Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Book Club Menu: Getting Inspired by Julie and Julia

For four years now, I've belonged to a pretty dedicated book club. Each month, we take turns picking everything from chick lit to memoirs, "serious novels" to satirical comedy. It's a very easygoing group (probably why we've lasted so long). In fact, our favorite question is "who would play so-and-so in the movie version?"
But this month, we already knew the answers to that question, because our pick (well, my pick really) was Julie and Julia, soon to be part of a major motion picture directed by Nora Ephron and starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams (the movie is also partly based on the book My Life in France, which is a wonderful read and highly recommended).
I knew the general story, and even had read a few of Julie Powell's original blog posts before picking the novel. But after finishing the book, I was left a little dissatisfied. Frankly, it did not sound like any fun! And cooking should always be fun -- even if you're hot, flustered, running late and have dirtied every dish in your cupboard...which basically describes the state I was in when my friends came over for dinner this week to discuss the story.
I love a good theme dinner and took inspiration partially from Julie and Julia, but mainly Julia Child herself to put out a meal that included a range of recipes, most of which could be made in advance. The final menu featured:
Sparkling Berry Cocktails or Orangina

Julia's American-style potato salad

Chive crepes stuffed with choice of ham, Gruyere and Dijon or an Asian-style cold chicken salad

A green salad with Julia's vinaigrette

Berry gallettes

Lemon ice cream

Since our meeting was on a weeknight, I did a lot of the prep before. I made the ice cream and crepes the Sunday prior. The salads and gallette dough came together quickly the night before. And the morning of the meeting, I shredded the cheese, drained the berries and set everything up.

When I arrived home (15 minutes before my guests were due to arrive), I quickly rolled out the gallette dough and assembled the tarts, throwing them into a 400 degree oven for 25 minutes. In the meantime, I rolled the ham and cheese crepes and placed them enchilada-style in a large baking dish. When the gallettes came out, the crepes went in and after 10 minutes, dinner was served!

The only hitch in my plan was that it was 80 degrees that evening, and with the oven set at 400 degrees, my apartment was a bit toasty. In hindsight, we should have started with the ice cream! Regardless, we ate well and had fun, which when you boil it down (or when it's boiling hot), is what it should be all about.

Asian Spin on Chicken Salad

Unlike the traditional chicken salad made with a creamy dressing, this one is light and flavorful, which is what I wanted for an 80 degree day (despite it not really fitting with my French theme!). The sesame oil provides great flavor and helps bind the ingredients. You can assemble and dress the salad in advance, but it will get soggier as the hours progress.


2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts

Water and aromatics for poaching

3 T. Sesame oil

1 T. Honey

1 t. Grated ginger

2 c. diced mixed vegetables, such as scallions, sugar snap peas or snow peas, radish, carrot, red pepper (key is to chop each vegetable into similarly sized pieces)

1 T. Soy sauce

1 T. Rice wine vinegar

Red pepper flakes, to taste

Optional extras: Chopped herbs, like cilantro, basil and/or mint; Chopped roasted peanuts


Poach chicken in water with one small onion and celery leaves; chill

Cut chicken to your liking (I like a small dice, some may prefer shredding the breasts), toss with diced vegetables

In a small bowl, whisk together sesame oil, honey, ginger and red pepper flakes; toss with chicken and vegetable mixture to combine

Drizzle with soy and rice wine vinegar immediately before serving; great on crepes or in a wrap or on top of salad greens

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