Thursday, August 27, 2009

Servantless, but not without helpful and hungry friends

This is my final Julia Child-related post, I swear. But I have to say, you know you've made a successful dinner when people clean their plates and even go back for seconds while sitting at a table in the same room as an oven that's been blazing at 350 degrees for more than two hours.

And the air conditioner can't catch up because the temperature outside has been over 100 all afternoon.

And sweat is running down the backs of knees and necks.

Still, we reached for more. More boiled potatoes topped with rib-sticking boeuf bourguignon made from "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." More caesar salad. More roasted green beans. More gâteau reine de saba (Queen of Sheba cake!). It was that good.

The secret, as we found, is a team of three who know their way around a kitchen. Our team:

Sara — An epicure whose 10 years in France afforded us proper pronunciations of the food before us.

Melissa — Another world traveler with a keen ability for pastry creation and frosting.

Me — Well, it was my kitchen. Someone had to point to where the tongs are kept.

Being servantless, and also otherwise engaged during business hours, we baked the cake the night before. Along the way, we discovered that what they say about beating egg whites in a completely dry, clean bowl is absolutely true. Do not try to get around this. The egg whites can tell, and they will refuse to become foamy or peaked and certainly not stiff.

I don't know about the rest of our dinner party of five, but my favorite part of the boeuf bourguignon by far was the onions. A little extra love before dumping them in with the rest of the stew really paid off.

And speaking of love, we coddled the egg for the caesar dressing as called for by the recipe and as called for by our own understanding of coddling. This additional step was crucial to its flavor, I'm sure.

After all this affection and effort for our dinner in an overheated kitchen/dining room, there was nothing to do but leave the house and hope for a breeze as we walked down the block to 7-Eleven for Slurpees. Then, of course, we were ready for cake.

Reine de Saba
Adapted from Julia Child's "The Way to Cook" as reprinted in The Boston Globe, who you'd expect to spell "Sheba" correctly


3 ounces sweet baking chocolate, chopped
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate, chopped
2 tablespoons strong coffee
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces and softened
1/2 cup sugar
3 large egg yolks
3 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1/3 cup blanched almonds pulverized with 2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup plain bleached cake flour, in a sifter set on wax paper

Set the oven at 325 degrees. Set the rack in the lower middle level. Butter and flour an 8-inch by 1 1/2-inch round cake pan.
In a double boiler or bowl set over a pan of 2 or 3 inches of water, combine the sweet and unsweetened chocolates with the coffee. Bring water to a simmer, cover and let chocolate melt, stirring until smooth. Turn off the heat.
In a 3-quart mixing bowl, use a hand-held electric mixer to cream the butter until soft and fluffy, then add the 1/2 cup sugar. Beat 1 minute, then beat in the yolks.
In another mixing bowl, beat the whites until foaming, beat in the cream of tartar and salt and continue beating until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in the 2 tablespoons of sugar and continue beating until stiff, shining peaks form.
Blend the warm melted chocolate into the yolk mixture, then blend in the almonds and almond extract. Stir a quarter of the egg whites into the chocolate to lighten it. Scoop the rest of the whites over the chocolate and, alternating with sprinkles of the flour, rapidly and delicately fold in the whites.
Immediately turn the batter into the prepared pan, tilting it in all directions to run it up to the rim, and set it in the oven.
Bake for 25 minutes or until the cake has puffed to the top of the pan and a toothpick plunged into it 2 and 3 inches from the edges comes out clean. (The center should move slightly when the pan is gently shaken.)
Remove the pan to a rack and let it cool for 15 minutes, then unmold onto the rack. Let it cool completely, at least 2 hours, before storing or icing.


2 ounces sweet chocolate, chopped
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons rum or strong coffee
Pinch of salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

In a double boiler or bowl set over a pan of 2 or 3 inches of water, combine both chocolates with the rum or coffee, bring water to a simmer, cover and let chocolate melt, stirring until smooth. Turn off the heat.
Using an electric hand mixer, beat the salt into the melted chocolate, then beat in the butter 1 tablespoon at a time. Continue beating over cold water until icing is firm enough to spread. Turn the icing onto the top of the cake and spread it evenly over the top and sides.
Adorn with toasted sliced almonds.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Barbacoa-powered menu planning

I can't recall if I've ever paid to see the same movie twice in the theater. And I know I've never sat in the dark to see the same movie three times. Until yesterday, when I saw "Julie & Julia" again — but each time I've gone with new companions, so I think they each count as totally different experiences. Right? After three viewings, I have to say some scenes are irrefutable winners, and they tend to be Julia's, not Julie's — like an enraptured description of beurre blanc or a pair of very tall sisters commenting in front of a mirror, "Pretty good. But not great."

Scenes like these often upstage the food — even screen-dominating shots of sole meunière and boeuf bourguignon — as I think they should. But the one dish I couldn't get out of my head was a chocolate cake with sliced almonds layered like shingles all around the sides. Into the kitchen! But first, I'd need a recipe.

My friend Sara reports that during a visit to Alabama last week she couldn't find a single copy of "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." And I just got off the phone with someone at BookPeople, where they have only four copies, but they're all on hold. I could put my name on a list, the guy said, but I'd be ordering the movie tie-in version, not the one with the more classic cover.

So, off to start googling. Sara and I might even turn this into an entire French feast. But even recipe searching and meal planning requires sustenance. Mine came from El Taquito, a spot so in demand it's closed for only two hours overnight on the weekends. When buying barbacoa by the pound, I think it's a good idea to go with the place where someone — a late-night customer, I'm guessing — has scratched "100% mexicano" into a tabletop.