Julia Child

Julia's Scalloped Potatoes

I read an article in the Wall Street Journal last month that got my blood boiling.I've tried to let it go but it keeps coming back to my mind so I have decided to speak that mind. The author was spouting off about Julia Child's complicated recipes and his dinners with her, specifically one dinner, when she marched into his house and dumped out his effort at one of her recipes so she could start again and make it properly herself.

Seriously? I suppose everyone has their own memory of events, God only knows I often differ with Mom about things I remember from my childhood.  But this story seems like rubbish to me. The thing is, Julia isn't here to comment on said incident so we will never know her side of the story.  I have some ideas on words she may have chosen to describe it (and him). Since I can't ask Julia for her version of this so-called tipping out of the soup, I have no ability to refute the author's memory. I would, however, like to represent her side by telling MY story about preparing a recipe of Julia's for Julia.

You have heard from me before how I don't often think things through before jumping in with both feet.  When I first cooked for Julia Child, I didn't think it through at all, and fortunately it all ended up fine.  It always ended up fine, just some times more fine than others.  Cooking Scalloped Potatoes Baked in Cream for Julia was one of my less-than-fine moments.

I had cooked the recipe before.  It was so decadent, so over-the-top deliciously creamy and rich, it reminded me of Julia with every bite.  I knew she loved it because of her description in The Way To Cook and her statement there reading "I, for one, would far rather swoon over a small spoonful of this ambrosia than a large ladleful of instant mashed made with skim milk!"

Why I thought that I should serve it to her at a dinner party I don't know. I'm going to say I must have been tired.  I did have three young children to raise so I must have been tired, right?  For whatever reason, I decided that serving Julia one of her own favorite recipes was going to be great and I never had a second thought about it.

I love this recipe because it serves a crowd (I always double it) and can be completely prepared hours ahead of time.  The final baking takes about 20 minutes, making it a great side dish for a party.   So the day of my dinner party, when I must have been very tired, I prepared the potatoes ahead and had them ready to go into the oven well before the guests arrived.  The party was going great, all the food was ready on time and looked delicious. I served it up and sat down to eat.  I was so proud of my potatoes and just knew everyone would love them as they always did and I could tell them that it was Julia's recipe.

I took a bite of the potatoes expecting the ambrosia that Julia described.  Instead, I got  a bite of not-quite-cooked potato in a lovely creamy sauce.  I instantly realized that I had not cooked the potatoes enough during the preliminary cooking.  I had taken them out WAAAY too early.  They were not cooked completely!  They were crunchy. This was not good. No amount of explaining could rationalize why I had thought the potatoes were done when they weren't. Didn't I test them? It was such an amateur mistake.  A mistake that Julia would never had made.

I looked around and no one said a word.  People were eating and laughing and talking.  No one had spit out the potatoes or exclaimed that they weren't cooked.  Maybe I was just being overly critical of my own food? I tried them again.  Nope.  Still not good.  No one was raving over them like they had in past dinners, but also no one pointed out that they didn't exactly taste good.  Having learned a lot from Julia, I knew that she did not condone apologizing for the food you serve.  So I didn't.  I didn't say a word.  And neither did anyone else.  Including Julia.

She didn't finish the potatoes on her plate but that was to be expected.  As I got to know Julia better, I noticed that was her usual response when she didn't care much for a dish, mine or someone else's.  She took a few cursory bites and didn't finish it.  She liked food so much, it seemed to rarely happen.  She left the bottoms of the thick stalks of my unpeeled asparagus one time and I read somewhere after that she found it essential to peel asparagus stalks so they would be tender. She left the arrugula salad under her pork one time and I found out another day that she didn't care for the spicy bitter flavor of arugula.  What I never heard her say at any meal anywhere was that someone's food was bad.  Julia was one of the most gracious, complimentary and easy-going dinner guests ever to sit at my table and I'm sure most of her true friends would agree with that statement.

julia with mallet - Version 2

“You should never apologize at the table. People will think, ‘Yes, it’s really not so good.'" -Julia Child


 Julia's Scalloped Potatoes Rewritten from The Way To Cook by Julia Child

1-1/2 to 2 cups heavy cream 1-1/2 to 2 cups half-and-half 1 large clove garlic, pureed (I use a garlic press) salt and freshly ground white pepper 1 imported bay leaf 2 to 2-1/2 pounds "boiling" potatoes (6-7 cups sliced) 3 to 4 T grated swiss cheese butter for baking dish

Pour 1-1/2 cups each of cream and half-and-half into a heavy-bottomed 3-quart saucepan with a lid. Stir in garlic, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp white pepper and bay leaf. Slice the potatoes evenly 1/8" thick and drop into the cream as sliced. When all are in, add ore cream if necessary to cover the potatoes by 1/2". Bring the potatoes to below the simmer for an hour or more until the potatoes are perfectly tender.  Check frequently to be sure they are not bubbling or sticking or scorching in the bottom of the pan. When tender, add salt and pepper if necessary and turn into a buttered baking dish.  Spread the grated cheese on top. At this point, the potatoes can be cooled, covered and refrigerated until ready to bake. Final baking takes about 20 minutes at 425 degrees. Set the baking dish in the upper middle level of the preheated oven and bake uncovered until bubbling hot and lightly browned on top.



