Author: Persnickety Pierre

Jacques Pépin’s Vinaigrette – Is It Better than Julia’s?

You want to make a vinaigrette for your guests. It has to be just right, but you’re running out of time. What do you do?

In our last post, we saw how Julia Child makes her Lemon-Oil Dressing. Now, you are going to learn how Jacques Pépin makes his classic Vinaigrette in a Jar. Jacques takes a different approach than does Julia. Although he uses many of the same ingredients, the proportions for those ingredients bear no resemblance to Julia’s.

Come join the staff of the soon-to-be-world-famous Serendipity Farmhouse Test Kitchen as we recreate Jacques’s recipe. In this second post of a three-part series, we focus on development of superior taste and flavor. The reason for this will become abundantly clear in our next post. It will be then that Chef Luna, in a blind test, will answer for us this most important question.

Which vinaigrette is better? – Jacques’s or Julia’s?

Continue reading “Jacques Pépin’s Vinaigrette – Is It Better than Julia’s?”

Julia Child’s Vinaigrette – Is It Better than Jacques’s?

So simple – Make a vinaigrette for that salad you’ll serve your guests tonight. So complex – Make a vinaigrette that isn’t too acidic or too bland. Where do you begin?

Julia Child and Jacques Pépin each make flavor-filled vinaigrettes. These legendary chefs use almost identical ingredients. But that is where the similarities end. In their characteristic ways, they vary ingredient proportions to create vinaigrettes to match their unique trademark styles.

Come join the staff of the soon-to-be-world-famous Serendipity Farmhouse Test Kitchen as we recreate both recipes. We will describe for you the magic that is taking place when making a vinaigrette. Then we will place two salads, each with their respective dressings in front of our uniquely qualified guest chef. – She will answer for us this most important question.

Which vinaigrette is better? – Julia’s or Jacques’s?

Jump to Recipe

Great Vinaigrette Challenge Background

farmhouse cuisine

Our Test Kitchen staff frequently watches episodes from the old PBS series Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home. Even better, dear friends gifted us with the book that accompanied the series – Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home: A Cookbook. The series and the book prove one very important axiom we live by in our Test Kitchen:

Two different paths can lead to equally fine results.

We decided to demonstrate how this can be. That decision is how the Great Vinaigrette Challenge came into being. We decided to use two simple recipes presented by Julia and Jacques on pages 114-115 of their cookbook. Our task was to show how the artistic choices of two great chefs would follow two different paths. And, despite use of individualized techniques, both Julia and Jacques would achieve equally fine results.

But that was not enough! We decided to go one step further. Though not a contest and certainly not a rivalry, we decided to bring in an unbiased authority to evaluate and decide:

Which vinaigrette is better? – Julia’s or Jacques’s?

A Three Step Challenge

We decided to divide the Great Vinaigrette Challenge into three steps, each with its own post:

1 – Julia Child’s Vinaigrette – Is It Better than Jacques’s? This post describes the challenge and presents the recipe for Julia’s Lemon-Oil Dressing

2 – Jacques Pépin’s Vinaigrette – Is it Better than Julia’s? This post presents the recipe for Jacques’s Vinaigrette in a Jar and compares and contrasts it with Julia’s recipe.

3 – The Great Vinaigrette Challenge This post highlights the tasting, evaluating and judging of the two competing vinaigrettes. Don’t miss this one. You may be surprised by the results.

What’s a Vinaigrette?

Were you impatient? Have you already clicked the “Jump to Recipe” button? Did you read through Julia’s list of ingredients? I’ll bet you were surprised to find that vinegar was not on the list.

Well, I can understand your impatience and why you jumped ahead. But now that you are back with me, I will share a simple truth with you. There is no single formula for a vinaigrette. – Yes, a vinaigrette should have an acidic component, but lemon juice is often used instead of vinegar. And there are a host of other variable ingredients as well. And that illustrates once again the Serendipity Farmhouse Test Kitchen axiom:

Two different paths can lead to equally fine results.

