Friday, January 1, 2010
And it seems like only yesterday that we were in a panic about Y2K. Do you even remember it now?
Two years ago, I blogged about our annual neighborhood New Year's Eve travelling dinner party. Last year, I didn't. The neighbors complained: "I was looking forward to seeing pictures of all the food--what's wrong with you?" This year, I assigned Jim camera duty. The neighbors complained: "Don't we have any privacy rights? What's wrong with you?" This is a hard bunch to please.
To respect their privacy rights, about which they have never before expressed concern, I will use only their initials.
This year, our theme was Volume I of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The book club went to S.P.'s sister's house in Martha's Vineyard last fall, and we saw Julie and Julia as a group. When we came out of the movie, someone (M.W.) said, "Why don't we make recipes from Mastering the Art for our New Year's dinner?" We all agreed this was a fine idea, especially since New Year's Eve was three or four months away, and so the idea didn't really require a lot of commitment.
As NYE approached, we didn't lose our enthusiasm, and we passed around the several battered copies of Mastering that, among us, we owned. I was assigned the hors d'oeuvre course. L.D. got the soup, S.P. the salad, and B.B. drew dessert. M.L. said she wanted to do Julia's classic boeuf bourguiggnon, and J.N. volunteered to be M.L.'s assistant. (Using initials is harder than you might think--I keep forgetting who these people are).
I spent a lot of time looking through the small hors d'oeuvre chapter, while also perusing a lot of related information. I finally settled on vegetables a la Grecque, cold Roquefort balls, Quiche Lorraine, and creamed shrimp on toasts.
The shrimp on toast required bread, naturally, and Julia recommended homemade pain de mie. Ha! I can do that, I thought to myself. I had forgotten had easy it is to make pain de mie, AKA Pullman loaf. I got out my Pullman loaf pan, and The Bread Bible, and mixed it up in just a few minutes. It was easier than going to the grocery store and buying a loaf, especially since the roads are still very icy and all parking lots have huge piles of snow sitting around blocking your view of oncoming traffic.
On Thursday, I sliced the bread--it slices very nicely--
and cut the slices with a two-inch biscuit cutter.
I really enjoyed cutting the bread circles. I also enjoyed making clarified butter, and sauteeing the rounds. I was still moving at a slow pace and having a good time.
Then I put together the vegetables a la Grecque. I've never hankered to make these because they sound kind of boring, but the other things I was making were heavy-laden with cream, eggs, cheese and things of that nature, so something less artery-clogging seemed in order as a palate cleanser.
I decided to make a small plate of mushrooms, red peppers, and carrots.
To make them in the Greek manner (or what the French consider to be the Greek manner), you cut them up and cook them in a broth made of water, olive oil, lemon, shallots, celery, herbs, fennel seeds and peppercorns.
This is how they turned out. The picture is a little dark; they were actually quite pretty.
The cold Roquefort balls were also easy and make-ahead. Roquefort cheese, butter, chives, minced celery, a dash of cayenne, and a few drops of Worcestershire; shaped into little balls and rolled in breadcrumbs and minced parsley.
Butter and cream are so tricky. They can actually make things seem light--these little cheese balls were so ethereal and delicate. It's a miracle to me that you can mix two high-fat foods together and end up with something that could be packaged with a "Lite" label. But that would be wrong.
At this point, I was feeling pretty good. I had got two of the appetizers already made and in the refrigerator. But I still had to do the quiche, which means making the crust and refrigerating it for a while. Suddenly, all the time in the world has collapsed into just a few hours.
I had already decided that I'd try to follow the details of the recipes as much as possible, which meant homemade bread and following Julia's pastry recipe. She didn't use a food processor, so I wouldn't use a food processor. She used a crazy amount of butter (13 tablespoons for two cups of flour--her pate brisee recipe); I'd use a crazy amount of butter. It's not easy to work that much butter into flour, and I never did get to the stage of small pea-size bits of butter. I thought maybe it would be ok because I still had to do the step called fraisage, where you use the heel of your hand to work butter into the flour, but even after that, I didn't think it was right. But I was running out of time and couldn't start over, so this was going to have to do.
