Alabama Memories of Julia Child
October 27, 2009

Hughes Kennedy and Julia, 1973I’m freshly back from ‘bama, where I had a great visit with my Mom, one of my sisters, one nephew, one brother-in-law, two sisters-in law, and my Father-in-law and his new love. It was one of those somewhat hectic visits where there is sooooo much more that you’d like to do and see, but there are lots of people to get to and only so many hours in the day. You know what I mean…

And my Mother is still an avid reader of the Birmingham News…wouldn’t go a day without reading it cover to cover, though as with many newspapers these days (including the venerable Baltimore Sun) it doesn’t take as long as it used to. But she had saved a couple of things she thought I’d like…and she was dead on, both times.

The program from Julia's program in B'ham.....The first was an article about Julia Child, and a visit she made to Birmingham 36 years ago to give a series of cooking demonstrations at the Civic Center. She stayed with a Dr. Hughes Kennedy (seen with Julia in the top photo)at his home. My Mom asked, “Do you recognize him?”…and both my sister and I were clueless….”Nope…who is he?” She replied, almost scandalized that we didn’t know, “But he was your pediatrician!” Seriously, I don’t remember him at all, but she does.

And he must have done pretty darn well in the kid doctor business, because he had not one, but three kitchens in his home, and a dining room that would seat 100 guests. Good Lord. Dr. Kennedy hosted a dinner party for Julia while she was his guest, for about 125 people… he said he was too naive to be intimidated by cooking for the great Julia Child…they just dove in.

7 easy is that??He made his signature dish, a pretty simple chicken casserole with celery, onion, cheddar cheese and slivered almonds called Chicken Riggins. And even though it calls for only seven ingredients, Julia was impressed by it, so much so that she later requested the recipe for her garden club and named the dish, after Dr. Kennedy’s partner Wendell Riggins

My Mom said a group at church years ago saw the recipe long ago and made it for a Christmas party…it was such a hit  that they served the same thing year after year. And I plan to give it a try, though my mind reader Mother(who knows me well) said, “And don’t change any of the ingredients!” I was secretly  thinking…TWO CUPS of mayonnaise?? I can only imagine Dr. Kennedy didn’t eat this too often, as he’s now 85 and still kicking it. But I’ve provided the recipe below…and it does sound sinfully delicious. Let me know if you make it and how it was. Just loosen the belt buckle.


3 cups diced chicken

2 cups diced celery

1 cup diced onions

1 pound sharp cheddar cheese

1 can slivered almonds

2 cups mayonnaise

Bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook 4 chicken breasts and 4 thighs with salt, pepper and celery tops until tender, about 20 minutes. Cool and dice. Dice 2 cups celery. Saute onions and cube 1 pound sharp cheddar cheese. Mix above with 2 cups mayonnaise and almonds. Place in 3-quart casserole, sprinkle with bread crumbs and bake at 350 degrees until bubbly and golden on top (approximately 20 minutes).

A delicious ode to Julie and Julia
August 11, 2009

Meryl Streep doing a mean Julia Child...

Meryl Streep doing a mean Julia Child...

Yes, I was indeed part of the pack who made it to see Julie and Julia this weekend….Realizing the theatre at Harbor East would be packed with people just like me(Julia/food nuts), we got there just in time to find seats together. The audience was as expected, majority female, but there were plenty of guys there too for this new genre of film…the chick food flick. And we loved it. Meryl Streep pulls off the impossible…playing someone so much part of the public consciousness even as parody….and making the character plausible, and lovable. Just a word of advice…plan to eat something delicious afterward whether you’re eating out or in. Plan something nice. You will be ravenous for something with butter after seeing this ode to all cooking Julia Child. And sharing this movie with my daughter, who is just learning to cook, was such a special treat…I got tears in my eyes at one point….I know…so sentimental.

The ratatouille is coming together!

The ratatouille is coming together!

Our reward when we got home? Some amazing Ratatouille, (the dish, not the movie)compliments of my daughter who is a new convert to Julia Child’s legion of fans, now drawing a whole new generation of people learning the joys of slow food…actual cooking….in the kitchen..with real ingredients. Real butter. Real flour. Real vegetables! Now, there are as many recipes for ratatouille as there are restaurants in Provence, and they’re probably all delicious…here’s one from Epicurious, that uses copious amounts of garlic…(love it!)….but ratatouille is a forgiving recipe…adjust ingredients to your liking.

