Julia Child's Recipes. My Kitchen.

Follow along as I cook from volumes 1 and 2 of the culinary classic - with a modern makeover.

Why Dinner With Julia?

Monday, October 12, 2009


Like so many others, I've fallen - once again - under the spell of Julia Child after seeing Nora Ephron's film "Julie & Julia" {twice so far}. While Meryl Streep said that the charmingly effervescent, larger-than-life Julia she portrayed in the film is idealized, played as Julie Powell might have imagined The French Chef beside her as she cooked through 500-plus recipes, all you have to do is watch Julia to know that she was possessed with a huge, joyful spirit. As she huffs and puffs and careens her large frame around the kitchen, warbling all the while in her distinctive whooping voice, how can you stop yourself from feeling warm and fuzzy all over?

Julia has served as my muse in the past; when I watched her appear on WGBH during the 1970's, on a small black and white television in my mother's kitchen, and then later in my own apartment when I decided to teach myself to cook, I referred to Mastering the Art of French Cooking {MTAOFC} as I attempted my first pommes Anna and chocolate soufflé.

My passion for cooking grew and has taken me along a path. Years have gone by since I whipped my first egg white, and my cookbook collection has grown by the hundreds. After starting out a dedicated amateur home cook, I went on to work in restaurant kitchens, threw dinner parties and then eventually started a personal chef business. I also started a family, and those days of spending a whole weekend making a special dinner are way over.

Now I find that I've been drawn back to the big, wonderful book, volumes 1 and 2, that took Julia and her colleagues Simone Beck {the third contributor, Louisette Bertholle, had no part in volume 2} more than a decade to produce. After getting reacquainted with them over the past few months, I decided that there's no time like the present for me to re-master the basic foundations of French cooking that are meticulously laid out in these volumes - sort of like taking myself back to school.

While the book is topping best seller lists as I write this, there are some who predict it will soon become a decorative door stopper when the Julia-hype is over, overwhelming all the non-cooks "in a Rachael Ray world".

I agree. It might have been that Regina Schrambling's Salon piece worked as the spark for me, inspiring this blog. As Schrambling said there, the recipes in MTAOFC were never meant for what Julia referred to as the "Flimsies"; people who feel a meal requiring more steps other than 3 minutes in the microwave is not worth the time or trouble.

True, the recipes in the MTAOFC can be daunting in their length and execution. Julia wanted home cooks to be able to replicate every detail, because after all, these books were meant to be teaching manuals, not glossy food porn. However, there is room for a little update. For instance, there are a handful of recipes bearing an outdated, mid-century timestamp, such as:

• Veal Kidneys Flamed in Brandy
• Anything in Aspic
• Vol-au-Vent {elaborate filled pastry shells}

There's also the matter of ingredients and preparation time. Many of the recipes can be simplified into fewer steps as well as enlightened with smaller amounts of butter, cream and fat, and certain products that weren't readily available when the book was written {like fresh herbs, crème frâiche, parchment paper} are common in grocery stores today.

That's where re-mastering comes in. As I cook my way through the books - not in any particular order, and not every single recipe - I will reinterpret them in my own way, while staying true to the soul of Julia's text. I will simplify and update so that you might be inspired to take a recipe on now and then for your own dinner at home.

I hope you will follow along as I cook - fancy French food may no longer be in style, but the pleasures of a home-cooked dinner are timeless.

6 comments:

Henri said...

Hi, just found your site and so glad I did. Having just received a dutch oven, my first attempt will be the beef bourguignon - wish me luck because I AM NOT A COOK, but I do enjoy great food.

Madame K said...

Welcome, Henri, thanks for visiting. I want to hear how your beef bourguignon turns out...I'm keeping my spoons crossed for you.
Cheers,
Karen

rootsandrings said...

I'm glad you found my blog! I think Julia's books are intimidating but I'm excited to learn from them! I'm adding you to my Google Reader now!

random said...

I love it! This is so wonderful that you share your lovely recipes... I use them all the time and am always being complimented!

Hey I'm at the make-up Counter said...

Wow wonderful job on this blog! keep up the great work, I loved her like so many others. I grew up with her cookbook in my fathers kitchen (believe it or not). Your blog is beautiful and she would of loved it!!!

Marty said...

Hi Karen
After reviewing Mastering Vol 1 for my newspaper, I too have fallen in love with Julia Child. Thanks for commenting on my Julia egg project; my attempts seem so inadequate next to a whole blog on cooking from her books!

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