Thursday, August 16, 2012

Cooking with Julia on her 100th Birthday

Yesterday, we had the great pleasure to commemorate the one, the only American female culinary legend, Julia Child.  Our favorite queen of butter would've been 100 years old yesterday and many honored her in a special way - some by shouting her out on social media (even Google had their own Julia homepage icon), others by watching the recent Julie & Julia flick, while some chose to give their kudos by eating (or in our case cooking) her decadent foods.  Hello butter!

The ladies in my family including my mother-in-law, Vicki and sister-in-law Diana paid homage to Julia by taking a Julia-themed class last night at Sur la Table.  A special menu was devised in Julia's honor to highlight her impeccable cooking skills and the many fabulous ways she used simple ingredients such as eggs, butter, cream, cheese and of course chocolate.  We enjoyed the class immensely, forming quite a collaborative team, and the best part of course was eating everything at the end.  Here's a little more about our experience, including a delicious recipe, courtesy of Sur la Table.

Class Format:
Even though we had little individual stations set up, I liked that we were truly collaborative and cooked up front with Chef Nikki.  Forming teams of three, which was perfect for our trio, we followed the instructions of each recipe together, with Chef Nikki explaining each step and giving us helpful hints along the way.

Though I appreciated the trusty chef's assistants who helped to clean up after anything we did, I thought it was a bit unrealistic.  I actually like the mess you make and appreciate the humbling task of cleaning up, as that's really what you'd get when cooking at home.

While everything was cooking up, we got to shop at the Sur la Table store, which was just upstairs and then returned to feast on our very French meal.  The only thing that was missing for me was a fresh baguette to soak up all the saucy things we made and a full glass of wine.  Otherwise, it was perfection.

Class Menu:
We found all of Julia's quintessential dishes on the menu including a cheese souffle, scallops
gratinee, asparagus with hollandaise, and a mousseline au chocolate (aka chocolate mousse).  I have to admit that I was a little worried that my sensitive tummy wouldn't handle all that butter and cream, but because we kept the portions conservative, all was fine.

Scallops Gratinee - Since all three of us adore scallops, we were psyched to make this dish.  The scallops looked relatively large, but reduced quite a bit in size after we poached them in a lovely shallot, vermouth and bayleaf bath.  We made our own veloute sauce to pour on top, which definitely involved a lot of care and attention, also incorporating the poaching liquid from our scallops.  All those flavors mixed together created the most luxurious combination of a velvety, cheesy goodness that went perfectly with the scallops.  Because they reduced in size, they seemed a bit slight, and I would've liked to have the dish full of more seafood (even a side of fish to add).

Cheese Souffle - I love me some souffle, but never really make it at home due to its touchy temperament.  To form the base for this, we made a homemade bechamel sauce, which I have experience with from making Emeril's 4 cheese mac 'n cheese.  Something different was that we seasoned it with paprika and nutmeg, which added a nice hint of flavor to something otherwise bland.  Once mixed in with the fluffy egg whites, which Chef Nikki showed us how to correctly fold in, the souffles were ready to be baked off into light, fluffy clouds.  After they came out and were served immediately, which is very important, we relished in their airiness and tang, which came from the grated Swiss cheese.  I can confidently say that it was the best cheese souffle I've ever had.

Asparagus with Hollandaise - A very simple but still sophisticated side dish, we were taught how to cut our asparagus and tie it in cute little bundles, which were not long after cooked in boiling water for just a few minutes.  The homemade hollandaise sauce served as the topper to this, and was way better than what I'm used to eating during the occasional brunch.  While we separated into groups (one of the groups making the hollandaise by hand, while ours made it with an electric mixer), they both came out very smooth and quite consistent.  I thought that the mixer was an especially effective tool, as it didn't leave much room for mistakes.  While I wouldn't normally make a hollandaise at home, I now may, and will certainly use a mixer to help!

Chocolate Mousse - What would a Julia dinner be without a rich dessert?!  Delighted to hear that we'd be making a chocolate mousse with espresso and orange liqueor, I was ready to learn--especially since my previous attempts at a chocolate mousse weren't successful.   It was interesting to see that the process here was very similar to the cheese souffle, only substituting with sweet ingredients of course.  The end result was fabulous and the espresso and the orange liquor really added intrigue and a pop in flavor that you wouldn't get by just plain old chocolate.  

A Julia Recipe!  Easy Hollandaise Sauce (made in an electric blender)
Courtesy of Sur la Table

3 egg yolks
1/4 tsp salt
Pinch of pepper
1-2 tbs of lemon juice
4 oz or 1 stick of butter

A towel if you don't have a splatterproof blender jar


Place egg yolks, seasonings and 1 tbs of lemon juice in the blender.  You can beat in more when the sauce is done and will know what portions you like for the next time.
Cut the butter into pieces and heat it to foaming hot in a small saucepan.

Cover the jar and blend the egg yolk mixture at top speed for 2 minutes.  Uncover and still blending at top speed, immediately start pouring on the hot butter in a thin stream of droplets (you may need to protect yourself with a towel during this operation).  By the time two thirds of the butter has gone in, the sauce will be a thick cream.  Omit the milky residue at the bottom of the butter pan.  Taste the sauce, and blend in more seasonings if necessary.

If not used immediately, set the jar in tepid, but not warm water.

Happy birthday Julia!  We miss you.

If you're interested in taking a future Sur la Table cooking class, do check out their class schedule.  

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