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Traditional French winter meal and a holy symbol in my creme fraiche! (long)

  • c

I'll get to the holy symbol a bit later, but first some relevant background: My MIL is an absolute Francophile. She is ethnically Chinese, grew up in Hanoi, went to French Catholic school. She speaks French fluently (among several other languages) and belongs to several French clubs. She only reads French novels. She named her 3 sons w/ very traditional French names.

Whenever I cook for just my in laws I know that classic French food laden w/ a good dose of cream and butter is sure to please. In fact, the first time I met them, we went to a French restaurant where my MIL got the rich prix fixe meal and was flattened the next day by all the cream and butter. She didn't seem to mind though...

Since they are getting older (as am I), I didn't want to make the meal too crazy rich, but I did want it to have an old world authenticity. The wintry, rainy weather also got me into the spirit and called for such a hearty meal where the stove/oven is going for hours. This also was the perfect occasion for me to finally pull out Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking (both volumes), which I recently bought used. I didn't use it for every dish, but here was my menu:

*Baked miyagi oysters w/ topping of breadcrumb, butter, parsley, shallot, garlic, and lemon juice (made up my own recipe)

*Cream of cauliflower and upland cress soup (upland cress is similar to watercress but the leaves are bigger and flavor is full, spicy, and sorta fruity; used the recipe in Vol. II but reduced butter and omitted cream)

*Boeuf bourguignon w/ buttered egg noodles (used recipe in Vol. I w/ minor modifications)

*Tarte tatin w/ mock creme fraiche (used recipe from Chateau Cuisine by Anne Willan w/ minor modifications; mock creme was made by mixing full fat sour cream w/ a little superfine sugar)

Used a 2003 Chateau Grimard Bourdeaux in the stew and drank a voluptuous 2003 Plan Pegau red table wine w/ the meal. Champagne would have been great to start, but our group can't drink that much.

Overall, the meal was a big success and I was generally happy w/ how each course turned out. In laws were very pleased too! What I love about these more rigid "theme" meals is that everything naturally fits together...tradition has done some of the work for you.

My favorites were the baked oysters and boeuf. I typically prefer raw oysters that taste of the sea, but my inlaws prefer cooked. I baked them for just a few min. and then finished them under the broiler to brown the topping. The flavors melded beautifully and the topping didn't overpower the wonderfully sweet flavor of the bivalve. Texture was still soft and juicy, but the raw, briney edge was mellowed. We scarfed these down in delight and could've eaten more...

The boeuf bourgignon turned out great. I used rump roast as suggested in the recipe. After browning, I started cooking it in the oven per the instructions but decided that I'd prefer to simmer gently on stove top instead and that worked fine. I didn't like the fussy steps w/ the mushrooms and onions at the end, so just sauteed them together in a little butter and then finished simmering them in the stew for the last 30 min. At the end, I removed the meat to reduce the sauce to thicken a bit. It also needed more salt. I might try chuck roast next time. Does that have more fat/marbling than rump?

To critique Julia's books, I must say that I don't love them based on this experience. I don't really care for the format of the recipes, and the wording and organization seem convoluted and not that clear at times. Some of the steps also seem like they could be further streamlined w/ no detriment to the result. And there's too much butter and cream even for moi, so I just reduced amounts. I think the technique discussions are more useful than the actual recipes for me, but I'm glad I have these for reference.

I didn't use Julia's tarte tatin recipe b/c it's just layered upside down and baked, not actually started on the stove top. While Anne's recipe was tasty enough, it didn't have the sticky caramel and jammy quality I've had before and the crust wasn't flaky enough. I'll try the recipe from Julia's The Way to Cook next time. Any other tarte tatin suggestions?

Photos of my meal can be viewed at the link below. This finally gets me to that holy symbol. I always chuckle at those stories like of the Virgin Mary in a grilled cheese sandwich and I'm not particularly religious, but my first thought when I saw the picture of the tarte tatin w/ mock creme fraiche was that it looked like a hooded woman praying in the creme. I didn't drink that much wine, so I'll take it as a good sign (culinary and otherwise) for the holiday season and new year. Holiday wishes and good eating/cooking to all!

Any feedback on refinement of these dishes is appreciated, and I'll be happy to answer any questions about specific dishes.

Link: http://www.kodakgallery.com/ShareLand...

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  1. I have a similar problem with Julia Child's cookbooks. Yes, the recipes work well, but by the time I'm done reading them, and working out in my head all the things I have to do, I'm usually too tired to go out and do it. A bout with Julia usually has me running to my mom's 1956 Betty Crocker. I may be inordinately fond of recipes that are less than a page long.

