Last year at this time, I happened upon Mary Bergfeld's post for a proposed blogging challenge called '50 Woman Game Changers'. The premise was to follow a list of influential women that Gourmet's on-line magazine editors had deemed the most talented, inspiring, inventive, ground-breaking, marketed, media saturated, and controversial of all women in the food industry over all time. A tall order it is to make a list of that nature ... and a tall order it is to address these women on a weekly basis, but that's just what Mary and a group of women did.
And now it's over and done, but I'm still thinking about Julia Child. Julia was the first woman on that daunting list and I have spent a lot of time thinking about her, as I measured the rest of the women on the list against her tall shadow! She really did jump right into the world of food preparation with both big feet. Her early married life in France and her work at Cordon Bleu's school of cookery set her on the path to notoriety. The support and eager collaboration of her husband, Paul helped her to further her career in the world of food, food media, and the culture that developed around gourmet cooking in the years when PBS was developing as a media presence.
a Gourmet On-Line image
The world is forever intrigued by Julia Child. She looms large and Gourmet is still spending a great deal of time on her ... she would have been 100 years old this year. Gourmet is celebrating her 100th with a series of articles on her greatest recipes. Check one of them out here. To boot, Smithsonian Magazine has featured a beautiful article written by Ruth Reichl that celebrates Julia and her beloved Paul ... see that one here. There are bound to be many more accolades heaped higher and higher as we approach her August 15th birthday.
Well, today I did one small project from her masterpiece tome, Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
I have always wanted to be able to make good crêpes and when I referred to her cookbook. I found a beautiful recipe for Gateaux de Crêpes à la Florentine - sounds fancy, but it is just beautifully stacked crêpes that are layered alternately with a spinach and Mornay sauce slather and a loose mushroom and Mornay sauce. It's a show off dish to make when you need a nifty first course, a fluffy light entrée, or a project to putter around with. The dish entails some basics of French cooking - the Mornay sauce, the crêpes, and some gently prepared fresh spinach and beautiful mushroom caps. The rest is all about parceling out your time to 'do the dish' in small bursts of work. I worked in my garden and played with the dogs in between the different steps for making the dish.
Crêpe batter must be made a few hours before you want to cook the crêpes. The flour in the whipped batter needs to have time to expand so that a light and airy consistency forms when the batter hits the very hot crêpe pan. That's great if you're busy. Make the batter in a blender and refrigerate it for a few hours while you go on to other things. I planted flowers, did some dead-heading, cut and washed the spinach to make the filling, and prepared a work station for handling the batter and the finished crêpes. Washing spinach is a pain in the butt, but when it's clean and the stems are trimmed, it's a thing of beauty. It's my favorite dark leafy green. I could have made this gateaux with any number of ingredients, but when you have a row of spinach and it's in prime condition ... what can I say?
After I got the dirt out from under my fingernails, I spent a half hour over a hot pan turning out the crêpes onto a couple racks before stacking them and covering them with a warm towel. Then, I left them and did some puttering on the computer, prepped some fresh green beans, made the Mornay sauce, prepped the fillings, and sipped some wine. The rest is just photos ...
... minced mushrroms and shallots that go into a cottage cheese and Mornay sauce
... Voila ... mushroom and cheese sauce!
... the base for the gateaux is a shallow platter with a light coating of butter
... the beginning of the gateaux is a layer of crêpes (two for stability when serving)
... another crepe and a layer of spinach slather ... and so on with the layers until you end with a top layer
... so the 'cake' needs some icing ... a nice coating of the Mornay sauce that's left over from making the fillings
... this gateaux has fourteen layers and the Mornay topping with just a bit of Swiss cheese ... baked for 30 minutes
... cut with a serrated knife, it holds together beautifully when served in wedges
... the outer edges are crisped by the oven's heat, fillings are piping hot, the cheese topping is just a bit stringy - yum!
This is a dish that takes a dedication to the process ... it has four separate steps and four separate recipes. I have the time to putter about in the kitchen these days. Maybe you don't. In that case, I can only say that it's well worth the effort, but you have to want to go to that effort. Save it for a rainy day when you're in the mood to putter and I promise you'll sit there with a fork of this gateaux poised and think of Julia happily chirping her byline ... bon appetit!
Get the book ... there are so many basic recipes that will serve you well over the years! Gateaux de Crêpes à la Florentine can be found in Volume I on page 193. If you don't want to buy it, get it from your public library and warn them that it will be long 'overdue'.
Back to the reflections on the past year, though! I've learned so much and admire the women on 'the list' so much! When I think back on the year, there are some recipes that I just loved ... so here are my top five picks ...
Cabbage Rolls in Tomato Pepper Sauce - # 37 Severine von Tscharner Fleming
Donna Hay's Sticky Chicken - # 31 Donna Hay
Chicken Paella - #17 Dorothy Hamilton
Swedish Meatballs - #9 Irma Rombauer
Salmon with Mustard Seed and Coriander - #7 Madhur Jaffrey
These dishes reflect my favorites of the world's cuisine and a bit of my family's heritage. The colors, spices, and healthy vegetable elements on each plate reflect where I have been trying to go with my diet over the past year. Golly, there was some good food made during this challenge!
Now it's time to move on ... and recently, I discovered a woman that I think just might make the next list ... have you heard of Diana Henry? I am adoring her cookbooks and style of unfussy cooking, her use of vegetables and simple preparations of meats and seafood, her simple desserts and the 'voice' that she has in her writing. Next post, I'll highlight one of her recipes!
Until then ...