers of her many PBS shows came to love (and still do). A dropped ingredient, a too-brown omelete were part of the flow as the cameras rolled on. Delicious meals are a noble goal, but with the tempermental medium that is food, at some point you just have to flow on, sit down, and eat.
Or in Julia’s words: ”The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a ‘What the hell?’ attitude.”
Despite our flat sponge cakes, which were really too flat to cut in half and fill with icing, we pressed on. We melted chocolate and butter for icing and stirred preserves with sugar on the stovetop for an apricot glaze. We dressed the Chocolate Sponge Cake with festive raspberries and birthday candles. Almond slivers made an interesting pattern on the Orange and Almond Sponge Cake.
And then the skies cleared. Sunlight cut across the lawn. We shifted our indoor picnic back outside and carried out towels to dry the lawn chairs. It was too windy to light the candles, but we sang “Happy Birthday” anyway and sliced the cakes.
Of course they were delicious, because we were happy. Glad to be together picnicking above the damp grass tickling our feet on an August afternoon, and relieved to be out of the kitchen.
"Dining with one's friends and beloved family is certainly one of life's primal and most innocent delights, one that is both soul-satisfying and eternal," Julia once said.
And that recipe is absolutely right.
Happy Birthday, Julia, to the woman who taught us that home cooking can be a learning experience, an adventure, as well as a delight.
Related post on Kitchen Report: "The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food," by Judith Jones
Julia Child was one of America’s first (and dare I say greatest ) culinary celebrities, in a time long before shows like "The Next Food Network Star" or "Top Chef" sought to discover such talent. She was just a woman with a passion for good food, which led her down the gastronomical path that ultimately brought her into America’s kitchens. It was her passion for food which led her on the journey. It was her charm, relatability, and contagious adoration of food which grabbed the attention of adoring fans all around the world.
Julia changed the way home cooks thought about food. She knew that good food wasn’t exclusive to restaurant kitchens, prepared by professional chefs. She made expert culinary techniques accessible to everyone, in a manner which could inspire even the most novice cook to jump in head first. Because Julia understood that we learn best through trial and error. She understood that there is no such thing as a bad cook, only cooks who needed more practice. And she understood that even the most experienced cooks encountered the occasional kitchen disaster. She’d say, “Cooking is like love; it should be entered into with abandon or not at all.”
Julia viewed food as one of the greatest pleasures in life, a pleasure worth the small sacrifice of a wider waistline. (Who needs to be a size 4 anyway?) She embraced cooking as an art form akin to ballet. And she cooked with the same inspired strokes of an artist to create timeless gastronomical masterpieces. But she was often criticized by nutrition-minded individuals for her use of rich ingredients, like butter and cream, which in excess could lead to health problems. To those criticisms, she responded, “Everybody is overreacting. If fear of food continues, it will be the death of gastronomy in the United States. Fortunately, the French don’t suffer from the same hysteria we do. We should enjoy food and have fun. It is one of the simplest and nicest pleasures in life.”
I love this woman. And having lived to be two days short of 92 years old, I’d say she knew what she was talking about. Well-prepared food is a pleasure to be enjoyed, even within the framework of a healthy lifestyle.
Julia understood what really mattered. She knew that good food needn’t be complicated with elaborate presentation. She would say, ”You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces – just good food from fresh ingredients.” That’s all it really takes, isn’t it? It’s like this beef bourguignon, perhaps her most famous recipe and the subject of her very first televised episode of "The French Chef" on PBS. It’s a stew (with a fancy name that’s fun to say). But it’s a stew all the same, certainly not something most would consider fine dining. And yet, it’s probably one of the most delicious dishes you’ll ever eat.
I started making beef bourguignon a few years ago as our Christmas dinner. I suppose it’s become our tradition at this point. We entertain a large crowd on Christmas and for a few years, I experimented with various menus, all delicious, but the beef bourguignon stuck. It’s enjoyed by everyone at the table and best yet, can be fully prepared the day before. In fact, it’s even better after sitting in the fridge overnight!
In honor of what would have been Julia’s 100th birthday (August 15), I prepared her infamous beef bourguignon. (I certainly wasn’t going to cook the roast suckling pig.) Beef Bourguignon is normally a recipe I would save for the colder months when it’s lovely to have the house warmed with the slow-cooking oven and flooded with the rich aromas of the dish. But when I think of Julia, I think of beef bourguignon, and so it had to be.
The original recipe can be found in Julia’s first book, "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." She was a wise woman who fully recognized that some of the recipes contained in the book may require stretching one’s budget, waistline, time, and schedule, but such are the sacrifices we make in the name of something wonderful to eat. Like many of the dishes in her book, this dish takes some time, but there’s no step too complicated for even the most novice chef. Heed Julia’s advice and cook with abandon. As with many of the world’s greatest pleasures, anything worth having is worth the work it takes to get there.
