When Bill Cooks

How French Food Ruined My Favorite Gray Sleeveless V-Neck Shirt

Yes, I'm blaming French food for ruining my shirt.  I suppose another way you could look at it is that my sloppy eating ruined the shirt, but I don't choose to look at it that way, and I suggest you refrain as well.

Anyway.  What's all this about?

Well, yesterday Bill spent most of the day preparing dinner.  Really.  He started things off by making a demi-glace from some beef stock I'd made some time ago.  Yeah, that's how we spend our weekends, whipping up demi-glace and putting frilly white paper decorations on chicken legs.  You know, just like everyone else.  Sorry.  Seriously, though, Bill made a FABULOUS meal yesterday, and what a lovely way it was to end the long weekend.  And it began with the demi-glace.

Actually, let me correct that.  It really began with a wonderful cut of meat commonly known as hanger steak.  We get it from our favorite Asian market.  It's not as popular as things like sirloin and prime rib and filet mignon, in fact, it's been referred to as "the butcher's cut" or "the butcher's tenderloin" because for a while only the butcher knew how wonderfully flavorful and versatile it was.  Anyway, we made fajitas with it for Christmas Eve, and yesterday Bill made Onglet Gascon from Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook.  (Onglet is the French word for this cut.)  And that's what the demi-glace was for.

Bill also made Artichauts Braises a la Provençale from Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1, and Beurre Blanc (we dipped roasted potatoes and the artichokes in this) and Escargot with Julia's Beurre pour Escargots.

Oh, yeah, and all day long, another batch of beef stock simmered away on the stove.

I baked bread.  My contribution to the good smells in the house.

So why the sudden bout of French cooking?  Probably several reasons.  I'll try to list them.

1.  The first time we bought hanger steak, or onglet, and didn't know much about it, Bill pulled out Anthony Bourdain's book, saying "I bet he's got something on it."  And, of course, he did.  We didn't use the recipes that first or second time, but when Tony sang onglet's praises, we listened.  And so this time Bill decided to give one of the Les Halles Cookbook recipes a try.

2.  We watched Julie & Julia Saturday night.  I was going to write a whole post about my unexpectedly emotional response to watching it, but I'm not sure if I feel like it now.  Suffice to say that I had wanted to see this movie mainly to watch all the Julia Child parts.  I've read both books that the movie was based on, and yay for Julie Powell for taking on such an enormous project in the first place – cooking her way through Mastering…, Vol. 1 in one year – but…I grew up watching Julia Child.  The theme songs to her various TV programs were part of the soundtrack of my youth.  She's like family.  Family you don't really visit with all that often, but family that you admire and respect and are secure in the knowledge that they will always, one way or another, be around.  If that makes any sense.  Maybe it doesn't.  Oh well.  Regardless, I was SO looking forward to all the Julia portions of the movie.  I'd heard raves about Meryl Streep, and I remember seeing a preview back before the movie came out, and she WAS Julia.  It was…exciting.  And I knew my mother was going to buy Julie & Julia when it came out on DVD in December, so I figured I'd borrow hers at some point.  But she bought one for me, too, and gave it to me about a week ago.  And we finally watched it Saturday night.  Bill put the kids to bed, and I – wacko that I am – tried to figure out just the right food to nibble on while I watched.  I finally settled on the bizarro combination of hot chocolate and gorgonzola and Triscuits.  Yeah, I know what goes with what.  It didn't matter, though, really, because once the movie started I didn't eat much at all – I wept.  And I sobbed occasionally.  Because I'm, like I said, a wacko.  But it was the little details that did me in.  The moment, right at the beginning of the movie somewhere, when Paul and Julia are walking outside somewhere in Paris, and a couple with a baby carriage passes them, and Julia follows them with a look, and Paul does some little thing – hugs her a bit, or squeezes her hand – something very subtle – and that got me.  Julia had wanted children, and could never have any.  I believe she miscarried once, and was never pregnant again.  The scene later in the movie, when she receives the letter from her sister…oh god, that did me in, too.  Because it was just…well done.  Tasteful.  Brief.  But emotionally overwhelming. 

The other thing that caught me off guard and made the tears flow?  Well, not THE other thing; ONE of THE OTHER THINGS.  ONE of the WAY TOO MANY BECAUSE I'M A WACKO OTHER THINGS.  At some point in the movie Julie and her husband watch the episode of The French Chef where Julia is making omelets, and she says the famous line about having to "have the courage of your convictions" when you go to flip the omelet in the pan.  And then she proceeds to demonstrate the flipping, and some of the omelet lands on the stove, not in the pan.  I said "the courage of your convictions" along with the movie.  I am a goofball.  But that – the black and white tv show….and the theme song, too.  I was yanked back in time to my parents' living room.  Maybe it wasn't emotion.  Maybe I was just queazy from being yanked back in time so much.

