Side Orders: Amateur cooks have a friend in Julia Child

In this Oct. 11, 2001, file photo, famous chef, cookbook author and television show host Julia Child, shares a laugh with students from her alma mater, Smith College in Northampton, Mass. (AP Photo/Nancy Palmieri, File)
photo Anne Braly

I made yet another trip to Paris this past spring, and every time I go, I'm reminded of my favorite "French" chef, Julia Child. I can't help but smile when I hear her voice, whether I'm listening to an old taping of one of her shows or just replaying her words in my mind. It never fails to make me laugh. You too, perchance?

Child was in a class by herself, and her knowledge of all things culinary will put your brain in a tailspin. She was amazing and still is the inspiration for numerous cooks, both home and professional. And though she was American by birth, she was French at heart and a master of French cooking.

She could make a clafouti in her sleep. And Child's coq au vin is the thing of dreams. She made child's play out of boeuf bourguignon. And the way she could make a pastry as flaky and light as a cloud was amazing. It's not that she didn't make a few mistakes along the way. After all, trial and error is the way we learn. So here are a few tricks she picked up on her way to stardom. Every one is something I've experienced, and possibly you, too.

» To prevent fruit from sinking to the bottom of your cake, spread 1/4 of your batter across the bottom of the pan when you're ready to bake. Let it cook for just a few minutes over medium heat, until a film of batter has set, then add your fruit and the rest of the batter. Bake as directed. Allowing this bottom layer to cook and set creates a barrier between the fruit and the bottom of your pan.

» If a recipe calls for shallots and you're out with no time to run to the store, substitute the white part of a green onion, or very finely mince a white onion and boil it for one minute. This removes some bitter sharpness of the onion.

»' When your sauteed mushrooms are soggy, stop overcrowding them. Mushrooms have a high percentage of water and give off a good bit of liquid as they cook. If they are too crowded in the pan, they will steam rather than brown. Use a pan that's large enough to let them get a wonderful crispy edge to them.

» If your soup is too salty, add a grated potato to absorb the salt. Simmer the soup and potato for about 10 minutes, then strain it, discarding the potatoes. The spuds are like a sponge and will absorb the salt, but also some of the liquid, so you may need to add more stock or water.

» If you have too many egg whites, which never fails when you're making Key lime pie, carbonaro or creme brulee, freeze them in muffin tins and use them for your angel food cakes and meringues, among other uses. Two egg whites measure about 1/4 cup. Freeze them in muffin tins, then once frozen, unmold and store in the freezer until they're ready to use. Once they're thawed, they'll whip up perfectly.

With summer peaches starting to arrive in area markets, there's no better dessert, in my opinion, than Child's clafouti recipe from her book "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." She used cherries in her clafouti, but the wonderful thing about a clafouti, like any cobbler-style dessert, is that almost any summer fruit can be substituted.

Julia Child's Clafouti

1 1/4 cups milk

2/3 cup granulated sugar, divided

3 eggs

1 tablespoon vanilla

1 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup flour

3 ripe peaches, peeled, pitted and sliced

Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a blender or with a hand mixer, blend the milk, 1/3 cup sugar, eggs, vanilla, cardamom, salt and flour. Pour a 1/4-inch layer of the batter in a lightly buttered 7- or 8-cup fireproof baking dish. Place in the oven until a film of batter sets in the pan (about 2-3 minutes). Or set over medium heat until a film of batter sets in the pan.

Remove from the heat and spread the peaches over the batter. Sprinkle on the remaining 1/3 cup of granulated sugar. Pour on the rest of the batter.

Bake for 45 minutes to an hour. The clafouti is done when puffed and brown and a knife plunged in the center comes out clean. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Serve warm with ice cream, if desired.

Mix it up

If you plan to make the clafouti in today's column or any other pie, cake or cookie on your agenda, you'll need a mixer. And if you need a new one, Black & Decker has a clever new design that will lift your batter to new heights. The Performance Helix Premium Hand Mixer comes with five attachments: two beaters, two dough hooks and one wire whisk.

It's the beaters I find most interesting. They have a helix spiral design that maximizes the beaters' overlap, mixing the batter in different directions to do a more thorough job of mixing. It's nice, also, to see dough hooks on a hand mixer. I have a stand mixer, but it takes up a lot of counter space. This new mixer fits in a cabinet, is lightweight and will do much of the same jobs as a stand mixer for a lot less dough.

Suggested retail is $29.99. Find it at Bed, Bath & Beyond, Walmart and other stores that carry Black & Decker products.

Contact Anne Braly at