THANKS SO MUCH TO EVERYONE FOR THEIR INTEREST, SUPPORT, AND COMMENTS, BUT THIS BLOG POST IS NOW SHUT DOWN FOR ADDITIONAL COMMENTS. MANY THANKS FOR READING AND I LOVE THE DIALOGUE, BUT WE ALL NEED TO MOVE ON. 😉 BEST VA
July 15th I had the real pleasure of seeing a sneak preview of “Julie and Julia”. Tony Conway, owner of Legendary Events in Atlanta hosted an amazing Girls Night Out. Following cocktails and dinner, a group of about 400 women filed into the theatre at Phipps Plaza. The movie doesn’t actually premiere until early August! The event itself was truly spectacular and a perfect example of why Tony Conway is regarded as one of the best in his business.
The movie was so charming that I left wanting to see it again. Based on true stories, “Julie & Julia” intertwines the lives of two women in a fascinating way. I am a huge Meryl Streep fan and she was amazing. She is such a chameleon and, of course, had Julia’s voice and mannerisms nailed.
But, it triggered something that’s been nagging me ever since.
First, the movie. In short, the plot is the story of a frustrated temporary secretary, Julie Powell, embarking on a year-long culinary quest to cook all 524 recipes in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. She chronicles her tribulations in a blog called “The Julie/Julia Project: Nobody here but us servantless American cooks”. The blog caught on and was eventually featured in a piece in the New York Times by food writer Amanda Hesser. Julie’s life was changed forever, her blog turned into a best-selling memoir, Nora Ephron wrote her screenplay, and now Amy Adams is playing her on the big screen.
The film, also covers the years Julia Child (Meryl Streep) and her husband Paul (Stanley Tucci) spent in Paris during the 1940’s and 1950’s. Their portion of the story was adapted from My Life in France, written by Julia Child with nephew Alex Prud’homme. Basically, this was the time when Julia became Julia, attended Le Cordon Bleu and met her collaborators Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle. They began to teach cooking to American women in the Child’s kitchen, calling their informal school L’Ecole des Trois Gourmandes. For the next decade, as the Childs moved around Europe and finally to their home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the three researched, developed, and tested French recipes for the American kitchen. The result of this long collaboration was Mastering the Art of French Cooking edited by the imitable Judith Jones.
I promise this will eventually address the source of my irritation. Stick with me.
The first time I met Julia Child was at a book signing when I was in culinary school at L’Academie de Cuisine in DC. I stood there like a zombie in front of her, incapable of speech. A friend eventually jotted me out of my stupor and pushed me along.
After DC, I became an editorial stagiaire for Anne Willan at Ecole de Cuisine LaVarenne . I was supposed to be there for 3 months,but was there on and off for almost 3 years. Julia actually encouraged Anne to open the school. My first year I was working with none other than Amanda Hesser (see above), who at the time was also working on her first book, The Cook and the Gardener. During that time Julia would come to visit, staying weeks at a time. The staff at LaVarenne was predominantly young food knowledge hungry Americans. We had grown up seeing her on TV and she was one of the reasons we were there in France. We would vacillate wildly from “OH MY G*D, IT’S JULIA CHILD” to complete nonchalance. It was normal. She was always very pleasant. I don’t remember why, but once at the dinner table, in her famous warbling voice she declared, Eisenhower nothing more than a “big powder-puff”. Sure wish I could remember the context…. One winter at the Food Writer’s Symposium at the Greenbrier we shared a suite. I treated her like my grandmother, made sure she didn’t forget her cane and carried her books. (That was a hoot! I’ll write about that some other time.)
Promise. It’s coming.
After France I moved to New York to work for Martha. I ran into Julia at food events, and that was pretty much the extent of it.
Ok, here we go.
