Mel’s Diner

Sharp Knives, Raw Meat and Fire


Well, That Cookbook Thing II soldiers on and this time we attacked the king of all meats – the beef filet.  The recipe chosen was a classic amongst classics – Tournedos Sautés Chasseur or Filet Steaks with Mushroom and Madeira Sauce.

Now, I don’t have a friendly butcher I can go to and get a tournedo cut of the fillet.  The comes from the smaller end of a fillet, about a quarter up from the small end or the filet mignon.  I’m just happy to get any cut from the filet, so I’m not sure I made a true Tournedo Sautés Chasseur, but I do know I made a fine steak.


  • 6 crustless rounds of white bread, 2 ½ inches in diameter and 3/16 thick
  • 3 to 4 Tbls. of clarified butter (ok, I used plain butter)

Sauté bread rounds in the hot butter to brown very lightly on each side.  Reheat them in a 350 degree oven just before serving.

  • ½ pound of fresh mushrooms, whole if very small, quartered if large
  • 2 Tbls. butter
  • 1 Tbls. oil
  • 2 Tbls. minced shallots
  • Salt and pepper

Sauté mushrooms in the butter and oil for 5 minutes to brown them lightly.  Stir in shallots and cook slowly for a minute or two.  Season and set aside

  • 6 steaks, 1 inch thick and 2 ½ inches in diameter, wrapped in a strip of fat and tied
  • 2 Tbls. butter
  • 1 Tbls. oil

Dry steaks with a paper towel.  Place butter and oil in a skillet and set over medium-high heat.  When foam subsides, sauté steaks for 3 to 4 minutes on each side.  When done, remove to a platter, remove strings and place each on a bread canapé.  Keep warm while making sauce

  • ½ cup beef stock
  • 1 Tbls. tomato paste

Pour fat out of skillet; stir in stock and tomato paste.  Boil rapidly, scraping up the coagulated cooking juices, until reduced to 2 or 3 tablespoons.

  • ¼ cup Madeira mixed with ½ Tbls. arrowroot or cornstarch.
  • 2 Tbls. of minced parsley

Pour in the starch and wine mixture; boil rapidly for a minute.  Add the mushroom mixture and simmer until the flavors meld, correct seasoning.  Spread the sauce over the steaks and sprinkle with the parsley and serve.

OK, how was it?  It was wonderful, but a bit to tomato-y.  The sauce would be OUTRAGEOUS if it was made with a veal demi-glace and just ½ Tbls. of tomato paste.  Still, it was wonderful and I encourage everyone to make it.  I made a few alterations – I didn’t use any fat when I tied it and I used shiitake mushrooms because I love them so much. 

Who else has been making this?


November 10, 2008 Posted by | Main Dish, Recipe, That Cookbook Thing II | 6 Comments


After an extended break for summer, the crew from That Cookbook Thing II are back with the next installment from Mastering The Art of French CookingPoulet au Porto.  This was an especially nice recipe for me not only because I got to use a few of the major food groups (Cream, Mushrooms and Port) but also because we made the Perfect Roast Chicken!

Since this thing started, I’ve been harassing everyone to make Julia’s Roast Chicken.  It’s an incredibly fussy recipe with flipping from side-to-side what seems every couple of minutes, but if you try it, you will be hooked.  The chicken comes out so moist and flavorful, you’ll wonder how it could be so different than any other roasted chicken.

Well, on to the recipe:


  • 3-4 lb roasting chicken
  • Salt
  • 4 TBS butter, softened
  • 2 TBS oil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425°. Sprinkle the chicken (inside and out) with salt. Rub skin of chicken with 2 TBS butter. In a small bowl, combine 2 TBS butter with the oil.

Place the chicken, breast up, in a large shallow roasting pan and place the pan in the middle of the preheated oven. Allow the chicken to brown lightly for 15 minutes, turning it on the left side after 5 minutes, on the right side for the last five minutes, basting with the combined butter and oil after each turn. Reduce the heat to 350°. Leave the chicken on its side and baste every 10 minutes, using the fat in the roasting pan once all of the butter and oil have been used. Carefully watch the temperature and regulate the heat so the chicken is making “cooking noises”, but the fat is not burning.

Halfway through the estimated cooking time, turn the chicken on its other side and continue basting every 10 minutes. Fifteen minutes before the end of the estimated roasting time, turn the chicken breast up and continue basting. Indications that the chicken is almost done are a sudden rain of splutters, a swelling of the breast, the drumstick is tender when pressed and can be moved in its socket. Another check is to prick the thickest part of the drumstick with a fork. The juices should run clear yellow. When done, set the chicken on a hot platter for at least ten minutes prior to carving.

