The first thing I cooked from â€œMastering the Art of French Cooking” was Quiche Lorraine. I was ten, my mother had just bought the book, it was either hers or my father's birthday, and I'd invited some of their friends over for dinner. It became a joke, of course: the precocious young French chef, the otherâ€”miniatureâ€”Julia. The following Christmas, my uncle, who owned a shop with a then-revolutionary gourmet kitchenware department, gave me a white porcelain quiche dish that I still use.
I didn't mind the teasing. For one thing, I knew that the birthday party guests had likely never tasted a proper quiche before, and now they had. Until Julia Child pretty much single-handedly changed the American culinary landscape, few of usâ€”of any ageâ€”had tasted most of what was in the book, unless it had been on a â€œGrand Tour” or in New York, at places like La Cote Basque or Lutece. Just a year or two earlier, the Betty Crocker cookbook for kids had been my Bible; the menu it suggested for Mother's Day menu featured baked Spam.
I hadâ€”and still haveâ€”no interest in plowing through every recipe of â€œMastering” like the now famous Julie (though I would not have minded her book sales!). Instead, I mastered a few dozen dishes that now serve as touchstones for the various eras of my life. In college at Georgetown, I made my roommates and their beaux grown-up dinner party food like filets with bÃ©arnaise sauceâ€”often placing the filet, as Julia suggested, atop an artichoke bottom, an addition that transformed it into the far more glamorous Tournedos Henri IV. I enhanced my own seductions with desserts of Mousse a l'Orange in scooped-out halves of orangesâ€”â€œa becoming way to served this delicate mousse”â€”and picnic baskets that included cold Poulet Roti and asparagus with Sauce Alsacienne.
I made (and make) Veal Marengo for big casual dinners and Galettes aux Fromages for cocktail parties, and my friend Jon Meacham still begs for the Petit Pois Frais a la Francais (peas braised with lettuce and onions) that always accompanied the leg of lamb on my Manhattan dinner table. At my Mississippi Delta wedding reception, Mousseline de Volaille, a chicken mousse enriched with foie gras, was on the menu.
Over the years, I bought all of Julia's other books tooâ€”the split pea soup in â€œThe Way to Cook,” made with the remains of a ham, is perfect example of how something so seemingly pedestrian can be made transcendent with the right teacher.
Her editor-for-life, Judith Jones, told me that Julia hated the steady stream of vulgarity in Julie's blog, but she was no prude, as a chatty new biography demonstrates. â€œDearie” by Bob Spitz, is out just in time for Julia's 100th, and focuses on her loving marriage and transformation from klutzy bride to America's most beloved culinary authority. I highly recommend it, along with the two-volume set of â€œMastering” and the other Julia titles at Books & Books: â€œThe Way to Cook,” â€œMy Life in France,” â€œJulia's Kitchen Wisdom,” and, if I may be so bold, my own â€œHam Biscuits, Hostess Gowns, and Other Southern Specialties.” I also recommend the Sauce Alsacienne, see recipe below, that was part of my aforementioned picnic seductions. It is especially wonderful on cold asparagus or artichokes and grilled, sautÃ©ed, or poached fish.
Makes about 2 cups
Adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume One
1 Tb Dijon mustard
½ tsp salt
1 Tb wine vinegar or lemon juice
1 cup old (Wesson, canola, or safflower)
¼ cup whipping cream, sour cream, chicken or fish stock
1½ Tb finely minced shallot or green onions
1½ Tb capers
3 to 4 Tb minced parsley, tarragon, basic, etc; or dill only
The soft –boiled egg whites, chopped or sieved
Boil the eggs for 3 minutes (3½ if they are chilled). Place the yolks in a mixing bowl and put the whitesâ€”which should be just setâ€”aside. Proceed as for making mayonnaise, beating the yolks until they are sticky and thick, then beating in the mustard, salt, and vinegar or lemon juice. Finally, beat in the oil, drop by drop at first, until at least 1/3 of a cup has been incorporated. Then you may beat in the rest by one to two tablespoon dollops, mixing thoroughly after each addition.
Gradually beat the additional liquid into the sauce. Beat in the rest of the ingredients. Season to taste.