The ratatouille was finished before we made the afternoon movie…it sat happily on the stove with all it’s luscious ingredients(heirloom tomatoes that I got on sale from the farmer’s market…a large basket of “seconds” for $5 as they were racing decay, but perfect for cooking)melding blissfully into one another, and when we got home I quickly butterflied( not boned!) a chicken so that it would cook in half the time, roasted it  after rubbing it down with some butter mixed with Mediterranean sea salt, chopped some French Bread and put it all on the table with some real butter(Julia would want that). What a feast…I think we all channeled Julia that night as we savored the fresh tomatoey-garlic-eggplant-olive oily goodness…it was great plopped on top of the bread. Bon appetit!!

More vacation envy…stop it!!
August 5, 2009

 Thought I’d share with you some reader comments and questions….this from Nicole, regarding the post yesterday on the dreaded vacation envy, about a co-worker’s return from Provence…..
My recent vacation (just got back last Tuesday) included a day in Beverly Hills… my best friend and I went to the Jose Eber Atelier salon for a beauty stop. (got my hair cut by Jose himself… ) Then a run to Sprinkles cupcakes. Then a stop at the Panini cafe in Beverly Hills. Finished by a window shopping walk along Rodeo Drive. On another day, I spent some time walking along the beach at Coronado, California, watching a pod of dolphins leaping offshore.”

Does cruelty know no bounds, Nicole? While you were waltzing off to Jose Eber, I was probably cleaning the cat litter. My only come back in that I too, have had my hair done by the glamorous Jose(does he still wear that hat?)….anyway glad you had fun, you dolphin-watching cupcake-eater.

From Paul: “Ah Provence! I was fortunate enough to spend a month and a half in Cheval-Blanc, just outside of Cavillon near Avignon while apprenticing with master-chef Alain Nicolet. It was wonderful! I boarded in a house in town and did everything the French do. I can’t wait to go back.”

“It was wonderful!” OK, that is just piling on….I can hear you making funny/lame American jokes with the master chef Alain….”alors, oh witty Americaine, your weet just ees jus delightfool….ha-ha-ha!”…and no doubt swilling the Cheval-Blanc. That is a fancy white wine, isn’t it? I hope you didn’t drop a pan of beef bourguignon oh his foot while you were there….

The finished result...looks good, oui?

The finished result...looks good, oui?

And this from Elaine about my daughter’s cooking:
Donna, How was the beef stew your daughter made? Would really like to hear if she used an actual pan this time. God bless her for making the attempt.”

Elaine, Elaine, Elaine…God bless her indeed, but if she knew you were calling her Julia Child beef bourguignon… beef stew….even though that is what it is, she would be incensed. Incensed, I tell you! Actually, it was very, very good…excellent really, and I am happy to report she did use a pan…proof in the photo above. The girl is learning. Though she was quite put out that no one had commented on her owl cake from a previous post, that she spent much time and effort on.


A Quick Update..Beef Bourguignon laced with Harry Potter and Julia Child
July 31, 2009

 Sorry about no bloggy-mac-blog-blog this week….I’ve been a bad girl. A loyal reader wrote in saying(ok, complaining)…” Please tell Donna to update her Hamilton’s Habitat. Nothing has been posted since 7/24.” Hey, I know that, and I’ve felt guilty every single day, ok? But here’s a quick update…it’s almost news time!

I’m back on another round of antibiotics…no, not for a communicable disease, but for some recurring symptoms of Lyme Disease. But I’m hopeful this will take care of things. I’ll keep you posted.

My daughter was called for her first ever jury duty yesterday. She asked me the night before what time she had to be there….”8:15 am“, I told her. Horrified, she said, “8:15? How on earth do people go to work by then???” Ahhhh, grasshopper…..I told her lots and lots and lots and lots of people, including her Dad, have to be at work  by then…and lots more get to go in even earlier. The fact did not console her… at all. But she made it to the courthouse on time….did get called, but not selected as a juror(SHOCKER)….much relief on her part.

Making seafood paella

Making seafood paella

Let’s see, what else? I made a paella last weekend….found some wild caught shrimp that were really nice at the Supermarket….that were $7.99 a pound! Not bad for shrimp….and I keep a little jar of saffron(the most expensive spice in the world) in the frig, for just such an occasion, because it’s really not easy to find on the fly. I now order it off the internet.