Julia's Steak Diane

Julia Child and Hubby were great friends that shared the same birthday on August 15th.Two headstrong Leos that found kinship. She loved his interest in business and the world and they would talk for hours on current topics of the day.  She asked his opinions on wine and politicians and people.  She was curious about everything.

Julia and I were friends too, but I have no illusions that she loved me like she loved Hubby.  I enjoyed being with her and her friends,  and talking about food and cooking and life, but she got a special sparkle in her eye when she conversed with Hubby.

And being with Julia was always fun.  We had dinner with Julia when the New York Times article was published about the now-famous blogger Julie Powell, and it sparked a great conversation about blogging which was new to all three of us in 2003.  Oh how I wish I could hear Julia's thoughts on food blogs today!

Julia loved films and I remember when she joined our family to see Holes, a PG movie that was mostly for our kids but Julia thought it was funny and entertaining and she just loved to be out and about, not exactly blending in but not minding either. She also liked Costco hot dogs and In-N-Out burgers and we would indulge her with those on occasion.  She loved oysters and restaurants and trying new things.  Julia wanted to experience life and was interested in everything, which made it a joy to be with her.  She inspired me greatly.

Hubby truly loved her.  He sat at her bedside holding her hand the day she died.  Following her death, Hubby became one of three trustees of The Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts.  He was honored and pleased and it gave him a way to stay connected to her memory.

Image Shortly after she passed, I was feeling reflective about Julia and thought I would take a look through the box of Julia's DVDs and books that were given to Hubby to review.  I was watching “Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home,” when I came across a recipe I thought my family would like... “Steak Diane.”  I starting glancing through my Julia cookbooks to find the recipe and, much to my surprise, I could not find it.  I tried an internet search and still no luck.  So I sat down and watched the show again, taking notes of the recipe as they prepared it on the show and I made it that night for the family.  One and Only Son LOVED it and it is probably his most requested meal behind Reme’s Enchiladas when he returns home for visits.  Firstborn Daughter also loves it, second only to Green Chicken.  And Baby Girl and Hubby just plain love it.  It is one of the only meals I make that is a favorite to all members of my family. Julia was a darn good cook.


"The only time to eat diet food is while you're waiting for the steak to cook." -Julia Child


Julia’s Steak Diane

Summarized and interpreted from “Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home" No measurements were given so I have included my measurements and added my notes about how to prepare.  Serves 4.

2 Rib-eye steaks, well-trimmed and pounded to 1/4” thickness* 2 tsp soy sauce 2 tsp olive oil 3 T. clarified butter** 1-2 T shallots, finely chopped 1 T dijon mustard 1/4 to 1/3 cup beef stock fresh parsley, finely chopped

Drizzle soy sauce and olive oil onto the steaks.  Use your hands and massage into the steaks well.  The steaks can sit for up to 30 minutes while you chop the shallots and parsley.  Saute steaks in 1 to 2 T. of clarified butter over medium high heat, just a couple of minutes per side.  They may not fully brown but you don’t want to overcook them.  Remove the steaks to a plate when still rare. Turn heat to medium low, add more butter to the pan and stir in the shallots.  Stir for a minute or so and be careful not to burn the shallots! Mix mustard with 1/4 cup of stock and pour into pan with shallots.  Reduce the liquid down a few minutes.  Add more stock if the sauce is too thick. Add steaks back to pan just long enough to heat through.  Remove steaks to plate, spoon sauce over and garnish with parsley.

*When the steaks are pounded, they become quite large in size.  I usually cut each in half before cooking.  Julia and Jacques cooked them whole but suggested two people could share one.

**Clarified butter can be purchased at some grocery stores.  Ghee can be substituted but it has a nutty taste that clarified butter does not.  I like to make my own. Put 1/2 pound of unsalted butter into a heavy-bottomed pan.  Over low heat, melt the butter and continue to cook over low.  It will start to bubble and foam as the water boils off.  The milk solids will sink to the bottom and the middle will be a clear liquid which is the clarified butter.  There will eventually be very little foam on top and you will see the golden clear liquid.  This can take up to 30 minutes depending on your pan.  When the foam is nearly gone and bubbling stops, remove from heat immediately so it doesn’t burn.  You can then pour off the liquid into a container, skimming off the foam and leaving the milk solids in the bottom.  Or strain through a cheese cloth or coffee filter to separate the clear liquid from the milk solids.  If it is well strained, the clarified butter can stay at room temperature but it is best to refrigerate and it will last for months.


Pat's Vitello Tonnato

Pat and her husband Herbert were great friends with Paul and Julia Child.When we met, Pat and Julia had been friends for more decades than they cared to count, and upon meeting Pat you could see how she and Julia would be best pals. They had a similar way of being truly themselves, present in every moment, open to every experience, a joy to be around.