While I waited for my beef bourguignon to finish cooking, I turned on some music and danced in the kitchen with my boys. Then I spread some creamy brie onto slices of French baguette. I’m pretty sure Julia would have approved.
Happy 100th, Julia and Bon Appétit!!
Julia Child’s Beef Bourguignon
Boeuf a la Bourguignonne
(In my own words. Very slightly modified from the original.)
1/2 pound bacon, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 pounds lean stewing beef (cut into approximately 2″ chunks)
1 carrot, sliced (or 10-15 baby carrots, coarse chopped)
1 onion, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons flour
3 cups full-bodied red wine
2 – 3 cups beef stock
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1 crumbled bay leaf (optional)
For the brown-braised onions (Oignons Glacés à Brun)
1/2 bag frozen white pearl onions, defrosted and patted dry
1-1/2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup beef stock or beef broth
Salt and pepper
For the sautéed mushrooms (Champignons Sautés au Beurre)
1 pound mushrooms, quartered
4 tablespoons butter
Salt and pepper
Gather and prepare your ingredients prior to cooking. Chop the bacon, chop the beef, chop the veggies, smash the garlic… Preparing your ‘mise en place’ will help things go smoothly once you’ve fired up the stove.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
Arrange the beef chunks in a single layer on a tray lined with paper towels. Use additional paper towels to thoroughly pat the beef dry.
*Damp beef will not brown properly.
*Julia recommends chuck beef for stew meat. I usually use the precut ‘stew beef’ from my grocery store. It saves me a few minutes of prep time, which is invaluable when you’re cooking while three young boys threaten to tear the house (or each other) apart.
In a large dutch oven pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook for several minutes, until the bacon is browned and has released most of its fat. Use a slotted spoon to remove the bacon, leaving the fat in the pan.
*Julia’s recipe calls for a 6 ounce piece of chunk bacon, cut into lardons. Regular sliced bacon will work just fine!
*Any large, stove and oven-safe pan with a tight fitting lid will do the job. I use a 9-quart Le Creuset enameled cast iron french oven pan.
Over medium/medium-high heat, brown the beef in the bacon fat for a minute or two on each side. Do not overcrowd the pan. The beef should quickly develop a nice caramelized brown on the surface. Turn the beef to brown on all sides, then remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Repeat until all of the beef has been browned.
*You do not want to steam or boil the beef. If your beef is not browning properly, it is either due to the heat not being high enough, the pan being over-crowded (which lowers the heat of the bacon fat), or the beef being too damp. Try adjusting each of these conditions.
Once all of the beef has been browned, add the carrots and onions to the pan. Cook for a few minutes until they develop a golden brown color. Then, carefully pour out the excess bacon fat, leaving the veggies in the pan.
Add the beef and bacon back into the pan. Toss with salt and pepper. Then, sprinkle the flour over the mixture and toss again. Place the pan, uncovered, on the middle rack of the preheated oven for 4 minutes. Toss the mixture, then cook for 4 more minutes.
Remove the pan from the oven and reduce the heat to 325 degrees F.
Add the wine*, beef stock, tomato paste, garlic, and thyme. Add just enough beef stock to barely cover the beef.
*Julia recommends Beaujolais, Cotes du Rhone or Burgundy. I use whatever dry red I have on hand, usually Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, or Pinot Noir.
Bring to a simmer on top of the stove. Then, cover the pan, and place it in the oven. Cook, covered, for about 3 hours. Adjust the temperature slightly, if necessary, so that the liquid maintains a gentle simmer throughout the cooking time.
While the beef is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms.
For the onions:
Heat the butter and oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onions and cook for about 10 minutes, occasionally shaking the pan to allow the onions to roll around in the pan and brown on all sides. Then, add the beef stock. Bring to a simmer, then lower the heat. Cover and simmer slowly for about 15-20 minutes. Check the pan towards the end of the cooking time. Most of the liquid should have evaporated and formed a brown glaze around the onions. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
*Julia’s recipe calls for fresh, peeled white onions, about 1″ in diameter. Since my grocery store does not regularly carry the small onions, I use about 1/2 a bag of frozen white pearl onions. The added convenience is that they’re already peeled! Just be sure to defrost completely and pat dry before sauteeing. Fresh onions will require longer cooking time, about 40-50 minutes.
For the mushrooms:
Heat the butter in a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently.
*The mushrooms will at first appear to absorb the melted butter, but will eventually release the butter and their own liquid. As the liquid evaporates, the mushrooms will acquire a golden brown color.
Season with salt and pepper, then set aside.
Once the beef has finished cooking, carefully pour the mixture through a sieve or strainer. Allow the sauce to collect in a large measuring cup (the 4-cup kind) or glass bowl. Return the beef and bacon to the dutch oven pan. Discard the carrot and onion pieces.
Arrange the brown-braised onions and sauteed mushrooms over the beef.
Allow the sauce to rest for a few minutes. The excess fat will rise to the surface as it rests. Use a spoon to collect and discard the excess fat. Repeat until much of the excess fat has been discarded.
