Sunday, August 30, 2009

Belgrade Gardens and the Infamous Barberton Chicken

I think what surprised me the most when I wrote my blog entry on Milich's Village Inn was how many people eventually found a link to the article through the myriad of search engines out there (Google's being the top, by far). Of course, my faithful readers took a gander when it first came out, but the entry just seemed to take a life of its own on after that. To this day I still get a fair number of first-time readers coming from the Internet every now and again who happen to find my website through the results of a web search.

Having eaten at two of the four major Barberton Chicken restaurants now, I decided it was time to add a third one to the list, Belgrade Gardens. Situated at 401 East State Street, Barberton, Ohio 44203, they can also be reached via telephone at 330-745-0113. There is no website currently, although there is a lot of information available on the web if one just does a simple search. The first thing you notice after seeing the sign for the restaurant

was the MASSIVENESS of the parking lot. Doing a quick bit of estimating, I figured that the parking lot could easily hold 200+ cars. If you figure two to three people per car on average, that means that during a really busy night, you could be feeding 500-600 people at any given time. While Milich's Village Inn will serve quite a few at once, this is monstrous compared to that. Fortunately, I decided to go earlier in the evening to avoid the crowds. I was rewarded with a much emptier restaurant.

Here was a shot of the front of the building as you walk across the parking lot towards the front of the restaurant:

After being seated, I started looking through the menu. Left panel:

Middle panel:

Right panel:

Besides the usual suspects (i.e. chicken), the left panel of the menu also contained a list of daily specials:

But, seeing as I was here for the chicken, I mostly focused on the middle panel which talked about all of the chicken options:

It was at that point my server came over and introduced herself. I explained that while I have been to several of the Barberton Chicken restaurants, I had never been to Belgrade Gardens before. Excited, she said that she would let me look over the menu and would return with my glass of water and a complimentary order of the dumplings that are offered on the appetizer menu. After she left I started looking around my table. The table was actually set simply, but the colorful flowers (not real) added a nice little bit of freshness:

Unfortunately the table also had one of those cardboard advertisements for fried mozzarella sticks:

I guess I understand that in today's restaurant climate you have to appeal to the broadest spectrum of clientèle possible, but honestly this belonged nowhere near a restaurant like the Belgrade Gardens. I suppose in it's hay day, they didn't have to pander to the lowest common denominator, but times are different now. I put the sign back just as my server returned.

First up, a shot of the bread basket. This was similar to what I had received at Milich's,

with the exception that at Belgrade's, they use a local purveyor for their butter, Sumner's:

This impressed me. Not only because it was butter and not margarine, but also because they had chosen to support another local business. Plus, on top of everything else, I like Sumner's dairy products. The bread itself was a mixture of rye and seeded Italian. As with Milich's, the best you could hope for was that the bread wasn't stale; it wasn't.

After she set the bread basket and my water glass down, a dish of the dumplings appeared before me:

The best way to describe this dish is to think of large dumplings that had been poached in a chicken paprikash type base. The red slick on top of the liquid was from the paprika used to help color and flavor the dish. I cut the dumplings into bite-sized pieces and served myself up a little bit:

This was really very good. It was definitely a unique Hungarian flavor and the dumplings for the most part were tender and well cooked. A few of the larger dumplings still had just a touch of rawness to their very centers, but those were few and far between. The stewed dumplings came with a variety of well cooked vegetables on top from onions, celery, carrots and cabbage. After eating about half of my dumplings I decided to stop because I still had an entire dinner coming out, including a side of cole slaw:

When I first tried to get a bit of cole slaw on the fork, I realized that in order to get the neat and molded shape, they must have packed the cole slaw into a timbale before turning it over onto the serving dish. This meant that you actually got quite a bit more cole slaw than you first realized. Which is good because although it was a simple blend of shredded cabbage and carrots, the dressing was nicely balanced between sour, sweet, and salty. And while a nice flavor contrast like crushed caraway seeds or celery seeds would've made this even more tasty and unique, I was quite happy with what came out of the kitchen.