While the chicken is roasting:

  • 1 lb. Fresh Mushrooms
  • ¼ cup of Water
  • ½ TBS Butter
  • ½ tsp Lemon Juice
  • ½ tsp Salt
  • 1 cup Whipping Cream
  • ½ TBS Cornstarch
  • ½ TBS Minced Shallots or Green Onions
  • 1/3 cup Medium Dry Port
  • ¼ cup Cognac
  • Salt and Pepper

Trim and wash the mushrooms.  Quarter them if large, leave whole if small. 

Bring the water to boil in a 2 ½ quart saucepan with the butter lemon juice and salt.  Toss in the mushrooms, cover, and boil slowly for 8 minutes.  Pour out cooking liquid and reserve.  Pour cream and cornstarch (blended with a bit of the cream first) into the mushrooms.  Simmer for 2 minutes.  Correct seasoning (“Stop checking the seasoning, Mike!  We need SOME of the cream and mushrooms for the rest of the recipe!” – the Stove) 

Pause now until the chicken comes out of the oven.  Move the chicken to a platter and cover to let rest.

Remove all but 2 tablespoons of fat from the roasting pan and place over the stove.  Stir in the shallots or onions and cook slowly for one minute.  Turn the heat to high, add the port and the mushroom juice, and boil down rapidly, deglazing, until the liquid is reduced down to about ¼ cup.  Add the mushrooms and cream (“mmm…cream”) and simmer for 2-3 minutes, allowing the liquid to thicken slightly.  Correct seasoning and add a few drops of lemon juice to taste.

Smear the inside of a casserole or chafing dish with butter.  Rapidly carve chicken into serving pieces.  Sprinkle lightly with salt, and arrange in the dish.

Set over medium heat until you hear the chicken begin to sizzle.  Pour cognac over the chicken.  Avert your face, and ignite the cognac (“Fire!”).  Shake the pan slowly until the flames have subsided.  Then pour in mushroom mixture, and baste the chicken.  Cover and steep for 5 minutes without allowing the sauce to boil.  Serve immediately.

What can I say?  It was incredible!  I mean, c’mon, how can you go wrong with the Perfect Roast Chicken, Cream, Mushrooms, Butter and Port?  You can’t.  Those would even make a weekend with your mother-in-law good.  What I did differently or at least perceived differently:

  • I quartered the mushrooms.  I like chunks of mushrooms and as I read the recipe, I pictured quartered mushrooms.  I used ½ pound button mushrooms (to retain the 1961 flavor) and ½ pound of crimini mushrooms for a more earthy flavor.
  • I cut the chicken up into six pieces instead of carving it.  I wasn’t sure if that’s what I was supposed to do, but I thought it would make a nice serving presentation for less than 7 people.  I did just what Julia said to do and served it with simple side dishes – boiled potatoes with chives and carrots.

That’s it – I try to follow Julia’s recipes to see what they taste like to a 21st Century palate.  And let me tell you, it still tasted damn good!

Here’s the members who have made it so far:

October 4, 2008 Posted by | Main Dish, Recipe, That Cookbook Thing II | 3 Comments


So, it’s that time again.  That Cookbook Thing II‘s next chapter is a near perfect brunch dish, maybe something for a big breakfast – Rapee Morandelle.  What?  What is a rapee?  It sounds like some kind of thin sword, maybe something guys named Desmond or Thurston use for exercise practice at the club.  What it is is a quiche with no crust, a gratin or, if you come from the corner of 10th St and 2nd Avenue, a potato kugel.

It’s also very good.  It’s a simple dish with eggs, grated potatoes, ham (thereby making it not TOO much like a potato kugel), cheese, onions and herbs – all mixed and baked together into a yummy happiness.