You should have about 2 – 2-1/2 cups of sauce. If you have much more than this, pour the sauce into a small saucepan and simmer uncovered until it’s reduced a bit. It should be quite flavorful and thick enough to lightly coat the back of a spoon. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper, as desired. Pour the sauce over the beef, mushrooms, and onions.
Serve over boiled potatoes or hot-buttered noodles. Julia recommends a side of buttered peas as an appropriate veggie side.
This dish reheats exceptionally well. Simply bring to a gentle simmer on the stovetop for a few minutes, until all components are heated through.
"If you're afraid of butter, use cream." The average foodie, chef, and baker know those famous words were uttered by the incomparable Julia Child who brought the art of French cooking to the American kitchen and palate.
In a roundabout way, I owe my blog, The Pastry Chef's Baking, to Julia Child because it was watching the movie, "Julie & Julia" that finally spurred me to start blogging almost three years ago.
So in honor of her birthday on August 15, I'm giving a French twist to the classic American chocolate cake by making this crème brûlée chocolate cake – a chocolate cake "shell" filled with vanilla bean custard; I added sliced bananas to top the custard and brûléed them to crackly goodness.
A version of this confection is in the "Baking with Julia" by Dorie Greenspan baking book but I went with Martha Stewart's recipe for chocolate cupcakes instead as it was also similar in using cocoa powder for the chocolate flavor and oil instead of butter. Plus, I wanted something on a smaller scale for a brulee since it doesn't have a long shelf life and is best enjoyed within minutes of being caramelized.
The chocolate cake itself came out well. The creme brulee custard tasted good but I don't think I cooked it over the stove top long enough since I was afraid of overcooking the egg yolks and having the custard break like the last time I tried a stovetop crème brûlée.
So it didn't set like it was supposed to and I had to rely on the freezer to firm it up. Then when I tried brûlée-ing it, the custard simply melted. I'm afraid I needed the master chef herself to save my crème brûlée. However, one of her legacies that I always remember is not to be afraid of trying something. Even if you fail, you try again. And again. Someday I will conquer a stovetop version of creme brulee. It wasn't today but I'm not afraid to try it again.
Thank you for showing the way with your fearlessness and Happy Birthday, Julia Child!
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 vanilla bean
5 large egg yolks, at room temperature
3 tablespoons sugar
Pour the heavy cream into a medium saucepan. Split the vanilla bean and scrape the soft, pulpy seeds into the pan, toss in the pod and stir to mix. Bring just to the boil over low heat.
Meanwhile, in a medium heatproof bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar together just to blend. Place the bowl over a pan of simmering water and whisk, continuously and energetically, until the mixture is very pale and hot to the touch. Remove the yolks from the heat. Gradually but steadily whisk the cream into the yolks, pod and all.
Put the bowl back over the hot water and let it sit there, with the heat turned off, whisking occasionally, for 5 to 10 minutes, until the cream thickens. Set the bowl into a larger bowl filled with ice cubes and cold water and allow the mixture to cool, whisking now and then. When the custard is cool to the touch, retrieve and discard the vanilla bean (or clean it and save it to flavor sugar) and push the mixture through a strainer into a clean bowl. Cover the bowl tightly and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. The custard can be made the day before and kept covered and refrigerated until needed.
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1-1/2 cups sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup warm water
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly spray dessert shell pans with nonstick cooking spray. (You can also use muffin tins but don't line with paper liners if you're going to brulee the custard.) In a mixing bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Add eggs, buttermilk, oil, vanilla and the water.
With an electric mixer on low speed, beat until smooth and combined, scraping down sides of bowl as needed.
Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each about two-thirds full. Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until a cake tester inserted in the centers comes out clean, about 15 minutes.
Transfer tins to wire racks to cool 10 minutes; turn out cupcakes onto racks and let cool completely.
To finish, top with chilled custard, sprinkle with granulated sugar and torch with handheld torch until sugar is crackly and brown. You can also add bananas on top of the custard and brulee that as the top layer instead with a sprinkling of sugar.
Related post on The Pastry Chef's Baking: Stove Crème Brûlée
To mark the 100th anniversary of Julia Child’s birth, PBS.org recently invited a number of chefs and food bloggers to share tributes to Julia, to tell a little about how the seminal cookbook author, TV personality and larger than life person had influenced them. They were kind enough to include me on their list.
You’ll find Julia sprinkled throughout the pages of Blue Kitchen (and it’s interesting that we all feel comfortable enough with her to call her that, not Ms. Child – but that was the kind of warmth and comfort she always inspired). There are actual recipes, of course, starting with Potage Parmentier, the simple six-ingredient potato leek soup she made for her beloved husband and collaborator Paul almost every day. And there was Skate Meunière with browned butter and capers, based on the life-changing sole meunière Julia ate on her first day in France with Paul.