When Julia passed away in 2004, Pat contacted us with an invitation for our family to come and visit her and Herbert the following summer in Prout's Neck, Maine.  It was a special invitation, one that we felt so honored to receive, and yet it didn't quite fit in our schedule.  We had a huge family trip planned for the summer, a trip around the world, literally, and Prout's Neck was not on our route.  So in a wise decision that we will never regret, we altered our route and landed in Prout's Neck on a warm August day in 2005.

Prout's Neck is a very special place. It was founded in the late 18th century by Boston families and to this day remains a primarily summer community with some of the original homes still standing.  The home that we visited was a rambling beachside manor built by Herbert's father.  Herbert entertained us with stories of his childhood summers, and we felt the love of his memories throughout the historical dwelling.  It had been built to house many visitors during the three months of the year that they kept it open, and we felt very privileged to be included amongst those visitors that visited Pat and Herbert't home by the sea.

Summer in the East is a special treat with a much different feel than the consistent spring-like temperatures of California.  The warm weather is appreciated by Eastern residents who spend many months a year fending off the snow and cold.  Easterners seem to truly relish their summer delights such as fresh berries and beach walks, something us Californians can forget to appreciate.

Our arrival to Prout's Neck, Maine, was kicked off with a visit to the local strawberry farm where we all loaded up with berries to take home and make into strawberry ice cream.  Pat said it was a favorite activity when Julia visited Prout's so she thought it was a fitting tribute to our mutual friend.  My children were still quite young at the time, but old enough to pick berries and definitely old enough to crank the vintage ice cream machine, which was a job that Pat and I handed over to them with glee.

Fresh lobsters was another Maine specialty and Pat taught us tricks that still mystify us all to this day.  Pat, having raised three children of her own, was adored by my children as she performed all kinds of wonders for them that weekend.  The most memorable by far was the hypnotizing of the lobster.  We thought it was a joke, or a trick, or a prank when she started.  She gathered the kids around the table and pulled one of her live lobsters out of the kitchen bucket filled to the brim with lobsters flipping to and fro.  She said before she could cook the lobster, she had to hypnotize it.  The kids were intrigued, as were Hubby and I.

Pat set the lobster on a towel, standing up with it's tail curled under as a base, and began to stroke it's belly.  Well, a lobster probably doesn't have a belly, but she stroked the underside of it's tail.  She didn't say a word and we all watched in amazement as the lobster stopped twitching, stopped moving altogether, and was suddenly completely and totally still, standing up on its tail.  It was hypnotized.

We had many wonderful meals with Pat and Herbert and friends at Prout's Neck that summer.  The lobster and the berries were the icing on the memory cake of an unforgettable time that solidified our friendship with Pat and her family.  We kept in touch by mail and email and phone but didn't have occasion to meet up again until years later when One and Only Son moved to Boston.  He and our family were welcomed with open arms to Pat and Herberts life in Cambridge where they had spent so many wonderful years socializing with Julia and Paul who lived just streets away.

Herbert and Pat in their Cambridge home.

On a recent visit, over a pleasant lunch on an Eastern Fall day, I asked Pat for some of her favorite recipes.  She pulled out her recipe box and named a few that she had served in Prout's Neck where it is always nice to have a hearty but cool lunch on a hot summer day.  I remembered well the Vitello Tonnato.  It seemed to me a recipe that Julia would have loved.  It felt old-fashioned and quite the opposite of California Cuisine. I loved it for it's uniqueness.

When I researched Vitello Tonnato, I found that it is a classic Italian summer dish, the traditional centerpiece of the Ferragosto dinner in Milano (Assumption Day, August 15) which happens to be Julia's birthday.  (And in a lovely coincidence, also happens to be Hubby's birthday.)  It all started to make sense.  Cambridge and Prout's Neck, hot summer day, Julia's birthday.  No wonder her friend pulled out that recipe to share with me.


“Life itself is the proper binge.” ― Julia Child


Pat's Vitello Tonnato

2 T olive oil 3 lbs veal or turkey roll (I used veal roast) 1 onion, sliced 2 carrots, chopped 2 celery stalks, chopped 2 cloves garlic, chopped 1 can anchovy fillets (8 fillets or 4 tsp paste) 1 can tuna (6 oz) 1 cup white wine 3 stems parsley 2 bay leaves 1/2 tsp thyme 1/2 tsp salt 1/4 tsp black pepper To assemble and serve:  Cooked and cooled rice 1 cup homemade mayonnaise (recipe below) capers and chopped parsley

Brown meat in oil in a large pot.  Add the rest of the ingredients, cover and cook over low heat for 2 hours.  Remove meat and puree the rest of the ingredients in a blender.  Put back in pot and reduce if necessary.  Add 1 cup homemade mayonnaise.  Chill meat, rice and sauce separately.

To serve, put rice in a large platter.  Put meat on rice.  Sprinkle with chopped parsley and capers.  Serve sauce separately.

To make mayonnaise:   Blend together juice of 1 lemon, 1/2 tsp mustard, 1/2 tsp salt, 1 egg and 1/4 cup olive oil.  At high speed, add another 1/4 cup olive oil.