  • ½ cup onion, finely minced
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • ½ cup cooked ham, diced (3 ounces)
  • 4 eggs
  • ½ clove garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp fresh parsley chopped and/or chives and chervil
  • 2/3 cup Swiss cheese, coarsely grated
  • 4 tbsp whipping cream, light cream or milk
  • Pinch of pepper
  • ¼ tsp Salt
  • 3 medium potatoes, (about 10 ounces) peeled and coarsely grated
  • 2 tbsp butter to plus ½ tbsp butter cut in little pea sized dots

Here’s what everything looked like before I started:


  1. Cook the onions slowly in butter and oil for 5 minutes or so over low heat, until tender, but not browned.
  2. Raise the heat slightly and add the ham and let cook a moment more
  3. Beat the eggs in a mixing bowl and add the garlic, herbs, cheese, cream or milk, and seasonings. Blend in the ham & onions
  4. Peel the potatoes and grate them. Squeeze out the excess water.  Stir them into the egg mixture. Check seasoning.
  5. Heat 2 tbsp of butter in the dish. Once foaming, pour in potato and egg mixture.  Dot with last bit of butter pieces.
  6. Bake for 30-40 minutes in preheated oven until top is nicely browned.

So, I made a few small changes.  I didn’t feel like cooking a whole ham for a measly 3 ounces, so I used Irish bacon from a local smokehouse.  It was just as fatty and just as good as anything Julia used in 1961.  I also used a whole clove of garlic (why not?) and Ementaler cheese and I used the chives.  I cooked mine in a 12 inch pan as prescribed and found the pan too big.

The dish cooked quicker than expected and came out a bit thin.  BUT, it did taste good.  Mary from Cooking For Five made it with me and couldn’t stop eating it.  My daughter (who is 9) patted my shoulder and said I could make it again.

Also, it was a simple dish.  I think so many people are afraid to cook from Mastering The Art of French Cooking because they think everything in it is soooo complicated  This proves it’s not.  Open the book, take a look around.  Sure, you want to make something complicated – it’s there.  But it doesn’t have to be.  Simple is good, too.  That’s the Art of French COUNTRY Cooking – simple.

Thanks again to all my friends in this:

PS – Here’s the first two posts:

PPS – We have recieved honorable mention as part of Julia’s 3rd annual birthday celebration from Lisa over at Champagne Taste

August 11, 2008 Posted by | Friends, Recipe, That Cookbook Thing II | 5 Comments


As many of you remember, a truly wonderful group of people (and I) are cooking several recipes from Mastering The Art of French Cooking, the 1961 classic from Julia, Louisette and Simka.  Up this time is Sauce au Cari, a light curry sauce.

Oh, we’ve had some new members join us, too.  Check out Kittie (whoops!), Shaun and Elle! 

Although it may seem like a safe choice, it is in fact loose canon because of the curry.  Curry, as we know, is in fact a blend of spices and it has been said there are as many curries as there are families in India.

I made this recipe twice because the first one I made was as thick as cake batter.  Now, I know classic French sauces in the 50’s were quite thick, but this was a bit much.  I’m still at a loss as to why it was so thick.  I know they made these recipes over and over again while writing the book, so I have a hard time believing the recipe is wrong.  My only guess is the flour at that time had less protein than flour does now; it was more like cake flour at the time.  Anyway, the second time I made it, I cut the flour from four tablespoons to two and the sauce was much better.  It could have used maybe a teaspoon or two more, but it was good.

Now the flavor – I liked it.  Many of my fellow co-conspirators were unhappy with the flavor, finding it weak and uninspired.  Again, this was nearly inevitable considering the plethora of curry powders (Shaun even made his own blend based on a recipe from Ghana) and how much tastes have changed in 47 years.  This was published at a time when spices where nearly unknown in the United States and spicy meant extra black pepper from the novelty pepper shaker.  Anything other than mild was going to be WAY TOO spicy.

Sauce au Cari

  • ½ cup white or yellow onion, finely minced
  • 4 tbsp butter

Cook the onions slowly in butter and oil in a medium saucepan over low heat for 10 minutes without allowing the onions to color.

  • 2-3 tbsp curry powder

Stir in curry powder and cook slowly for 2 minutes.

  • 4 tbsp flour

Add the flour and stir over low heat for 3 minutes.

  • 2 cups boiling milk, white stock or fish stock (I used my roasted chicken stock)

Take the pot off the heat and blend in the boiling liquid. Return the sauce to heat and simmer slowly for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

  • 4-6 tbsp whipping cream
  • Salt & pepper
  • Lemon juice

Stir in the cream by tablespoons, until the sauce has thinned to the consistency you wish. Check seasoning and add lemon juice to taste

  • 1-2 tbsp softened butter
  • 1-2 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped (optional)

Off the heat, just before serving, stir in the butter by bits and then parsley.  Serve immediately.