But Julia is elsewhere on Blue Kitchen, too. A few summers ago, when we took a trip to Washington, D.C. and made a pilgrimage to her kitchen at the Smithsonian, I shared that experience here. And when the movie "Julie & Julia" came out and we, like just about every other food geek, saw it the first weekend, I wrote a piece about what Julia taught us and why we could use a few more Julias today.
So looking for something new to say about her for this PBS tribute was a bit of a challenge. Many of the other tributes mentioned her well-documented fearlessness or her embracing life to the fullest, both qualities I strive for with varying (and usually limited) degrees of success. But another Julia quality came to mind as I thought about her and how she had influenced me and my cooking: Stay curious.
Julia grew up in a comfortably well-to-do, conservative Pasadena household. She could have easily fallen into a California ladies-who-lunch life of parties and perhaps a pet charity or two. Instead, she went to work for the OSS and met her husband Paul in Ceylon. When they moved to Paris and she fell in love with French food, she went to one of the best cooking schools to learn more about it.
Her curiosity about everything caused her to devour life, not just live it. Even on her later cooking shows, in which she shared cooking duties with other chefs, this acknowledged kitchen virtuoso was delighted to learn from her guests. You could see her watching them intently, occasionally commenting on some technique they employed, some ingredient they added, with a statement that often began with some version of “Oh, now that’s interesting….”
Staying curious is something I’m good at. My magpie eye is always looking for some shiny new object to snatch up. In cooking, those shiny objects can take the form of ingredients or techniques I’ve never tried, a new kitchen tool, or even a random phrase on a vague menu description. As with many food writers – especially those of us who write about our own cooking – every once in a while, I hit a wall. I ask myself why I’m doing this. Inevitably, within the next day or two, I’ll see something that channels my inner Julia, stirring my curiosity and making me think “Oh, now that’s interesting….”
Anyone who grew up in the South has some kind of fried chicken memory. Or maybe no particular, specific single event at all, because fried chicken is so ubiquitous. But it is one of the many food topics a true Southerner can weave a yarn around. Fried chicken a simple weekend supper, first choice for a picnic or dinner on the ground, someone’s favorite special occasion meal. Fried Chicken is served at big, noisy, sloppy family gatherings, packed into the car for road trips, served at summer camp, or for small Sunday after church lunches. That’s where I ate most of my fried chicken growing up.
Julia Child had dinner at my house when I was a kid. You may be wondering how this fits into a story about fried chicken, so here it goes. Julia and Paul Child were in Memphis raising funds for Planned Parenthood and my parents were selected to host a dinner party for the Childs and select guests (that is to say potential donors). People were scrambling for the opportunity to participate – to wash Julia’s plate, or serve Paul a drink.
The various committee members met to discuss plans and to decide, what exactly does one serve Julia Child at party? Ideas about hiring the chefs from the best restaurant in town to prepare a gourmet meal, or caterers to cook a menu made up of the fanciest ingredients available in Memphis were discussed. But my mom put out that maybe Julia gets that all the time, so why don’t we serve her something unique, that she might only be served in Memphis. So a caterer who specialized in Southern family weddings was brought in to prepare the classic Southern meal – collards, grits, biscuits and fried chicken. All the influential muckety-mucks invited to write checks filled their plates over and over again, thrilled to be served their favorite foods rather than the precious, overblown “gourmet” stuff they expected. Both Julia and Paul were noticed returning to the buffet for seconds. I must have been eight or nine, but I remember her, so tall and jovial. I still use the signed copy of The French Cook my mother gave me then.
Nowadays, like many things, most people have given up on frying their own chicken. There are so many places to buy it ready-fried, and some of them are not half-bad. From the Colonel to local joints, to grocery stores and even Wal-Mart, more often than not if you get fried chicken, it came from someplace else. I have it on authority that many a hostess has carefully arranged fried chicken on a nice napkin in a lovely basket then thrown the bucket in the neighbor’s garbage can. People will drive miles for a famous chicken joint, or pick it up just around the corner. The big iron skillet of chicken bubbling away in hot grease is just a memory for many people, something a grandmother or beloved housekeeper used to do. At the mention of frying chicken now, I hear people groan or sigh – it’s so messy, frying makes the house smell, all that grease all over the range. Yes, grease splatters. Yes, the smell of that grease tends to linger, but homemade, cooked-with-love fried chicken is such a special, special offering that everyone should have the opportunity to dig into a juicy, crispy piece at least once. It may not make you abandon the bought chicken forever, but it will create your own Fried Chicken memory.
I have watched and read and practiced and learned over the years to become a pretty good chicken fryer. I have my not so good batches every once in awhile, but that hasn’t put me off. It’s a fine meal that is always appreciated.
So here are my tips for some chicken fried love.
First, you must marinate the chicken in buttermilk so the meat is moist and tender.
You have to season the chicken well. I use an old method of making a chicken shake – my own seasoning blend that I mix up in batches and sprinkle on the chicken before flouring.
The grease needs to start hot and stay hot. And it should be shortening, maybe with some bacon grease thrown in. The chicken needs to be left alone with the grease to come to an understanding.