I also read the Julie/Julia Project blog and for a time, I followed Julie Powell. I was very intrigued by her nerve actually, of cooking the book. Pretty stiff stuff for an untrained cook. Good for her, I thought. What an undertaking. But one day she made a comment implying a recipe being wrong for roast chicken. I honestly don’t remember what it was, but it struck me as being so disrespectful, completely without deference to Julia Child, that I stopped. What the hell did she know about food? Had she even heard of poulet au Bresse? Didn’t go back. No malice. Just didn’t want to follow anymore.
That brings me back to the present. Wednesday night I watched the Julie and Julia movie.
“Had a lovely time, Tony, thanks so much for a lovely party.”
The next night I saw a link on Twitter from an older article from the New York Times. I clicked through and read. It was in my opinion, decent writing, good writing, but it wasn’t about food. It made me think it maybe needed to be in a blog. It was not appropriate on that stage, on that level. It was the damn New York Times!
To be clear, it was NOT written by Amanda Hesser.
And, then it all made sense. My underlying malaise.
People who happen to eat and are able to type are now our new food experts. The incredible proliferation and self-indulgent blabber of many food blogs has given people the freedom to hallucinate, “I can type and I eat, therefore I am a food journalist”!
Granted, Julie Powell did not present herself as a food expert. I am not saying she did, quite the contrary. It’s also not a case of sour grapes on my part. Bravo for her. Her food memoir was a best-seller. A rising tide floats all boats, and as a food writer, I wholeheartedly thank her.
I am not necessarily saying my writing is better. After all, who am I to question what is published in the New York Times? Of course, I recognize the irony that I am sharing this indeed in an aforementioned self-serving blog. But good grief, people who don’t know how to begin to roast a ding dang chicken without following a recipe can be our new, ahem, food experts? This makes me a bit sad and more than a bit aggravated.
The newspaper industry has starved itself to death. In the past two years 10 dailies have permanently stopped the presses. Indeed, the New York Times has been rumored to be circling the drain. The blogs and online content have taken over. The cookbook publishing industry took a hearty bite out of the poison apple, as well. The prerequisite to getting a cookbook published is brand and platform, not necessarily real food knowledge, editorial training, and a passionate commitment to test and develop recipes.
Face it; Julia Child would not be published today.
I had a meeting with a TV production company last year that possibly is interested in partnering on a TV cooking show. The producer told me the worst thing I had going for me is that I was trained and knew how to cook. Everyone who can wield a butter knife wants a TV cooking show. Seems the masses want entertainment, not education. Enough hair product and a sassy catchphrase seems to be sufficient.
Think about the food writers who spent their entire careers pursuing real food knowledge and good, sound, cooking fundamentals. Think about writers who wrote real literature that happened to be about food: Elizabeth David. MFK Fisher. Anne Willan. The real cooks and writers today, the real experts need to be heard, not just any food blogger armed with an iPhone.
On that note, I am sharing my recipe for Roast Chicken.
PS. IT WAS LATER POINTED OUT TO ME IT’S POULET DE BRESSE, NOT AU BRESSE. I LEFT IT AS IS SINCE SOME OF THE COMMENTS REFER TO IT. I STAND CORRECTED. MY FRENCH IS, WAS, AND ALWAYS WILL LIKELY BE, DISMAL.
Meme washed her chickens inside and out before cooking them, removing every last bit of fat, overlooked feathers, and any bruises, blemishes, or blood spots. She said if you didn’t, it tasted too “chickeny.” That bird was sanitized—or so she thought. I would never argue with Meme, but according to the USDA, washing chicken is not necessary. If the bird is contaminated, dangerous bacteria are not going to be affected by cold tap water. Washing the chicken actually increases the chance of cross-contamination; water that has touched raw chicken and splashed into the sink can potentially contaminate other food.
This recipe relies on a classic French preparation: stuffing the bird with aromatics, roasting it to perfection, and using the pan juices plus added shallots, wine, and stock to make a light sauce. There’s not a lot to cloud the plate or palate or mask a mistake. I will often order chicken, seemingly the most boring dish on the menu, when trying a new restaurant. Simple roast chicken is the test of a good cook.
