Saturday, August 18, 2012

Last Minute Birthday Dinner!

I made some tea and sat in front of my computer Wednesday, logging on to take a leisurely look at any e-mails.  When the "Google" page came up, I saw it-- the charming cartoon drawing of Julia Child.  Oh, my gosh!  It was Julia Child's 100th birthday, and I was caught completely unprepared!  Every year, we have some family fun honoring this spirited lady that made good home cooking popular.  I usually make something from her "Mastering the Art of French Cooking", either volumes 1 or 2.  But this was her 100th birthday!  Something special was in order and I hadn't even begun to think about it!
Well, certainly, this would not have intimidated Julia Child, so I knew I couldn't just "let it go this year".  I got the cookbooks out and went to work.
     There wasn't time for any long cooking, multi-stepped recipes like her famous "Boeuf a la Bourguignonne", plus, it was August in Texas, so that didn't seem quite right.  Julia was one of the first American advocates of eating seasonally and "going local"!  After some contemplation, I decided on "Tournedos Sautes aux Champignons", or steak with mushroom Madeira sauce (sounds more delicious in French though!).  Besides fitting the time crunch, Julia had added her menu suggestions for the accompanying dishes and the wine.  Yay!  I decided to completely "re-enact"  pg. 297 of "Mastering the Art of French Cooking, vol.1".  Her menu:

Tournedos Sautes aux Champignons
Tomates Grillees au Four (Whole Baked Tomatoes)
Fonds D'Artichauts au Berre (Sauteed Artichoke Bottoms)
Pommes de Terre Parisiennes (Sauteed Potato Balls)
Peches Cardinal (Compote of Fresh Peaches with Raspberry Puree)

A red Bordeaux from the Medoc district

I added a baguette and some sable cookies (French butter cookies) from the local bakery and a super simple green salad with a quick vinaigrette of just olive oil, Dijon mustard, wine vinegar and salt and pepper. 
     In French, this menu sounds very fancy and complicated, but the actual execution wasn't hard at all!  Yes, tournedos (filet steaks) are expensive, but the good news is that because there is essentially no waste on these cuts, a small amount goes a long way, especially when paired with a tasty sauce.  The dessert was nothing more than some poached nectarines (peaches didn't look good at the store) in a puree of sweetened frozen raspberries.  I wasn't very happy with my own version of this dish because even after poaching, the nectarines weren't as luscious as I'd hoped.  Still, it was pretty, reasonably healthy and an excuse to eat the butter cookies!  The tomatoes literally took 10 minutes in the oven, and the artichokes were canned ones made delicious by a quick saute in butter and herbs.  The potato balls were scooped out with a melon baller and browned up in no time in a skillet.  Placed on a big platter, these all made a nice presentation for the table.  It all had a kind of fun "60's" vibe to it also-- like something people might have served in their homes right after her book became wildly popular.

So, all the recipes are in Julia's cookbook, but I'm including the steak recipe here.  You'll be surprised how quickly it all comes together and how yummy it is!  Take the time to make the sauteed bread.  The steaks are placed on them, and they become very delicious with the sauce and natural juices from the meat.
You may not be in the mood to make everything, but it seemed like Julia was a pragmatist when it came to cooking.  It's fun to make one small dish and serve it up with it's fancy French name, a sprinkling of parsley and flair!  Bon Anniversaire, Julia!

Tournedos Sautes aux Champignons
From "Mastering the Art of French Cooking, vol. I"

6 crustless rounds of white bread
3-4 Tbl. clarified butter (I just used regular butter-- no time for clarifying!)

1/2 lb. fresh mushrooms, sliced
2 Tbl. butter
1Tbl. oil
2 Tbl. minced shallots
salt and pepper

6 small filet steaks, about 1-inch thick each
2 Tbl. butter
1 Tbl. oil
salt and pepper
heavy skillet

1/2 cup beef broth (even Julia mentions canned!)
1 Tbl. tomato paste
1/4 cup Madeira mixed with 1/2 Tbl. cornstarch
2 Tbl. minced parsley

Saute the bread rounds in the butter until they are browned on each side.  Remove to another container and wipe out the skillet. 

Saute the mushrooms with the shallots in the butter and oil until they are cooked through and any moisture is evaporated.  Season with salt and pepper and remove to another container.

Dry the steaks well with paper towels.  Add the 2 Tbl. butter and 1 Tbl. oil to the skillet and saute the steaks over medium high heat, about 3 minutes per side for medium rare.  They should feel the slightest resistance when pressed with your finger, or cook to 125-130F.  The steaks will keep cooking while you prepare the sauce, so don't overcook them.  Set them aside on a plate and cover loosely with foil while you prepare the sauce.  Pour out any accumulated fat from the skillet.

Add the beef broth and tomato paste to the skillet and stir over medium heat to bring up the browned bits.  Boil until the liquid is reduced to around 3 tablespoons.  Pour in the Madeira mixture, stirring until thickened.  Add the sauteed mushrooms and simmer for a minute or two.  Taste and correct the seasoning. 

Place the bread rounds on a serving platter.  Cover each one with a steak.  Pour the sauce over and sprinkle with minced parsley.

Bon appetit!


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