Finally after about another fifteen minutes or so, the rest of my dinner came out:

I ordered the "regular" chicken dinner which includes four pieces of fried chicken, and for my two sides I got the hot sauce and the whipped potatoes with gravy. Above is the chicken and the hot sauce. Below is the whipped potatoes and gravy:

Both the whipped potatoes and the gravy were seasoned well. And as you can see in the photo above, there are even specks of potato skin in the serving I received. However, once I put a bit into my mouth, I was surprised because it was really smooth. Too smooth. I confirmed my suspicions later when I was paying for my meal: these were instant potatoes. Food manufacturers are getting pretty crafty nowadays. Had the potato skin specks not been visible, I would've immediately thought these were instant. But, the palate never lies. I did confirm that everything else I had ordered was made from scratch though.

This was probably the best version of hot sauce I have had so far. A tomato and rice-based dish, this is kind of like eating stewed tomatoes with rice. This also had some cabbage and other root vegetables thrown in as well. It was barely spicy at all, which is fairly consistent with all of the other hot sauces I've tried in my travels. Even with the admission that Belgrade's version was the best I had tried so far, this still isn't something that I would ever really crave.

All that being said, when I finally got around to trying the chicken at the Belgrade Gardens, I discovered that it was OUTSTANDING:

I started with the lowly chicken wing (of which I am a huge fan). The coating was nice and crispy and the meat was hot and juicy. Between the way the crust looked and tasted, you could tell it had been fried in 100% lard. Which, to be honest, is a strange taste to me after having eaten food only fried in vegetable shortening/oil for the last thirty years of my life. After finishing the wing and drummette, I moved on to the rather odd looking breast. Getting a wing to come out juicy and tender is one thing, but the breast, too?

This is a cross section of the breast meat after I cut a portion. The wetness is 100% from the internal juiciness of the chicken. The crust on the outside was crisp and flavorful. The meat was perfectly seasoned all the way through. If I was a betting man, I would say that this chicken is brined before being fried. I was so surprised at how wonderful this chicken was after having such a mediocre experience at Milich's. When I asked my server about this, she admitted that while Belgrade wasn't necessarily the cheapest place to get Barberton Chicken, in her opinion it was definitely the best. Clearly I can see the self-serving bias in her statement, but honestly, I have to agree with her.

I packed up the remnants of my meal (which incidentally enough was plenty for another entire meal), headed back across the parking lot and got into my car completely stuffed and with a newfound respect for the Barberton Chicken "brand". While I still have high hopes for the fourth and final, restaurant, Hopocan Gardens, even if that one turns out to be a total dud, Belgrade Gardens will happily occupy a spot on my favorites list for the foreseeable future. I highly suggest you give them a try.

Belgrade Gardens on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Iced Man Cometh

I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream.

Today I decided to take a trip over to Norton, Ohio to hit up two of it's purveyors of cool, creamy treats. Oddly enough, they are pretty close to each other, but it turns out that they are worlds apart in their approaches. Welch's Dairy Cream is located just north of the I-76 exit for Norton on Cleveland-Massillon Road. When you pull in, you'll notice a small fenced off area located beneath the sign:

And the actual shop exterior directly behind that:

While Welch's sells many products besides ice cream and frozen custard, I noticed that the sign today was advertising black cherry frozen custard. When I walked up to the window to order, I asked the young woman a couple of questions about their products. Was the custard homemade? Was their ice cream homemade? Unfortunately, the answers I got contradict what is stated on Welch's website. The website says they make at least the ice cream on-site. However, I was told that it was actually Smith Dairy. When she finally answered me about the frozen custard, she said that while the do churn and freeze the custard on-site, the "black cherry" portion was actually just a syrup they add to the custard base.

Normally in this situation I would look for the oldest person I could find working behind the counter; this is usually a manager or owner. Unfortunately, she was all that was available. I realized that any further probing on my part probably wouldn't have yielded substantial rewards, so I decided to parlay any further questioning and simply ordered a small black cherry sundae. At $1.60, it was entirely reasonable. I retired to a picnic bench and snapped a couple of photos of my cool treat:

While definitely creamy and smooth, the flavor didn't really knock me over. Yes, it tasted of black cherry, but this could've been so much better had they actually incorporated real cherries into the mix. I mean, at the time of consumption, cherries were lining supermarket shelves like mad. It did manage to maintain the flavor through the eating process, so it's not like the flavor was too delicate and temperature sensitive.

