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Batting A Thousand
Both the Resident Wine Maniac and I watched the original series of The French Chef, now available as a boxed set through Amazon and available for streaming on both PBS and Amazon. We first watched them with a mild curiosity – as he had an interest in wines beyond Almaden and Lancers and I was starved for learning how to cook something other than Chicken Cockaigne from The Joy Of Cooking. But like so many other Americans over 50 years ago, we became hooked. We have now owned two copies of the red-bound French Chef Cookbook (only one edition of both volumes of the famous Mastering The Art Of French Cooking). In fact there are two meals that we cook repeatedly from this series. One is her crab salad (with the best crab in the world — Chesapeake blue crab) and her flank steak dinner. And, ironically, she recommends as a wine accompaniment “Mountain Red,” which Almaden Vineyards produced at a very affordable price, available almost anywhere. Looking through the posted thoughts on the steak meal (it was the 108th show of an astounding 201 episodes of the series) it has apparently been viewed as a successful recipe for fertility and the perfect antidote for any personal crisis, from broken limbs through broken hearts.
- 3 tablespoons minced scallions
- 1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme (or "Italian Seasoning”)
- Big pinch of freshly ground pepper or a hot sauce of your choice
- 2 lb flank steak trimmed (14x6 inches approximately)
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- Mix marinade ingredients and make light cross hatch marks on surface of flank steak with a sharp knife - this helps the marinade to soak into the steak and prevents it from curling when being cooked over high heat.
- Lay the steak in a flat pan and pour half of the marinade on one side and then flip and pour the remaining half on the other side.
- Allow the steak to marinate for 20 minutes at room temperature covered with wax paper
- You can also refrigerate it covered for several hours or up to 1 or 2 days.
- You can grill, broil or sear the steak in a very hot cast iron or carbon steel pan - 3 minutes on one side and 3 minutes on the other.
- Flank steaks must be carved in very thin slices across the grain of the meat (and on the vertical diagnonal).
- Lay it on a carving board and with a long, thin, sharp carving knife, start carving at about 3 inches from one end.
- Your knife should be at a 10 degree angle and the slices should be about 1/8 inch thick.
- Continue carving with the knife almost flat to the board and place all the slices on a platter and then pour the meat juices across them.
- She suggests Tabasco, but I find it too vinegary so I use Cholula or another hot sauce that is not as acidic.
- A quick salad and a bought baguette from a decent bakery makes this dinner indeed under 30 minutes.
- Victoria’s note: marinade also works beautifully with chicken or fish, or just on a baked potato
You can imagine the relief that we felt when we watched this entertaining documentary on Julia Child after being gobsmacked by the waste of talent in the misbegotten film Julie and Julia. That one brought to mind that the finest of actors cannot save a badly conceived film. I had followed the blog only briefly in its 2002 inception. I was disappointed largely because the author never seemed to care about the dish she had made. One learned a lot more about her disgruntled life than about her cooking. She seemed to experience mild happiness when she finished her recipe within the prescribed time she had assigned herself. Not much else. Julie Powell moved on to detail her extramarital affairs and meat butchery courses in a subsequent book..
This documentary, however, relies heavily on the well reviewed book My Life In France co-written by Julia Child and her nephew, Alex Prudhomme, and another by Bob Spitz. The documentary’s creators utilize archival film footage and photos with a light hand. There is no dark underbelly to their treatment of Julia. The food styling was done by Susan Spungen, an accomplished chef and author, who did the same for the film, Julie and Julia..
Feast For The Eyes
Also available is a binge-worthy docudrama on HBO, which looks to be everything that Julie and Julia was not. This well crafted and fictionalized series stars Sarah Lancashire and David Hyde Pierce, both terrific in their roles as were Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci. But even better is the recreation of their lives, relationships and the unwavering drive they both had to make what they loved about French cuisine accessible to American cooks who had to rely on Safeway or Giant. I of course enjoyed looking for the anachronisms in the cookware used in HBO’s series – a throwback to watching Hollywood films of early Greek and Roman sagas with my father and having him point out to me all the inaccuracies.
Two more rewards in this series for the viewer are the exploration into some intriguing aspects of Paul Child’s personality and the choice of food stylist in charge of the biggest star (without a speaking part) which was the food. Paul Child is normally glossed over, as is the role of a food stylist. The food stylist responsible for this culinary tour de force is Christine Tobin, who is local to the Boston area. As a child, she played with her Barbie dolls while her father, who was as hooked on the series as we were, watched and cooked with every episode. She particularly remembers his conquering Julia’s Duck A L’Orange.
Christine Tobin ran a team of professional chefs in two kitchen sets: one reproduction of Julia’s Cambridge home kitchen, the other a copy of the one used in the TV series. Tobin designed the lab kitchen between the two replicas with a window so that the team of chefs could see what was going on in the filming of the food prep. Thousands of eggs (and pounds of butter, naturally) were used. Tobin said that indeed, Julia was correct, butter makes everything taste better! Her hardest challenge were the soufflés. For each soufflé recipe from the series, anywhere from 16 to 24 would be made.
Watching both of these cinematic efforts made me want to pull out the two volumes of “Mastering…” as it is called among its fans and buy an extra dozen eggs (I have plenty of butter). pick a recipe, and cook down memory lane.
After owning one of the best cooking stores in the US for 47 years, Nancy Pollard writes a blog about food in all its aspects – recipes, film, books, travel, superior sources and food related issues.