Thursday, August 20, 2009

ME and Julia

Anyone who loves to cook has had a Julia Child moment. The "moment" is the experience that the new movie "Julie & Julia" captures so well. It is the romance, the pure romance of food. Precisely, it is the experience of tasting a dish and falling in love with it, learning how to prepare it and serving the results to someone you love.

After coming home from seeing the film I went to the book shelf to pull out my old copy of "Mastering the Art of French Cooking", a wedding gift from when I was a very young bride many years ago. I was curious to see where the pages would open. The book immediately plopped open to a well worn recipe of Timbales de Foies De Volaille (unmolded Chicken Liver Custards), but I was amused to see that where it read Chicken Livers I had crossed out the words and written Spinach. Apparently I was the Queen of substitutions long before becoming a professional cook.

How would I cook this dish now? I remember the spinach version of long ago was a big hit at a family Christmas dinner. I had a dozen fresh farm eggs purchased on my recent trip to Stone Barns center for Food and Agriculture and I remembered admiring their yellow stemmed swiss chard growing in neat abundant rows. I had a plan.

yellow chard growing in the greenhouse at Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture

Embellishing and trimming Julia's recipe as I saw fit I made a bechamel sauce and added some nutmeg (why not), I trimmed the stems off a bunch of swiss chard and chopped them up with 2 cloves of garlic and sauteed it all in some butter and oil till soft, then added the cleaned chard leaves (roughly chopped) w/ some s & p. I cooked the greens till wilted, then added 1/2 a glass of white wine, cooked that down and then let it cool so the chard would not cook the raw eggs when I blended them together. It was at this point that I remembered how labor intensive this recipe was.

beautiful rainbow colored swiss chard stems

Ok, then I broke 3 eggs and put them in the food processor, added the cooled chard mixture, the bechamel sauce and 6 tablespoons of heavy cream and blended till smooth. Julia recommends ramekins for baking, but, I don't know, ramekins kind of bug me out so I used a faux-copper ring mold which I thought looked cute and retro. I heavily butter the mold, placed it in a pan of (oops forgot to get the water boiling) boiling water, and filled the mold to nearly the top. Ok, my work is done here. Into a 350 degree oven till edges start to brown, for 25 min.

After 40 minutes and still not quite as brown as instructed I pulled the thing out. Very nice. Ran a knife around the edges of the mold and inverted onto a plate. Well, you can see the mess for yourselves. Deflated but still curious I took a taste. Heavenly!! The timbale was light as air yet had tons of flavor. It was delicious and went down easily. I had to force myself to save some for my sister and her husband who where expecting me for lunch.

Out of the oven! and onto the plate

Bon Appetit!

Hmmmm...well, it certainly sounds delicious. I'd actually like to try this one too. Just a question - if you did it again, is there anything you would do differently as far as preparation? Do you think cooking it longer would have held it together? Or would you suggest sticking to the idea of ramekins? Given your description of the flavors, I would love to give this a go! The cream base and bechamel sauce immediately bring white Burgundy to mind. White Burgundy is made from 100% Chardonnay. While a California chardonnay will work well too, just make sure it is not one which is too powerful or over-oaked. Over-use of oak would surely snuff out the light flavors of the dish. Yes, white Burgundy seems to me the perfect option. Learning about Burgundy can be confusing, so always ask someone at your local wine shop for guidance. For example, Chablis tend to be lighter, and more crisp than wines from other regions in Burgundy. I'd go for something richer and rounder. What comes to mind is Pouilly Fuisse. Pouilly Fuisse is typically medium-bodied and elegant, and more affordable than some of the other appellations such as Chassagne Montrachet and Meursault. And, it's not too light, but also not too "big" for this dish. Olivier Leflaive makes a great Pouilly Fuisse - Marie Antoinette. Usually around $20, it is inexpensive for Burgundy. The earthiness and richness of the wine will work beautifully in conjunction with the swisschard and cream. I'll try it out and let you know how it goes!

-Good question about what I would do differently! I finally realized that I had neglected to squeeze the cooked chard dry to drain off some of the liquid. It was too wet and so the timbale never had a chance to firm up properly. I love a good white Burgundy, excellent suggestion!

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