For the Chicken Shake:
This makes much more than is needed for one batch of chicken but will store in airtight container. It is also a great seasoning for hamburgers or for any chicken – grilled or oven-fried – that you make.
4 tablespoons sweet paprika
4 tablespoons kosher salt
4 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Measure all the spices into a small bowl and whisk to combine. Store in an airtight jar, preferably one with a shaker top.
For the Chicken:
Feel free to cut up the chicken yourself, though I always get the folks at the store to do it for me. You can fry as many batches of chicken as you want, just clean out any bits from the grease, add more shortening and bring the grease back up to temperature
1 whole cut up fryer chicken, eight pieces of chicken
2 – 3 cups buttermilk
Several shakes of hot sauce
Place the chicken parts in a large ziptop bag (or two). Pour over the buttermilk to cover the chicken completely. Shake in some good hot sauce and lightly shake the bag around to cover all the chicken pieces and distribute the hot sauce. Place the bag on a tray or plate to catch any spills and refrigerate overnight.
A couple of hours before you are ready to fry, take the chicken out of the fridge and place the pieces on a rack over a sheet pan. Sprinkle both sides of the chicken liberally with the chicken shake. Be very generous. Let the chicken sit so it begins to come closer to room temperature. Shortly before frying, scoop a generous amount of flour into a paper sack or a plastic bag. Place each chicken piece in the flour and shake it around to coat it with flour. Get in there with your hands to sprinkle and press flour onto all the crevices and parts of the chicken. Pick up each piece and shake off any loose flour and place back on the rack. Flour all the chicken pieces.
Scoop the shortening into a large, high-sided cast iron skillet set over medium high heat. Allow the shortening to melt and the hot grease to heat to 325 degrees F. Increase the heat under the skillet slightly, then add the chicken pieces. Put the thighs in the middle of the pan and the breasts and the legs around the outside. Fry the chicken until golden brown on the first side, about 12 minutes before you even think about turning it over. Check a few times to make sure the oil is still around 325 degrees F., and adjust the heat accordingly. Flip the chicken – it should be easy to do with no resistance or sticking. If not, leave it another minute or so. Cook on the second side for another 12 minutes without moving. The chicken should be crispy and brown and cooked through – that’s 170 degrees F., internal temperature. Remove the cooked chicken to a clean rack set over a pan to drain. Do not use the same one you had the raw chicken on unless it has been thoroughly cleaned
Serve hot, at room temperature or cold.
Related post on The Runaway Spoon: Buttermilk Pecan Chicken with Herbed Gravy
This past weekend, I had the pleasure of escaping with my husband to the most charming little place in the Catskills. We’d gone to celebrate the first wedding anniversary of my husband’s beautiful sister at the location she and her husband eloped to last August. Dear old friends, family, and new friends gathered at The Roxbury Motel for a truly blissful weekend.
This place is a polished gem with so many facets that you can’t help but gasp as you view each new angle. It’s hard to put into words and pictures don’t do it justice. It’s just magical. Every space on the property has been tended to with the same special care a momma gives her baby. You can feel the love in every unique little detail. During our time there, we encountered a family with two small children, a group of four women celebrating a bachelorette weekend, a couple on a romantic getaway, and a pair of outdoor sports enthusiasts. Oddly, The Roxbury Motel provides the perfect accommodations for each of these occasions. It’s definitely a special place.
My husband and I stayed in the room which is called ‘Maria’s Curtains’…as in the Maria from "The Sound of Music" and the curtains she used to create play clothes for the von Trapp children. Our room was swimming in the curtain’s pattern, from the bedding to the hand stenciling which crossed from the walls to the ceiling, to the custom tiling around the massive soaking tub. The lamps were made of brown paper packages tied up with strings. And two fantastically tiny, bright copper kettles sat on a small corner table. I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t spend half of the weekend singing "My Favorite Things" in my ridiculously out-of-tune voice.
We stayed up too late laughing with friends, old and new. We had massages. We soaked in the spa’s hot tub. And we dined at an amazing little restaurant, called the Peekamoose. The Peekamoose prides itself on its use of locally grown, seasonal ingredients with a menu which changes based on the day’s freshest available foods. Their execution is flawless in every way. I enjoyed a peppery arugula salad tossed in a light vinaigrette with fresh peaches, chevre, and toasted pine nuts, followed by tender goat cheese gnocchi and then the most decadent slow-cooked braised short ribs in a truffled bordelaise sauce. It was an amazing meal.
My husband enjoyed the same selections, with the exception of the first course. For his first course, he selected the chilled watermelon gazpacho. (I stole a taste, of course.) And when we arrived back home to find a box full of the most beautiful, perfectly ripe mangos on my doorstep (courtesy of the National Mango Board), I was instantly inspired. Mango gazpacho.