But I ultimately worked it into a tart pan. I remembered that I had some pie weights somewhere, bought at some point when I was going to try to get better at making pastry. I make these pie resolutions periodically and then get discouraged when I mess around with pie dough. Today was no exception.
The pie crust shrank, as is its wont, and I forgot to put it on a pan when I filled it and put it in the oven. In my defense, I have to say that Julia Childs' recipes are often not that easy to follow, and they often have key instructions hidden in some random part of the recipe. Not in my defense, I should have figured out without being told that a tart pan with a removable bottom and filled with uncooked custard was going to leak. It did. My oven was a mess. I neglected to do the top with butter. But the quiche still turned out looking pretty good.
Julia's quiche Lorraine recipe is made without cheese, so it's just a plain custard and the bacon pieces are pressed down on the bottom of the pastry. The quiche itself is very delicious, and so were the sides and tops of the crust. The bottom was very soggy, though--it didn't get done enough during the partial bake to withstand the custard.
Finally, I made the cheese puffs. The official title is fondue de crustaces, or cream filling with shellfish, plopped on top of an already-made sauteed bread round, and broiled. These were the most delicious of the four appetizers I made, and a huge hit. It was a race against the clock to finish them by 7:00, the designated starting time. And neither Jim nor I had time to take pictures of the process. It's a thick cream sauce, flavored with tarragon and a little sherry, as well as some grated Swiss cheese. (I used a nice French Abondance). I diced cooked shrimp, which I heated up with a minced shallot, and put it into the very thick sauce and sprinkled it with a little more cheese. This is worth making again, although it's time-consuming, expensive, and very rich.
We served Argyle sparkling wine, made from an Oregon vineyard, with the appetizers, which I highly recommend.
The only thing remaining on the plates when we left to go to L.D.'s house for soup was about a quarter-cup of vegetables, which I take as proof that if you offer people vegetables, bacon, cheese, or shrimp, you'll always have leftover vegetables.
The soup was the mushroom soup from Mastering the Art, and L.D.'s rendition was perfect. She grumbled about how it took her all day, but she turned out a soup you could dream about. As I'm writing about it now, I wish I had just one more taste.
S.P. didn't make a salad from Julia's cookbook--it turns out that there is no salad chapter, and Julia would probably tell us a salad in France is lettuce with a good vinaigrette. Don't be adding fruit or nuts or cheese or some other fancy stuff, she might say. In fact, S.P. made a green salad with a perfect champagne vinaigrette--courtesy of Ina Garten--and toasts with goat cheese.
I'm pretty sure this salad would be just fine with Julia.
Next, the main course, presented by M.L. and J.N.--Julia's classic boeuf bourguignon. This was the first recipe of Julia Child's that I ever tried, and it forever changed the way I thought about what I used to call stew.
With roasted vegetables on the side, it was a wonderful entree.
I wondered what dessert B.B. would make: a tart? a sweet souffle? Maybe a mousse? Well, B.B., who is well known for having a mind of her own, decided she didn't really want to make a French dessert, so she made a chocolate mousse pie.
She might have been able to get away with claiming it was a variation on a version of one of Julia's chocolate mousse recipes if it weren't for the Oreo crust. I can't say for sure that Julia never made an oreo pie crust, but it seems unlikely. In fact, she said she'd never even tried an Oreo (or a Twinkie), although she always claimed not to be a food snob, and said she loved hamburgers, hot dogs, and potato chips. So she might very well have been just crazy about this chocolate mousse pie, which was especially good with the big cloud of whipped cream and the shaved chocolate.
Unlike some recent years, we made it up well past midnight. We made predictions for 2010. The person who has the most correct predictions gets to have a bright green glass women's head wearing a Santa Claus hat for a year. Tiger Woods featured prominently in this year's predictions.
Happy New Year to you all, and may you enjoy good food and good company throughout the year!