Today is Julia Child’s birthday. So, in celebration of Julia’s birthday my friend and I cooked a complete dinner from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Each of us received a copy of the cookbook for Christmas last year, but neither of us had cooked from it yet, and it was definitely time to do so. We chose three recipes, an entrée, a vegetable, and a dessert and prepared them exactly as Julia instructed. The meal was fantastic and I have a feeling I will be getting requests for this dinner again very soon, as well as encouragement to continue trying recipes from Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
For the main course we decided to make Poulet en Cocotte Bonne Femme (or Casserole-roasted Chicken with Bacon, Onions, and Potatoes). This is not what we think of casseroles of today, but it is excellent. The dish is more similar to a roasted chicken and vegetable dinner, but put together a bit different. Julia calls for boiling the bacon, onions, and potatoes each separately. Then you brown the bacon in a skillet and remove it, then brown the whole, trussed chicken in the skillet on all sides and remove it, and finally coat the potatoes in butter in the same skillet. Once all that is complete you move the potatoes to the sides of the skillet, place the chicken back in, then add in the onions, bacon, and an herb bouquet. Then you cover and bake it.
It was definitely easier and faster to make with another person. Had I done it alone I think it would have taken all afternoon. Instead it took about an hour just to get it into the oven (including cutting the bacon, peeling the many tiny onions, and slicing the potatoes). Next time I will be sure to brown the chicken a bit more to ensure crispness. With so many ingredients in the skillet the chicken does not get brown in the oven, but rather steams a bit. This does help it retain moisture. The chicken was juicy and tender and the potatoes and onions soaked up the juices released by the chicken. This dish is definitely worth the time and effort.
I like green vegetables with my meals, so we decided to make Petits Pois Frais a l’Anglaise (Buttered Peas) as a side dish. I bought peas fresh shelling peas from the Farmers’ Market in the morning. They were tiny, sweet, and tender with out any cooking. This dish is definitely about the quality of the ingredient. After all, you just boil the peas in salted water, drain, then sauté them a bit to evaporate any residual water. Salt and pepper the fresh peas and add butter.
Finally, for the dessert we made Clafouti (Cherry Flan). I had never made a clafouti, but it is a breeze to make (besides pitting the cherries). Essentially you prep your fruit and then make a simple batter. Pour the batter in a buttered baking dish and top with fruit, and then bake. If you’ve never had clafouti it’s sort of like a bready custard rather than a true flan. My husband likened the taste and texture to a bread pudding. We ended up making two — one cherry and one blueberry. Both were excellent. Julia offers many clafouti variations in Mastering the Art of French Cooking using different fruits and sometimes soaking those fruits in liquors. I definitely plan on making some variations. A friend of mine made a pear clafouti last year and it was divine.
The dinner was a success and I hope to continue cooking recipes from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It’s a great way to spend a day with friends and family, and the reward for all the hard work is delicious. So, get a copy of the cookbook if you don’t have it, or check it out from your local library, and plan a dinner soon.