Traditionally, gazpacho is a chilled tomato-based soup accented with cucumbers, onion, and peppers. But, inspired by the sweet and savory watermelon gazpacho at Peekamoose and the box full of gorgeous mangos on my doorstep, I came up with this refreshing (and quite mangolicious) variation.
Mangos are just so perfectly versatile. They’re sweet, smooth, and bursting with fiber and vitamin C. Everyone in our family loves their flavor and I always feel good about feeding my family fresh, nutritious foods. When selecting mangos, focus more on the feel of the fruit, than the color. A ripe mango will feel slightly soft, like a peach. If your mangos are not quite ripe, store them on your countertop for a few days. Placing them in a brown paper bag can help speed the ripening process. Once they are ripe, you can store them in the fridge for up to five days. For a photo guide on how to cut mangos, check out my mango guide HERE or stop by www.mango.org for more tips and delicious mango recipes.
This smooth, chilled soup makes a refreshing first course during a summer meal or an eager partner to a nice fresh salad. Sweet mango provides the main flavor base, combined with a bit of creamy Greek yogurt and vegetable broth. Fresh cucumber, added to both the soup and the garnish lends a cool, crisp flavor. We tend to like things spicy around here, but you can easily adjust the spiciness to your family’s liking by increasing or decreasing the cayenne and jalapeño pepper in the recipe.
Chilled Mango Cucumber Gazpacho
4-5 large mangos, skin and pit removed, cut into chunks*
1 (6-ounce) container plain Greek yogurt
1 (15-ounce) can vegetable broth
2-1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
3-inch segment seedless cucumber, peeled and chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (plus more if desired)
For the garnish
6-inch segment of seedless cucumber, finely diced
1 jalapeño pepper, ribs and seeds removed, finely diced
1 shallot, finely diced
1 teaspoon lime juice
Basil oil, optional
Place the mango chunks in a blender. Blend until smooth. (You should have about 3-1/2 cups of mango puree.) Add the cucumber, vegetable broth, lemon juice, and yogurt. Blend until smooth. Add salt and cayenne pepper, as desired. Refrigerate until chilled.
For the garnish, combine the cucumber, jalapeño pepper, and shallot with the lime juice. Refrigerate until serving.
For the optional basil oil, blend about 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves with abut 1/4 cup of olive oil, then strain through a fine sieve or a piece of cheesecloth to remove large chunks of basil.
Related post on The Gourmand Mom: How to dice a mango
In celebration of the 100th anniversary of Julia Child’s birth on Aug. 15, PBS.org is inviting bloggers to cook one of her recipes, post it, and share the link on Facebook and Twitter with the hashtag #CookForJulia. Here is Blue Kitchen's contribution.
Each generation stands on the shoulders of the one before it. Our children use our experience and our knowledge as a foundation to see further than we can. To see things in a way that we can’t.
The same is true in cooking. In looking at some of Julia Child’s cookbooks, it’s easy to see them as a little old-fashioned, right down to the recipes. Chicken Marengo. Ham Steaks with Cream and Mushrooms. But home cooking is only where it is today because we stood on her shoulders.
We’ve cooked many things either from one of her cookbooks or in some way inspired by her cooking. Usually, we’ve relied on her seminal "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." For this recipe, though, I turned to "The Way to Cook."
First published in 1989, "The Way to Cook" isn’t just a collection of recipes – it does what the title promises, demonstrating a number of basic cooking techniques via master recipes. Julia then offers variations on the basic recipes and encourages readers to experiment with their own ideas. It’s not a French cookbook, but French technique is at the heart of the way Julia cooked, and it flows through the recipes here. And that’s fine with me. As much as Marion and I enjoy exploring the many cuisines in the world – both in restaurants and in our own kitchen – I am always struck by how the French unerringly choose just the right mix of ingredients and combine them with the perfect techniques to create not culinary fireworks, but something subtle, complex and sublime.
The book being 23 years old now, some of the recipes do feel a little dated. But some – like this one for a delicate, tarragon-seasoned fish stew – are timeless. As I began cooking it, sweating leeks, carrots, celery and onion in butter, the kitchen (and gradually, the entire apartment) filled with heavenly, French-accented aromas.
Regular readers here know that my recipes tend to fall into the quick and easy category. Real ingredients and real cooking, but dishes that more often than not, come together pretty quickly. And even those that require long cooking usually don’t call for much hands-on time in the kitchen.
This recipe is easy. No single step is in any way difficult or daunting. But there are lots of them, at least compared to my usual approach. From the time I started prepping vegetables until I ladled the finished stew into bowls, I was actively doing something. And as with just about all French cooking, every step, every ingredient is necessary. The very last ingredient in it is an egg yolk blended into sour cream. Even though I had already prepped it, I was skeptical that it was needed. The stew was smelling delicious already. But as I adjusted the seasonings as the recipe called for at this point – ”Carefully taste and correct seasonings” is how Julia put it – it wasn’t quite right. The egg yolk and sour cream brought it all together. The sour cream gave it a tangy richness; the egg yolk added a silky texture to the sauce. Now it was ready.
