August 15, 2012

Happy Birthday Julia! A Summer Dinner with Julia's Chicken Salad and Peach Tarte Tatin

It would have been the utterly fabulous Julia Child's 100th birthday today, and to honour and celebrate her life, there have been hundreds of extravagant dinners served this month, featuring some of her best known and loved classics.  While it's true that Julia introduced the wonders of rich, complex French cooking to millions over her lifetime, she was also the master of dishes that are easy and quick to prepare. The constants? Top quality ingredients, seasonal goodness and of course, real butter.

If you're not inclined to whip up a roast duck and big gooey cake tonight - Julia's favourite birthday dinner, and the inspiration for this blog's name - try this simple and simply delicious summer meal instead.  Featuring flavourful chicken salad and an in-season peach tarte tatin, it's the perfect meal to enjoy on a warm summer's evening.  Pour a glass of chilly white and toast the woman who continues to bring us into the kitchen and inspire us to cook with thought, care and passion.

Bon appetit!

Julia's Chicken Salad
serves 6-8
adapted from Julia's Kitchen Wisdom  

6 c leftover roast chicken, white and dark meat combined, cut into generous chunks
Salt and freshly ground white pepper, to taste
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 c chopped celery tops (include the leafy bits)
1 c chopped walnuts
2 tsp chopped fresh tarragon
⅔ c homemade mayonnaise
Fresh mixed salad greens

1.  In a medium non-reactive bowl, toss the chicken with the salt, pepper and the next four ingredients, and mix thoroughly.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes or overnight.

Use the leafy green tops of the celery for extra flavour

2. While the salad is chilling, make the mayonnaise (watch this space for Julia's recipe coming soon!)

3.  When you’re ready to serve the salad, drain any liquid from the bowl.  Add the tarragon and just enough mayonnaise to coat the salad very lightly.  Or, as Julia says, to enrobe the salad – a lovely word! Place the salad greens on plates, placing a generous scoop of chicken salad on each, and serve.

Peach Tarte Tatin
serves 6-8
adapted from Julia's Kitchen Wisdom

With delicious peaches at their peak of goodness right now, I thought I'd adapt my favourite Julia Child dessert - classic apple tarte tatin - using peaches instead. The results were spectacularly good: must be the butter!

Here’s my version of Julia’s pie dough, which can be used for the tarte or for any sweet or savoury pie you wish to make. You will need about half of this recipe for the tarte. Or use your favourite pie dough; you will need enough dough for a single pie tart.  

For the Tarte Tatin:
6-8 firm but ripe peaches, peeled and cut into wedges
The juice and zest of 1 lemon
½ tsp cinnamon 
¼ tsp ground cardamom 
tsp ground mace
1½ cups sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
Heavy oveproof 9-inch skillet for cooking and baking

1. Preheat the oven to 425F, with the rack in the lower middle position.

2.  In a large bowl, combine the sliced peaches with the lemon juice, zest and spices.  Set aside.

3.  In the skillet, melt the butter over medium high heat.  Slowly stir in the remaining sugar and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture begins to turn syrupy and golden brown.  Be careful not to overcook, as the mixture can burn easily.

4.  Remove the skillet from the heat.  Arrange the sliced peaches in a circular pattern in the skillet, starting at the outer edge of the pan and working your way into the middle, until you have used all of the peaches.  Leave any accumulated juices behind.

5.  Return the skillet to the stove and cook over moderately high heat, pressing down on the peaches every few minutes.  Cover the skillet after ten minutes, but continue to press down on the fruit, and brush the tops of the peaches with the juices in the skillet. Watch the peaches carefully, as the sugar can carmelise and burn quickly.  When the juices are thick and syrupy (about 20 minutes) remove the skillet from the heat.

5.  On a lightly floured surface, roll out the chilled dough until it is about ⅛ of an inch thick and slightly larger in diameter than the skillet. Drape the dough on top of the peaches, pressing the edge of the dough between the peaches and the edge of the skillet.  Cut four steam holes on the dough and place the skillet in the oven.

6.  Bake until the pastry has browned and crisped, about 20 minutes.  Let the tarte rest for a few minutes and then unmold onto a serving dish.  This is a bit tricky but even if some of the peaches stick to the skillet, just arrange them onto the tarte.

7.  Cool slightly and serve.