Friday, August 14, 2009

Julia would not be pleased.

I know I'm a week late on this post, but cut me some slack, eh? I've been finishing summer school (YAY!), and I'm still working on a big side project at school that needs to be completed this week. Ugh! Anyway, my friends and I went to see the highly-anticipated foodie film, Julie & Julia last Saturday night. We enjoyed ourselves immensely, and capped off the evening with a post-movie discussion/analysis over a decadent Espresso Chocolate Truffle Mocha at Starbucks. (Have you had one of those? Good heavens! It's like liquid candy!)

Since you couldn't join us last week, here's my mini-review. In short, it was worth EVERY PENNY of my nine bucks to see Meryl embody the completely contagious joie de vivre of Julia Child. All I have to say is, they better start polishing her Oscar now! There are also strong supporting roles, including the always-wonderful Stanley Tucci, who is delightful as her husband, Paul--they have such WONDERFUL chemistry together! (Only actors of their caliber could make us see Julia as a sex object!) And also, one of my very favorite actors, Jane Lynch, plays Julia's equally tall, equally hysterical sister. Love that! However...

I understand the filmmaker's aim, to draw the parallels between the lives of these two women, each struggling to find her identity and purpose and passion in life, by interweaving their stories. However, that gives us only half the typical amount of time to devote to each story. Unfortunately, the Julia Child story is the one that really engages the viewer (leaving us wanting more of her biography!), as there is simply not enough time to depict fully the roller coaster of triumphs and tragedies in the kitchen so charmingly detailed in Julie Powell's blog and subsequent memoir. I am a big Amy Adams fan, by the way, ever since her first role as Leslie Miller in Drop Dead Gorgeous, one of my very favorite (black!) comedies. But I would call her performance in Julia & Julia affable, but insipid. I do not fault Ms. Adams or her talent; she simply wasn't given much to work with. I can tell you, as someone who followed her blog early on, before it was a book or a movie, Julie Powell is much wittier and more entertaining than the film reveals. Again, I think it's because so much of her culinary journey was short-changed by the parallel lives format.

I hate to speak unkindly toward the film's writer-director, as Nora Ephron also wrote the screenplay for my very favorite film, When Harry Met Sally. But other than Sleepless in Seattle, I generally do not prefer her directorial efforts, and in the case of Julie and Julia, I fault her adaptation as well. She clearly privilieges the Julia over the Julie in both plot and characterization. So in short (too late), the film is palatable, but Meryl is truly DELECTABLE!

The other thing that's tantalizing about the film, as you might guess, is the FOOD! In fact, my friends and I decided immediately after our viewing that we needed to have a theme dinner soon involving, at the very least, Bouef Bourguignon with Raspberry Bavarian Cream for dessert! And I myself feel compelled to make the Sole Meuniere that Julia and Paul sample when they first arrive in Paris. But until we get around to those more involved dishes, I thought I might honor Julia by mastering the art of poaching an egg. At least, that was my goal...

I started by bringing about two inches of water to the barest simmer in a large saute pan. Although I was certain that my eggs were as fresh as can be (thanks to my hens), I took a tip from Julia and boiled them for a mere ten seconds to start setting the whites. I thought it might be a good idea to poke the large end of each egg with a large push pin like I do when I'm boiling eggs (it helps the egg release from the shell more readily). But mostly, it just made little squiggly white worms swimming around in the pan!

So I fished the squigglies out, and added two tablespoons of white vinegar to the water, as per Julia's instructions. (The vinegar helps the eggs hold their shape as they cook.) Once the water came back to the simmer, I cracked each egg and gently slipped it into the water, immediately trying to lift the white up and over the yolk, in the classic tradition, but I must admit that I had little success and getting the white to cling to the yolk. (Sigh.) Still, I persevered and worked my way clockwise around the pan, cooking a maximum of four eggs at a time.

After the first egg went in, I set the timer for four minutes. When the timer went off, I used a skimmer to lift the first egg out, and I pressed it gently with my finger to test for doneness. (It needed perhaps another 30 seconds to a minute for my tastes. I like the yolk to be jellied, not liquid--what the Frenchies call "mollet.") When it was ready, I removed it to a bowl of cold water that I had standing by. This washes off the vinegar and stops the cooking.

I proceeded with the rest of that batch of eggs, and then poached four more. Julia tells us that the eggs can stay in the cold water for several hours, but I drained and refrigerated all but the ones I was planning on eating for breakfast. (If you're poaching, might as well do a bunch, for a quick breakfast for a few days or to top entree salads for lunch or dinner.) To reheat, you simply slide the egg back in the simmering water for thirty seconds, drain on a paper towel, and serve.

Julia says (hear that voice in your head now), "A perfect specimen is neat and oval in shape, and the white completely masks the yolk." It all sounds so easy, right? Then why do mine always comes out looking like MUTANTS, despite my best efforts and Julia's (and Martha's) tutelage? I mean, don't get me wrong, they are tasty little mutants, but not pretty enough to serve for company or anything. (In the picture to the left, only the egg in the back came out halfway decent-looking, and you can still see the yolk bulging out of the side a little bit!) I guess I just need to keep practicing, but for the life of me, I just dont see why we need to poach eggs at all, when it's so much easier to BASTE them--a technique I learned as a breakfast cook at Crescent H Ranch in Jackson Hole back in the day.

To baste eggs, you melt a little butter in your pan over medium-low to medium heat, crack in your eggs, and sprinkle each with salt and pepper. Then you toss two big ice cubes into the pan and cover it tightly with a lid. Cook/steam for about four minutes (or to desired doneness--press the yolk lightly with your finger to test it), and that's it! I guess they're sort of a fried/poached combo, but it's well-suited to Eggs Benedict and all other poached egg applications--with a lot less fuss! (I hope Julia isn't rolling over in her grave now!)


Lisa Stone said...

Everybody loves Meryl, so I would go see the movie because of her.

Just the Right Size said...

Oh yes, I always hear her favorite is "One must always truss a chicken to prevent the legs from becoming wantonly askew"

Kris said...

LOL You have chosen the very 2 dishes that my friend and I decided to make after seeing the movie: Bouef Bourguignon with Raspberry Bavarian Cream! My guess is that many of us who enjoyed that movie will also be enjoying the same 2 dishes over the next few weeks!

graciel said...

Hi, I'm not much of a cook but I do know about eggs from hatching quite a few of them.

When you pierce the end of an egg, only do it on the large end and do it very carefully so that you do not also go through the membrane of the egg. The large end of the egg has the air cell in it that the developing bird uses to breathe in the last day or so right before they hatch. If you pierce only this end and do it carefully, you shouldn't get any white squiggles coming out of the end of the egg, yet you'll get the steam production between the shell and the egg to hopefully make it easier to shell.

The second thing I wanted to mention, that using a very fresh egg may help keep the poached egg more "together". As eggs age the white gets "runnier" and this would make a sloppy egg for poaching. That's kind of a guess on my part but I think it might make a difference. Something to try if you are in an experimental mood someday. :)