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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 American Robots

12 Mar

Americans are programmed!

Yes, they are!

Well, I’m almost certain they are.

I should add that I strongly believe they unknowingly might get programmed at birth. Or so it seems.

It appeared to me very early on when I moved here.

And my research lead me to conclude that Americans were in fact implanted with the HHRU chip.

A chip so effective and cunning only the CIA could be involved in such a coverup of “chipping” babies without parents noticing.

Parents who themselves are probably chipped anyway.

Have you not heard of the HHRU chip?

It’s not an urban legend. Oh it’s out there!

The HiHowRU chip! Yes, it’s been around for decades!

As a young Parisian moving to 123 Kind Rd, Beautiful Green Friendly Midwest, USA, it takes a while to adapt to the gallons of niceness poured over brand new transplants and foreigners.

Coated I was! Coated with sticky, gooey, sweet kindness. Almost like a peanut brittle feels on your teeth and fingers after eating too much of it – and I have eaten a lot of it!

There I was – a human peanut brittle! All nicely coated. Except for the crunchiness… although… But I shouldn’t switch the topic.

Walking along Lake Michigan with friends on a Midwestern summery Sunday morning, leisurely enjoying the soft sun and the sounds of the small waves crashing near by, my peace and quiet was always ultimately disturbed and spammed by unfamiliar high-pitched noises. Hi how you are today?

HIIII, good morning!

‘Morning, folks!

I have to admit something. The first time I heard those noises, I panicked. If you’re new and you don’t know the Law of the Land, you can be overwhelmingly clueless on how to properly ignore and shush those noises away.

Oh la la! I thought. Who are those pesky people demanding to be noticed and acknowledged asking me how I’m doing today. None of your business…. how rude!

And I noted to my friends You do know a lot of people! Look, they all wave and smile.

We don’t know them, we’re just friendly here.

And there I was! Labeled as “not polite”. Put back in my Parisian French box and stuck in it. Get this… I was apparently the one being rude! Moi! 

All those friendly American fingers pointing at French rude me.

The chip works pretty effectively most of the time.

I say most of the time because it can happen that – and I don’t want to sound French-rude – Americans get stuck in some sort of never-ending-friendly-loop, which tells me they need to release a new version of that HHRU chip très bientôt.

Have you ever seen someone’s chip bugging? Or with an apparent defective firewall almost needing assistance and a good Stepford-Wives-reset?

It goes something like: Hihowareyou?Goodhowareyou?Goodandyou?Good,howareyou?Goodthankyou,andyou?

It’s very hard to get out of this messy loop for some.

Like slapping the TV remote or computer when they start going crazy, it’s awkward to watch it unfold and even more difficult to handle when you are the one being looped in this whirl of we’re-too-polite-to-not-answer-madness.

It’s disturbing. But it’s hilarious when it happens.

The first time I saw it, I had to step back in case of an imminent explosion of the American device. You never know!

The second time, I understood I was safe so I played along with it. The ultimate goal wasn’t to clear the kindly sweet American device from all its cookies and cache. Nor was it to crash the hardware. But introducing a Trojan application for some fun malicious action always makes me giggle.

And here’s how that Trojan malware works. If you finish your sentences with the same interrogative and you? back at Americans, it short circuits the entire system and prolongs the excitement – or at least my excitement.

The loop continues. It just won’t end. Trust me, I’ve tried many times.

Now, you don’t want to end up with a sad Mac icon though so don’t abuse of it. But the sparkles it creates are a definite treat!

My friend “I.” recently told me of a work story, which is the best place EVER to observe these Netiquette loops of friendly American sparkles.

As he was calling someone on the phone and began a normal conversation with the typical mundane Hello?, the robot on the other side of the line had already anticipated my friend’s move and said Good and you? without any prompting question.

Dun Dun Dun!

This is a lot scarier than I had anticipated.

What this means is that HHRU robots have now evolved and are able to think independently and adapt to situations.

They don’t wait to hear for your How are you? first, they sneakily already know what you are about to ask. This is a new breed!

The Japanese must be behind this!

