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Comfort And Joy: Making The 'Morning Edition' Julia Child Thanksgiving

Nov 21, 2012
Originally published on November 21, 2012 9:49 am

Like many of us who consider ourselves food adventurers most of the year, when it comes to Thanksgiving, we just want the turkey and mashed potatoes we grew up with. Well, OK, maybe just a teensy bit better than what we grew up with, but along the same lines.

For inspiration, the Morning Edition Thanksgiving crew turned to the cookbooks written by the first woman who showed Americans that comfort food could be fresh, special and loaded with real butter — Julia Child. She would have turned 100 years old this year, but it was on her very first show, The French Chef, that she proved there is nothing to fear in the kitchen.

And when you're staring down a giant turkey, let's face it, it can be a little scary. Hearing her cheery voice intone, "In fact, it's very easy to roast a turkey!" might give you just the boost of confidence you need.

"Julia was never intimidated, and I think her success was based upon making people comfortable with cooking because they were comfortable with her," Chris Kimball, host of America's Test Kitchen, tells Morning Edition host Renee Montagne. Kimball, both a fan and a friend of Child's, joins Morning Edition every year on Thanksgiving.

So for this year's feast, Kimball put together a Julia Child Thanksgiving menu, complete with roast turkey, mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts and, of course, dessert.

The centerpiece, naturally, is the reassembled roast turkey. It's separated so the dark and white pieces cook perfectly, and then put back together on the platter — "like Frankenstein," Montagne says. Kimball shows Montagne the steps, and they have a little fun with skewers.

In between preparing their Thanksgiving dishes, through the magic of radio, Kimball and Montagne even had time to pop over to the American History Museum to see Child's reassembled kitchen. It's headlining a new exhibit opening this week called "Food: Transforming the American Table 1950-2000."

There, amid the copper pots hanging on the pegboard and the ancient Garland oven, put back together the way it was in Child's own kitchen, Kimball recalled how she was generous and warm. But she had a competitive streak — like the time she asked him to shuck a bag full of oysters and he managed about two before cutting himself and admitting defeat.

She liked him after that, he recalls.

To hear the full story, click on the audio above.

And check out our slideshow above to see went into making our Thanksgiving segment.

And of course, no Thanksgiving segment would be complete without the recipes. These come from Julia's classic cookbooks, Mastering The Art Of French Cooking and The Way To Cook.

As Child would say, if things go wrong in the kitchen, just keep on going. And pour yourself a glass of wine.

A Julia Child Thanksgiving Menu

Petits Choux au Fromage (Cheese Puffs)

The Reassembled Roast Turkey

Choux de Bruxelles Etuves au Beurre (Brussels Sprouts In Butter)

Puree de Pommes de Terre a L'Ail (Garlic Mashed Potatoes)

Cornbread, Sage and Sausage Stuffing

Tarte Au Pommes (French Apple Tart)

P.S: While you're cooking away, check out this Julia Child TV highlights reel Boston member station WGBH put together this summer, set to the music of Guns N Roses.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

When you start getting a little nervous about cooking a big holiday meal, as many of us are on this day before Thanksgiving, there's one legendary voice that can put any home cook at ease.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE FRENCH CHEF")

JULIA CHILD: Welcome to the "French Chef." I'm Julia Child.

MONTAGNE: She would have been a hundred this year. And in her honor we're celebrating a Julia Child Thanksgiving. It was on her show "The French Chef" that she proved there's nothing to fear in the kitchen.

CHRIS KIMBALL: Julia Child was never intimidated. And I think her success was based upon making people comfortable with cooking because they were comfortable with her.

MONTAGNE: That's Chris Kimball, host of the show "America's Test Kitchen," who joins us every year on Thanksgiving. He was both a fan and a friend of Julia Child.

KIMBALL: We thought it would be great to go back to mastering the art of French cooking and the way to cook in some of her books and put together a Julia Thanksgiving menu.