    Your menu sounds fantastic! You must be a model DIL.

    Now for a little Christmas present--a thank you for sharing your posts, and organizing delectable lunches--the link below will lead you to what may be the best, most authentic recipe for Tarte Tatin. I've made it many times, always to rave reviews. I hope you and your family enjoy it as much as we have.

    (Oh, yes, I'm linking you to the original French recipe, as I suspect you have enough French, or your MIL can translate. But if you want a HOWL, get the Google translation of the page. You may find the French one easier to understand!)

    Link: http://www.tarte-tatin.com/page/recet...

    14 Replies
    1. re: Pia

      'You must be a model DIL.'


      Well, let's not romanticize things that far! Let's just say that cooking is one way to keep everyone happy in the moment. :-)

      Thanks for the recipe link! You know it's authentic when it's written in the native language...will get husband and MIL to help me translate.

      1. re: Carb Lover

        Oh, forgot to ask a key question: what apples do you use for tatin? I went w/ golden delicious since most recipes seem to call for that, but I just don't care for GD that much (even the good ones from my farmer's market). Would smallish granny smiths or pippins work ok? I like to eat braeburns too and have been enjoying mutsus...

        1. re: Carb Lover

          old school pastry chef i trained under used nothing but red del's. Thats what i grab first also....

          1. re: dano

            Hey Dano...tell me more please. I've never read anything regarding the use of Red Delicious except for eating and I hate them for eating. What is their texture like after cooked???

          2. re: Carb Lover

            I love the tartness of granny smiths. Plus, they keep their shape well too. But I usually use a few different kinds at the same time for all tarts and pies: golden delicious, winesap and granny smith is my favorite apple tail for pies and tarts... Never used either braeburn or pippins, but assume they'd probably work well.

            1. re: Carb Lover

              I like some tartness, and hate mealy apples, so I go with small, very firm Granny Smiths. There's another variety that I tried only once, and liked even better, but they're hard to find: I got them from a fruit stand on Hwy 128. They were basically red, but with a brownish area around the stem. Really good apples. . . Fujis and goldens are at bit too bland for me.

              Re choice of pastry for this recipe, I'd use puff pastry if I wanted more visual appeal, but I actually like the "French Picnic" pie crusts better for texture and taste. They were somewhere between puff pastry and a short crust. Pate sucree may be a bit too rich and dense for this.

              1. re: Pia

                And one more thing: don't wait too long to invert the tarte. So much butter and sugar in cool weather will cause the apples to stick to the pan. I wait until the pastry is cool enough to minimize the chance of sogginess, but the apples are still very warm. If the tarte gets cold in the dish, I'd heat it over a low-medium flame just long enough to get everything warm and loose enough.

                1. re: Pia

                  Thanks...I like granny smiths for baking. I think they will hold their shape and texture better than the GDs and their tartness will offset the sweetness of the caramel. Agree that pate sucree was too dense and rich.

                  Was the red apple a Northern Spy? I don't know if they're sold here on the west coast, but from the linked reference, it matches your description.

                  Link: http://www.foodsubs.com/Apples.html

                  1. re: Carb Lover

                    I'm sorry, I can't remember the name, but I think it may have been Jonathan or Sierra Beauty. The Northern Spy is grown grown in California by the Philo Apple Farm. (I found this out while looking for the name of the apple stand from which I purchased the apples: Gowan's Oak Tree. I don't know if Gowan's has Northern Spies, too.)

            2. re: Pia

              The website has an English portal, and the link is below.
              But it would seem to me that the variety of apple is the key, yet is not specified in the recipe.

              Link: http://www.tarte-tatin.com/english/pa...

              1. re: Joel Teller

                I'm debating whether to make this tarte for a Christmas dinner at a friend's house.

                Is this tarte best straight out of the oven, or can it be made earlier in the day? Puff pastry has a tendency to get soggy after it sits in contact with moist things. Would the short pastry hold up better?


                1. re: paulj

                  I hope my repeating this is not wearing thin, but this is what I do when making the tarte ahead of time or for traveling. When it is done, invert on a plate. Line the pan with foil - spray with Pam or something if you like, or also put a round of parchment paper in - put the pan back on top of the tarte and reinvert. This way, the crust stays on top and does not get soggy. You can then reheat if you like, and invert for serving. The recipe I use is a pate brisee or something of the like, not puff pastry.

                  1. re: MMRuth

                    I'm confused, do you line pan w/ foil so that the apples won't be in direct contact w/ cast iron due to the acid content?

