Tag Archives: History

Frenchie and Julia Child

17 Jul

Would it be horribly uneducated of me, or perhaps just plain shamefully ignorant, to say that I had never heard of Julia Child until shortly after moving to the U.S. when someone looked at me with eyes the size of big round crêpes and guffawed You’re French and you don’t know who she is?

Phew! Glad we got this out of the way. More on that later…

For my fellow francophone readers – Julia Child is an American culinary icon and she would have turned 100 years-old this year on August 15.

For Julia, a simple lunch of sole meunière - her first meal in Paris – was life changing and inspired her 40-year love affair with food and the start of a cooking revolution in America.

This is why in her honor, YC Media and Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc., launched the JC100 national campaign involving restaurants, chefs, bookstores, and bloggers, all celebrating Julia and her legacy.

Their goal is to raise one million voices in tribute to Julia, and I am extremely honored I was asked to participate.

A panel of culinary luminaries, including celebrity chef Thomas Keller and food writer Amanda Hesser, has selected their most beloved 100 Julia Child recipes and since May 7th, one of her many recipes is highlighted every Monday.

This week (Week 11), Julia Child’s ratatouille recipe was chosen.

A simple and delicious side dish.

And with the first fresh tomatoes, zucchini and herbs recently picked from the garden, what a wonderful way to cook with them and bring her culinary spirit into the kitchen with her ratatouille – or as she used to say “perfume the kitchen with the essence of Provence”.

Non, je ne connais pas Julia Child !

This was the sentence I never thought would create such bewilderment.

But if you think about it, why would an American chef with a TV show called The French Chef teaching Americans how to cook French with a goal to introduce the basics of French cooking to American homes as an option for home-cooking when it was still considered high-end cuisine be well-known in France?

I never grew up with Julia Child. And nor did my parents or my grand-parents.

Always a challenging realization for Americans when their cherished thoughts that the French also lived glued to their TV sets watching Julia cook with her energetic confidence got crushed.

All the more reasons for me to catch up with lost time and discover who Julia Child was.

Julia Child is the All-American French Chef.

She loved Paris. She loved France.

She had an extensive knowledge about French cooking and food that she shared with Americans on TV as early as 1962.

When I asked my friends about their memories of Julia Child, the recurrent answers were:

her legendary good humor and joie de vivre

an American icon

her low-key bloopers and delightful personality

her voice

Queen of the kitchen

French food made easy for everyone

family time learning how to cook French in front of the TV

a real person

Julia Child – still very much relevant today as people remember her and her tremendous achievement as she singlehandedly revolutionized Americans’ perception of what cooking, good food and French cuisine are all about.

What I find even more extraordinary is that her book Mastering the Art of French Cooking was and still is a staple item in American kitchens – including my foodie friends – who continuously refer to Julia’s recipes.

The Bible of all cookbooks.

A book made so easy and clear to follow, anyone can cook.

And everybody should cook.

Just follow Julia Child.

C’est simple !

So I would like to ask you, what is your fondest memory of Julia Child?

How has she changed your views on cooking, on using fresh ingredients, and on French cuisine?

Do you own her book? Do you still cook with it?

Feel free to comment about Julia Child and her life’s work in the comments section.

And for my francophone readers who never had the pleasure to watch her in action, this video should do the trick.

And since she lived 4.5 miles (7 km) away from me, I couldn’t not go take a walk in her neighborhood in Cambridge, MA near Harvard Square and take a picture of her old house.

I don’t know if I was still smelling her ratatouille from my kitchen but it almost felt like scents of Provence were still lingering around her old stomping ground.

The ratatouille is Julia Child’s recipe from her book.

I have added the converted measurements for those who do not cook with pounds and cups.

The ingredients and instructions in bold and italics are Frenchie and the Yankee’s own additions to her already fantastic recipe – to put a spin on it.

I like my ratatouille with a lemony spicy taste and the addition of the lavender sugar makes for a sweet floral kick reminiscing of the lavender of Provence floating in the air.

And as she would have said herself: Bon appétit !