MONTAGNE: Roast turkey, mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts in butter - this is Julia Child - and a dessert.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE FRENCH CHEF")

CHILD: If you've never roasted a turkey before, looking at this great big animal, you'd say, gosh, what am I going to do with that. But actually, it's very easy to roast a turkey.

MONTAGNE: Easy with a little practice and maybe a glass of wine. That's because Julia's recipe involves disassembling the bird. Basically, you remove the backbone from the breast. Then lay the breast across the top of a mound of stuffing. The thigh and drumsticks go in the oven separately.

The reason you want to separate the dark meat and the white meat do not cook the same way.

KIMBALL: Traditionally what happens is the white meat gets overcooked by the time the dark meat is cooked. And those little pop up timers go off just at the point where the breast meat's inedible.

MONTAGNE: About the time Julia Child came up with this, this would've been a time when it was sacred to put on the table this glorious turkey, set it down and then dig in.

KIMBALL: Well, Julia had an answer to that. You reassemble the turkey.

MONTAGNE: Like Frankenstein.

KIMBALL: It was like Frankenturkey. And she put the legs back and so it looks like a whole turkey.

MONTAGNE: What, did she clip it all together?

KIMBALL: Yeah, I mean, she just has the legs on the side sort of where they would be.

MONTAGNE: I see. So you lean a couple of legs against it and it's...

KIMBALL: Yeah, and you have the Rockwell moment.

MONTAGNE: Why don't we put the breast into the oven, get it going. And this will give us enough time while this is cooking to dash off to the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History and get a look at Julia's actual kitchen.

KIMBALL: Yeah, I can't wait. I haven't seen it yet. I've been in the kitchen, but I haven't seen it at the Smithsonian.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: It was a decade ago that Julia Child donated the kitchen in her Cambridge, Massachusetts home to the Smithsonian Institution. They reassembled it - cupboards, cutlery, stove - here in Washington, D.C., right down to the canary yellow plastic tablecloth.

And Chris, you have actually cooked in this kitchen when it was still in Julia's home.

KIMBALL: It's very strange seeing it moved all the way down to a Washington and seeing it in a museum. Makes me feel very old. So, I mean, when I first walked into it, I have to say, back in the early '80s, the thing that struck me was it didn't look like a professional chef kitchen. Pegboard with magic marker around it so you know where to put the pot back. Stuff just piled on the Garland stove. Nothing fancy.

MONTAGNE: Paula Johnson was one of the curators who put together the Julia Child exhibition. Standing outside the kitchen, Johnson points to what looks like a gigantic garlic press hanging on the wall. It's a German potato ricer for making old-fashioned mashed potatoes.

PAULA JOHNSON: It's one of the tools that she brought back from their time abroad. And she said that wherever she went she looked for kitchen tools, for gadgets, for, you know, what people were using.

KIMBALL: You know, it's too bad I couldn't have gotten that away from her before you brought it down here, because I would've liked to have it.

JOHNSON: Yeah. No, it was one of her favorites, and now it's become one of our favorites. So, sorry, Chris. Yeah.

KIMBALL: Better Here than in my kitchen.

MONTAGNE: Well, Chris I think we should get back to our turkey.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KIMBALL: Well, it's starting to smell like Julia's kitchen, right?

MONTAGNE: Exactly.

KIMBALL: Some sizzle. There's nice browning going on. And it still have some time, time enough to make a couple side dishes.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE FRENCH CHEF")

CHILD: When you're looking for a vegetable with lots of personality to stand up against an aggressive meat like wild boar, turkey, pork or something, consider the Brussels sprout.

KIMBALL: If you're going to cook Brussels sprouts and if you were Julia Child, the first thing you would think of is butter, and the second thing you would think about is braising.

MONTAGNE: To braise the sprouts, place them into a pot with some salted water and boil them for about six minutes - just enough to soften them up.

KIMBALL: And then we also take a little bit off the root end and what you want to do is to do that...