- Preheat the oven to 425°F. To prepare the chicken, trim the excess fat from inside of the chicken cavity. Season the cavity with the herbes de Provence, bay leaves, salt, and pepper. Squeeze lemon juice into the cavity and then insert the used lemon quarters. Rub butter over the skin and season with salt and pepper. Tie the ends of the drumsticks together with kitchen twine. Set the chicken in a roasting pan, on a rack if you have one.
- Roast the chicken for 15 minutes, then decrease the heat to 350°F. Roast for an additional 15 minutes, then add the carrot and onion to the pan. Continue roasting, basting occasionally, until the juices run clear when the thickest part of the thigh is pierced with a knife, an additional 30 to 45 minutes. Remove the chicken to a cutting board and tent loosely with aluminum foil to keep warm. Using a slotted spoon, remove the vegetables to a warm platter and tent loosely with aluminum foil to keep warm.
- To make the sauce, remove all but several tablespoons of the fat from the roasting pan and place the pan over medium heat. Add the shallots and saute, stirring frequently, until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the wine and cook until it is reduced by half, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the chicken stock and increase the heat to high, scraping the skillet with a wooden spoon to loosen the browned bits.
- Cook until the sauce is slightly reduced, about 5 minutes more. Carve the chicken and pour any accumulated chicken juices from the cutting board into the roasting pan. Decrease the heat to medium. Whisk in the butter. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve the chicken with the sauce on the side.
From Bon Appétit, Y’all: Recipes and Stories from Three Generations of Southern Cooking by Virginia Willis, copyright © 2008. Published by Ten Speed Press.
Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, LLC © 2009
Ever heard the expression “hotter than Georgia asphalt?” Now, that’s hot. Cause let me tell you, black top asphalt cooking all day in the summer sun is pretty ding dang hot. Summer has officially started and it’s a sizzling 95 degrees at Mama’s house. The take your breathe away when you walk outside kind of heat. It always amuses me when people say it’s so hot because it’s humid in Georgia. Well, it’s hot because it’s 95 degrees! And, it’s early y’all. Triple digits for months are just around the corner.
For many years, my grandparents did not have air-conditioning. Can you imagine? We’re so spoiled now. Meme would stay up late the night before or wake up very early in the morning and work in the cool, quiet hours of the hot summer. The humming of the fan was often her only company before the house started stirring and the cousins started piling out of bunks and cots.
In the heat of the summer, there’s nothing better for keeping the heat out of the kitchen than firing up the grill. My grandfather used a potent vinegar bath on grilled chicken that produced a pungent, meaty odor, sending out billowing clouds of steam and smoke as the chicken cooked. I like to make a batch of the marinade and keep it in the refrigerator in the spritz bottle. It works well with pork chops, too.
The birds in the photo are spatchcocked and threaded on a spit. Spatchcocking is a technique used with small birds like Cornish hens, quail, or even small chickens by removing their backbone and spreading them open so that they are fairly flat. Besides making an intriguing presentation and simple to carve, a spatchcocked bird requires less time cooking, so the breast meat is more likely to be moist and tender.
To spatchcock a bird, place the bird on a clean cutting board, breast side down. Using poultry shears, make a lengthwise cut on both sides of the backbone from neck to tail. Remove the backbone and save it for stock. Open the bird like a book. Proceed with the recipe. For an especially flat bird, place the bird on a baking sheet, top with a second baking sheet and weigh it down with a brick or several large cans of tomatoes for several hours or overnight in the refrigerator.
Bon Appétit Y’all!
- Prepare a charcoal fire using about 6 pounds of charcoal and burn until the coals are completely covered with a thin coating of light gray ash, 20 to 30 minutes. Spread the coals evenly over the grill bottom, position the grill rack above the coals, and heat until medium-hot (when you can hold your hand 5 inches above the grill surface for no longer than 3 or 4 seconds). Or, for a gas grill, turn on all burners to High, close the lid, and heat until very hot, 10 to 15 minutes.
- Combine the water, vinegar, peanut oil, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and salt in a squirt bottle. Set aside.
- Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Apply some oil to the grill grate. Place the chicken on the grill, leaving plenty of space between each piece. Grill until seared, about 1 to 2 minutes per side for legs and thighs, and 3 or so minutes for breasts. Move the chicken to medium-low heat or reduce the heat to medium; continue to grill, turning occasionally and squirting with the marinade, until the juices run clear when pierced, 12 to 18 minutes. Remove the pieces from the grill as they cook and transfer to a warm platter. Give them a final squirt of sauce for flavor and serve immediately.
Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, LLC © 2009
Adapted from Bon Appétit, Y’all: Recipes and Stories from Three Generations of Southern Cooking by Virginia Willis, copyright © 2008. Published by Ten Speed Press.
Central and South Georgia are well known for its peach crops in the summer and pecan harvests in the fall. I grew up in Macon County, adjacent to Peach County, home to The Big Peach, a 75′ tall peach mounted on a 100′ tall pole. Peaches are serious in Georgia.
Each summer the women of my family would make “put up peaches”. We’d can peaches, freeze peaches, and make peach jelly. You have never been hot until you have been picking peaches in the middle of a Georgia summer. Rumor has it that hell is cooler. The air is thick and stifling. Gnats and mosquitoes buzz about incessantly. Peach fuzz covers your arms and wrists. The combination of sweat, bug spray, and itchy peach fuzz is an effective blend for guaranteed misery. But, the end result is that each amber spoonful is more precious than gold.
Ripe peaches are soft to the touch. When cut, look for creamy gold to yellow flesh. The red or blush color on the skin is actually a characteristic of the variety, not ripeness. Avoid green or shriveled peaches. Use your nose! Choose peaches with a typical “peachy” scent, slightly sweet and flowery. Never squeeze peaches, as they will bruise. If your peach purchase needs ripening, set them in a single layer on the counter, not stacked, and allow them to ripen for a day or so at room temperature. Once ripe, transfer them to the refrigerator and use within a week.
Georgia produces over 130 million pounds of peaches a year. Some states may grow more, but Georgia is undoubtedly known as “The Peach State”, the result of the efforts of a farmer in Marshallville, Georgia, who bred the Elberta peach from the seed of a Chinese Cling peach in the late 1800s. The peach industry took off, Georgia was tagged with the flavorful nickname, and the rest is sweet history.
Just down the road from Marshallville is home to Al and Mary Pearson. The Pearson family has farmed peaches around Fort Valley, since the late 1800s and pecans, since the early 1900s. Al and Mary, recently joined by their son, 5th generation farmer, Lawton, have survived the tough business of farming by reinventing the family farm. Big Six Farm is the “growing” arm of the company, jointly owned by the Al and his sisters. Pearson Farm, which Al and Mary operate together, is the retail arm, selling both Big Six’s raw produce and products made from it.
According to Al, “Peach season starts for us around May 15 with the variety Flavorich, a clingstone peach and we ship through August with Big Red, a large freestone.” With clingstone peaches, as the name implies, the flesh clings to the stone while freestone peaches can be loosened from the pit with relative ease. Al continued, “In a good year one tree will produce between 100 and 150 pounds per tree. One acre of peach trees will produce 12,500-15,000 pounds.” (In light of Al’s statistics I don’t feel quite so bad about the few bushels I had a pick as a child!)
Peaches are packed with natural goodness. Several major nutrients, including vitamins A, C, and potassium are packed into each peach. Peaches are also a good source of the pigment beta-carotene, which gives them their deep yellow color. Beta carotene is a powerful antioxidant that may help slow the aging process and reduce the risk of some types of cancer.
They’re also an excellent and filling source of fiber. And, a plus for calorie counters, a peach contains less than 60 calories. In addition to being low-calorie, like all fruits and vegetables, peaches are cholesterol-free and contain no fat or protein. Peaches also provide natural plant compounds called flavonoids, powerful antioxidants, which research suggests may help prevent cancer and heart disease.
