“Cooking is not a particularly difficult art, and the more you cook and learn about cooking, the more sense it makes. But like any art it requires practice and experience. The most important ingredient you can bring to it is love of cooking for its own sake.”
-Julia Child, Mastering the Art of French Cooking
Of course I admire her food but it’s Julia Child’s presence in the kitchen and life that inspire me most. With grace and humility Julia danced around the stove fancifully with an obvious passion for what she was cooking. There is no hiding the inevitable mistakes and flops that happen when cooking and yet she reiterated that it’s what you do with those little mishaps that make a great cook. Never apologizing for them she moved on accepting the little slip up while not letting it affect the rest of the dish or her confidence.
I don’t claim to be a Julia expert but I am inspired by the image of her in my head that I’ve pieced together through my years of seeing her on TV, reading her books, cooking a bit of her food and learning about her career.
Julia’s passion for food and the career that was formed around that started later in life and was fueled by her genuine love of eating and cooking rather than a desire to be known. Julia’s excitement about food and life around food was and continues to be infectious. I can’t help but want to jump into my kitchen and start cooking every time I read her recipes, her words or watch her saute´ and roast on tv. As a young girl I eagerly sat in front of the tv while watching her baking series on PBS where she brought in dozens of talented bakers to join her in the kitchen. As the chefs were slicing, stirring, whipping and mixing a towering Julia stood at their side dipping her finger into everything in sight. Her passion outweighed her desire to keep up appearances as she couldn’t help but taste the food in all its various stages.
Julia continues to give me confidence in my own kitchen and inspires me to reach beyond my comfort which inturn makes me stronger and wiser. Most recently it was Julia who nudged me to step into the world of pates. In the last several years I’ve shed my childish disdain for the various animal parts that often make up pates. I now frequently order them in restaurants and speak about this as passionately as Julia would. But it wasn’t until last week when Julia held my hand in the kitchen, that I made my first Chicken Liver Mousse.
Throughout the entire process I was beaming with pride feeling as if I was crossing off an item on the imaginary culinary “must make” list. It’s not that the process was a challenge it’s just that I had deemed chicken liver mousse as food to order at a restaurant instead of making at home and didn’t believe I could create the mousse that I fawn over that is made by accomplished chefs.
That is exactly what an inspiring person does. They cause you to see things differently, give you the confidence that you need and push you to actually make it happen. They hold your hand up to a point then push you when you’re ready. In the end you walk away more courageous and more sure of yourself then before. And as with my case, you walk away with a buttery rich and lightly spiced pot of Chicken Liver Mousse topped with a sleek shiny cap of aspic and feeling even more grateful for the inspiring life of Julia Child.
Chicken Liver Mousse
adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking
makes about 2 cups
I served my mousse with cornichons, grainy mustard, pickled cherries , fennel and assorted crackers.
2 c. (about 1 lb) chicken livers
2 tbsp. minced shallots
2 tbsp. butter
1/3 c. cognac
1/4 c. heavy cream
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. allspice
1/8 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. chopped, fresh thyme
1/2 c. melted unsalted butter
Kosher salt and pepper
Remove any greenish or blackish spots from the livers then cut into 1/2″ pieces.
Melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat in a sauté pan until foam has subsided. Sauté livers with the shallots in butter for 2 to 3 minutes, until the livers are just stiffened, but still rosy inside. Remove any liquid then scrape into the blender jar.
Pour the cognac into the pan and boil it down rapidly until it has reduced to 3 tablespoons. Scrape it into the blender jar.
Add the cream and seasonings to the blender jar. Cover and blend at top speed for several seconds until the liver is a smooth paste.
Add the melted butter and blend several seconds more. Adjust seasoning.
Push the mousse through a fine sieve to remove any unwanted little bits.
Pack into the bowl or jar and chill for 2 to 3 hours.
adapted from Smith & Ratliff
1/2 c. water, separated
1/2 tsp. unflavored gelatin
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/2 c. dry vermouth
2 tsp. cognac
Place 1/4 c. of cool water in a ramekin, sprinkle unflavored gelatin and let it stand for 10 minutes.
In a small saucepan heat vermouth and sugar over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes.
Heat the remaining ¼ cup of water and add to softened gelatin. Stir to dissolve. Add the gelatin mixture to the warm wine mixture and mix thoroughly.
Remove the saucepan from the heat and add cognac. Let the warm mixture stand until it almost reaches room temperature.
Once it has cooled, pour over chilled mousse. Return the mousse to the fridge and chill until the gelée has set, about 30 minutes to 1 hour.
If you wish to garnish the mousse with fresh herbs or herb blossoms gently press them into the mousse before topping with the aspic.
To learn more about Julia’s life read the new biography Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child