When I was in high school my Dad and stepmom gifted me with Julia Child’s book “The Way to Cook.” It has sat on a shelf looking pretty ever since. As a cooking rookie, reading through the instructions in most any recipe in “The Way to Cook” was too overwhelming. For those first few cooking years I stuck with Betty Crocker.
“Julie and Julia,” both the book and the movie, made me think I should give Julia another chance. And so I have, by starting with the classic, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” (MTAFC) Volumes I and II. I quickly discovered that I wasn’t the only one inspired to rediscover Julia, my friend Marjorie was in the process as well.
Last night, Marjorie and her husband, Tim, and my husband and I got together for a MTAFC dinner. I had another agenda as well, which was to obtain as many ingredients for our portion of the meal locally, preferably from the University Farmers Market or our new CSA. We pretty much succeeded.
We started the evening with a baguette from Le Panier, basil and cheddar cheese from the Farmers Market, and some more distant finds, Humboldt Fog from California and a Double Creme Brie from France. Our wine was also from France, Trimbach’s Pinot Blanc.
Then we moved onto dinner. For the main course I prepared “Gratin de Pommes de Terre et Saucisson” (Gratin with potatoes and sausage, page 155). The main ingredients, Yukon gold potatoes, sausage (we varied from the recipe and used hot italian) and sweet onions were all procured from the farmers market. The cream, Emmenthal cheese that topped the gratin, and salt and pepper, were not. I tried to find locally sourced cream, but the closest I could acquire at Whole Foods was from Oregon. I was appalled to discover that the most popular organic brand was being trucked in from Wisconsin!
For side dishes, I made Navets a d’Etruvee (Turnips from our CSA braised in butter, page 486) and Marjorie and Tim made Haricots Verts a la Provencal (Green beans with tomatoes, garlic and herbs, page 447) and Braised Endive (page 493). Every side dish was fresh and delicious. The Haricot Verts had just the right amount of crunch and the endive and turnips were melt in your mouth. My husband and I had never even tried a turnip before; thanks to braising and butter we are now officially hooked.
Dinner was paired with a full-bodied French Medoc that Marjorie and Tim brought. For dessert, Tim made the Gateau a l’Orange et aux Amandes (orange and almond sponge cake, page 676). It was light, moist and a perfect ending to delectable dinner. It was so good in fact, that we had quickly dug in before I remembered to take a photo!
Connecting with friends over a home cooked meal is one of the easiest ways to inject some enjoyment into your day-to-day life, and it’s a lot less expensive than going out to dinner. We even managed to do it “on a school night.” Asking everyone to participate in making the meal makes things even easier. For the entree, turnip side dish and cheese plate, total prep time was 40 minutes (it could have been done faster, but I’m slow). Cook time was another 40 for the Gratin and 25 for the turnips (cooked simultaneously), but that time took place while we were enjoying our cheese, Pinot Blanc and catching up. I’ve heard that the average American spends 3 hours a day watching television – we spent that same 3 hours cooking and enjoying fresh food with friends – that beats TV any night of the week!