MONTAGNE: It opens it up.

KIMBALL: Yeah, opens it up and it's going to sit stem side down in the skillet in butter.

MONTAGNE: Now you've got, now it's down. The bottom side is by having them pierced like that, it's opened.

KIMBALL: It's open.

MONTAGNE: I can figure this one out almost. It means that it's open to the heat...

KIMBALL: It's...

MONTAGNE: ...and the butter.

KIMBALL: And it's open to the butter.

MONTAGNE: You know what's great? You might think that when you pick up a Julia Child recipe that it's going to be very complicated. And, in fact, sometimes there's a lot of steps. But it's basically very simple.

KIMBALL: Her recipe style was very conversational. So when you read a Julia Child recipe it's like a friend talking to you. And Julia said, don't be afraid. Just go do it. If things go wrong, just keep going.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE FRENCH CHEF")

CHILD: When you flip anything, you really, you just have to have the courage of your convictions, particularly if it's sort of a loose mass like this. Well, that didn't go very well. See, when I flipped it I didn't have the courage to do it the way I should have. But you can always pick it up. And if you're alone in the kitchen, who is going to see?

MONTAGNE: Well, this next dish requires a little courage - garlic mashed potatoes. It calls for two full heads of garlic. Yes, not two cloves, two heads.

KIMBALL: And the prologue to the recipe says this looks like a horrifying amount of garlic. And guess what? It has a nice garlic flavor but, you know, people will still talk to you the next day.

(LAUGHTER)

KIMBALL: So what happens is it takes the sting out of the garlic by precooking them and braising them in butter. And then she makes a white sauce, a bechamel out of that, and folds that into potatoes. And you can smell, definitely smell some garlic in here.

MONTAGNE: Yes, but it's not overpowering.

KIMBALL: No, it's not overpowering.

MONTAGNE: At all.

(SOUNDBITE OF POTS CLATTERING)

MONTAGNE: Ooh.

KIMBALL: Mm..

MONTAGNE: Mmm? Spilled a little there?

KIMBALL: What?

MONTAGNE: Whoa. Just keep on going.

KIMBALL: Just keep on going.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE FRENCH CHEF")

CHILD: Tonight, I'm going to have a perfectly beautiful, glittering fresh apple tart for dessert.

KIMBALL: There's lots of tarte de pommes, apple tarts. This is the one from "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." You make an applesauce, about four pounds of apples. You put them down for about 20 minutes. You add some apricot preserves. And you put that into the prebaked shells Cover the top in a circle of apples. Throw it in a standard 375 oven for about 40-45 minutes. And you have what I think is even better than apple pie. Because, you know, the applesauce is concentrated flavor, and then you have the fresh apples on top, so it's a nice combination.

MONTAGNE: I'm going to ask something that is probably heresy. Could you use applesauce that somebody else made? Jazz it up with a little butter and...

KIMBALL: No. We could've asked Julia that question. I think she would've said no.

MONTAGNE: Chris, I think we reached somewhere where the turkey is ready.

KIMBALL: I think it is.

MONTAGNE: Ah, it's beautiful.

KIMBALL: Nicely browned. It smells great.

MONTAGNE: And...

KIMBALL: Some sizzle on the foil there from the stuffing.

(SOUNDBITE OF RATTLING)

MONTAGNE: Careful. Don't want to drop it.

KIMBALL: Renee's nervous. Now you're backing up. Why? I'm just going to let this sit to cool down and let the juices reabsorb. So we have plenty of time to finish up the rest of the meal, set the table, open the wine.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: And Chris, let's let Julia have the last word.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE FRENCH CHEF")

CHILD: This is Julia Child. Bon apetit.

MONTAGNE: And in honor of the 100th anniversary of her birth, that's our Julia Child Thanksgiving. Chris Kimball is host of "America's Test Kitchen," and you can recipes and behind the scenes photos at NPR's food blog The Salt.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.