Re-visiting Julia Child

Reply Mon 1 Mar, 2010 09:42 am
I just saw the movie Julie and Julia on dvd this past week and it inspired me to cook a dinner from Mastering the Art of French Cooking which I did on Sunday . . . although not 100% from the book.

I made roast chicken with mushrooms, cream and cognac; gratineed broccoli and diced sauteed potatoes.

Some reasons why my meal was not 100%: I had no lemon (really unusual for me!) and I seldom go to the store for one thing. Mastering has no specific broccoli recipes because it was not a popular veggie at the time in France. The book suggested using the Brussel sprout recipes and I chose one, but reduced the number of cooking steps.

The chicken dish was rich and flavorful. I like chicken better than anything else and serve it often. This was a welcome change.

As for the potatoes, I have been dicing and sauteing potatoes in the restaurant chef's olive oil/butter mix for a long time. It is a quick way to create a full meal and is related to the more traditionally American homefries. Julia's version involved putting a lid on the fry pan for part of the cooking time, something I would never do. It changed the dish a bit, "dressing it up," but neither improving nor spoiling it. Potatoes in any form are marvelous things.

The broccoli. Ah, that veggie maligned by the 41st president. A newspaper (Boston Globe? NYTimes?) interviewed Julia at the time and she suggested sauteing broccoli with lots of garlic to make it palatable.

The Brussel sprout recipe demanded blanching, oven roasting, then gratineing. I feared that much cooking would produce a gray vegetable, so I skipped the second step. The broccoli was delicious, tender and coated with cheese. In the future, I might try another variant: a shorter blanching, followed by some roasting, then a little gratineeing.

I post this because several things have struck me about food recently.

I work part-time but over seven days a week and my commute is long. I find dishes that can be made in one session then kept for several days . . . soups, golupki, lasagna, stews . . . work well to provide a balanced diet quickly and cheaply.

However, some people suggest I chose restaurant take away. I dislike take-away except in extreme need. It is often messy and sometimes difficult to eat (in the car!) and carrying away food diminishes its quality. Closed in a container, the food chills and becomes gluey. Restaurants sometimes disappoint, so, why pay more for food that is less delicious?

Much is made today of how cooking is dying as an art but houses still come with elaborate kitchens . . . which may have marble counters and stainless appliance but are poorly planned. Saving steps is not, to my mind, a virtue but creating elbow room and convenient storage is.

Food has changed since Mastering was published.

Mastering rang the death knell of the "continental" restaurant that was chi-chi from the 50s into the 70s.

I was in a food co-op in the late 60s-early 70s where the folks were enamored of The Joy of Cooking (referred to in J & J, with Frances Sternhagen playing Irma Rombauer). My friends with social aspirations followed the NY Times Cookbook. A male friend told me then that Julia Child was a fraud and that if I wanted to really know French cooking, I had to read Alma Lach. Not long after that conversation, I moved to New England and six months later, in a tiny bookstore created from a white Cape-style house in a resort town, I discovered Elizabeth David. I read all of her then-published books from cover to cover and cooked her recipes with the enthusiasm that the movie portrays Julie cooking Julia's recipes.

I finally asked for Mastering for Christmas perhaps in 1977. While I discovered that Elizabeth David had already taught me some of the same techniques, I cooked from the book for several years . . . and my copy looks like I did! The dust jacket died long ago and the cover of volume 1 was taped together and lost its tape!

I was working part-time at Williams-Sonoma when Julia died. One of my co-workers, himself a chef, told me a long story about his meeting with Julia at an event at which he cooked. The entire chain put out signs with Chuck Williams' own salute to her and people came into the store (just a few miles from her former home in Cambridge, MA) to tell stories of their own close encounters of the Julia-kind (I had two myself) for months. People loved her.

She did not come out as well in the movie although Meryl Streep's amazing ear once again allowed her to triumph vocally, reproducing Julia's famous voice to perfection. But, I thought back to an interview I had seen with Gandhi director Richard Attenborough in which Richard had been cautioned "not to make a saint of Gandhi." The movie did not make a saint of Julia, to the credit of the writer/director Nora Ephron.

My Sunday experiment convinced me of a few things.

The first is that there is space in one's repertoire for many methods. While I will still grate raw broccoli as the foundation of the vegetable slaw (try it, you will be amazed!) and I probably will never peel broccoli but I will blanch it from time to time prior to sauteing. After all, many vegetables are tastier cooked in some of those time honored and time consuming French way. Try cooking Swiss chard en blanc and you will see what I mean.