Once I finished up my cup of frozen custard, I tidied myself up a bit, threw away my trash and headed over to an establishment that has been around quite a long time, Sweet Henrie's, located at 1365 Gardner Avenue, Norton, OH, 44203; they can be reached at 330-825-0365. I looked around but couldn't locate a website for Sweet Henrie's. In case you go looking for information on your own, you should know that some websites reference this place as Sweet Henry's.

The sign out front gives away some of the interesting things you'll find inside:

And here is a shot of the front of the building. There is additional parking in the rear to the right of the building:

When I first walked in and sat down, I noticed that there were about ten to twelve flavors of ice cream listed on the wall up by the kitchen. These didn't look like temporary flavors, but ones that were available all the time. I wasn't sure if I should get my hopes up or not. I looked through the menu (and like Welch's, they offer far more on their menu than just sweet treats) and found the section on frozen desserts. Hmmm, nothing specific about homemade was mentioned, so I started to assume the worst.

That is, until my server came over to get my order. I expected to hear the same litany of corporate ice cream producers that I've heard at so many other places: Smith Dairy, Reiter, Superior, etc. To my complete amazement, however, not only are the flavors of the day made from scratch, but all the flavors listed on the menu (and wall) are also made from scratch. Score! I asked if I could just do a two scoop sundae and my server wholeheartedly agreed. When I asked her for two suggestions for flavors I should try, she suggested the pineapple and the berry cobbler.

I actually thought she was going to bring me out a dish with the scoops side by side, but what I received was this:

It was HUGE! The pineapple is on top and the berry cobbler is on the bottom. First let's talk about the pineapple:

This was quite good. It had actual bits of real pineapple in it and was smooth and creamy. The acidity of the pineapple flavor itself was a little bit muted because of the ice cream base, but overall this was a nice rendition. It did need a counterbalance, however, and I think had they incorporated some toasted coconut or maybe some coconut milk in place of some of the dairy, it would've really popped as a unique flavor.

After eating my way through part of the pineapple layer, I was finally able to access the berry cobbler layer:

Where I thought the pineapple layer could use that extra bit of "pop", the berry cobbler layer popped with flavor and was quite delicious. A mixture of blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries, this flavor had just the right amount of acidity to really sing. To my surprise and delight, strewn throughout this flavor were little "cobbler" bits that had been baked with a wonderful spicy surprise, cinnamon! The combination of the berries, cobbler pieces and earthy cinnamon meant that I truly enjoyed the entire layer of this ice cream.

When my sundae dish finally looked like this:

I cried, "Uncle!" and requested my check. For two huge scoops of ice cream, my treat had only come to $3.50. Pretty impressive given how much you received and how tasty the ice cream was. I left my server a $5 bill and walked out with a completely full stomach and sated appetite for anything cool and creamy.

If I had to choose between the two locations, Sweet Henrie's would win hands down, even with the disputed facts over whether Welch's does or does not make their own ice cream and frozen custard. The flavors not only popped at Sweet Henrie's, but they were also memorable. Given that the price points were similar, there are no other criteria left to judge on other than taste. Try Welch's if you want to, but be prepared to be surprised at how good the ice cream is at Sweet Henrie's.

Welch's Dairy Cream on Urbanspoon Sweet Henrie's Ice Cream on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Twinkies Are a Healthy Snack?

Last night I had the pleasure of watching Chris Taylor's latest documentary, Food Fight. Shown at the Cleveland Museum of Art in the lecture hall, the film chronicles the rise of big agribusiness in the 20th century and the resulting rebellion that started with the organic food movement in California. As an added bonus, Michael Ruhlman, author of thirteen books (most of which are related to food), spent about six to seven minutes introducing the film and how important the message of the film is in helping to turn around what has become a major health crisis in the United States.

