Today is Julia Child’s 90th birthday. To honor the occasion, some friends and I are tossing an honorary birthday party. It will be an alfresco event, since Julia was born in the summertime.
I doubt the emulated chef would leave her home in Santa Barbara to attend our little fete, but I know the kinds of foods she loves to eat. Julia is neither picky nor fussy. She adores everything from tuna on rye to foie gras.
I have met her on several occasions. She is well-read, witty, funny and enchanting. Her great age has slowed her a bit, but she still cooks and dines with the best of them.
The party will be held on the cabana deck of the Park Towne Place swimming pool. My husband Edward and I, along with our friends Charity and Peter and their little daughter Chase, will be in swimsuit mode, but we will don paper party hats. The menu for our party is tr�s Fran�ais.
The supper will feature cold foods, and appropriate wines will be served with each course. Caviar, smoked salmon, p�t�s, cheeses and fresh fruit will be on offer along with a birthday cake. Peter will purchase caviar from Caviar Assouline in Liberty Place. Owner Joel Assouline sells the finest caviar in the city.
I will serve the caviar with finely minced sweet red onion, chopped hard-boiled egg whites and yolks. Small square toasts, imported from France, will be offered with the caviar service. Top-quality smoked salmon can be purchased in any number of gourmet shops and specialty supermarkets. Edward and I prefer to purchase it from a Jewish deli because it is sliced to order. The only place in town for this delicacy is Famous Fourth Street Deli at Fourth and Bainbridge.
The smoked salmon will be served with tiny capers. A small decanter of extra-virgin olive oil will be passed at the table. We will sip a sparkling wine from Alsace, France, with the caviar and smoked salmon.
Cold p�t�s also will be on offer. A seafood p�t� along with a pheasant one studded with prunes that have first been soaked in Cognac, and slices of baguette, will keep us happy. An assortment of olives and thinly sliced jambon — the marvelous pinky-white ham from France — and a wedge of Morbier, the great cow’s-milk cheese from the Jura region of France, completes the charcuterie portion of the meal.
Since Julia and I believe we should cook with local ingredients in season, I’ll poach up a pound of fresh asparagus. The spears will be chilled and topped with strips of roasted red peppers. They will be dressed in a light lemon vinaigrette.
White corn and tomatoes from Lancaster County also will take pride of place at our table. I will simply slice the tomatoes, top them with snips of fresh, fragrant basil and drizzle olive oil over them. I also may prepare a cool chic-pea and white-corn salad and a cucumber salad redolent with fresh dill.
As for the wines, we will have a chilled white Burgundy and a slightly chilled Beaujolais. The weather may be too hot for a hearty French Cabernet Sauvignon or any rich red wine.
As for Julia’s birthday cake, it should be a Gateau Saint Honor�. Saint Honor� is the patron saint of pastry chefs in France. This luscious cake is made with puff pastry and pastry cream and is decorated with profiteroles filled with pastry cream. Spun sugar, squiggled in a very Jackson Pollack sort of way, adorns the cake.
I lack the talent and patience to make a Gateau Saint Honor�, so I will ask chef Robert Bennett to bake one for us. Bennett, who for years was the pastry chef at Le Bec-Fin, opened Miel, his patisserie in Cherry Hill, almost a year ago. Miel is French for honey.
Peaches have been sweet and luscious, blueberries from nearby Hammonton, N.J., have been sweet and luscious, and nectarines have been sweet and luscious. These fruits will be served with the birthday cake.
It’s hard to believe that Mastering the Art of French Cooking, by Julia Child, Louisette Berthole and Simone Beck, was first published in 1961. The authors dedicated their culinary tome to "La Belle France: whose peasants, fishermen, housewives, and princes — not to mention her chefs — through generations of inventive and loving concentration have created one of the world’s great arts."
In January 1963, Julia stepped before the television cameras at WGBH, Boston’s public-television station, and the French Chef was born — in glorious black and white.
Julia, who graduated from Smith College, holds many honorary degrees and was made a member of The French Legion of Honor several years ago. Her best advice to those of us who like to cook and feel a dish served to company could be better? "Never apologize," she emphatically says.
Julia, � votre sante! Bon anniversaire!
Here is a recipe for an amuse bouche that I’ll serve at Julia’s birthday party. It is from Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
Roquefort Cheese Balls
Amuse-Gueule au Roquefort
1/2 pound Roquefort
4-6 tablespoons softened unsalted butter
1-1/2 tablespoons minced green onion tops
1 tablespoon finely minced celery
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Salt, if needed
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon Cognac or a few drops of Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup fine, stale white breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons finely minced parsley
Crush the cheese in a bowl with 4 tablespoons of butter and work it into a smooth paste. Beat in the green onion tops, celery, seasonings and Cognac or Worcestershire sauce.
If mixture is very stiff, beat in more butter by fractions.
Check seasonings carefully. Roll into balls about 1/2-inch in diameter.
Toss the breadcrumbs and parsley in a plate. Roll the cheese balls in the mixture so they are well covered. Chill.
Makes about 24 Roquefort balls.
Note from Phyllis: You can substitute finely chopped walnuts or almonds for the breadcrumbs.