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Julia Child’s Ratatouille

Excerpted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child.Copyright © 1961 by Alfred A. Knopf.

Reprinted with permission from the publisher Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.

For 6 to 8 people

1 lb. (0.4 kg) eggplant

1 lb. (0.4 kg) zucchini

A 3-quart (2.85 l), porcelain or stainless steel mixing bowl

1 teaspoon salt

Peel the eggplant and cut into lengthwise slices 3/8 inch (9.5 mm) thick, about 3 inches (7.62 cm) long, and 1 inch (2.54 cm) wide. Scrub the zucchini, slice off the two ends, and cut the zucchini into slices about the same size as the eggplant slices. Place the vegetables in a bowl and toss with salt. Let stand for 30 minutes. Drain. Dry each slice in a towel.

A 10- to 12-inch (25.4 to 30.48 cm) enameled skillet

4 tablespoons olive oil, more if needed

One layer at a time, sauté the eggplant, and then the zucchini in hot olive oil for about a minute on each side to brown very lightly. Remove to a side dish.

1/2 lb. (226 g) – about 1.5 cup – thinly sliced yellow onions

remove some of the yellow onions to add thinly sliced half a red onion and 1 shallot

2 (about 1 cup) sliced green bell peppers

only 1 green pepper but add 1 orange pepper

2 to 3 Tablespoons olive oil, if necessary

2 cloves mashed garlic

salt and pepper to taste

In the same skillet, cook the onions and peppers slowly in olive oil for about 10 minutes, or until tender but not browned. Stir in the garlic and season to taste.

1 lb. (0.4 kg) firm, ripe, red tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and juiced (makes 1.5 cups pulp)

grated zest of 1 organic lemon

1 teaspoon of lavender sugar (or use regular blonde cane sugar or light brown sugar instead)

salt and pepper

Slice the tomato pulp into 3/8-inch (9.5 mm) strips. Lay them over the onions and peppers. Season with salt and pepper. Cover the skillet and cook over low heat for 5 minutes, or until tomatoes have begun to render their juice. Uncover, baste the tomatoes with the juices, raise heat and boil for several minutes, until juice has almost entirely evaporated. Finely grate the lemon zest and sprinkle with the sugar over the tomatoes. Mix.

A 2.5 quart (2.37 l) fireproof casserole about 2.5 inches (6.35 cm) deep

3 tablespoons minced parsley

3 tablespoons minced basil

salt and pepper

3 tablespoons minced oregano

a pinch of hot red pepper flakes

Place a third of the tomato mixture in the bottom of the casserole and sprinkle over it 1 tablespoon of parsley. Add 1 tablespoon of basil as well. Arrange half of the eggplant and zucchini on top, then half of the remaining tomatoes and parsley plus basil. Put in the rest of the eggplant and zucchini, and finish with the remaining tomatoes and parsley/basil.

Cover the casserole and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes. Uncover, tip casserole and baste with the rendered juices. Correct seasoning, if necessary. Raise heat slightly and cook uncovered for about 15 minutes more, basting several times, until juices have evaporated leaving a spoonful or two of flavored olive oil. Be careful of your heat; do not let the vegetables scorch in the bottom of the casserole.

Set aside uncovered. Reheat slowly at serving time, or serve cold.

I served my ratatouille in individual containers.

Sprinkle with oregano and red pepper flakes on top before serving.

Frenchie and The Fourth

5 Jul

The 4th of July is a birthday celebration where everyone is invited and no one has to give out any gifts. Sounds like fun? It is! No formal invitation needed either. To celebrate America’s birthday – this year 235 years-old – just show up with some food sprinkled with an infectious festive mood – this winning recipe will magically enliven all of your festivities while surrounded by friends and family. This year marks my twelfth 4th of July and after years of various observations, when it comes to the rituals of celebrating Independence Day I think I’ve learned my lesson well.

Ritual 1: As one of my friend says “It would be a crime not to grill out on the 4th of July.” Yes, you heard right… un crime!  The 4th wouldn’t be the 4th if it weren’t for outdoor cookouts or summer picnics at home, at the park or by the water. While I never experienced a rainy 4th, I am pretty sure that even with bad weather Americans would still be outside working the grill and holding a backyard party. Because that’s how it goes – no matter what happens on the 4th, you cannot rain on America’s birthday parade.

