As I wrote in my tribute for PBS.org's celebrations, Julia Child was a woman who taught more than just cooking. She taught viewers to think on the fly, because no matter how much we prepare for perfection, perfection is never guaranteed.
Think about that in context of today's Stepford Wife-ian cookery shows. Click over to Food TV and tucked in amongst the plethora of Amazing Race-like competitions, "reality" shows from the back rooms of bakeries and restaurants and shows focussing wacky food-related adventures, you will find what passes as instructional cooking offerings.
Seemingly perfect food, seemingly perfectly prepared by seemingly perfectly coiffed presenters. Sure they can hit their marks, tilt their heads so klieg lights glint off their bleached teeth and have perfectly mastered the forced, authoritative yet approachable "Mmm--that's so good!" They rate well with the 18-55 year old male demographic, don't intimidate those who could easily live with only a microwave, fridge, and are the darlings of those proud to have perfected "finger cooking."
But do you actually believe those presenters would know what to do if--horror of horrors--a bit of shell followed along with the yolk, or a drop of water found its way into a pot of melted chocolate? Without a doubt Laura Calder, Anna Olson, Nigella Lawson, Bobby Flay, Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay (to name but six) would. But others? Well I'm sure they've mastered the art of the teleprompter.
When I watch Julia Child I watch a woman who was passionate about food and cooking...but she was also focussed on instilling that same passion in us. In Julia's world, it was more than figuring out which of the Chicken Sisters would make the best roast or how to pan-fry mushrooms. In her world, part of that passion came from knowing what to do when things go wrong.
Although she wanted to show us the proper way to prepare recipes, sometimes things didn't quite go to plan. Mistakes weren't to be feared but to be quickly and deftly dealt with. They were lessons that made us stronger in the kitchen and, by extension, in life.
So when it came to a dish to prepare to mark her centenary, I went to the very first Julia Child cookbook I purchased: The Way to Cook. It wasn't the first cookbook I bought, but it was within the first five...maybe three.
I was drawn to all the loveliness found in the pages dedicated to pâte feuilletée--puff pastry. In a perfect world I would have spent a day dedicated to layering butter within pastry dough. But this is not a perfect world and I don't have a day to devote to making puff pastry. However...in this imperfect world of mine I do have a mediumscarymegamart around the corner that does stock frozen butter puff pastry.
Julia would understand--in the first French Chef episode, the one about Boeuf Bourguignon, she counselled viewers on using canned beef bouillon instead of consommé. Yes, she advocated making stock, but she seemed very aware that not everyone had the time or ability to make their own beef stock.
Her variations of cheese tarts caught my eye, so I decided to improvise slightly. I decided to make spiral nibblies, with (as she suggests in a tart variation) a mixture of bleu and cream cheeses. Since I'm a fan of pears and nuts with bleu cheese, I chopped a couple of sugar pears and pulled my walnut pieces from the freezer as well.
The resulting Julia-inspired appetiser is easy, with a tasty contrast between flaky pastry, crunchy nuts and soft filling, sharp cheese and sweet fruit. Serve them as nibblies, or along side a simple salad made of rocket (arugula) lightly tossed in balsamic dressing.
Rocquefort and Pear Spirals
Yield 12- 16 spirals
225g (0.5lb) puff pastry
165g (approximately 6oz) softened cream cheese (2/3 package)
55g (2oz) Roquefort cheese
2 small sugar pears, peeled, cored and cut into a small dice
a couple of handfuls of walnut pieces
Preheat oven to 200C/400F. Line a cookie tray with parchment paper.
Roll the puff pastry into a about a 0.5cm (0.25") thick rectangle.
Mix the cheeses together until well blended. Spread the mixture on the puff pastry, leaving about 1cm (approx 0.5") clear boarder around the rectangle. Strew the chopped fruit over top the cheese, followed by the nuts.
Roll the smeared and sprinkled pastry and lightly pinch the ends together. Slice the long roll into 2.5cm (1") rounds. Place the discs onto the lined cookie tray. Sprinkle with pepper.
Bake for 10-12 minutes and serve warm
You can make your own puff pastry, or you can buy a package from the shop. If you do buy it , make sure it's all butter puff pastry.