Posted by: njbrown | August 17, 2009

Memorable meals, and the 40th edition of Mastering…


August 16th – 4:16 a.m.

I got awake and couldn’t get back to sleep. I had taken a friend to see Julie and Julia (my third time in 8 days), and “Time After Time” keeps running through my head, and the food memories just keep tumbling out.

When I think of truly memorable food I have eaten, Julia’s crab quiche stands out. A dear friend from college served it to George and me when we visited her and her new husband in New York in 1972. I don’t think she had done much cooking, but it was wonderful, and I clearly remember the taste of the crab filling and wonderful pastry.

Looking back over 66 years, I don’t remember any notable full meals. I remember a phenomenal Chilean sea bass at the Four Columns Inn in Newfane, Vermont, and I remember the poached peach at the Tour d’Argent in Paris, but the many meals at excellent restaurants over the years have blurred into the haze of memories. The poached peach stands out not because it was fabulous, but because when we finally got to the Tour d’Argent after years of my hearing about it and I asked for their best dessert, what the maitre d’ recommended was the poached peach. Thinking that I should accept his recommendation, we ordered it. I hoped it might have been poached in something exotic, and perhaps stuffed with something lovely, but when it arrived, it was a simple, plain poached peach. Now it was the biggest peach I’ve ever seen, and it was perfect, and probably raised in a hot house, but it wasn’t anything extraordinary. My long-awaited meal was a disappointment.

At the Four Season’s cooking classes after learning to do an omelette, we moved on to artichoke bottoms filled with hollandaise sauce and then to poached pears stuffed with a mixture of honey and walnuts. The pears were poached in red wine. They were truly memorable! Even better are poached pears with mascarpone.

I had never been close to an artichoke before going to the class. I had no idea where to buy them, but a kind lady in the class took pity on me and bought some for me thinking that in the wilds of New Jersey where I lived, they probably would be hard to obtain. Having had an excellent demonstration from the chef, I was able to replicate the dish. I cannot adequately explain the excitement of finding I could do a beautiful omelette, a lovely poached pear, and artichoke bottoms with hollandaise. That was the beauty of learning to cook in your twenties – nothing seemed impossible.

Earlier this week, I made Julia’s boeuf bourguignon (from the French Chef cookbook), and the New England clam chowder, and the cornbread sticks. All came out really well. Over the years, I’d tried to return to cooking only to find that I had “lost my touch,” and didn’t remember how things should look and feel, but this time around – probably having been so inspired by the movie – things are working well.

In the movie, the boeuf bourguignon had carrots that I didn’t remember putting in when I had made it years ago. Sure enough, when my replacement copy of Mastering arrived, it had a carrot and sliced onions as well as the small onions. Julia also had you remove the fat from the completed dish. (And add flour after browning the beef.) So I want to make it again using the original recipe.

The replacement volume turned out to be the 40th anniversary edition, and it is a delight. Julia’s introduction is wonderful, and Judith Jones’ “The Story of ‘Mastering’ at Knopf” is a treasure. There is a long section on the influence of Mastering over the previous 40 years by the who’s who in the culinary world. Julia’s writing at 89 was a clear and humorous as 40 years before. I’m so glad now that I wasn’t able to find my old copy.

Nancy

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