Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Julia Child...

About a month ago, I "read" (i.e. listened to on audiobook--yay Audible.com!) "Julie and Julia," a memoir by Julie Powell about how she set out to cook every recipe in Vol.1 of Mastering the Art of French Cooking (500+ recipes) in 365 days, all as an attempt to rescue herself from the mediocrity of her soul-sucking cubicle (government) job. Well, I found the book pretty great, though I actually wish I had read the print version, since Julie Powell's voice kind of drives me crazy, but I suffered through. I then saw the movie version with Meryl Streep and Amy Adams, both of whom I love, and I found the movie charming, if a little thin, and then I asked for Mastering The Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1, and Julia Child's memoir, My Life in France, for my birthday, both of which I received from my loving parents.

So, that's how the story begins. It continues with me flipping open MAFC last week and realizing that it is sooo much more than just a cookbook! It is, in fact, AWESOME! (And please note that this is momentous for me to say, as I usually find cooking to be tiresome and annoying. I much prefer the eating part.) Bus seriously, this book is not just a cookbook. It's a how to cook book! Who knew!?

Julia and friends take you through everything, from what kinds of kitchen equipment you need (lots), to the definitions of various fancy terms used throughout the book, like gratine (to brown the top of a sauced dish, fyi), to--get this-- the ideal way to chop a freakin' onion! I've always been a disaster chopping onions, little pieces always fly everywhere and I feel like a complete clutz! Who's with me? Anyway, now, with Julia, I'm well on my way to chopping like Rachael (Ray, whom I actual can't stand, but who does know how to chop things, I have to give her that). She also devotes a whole section, before telling you how to cook anything at all, to one of my favorite things, wine. She explains which types of wines are best to cook with for various kinds of dishes, what kinds of wines you should pair with various foods, and even how to store and serve different wines! Completely unnecessary and marvelous. Theree isn't a recipe in this book until page 37. It's amazing.

Alright, so even before trying any of the recipes, my mouth was watering and I was really starting to see what all the fuss is about re: Julia Child. I decided that I would make my first attempt at French Cuisine on Monday night, one of my usual cooking nights. We had some ground turkey in the fridge, so I looked for something involving ground beef, and found Bifteck Hache a la Lyonnaise, which is really just a hamburger. No biggie, right? (Though, Julia does take time out to tell us that we need not be shocked, as the French do eat hamburgers! I honestly had never given any thought to whether or not the French eat hamburgers, but apparently this was a matter of hot debate back in 1961). Anywho, a hamburger patty's just a hamburger patty, but then...then you add a sauce on top, and that is where it becomes heavenly. I decided to try Bitokes a la Russe (Hamburgers with Cream Sauce). Now, I have to be honest with you--sauce making has always mystified me. I'd always see my grandmother or mom or dad cook some sort of meat and somehow end up with a sauce in the pan afterward, and had always been completely befuddled by the whole exercise, so the cream sauce was actually the scary part for me. But Julia guided me true, and the sauce came out just like she said it would, and it was creamy, buttery goodness, and made for a very fancy (and tasty) burger.
I'm almost done with my gushing, but I have to add another awesome thing about MAFC: at the start of each section, Julia devotes some space to explaining exactly what kinds of ingredients you should buy for each kind of recipe, what kinds of wine you should pair it with, and gives many side dish and garnish suggestions. In the "Meat" chapter, she encourages you go learn about beef cuts "step by step" and tells you how you can tell a good cut of meat. In the vegetable chapter, there are seven different recipes for peas, and you pick which one to use based on the freshness and tenderness of the peas!! And there are then different recipes for frozen peas and canned peas, because clearly you can't cook them the same way. !! Is this kind of care and devotion to preparing perfect food not incredible!? Maybe it's just me, but I think it's freakin' awesome.

I'm getting hungry just writing this post...

Anyway, based on Julia's recommendations, I made Pommes de Terre Sautees (Potatoes Sauteed in Butter) and Frozen Peas (Frozen Peas :o) to go with our fancy burgers, and I actually think I liked the side dishes better than the burger! This could because both were pretty much just cooked in butter, some herbs, butter, and a little more butter, but they were soooo good. (Sorry the picture's blurry!)

I'm planning to try out a chicken recipe tomorrow, and something more ambitious this weekend, though I'm still deciding what to try. If people are interested (are you interested??) I'll keep blogging about my culinary pursuits, though I know it's been done, and been done specifically with MAFC, but...what can I say? I've got the Julia bug. (Proof that this is true: We didn't eat dinner until about 9:45 last night, and I was prepping and/or cooking for 2.5 hours, and I DIDN'T EVEN MIND. Truly mind-boggling.)

Can't wait to taste my next French dish! To borrow from my least favorite TV cook, ooh-la-yum-o!

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