Friday, April 3, 2009

Child-ish Cooking Project

It was Thursday morning, slightly before 11am. I was in my kitchen. I hadn't yet showered, or brushed my teeth, or combed my hair. There was a bottle of vermouth in my hand. It sounds like I was heading for a nervous breakdown, but in reality I was battling with a recipe from Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”.

I would have never considered such a thing on my own, but my book club will be discussing Julie Powell’s “Julie and Julia” this month. They’ve decided to combine this discussion with a pot luck. I say "they’ve" decided because I was away when this decision was made. Had I been there I’m not sure I would have agreed. I like cooking, but cooking for potlucks stresses me out. Particularly when the other participants, like those in my book club, are such amazing cooks. And even more particularly when the cooking involves Julia Child.

Julia Child scares me. Not her cooking, the woman herself. I’m not sure why. I can’t say that I know much about her, but I do remember seeing this big, loud, boisterous woman on television as a child and being terrified of her. OK, maybe not terrified, but definitely overwhelmed. As a result, I’ve avoided all things Child-esque. Until now.

Given my feelings about Julia Child, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed “Julie and Julia”. Inspired by Powell, I borrowed “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” from the library. My idea was to find a recipe for the upcoming potluck. I don’t know if this was what the potluck's planners had in mind, as I said, I missed that meeting, but I figured that if Powell could cook every recipe in the cookbook, I could try one recipe for the book club.

Like Powell, I started with Potage Parmentier. It turned out remarkably well. A promising start considering my Julia-aversion, but not a recipe I wanted to use for the potluck. I was hoping for something more portable. My mom once had a potato-soup coat. As a child I thought it was a coat that you wore when you ate potato soup, much like you would wear an evening gown for an evening event. It turns out that the coat was known as the potato-soup coat because my aunt spilled potato soup on it. I really didn’t want my Toyota to be known as the Potage-Parmentier car.

Further investigation of the cookbook provided few alternatives. The dietary restrictions of the group, another reason I find cooking for potlucks so stressful, immediately eliminated any recipe with meat. Ditto for recipes with cheese and dairy. And almonds. Eventually I wound up in the vegetable chapter, where I found Champignons Farcis. Bingo. The instructions were fairly straight-forward, and the ingredients were fairly ordinary for a cookbook with recipes that require sweetbreads and brains and calf's feet. Oh my. Still, hubby suggested a trial run for our sanity, and because he likes stuffed mushrooms.

I’m glad he did. Even though this recipe is one of the least complicated ones in the book, it is not written in a way that I find intuitive. None of Child’s recipes are. I was determined to follow the directions exactly even though at one point you’re asked to “saute as in the preceding duxelles recipe"…okaaay…except I found the instructions for sauteing duxelles to be fairly vague. Still, I read the recipes several times, bought my ingredients and figured I had everything under control. Then I started cooking.

It wasn’t until I was partway into the recipe that I realized that I didn’t actually have all the ingredients. I had purposely omitted the Swiss cheese, as hubby isn’t fond of Swiss cheese, but I had also forgotten to pick up whipping cream. As I stood in the kitchen trying to determine whether yogurt or skim milk would be the better substitute, I remembered that dairy was on the no-go list for the book club. In trying to find an brain-free, hoof-free, nut-free recipe for the group I had completely forgotten that. Damn. I went with yogurt, substituted cheddar for the Swiss cheese, and noticed that the veggies sautéing in my frying pan weren’t looking at all like I imagined duxelles should. At that point I decided to add the optional Madeira, though I didn’t have any Madeira in the house. I was pretty sure Child had mentioned vermouth as a substitute for wine. I just wasn’t sure what type of wine you could substitute vermouth for, and I didn’t have the time or the patience to check. In went the vermouth.

I still wasn’t sure about the duxelles-like quality of the veggies, but at this point I had already strayed so far from the recipe that I was sure it didn’t matter. Mushroom stuffing commenced.

I had intended to prep the mushrooms up to the point where they went in the oven, then set them aside to bake later. I wanted to see ho
w they held up to sitting in the fridge prior to baking, as this is what I planned to do for the potluck. So much for intentions. Although my kitchen looked like a disaster area, the mushrooms looked and smelled so good that I baked them right away. What was supposed to be our dinner became our lunch. And they were good. Too bad they won't work for the potluck after all. Riz Duxelles looks pretty safe, and I'd only need to refer to three recipes to make it. I see another morning of experimenting in my kitchen. At least I have some duxelles experience under my belt. Bring on the vermouth!


  1. Oh, Lordy, what an adventure you had! "I'd only need to refer to three recipes to make it." Ha! That sounds like me when I'm experimenting in the kitchen. When I'm cooking like that, I usually have a pretty good idea of what I'm hoping to accomplish, so it doesn't feel scary--it's fun! I'll be cross-referencing recipes this weekend to make a buttermilk pie with fresh strawberries. I'm SO excited about it!

  2. I often cook with multiple recipes, but it's certainly more fun when it's my choice. I had to copy recipes and pass Child's book along to the next person. It took 8 pages from the book to get the info I need for one dish. Crazy.

    I will be lurking at your site, anxiously awaiting the recipe for buttermilk pie with fresh strawberries.


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