Typical Southern recipes do not often take advantage of the healthful aspects of peaches. They are more often along the lines of Peach Ice Cream laced with eggs and heavy cream, Fried Peach Pies, deep-fried half-moons of biscuit dough filled with sugar and chopped peaches, and buttery Peach Cobber, baked in a cast iron skillet.
Here’s one that marries the taste of those sweet peaches with pork, a marriage made in heaven!
Bon Appetit, Y’all!
- In medium heatproof bowl, dissolve salt and sugar in boiling water, stir in ice cubes to cool. Add the pork chops, cover bowl with plastic wrap, and refrigerate to marinate, about 30 minutes. Remove from brine, rinse well, and dry thoroughly with paper towels.
- Using a medium sauté pan over medium heat, add the oil. Add the onion and cook until translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant, about 45 to 60 seconds.
- Add the ketchup, peach jam, and peaches. Reduce heat to low and simmer until sauce thickens, about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add vinegar, season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat, set aside to cool.
- Pour half the barbecue sauce into a shallow baking dish, reserve remaining sauce. Add pork chops, turning to coat both sides.
- Prepare a medium-hot grill or grill pan. Grill chops until cooked through, about 5 minutes per side, basting chops with barbecue sauce. Remove from grill, let stand 5 minutes before serving. Serve with remaining sauce.
PHOTO CREDIT: ELLEN SILVERMAN
Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, LLC © 2009
The word “sugar” often becomes “sugah” in the South. The dropping of the r, really pretty unnecessary letter it seems to many. Sugah isn’t just sugar, it’s “Sugah Bear” to a loved one. I recently called my sister that and she questioned my sanity. “Sugah, how ’bout some more coffee” from the waitress with the closer the hair the closer to G*d hairdo. “Come give me some Sugah” meaning a not so favorite smoochy kiss from and aunt or uncle. “Sugah Bowl” is the SEC football game held at the Superdome, and of course, as a graduate from the University of Georgia, aka UGA, “You can’t spell Sugah without UGA” is still a popular bumpersticker.
Sugah and the Southern sweet tooth is a powerful force. It is more than an ingredient in the South. It falls somewhere between condiment and food group. We have desserts at birthday parties, holidays, and special occasions. Mamas calm crying babies with sugar. (Mama dipped my sister’s pacifier in yes, Karo syrup; she finally put a stop to it when Jona was old enough to reach the bottle on the dresser herself.) We drink tea so sweet it will make your teeth hurt, slather jam and jelly on biscuits, eat ham cured in sugar and salt, often put a pinch of sugar in slow-cooked greens, and finish up the meal with a sweet wedge of pie.
Some food historians claim that the Southern fascination with sugar is a practical one. In the hot, humid South, sugar was originally a means of preservation. That’s why we have sugar-cured ham and bacon, sweet pickles, and boiled icing to protect cakes.
Another reason for sugar’s importance is that the crop was tied to slavery. Sugar production is undeniably backbreaking work and very labor intensive. Sugar cane followed the movement of African slaves through the islands of Caribbean and into the plantations of the South where it was grown. The mothers and sisters of the men working hard in the fields were in the kitchen, making the food that eventually evolved into Southern cuisine.
When transportation of goods depended upon horses and wagons on iffy roads, it could take months for sugar to travel from the sugar growing state of Louisiana to hill and mountain country. Sugar was a precious commodity then, kept under lock and key, and Southern craftsmen created a specialized piece of furniture known as the “sugar chest”. These strong and decorative boxes were built throughout the South, most notably in Kentucky and Tennessee. Finally, with the advent of steamboats and improved shipping, sugar prices fell in the 19th century and sugar became more widely available throughout the region.
Forget fancy gènoise or sponge cake; in the South, a shortcake is really just a sweet biscuit. Granted, this recipe is a step above, flavored with orange zest and sprinkled with raw sugar that sparkles like amber on the golden tops. At Martha Stewart Living Television, we served miniature versions of these buttery brown sugar shortcakes filled with peaches, strawberries, and blueberries at a luncheon attended by President Clinton.