Ritual 2: This is the day where only 3 colors matter: red, white and blue. Decorations, props, star-shaped patterns, stripes – it’s a gigantic assortment of good and bad taste. Streets are filled with American flags and red-white-blue-banners. Homes get the Christmas treatment for a day and are decorated to proudly display the key colors. Sometimes it can be over-the-top-tacky your eyes will hurt and demand to see another color to rest for a bit. And sometimes it’s done very well. For the French, the display of flags and all-things-American on that day is an eye-popping surreal experience. Red and white flowers in a blue vase. Blue tablecloth, white plates and red napkins. Be as creative as you want.

Ritual 3: Food, food and more food. The more food the better. The bigger the party, the more variety of food you will find and get to taste. Burgers, ribs, steaks, grilled fish and shrimp, kebabs & skewers, salads, potato salads, pasta salads, side dishes – corn on the cob! – desserts and let’s not forget drinks and cocktails. When words such as grilled, meat, corn and pies are put together in the same sentence, I can only blurt out “fantastique“! I always say that the 4th of July is the one and only day when you will put on 5 lbs in a matter of hours without really knowing how it happened. Unlike Thanksgiving and Christmas, July 4th is not stretched out over a week/weekend. It’s one intense food day.

If lucky, slow-cooked messy and saucy ribs will be on the menu glazed in a sweet and spicy smoked BBQ sauce. Skewers will be full of colors with juicy veggies and marinated chicken. Corn cobs will be grilled and slathered in butter. The potato salad will be classic yet original with slightly undercooked potatoes. And pies and cobblers will end the meal with sweet and indulging pleasures. J’ai faim!

Ritual 4: Parades, concerts and fairs – the 4th is meant to be spent outside. Before eating dinner, social and festive activities are meant to bring people together in a joyous celebration of the country’s historical past mixing entertaining shows for kids with cultural events. So grab your colonial costume and your tiny American flags to go watch the parade and enjoy the momentum.

Ritual 5: Dear fellow French citizens, you have not experienced fireworks until you’ve seen one in the U.S. Vraiment. I am lucky to live in a city labeled #2 for the most extravagant fireworks displays on July 4th. Americans taught me that there’s no lazy way to watch a fireworks show. You don’t watch it from 2 miles away. You don’t watch it on TV either. It’s a once-a-year extravaganza and you want to be right in the middle of it – or in this case, right under it. And there’s no other feeling than walking to the fireworks launch with thousands of other cheering people, owning the streets that are now pedestrian and waiting for the start of the magical event with a pounding heart and the eyes of a 6-year-old discovering it for the first time. As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, the 4th of July is a birthday celebration. And what better way to end an evening than watching America blow its candles in the sky?

Our sunny rooftop-deck celebration amongst friends included some spicy smoked grilled ribs with Bobby Flay’s Carolina-style BBQ sauce, chicken kebabs, a blue cheese potato salad with a Sriracha sauce, corn on the cob and a chorizo-fig salad with a quince paste vinaigrette (recipe below).

Since I was in charge of dessert, I thought a French flair wouldn’t be bad and I opted for a tart instead of a pie. Béa from La Tartine Gourmande inspired me with her gluten-free strawberry mascarpone tartlet post and I adapted her recipe to make a strawberry-blueberry tart with a white mascarpone-lemon curd filling. Bleu, blanc, rouge… this tart could also work for Bastille Day. But yesterday, it was only red, white and blue.

I am sure there are many other rituals out there – family ones, regional ones. For some, July 4 is very important – it’s a historical date celebrating U.S. history. For others, it’s the symbol of a 3-day party weekend filled with noise, friends and family. What does July 4 mean to you?

