Posts Tagged ‘Cordon Bleu’

Jesse Kornbluth, of HeadButler.com, would happily serve you a dinner cooked by Alex Hitz.

My quick way to figure out if a cookbook is worth writing about here is to leave it on my wife’s desk for a few days. Then I count how many pages have been turned down. This year’s record has been set by Alex Hitz’s book — really, it would probably have been simpler if she’d applied reverse logic and only turned down the pages with recipes she doesn’t want to try.

It’s not hard to see why.

“Always keep it simple, and give people what they want—comfort food, nothing trendy or pretentious,” Hitz says. “Save the test tubes for another time.”

Ah, comfort food. Like, if you live in New York, the late lamented Mortimer’s or its successor, Swifty’s. Like Sunday lunch at the WASP country club in your town. Like a lot of the dishes you find in Park Avenue Potluck. Only, as I say, more and better. [To buy the book from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]

Cheese straws with just two ingredients. A dip of hot artichoke custard. Shrimp bisque. Spinach soufflé. Twice-baked potatoes. Corn pudding. Chicken country captain. Billionaire’s meatloaf. Salted caramel cake. Strawberry cobbler.

And the thing is, this is not an aspirational strategy for Hitz. He came from Atlanta, where there was Coca Cola money in the family and his mother was married to the orchestra conductor Robert Shaw. At home, the family cook produced legendary meals for visiting dignitaries; whenever Alex had a few days off from school, his mother took him to Paris. He liked the kitchen life, so he trained at Le Cordon Bleu and owned a restaurant in Atlanta before stints as a Broadway producer, real estate developer and clothing designer. Realizing that he “missed the kitchen,” he began giving dinner parties in Los Angeles. Now, at 43, he sells prepared frozen meals at his web site and is the toast of hostesses in New York and Los Angeles.

Every society matron of a certain age seems to be besotted by Alex Hitz . (Nancy Reagan: “Alex Hitz is the most elegant host and young man with old-world taste and charm.”) That isn’t usually a good sign. The good news is that he’s not at all stuffy — he believes in good manners, but he believes, even more, in amping up the liveliness level.

I like this book as much for its sound advice as for its recipes. Consider:

— The cookbook I use the most is still Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking: Volume 1. It’s based on her experience at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. I think it is so much better than their books — and they are really great.

— Never skimp on ingredients: Always buy the best you can afford. I did not say the most expensive — I said the best. Learn to tell the difference.

— Always use salted butter, not margarine. Sneering purists will have you believe that if you use unsalted butter, you might better control the salt in a dish. The result inevitably ends up tasteless and needing salt. That’s why I like Land O’Lakes, the salted butter I grew up on.

— My favorite Dijon mustard is Maille. Do yourself a favor and find it!

— Homemade stocks are always best, but if you don’t have time to make them, organic bases are perfectly acceptable..

— Buy the best cookware you can afford. I like All-Clad and Le Creuset, which is enameled.

— Throw away cheap baking sheets — they burn food. Buy heavy stainless-steel ones.

Buy excellent chef knives, like Wüsthof or Henckels.

— Buy a large KitchenAid mixer, a food processor and a scale.

And finally… Taste everything as you are cooking.

Some sample recipes….

Heirloom tomato pie

Makes 8 to 10 servings

2 pounds mixed heirloom tomatoes
1 1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
2 tablespoons salted butter
1 onion, halved, then sliced thin
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup fresh basil leaves, firmly packed
3 sprigs fresh parsley
1 medium shallot, peeled
1 green onion, whole
1 cup grated Gruyere cheese, firmly packed
1 cup grated sharp Cheddar cheese, firmly packed
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese, divided
Basic pie crust (JK: feel free to get a frozen one)
1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper

Slice the tomatoes into 1/4-inch-thick slices and place them on a rack to drain.

Sprinkle the tomatoes on both sides with ¾ teaspoon salt, 1 ½ teaspoons total. Let them drain on the rack for at least an hour to remove the unwanted water.

When the tomatoes have finished draining, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

In a heavy skillet over medium-high heat, melt the butter. When the foaming has subsided, add the onions and sauté them for a couple of minutes, until they are slightly soft, and then add the minced garlic. Continue to sauté the onions and garlic until they are translucent, 10 to 12 minutes.

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade, combine the mayonnaise, basil leaves, parsley, shallot and green onion, and process them until the mixture is green and smooth, approximately 1 minute.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the mayonnaise mixture with the Gruyere, Cheddar and ½ cup of the Parmesan cheese and stir to mix thoroughly.

Spread the cheese mixture evenly over the cooled pastry crust.

Place the sautéed onion and garlic evenly on top of the cheese mixture, and then arrange the drained tomatoes in a pretty pattern on top.

Sprinkle with the remaining 1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese and the black pepper, and bake the pie for 50 to 60 minutes.

Let the heirloom tomato pie rest for at least 30 minutes before cutting, and serve it warm, at room temperature, or cold with additional basil mayonnaise, some of which you will have left over if you made your own!