A new era is upon us!

Back in the days, my first reactions to these friendly rather pointed and invasive questions – and I ask, who’s rude after all? – were your typical French behavior when feeling caught and stuck in a corner.

Disbelief. Did he just ask me how I’m doing?

Hypnic jerk. What do I say now?

Recoiling at the invasion of privacy. Do I have to answer?

And then ending with one of the best French facial traits ever invented – the embarrassed non-smile.

A smile without being a smile. A little grin. A hidden-seeming-corner-smile.

Here’s how it works:

The French Program called Movement of the Lips is quickly installed internally.

The muscles are already activated. The upper lip raises a bit; spasming like a blinking cursor.

But ultimately the brain-modem takes over and with a deep internal echoed voice Why do you smile, you don’t know him cancels the entire launch of the French Smile Application.

Oh those French computer programs!

This reminds me of the first time I came face to face with a mac and cheese dish.

There too, I panicked. Again, something sticky, gooey and coated. Oh, it’s coated! Not sweet though, but dramatically orange.

There is no way I am eating an orange sauce I thought! Maybe they won’t notice if I elegantly and casually crash all of them robots on a continuous loop. I thought I’d be able to trick them and mess with the motherboard.

You like mac and cheese, dear?

Think quickly, think quickly. Mess with the system… Trojan application… Good and you?

Oh I love it, that’s why I made it for you! It’s an American classic.

It didn’t work! Reboot! Abort!

I always avoided Gouda as a child. How can an orange cheese be tasty? Must be a Dutch cheese!

What’s in it? I asked twitching.

Macaroni with a cheese sauce, made with orange cheddar.

Chez who? Chez what? I thought. Orange what?

Somehow I managed to avoid eating mac and cheese for years. I stayed far, far away.

And then I found out it also came in a box. I collapsed in the aisle of the supermarket between Rice-A-Roni and all the Kraft products.

But finally one day, I experienced homemade mac and cheese. It was… good!

I always thought it lacked a great deal of herbs and meat. Something spicier, something different. And this cheese sauce just cannot be orange! Period.

Lesson learned over the years: smile when you can, it’s not that bad. It certainly beats the frozen Parisian FNAC and BHV workers.

And when it comes to mac and cheese, well of course I had to make my own recipe. Crafted and improved over the years.

It’s a winner! And it’s not orange, évidemment. It’s actually green, which is perfect for St. Patrick’s Day coming up on Saturday.

It’s packed with Asian basil, gooey with béchamel, including nutritiously digestible whole wheat pasta, flavored with truffle oil, sticky and sharpened with white Irish cheddar cheese and topped with blackened chicken.

Such a kind, friendly, nice dish after all! Non?

And once you dig into your plate and let that round belly stick out because you ate too much of it – trust me, you’re gonna want to go back for seconds – you’ll be able to answer your dinning companions once they ask How are you?… Really good actually, thanks for asking!

Asian Basil Béchamel Mac and Cheese with Truffle Oil Flavors and Blackened Chicken

for the blackened chicken – will make 4 pieces:

1 teaspoon of yellow mustard seeds – crushed to end up with 1.5 teaspoon total

1.5 teaspoon of Maras peppers  – medium heat Turkish pepper

1 teaspoon Aji Panca Chile – mild-heat and fruity Peruvian pepper

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

0.5 teaspoon Ancho Chile – hotter Mexican pepper

0.5 teaspoon Hungarian paprika

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 Tbsp butter

4 Tbsp of olive oil

Preheat the oven to 350 °F (180 °C). Prepare a baking sheet and butter it all over.

Remove the chicken from the fridge and let it warm up to room temperature.

With a mortar and pestle, crush the mustard seeds until ground. Add the other spices, mix and set aside.

Heat a large cast iron skillet until very hot. It should take 5 minutes on high heat.

Use 1 Tbsp of olive per piece to coat the chicken.

Rub the chicken on all sides with the spices. If you have left over, sprinkle it all over.

Delicately place the pieces of chicken in the hot skillet and cook for 2 minutes per side. Repeat the operation twice so they cook 4 minutes on each side total.