Chorizo-Fig Salad with Quince Paste Vinaigrette

serves 4

lettuce

half of a big sweet red onion – if too bitter, use a quarter

8 Calimyrna dried figs

4.5 oz (125 g) of Manchego

4 oz (110 g) of chorizo

olive oil + balsamic vinegar

salt + pepper

1 to 2 Tbsps of quince paste – aka membrillo

Wash and slice the lettuce. I used lettuce from the garden and only needed 6-8 big leaves.

Peel and chop the red onion finely.

Cut the figs in 4 – if you have big figs, cut them in 6.

Cut the Manchego in small cubes

Slice the chorizo in small cubes as well.

In a bowl, all of the ingredients together.

In a smaller bowl, prepare your vinaigrette with the following ratio: 1/3 cup (80 ml) of olive oil for 1/2 teaspoon (up to a 1 teaspoon) of vinegar. Salt and pepper. Use 1 Tbsp of quince paste at first and whisk well. The paste will dissolve in the vinaigrette with the help of the vinegar. Taste and add vinegar if the paste is not yet mixed. If you prefer it on the sweeter side, add some more paste and vinegar.

Pour the vinaigrette over the salad. Mix well and serve.

Frenchie and the May Lilies

1 May

May 1 will always be a Holiday to me even though it’s not celebrated in the U.S.

And what comes to mind are my all-time favorite Holiday-related questions, which are without a doubt: “Do you have Labor Day in France?” and “Do you have 4th of July in France?”

When faced with the challenge of answering these questions, one can only hope for a glimmer of wit to magically appear from somewhere – hopefully somewhere not too far! Depending on who is asking these types of questions, the answers will obviously need to be customized and will vary greatly going from a degree of sweet yet informative explanation – aka Foreign Cultural Experiences 101 – to a degree of scathing remark – aka Sarcasm-Advanced Level.

It’d look something like this:

“Actually, Labor Day in France is celebrated on May 1 and not on the first Monday in September. May 1 only became the official day to celebrate Labor Day because of an American event – how about that?!?! – called the Haymarket Affair which started on May 1, 1886 when workers demonstrated and fought for an 8-hour work day. In 1889, the French decided that May 1 would be the day to demonstrate and protest for reducing work days to 8 hours. And in 1947-1948, May 1 was officially known as Fête du travail (Work Holiday), understand Labor Day.”

Nice and sweet.

But then, this happens:

“Do you have 4th of July in France?”

I’ve heard this one at least 50 times! What this truly means is “Do you celebrate 4th of July in France like we do here?” The best possible answer about whether “we have July 4th in France” can only and truly be: “No, in France, the calendar strangely skips July 4th, we don’t have that day. We go from July 3 directly to July 5.” [smirk]

So with May 1st also comes another sensory celebratory landmark: le muguet – lily of the valley.

Labor Day is not only fun because it’s a day off; offering and giving out lilies of the valley to friends and family is part of the French tradition. They are a symbol of Spring and are thought to be a lucky charm since King Charles IX of France supposedly gave the ladies of the Court a sprig of lily of the valley on May 1, 1561 to bring them good luck throughout the year and celebrate the joys of Spring.

Every year shortly before May 1, the May lilies pop out of nowhere in all flower shops and supermarkets. Even on street corners, it is not unusual to see independent street-hawker-florists trying to make some money by selling sprigs and planted pots of lilies. And seriously, isn’t there anything better than to get up early on a beautiful May Day morning in Paris, walk down the streets before anyone is out and about when the sun is still light and soft, breathe the air, hear the quietness around and spot the lilies at each street corner shinning in the sun with their tiny blinding white bells?

Special guest photographer: Roger Noiseau for the photo of the lily of the valley (above)

As the French saying goes: “in May, do as you please”.

So wear your lilies proudly and however you feel like.

Look, this young lady placed sprigs of lilies on her bike’s handlebars! I wonder if she is going to meet some friends for a picnic by the Seine. And this guy here is wearing a sprig as a boutonnière on his coat. He must be going to a Labor Day lunch with family.

As Parisians walk by with sprigs in their hands, the crisp, light and distinctive sweet smell of the lilies fill the streets of Paris wherever you walk. It’s a once-a-year treat allowing everyone to bask in their floating aroma and enjoy some well-deserved time out from the world.

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