Fish Stew with White Wine and Tarragon
Serves 2 generously as dinner, 3 as a light lunch
Julia made this with sole and charmingly called it Sole Food Stew. I couldn’t get fresh sole and substituted halibut. Any firm-fleshed, mild white fish will work.
1 medium tomato
1 carrot, peeled and sliced
1 leek, white and pale green parts only, halved lengthwise and sliced
1 celery stalk, preferably with leaves, sliced (leaves chopped)
1 medium onion, sliced
1-1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 generous teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon leaves (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)
1-1/4 cup chardonnay, plus 1 tablespoon (or other dry white wine)
3/4 cup chicken broth (preferably unsalted – see Kitchen Notes)
1/2 cup water
salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 pound halibut sliced into bite-sized pieces
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup sour cream (I used Breakstone reduced fat)
Blanch the tomato. Drop tomato into a medium pot of water to a boil. After 10 seconds, remove with a strainer and set aside to cool. You need the tomato near the end of the recipe, so during a break in the action, core and peel it, scoop out the seeds using your fingers and gently squeeze out any liquid from the tomato. Then dice the tomato; you should have about 3/4 cup.
Melt butter in a large, heavy pot or Dutch oven over low to medium flame. Add carrot, leek, celery and onion and toss to coat with butter. Cover pot and sweat vegetables for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Do not allow to brown; reduce heat if necessary.
Add tarragon, 1-1/4 cup wine, broth and water. Season with salt and pepper and simmer uncovered for 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Combine cornstarch and remaining tablespoon of white wine in a small bowl, stirring until cornstarch is completely dissolved. Slowly drizzle 1/2 cup of heated broth/wine mixture into cornstarch and wine, stirring constantly to keep it from forming clumps. Blend back into pot and simmer over low heat for 2 minutes. Fold in fish and tomato and bring to a simmer. Taste and adjust seasonings.
Meanwhile, mix egg yolk and sour cream in a medium bowl. Slowly drizzle 1/2 cup of heated broth/wine mixture into it, stirring to combine. Gently fold into pot. Ladle stew into shallow soup plates and serve with a crusty bread.
Choose your chicken broth. Store-bought broth options have been improving greatly. You can now pick from organic, free range, low fat, fat-free or several combinations thereof. But until recently, your sodium choices were full salt bomb or reduced sodium (which was still pretty salty). Now, though, unsalted broth is showing up on supermarkets shelves everywhere. This is the best option, giving you complete control of the amount of salt in dishes. Of course, if you make your own chicken stock, that’s even better.
Related post on Blue Kitchen: Skate Meunière with Browned Butter and Capers
Do you have a case of mid-summer tomato lust? Symptoms include: grabbing every bumpy, multicolored heirloom tomato you can get your hands on at the farmer’s market, engaging in long, earnest debates about the best methods of growing tomatoes in the garden (I am of the give-them-a-trellis-then-let-them-ramble school of thought), making entire meals out of sliced tomatoes, and those in the grip of a really serious case can be found burying their face in their tomato vines at dusk and breathing deep lung-fulls of that incomparable scent. Certain people may have even, upon occasion, rubbed tomato leaves on their wrists like perfume.
It’s a brief madness – just a summer romance, passing harmlessly away by fall.
I’ve been slow roasting tomatoes in olive oil. Cooked this way, their flavor is deepened and intensified. Swimming in a luxurious bath of olive oil, the deeply red tomatoes bring you nearly all the way to a finished pasta dish.
However, they are equally good simply layered on a big slice of crusty sourdough bread and topped with a few shavings of sharp white cheese. Breathe in the garlicky perfume before taking your first bite. Then lean over so your plate can catch the inevitable drips of olive oil instead of your lap. Lick your fingers with abandon.
Tomatoes can be messy. But they are worth it.
(adapted from Bon Appetit)
1/2 cup olive oil
1-1/2 pounds heirloom tomatoes, any combination
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons Italian parsley, chopped fine
Preheat oven to 250 degrees F. Cut tomatoes in half and remove pulp. Pour half of the olive oil into a 12x9x2-inch baking dish. Place tomatoes in single layer in baking dish, cut side up. Drizzle with remaining oil, then sprinkle with herbs, sugar and salt. Bake for one hour, then turn tomatoes over with tongs. Bake for another hour and turn again. Continue baking until soft – approximately 15-30 more minutes.
Place a single layer of tomatoes in a glass bowl, sprinkle with half the garlic and parsley, then repeat with second layer. Cover with the reserved oil from baking dish.
At this point, either marinate tomatoes for a few hours at room temperature before serving, or cover and refrigerate for up to a week.
Related post on The Rowdy Chowgirl: Tomato Chutney
Back in what feels like another lifetime, I was a second grade teacher. One portion of our daily routine included an activity we called Writers’ Workshop. It was a time of the day devoted towards writing, where my students could work independently or collaboratively on various forms of written expression. While they worked, I’d meet with individual students to help walk them through the editing process, while weaving lessons about writing technique, language, and grammar into our little discussions. Some students worked on personal narratives, others on poetry, and others on persuasive writing.
