Mastering the Art of French Cooking, one of the most influential cookbooks ever written. Frank, bawdy, funny, exuberant, and occasionally agonized, these letters show Julia, first as a new bride in Paris, then becoming increasingly worldly and adventuresome as she follows her diplomat husband in his postings to Nice, Germany, and Norway. With commentary by the noted food historian Joan Reardon, and covering topics as diverse as the lack of good wine in the United States, McCarthyism, and sexual mores, these astonishing letters show America on the verge of political, social, and gastronomic transformation."
If you loved the film Julie & Julia (as I did), then you'll want to get your oven mitts on this one.
In honor of this week's Grand Feast (a holiday which I steadfastly refuse to call by anything but its full and proper name "Thanksgiving," my blood getting all anxious and prickly whenever I hear someone refer to it as "Turkey Day" or, worse, "T-Day"), here is an excerpt of a letter from Julia to Avis, dated Feb. 6, 1955 when the belovedly-prickly chef was living in Germany with her husband Paul:
Did another turkey the other night, as they have US frozen ones here the year around. This was a "Turkey broiler," 6 lbs. drawn, which I estimate would have been 8 to 9 pounds undrawn. It did have a small amount of flexibility at the end of the breast-bone tip, about 1/2 inch. I defroze it in the icebox, taking 3 days! It disgorged a cup of juice. Feeling its breast where it met the wing, it was hard and stringy! (Or so it seemed to me, as I am so prejudiced about frozen birds that we get here in our US grocery store.) As it had a somewhat old smell, I washed it thoroughly, then rubbed it inside and out with lemon juice, which I let dry on it, but don't think it did much good. I decided I would do everything to it I could think of to give it flavor. So I stuffed it with herbal mushroom Duxelles, plus its liver, onions, etc, and some Madeira. Then I cooked down some frozen mirepoix with Madeira and thyme, about 1 1/2 cups of it. And first I browned the turkey in the oven, for 30 minues at 400, turning it (too big to brown in a casserole on top of the stove). Then I salted it, slathered it with butter, and spread the Madeira-ized mirepoix all over it, and wrapped it in a cheesecloth. I then cooked it, covered, in the oven, basting every 15 minutes. Unfortunately my timing got off a bit somehow, probably not accounting for the previous browning in the oven, as I had let it cool off completely, as I was doing it ahead. The 40 plus 7 minutes theory would have had it done in under two hours (not counting previous browning). Damn! Anyway, it had taken on quite a bit of flavor, though the white meat was pretty dry. (Have noticed, trying out some of the packaged frozen chicken here, that the dark is not too bad, but that the white is dry and stringy...I usually like white meat, myself, but only of supreme and juicy quality.) Made the sauce of reduced turkey stock, plus the mirepoix. Sauce was delicious. Paul and our guests thought the turkey was very good. I felt it was interesting, but I could taste a suggestion of old, rancid fat on the skin...(I would!) It is indeed horrible stuff, this badly frozen produce. However, the experiment was useful, as I think it would be useful for a frozen turkey bought in the US, where it would have not been given such bad treatment.For your chance at winning a plump, fully-basted copy of As Always, Julia, all you have to do is correctly answer the following question:
What is the name of Avis DeVoto's husband, a slightly-more-famous writer?
Email your answer to firstname.lastname@example.org
Put FRIDAY FREEBIE in the e-mail subject line. One entry per person, please. In order to give everyone a fair shake in the contest, please e-mail the answer, rather than posting it in the comments section. The contest closes at midnight on Nov. 25, at which time I'll draw the winning name. I'll announce the lucky reader on Nov. 26.
*Except for those of you who are going to take the easy way out, courtesy of Costco or Boston Market take-out.