In the past, brown sugar was semirefined white sugar with some of the molasses left in. Two popular types of raw sugar are the coarse-textured dry Demerara sugar from the Demerara area of Guyana, and the moist, fine-textured Barbados sugar. Turbinado sugar is raw sugar that has been steam-cleaned. The coarse turbinado crystals are blond colored and have a delicate molasses flavor. Now, for the most part, regular brown sugar is white sugar to which molasses has been added. The color, light or dark, depends on the amount of molasses added. Dark brown is slightly stronger in flavor than light brown, but otherwise interchangeable. When brown sugar comes into contact with air, the moisture evaporates and causes the sugar to lump together and become hard. Prevent this by storing brown sugar in a sealable plastic bag or in an airtight container. Also, storing brown sugar in the refrigerator will help keep it fresh and soft.
Sugah, hope you enjoy these shortcakes!
Bon Appétit, Y’all!
- Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking sheet or parchment paper.
- To prepare the shortcakes, in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer fitted with the paddle, combine the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, and salt on low speed. Add the butter and zest, and mix on low until the mixture resembles coarse meal, about 2 minutes. Add the cream and milk and increase the speed to medium; mix until the dough comes together. Remove the dough to a lightly floured surface, lightly knead a few times, and shape into a rectangle about 3/4 inch thick.
- Cut out dough circles using a 3-inch round cutter. Place the circles on the prepared baking sheet. Brush the tops lightly with cream and sprinkle with the turbinado sugar. Bake until the shortcakes are golden brown, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool.
- Meanwhile, to prepare the berries, place the strawberries in a bowl. Add the orange juice and granulated sugar. Set aside.
- To serve, halve the shortcakes horizontally with a serrated knife. Place the bottom halves on individual serving plates, top each with a dollop of whipped cream, then some berries, and another dollop of whipped cream. Cover with the tops of the shortcakes and serve.
Memorial Day is the start of grilling season. I want to share with you an absolutely unbelievable rib recipe. I taught these all over last summer and the combination of sweet and heat is soooooooo positively off-the-charts good.
I want to give a shout out to the National Pork Board for contributing the pork for my event for The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts a week or so ago. We raised 21K + which equals 100,000 meals! We served these ribs and everyone loved them. I know you will, too.
I made some changes to my website. There are a passle of new recipes to try out. Please click on the link to check things out.
Here’s to a safe and happy weekend. Wear your seatbelt and if you are on the water, your life jacket. Seriously.
Bon Appétit, Y’all!
- To make the glaze, in a small saucepan, bring the Coca-Cola, vinegar, brown sugar, and chiles to a boil over high heat; reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until syrupy, about 10 minutes. Decrease the heat to low and keep the sauce warm while the ribs cook.
- Preheat the oven to 325°F. Liberally season both sides of the ribs with salt and pepper. Place the ribs on a broiler pan and bake for 30 minutes, glazing the ribs occasionally with the Coca-Cola mixture. Turn the ribs over and continue to cook for an additional 30 minutes, glazing occasionally, or until the ribs are tender and the meat is starting to pull away from the bone.
- Or, if grilling, simply treat the oven as a grill. Cook the ribs at a moderate heat, 325°F and bake with the grill covered for 30 minutes, glazing the ribs occasionally with the Coca-Cola mixture. Turn the ribs over and continue to cook for an additional 30 minutes, glazing occasionally, or until the ribs are tender and the meat is starting to pull away from the bone.
- When the ribs are cooked through, set the oven to broil or place on the hot side of the grill or increase a gas grill to high. Liberally spoon half of the remaining glaze over the ribs and broil until glazed a deep mahogany brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Turn over; repeat with the remaining glaze, an additional 5 to 7 minutes.
- Serve immediately with lots of napkins.
Photo credit: Jeanine Dargis. Adapted from Bon Appétit, Y’all: Recipes and Stories from Three Generations of Southern Cooking by Virginia Willis, copyright © 2008. Published by Ten Speed Press.