                    My tarte got done a few hours before we ate so I just let it cool in the pan. Right before eating, I heated it up over moderate heat just to warm and loosen the juices/caramel again. Ran a knife around the edge and inverted it w/ ease. No soggy crust...mine was a pate sucree I think is what it's called (w/ sugar and some egg yolk).

                    I would use a brisee or sucree crust since I don't like a puff pastry crust for tarte tatin. While others might disagree, I would feel comfortable leaving this in my cast iron skillet for up to 5 hrs. (arbitrary as that may be) before serving. If you don't or if you need to make way in advance, then MMRuth's method sounds good. I would wait at least 30 min. before inverting though.

                    1. re: Carb Lover

                      I just didn't want to have worry about the tarte sticking when I went to invert it later on - that's the only reason.

            3. g
              Great River Road

              Thank you for taking the time to write about your wonderful French meal...
              There are oodles of things I could spend time reading on various websites, however, I feel very fortunate to have chosen your memory of a delicious meal prepared with much care. It was just the thing to read to take me into this busy week before Christmas.
              Your description was also just the right thing to read this cold winter night !

              About that vision in the creme...
              Well, from one angle it does look a bit like the Virgin Mary, but at first glance I also saw a slight resemblance to Kermit the Frog. :-)

              1 Reply
              1. re: Great River Road

                Glad you enjoyed the post. Now that you mention it, I do see Kermit w/ a smirk. Fun abstractions w/ food...

              2. The Way to Cook recipe for Tarte Tatin is what I always use - mentioned this before, but I'd use a couple of extra apples (I've always used Golden Delicious) than the number called for in the recipe. I find Way to Cook much easier to follow than Mastering the Art ... and I think in the intro Julia herself says something along the lines that she's made things clearer and more efficient in TWC. We're having Tarte Tatin for Christmas! Happy Holidays ...

                1 Reply
                1. re: MMRuth

                  I remember you recommending this recipe before and linked it below for others. Interesting how it calls for a good amount of lemon juice and zest. Suppose that's why it needs all that sugar (1.5 cups) to offset. I like the sugar to butter ratio though...I think Willan's recipe that I used had too much butter to sugar (1:2 ratio) or maybe I didn't let it caramelize enough. I also like that it's baked at a higher temp. so that the crust can set more quickly...mine was at 375F. After baking, my apples were a bit softer than I like too, but I wonder if this is how it's supposed to be...

                  Link: http://labellecuisine.com/archives/pi...

                2. you know.... you really need to forgo the mock creme fraiche and make some for real... its so easy! Plus, you can use it in the place of sour cream from then on. It lasts as long.

                  However, I can't attest to what images would have appeared had you used homemade creme fraiche. Maybe you would have gotten the whole nativity? :)

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: adamclyde

                    A whole nativity scene would have been wild! By homemade creme fraiche, do you mean mixing a little buttermilk into heavy cream, heating a little, and letting sit out for a day? I've done this before and it tasted great, but I don't know if it was much better from full fat sour cream that's been whipped w/ little superfine sugar. I will try it again though when I can get my act together to make things in advance. BTW, the boeuf bourguignon tasted better the next day (as others have attested to), so I'll try to make that ahead of time too.

                    1. re: Carb Lover

                      yeah. that is what I mean. When I've made it just by sitting out, it's been ok. Two things that make it superb... first, heat it up first as you suggest (I used to just let it sit out... was good, but not as thick as when I heated to 95 degrees before sitting out overnight). Second, and most important, use high-quality pastuerized (not ultra) cream.

                      When I've made it, it's been different and definately better than souped up sour cream.

                      Also, then you can make that lemon creme fraiche ice cream. mmm...

                      1. re: adamclyde

                        Please share your lemon creme fraiche ice cream recipe!

                        I made homemade creme fraiche before, heating up good pasteurized (non ultra) creame before letting it sit out. How long did you leave it before it got good and thick? I didn't let mine sit long enough to be as thick as store bought sour cream. Does it get there eventually? I was squeamish about leaving dairy out for so many days (2? I can't remember)

                        1. re: nooodles

                          Linked adamclyde's report and recipe below. Hope to make it soon!

                          About homemade creme fraiche, I remember just leaving it out for 24 hrs. or so. Tried to keep it in a warm place in the kitchen. It never got as thick as commercial sour cream, but it had thickened up nicely and even more so after refrigeration. Good stuff!