Anyway, it was SO well done, the movie.  I will probably watch it again some day, but not until I can double up on my antidepressant meds first.  Enough with the blubbering already!

But you know what?  I think the movie gave me a kick in the butt that I needed.  At first, the kick was more like a mocking voice that said "Julie Powell tackled this huge project and now she's got a book AND a movie out of the whole thing, and WHAT HAVE YOU GOT TO SAY FOR YOURSELF, SLACKER?"  (I'm sure that mocking voice didn't help with the sobbing.)  So I spent the Julie parts sobbing because I've had this blog for years and I'm still just me, and I spent the Julia parts sobbing because it was so sweet and wonderful and Meryl was perfect (and I love Stanley Tucci, too) and it made me incredibly nostalgic.  All in all a really pleasant evening.  By the end, Bill kind of crept off to bed because I am sure he had NO desire to receive an answer to "What's wrong, Jayne?  Why are you crying?"  He wisely did not ask.

But.  The next day all that insane emotional stuff cleared (and I had skiing to worry about anyway, so there was no room left to be emotional – I needed to get my game face on.  Or whatever the kids are saying these days.) and by Monday, I was…lots better.  And once Bill started reducing beef stock and making the demi-glace, and the house filled with gorgeous food smells, I was back to one of my old selves.  The food self.  I guess this marks the end of my post-Christmas food-blogging slump.  Maybe next year I should REMEMBER this, and just go ahead and plan on two weeks of drivel and then dive back into cooking.  Of course, maybe I should eliminate the drivel that I write much of the other 50 weeks in the year, too.  Just to keep things tidy.

~~~

Okay, well so much for listing lots of reasons for the French cooking yesterday.  I got sidetracked, and actually, I don't think there were a whole lot of other reasons.  Just Tony, Julia, and Julie.

Besides, Bill was the one who created the menu and chose the recipes.  I think he started with a recipe for the hanger steak, and just decided to keep all the rest of the meal from the same country.

Anyway, before I go off on another marathon of a tangent, here are pictures I snapped very quickly last night before we all DOVE into the food….

Oh – and I will say right now, the pictures don't do the food justice.  Not by a long shot.  But I was not in food photographer mode, and I didn't even think to take a picture until I sat down at the table and then I made a mad dash for my camera, yelling "Don't touch anything!" at everyone else, and I snapped off four shots – one of each food.  So my apologies for the lousy images to follow.

First up – Onglet Gascon.  Did I mention this recipe also includes marrow?  It does.  Yum.  Very yum.  Julia liked it, Alex did not.  Not surprising.  The lighter pieces you see on the platter?  That's the marrow.  It's really good smeared on some warm homemade bread.  In case you were wondering.

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Next, the Artichauts Braises a la Provençale.  Artichokes braised in garlic and wine and butter and who knows what else, but all of it's good.  Bill added some sauteed mushrooms at the end, because we had them, and because our Julia – (Julia THE child, not Julia Child) loves mushrooms. 

Alex LOVED these.  He told us artichokes are now his third favorite vegetable.  First is asparagus, second is RAW carrots.  Artichokes are now third.  I don't know which vegetable they knocked down to fourth place.  Maybe pea pods.  Or broccoli.  Or cucumbers.  No idea.  Anyway, we taught the kids how to scrape the flesh from the tougher part of the artichoke leaves, and that the heart is completely tender and no scraping is required.  I think part of the appeal of artichokes, at least in my house, is that you eat them with your hands.  You have to.  And, if you want, you can dip them in some of the beurre blanc as well.  Julia wasn't all that crazy about the artichokes.  She did, however, eat all the mushrooms on her plate.

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These are just roasted potatoes.  I'd cooked up a bunch of small yukon golds a few days ago, just to have on hand, and Bill cut them into wedges, tossed them with some olive oil, salt and pepper, and reheated them in the oven.  No recipe, just yummy stuff.  We figured we could dip them in the beurre blanc, too.  (Pretty much everything would taste good dipped in beurre blanc, with the possible exception of chocolate.  But then, I haven't tried it yet, so I can't be sure.)
 

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Below are the escargot in their own special beurre, and, in the little ramekin off to the left, some of the beurre blanc.  We gave everyone their own little dish of the beurre blanc so that it wouldn't be dripped all over the table.  (And could I possibly type that any more times in this post?  Beurre blanc, beurre blanc, beurre blanc.  There.  I think I'm done now.)