Sporting an impressive list of cameos from chefs, activists, and volunteers, the film playfully weaves it's way through the history of how we got to where we are, starting with how farmers operated at the beginning at the beginning of the 20th century and how they evolved at the end of it. The film talks about a pivotal political figure, Earl Butz, who in the 1970's as the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture under Nixon, changed the way that farmers had done business for decades and instead implemented a plan for mass production of crops on an unprecedented scale.

Peppered through the movie are actual media advertisements for various products made from the products and by-products of the big agribusiness companies. One commercial is narrated by a concerned mother who states that while children need three square meals a day, sometimes between meals, they need a healthful snack. This, apparently, is where Twinkies fit in. Another commercial, extolling the virtues of a new, better form of "cheese" claims that they've replaced part of the dairy with corn oil. Sounds delicious, no?

While many of the topics that Food Fight touches on have been covered by other documentaries (such as King Corn, which I also highly recommend), the one new idea that I hadn't come across before was the rise of the California local / sustainable / organic movement headed by noted chef Alice Waters and her restaurant Chez Panisse. I had always assumed that being part of the Berkeley / 1960's hippie movement she would've already embraced the concepts of local and organic as part of her ideology even before she got into food. Not so. When she finally decided to start feeding people, her driving force was that she was determined to give people the best tasting food she could find. Through trial and error, she discovered that the local farmers who were using sustainable and organic farming methods were consistently producing better looking and better tasting produce.

The film also goes on to chronicle the rise of the farmer's market and the impact that it is now finally having on the way that chefs, restaurants, and most importantly, regular folks connect with local farmers committed to growing terrific produce that is actually tasty, good for the body and most importantly, not harmful to the Earth.

As Mr. Ruhlman noted during his introduction to the packed auditorium last night, the people in attendance weren't the people that need to see this film. It's the rest of America that needs to see Food Fight in the hope that once we understand that the food choices we make have unintended consequences, we can start to make better choices. As a nation, we need to step forward and start demanding access to food that is both healthy for us and farmed in such a way that it is healthy for the Earth.

At only 90 minutes in length, I highly recommend that you, your children, your friends and your neighbors take the time to watch this educational, humorous and sobering look at the state of our current food system. If everyone made the decision to eat just one meal a day with the principles espoused in this film, we would revolutionize the entire food business.

Monday, August 24, 2009

TWO Johnnie's? Irony Only Josie Cotton Could Love

In my blog entry about Johnnie's Pastry Shop I tried to point out that there are actually two Johnnie's. The one I was writing about in my previous blog entry exists only in Massillon, Ohio. Additionally, I pointed out that Canton ALSO has a Johnnie's. Except the two locations in Canton and North Canton sport the name Johnnie's Bakery of Canton. I assure you that you cannot go into the wrong Johnnie's expecting to find products only available from the other. Like me, you will get that disdainful look and a large sigh before the counter person explains that you are in the wrong place.

Apparently I was not sufficient in explaining this difference to a number of my gentle readers because I got many comments about my prior entry talking about how good the peanut butter creamsticks are. Just to prove a point, the last time I went to get my custard filled chocolate glazed at the Johnnie's in Massillon I asked the woman working the counter if they sold the peanut butter creamsticks. She got a rather annoyed look on her face and simply said, "No." Now I don't know why the Massillon / Canton communities need two completely different donut shops named Johnnie's, but there it is. We live in an imperfect world.

So, today I decided to check out the other Johnnie's, the one located at 6652 Wise Avenue NW, North Canton, OH 44720. They can be reached at (330) 494-7390. There is no website at this time. A word of warning ... Johnnie's Bakery of Canton closes at 4 PM most days. Johnnie's Pastry Shop closes at 6 PM most days. I only found this out when I got there too late last week when I made my first attempt.

This Johnnie's Bakery is located in a small retail chain outlet. Here is a shot of the sign above the bakery:

Inside there are a number of small tables should you decide to enjoy your treats right then and there. As with the other Johnnie's, I decided to try a number of their donuts and not just the peanut butter creamstick. Here is the assortment I purchased today:

At the top left is the Bavarian filled creamstick. Directly beneath that is the peanut butter creamstick. Beneath that is one of their apple fritters. And finally, to the right hand side is Johnnie's Bakery of Canton version of their crueller. I kind of wanted to compare the two Johnnie's cruellers and see whose was better.

