As some of you might remember, a few years ago my husband and I started a Gourmet Group with three other couples who love to cook as much as he does. And I say “he” – because I’m a decent cook, but don’t love doing it. I do love to eat, though. For these dinners we alternate houses. The host couple chooses the “theme,” makes the entree and assigns the remaining courses with the caveat that we bring the appropriate beverage (translation: wine or cocktail) for our course. “Themes” have been as diverse as “white, spice food from below the Equator” to “Provencal” and “Tuscan” to “dishes made from Trade Joe ingredients only.” However, our very first Gourmet Group theme was “Julia Child with a California Twist.”
To toast our maiden dinner voyage, the hosts handed each of us a glass of vintage champagne as we arrived, while the appetizer couple got their course ready. Soon creamy, cheese-y individual quiches made with Julia’s favorite ingredient - ‘butter’ - were in our hands. But they didn’t stay there long as we teased our taste buds with every bite, accompanied by the chosen wine - a very chilled pinot gris. Not a traditional choice to complement quiche, but the perfect California cuisine twist of cold, fruity liquid for the warm, velvety, cheesy solid.
The candles lighted, we went into the dining room for a first course of rich, ‘buttery’ vichyssoise. The soup’s twist? Scallops. If I could sing, I would have. The taste and texture mix was heavenly. The wine chosen was a gewurtzaminer. Again, an untraditional choice, but one that worked wonderfully with the soup.
Julia’s classic Caesar salad which got its American ‘premiere’ in California was next. To quote Julia:
“I am probably one of the few people around who saw the real Caesar
Cardini making his salad. I was about 9 when my parents took me to his restau-
rant in Tijuana, just the other side of the border from San Diego. They were so
excited when big jolly Caesar himself came to the table to make the salad, which
had already been written up and talked about everywhere. And it was dramatic:
I remember most clearly the eggs going in, and how he tossed the leaves so that
it looked like a wave turning over.”
Cardini lived in San Diego, but cooked in Tijuana to avoid the prohibition laws back then. It wasn’t long, however, before California chefs were copying it. Julia’s version is quite close to the original (see her “The Way To Cook” cookbook) and the fresh lemon and garlic flavors went beautifully with the Cuvaison chardonnay that accompanied it. The California twist? The romaine and lemon were from California!
The entrée was an amazing array of Copper River salmon and Alaskan salmon cooked three ways. A whole fillet of Copper River salmon was braised with herbs in a river of ‘butter’ and white French vermouth and served with local aromatic diced carrots, onions and celery slowly cooked in butter. The Alaskan salmon was poached in California white wine and butter and served with roasted potatoes and vegetables. Again, all local California produce. The third preparation was baked salmon coated with crushed California walnuts. The wine - David Bruce pinot noir. I’m with Julia… everything’s better with butter!
My husband and I were up next. Dessert! And since we’re all suckers for chocolate, we made Julia’s favorite - Queen of Sheba chocolate cake (recipe can be found on-line). I now understand why it’s her favorite. Chocolate and ‘butter’! Our California twist. Well, we made it in our very own California kitchen. You shouldn’t fool with perfection. To sip between bites of this chocolate perfection we broke open a bottle of Taylor Fladgate port.
Remembering that meal and seeing “Julie & Julia” recently – I’ve decided I have to spend more nights interpreting Julia. Well, watching my husband interpreting Julia. I can almost smell the melting butter.