A Classic A la Julia

By Nancy McKeon and Stephanie Witt Sedgwick
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, October 8, 1997; Page E01

Most of us know who Julia Child has become -- and who we have become because of her. She's the reason we can buy leeks in our supermarkets. But back in 1961 she was this pleasant, singular-looking American woman who had been posted to France with her husband in 1948, became obsessed with the taste of French food and spent a decade collaborating with two Frenchwomen, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck, on a book that would show Americans how to cook in the French manner using the appliances available in modern American kitchens.

The dishes in that first book, "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," published in '61, were organized to let "the servantless American cook" make things in advance so hosts could enjoy dinner parties with their guests. Servantless Americans signed right up, and by the 1970s were competitively cooking their way through "Mastering" and "Mastering II," which appeared in 1968.

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Stephanie was cooking from Julia by age 12; Nancy caught up with her as an adult. To mark the publication of "Appetite for Life: The Biography of Julia Child" by Noel Riley Fitch (Doubleday, $25.95), which is already causing a new flood of Juliamania, we thought it would be fun, and instructive, to suggest a dinner-party menu from "Mastering."

We were the ones who wound up being instructed. Our first menu -- real classics like the mustard-coated chicken, the stuffed mushroom caps, classic baked tomatoes -- couldn't be easily done without a double oven. So we changed our meal -- and so may you if you remember to sit down and work out the logistics and the arithmetic every time you put together a party meal.

As for the menu we wound up with, the apple dessert and cheese wafers are prepared in advance. So too the beef Burgundy. Now, as a party dish (meaning that you want it to look and taste special), it requires an extra step in preparing the onions and mushrooms. But, c'mon, it wouldn't be a dinner party if you didn't knock yourself out a bit! In this case, though, you can knock yourself out days before and kick back with your friends on Saturday night. Serve the beef with crusty sourdough bread and follow it with a salad.

As Julia would say, Bon Appetit!


(Cheese Wafers)

(About 50 to 60 wafers)

These featherweight wafers are often made of Swiss cheese, but you can use other cheese. The flour is just enough to hold the galettes together while they bake, but you will probably need more for soft cheeses, and should always bake one as a test.

These may be baked, then frozen, and reheated for 5 minutes or so in a hot oven. From "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" (Knopf, 1961).

1/2 pound (about 2 pressed-down cups) grated Swiss cheese

1/2 pound softened butter

3/4 cup sifted all-purpose flour, more if needed

1/4 teaspoon pepper

Pinch of cayenne pepper

Salt to taste

1 egg beaten with 1/2 teaspoon water in a small bowl

1/4 cup grated Swiss cheese for topping

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Knead all the ingredients together in a bowl or on a board. The mixture will be sticky. Roll a 1-teaspoon bit into a ball in the palms of your hands, then flatten it into a cake 1/4 inch thick. Bake it for 8 to 10 minutes on a lightly buttered baking sheet in a hot oven to observe how it holds together; it should spread slightly, puff slightly, and brown. If it spreads out more than you wish, or is too fragile, knead in 1/4 cup more flour and make another test.

When you are satisfied, form the rest of the dough into cakes and place on baking sheets. Paint the tops with beaten egg and top each with a pinch of grated cheese. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes until the galettes have puffed, and browned slightly. Cool them on a rack.

Per wafer: 52 calories, 2 gm protein, 2 gm carbohydrates, 5 gm fat, 17 mg cholesterol, 3 gm saturated fat, 35 mg sodium


(Beef Stew in Red Wine)

(6 servings)

Carefully done, and perfectly flavored, this is certainly one of the most delicious beef dishes concocted by man. Fortunately you can prepare it completely ahead, even a day in advance, and it only gains in flavor when reheated.

And remember, the better the meat, the better the stew. First choice for this dish would be rump roast, then chuck roast, sirloin tip, top or bottom round.

A 6-ounce chunk of bacon

1 tablespoon olive oil or cooking oil

3 pounds lean stewing beef cut into 2-inch cubes

1 sliced carrot

1 sliced onion

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

2 tablespoons flour

3 cups full-bodied young red wine such as Beaujolais or Co^tes du Rho^ne or Chianti

2 to 3 cups brown beef stock or canned beef bouillon

1 tablespoon tomato paste

2 cloves mashed garlic

1/2 teaspoon thyme

A crumbled bay leaf

18 to 24 Brown-Braised Onions (recipe follows)

1 pound Sauteed Mushrooms (recipe follows)

Parsley sprigs for garnish

Remove the rind from the bacon and cut the bacon into lardons (sticks, 1/4 inch thick and 1 1/2 inches long). Simmer the rind and the lardons for 10 minutes in 1 1/2 quarts water. Drain and dry.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

In a 3-inch deep, 9- or 10-inch flameproof casserole, saute the lardons (reserve the rinds) in the oil over moderate heat for 2 to 3 minutes to brown slightly. Remove to a side dish with a slotted spoon. Reheat casserole until the fat is almost smoking before sauteing the beef.

Dry the beef in paper towels; it will not brown if it is damp. Saute it, a few pieces at a time until nicely browned on all sides. Add it to the lardons.

In the same fat, brown the sliced vegetables. Drain off fat.

Return the beef and bacon to the casserole and toss with the salt and pepper. Then sprinkle with the flour and toss again to coat the beef lightly. Set the casserole, uncovered, in the middle position of the preheated oven for 4 minutes. Toss the meat and return to the oven for 4 minutes more. (This browns the flour and covers the meat with a light crust.) Remove the casserole and reduce heat to 325 degrees.