First up, the reason that I came:

And the inside:

And an extreme close-up of the inside:

The decorated swirls on the outside were both chocolate frosting and the peanut butter filling / frosting. Unfortunately, only about half of my creamstick was actually filled. If you tasted the chocolate frosting by itself, it definitely tasted of chocolate. But when eaten as a whole bite, the peanut butter dominated the flavor profile and the chocolate was completely lost. The donut itself was fine, not greasy, but it really didn't add anything extra to the party. On the whole I thought that this donut was good, but not sell-your-firstborn-for-a-dozen kind of good.

Next up is the Bavarian filled creamstick with a chocolate glaze:

And a shot of the inside:

This, I really liked. The chocolate glaze was nice and the Bavarian cream was nice and creamy. It definitely had a strong flavor of vanilla, but there was a supporting cast member here, too. Lemon! You don't directly taste it when you first try the creamstick as a whole, but if you try just a little bit of the Bavarian cream by itself, it is ever so subtly woven into the flavor. It is kind of like a combination of pastry cream and lemon curd. This was by far my favorite.

Third up, the crueller:

And a shot of the inside:

If there were ever any question as to whether this was a cake donut or a yeast raised one, pulling it apart for the above shot would've answered it. As I continued to pull on opposite ends of the donut, the twisted sides began to unravel and stretch just like bread. This was a very nice donut. It had layers of cinnamon and sugar layered in the dough and was topped with a simple sugar glaze. Which crueller do I prefer? Well, Johnnie's Pastry Shop in Massillon has a bigger version and they use the same eggy dough that can be found in their other donuts. This lends an extra layer of complexity that Johnnie's Bakery of Canton's version lacked. But, to be fair, you can't really go wrong with either version.

Finally, the apple fritter. This is heavier than it looks:

An inside shot:

And an extreme close-up of a problem I discovered:

The above photo (notably the cavity right in the middle of the shot) is demonstrating something that is hard to judge from the outside: undercooked dough. As I went to pull the donut apart to do an "inside" shot, the dough in the middle of the donut stretched and pulled in the same manner that raw dough does. To be sure, I then pulled off a piece of the questionable portion and ate it. Yep, raw.

I decided to taste the portion of the fritter that was fully cooked. While this had a nice density to it, and the occasional apple and cinnamon spice mixture was indeed lovely, there just wasn't enough apple for my taste. I mean, it is called an "apple fritter". That being said, the apple I did encounter was lovely, although it was there more in flavor than actual texture.

For me, today's standout was the Bavarian filled creamstick with chocolate glaze. If I had to pick which Johnnie's was the better of the two, I'd have to go with Johnnie's Pastry Shop of Massillon. But hey, if you are already a lover of the peanut butter creamstick, don't let me dissuade you. Just make sure you ask for it at the RIGHT Johnnie's.

(Additionally, the first gentle reader to make a CORRECT comment on the meaning behind the title of this post will win a free donut from the shop of their choosing. For those too far away for me to buy you a donut in person, I'll mail you the money and you can buy it for yourself. Offer good only for donuts costing up to $3. Although I can't imagine what a $3 donut would look like.)

Johnnie's Bakery of Canton on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 21, 2009

Guess Who's Coming To Dinner? (aka My Brush With Fame)

I recently had the opportunity to attend a wonderful dinner party that celebrated not only the classic American icon, Julia Child, but also the enormous breadth of work she had devoted to her myriad of cookbooks. The idea for the party was that the dinner would be divided into various categories: appetizers, soup, entree, sides, desserts, and breads. Then each attendee would volunteer to make and bring a favorite Julia Child recipe from one of the categories. Our host then coordinated the attendees' efforts so that there wasn't too much duplication.