Strawberry Cobbler

serves 8 to 10

2 sticks salted butter, melted
2 cups whole strawberries, stemmed (frozen berries are fine)
2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
2 cups milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Pour the melted butter into a 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking dish, and add the strawberries.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flow, baking soda, salt and sugar, and slowly add the milk, whisking it until it is smooth.

Pour the batter over the fruit and bake for 45 minutes, until it’s more than golden brown. Set. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.

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Jesse Kornbluth, of HeadButler.com, jealous of friends who have jetted off to Paris and wishing he could have dinner with Julia Child — even on her 100th-if-she-were-alive birthday.

As we note what would have been Julia Child’s hundredth birthday, it strikes me that most Americans who know her as someone who had something to do with food probably think of her as … Meryl Streep.

There are worse fates.

Like the image that Julia Child had before Nora Ephron made the film that burnished her eccentricities, back when she taught her fellow citizens the joy of French cooking on public television — a frowsy, big-boned (6’2″, 158 pounds) matron with a trill in her voice, hacking up a chicken with more zest than is called for, most likely because she’s been chugging the cooking sherry.

My favorite way of considering Julia Child — the Julia Child of “My Life in France” — was a revolutionary. Not intentionally. She just had the great good fortune to find herself living in Paris with no job and nothing more compelling than a tentative interest in cooking. She signed up for classes at Cordon Bleu, got hooked, and with two friends was soon working on a book we now take for granted but was then unimagined — an authoritative guide to French cooking for Americans.

Published 40 years ago, ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume One’ has never gone out of print. It never will. It is the gold standard. [To buy the cookbook from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]

Julia Child died in 2004. Of her 11 books, none was a memoir. But she kept scribbles and letters, and at the end of her life, she began to shape this book with her grandnephew. Like almost everything she touched, ‘My Life in France’ is a triumph — insightful, poetic, deadly accurate about people, and, above all, tasty. Reading it, you breathe French air. [To buy the paperback from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]

Nothing in her early life would have predicted that Julia Child would become formidable in any way. Her father was a conservative Southern California businessman; her mother was “warm and social.” After college came World War II and government work in Ceylon. There she met Paul Child, an artist who designed ‘war rooms’ for the generals. The first meal she cooked for him — brains simmered in red wine — was not a success. Still, they married, and, in 1948, moved to France. She was 36. She didn’t speak a word of French.

Her first meal, in Rouen, started with oysters, served with a pale rye bread and unsalted butter. They were followed by sole meuniere, “perfectly browned in a sputtering butter sauce with a sprinkling of chopped parsley.” Mr. and Mrs. Child washed it down with a bottle of Pouilly-Fume. They moved on to a green salad and a baguette, fromage blanc and cafe filtre. “Absolute perfection,” Julia decided. “The most exciting meal of my life.”

Fortunately, the Childs were not rich — two-star restaurants were the best they could afford in Paris. But Julia was reading cookbooks, making friends in the food markets, falling in love with Paris. At Cordon Bleu, her classmates were 11 former American servicemen who were studying courtesy of the GI Bill of Rights. She went right to the head of the class.

To read this book is to peer over her shoulder and learn with her. Scrambled eggs, for example. They are not whipped, just gently blended. Smear the pan with butter, add the eggs, salt and pepper, cook over a low flame. After about three minutes, the eggs will start to form a custard. Only then do you stir rapidly with a fork, sliding the pan on and off the burner. Pull the egg curds together — and, finally, add more butter, to “stop the cooking.” Sprinkle with parsley (or not). Serve. Dazzle.

The real revelations in this book are not about food, however — they’re about work. There’s a lot of it involved in the creation of a book, especially when you’re creating something new. “WHY DID WE EVER DECIDE TO DO THIS ANYWAY?” Julia writes to one of her collaborators. But after eight years, the thing is done. And Knopf offers to buy it for $1,500. The galleys weigh 15 pounds. When printed, it is 732 pages long.

In 1961, when ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking’ was published, Paul Child was 59 years old. Julia was 49. They had no expectations of a bestseller, much less a franchise. But the New York Times raved — the recipes are “painstakingly edited and written as if each were a masterpiece, and most of them are” — and the appearance on the “Today” show went well. The book sold and sold. In 1962, Julia taped three half-hour shows for WGBH, the public TV station in Boston. By the following year, she had taped 26 more.

But this is not a celebrity memoir. This book is called “My Life in France” for a reason — it is there that Julia and Paul feel most fully alive. Paul’s photographs deliver the country in delicious slivers. The passages at their home in the South of France lift off the page and surround you. You inhale lavender. You feel the breeze. In the distance is the smell of lamb cooking in herbs. There is laughter, and wit, and, most of all, blessed silence. If this is not a description of Heaven, what is?

Paul takes ill and dies. Julia soldiers on. She understands — you have to keep grabbing life. Food and love and very shrewd French friends have taught her well: “Nothing is too much trouble if it turns out the way it should.”

The book ends this way: “The pleasures of the table, and of life, are infinite — toujours bon appetit!” As you read these words, you finally get it — this is not a book about food, this is a book about life. A wise life, a life of beauty, art and invention. You can learn a lot from a life like that.

Start with this book.

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