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Oh, and notice all the parsley garnishing every dish?  Bill garnished!  I don't even remember to do that most of the time.  But Bill thinks of these things. 

We all love the snails – the kids have had them before.  We had just a dozen, and I'm sure if another dozen had magically appeared from the kitchen, we would have polished those off tout de suite.

Anyway, dinner was delightful.  Everything was delicious, and well worth all the time and effort Bill put in.  (He would agree.) 

And while Bill was working on dinner, and my bread was in the oven, I was looking through Anthony Bourdain's book, because (appallingly) I hadn't read it yet, not all of it, and I was mostly just reading the intros and his little notes here and there.  And all through it, I felt…happy.  Not happy, that's too flimsy a word.  More like…excited.  Joyful.  Ambitious.  The recipes are not hard.  But some of the prep work – like making stock, or making a demi-glace – are time-consuming.  Which might be daunting, but shouldn't be.  It's like making bread.  There is a lot of time involved…but it's not like you have to be actively doing something with the dough every single minute.  A lot of bread making is down time.  Put the ingredients together, knead, put the dough in a bowl, and go do something else for a while.  The bread will work by itself for now; you are not needed.  Same with stock.  Brown your bones and vegetables.  Put them in a pot with water and bring them to a steady simmer, and then – go do something else.  Check back occasionally to make sure the simmer doesn't become a rolling boil…just like you check back on the bread to make sure the dough doesn't rise so high it spills out onto the counter.  But apart from that, you don't need to hover over these things.  And the end results are well worth it.  We made, as I've said before, a TON of stock over the spring and summer, and even now, we've got more beef stock because Bill had a batch of that going while he made dinner.  Nothing is as good as homemade.  Nothing.  Nothing.

Look at me going on and on!  I should have stopped by now – I still have painting to do in Julia's room (because hardly any got done over the weekend) and it's Tuesday so maybe I should do the Tuesdays with Dorie recipe too, and I have other little projects that need my attention as well…but look at me, I'm still babbling on and on.

Oh.  And before I forget.  The title of the post?  Yeah, well, with all this fabulous food for dinner, I thought I should appear at the table in something other than the tee shirt I was wering all day.  Nothing fancy, but just something other than light blue with black lettering.  I don't look good in light blue anyway.  And our fancy dinner – and Bill's efforts – deserved something at least a little better.  That was my thought.  So I went upstairs and found a gray, v-neck, sleeveless shirt I bought at Target at some point in time.  I like it.  It's flattering.  Or at least I like to pretend it is; who knows, maybe it's frightening.  But whatever – it seemed much better than the tee shirt.

And we sat down to our meal (after I took my pictures), and I toasted Bill and thanked him for making such a great meal, and I had my first little garlicky, buttery escargot….

And I think you can guess the rest.  I dripped a bunch of the beurre pour escargots right onto my lovely gray shirt.  And a bit of parsley.  A bit later in the meal, artichoke heading toward my mouth…beurre blanc this time.  Drip drip drip.  I should wear an apron ALL the time.  I'm worse than my kids.  And you know, I tell Alex all the time – Eat over your plate! – because he'll drop food on the floor, or in his lap.  Fine example I am.

So that's that.  The story of last night's dinner.  I'm not posting the recipes.  For one thing, I need to paint.  I really, really do.  I'm sick of paint cans in the bathroom and brushes soaking in the sink.  And blue tape on the floor.  I need to bring THAT chapter to a close, finally.  If you're absolutely desperate for a recipe, email me, and I'll get back to you.  Or – buy the books.  I cannot recommend Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook enough, not just because the recipes are amazingly good, but because I love how he writes.  And I love that the snarky tone of voice thinly covers a huge love of good food and a huge respect for the people who are just as passionate about it as he is.  Some people probably watch his show on tv because they love the sarcasm.  I watch because I love the respect he shows for people everywhere who open their homes and hearths and share their food with him.  Whether he likes the food or not, he is always respectful and gracious and grateful.  THAT is why I watch his show. 

I just need to not let Julia read the book until she's older.  Language, you know.

Gotta go.  Julia just said her belly is sad.  "It doesn't have any food to eat!"

We can't have that!

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