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.

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

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 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.

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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.

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

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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.

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Foolproof Favorites from Famous Chefs - Balsamic Strawberries

I went to the farmer's market in Solvang yesterday.I was buying some green beans and the friendly farmer handed me two ripe strawberries to taste.  So I did.  I had no need for strawberries and was rushing home to start prepping for a dinner party last night.  The peach dessert was already made and vanilla ice cream in the freezer.  I had blueberries and raspberries in my market bag. The last thing I needed was more fresh ripe fruit.  I told the farmer I would take three baskets.

Did he look at me and just know I wouldn't be able to resist? Or did he know that his fruit was so sweet, so beautifully sun-ripened that no one could resist? To top off my bounty, when I got home I discovered the kind farmer had added an extra basket to my bag!  It was no mistake because the 3-packs were already boxed so he didn't count wrong.  He purposely added an extra basket to my bag! Are the farmers always so nice in Solvang?

Anyway, my beautiful baskets of strawberries brought me to a favorite recipe from Ina Garten...strawberries with balsamic vinegar.  This is such a delightful and deliciously-fresh summer dessert, I find myself returning to it year after year, and so it is on my list of Foolproof Favorites from Famous Chefs.  The Barefoot Contessa strikes again.

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"I don't believe in 'greatest'.  I believe in favorites." -Steve Vai

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Strawberries with Balsamic Vinegar (Ina Garten)

8 cups fresh strawberries, sliced thick 5 T balsamic vinegar 2 T sugar 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper 2 pints vanilla ice cream for serving freshly grated lemon zest for serving

Thirty minutes to an hour before serving, combine strawberries, vinegar, sugar and pepper in a bowl.  Set aside at room temperature. Place a serving of strawberries in a bowl with a scoop of ice cream on top and dust lightly with lemon zest.

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