Julia’s Lemon-Oil Dressing

Just about the time you come to an understanding of a culinary term, somebody throws a new one at you. All along, we’ve talked about Julia and Jacques and their vinaigrettes. So, why does the cookbook call Julia’s Lemon-Oil recipe a “dressing”? – Simple, all vinaigrettes are dressings, but not all dressings are vinaigrettes.

Julia Child found it worthwhile “to have a simple, standard dressing for everyday salads,” something that can be prepared in a moment’s notice. That was how she thought of her Lemon-Oil Dressing.

Persnickety Pierre’s Criteria of Excellence

There is no need to spend much time discussing how my Criteria of Excellence apply to this simple vinaigrette. It will suffice to note that, if Julia thought that this recipe is one that “you can whip up in a minute,” it should present no challenge to even the most junior chef.

There is a word of caution here. Selection of good-quality ingredients is an ever-important factor in achieving the fine results in taste and flavor you are seeking.


Now, you have learned that every good chef needs a back pocket vinaigrette recipe. Even Julia Child and Jacques Pépin have their go-to recipes. The basic ingredients are generally easy to find and easy to use. You can vary the basic recipes by changing ingredient proportions and adding herbs and spices.

Try out the recipe below and see how Julia does it. Our next post will give you the opportunity to make a vinaigrette the way Jacques does.

Once you’ve tried out both recipes, you will have accomplished two things. First, you will know how to make a vinaigrette. Second, you’ll be able to sit right alongside our highly qualified guest chef and make your own judgement:

Which vinaigrette is better? – Julia’s or Jacques’s?

make a vinaigrette.

Julia's Lemon-Oil Dressing


  • 1 Tbs minced shallots or scallions
  • 2 tsp Dijon-style prepared mustard
  • 2 Tbs freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • About ¼ tsp salt or more to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • ½ cup excellent olive oil


  • Put the minced scallions, mustard, lemon juice, salt, and pepper in a small mixing bowl and whisk until well blended.
  • Pour in the oil slowly, in droplets at first, and then in a thin stream, whisking constantly until the oil has been completely emulsified and the dressing has thickened.
  • Taste and adjust the seasonings.
  • Use immediately; if the dressing separates while standing, whisk to blend.


Upside Down with Julia Child

Pierre LeChat - the signature icon for the Serendipity Farmhouse Test Kitchen

Love of fine food filled the Serendipity Farmhouse Test Kitchen on St. Valentine’s day. Miss Blondie and Ol’ Fuzz Face returned to Julia Child’s Sauté de Boeuf à la Parisienne to honor this day. Meanwhile, Mr. Monte prepared Valentine Pie for his highly favored humans.

The Test Kitchen staff had two goals in mind – first, to simplify their cooking methods and second, to refine their execution of basic culinary techniques.

If you want to know if they achieved their goals, continue reading on. Should you desire to see the recipe first, just click Jump to Recipe below.

Continue reading “Upside Down with Julia Child”

Jacques’ Lamb Stew

French cuisine is not a delight reserved only for restaurants adorned with Michelin stars. Oh non! It is an art that may be practiced even in the most humble farmhouse setting. And I, Pierre LeChat, gourmand and expert on all that is food, will demonstrate this in a most conclusive way. In this post I will relate to you how the soon-to-be-world-famous Serendipity Farmhouse Test Kitchen (SFH-TK) recently tested, mastered, and perfected Jacques Pépin’s Lamb Stew.

If, perhaps, you are anxious to view the recipe now and wish to return later to read my most interesting test report, just click Jump to Recipe below.

Continue reading “Jacques’ Lamb Stew”

Monticello & Granddaughter #1

Finally, the day has arrived.

A day I had been looking forward to for quite some time, and a bit of a surprise for me, bestowed by my wonderful grandparents.

Your post today is written by Granddaughter #1; the following is a description of some of the events which transpired during our little vacation to the grand Monticello.