The second is that Julia still deserves a place in our hearts . . . and in our kitchens.

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Reply Mon 1 Mar, 2010 10:00 am
I love broccoli and eat it as much as possible. I love most veggies, actually. Have you tried the Best of Bridge broccoli salad? Yummy.

I never peel it, either - can't imagine why anyone would. I like the stalks when you slice them thinly.

To keep the bright green colour, add a dash of baking soda to the water. Never fails.
Reply Mon 1 Mar, 2010 11:22 am
I peel my broccoli and so does Jacques Pepin. The flowerettes and the stalks don't cook evenly unless you peel the stalks, IMHO. I have never considered myself a gourmet cook, but I think I'm a pretty good cook. There is a little cooking show on Sunday mornings called Ten Dollar Dinners. The host is classically trained and lived in France. She takes these dishes and revises them to use commonly found ingredients and many times reduces the steps involved so a person could have, for example, cassoullet on a week night. http://www.foodnetwork.com/ten-dollar-dinners-with-melissa-darabian/index.html

That's my kind of cooking.
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Reply Mon 1 Mar, 2010 11:34 am
I fix broccoli in many different ways but I always cut off the flowerettes from the stems and cut all into rather small parts. If boiling, I put the stems in 2 to 5 mins before the flowerettes.

I would never peel asparagus either but I had peeled asparagus at a restaurant and it was much better than anything I ever cook. There are just some things I do not care to do and I really do not like using vegetable peelers although I suppose one could use a paring knife.
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Reply Mon 1 Mar, 2010 01:21 pm
I love broccoli, too, and always cut the florets from the stems, peel the stems quickly straight down the outside then slice. My roommate doesn't like the stems so I eat all of them plus some of the broc. Have you ever added crumbled dried tarragon to the cooked broc, then melt on a tsp or 2 of butter, then sprinkle with grated parmy while still hot. Cover and leave in the hot saucepan for a minute or two before serving.

Easiest way I've found to cook sprouts (although I had a brief love affair with Martha Stewart's recipe for shredded, sauteed, and briefly steamed sprouts) is to cut in half, saute in butter/olive oil in largish skillet so that all cut edges can get brown; after sauteing for 5-7 minutes, sprinkle on a bit of stock, cover briefly...maybe 4 minutes....then uncover to crisp. Some people add bacon to this.

I thought Meryl Streep WAS Julia Child, but I didn't like the side story of the woman who cooked everything in the book.

Reply Mon 1 Mar, 2010 02:57 pm
I thought Meryl Streep WAS Julia Child, but I didn't like the side story of the woman who cooked everything in the book.

That's exactly how I felt. Julie was not particularly likable.

I cook my sprouts that way, too, Kara. I haven't used stock, but now I might.
Reply Mon 1 Mar, 2010 03:05 pm
I think it's thanks to you, Swimpy, that I have been buying more b. sprouts. Since I make a lot of soups, I tend to put them sliced into soups toward the very end. I read at some point that the cabbage family gets super smelly with x amount of cooking time. That doesn't bother me with my nose, but I still tend to toss them in at the end anyway.

On Julia.. I haven't seen the movie but have read batches of reviews. Most of them agree with comments here about the Julia part of the movie being the strong part. Trouble is, I can well imagine being Julie, and have friends who have cooked their way through large cookbooks.

I liked Julia and am a fan of Nora Ephron from way back. I gave away the 2 volume set I had when I moved last time, woe is me, but to someone who appreciated them. I think it was her cassoulet I made (the one and only time). I remember thinking it took me forever.
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Reply Mon 1 Mar, 2010 04:16 pm
I love broccoli and especially broccoli stems. I usually slice them into 1/4 inch coins and throw them into the pan a few minutes before adding the florets.

I also thought Meryl was spot on in her interpretation of Julia Child. I only saw the movie on cable. I'd like to buy the DVD so I can watch all the added features such as the director's cut to hear all the backstage chatter about how and why certain things were done in the movie.

That's the one thing I miss about not having Netflix anymore. I usually watched movies 3 or 4 times, once for the full effect of the movie, again for the director's cut and again to watch all the technical and creative elements of the movie. You just don't get that added benefit with the movies on cable.
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Reply Mon 1 Mar, 2010 08:48 pm
Yeah, some movies need more than one watching.

There has been some explanation as to why Julia didn't like Julie's blog, although I would guess Julia didn't read much of it, perhaps, only a couple of segments. Supposedly, Julia objected in part to Julie's heavy dose of four letter words, her commentary on the television shows she watched while cooking supper and to Julie's getting drunk while cooking.
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