Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Thanksgiving a la Julia

I have to admit Julia Child was not part of my youth. I did not watch her TV shows and my Mom didn't have any of her cookbooks. But thankfully I love Meryl Streep and went to Julie and Julia a few weeks ago. I LOVED that movie! In fact, I must admit that I have seen it twice - once with a friend, the 2nd time I took my Mom. I laughed, I cried and I went out and bought not only Julia's book upon which the movie was based but also her iconic Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

The cookbook is a little intimidating to me. I, like my mom, am a baker (amateur only) and cakes, pies and cookies are in my comfort zone. Braised anything, is not. But I am determined to learn how to cook and I have chosen Julia as my master.

The first event that was Julia worthy I figured was Canadian Thanksgiving. My husband insisted he did not want turkey. To look for alternatives I opened Julia's book of treasures. I wanted something we could carve so soups, stews etc were out. However, Beef a la mode was in! Besides, I liked telling my husband and kids we were having it only to see the horror as they translated that to mean beef and ice cream. Ha! To go along with it I went along with her suggestions of brown braised onions and potatoes. I passed on the carrots because when I did a trial version they were to mushy for our tastes. For dessert, I decided on a gratin of apples. I was also going to try her lemon almond tart but two days before the big day I got stressed out and ixnayed it. Instead, I chose a non-Julia recipe for "pumpkin whip" that my 5 year old and 3 year old could be in charge of making.

The day before ...
The day before the dinner for 8 was to happen I had to get the ingredients for everything and bake the apple dessert and start marinating the beef. It also meant buying a dutch oven and two new skillets!

I went to a local farmers market for the veggies - is it coincidence that the fingerling potatoes that were only $2.50/lb a few weeks before the movie came out are now billed as "quintessentially french" potatoes and cost $4/lb now? hmmm. I bought them anyways. I also bought the apples.

At the local butchers my husband picked out the baron of beef (the butchers felt for him since they figured if the meal went wrong, I would blame it on the piece of beef he picked...hmmm they were probably right) and bought the butter (lots of butter) and the wine needed for the marinade (an entire bottle!).

Let's start with dessert...

Later that afternoon the kids and hubby were sent out of the house so I could start with Julia's lesson on gratin of apples. Translated btw way I think should really be titled "fried butter with apples cake".

Basically, you fry or sauté 2.5lbs of golden delicious apples in butter (nothing else) till they are golden, soft but still look like apples. You layer the apples in a baking dish as you sauté them.

Plum jam and rum are mixed together and added to the apple mix. After that, you make the "cake" top. I baked it for 25 minutes, sprinkle powdered sugar on it and then bake it for another 25 minutes. Voila! Cool it and stick it in the fridge for 24 hours so the flavours can get to know each other before the entire masterpiece is wolfed down by guests :)

Bring out the wine...

Beef a la mode needs to be marinated for up to 24 hours before being cooked. The marinade consists of a bottle of red wine, brandy, oil, herbs, a cup each of carrots, onions and celery, garlic, salt and pepper. I put half the veggies in the bottom of the dutch oven and then the beef and then the other half and the herbs and garlic. The liquid gets poured on top.

Let's talk about the beef for a second - my husband did exactly what I requested - brought home 5.5 lbs of meat! Too bad I didn't think about the size of my pot - it barely fit!! It must have been quite a hilarious sight to see - 2 grown people trying to shove a big piece of cow into a too small pot. Anyways... off it went into the fridge. Julia tells us to baste it every hour or so. I basted it about 6 times in 24 hours.

The Big Day...

So for beef, I took it out of the fridge and the marinade about 45 minutes before it went in the oven. The idea is to drip dry it a bit before I took paper towels and dried it even more. Julia says the beef must be really dry in order for it to brown properly. I used canola oil and my biggest skillet to brown the beef. It took about 10 minutes to do and it was definitely brown so I guess Julia was right about drying it!

After that it went back into the dutch oven with the marinade and I boiled it til the marinade was about half of its original amount. Then I poured beef broth (which I bought from a local market) until it reached the 2/3 mark on the beef. PS once the beef browns it is even HARDER to put that hunk of meat back in the dutch oven! Anyways, I was supposed to skim the mixture once it was boiling but I forgot and stuck it unskimmed into the oven at 325 degrees (it was supposed to be 350 but it seemed to hot).

Julia says you cannot overcook this beef - I think she is wrong on that cause even though I cooked it for the recommended time, it was a bit dry for my tastes though still very tender and with the gravy it tastes amazing.

While the meat was doing it's thing in the oven I made the brown braised onions which are simple to make, though not low cal. The hardest part is skinning those little suckers. I used white yellow and purple pearl onions. Once skinned they are sauteed in butter and then simmered in beef broth. The best thing is that I made them and just put them aside to just before serving when I put them in the sauce/gravy.

After the onions there was about an hour to clean up and set the kids up to make pumpkin whip which is just a mix of butterscotch pudding, milk, pumpkin and whip cream. The kids then put them into little pre-made tart shells. The best thing about the 20 minutes this recipe took to put together was the lack of fighting and gobs of cooperation that went on between the kids...perhaps the best part of the whole experience :)

Next, the carrots were cut up and put in the steamer ready to go once the beef came out of the oven.

The beef a la mode came out after 2.5 hours but honestly I think 2 hours would have been better. The beef was put on a platter and then the juices and veggies were put through a sieve and all the juice possible was squeezed out and put back into the dutch oven. I boiled down a bit and then I added some cornstarch to a bit of the hot liquid and then put back into the bigger pot. Within 5 or 10 minutes the thickening takes hold and voila gravy/sauce/nectar of the gods is born.

Honestly my husband does not like gravy - but he LOVED this. It is that good.

Carrots went on and potatoes were next. The potatoes were also Julia's. I used the expensive fingerling variety and peeled them without washing them as instructed by Julia. Then they went into a butter and oil mixture and basically pan fried until nicely browned on all sides. Once browned, I put the lid on the skillet and let them cook at a lower heat for another fifteen minutes. So again like the onions the recipe is simple once peeled which is the only time consuming part.

The beef was carved up and placed on the platter. The carrots were added to the sauce along with the onions. Then they were taken out and put around the roast along with the potatoes. Sauce went on the beef and the rest in a boat.

Honestly, we thought we'd have a tonne of left overs...boy, were we wrong. A couple pieces of meat, a few potatoes and maybe one onion was left along with a piece of the apple dessert. Judged on that alone, I'd say the meal was a huge success. The meal also seemed to me to be easier to put together than past turkey thanksgiving dinners. I actually had time to sit down with a glass of wine with our guests before dinner. The last few minutes was, of course, a flurry of activity but not too bad. I really liked putting things on one platter and it cut down on a few dishes!

The entire evening from the meal to the company was fantastic!

I hope your Thanksgiving was fabulous too!


  1. Congratulations on your inaugural post and well done cooking something that was out of your comfort zone! It sounds as though it was a huge success.

  2. I, too, loved Julie/Julia and was also inspired. The next day I boeuf bourgignon. My nubby and I loved it so much we are going to have again for Christmas dinner. Look forward to more of your posts.