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A first stop on life’s great adventure

After arriving from an extended but very peaceful drive, we had a bit of a problem looking for a good place to park. That wasn’t difficult for me though because of a little tradition I have for each time I travel. I find it very interesting to try and record every license plate I find (I also feel somewhat proud that people come from all over the country to visit my state, ahaha) and there were a lot of nice ones to see. Unfortunately, I was not able to record all of them, as I had nothing with which to write; however, I can tell you that many of them were from quite far away (Nevada, Oklahoma, and Washington State).

Following this, we were taken on a shuttle bus to the top of the mountain, where the tour would soon begin. However, I (rather foolishly) forgot that at high altitudes, it’s freezing, even in the summer. We walked all over and tried to keep warm, but it was not very effective, so we took to trying to record how beautiful the view was instead. This turned into some interesting “games”, as you can see below.

When we were finally able to begin the tour, it was slightly unnerving, as some of our fellow visitors seemed a bit dour. There was one boy who apparently was there with his parents for the benefit of his education; it seemed he was required to ask a certain number of questions of the tour guide.  One time, I heard him mutter to his mother, “I’ve already asked 3 questions … ” I felt bad for him, as there was a chance he already understood everything and did not need to ask any additional questions. However, it was a bit amusing, to say the least.

Unfortunately, we were not allowed to photograph the interior of Monticello, but I can tell you that it was absolutely stunning. Thomas Jefferson, though not an inventor, was certainly a very intuitive and reflective man, and came up with many ways to make his home not only visually appealing, but also as efficient as was possible at the time.

The garden tour came next. However, a tour had already begun, and it was really too late to join in on the next tour, so we ended up seeing everything ourselves. In my humble opinion, it was all for the better, as the experience I was most looking forward to at Monticello was photographing all of the flowers and vegetables. I love photography, especially still life, as it’s the only kind I’m very good at. I only had my phone, but had a nice time and was very satisfied with the photos I took.

Look at the beautiful view!

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I leave you with some of the exquisite sights from the garden, including some rarely seen “potato pumpkins” and giant okra. Except for the cock’s comb, I took all the pictures of the flowers seen, including that lovely, giant, white, rather energetic and adorable flower with the cute face … hehehe.

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Spring Snowfall at Serendipity

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A “Happy Spring” at SFH

Time stands still during a Spring snowfall. Chores are put on hold. Preparations for planting come to a halt. There are no trips to the store. A pleasant quiet underscores meals and conversation. A Spring snowfall is just what we needed.

Certainly for some, Winter Storm Toby is disrupting life, causing damage, and frustrating travelers.

Happy Spring-02
A void where hollies used to be

Four Nor’easters so close together cannot be counted as welcome events. Even as we look west from the front porch of Serendipity, the view has changed. Now there are two voids where our holly trees used to be. Winter Storm Riley uprooted them and now Toby shows us how empty and lacking in color is that side of Serendipity.

Happy Spring-04
A brief moment in just a single day

Despite the concern and frustrations of the day, Serendipity continues to be the answer to the prayer we should have prayed. A walk along our river reveals the better side of life. If it snows today, then let that be a reason to reflect on the beauty in a single snowflake, or in countless millions of snowflakes.

If chores have been put on hold because of a Spring snowfall, how can that be a bad thing? The garden covered with snow can be captivating in its serenity. Likewise, that pile of dirt remaining to be moved to the garden boxes brings humorous thoughts to mind. Yes, just as with me, even a pile of dirt can have a day of rest when there is a Spring snowfall at Serendipity Farmhouse.

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SFH Plantings 2018-05: Humdrum Statistics

Even Mr. Monte fell asleep after reading this post.

There, how’s that for a catchy, interest capturing title? It sucked you right in, didn’t it? Well, I had to use high-pressure tactics because there’s so much to tell you.

Humdrum Statistic 1 – D-Day +16: Yes, I’ve been moving dirt. In between windstorms, cold spells, infirmity, and a hundred other things that would have deterred a lesser man, I have moved dirt. Lots of dirt? Well, maybe not so much, but at least some dirt is where it wasn’t before. And I’m darned proud of the fact that I’ve only encountered one Lesson Learned in the process.