Of course, when I saw that bread was one of the courses, I immediately volunteered my talents as a bread baker. Seeing that no one else volunteered to do breads, I convinced myself that it would be a good idea to bring two different kinds. The only problem was that I do not, now nor ever, own any of Julia Child's cookbooks. No problem. I simply meandered over to my local public library and checked through the books that they had on hand. Finally, I narrowed my search to "The Way To Cook". In it, I found Julia's recipes for both classic French bread and brioche. Knowing that it would be unwise and foolish to make two recipes out of a book I had never even cracked before, I decided instead to be "Julia-inspired" and substitute my own personal recipes for those two breads.

Knowing that I needed to produce some truly saliva-inducing breads, I decided to go for the version of brioche that is everything brioche is supposed to be: rich, decadent, and totally what Julia would do. That version, gentle reader, is called Rich Man's Brioche (or RMB for short). RMB is aptly named because of the amount of butter contained within it. While challah is enriched with lots of eggs, RMB is also enriched with one pound (yes, you read that correctly) of butter for each three pound batch of dough. What you end up with is a bread that is almost the same interior consistency of cake. It is tender and flavorful and literally just melts in your mouth.

There are only three additional ingredients that differentiate classic French bread from brioche; eggs, butter, and sugar. Aware that the sugar wouldn't make enough of a difference in the end product, I decided to bring out the big guns and make sure I had the best butter and eggs I could find. Having discovered the Riverbank General Store some time ago, I knew that they carried locally produced dairy and eggs from Hartzler Farms. Located right off of Rt. 21 between Canal Fulton and Massillon on Butterbridge Road, the quaint looking shop houses some of the area's finest meats, dairy, eggs, grains, and planet-friendly products. Here is a shot of the storefront:

The Hartzler Farm unsalted butter comes in a two-pound log and sells for $7.50. Although this sounds expensive, realize that most boxes of butter at the grocery store are about $3-$3.50 per pound, so this is right in line with most supermarkets. And although you can find the salted version of this butter in stores closer to where I live, the unsalted is much more elusive, but can be found consistently at Riverbank. The added advantage of driving to the Riverbank is that I could also get a dozen farm-fresh eggs with their marvelous bright orange yolks.

While I was up at the counter paying for my butter and eggs, I decided to splurge for a treat I had been longing to try, homemade ice cream made from the Hartzler Farm milk and cream. I have had their milk in the past and it has a wonderful "milky" flavor to it that I have never experienced with the supermarket variety. There were six flavors from which to choose and I decided to go with an old stand-by, strawberry:

This was the single scoop portion size and once I got everything out to my car, I dug in. To say that this was excellent was an understatement. It wasn't adventurous like Jeni's Ice Cream in Columbus, OH, but on a hot summer day, this cold treat really hit the spot. The flavor of strawberry was present from the first bite to the last and the creaminess of the ice cream was second-to-none. This ice cream needed no adornment of any kind; sprinkles and whipped cream need not apply.

After finishing my treat, I hopped back in my car and drove to my next stop, the kitchen where I'd be putting all of those wonderful ingredients to good use. While this entry isn't meant to be a bread recipe or tutorial like other entries I have posted in the past, I did want to give you a few before and after shots of the breads that I would be taking to the party. The brioche was actually a two-day bread. On day one, I made the starter (egg whites, flour, water, sugar, yeast). After it fermented for a couple of hours, I added the rest of the ingredients (egg yolks, flour, salt) and kneaded the dough for several more minutes. Only at that point do you add one pound of softened unsalted butter. At the end of that, the dough looked more like a batter than a bread dough. At that point, there was one crucial step that allowed you to handle the dough the next day, refrigeration.

The next morning, I took the dough out of the refrigerator and used it immediately to shape the brioche loaves into their final shapes. I knew that it was going to be sticky and a pain to handle, but was still preferable to working with the dough after it had warmed up. Once the dough was panned, I brushed the top with an egg wash and sat it in a warm spot to proof. Here was a shot of the RMB right before it went into the oven. Note that you give the loaves another egg wash (for a total of two) just before going into the oven:

And here are a couple of shots of the brioche after they have completely baked through:

The smell of the baking loaves was something that was hard to describe. A rich, heavy aroma filled the kitchen and adjoining rooms. You can actually smell the egg that is used in the egg wash. If Pavlov was a breadmaker, he certainly would've trained his dog to salivate at this smell rather than the thought of meat powder.