When done, place the chicken on the buttered baking sheet and place in the oven for 15-20 minutes per side – 30-40 minutes total. Depending how thick your pieces are, check every 5 minutes to see if the meat is cooked through.

Remove from the oven and let it cool.

for the pasta:

2 cups (~ 227 g) whole wheat pasta – elbows

1 Tbsp of olive oil

Boil salted water in a sauce pan with olive oil.

Cook the pasta until al dente according to the time indicated on the package.

for the béchamel:

1 small onion – finely chopped

4 Tbsp (55 g) of butter

1/4 cup (30 g) of flour

3 cups (70 cl) of whole milk

1 teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg

3-5 drops of truffle oil

3 rosemary sprigs

1.5 cup (67-70 g) Asian basil – tightly packed

1 teaspoon of sea salt

pepper

Melt the butter in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 3 minutes.

Turn the heat to low and pour the flour delicately over the onion. Stir quickly and make what we call a roux in French.

Continuously stir for 1-2 min. Do not let the roux brown.

Add the milk gradually and whisk. Bring to a simmer over medium heat but do not let it boil.

Turn the heat to low and add the nutmeg and truffle oil. Stir continuously and simmer for 10 minutes, until it thickens a bit.

Prepare a food processor or blender with the basil and rosemary leaves in it. Transfer half of the béchamel in the blender and keep the other half in the pan.

Pulse the béchamel and herbs until combined and very smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

Return the basil sauce to the pan. Stir to blend and mix both batches of the béchamel together.

Taste for salt and pepper if necessary as well as nutmeg and truffle oil. If the sauce isn’t thick enough, continue to simmer for another 3-5 minutes.

putting it all together:

0.5 cup (~ 115 g) of shaved Parmesan cheese – tightly packed. I prefer shaved to grated.

1 cup (235 g) of sharp white Irish cheddar – grated

Add the cheeses to the pan. Do not overly mix.

Pour the cooked pasta in the pan over the Asian basil béchamel and cheeses and stir. Make sure the pasta is well-coated in the end.

If you find the sauce isn’t thick enough or that you have too much of it, use a colander to get rid of the excess sauce.

Slice the chicken thinly and serve the pasta warm with chicken on the side or on top.

Sprinkle with the spice mix used for the chicken if you have any left.

Frenchie and New York City

29 Nov

A few of my French readers have asked me several times to post a little something about New York.

Lack of time and being forgetful contributed to putting New York in a corner… for now. And as you all know, nobody puts New York in a corner.

Spending the Thanksgiving weekend in The City That Never Sleeps is the perfect opportunity to finally satisfy the French obsession for New York.

Ô Chateau’s blog Stuff Parisians Like hit it right on the head when they wrote “Paris is every Parisians’ wife. New York is their mistress”.

The French are fascinated by New York – it’s a fact. In their minds, they think of New York as everything France is not: energetic and cosmopolitan.

They should really know that Americans have the same obsession with Paris. Ah, Paris et la belle France they all say. Quaint and historical come back regularly in conversations.

The grass is always greener on the other side of the Atlantic. I wonder if it would make New Yorkers and Parisians appreciate their cities a bit more knowing the infatuation they generate on each side.

It was a cold Thanksgiving morning.

The table was already set in preparation for the upcoming feast, the sun was slowly rising, the streets were still chilly and shaded.

Yet, the lack of wind and people around made it that much more enjoyable.

The crowds were gathering on the path of the Thanksgiving Parade. Adults and kids – all waiting for their favorite balloons.

And then they came out of nowhere. Giants led by strings through the buildings and the streets.

All eyes looking up at the sky. Kids on dad’s shoulders.

Mum, look it’s Snoopy!

And even if the Parade lasts for 3 hours, it’s an event no one will miss whether watching on TV at home or in the streets of New York City.

Even French tourists gathered around the police barricades to catch a glimpse of this American tradition, which started in the 1920s.

C’est vraiment incroyable, I heard behind me.

Last minute food shopping. Everything should be under control.

Thanksgiving is a big affair. We’ll be cooking all day.