Like I said, and unlike many of my partners in crime, I liked the less cake-battery sauce.  It wasn’t like the curry I had that last night in Calcutta, but nothing can compare to that night.  OK, so I never had a “last night in Calcutta”, heck – I’ve never had a FIRST night in Calcutta, so maybe that’s why I like it.  But whatever it is, I kind of liked this sauce, in fact, I can see me using milk instead of stock next time, because I like milk fat.  And the thought of a bovine product in Indian food sounds so wrong!

Check out all the better posts about this recipe:

June 23, 2008 Posted by | Recipe, That Cookbook Thing II | 8 Comments


As some of you remember, back in January I participated in a cookbook review with some of the darnedest, bestest people whoever participated in a cookbook thing.  That was so much fun, I rashly invited many of the same people to do much the same kind of thing with Mastering The Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle.  Published in 1961, it was the bible of the soon to be burgeoning food movement in America.  So, who’s part of this cookbook thing:

We thought it would be fun, forty-seven years later, to re-visit the classic, now collecting dust on so many cookbook shelves.  Remembering the book was written for American cooks at a time when so many ingredients we take for granted were unavailable for the most part, the recipes seem quaint in their use of bouillon, canned truffles and few fresh herbs other than parsley.

So, rather than strict enforcement of recipes, we can play fast and loose (within reason, of course) with the ingredients, using fresh or different ingredients where Julia and crew had no choice.

The first recipe we did was an onion soup.  We picked it because it was a recipe the three ladies had created.  While living in France, Julia, Simone and Louisette started a cooking school called L’Ecole des Trois Gourmandes.  So, in recognition of these three ladies:

Soupe a l’Oignon Gratinee des Trois Gourmandes

  • 1 ½ lbs. or about 5 cups of thinly sliced yellow onions
  • 3 TB butter
  • 1 TB oil
  • A heavy bottomed, 4-quart covered saucepan

Cook the onions slowly with the butter in the saucepan, covered for 15 minutes

  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp of sugar
  • 3 Tb flour

Uncover, raise the heat to moderate, and stir in the salt and sugar.  Cook for 30-40 minutes stirring frequently, until the onions have turned an even, deep, golden brown.  Sprinkle in the flour and stir for 3 minutes.

  • 2 quarts of boiling brown stock, canned beef bouillon, or 1 quart of boiling water and 1 quart of stock or bouillon.
  • ½ cup of dry white wine or dry white vermouth
  • salt and pepper to taste

Off heat, blend in the boiling liquid.  Add the wine, and season to taste.  Simmer partially covered for 30-40 minutes or more, skimming occasionally.  Correct seasoning. (This is why you skim)

  • A fireproof tureen or casserole or individual onion soup pots
  • 2 ounces Swiss cheese cut into very thin slivers
  • 1 Tb grated raw onion
  • 12-16 rounds of hard-toasted French bread
  • 1 ½ cups Swiss, or Swiss and Parmesan cheese
  • 1 Tb olive oil or melted butter

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Bring the soup to a boil and pour into tureen or pots.  Stir in slivered cheese and grated onion.  Float toast rounds on top of the soup, and spread the grated cheese over it.  Sprinkle with oil or butter.  Bake for 20 minutes in the oven, then set for a minute or two under a preheated broiler to top slightly.

  • A 2-quart bowl
  • 1 tsp cornstarch
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 TB cognac

Beat the cornstarch into the egg yolk, then the Worcestershire and the cognac.  Just before serving the soup, lift an edge of the crust with a fork and remove a ladleful of soup.  In a thin stream of droplets, beat the soup into the egg-yolk mixture with a fork.  Gradually beat in two more ladlefuls of soup.  Again, lifting the crust, pour the mixture back into the soup.  Then reach in under the crust with the ladle and stir gently to blend the mixture into the rest of the soup.  Serve.

So, how was it?  To tell you the truth, IT WAS GREAT!!!!  The first time I made it, I used my roasted chicken stock I’m so proud of and found it didn’t hold up to the alcohol so well.  After the vermouth was added I had to cook it just over forty minutes to burn off the alcoholness and after adding the cognac at the end, the alcohol was over-powering.  Fortunately, the next day it was much better, so nothing went to waste.  The second time, I used home made beef stock and all was well.  I was surprised how much a difference there was with the beef stock – the chicken stock tasted great, but it couldn’t stand up to the alcohol.

The recipe is fussy, like a lot in the book – but, worth it.

Next time?  Sauce au Cari (Curry Sauce).  Look for the fun things we serve it with!

May 4, 2008 Posted by | Recipe, Soup, That Cookbook Thing II | 7 Comments