Stir in the wine and enough stock or bouillon so that the meat is barely covered. Add the tomato paste, garlic, thyme, bay leaf and bacon rind. Bring to a simmer on top of the stove. Then cover the casserole and set it in the lower third of the preheated oven. Regulate the heat so the liquid simmers very slowly for 3 to 4 hours. The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily.

While the beef is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms. Set them aside.

When the meat is tender, pour the contents of the casserole into a sieve set over a saucepan. Discard the bay leaf. Wash out the casserole and return the beef and bacon to it. Distribute the cooked onions and mushrooms over the meat.

Skim the fat from the sauce. Simmer the sauce for 1 or 2 minutes, skimming off additional fat as it rises. There should be about 2 1/2 cups of sauce thick enough to coat a spoon lightly. If too thin, boil it down rapidly. If too thick, mix in a few tablespoons of stock or canned bouillon. Taste carefully for seasoning. Pour over the meat and vegetables.

If serving immediately, cover the casserole and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes, basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce several times, then serve.

If preparing in advance, when cold, cover and refrigerate. About 15 to 20 minutes before serving, bring to a simmer, cover and simmer very slowly for 10 minutes, occasionally spooning the sauce over the meat and vegetables.

Per serving: 822 calories, 57 gm protein, 17 gm carbohydrates, 50 gm fat, 189 mg cholesterol, 18 gm saturated fat, 1261 mg sodium


(6 servings)

18 to 24 fresh white onions about 1 inch in diameter

1 1/2 tablespoons butter

1 1/2 tablespoons oil

1/2 cup brown stock, canned beef bouillon, dry white wine, red wine or water

Salt and pepper to taste

A medium herb bouquet (4 parsley sprigs, 1/2 bay leaf, 1/4 teaspoon thyme) tied in cheesecloth

Peel the onions by dropping them in rapidly boiling water for 5 to 10 seconds, just long enough for their skins to loosen. Drain, then run cold water over them. Trim the tops and bottoms just a bit, then slip off the outside skin and the first onion layer with your fingers. Pierce a cross in the root ends so they will cook evenly without bursting.

When the butter and oil are bubbling in a 9- or 10-inch enameled skillet, add the onions and saute over moderate heat for about 10 minutes, rolling the onions about so they brown as evenly as possible (don't expect uniformity). Be careful not to break their skins.

Pour in the liquid, season to taste and add the herb bouquet. Cover and simmer slowly for 40 to 50 minutes until the onions are perfectly tender but retain their shape and the liquid has evaporated. Remove the herb bouquet.

Per serving: 63 calories, 1 gm protein, 6 gm carbohydrates, 4 gm fat, 5 mg cholesterol, 1 gm saturated fat, 138 mg sodium


(6 servings)

To successfully saute mushrooms the butter must be very hot, the mushrooms must be dry, and they must not be crowded in the pan (you may have to saute in batches).

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon oil

1/2 pound fresh mushrooms, washed, dried, left whole if small

1 to 2 tablespoons minced shallots (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

Place a 10-inch enameled skillet over high heat with the butter and oil. When the butter foam begins to subside, indicating it is hot enough, add the mushrooms. Toss and shake the pan for 4 to 5 minutes. During their saute, the mushrooms will at first absorb the fat. In 2 or 3 minutes the fat will reappear on their surface, and the mushrooms will begin to brown. If using shallots, toss with the mushrooms and saute over moderate heat for about 2 minutes longer. As soon as they have browned lightly, season to taste and remove from the heat.

Per serving: 60 calories, 1 gm protein, 2 gm carbohydrates, 6 gm fat, 10 mg cholesterol, 3 gm saturated fat, 91 mg sodium


(Gratin of Sauteed Apples)

(6 to 8 servings)

This simple apple dessert is always better if prepared the day before.

2 1/2 pounds crisp eating or cooking apples

4 to 5 tablespoons butter

3/4 cup plum jam, forced through a sieve

2 tablespoons rum

4 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup granulated sugar

3 egg yolks

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 cup fresh whole-wheat or rye bread crumbs

2 egg whites

Pinch of salt

1/2 tablespoon granulated sugar

Confectioners' sugar in a shaker

Quarter, core and peel the apples. Cut into 1/4-inch lengthwise slices. You should have about 7 cups.

Saute the apples, one layer at a time, in hot butter in a 10- to 12-inch skillet until they are very lightly browned on both sides and tender, but retain their shape. As they are done, place them in a lightly buttered baking dish, 8 to 9 inches in diameter and 2 inches deep.

Melt the plum jam in the skillet with the rum. Delicately fold into the apples, and smooth the apples in the dish.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Cream the butter and sugar together in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolks, then the flour and cinnamon, and finally the bread crumbs.

Beat the egg whites and salt until soft peaks are formed; sprinkle on the sugar and beat until stiff peaks are formed. Fold the egg whites into the bread-crumb mixture and spread evenly over the apples.

Bake in the middle level of the preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the top has puffed slightly and has just begun to color. Sprinkle liberally with confectioners' sugar and continue baking another 20 to 25 minutes; the top should be a nice golden brown under the sugar.

Allow to cool, then chill, preferably for 24 hours. Serve with whipped cream, if desired.

Per serving: 471 calories, 4 gm protein, 74 gm carbohydrates, 18 gm fat, 148 mg cholesterol, 11 gm saturated fat, 155 mg sodium

© 1997 The Washington Post Company