27 June 2009

Julie, Julia and I

In this time of ever-spreading media cross-pollination, the usual order of 'How we learn about things' sometimes is more than just a little askew.

Several weeks ago, I stumbled across a new movie trailer for a movie I had never heard about before. Which is unusual in so far as I am a rather avid moviegoer and usually quite well aware of what's coming up.

Well, in this case, the whole affair had skipped me by. But the blib said something about cooking and it featured one of my favourite actresses, so I gave it a look.

Much to my surprise, this was a movie about a blog project, or at least half of it was. The blog project of a young woman cooking her way through all the recipes of some cookbook. The movie combined it with the life of the original cookbook's author herself, after her respective memoirs.

I had never heard of Julia Child nor the utterly adorable Julie / Julia Project before.

Which is was really a shame, for both Julia's recipes and Julie's adventures were things I could instantly relate to.

Julia's food is simple and basically saturated with butter, her instructions charming and wholeheartedly born out of a deep love for good eating - what's not to love about that? Her tips on how to make (and rescue a curdled) hollandaise are priceless on their own, let alone the wealth of useful information she has packed into her book. Somewhere in the introduction is a passage that strongly reminded me of Remy's imaginary chef telling him that 'anyone can cook'. If that's not a good thing, I don't know what is.

And Julie's experiences, with all their ups and downs, so often painfully and hilariously reminded me of my own. I think many of us can share the trauma of murdering a lobster, or the guilty embarassment of spending absurd amounts of money on some foodstuff, just as well as the beaming joy of seeing plates being licked clean and the deep feeling of accomplishment when you succesfully pulled off a dish that you barely even dared to tackle in the first place.

In short: Great stuff, both the book and the blog, and hopefully the movie, too. Go read.

And here's the trailer that, at least for me, started it all:

While thumbing my way through 'Mastering the Art of French Cooking', I came across this recipe for a 'gratin de poireaux', gratineed leeks with ham. Julie's comments on this had made me curious, and so I made a first attempt at it last night. Given that I always thought I didn't like leek that much, this dish was stunningly delicious. Deeply aromatic, plain and yet a little sophisticated, it just hits all the right notes for me.

Just remember that with the right combination of passion, fearlessness and butter, anything is possible.

gratin de poireaux
adapted from Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking
(serves two as a small meal)

4 leeks, about two fingers thick
1/4 teaspoon salt
150 ml water
50g butter

4 large slices cooked ham

180 ml cream
2 eggs
150g swiss cheese, grated
about 20g butter

Cut the roots and the greens off the leeks. Discard the roots and keep the greens to use in stock.

Clean the white stalks and put into a wide pot with the water, the salt and the butter. Boil until most of the water has evaporated, then reduce heat to barely a simmer and boil with lid on for about 20 minutes, until the leek is soft but not mushy yet.
Usually, the leek I get gives me whites about 20cm long, which fit nicely into the ham and my gratin dish both. Cut the stalks to the size you need before boiling, but usually the larger the pieces, the less work later.

Leave to cool for a moment. Take the stalks and wrap into a slice of ham individually. Put side by side into an oven-proof dish.

If there is more than two tablespoons of cooking liquid left in the pot, reduce until there are.

Combine the eggs, the cream, a little ground pepper and the reduced cooking liquid until smooth.
If your ham is particularly mild, you might want to add some more salt, but usually this should be more than enough.

Add the grated cheese, fold in and pour over the leeks, evenly distributig the cheese. Dot with butter.
Don't forget the butter. This is a Julia Child recipe, after all.

Bake in the oven at 190°C, until the top is nicely golden and puffed.

Can be served as a rich side or as a small main with salad and some potatoes. Reheats perfectly well.


Danielle said...

I read the book last year and shortly after discovered they were going to make a movie out of it. I've always loved Julia Childs and I can't wait until the movie is released!

What I'd really love is to find Julies original blog!

Reuben Morningchilde said...

@ Danielle - First of all thanks for dropping me line. The link to the original Julie / Julia blog is right up there in my post, fifth paragraph.
I'm having so much fun reading it currently, I bet you will, too.