Is the menu finalized?

As always, it will be too much food. But that’s what Thanksgiving is all about. And despite our best efforts to reduce the number of dishes, it will still be too much food.

With 9 people around the table, the cooking fest was about to begin.

So we will start with a Hungarian paprika-spiced cauliflower soup along with a roasted cranberry, grape and swiss chard salad.

And how many cooks are there in the kitchen? 4 cooks!

Who’s taking care of what? And who’s keeping an eye on the turkey?

The turkey is the star of the Thanksgiving table. Everyone has their own tricks to make it juicier, tastier and not dry. Cooking and roasting the Thanksgiving turkey is a national sport in this country.

Here’s what we ended up with:

Roasted and brined heritage turkey

Rabbit with gremolata and polenta

Roasted hen of the woods mushrooms

Cornbread stuffing with venison sausage and squash

Wild rice stuffing with cranberries, apples and walnuts

Lobster mashed potatoes

Caramelized Brussels sprouts with pancetta and sun-dried tomatoes

Golden beet and caramelized onion galette

Roasted sweet potatoes

Green beans almondine

Moroccan-spiced spaghetti squash

Cranberry-citrus compote

Still hungry? Thanksgiving is also known for its desserts!

Mixed berry pie

Bourbon pecan pie

Rustic Italian nut tart

Bacon-bourbon brownies with pecans

Pumpkin pie

Mincemeat pie – which I learned does not contain any meat in it!

And because I am that much of a gourmand, I had to take a cooking break at some point to enjoy a piece of bacon brownie and get away from the kitchen ebullience.

Excesses without moderation – très Américain, I shall say.

New York was only waiting for us to come out the next day to show us its best assets with a warm, sunny and colorful weather.

Walking a bit on the High Line on the way to the Chelsea Market brings a certain pastoral charm to one’s surroundings.

The High Line is a pedestrian walkway along former elevated freight rail tracks.

A place where grass and nature can run wild. A green path through Chelsea, which begins in the Meatpacking District.

Old slaughterhouses and packing plants. Industrial vibe and red bricks.

There is always an abandoned hidden corner or alley to discover. The promise of a new place to venture in with the hopes to find a gem.

Maybe an unknown restaurant patio to rest when feeling peckish.

Or forgotten posters of John Lennon, Louis Armstrong and Madonna tucked between a loading dock and a boarded up nightclub.

An adventure on its own.

We ended up in Hell’s Kitchen and its Sunday’s flea market where everything and anything can be bought.

With the Lincoln Tunnel as a backdrop, the flea market is the most famous urban outdoor market in the city.

Old armchairs, fake furs, jewels and leather pants – the market has them all for you to bargain-hunt.

Feeling courageous and needing to digest a bit more, our walk took us to Central Park – the lungs of the city.

We observed birds on a bench, while others boated around the Lake.

We said hi to the carriage horses and played in the fall leaves.

It was 66 degrees – mais oui, 19! – and a perfect reason to lay on the Great Lawn and walk by the Reservoir.

New York is like Paris. You can’t see it all at once and you can’t talk about it in one single post.

There will always be some new streets, neighborhoods and areas to discover. It’s endless.

And when you think you’ve seen it all, it will surprise you once more.

The photo opportunities seem to wait for you at each street corner.

Scenes of life to capture as they unfold and happen in front of you.

A slice of urban heaven for those who enjoy the bustling and effervescence of the city.

A place where you can eat anything. And is there anything you cannot find in New York?

A quick movement, a split second – everything around already changed.

A traffic light turning green, a smoking sewer drain, a honking horn and a sea of pedestrians pushing their way through.

Walking home trough the quiet and private Gramercy Park via the Christmas Market of Union Square, the city had started to switch from celebrating Thanksgiving to focusing on the next Holidays to come.

And as tradition wants it, the Christmas trees were put up the day after Thanksgiving. Homes and stores newly decorated with green, red and crystal clear white lights.

New York forever changing and reinventing itself, announcing a new season to come and celebrate.

That’s a New York Minute – en un clin d’œil!

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