Friday, August 28, 2009

Bon Appétit! — Dinner with Julia

For a long time, we had wanted to host a dinner party where we served only Julia Child recipes. August 15th (Julia's birthday) was already booked up so we chose the next available date to throw our soirée and try to end the summer on an up-beat note after these past months of horrible weather.

We ended up hosting two separate events since Jeffrey was leaving us for a year in Europe, and we had to make certain he was there! For the first one, Bryan did the cooking and made hors d'œuvre :pâté de foie de volaille, entrée: potage Parmentier, plat principal: coq au vin, and dessert: mousseline de chocolat.

For the second, larger event, we thought it would be more fun to assign everyone attending his very own JC recipe. We would provide the main course, accoutrements, and the French wine—and our friends would get to learn a bit about French cooking, too. The invite went out (, and the replies came in. Including ourselves their would be seven people in attendance which, of course, would equal seven delicious French dishes.

You would think with over 500+ recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking finding seven recipes would be pretty easy. It was not. After deciding on the main course, Bœuf à la Bourguignonne, we had to pick out recipes that not only complemented the main dish but also didn't max out our friends' comfort-level too too much. After a few back-and-fourth phone calls and meetings, we decided on the following menu:
Everything was absolutely delicious. No joke.

Peter made the French bread (his second attempt) and this time he used Julia's hot brick method. The hot brick method replicates a baker's oven by creating a steam bath for the bread. We didn't have a brick so we used part of our panini press pan that we were able to heat up to a scorching hot temperature and then gingerly toss into the already prepped pan of cold water. A huge sizzle and burst of steam bellowed out of the oven and what followed was a perfectly browned and delicious loaf of French bread. The only problem Peter had was in the cutting of the top of the loaves. Julia says it takes a lot of practice and she's right. It does (and you can't use a normal knife!).

Mike D. made the stuffed mushrooms which at first, he thought would be a quick simple task. He later informed us that they weren't too difficult to make but the recipe was time consuming. We reminded everyone that, if anything, Julia was precise. She didn't like to leave any information out. That's why when cooking from her book, it's good to read every recipe at least twice before beginning. The champignons farcis really stole the show. Peter doesn't even like mushrooms and he was searching around for seconds. If you are looking for a great side dish for dinner or for a buffet, choose these, they will blow your guests away.

Mike W. made the Gratin Savoyard which are scalloped potatoes bathed in a beef broth. Mike was afraid he didn't cook them enough but when he arrived, they smelt and looked delicious and were thoroughly cooked. He adjusted the cook-time a bit since he claims his oven was off but I think it had more to do with not using the correct-sized container. But again, another delicious dish, worth making again.

When we assigned Adam his dish he was disappointed. It was a zucchini dish but it didn't light him up. He wanted a personal challenge he said. He had wanted to make hollandaise sauce. Hollandaise sauce is difficult to make by hand. It consists primarily of egg yolks, lemon juice and butter. Scratch that...I meant to say A LOT of butter. One must slowly (by the tablespoon) incorporate the butter into the yolks and lemon juice while whisking furiously so that the butter does not separate from the yolks and juice as it melts. Adam practiced three before he made the final product. The first time, he made it no problem (beginner's luck?). The second attempt, he failed, although I think it could have been saved. The third attempt, the butter separated and just when we thought all was lost, who do you think saved the day? Julia Child. In the recipe she states that by adding a bit more of the lemon juice and whisking the sauce a tablespoon at a time you will ALWAYS be able to bring it back to the proper form. What certainty! And you know what? She was right. We followed what she says ALWAYS works, and it did. The elusive hollandaise sauce was reborn. Adam said that when he made it for the dinner, the whole process went off without a hitch. Buttery, lemony, and warm, it tasted great on top of roasted asparagus and even sopped up with the bread. I guess you can't go wrong with hollandaise.

Unfortunately, one of our friends, had a last minute change of plans (or heart...did his fear of cooking get the better of him?!) and the haricots verts à la provençale were never made. I assume they would have been delicious.

The Bœuf Bourguignon was very good. It's actually quite an easy dish to prepare, but it does have a few steps and is, therefore, slightly time-consuming—BUT, Julia is there to lead you through it the whole way! She discusses exactly which cuts of beef are best to buy (you want it to be nicely fatty) and takes you step-by-step through cutting the beef into 2"x2" cubes and browning them in rendered bacon fat before creating a slight 'crust' by mixing in a few tablespoons of flour and popping it into at hot oven. Once you've gotten the beef cubes prefectly browned, it's so easy. Pour in your wine and beef stock, season, and simmer in a slow oven for a few hours. It comes out cut-with-a-spoon tender and full of flavor. The initial steps are so wonderfully worth it. We served extra-wide egg noodles alongside (or under!) the bœuf.

With this course, we were lucky to have a few delicious wines—among them, a 2003 Côtes-du-Rhône, a 2004 Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe, and a 2003 St.-Emillion Grand Cru. MMMMM.

For the cheese course, we had Morbier, Camembert, Great Hills blue, a swiss-type cheese whose name escapes me, and a goat's cheese covered in herbs, peppercorns, and juniper berries called a pavé sauvage. These were served with croûtes of rustic bread. 

We had two desserts. Bob was in charge of making the Reine de Saba (the chocolate cake) and Matt was in charge of the Tart Tatin (apple tart).

Bob's cake came out delicious. We were excited that Bob was expanding his baking skills. He loves to bake but heavily relies on boxed mixes. He's precise with numbers though so I knew he would be a good baker if he just gave it a try. This was my third time tasting the Reine de Saba and each time I try it I am always pleasantly surprised that such a simple cake can taste so rich and so much better than most chocolate cakes you get at a restaurant (and ALL cakes that you make from a box). Bob was extra excited—despite having never seen Julia make the cake until we aired the episode at the dinner that night—that he ended up decorating the cake almost identically to how Julia did on The French Chef. It's the little things in life...

Matt was nervous about his tart Tatin (an upside down apple tart). He had assumed the tart Tatin was like one of those fancy french tarts where all the apples appear perfectly arranged and are perfectly glistening in the perfect Parisian moonlight.... What he didn't realize is that a tart Tatin is a much more organic, rustic looking tart and not nearly as neat. However, upon seeing his tart, Bryan exclaimed it was by far one of the best looking homemade tart Tatins he'd ever seen. To convince him that what he did was correct, we showed him the episode of The French Chef in which Julia attempts a tart Tatin. I say "attempts" because she never really executes it correctly in the episode. She flips the tart, and it flops all over the place undercooked and looking more like apple sauce than anything else.The other tart she has on reserve looks equally as appetizing with a grayish tint to the whole thing. Matt had beat out Julia with her own recipe! His trick? He cooked it for a lot longer than she suggested so when it was time to flip the tart it didn't go all over the place.

At the end of the meal, we all were stuffed and toasting to Julia, French cooking, and ourselves. Perhaps we'll make this an annual event and cook our way through the whole darn book? Or maybe even dive into volume two? Either way, it was a successful delicious meal and one we hope to do again!

Bon Appétit!


  1. Wow, what a delicious looking meal! I really enjoyed reading your post. I like how you made professional looking menus. :)

  2. I love this idea! Oh Bryan, I'm so glad I found your blog - blog-stalking is one of my favorite activities! Looking forward to reading more!