And then there was the group of boys who’d formed a rock band and spent their time during writers’ workshop writing song lyrics. Now, this rock band was no casual arrangement. Though not a one of them played a musical instrument, they took the idea of their band quite seriously. These boys waited all day to work on their writing. They put careful thought into their choice of words and worked cooperatively to fine tune their performance. I was feeling like a pretty awesome teacher for being able to get my students so actively engaged in the writing process and so motivated to develop their writing skills. And that’s right about went things went sour with the band.
You see, Diego kicked Joshua out of the band. It had something to do with not fully committing to his dance moves. Seriously. Joshua was crushed. Willis tried to remain neutral, but it was clear that he was also unimpressed by Joshua’s moves. I intervened and brought peace back to the band long enough for them to perform the song they’d been working so hard at.
It went something like this:
Oh, when am I gonna be a man?
I wanna be a man!
I’m gonna get a wallet.
I’m gonna go to the gym.
Ooo, when am I gonna be a man?
It was a type of rap song, and was very revealing about a second grader’s perspective on what makes a man: gym memberships and wallets, of course.
I was reminded of this memory when I walked into my living room to find my 5-year-old giving my 3-year-old lessons on how to be a man. They were as serious about these lessons as my former students were about their rock band. The lessons involved such behaviors as hopping on one foot, not crying, and toasting blueberry waffles. All very important man behaviors.
The kids and I went to the grocery store to pick up fresh strawberries and bananas for this Strawberry Banana Bread. This recipe is the result of not one, not two, not three, but four attempts. (We’ve been eating a lot of banana bread around here). Every batch was delicious in its own right. But, it wasn’t until the fourth batch that I nailed what I’d been trying to accomplish.
Doesn’t seem like making a loaf of strawberry banana bread should be such an issue, right? But here’s the problem: when baked, strawberries become undesirably mushy. So, in my first attempt, I tried incorporating freeze-dried strawberries to conquer the mushy dilemma. The result was acceptable. The freeze-dried strawberries rehydrated during baking, but there wasn’t enough strawberry flavor throughout the loaf. So, on attempts two and three, I made a strawberry glaze, which I attempted to swirl throughout the loaf using two different techniques. But, the banana bread was too dense to produce my intended result. Both of those loaves came out fantastically sweet and moist with a lovely caramelized crust, but I still wasn’t satisfied.
On my final attempt, I had the epiphany that I could purée fresh strawberries to replace all of the water and part of the vegetable oil in my normal banana bread recipe. This had the double effect of dispersing the sweet strawberry flavor throughout the bread as well as slightly lightening the recipe. Chopped dried strawberries lend additional strawberry flavor and a nice variety of texture to the loaf.
Strawberries and bananas are a classic flavor combination. And they’ve never been better combined than in this twist on banana bread. This is more than just a banana bread with a few strawberries mixed in. This bread pays equal homage to both the strawberries and the bananas. Definitely worth the four attempts it took to come around to this recipe!
Strawberry Banana Bread
1-3/4 cup flour
1 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup puréed strawberries
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup mashed ripe bananas
3/4 cup dried strawberries, chopped
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a loaf pan with baking spray.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Add the vegetable oil, pureed strawberries, vanilla, and eggs. Stir until well combined. Add the mashed banana and dried strawberries. Stir until well blended. Pour the banana bread mixture into the prepared pan.
Bake for 60-70 minutes.
Related post on The Gourmand Mom: Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins
I'm always a bit skeptical whenever a recipe has a superlative in the title. We all have different tastes and someone's idea of the perfect or "best ever" cookie may not match someone else's. There's no one right set of taste buds.
That said, this really was an extremely good chocolate chip cookie. It didn't spread too much, the edges were crisp but not overly so, the texture of the cookie was chewy and stupendous and overall, I really liked it. It wasn't too sweet either, although I have a high tolerance for sugar. This is exactly the type of cookie with a great taste and texture that I like.
I also stacked the odds in its favor and instead of chocolate chips, I cut up a large milk chocolate bar my parents had brought me from Switzerland last year. I kept that chocolate block for months without even being tempted to open it, so it seemed like a good idea to use it for cookies. And it was.
"Best Ever" Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies
From Kelsey's Apple A Day
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk chocolate chunks (or you can use milk chocolate chips or semisweet chips)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugars until fluffy and light in color. Add egg and vanilla and blend in.
Mix in flour, cornstarch, baking soda, and salt. Stir in chocolate chunks.
Using a standard-sized cookie scoop or tablespoon, drop dough onto a prepared baking sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes until barely golden brown around the edges. (The tops will not brown, but do not cook longer than 10 minutes.)
Let cool on the sheet on a wire rack for five minutes. Remove from baking sheet and let cool completely.
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