Saturday, April 17, 2010

The John & Julia Project

So, you might ask, "Why is Katie the Beagle enjoying hollandaise sauce and eggs for lunch today?:

It's all part of a brand new project here at Patio Boat central: The John & Julia Project.

You see, after the movie Julie & Julia inspired the scrambled-egg fest earlier this week, discussion of more yummy French food hasn't been far from the fore in these parts. And, in a bit of culinary synchronicity, I saw a copy of the book Julie & Julia at our annual used book sale at work, and picked it up. So, yummy French food has been both a discussion topic and a reading topic this week.

Naturally, all of this led to a new copy of Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking making its way home with me last night. Of course, where aspiring blogger Julie Powell set an ambitious 365-day target for making it all the way through all 500+ recipes in the book, I reckon it'll take me about 20 or 30 years. We do have something in common, though. Where Julie was inspired to take the plunge by the angst created by a series of dead-end jobs and the approach of her 30th birthday, a rather embarrassing personal problem inspired me to take my mini-plunge.

I'd hate for this to get out in public -- this is just between you and me, gentle reader, right? -- you see, I have a personal issue that has created some angst for me over the years. It's just that ... well ... it's sort of shameful to admit, but ... um ... here it is:

Sauces have always been a bit problematic.

Mind you, it's not spaghetti sauces or chili sauces or that sort of thing. It's just that although I can put together a nice white cheese sauce or a gravy when I follow a recipe, my other cream sauces or reductions have a bit of a random quality to them. Usually they're yummy enough in the flavoring, but their texture is pretty random. And nobody -- especially me -- can ever predict their consistency.

This can not stand.

After watching the movie last week, I picked up a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking at the book store, started leafing through it, and was immediately impressed by what a good teaching book it seemed to be, especially in terms of its mixture of theory and practical advice. Over the week, the memory of its easy-to-follow tutoring preyed upon the secret shame of my sauces until I was forced to buy it yesterday.

I don't really intend to master the full and entire art of French cooking. I just darn well intend to improve my sauce improvisation skills. And so -- armed with a goal and a tome first published in 1961 -- I decided to tackle the hollandaise family first, starting with today's brunch:

Book, tools, and ingredients in hand, I was ready to start.

Now here's the sort of thing that I'm talking about, in terms of the teaching nature of this book. This is from the first paragraph under the section on The Hollandaise Family:

It is extremely easy and almost foolproof to make (Hollandaise sauce) in the electric blender, and we give the recipe on page 81. But we feel it is of great importance that you learn how to make hollandaise by hand, for part of every good cook's general knowledge is a thorough familiarity with the vagaries of egg yolks under all conditions.

Okay, Julia. I eschew the easy-peasy blender hollandaise. I shall learn the vagaries of egg yolks.

The result? Poached eggs with hollandaise on English muffins. (I was originally aiming for Eggs Benedict, but I forgot to pick up any ham or Canadian bacon when I stopped by the store last night. Oh, how we suffer.)

It was yummy!

There was lots and lots of leftover hollandaise, plus some leftover egg whites, so we moved on to scrambled egg whites, tomato, and hollandaise sauce on English muffins:

More yumminess!

Then it was time to clean up, and Katie the Beagle came to make a suggestion.

Leftover egg-white crisps scraped from the frying pan, with hollandaise. (Perhaps we should call it Blancs d'Oeufs Frites, avec Hollandaise, to class it up a little bit.)

The Result? The most spoiled beagle in the world.

Alas, there's more work yet to be done with the hollandaise family before we can declare victory and move on to other sauces. We still have Hollandaise avec Herbes, Hollandaise avec Purees ou Minces, Hollandaise avec Blanc d'Oeufs, Sauce Mousseline, Sauce Chantilly, Sauce Maltaise, Sauce Vin Blanc, Sauce Mousseline Sabayon, Sauce Bearnaise, Sauce Choron, and Sauce Colbert to go.

Work, work, work. Hey, mastering the vagaries of egg yolks under all conditions doesn't come easy.


  1. Nummy! I wish I had my own personal cook. Tell Katie she's a luck beagle! :)

    P.S. Guess who I got to see in Ann Arbor today. STAN SAKAI! Ha-ha! Check it out:

    Ryan Claytor
    Elephant Eater Comics

  2. Happy, happy beagle!

    I'll expect eggs benedict this summer served on a breakfast cruise on the lake. Not that I'm a demanding sort at all or anything. OK, fine- on the screened porch overlooking the lake will suffice if you offer up a side of raspberries.:D

  3. I wonder what would have happened if you'd seen "Ratatouille"?

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  5. Here is a link on a misprint in a cookbook all lovers of such books and recipes ought to read.

  6. Lucky me!

    Now, if I can just stay under the 200 lbs mark...