Her Life In France

April 1, 2008

Tonight I finished Julia Child’s My Life in France, an autobiographical work (co-authored with Alex Prud’Homme) covering Julia’s life from the early 1950’s through the mid 1970’s or so. As the name implies, the focus is on Julia’s time in France, both while living there while her husband Paul worked for the American foreign service and then later while keeping a vacation home in Provence.

The book largely concerns itself with the development of Julia Child’s love of France and it’s cuisine. It’s remarkable to think that for the first three decades of her life, Julia wasn’t an accomplished cook at all – in fact, her husband wrote some good natured but honest reviews of her early attempts at cooking in letters to friends and family. It was her exposure to the food in France – from her very first meal of her very first day – that developed into a passion that is now legendary and familiar to anyone that could possibly consider themselves to be a “foodie.”

A significant portion of the book concerns the development of the book that eventually became Mastering the Art of French Cooking, along with its sequel. It also covers the beginnings of The French Chef, one of the first (if not the first) successful cooking programs on American television. I watched some broadcasts of the show back when Food Network actually showed cooking programs instead of extended travel sequences showcasing their celebrity talent, and while the production values look a little dated when compared to today’s fare her passion and verve were always unquestioned.

This will sound silly, but I heartily recommend My Life in France to anyone that enjoyed the movie Ratatouille. Much of the same sense of romance with both France and French cuisine is present throughout the book, and it’s extremely engaging. Reading Julia Child refer to balls (yes, those balls) in print is an experience I never imagined I’d enjoy, and if you read carefully you can hear her speaking the words on the page in her own distinctive voice. It’s a wonderful experience.


And Now A Word About the Sad State of The American Chicken Industry

March 30, 2008

CRAPPY.

I’ll add a little more to that.

REALLY CRAPPY.

I used to be an active member of the competitive BBQ “circuit” to a small extent, and I loves me some BBQ. The very first category I did well in, and continued to do well in was chicken. I won numerous ribbons and have a rabid following among my family and friends all asking every time I fire up my smokers, “are you making chicken?”

The funny thing is that I just don’t care for it that much. Of the “Big 4” KCBS categories (chicken, pork ribs, pork butt and beef brisket) it’s my least favorite. But as I alluded to, I haven’t been as active in BBQ lately. Last year a couple of guys on the team had some job changes, and this year I’m finally zeroing in on scheduling a lap-band surgery. However, today was a potluck dinner at church, and since I hadn’t done any big BBQ lately I thought I’d have a practice run with the whole “big 4.” And that meant getting a bunch of chicken thighs.

Like most competitors I use thighs – they’re moist, easy to cook and look good when presented in the box. They’re much more forgiving than the breast (the cut I prefer), and especially when cooking a day before serving they’re just the best choice. When I compete I prefer to use a higher-grade chicken – not free range, as they’re fairly tough (but VERY tasty – they just take longer to smoke and get tender), but the untouched organic stuff. Friday I was unable to get any, so I had to settle for the mass market brand from the big company in Arkansas that rhymes with Dyson and sucks just as much.

I take quite a bit of care to make certain that the chicken is trimmed up and gone over pretty well before I prep it for the smoker, and this batch of 2 dozen thighs was just plain nasty. For 2 dozen thighs there was over ONE POUND of EXCESS skin. I don’t remove all the skin, just the huge flaps that seemed to envelop each thigh like some kind of fatty blanket. In addition, many of the thighs had quite obvious pinfeathers in the skin, and their overall condition was just pretty crappy.

It took me almost an hour to get those thighs into what I consider to be cookable condition. I consider myself lucky that this chicken hadn’t been “flavor-enhanced” and I was able to brine it myself, but compared to the natural organic stuff that I usually pay a little bit more for competition use, it was truly nasty. Next time I’ll just call a day ahead and get the good stuff.


Best Breakfasts

March 25, 2008

There is an article up at Style.com rating the 15 best breakfast places in America. Of course, no Kansas City establishments made the list, and that’s OK. To add to the breakfast meme, here are a few of my thoughts on some great breakfast places around town.

Corner Cafe (Riverside and Liberty): This is the one breakfast to rule them all, one breakfast to bind them up…you get the picture. The Corner has some great down-home breakfast items, and they don’t skimp on the portions. If you don’t believe me, try the biscuits and gravy or the big-as-all-get-out sticky bun. They bake their own stuff right on site, which is a real plus. The prices are pretty reasonable, too.

Big Biscuit (Blue Springs): This place used to be in Independence on Highway 40, but recently moved over onto Highway 7 in Blue Springs. As the name implies their biscuits are their claim to fame, but I really recommend their country benedict – essentially biscuits with eggs and sausage patties smothered in gravy. What’s not to like about that? I wish that I could recommend another place in Blue Springs – a diner on 40 highway – but they don’t take cards, so I never got to go. Everyone else raves about it.

My other breakfast favorite is not just in Kansas City, but it’s midwestern – the QuikTrip jalapeno cheese sausage roll. These things ROCK – if you like something spicy in the morning, they will definitely fit the bill. Sure they have more chemicals in them than a Sugar Creek refinery, but they sure do taste good while they eat through your small intestine.

I know lots of people really like First Watch, and it’s pretty good…just not one of my favorites. I’ll also confess that I have a certain fondness for the breakfast items at Sonic, but since they stopped serving pancake on a stick it just hasn’t been the same. Food always tastes better on a stick. That’s why ribs are so good.


You Put the Devil In Me

March 22, 2008

My sister in law Natasha doesn’t care for mayo or “salad dressing” – aka Miracle Whip – so she can’t really partake of the good old midwestern deviled eggs that I usually create for family dinners. I consider it a shame that she doesn’t like mayo – I love the stuff, and like Miracle Whip a great deal as well – and it’s an even greater shame that this has led to a serious lack of deviled egg goodness in her life.

A Christmas or two ago my mother in law bought me a deviled egg cookbook. That’s right, a book with recipes for nothing but deviled eggs. Over 50 of them, in fact. Many of them don’t have a drop of mayo in them at all, and many of them are rather eclectic. Some family favorites have included Blue Devils (with bleu cheese and bacon), Crabby Eggs (with crab and capers) and Buffalo Eggs (with chicken and buffalo wing sauce). Tonight I made a batch of eggs from a new recipe, and I won’t include the entire title just because it’s so incredibly long. Suffice it to say that they’re what I’d call Thai Eggs, with ginger, curry, toasted coconut and cream cheese. They are QUITE tasty, and they are garnished with a little chutney and some cilantro chiffonade.

For my sister in law, I tried my hand at an original recipe, and I’m quite happy with it. They are Bacon Sour Cream and Ranch Eggs. Basically, I took the yolks from a dozen hard cooked eggs, mashed them well with a fork, and then mixed them with about a cup of sour cream, about a quarter of a cup of chopped bacon and about half of a packet of dry ranch dressing mix. Add a little salt and pepper and voila – they’re very good. I hope she likes them.

One final thought on years of deviled egg making – “older” eggs are much easier to peel, it’s true. I bought four dozen eggs last weekend and let them sit in the fridge since then, and peeling them was quite easy after boiling. I tried hard not to over-boil them – just bring the eggs to a rolling boil, then take them off the heat entirely and let them sit (covered) for 15 minutes. Shock with cold water and they’re ready to peel as soon as they’re cool.

Well, that’s my deviled egg blog post. Ta-da!