March 27, 2011

Julia Child's French Onion Soup

What a weekend I've had so far! Yesterday, I woke up to news that my 96-year-old grandmother had passed away. Then, it snowed 3 inches or so in St. Louis. The roads were pretty slick, and I got into a little car accident on the highway. It was a fairly expensive version of bumper cars. I had to have my car towed since the battery died in the 2.5 hours that I was stranded on the side of the road.  So, I scrapped all my weekend plans and moped around the house instead, spending most of my Saturday evening watching old episodes of Julia Child's The French Chef.

One of my favorites is "The Potato Show." It's obviously an early episode, as Julia is so young-looking and the video has a grainy,vintage quality.

My favorite part is when she says, “There’s a whole clove of garlic in the press, and it goes CREEEAK all over the stove but into the potatoes, too." In classic Julia fashion, she's hunched over the too-short counter. She doesn't finish sentences, fumbles around the kitchen, seems a bit out of breath, sometimes forgets steps or ingredients, & quickly switches from one recipe to another. It's as if she is a caricature of herself. Watching Julia Child cook is like watching someone cook at home. She's messy and real, not sterile like today's cooking shows.

But, isn't that what makes her so endearing? 

Well, that and her unashamed love of butter. In this episode, when she adds heavy cream and butter to mashed potatoes, she tastes, shakes her head & states, "Good. Nothing like butter."

"The Potato Show" episode was made famous by the movie Julie & Julia; it's the episode where Julia flips a potato pancake all over the stove. She puts potatoes in pan to make a mashed potato pancake, flips it & misses the pan, scratches her head, then declares, “Well, that didn’t go very well.” The original scene is pretty much exactly like Meryl Streep's remake. Julia does flip a large shredded potato pancake later, stating "I’m going to flip this, by gum.” This time, it goes well.

In a later episode of The French Chef, Julia makes "the soup that made the onion famous." (Interestingly, French onion soup was Julia's last meal before she died of kidney failure in 2004). Though this is still early in the series, Julia seems more confident.

Julia puts the finished soup in an earthenware casserole dish.  She adds a few tablespoons of cognac, grated raw onion, and sliced Swiss cheese (sliced on a box grater) to “give it that nice, stringy quality.” The dish is topped with toasted croutes, grated Swiss & Parmesan to cover the toasts, and a drizzle of melted butter or olive oil.  It's then baked for 30 minutes, then broiled just to lightly brown the cheese.

There is smoke coming out of the oven when she browns the cheese.  “I think that possibly browned a little too much,” she admits. The camera doesn't zoom in for a close-up right away. Later, however, when she's ladling soup at table, you can see that it's definitely burnt! She doesn't apologize, just as she taught us to not be ashamed of our kitchen mistakes.

(Onion Soup)

The onions for an onion soup need a long, slow cooking in butter and oil, then a long, slow simmering in stock for them to develop the deep, rich flavor which characterized a perfect brew. You should therefore count on 2 1/2 hours at least from start to finish. Though the preliminary cooking in butter requires some watching, the actual simmering can proceed almost unattended.

March 22, 2011

Ricotta & Chive Gnocchi with Kale Pesto

Apartment Therapy's The Kitchn describes ricotta gnocchi as a "traditional Florentine pasta" that is "the lighter, hipper cousin to northern Italy's potato gnocchi." It sounded perfect to me...comfort food for a warm spring evening.

Although I'd eaten ricotta gnocchi at work, I'd never made it myself. This type of gnocchi is light & pillowy, a very soft & delicate dough. To jazz up the traditional recipe, I added chopped chives...which have recently exploded in my herb garden, coming back along with the oregano & lemon thyme that I planted last year. I ate the tender little dumplings with a bright green, herbaceous & lemony kale pesto. 

I wanted something satisfying yet fresh, something to use my pungent garden chives, something that included kale (my current obsession), something to get me in a springy mood...and this easy recipe did the trick!

Ricotta Chive Gnocchi

March 5, 2011

For the Haters: Coconut Spice Crispies

I recently got my first snarky blog comment. An anonymous person actually took the time to write, "Do you ever cook from your 'own' recipe book? I understand your blog but it seems that any individual who watched the food channel and or watched a repeated 'youtube' episode could just as much reproduce your blog."

First of all, YES, I do cook from my "own" recipe book. Every day, in fact. My typical meals are things I simply throw together without a recipe using what's on hand in the kitchen, nothing special or complicated. But, that's not what this blog is all about. You, dear anonymous commenter, obviously do NOT understand my blog...because if you did, you'd know that I focus on NEW things I've tried in the cleaning squid, perfecting homemade biscuits, cooking wild duck, or skinning out a pig's head & rigging up a make-shift sous-vide machine to make Porchetta di Testa. I would encourage you, Mr. or Mrs. Anon, to reproduce THAT! Seriously. DO IT. And then leave me a link to YOUR food blog.

Besides, I HAVE posted several family recipes (like Aunt Anna Mae's rice pilaf, Grandma Martin's cranberry salad, Mom's fried tacos, & my husband's great-great-grandmother's sauteed spinach) and some original recipes (like flourless chocolate & red wine cake, our favorite fried green tomatoes, or my version of Thai beef lettuce wraps) as well.

And as far as anyone being able to reproduce my blog...isn't that true for almost any food blog? There are thousands of food blogs out there and only a handful are 100% original. That is true for most cookbooks as well. Barefoot Contessa's Back to Basics or Mark Peel's New Classic Family Dinners don't include all original recipes, but they are both great cookbooks. I mean, home cooking is all about adapting other recipes...learning a basic technique and tweaking it to fit your own tastes. I didn't invent flourless chocolate cake or fried green tomatoes or lettuce wraps, but I did add a little personal touch to those recipes.

Take, for example, this recipe...which was inspired by one in Heidi Swanson's cookbook Super Natural Cooking for "Do-It-Yourself Power Bars." Her "Power Bars" are made with puffed rice cereal, rolled oats, oat bran, nuts, dried fruit, and brown rice syrup (see my previous post on that recipe here). Her online version features coconut and ground espresso. I've been wanting to try the Power Bars again, and I thought a spicy version would be good, a more "adult" version of classic Rice Krispies. So, here is MY take on her recipes:

Coconut Spice Crispies