Lesson Learned 06: If a panel on your garden box is warped, don’t attempt to straighten it by applying undue pressure with your foot. Over time, these panels not only warp, they also become brittle.

Yes, dang it, I broke one. – – – Cost for replacement box $38 something.  Why buy one box when you can get two (probably my dumb idea)? What about shipping? No, it’s not free. Bottom line – my heavy, booted foot cracked the panel and it cost me $109.00.

Humdrum Statistic 2 – Multiple Hours of Sleeplessness: Wonderful, sweet spouse caught some terrible disease from yours truly. I’m recovering. She’s not. The other night she coughed for hours. I lost precious hours of sleep. Thankfully, wife finally fell asleep. I blissfully fell into a deep slumber … for about three minutes. Eighteen pound, spoiled, monster of a Maine Coon cat began to snore loudly. Zero hours of sleep for me that night.

Humdrum Statistic 3 – The Relative Weight of Dirt: The relative weight of dirt (mass is a different matter) increases when one is sick and sleep deprived. I have been both. Consequently, the relative weight of the total of six cubic yards of dirt to be moved is now roughly equal to what it would be on Jupiter. (That would be Weight on Jupiter= (Weight on Earth/9.81m/s2) * 24.79m/) Yes, when you’re sick, sleep deprived, and have to move a lot of dirt, you think about these things a lot.

Humdrum Statistic 4 – SFH 2017 Plantings: All of the above was a lead in for presentation of the official list of vegetables and herbs planted at SFH during 2017. (You can view this very humdrum list at SFH 2017 Plantings.) We hope to do better this year. The only way to gauge that, however, is by keeping a set of “Humdrum Statistics”. There, now you know why I really chose the title.



Living by Chapter 49 – Lent

Saint_Benedict_Medal1 The life of a monk ought to be a continuous Lent. 2 Since few, however, have the strength for this, we urge the entire community during these days of Lent to keep its manner of life most pure 3 and to wash away in this holy season the negligences of other times. (Excerpt from the Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 49)

We said on day one of this blog: “He [God] has led us and guided us through the years and He has given us aid and sustenance all along the way. One very important gift was the grace to become Oblates of St. Benedict and to live in that calling.”

We have passed the midpoint in Lent. Our observance has not been perfect. St. Benedict knew that few “have the strength for this.” Yet, we do our best to deny ourselves “some food, drink, sleep, needless talking and idle jesting, and look forward to holy Easter with joy and spiritual longing.”

At the very top of the obverse side of the medal of St. Benedict is the simple word “Pax” – “Peace”. Here at  Serendipity Farmhouse, our simple observance of Lent – the quiet of the evening meals together, the moving of dirt and preparation for planting, and blossoming daffodils – brings us to that Peace.

Just thought you might like to know.

SFH Food 2018-03: G&G Idaho Fries

Now that you’ve read SFH Food 2018-02: The Idaho Potato, it’s finally time to make honest-to-goodness, guaranteed-to-be-great “G&G Idaho Fries” the way we do. (Oh, by the way, the G&G brand stands for Granny & Granddad, of course.)

Serving Size: Enough for two people.

Recipe Ingredients:

  • 3 medium size, genuine Idaho potatoes (Remember Lesson Learned 04)
  • a little less than 1/4 cup olive oil
  • John’s Spice (if you don’t have any, you’ll have to be very creative)
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Recipe Directions:

  1. Wash potatoes (we prefer to leave the skins on)
  2. Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees
  3. Spray baking sheet with olive oil; wipe off excess with paper towel
  4. Slice potatoes with slicer (you decide on thin- or thick-sliced )
  5. Place sliced potatoes in large bowl
  6. Add olive oil and spices, then mix by hand (make sure paper towels are nearby to wipe your hands)
  7. Arrange potatoes on a large baking sheet

    Keep the fries separated so they don’t stick together.
  8. Place in preheated oven for at least 30 minutes (check for desired color and crispness)
  9. Remove from oven and serve  – Don’t forget the fry sauce – enjoy!

The New York strip steak was grilled outside while the fries were in the oven.