                          Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                          1. re: nooodles

                            I make my by adding 1 tbsp of buttermilk [which I don't often have on-hand and have found that plain Greek yogurt works fine] to 1 cup of heavy cream. Mix well, cover, and leave at room temp for 24 hours. Refrigerate for up to a week. It'll thicken over the course of the week, but it (thankfully, imo) never gets as thick as commercial sour cream.


                            1. re: nooodles

                              sorry... was late to the game. Thanks Carb Lover for linking to the recipe. To answer your question - yes, it does indeed get thick like Sour Cream. Just be patient. I find all the recipes underestimate how long it takes. After heating it up, I left mine out for at least 24 hours. When it gets as thick as sour cream, put it in the fridge. Once fully cold, it will be quite a bit thicker than sour cream. And man, it is good...

                      2. And I thought I made a great dinner last night! Not even close - although I am posting about it later today.

                        Btw, it looked to me as if the Virgin Mary was worrying about all those calories and hiding her head in her hands.

                        But hey, I was raised a Theosophist, so what do I know.

                        1. The whole dinner sounds wonderful. I'd love to scarf those oysters down! Thanks for sharing the event with our hungry eyes.

                          For beef stew, I prefer to use chuck. The musculature seems more relaxed and giving when cooked in that manner. I also find the flavor beefier.

                          Like other hounds, I use a mix of apples in tarte tatin-some sweet and sour. Fujis, granny smith, pippins, winesap, northern spy. Pink pearl are really good if you can find them.

                          Regarding Mastering the Art book and your comments, I can see how the multiple steps would seem complicated and sometimes confusing. The multi-layered recipes make you flip from page to page and that can be annoying if you wonder where it's all leading. Also there's not a lot of encouragement to experiment or improvise, if any. BUT it's a foundational book, a solid base, aimed at teaching the master recipes and techniques for French food, and that involves intricacy and a heavy dose of patience. I'd seriously recommend reading the complete book first and just digest its overall message, but only if you're curious.

                          The forward of the book is pretty upfront about its rules; like much French cooking, it's based on multiple steps (brownings, simmerings, strainings, skimmings, and flavorings) and that the streamling or omission of these will result in a less than ideal dish. Without knowing what her renditions tasted like and as she intends, to lessen amounts of butter, omit cream in cream soup, and omit the brown braised onion step in the boeuf bourguignon seems a little unfair to the spirit of the book. I know you said you were trying to lessen the richness but these recipes predate nouvelle cuisine and aren't written with those lighter ideas in mind. I don't mean this to sound harsh but more like give the book a shot on its own terms.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: petradish

                            Points well taken. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

                            Given Julia's iconic status and what I know she's done for American cuisine, I really WANT to like these two books but haven't been "hooked" yet. I don't expect her writing, teaching style, or food to be like Judy Rodgers' or anyone else, but I was hoping that something uniquely Julia would resonate w/ me and it hasn't. Come to think of it, her PBS show never grabbed me like the stuff from Frugal Gourmet or Burt Wolf. Those were probably the earliest food personalities that I remember watching...I also own her Baking w/ Julia (recipes by well-known chefs) and it hasn't inspired me as much as I had hoped.

                            My deviations probably weren't fair to the spirit of the books, but they were done to match my taste preference as well as the fact that Julia often doesn't give me a good reason WHY I should be motivated to do something the "right" way. There were times when I knew that I was cheating the final result and there were times when there just didn't seem to be any good reason to do an extra step. I have no problem adding cream and butter if it will taste better, but my omissions were made b/c I thought the lovely fresh flavors would deteriorate if I followed her advice. Butter and cream should enhance, not obscure or overwhelm.

                            I still hope to try more recipes and get a good gist for the books. Will try chuck roast next time for the beef dish!

                          2. Loved the story/photos. I'm not crazy about rump roast in anything!

                            {I know it's very un-chowish of me, but Julia's cookbooks don't inspire me (sacrilege)}.

                            1. As always, amazing stuff, Tran. I can't come close to your creativity but I'm constantly blown away how similar our tastes are.

                              Inspired by the thread in late Nov. (linked below) I've made the dish twice this month and probably will again next week. Not having JC's books I used the paraphrased version one of the hounds provided along with the additional suggestions by FlyFish.

                              Like you I served it over buttered egg noodles (extra wide). The first attempt we had it the same day, on the second waited till the following day which seemed the better way to go.

                              I used chuck roast both times but with the first the cut was only 1-1.5 inches thick and the smallish squares of meat were a little too done for my taste. Probably didn't help that I spaced out and left them in for a little over an hour. Second version I got a nice thick piece and cut it into seven larger (@ 2 in) pieces, came out fork tender and full of flavor. I removed them after cooking for 45 min.