I also decided to go with a classic French bread. After mixing up both of my batches of brioche the night before, I made a starter for my French dough with a poolish. Equal amounts of flour and water with just a pinch of instant yeast were quickly stirred together, covered, and placed in a warm spot to ferment overnight. Since traditional French bread is only flour, water, yeast, and salt, the use of a starter was crucial to bread that actually tasted good. It also helped to extend the shelf-life of the finished bread as well, even though in real life, it didn't sit around for very long.

After panning up my second batch of brioche the next morning, I placed the poolish, the rest of my flour, water, yeast, and salt into my KitchenAid mixing bowl and mixed and kneaded the dough until it was satiny smooth and pliable. I then covered the bowl and placed it into a warm spot. This allowed the dough to go through a primary and secondary fermentation stage before turning it out onto the counter to shape and proof it. I decided that I would stick with the batard shape (as opposed to a baguette) because of the nice ratio of crust to crumb. After shaping, proofing, and baking, these were what came out of the oven:

Anyone who has successfully baked bread using a very hot oven to create a nice thick crust is familiar with the concept of the bread "singing" to you. For about five minutes after the bread came out of the oven, the cool air around the bread caused the hard crust to contract and hundreds of micro-fissures were formed. These micro-fissures made a cracking noise. It's very similar to listening to a bowl of puffed rice cereal when you first pour on the milk.

After letting the breads cool, I packed everything up, hopped in the shower, and headed over to the Julia dinner party, arriving precisely at the time specified in the invitation. Needless to say, I had an absolutely fabulous time at the party. We spent nearly four hours cooking, talking, laughing, and most importantly, eating. Unfortunately, I didn't realize that I would be able to take pictures, so I left my camera in my car.

We started out with a few appetizers and a wonderful cocktail, Kir Royale. Made with cassis liqueur and champagne, this was a tasty and refreshing way to start out the party. Once we finally sat down at the dinner table, we were presented with the most incredibly chilled and smooth soup, vichyssoise. For our entree, we enjoyed both a meat course, chicken fricassee, and a fish course, couilibiac of saumon (essentially salmon in puff pastry) served with a homemade hollandaise that I actually helped our hostess put together. Our sides consisted of a wonderful corn souffle, pan-roasted root vegetables, a chilled sliced potato salad, and creamy mashed potatoes. The French bread was served during this course as well. Thankfully, I garnered much praise for my version.

After our entree, we all decided to take a break in order to give ourselves time to digest as well as clean up the table a bit before returning for the cheese course and the dessert course. I retired to the patio along with a few other guests to enjoy the remnants of the wonderful gewurztraminer in my wine glass and enjoy the now sunless night air. After what seemed to be a lengthy period of time, we finally reassembled at the dining room table for a selection of four cheeses, fresh apricots and figs, and the rich, buttery brioche I had brought. Our final course, desserts, consisted of two flamed items, the first a wonderful Sour Cherry Tart Flamande and the second, a delightful tableside preparation of the classic French dessert, Crepes Suzette. Both were delicious, but the Crepes Suzette was truly exceptional.

At the conclusion of dessert, we retired from the table and adjourned ourselves to either the living room or the kitchen. Having talked, laughed, and eaten for the past three and half hours, we were all beginning to sink into a much anticipated food coma. After I profusely thanked my hostess for wonderful time I had just had at her Julia dinner, she presented me with some leftovers to take home with me. I bid adieu to the remaining guests and reminded them to take the extra brioche home with them for French toast the following morning. I climbed back into my car and drove home, completely sated both mentally and physically. The myriad of leftovers I consumed the next day acted as a reminder of the wonderful meal and fellowship I had experienced just the night before.

I highly encourage you to throw your own Julia-inspired party. Dividing the work up amongst your guests and making it a potluck dinner of sorts is a great way to take the stress out of having to make an entire dinner for twelve people. What better way to spend a Saturday evening than with great food, great friends, and great conversation?

If you'd like to read our hostess's account of what happened at the Julia dinner party, feel free to click on this link for her latest eNewsletter.
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