Mmmmm, let’s see…went to yoga class and got my butt kicked Tuesday night…sometimes that instructor seems a little mean, but in a good way. I really felt it the next day, which means it’s a good workout.

And my daughter called this morning…you know, the one who plops roasts into the over without a pan underneath because I didn’t say use a pan…and asked, where one gets “stew meat”. “In the grocery store at the meat counter“, I say levelly.

Does it say stew meat?”

It might but it’s just cut up chunks of beef….why do you need stew meat?

Will ours look like this?

Will ours look like this?

I’m cooking dinner for you! Julia Child’s Beef Bo-erg-ooee-gon!” She’s delighted by the idea. And it is very, very sweet. “Do you mean beef bourguignon?” She does indeed. She has been inspired by the new movie coming out about la Julia, and Mastering the Art of French Cooking was one of the first serious cookbooks I used. I have made the above recipe many, many times. It is excellent…but there are many steps…perhaps too many for my girl? We shall see…the bacon has already been deleted I hear. But it will probably still be delicious….I’ll let you know how it went, but it is an ambitious recipe, as are many of Julia’s recipes. 

And today is J.K. Rowling’s birthday! Maybe we will celebrate by seeing the latest Harry Potter movie on the IMAX, at the Maryland Science Center…that really should rock. And for those of you discouraged about life or your job, or lack of one, remember that J.K. was an unemployed single mom, at rock bottom, which she said she found freeing….because there she was, but still standing. Her Harry Potter series became one of the best selling book series( and movies) of all time. Goes to show you, you just never know, and should never give up. A single idea can turn into great things. Or maybe just a very good beef stew. And tonight, that’s just fine with me. Have a lovely weekend, play nice, and come home safe…we miss you.

A Cassoulet Valentine??
February 12, 2009

Wish you could smell the garlic and pork.....ummmmm

Wish you could smell the garlic and pork.....ummmmm

I know what you’re thinking….a  bean cassarole for Valentine’s Day?? Mon dieu, absolutement non!…..but hear me out. A cassoulet is beans, elevated to an art form, really. A seriously luscious, scrumptious, rich, one dish meal, delicioso love letter from France. I made one last Saturday, luckily before illness struck(and thanks to all of you for the nice get well replies…they did make me feel better). My cassoulet, while not the classic version as it did not contain duck, was nonetheless….excellent, and less expensive to make. If  you are looking for a truly classic version of cassoulet, try a variation of one by Julia child….that woman could cook, no doubt.

But basically, you’re talking about white beans like Great Northern or Cannellini(you can use canned beans to make things quicker, but the dish is much less expensive if you cook your own dried beans a day ahead)….pork sausages…I used the spicy D’Artangnan Andouille, which cost more but you could also use Kielbasa, and I believe it would be just as good…the classic version calls for duck confit….(I always dream of making it but never have)…I left it out in my version which I adapted from a Williams Sonoma slow cooker version …theirs was adapted from Chef Thomas Keller of the famous French Laundry Restaurant’s version. As you can see, cassoulet is a much adapted dish, and you can create your own version too, as long as you stick to the basics. The recipe also calls for pork shoulder…a tres’ cheap cut of meat, often less than a buck a pound, that is cooked until it’s so tender it can be cut with a fork. And smokey bacon. And garlic. And chicken broth and bread crumbs. Tomatoes. The classic version uses bread crumbs on top for a crust, mine used crisped slices of French Bread, which was delicious. And I made mine all in one day, but as we only ate, maybe, a fourth of it, and since cassoulet tastes better when it is reheated,….it will resurface this weekend. What to serve with it? Not much really, it is a meal in itself, but I’d  suggest a simple salad with a sharp vinaigrette, perhaps with orange slices? Anything more would be silly. Tell me if you try a cassoulet, or have done so. I just love cassoulet, and you will too.

Juicing semi-petrified Clementines....

Juicing semi-petrified Clementines....

Oh, and I had about 8 or 9 Clementine tangerines starting to petrify in a bowl in the living room…While some of them were eaten, the rest now looked like something best avoided…you know what I’m sayin’….I was perilously close to throwing them in the trash or down the disposal, when I thought, maybe the juices inside are still good….so, I juiced them. So sweet…that Clementine juice made two  very fine Clementine vodka martinis.