                              I liked FF's suggestion of using more broth (64oz) and a full bottle of wine (minus about 1/2 cup for cooking the mushrooms) since the recipe reminded me of the way I make oxtails bordelaise. Let the pot simmer uncovered on top of the stove on very low setting for 3-4 hours until reduced to somewhere around 4 cups. At Lady PB's and my BIL's suggestion, no, insistance, I browned the butter/flour mixture into a butterscotch colored roux for thickening.

                              I wasn't clear about the reference regarding the busy steps for prepping the shrooms and onions, so I just quartered the small buttons, sauteed in butter until they released their moisture, added the wine and slow simmered until the liquid evaporated. Also went with the the suggestion of using the small white boiling onions instead of the pearls. I picked out the smallest ones I could find and discovered it easy to remove the thick outer layer with my thumbnail and produce a perfect size for browning in additional butter.

                              To serve just reheated the beef in the oven tightly wrapped in foil, nuked the onions, added the cooked shrooms in the sauce to warm, placed over the noodles with a sprinkle of fleur de sel and a grind of tellicherry pepper. Had oven baked cauliflower as a side the second night, can't recall the other.

                              Both times I skimmed the fat a few times while simmering but think in the future if making it a day ahead I'll just let it congeal in the fridge and remove the next day prior to thickening.

                              Next time I'm thinking about roasting some marrow bones and adding them to the stock (less the marrow) then adding back the marrow just prior to serving. Love to hear any other ideas for tweaking this great dish.

                              Wishing you and Yves a great holiday season.


                              Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: PolarBear

                                Happy Holidays to you and your Lady too! Am glad my posts have resonated w/ you, but now I'm thinking...sounds like you're cooking but not posting about it enough! :-)

                                To address some of your points:

                                Totally agree that it tastes better the next day (assuming one has the restraint!). We had some leftovers and by the next day the sauce had nicely thickened, the wine flavor deepened and married better w/ the seasonings, the meat was more tender and succulent inside. IMO, it really has to be made at least one day in advance.

                                I will def. use chuck roast next time. Rump roast was the #1 cut recommended in the book. I've never used it before but got excited when I actually saw it for sale at my butcher counter. Seemed to have some nice even marbling and didn't look all that different from chuck, but I like the results w/ chuck better, which is what I normally use in beef stew and pho.

                                To be honest, I'm not even sure what the "busy" steps for the onions and mushrooms exactly are. They're in a different section of the book. I remember skimming over it a couple days before, but I never got back to it since I was pressed for time and decided to do a shortcut. Similar to you, I basically sauteed them in butter, added some beef broth, covered and braised for about 10-15 min. I then tossed them in the stew to finish and absorb the sauce. Used small boiler onions that were great, super sweet.

                                Here are my questions:

                                1. You say that you cooked the meat the first time for an hour and the second time for 45 min. Did I read that right? Per Julia's recipe, I simmered my beef in the wine sauce for about 4 hrs. total. Am I missing something?

                                2. Since you know wine, what kind of wine did you use in the stew and what wine did you drink? I found myself sorta stumped at the store since I didn't want to spend too much $ on the stew wine, but didn't want to buy anything that would ruin the dish either. I wanted to use French to keep it authentic but seems like a Cab or Zinfandel would be more affordable and still work? Thoughts please...

                                1. re: Carb Lover

                                  Happy to report that it freezes well also, thawed some of the leftover sauce and had over noodles last night, the flavors seemed even more intense and the wine in it was even more evident, a good thing.

                                  The first batch I made with Zinfandel, can't recall which one but it was a decent every day sort, @ $10, iirc). Second batch used a Roth Cab in the same price range. The cab may have stood out more simply because of the flavors having time to meld where the Zin didn't.

                                  I really prefer a Zin to match with the dish, Ridge Geyserville or Lytton Springs, and a Quivara Sonoma County have worked well. Opened a 99 L'Aventure Zin last night, good but actually a little to tannic or oaky, might have gone better with a grilled steak.

                                  I believe someone mentioned removing the meat after cooking for 45 min, not sure. Basically I recalled how the meat has fallen off the bone in the past while cooking oxtails or spaghetti sauce for about the same number hours and having the meat just dispersed throughout. Found I really liked the texture better, especially when cut into approx. 2 inch cubes.

                                  Side note, bought all the ingredients for the Cassoulet recipe you provided last year, hope to get to it next week as well.