Discover, master the art of French cooking

Published 11:59 pm Friday, September 11, 2009

If you are a food lover and want to see a really good movie, please go see “Julie and Julia.” I rarely get to the movies these days but this one was fun and worth watching. We all know some things about Julia Child as a cookbook author and as a TV celebrity. There is a lot more: she loved life and all its appetites.

Julie Powell is a novelist who wrote a book about how cooking through Julia’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, changed her life. Julie’s life was dull as a secretary and she got the idea that she would cook 524 recipes in 365 days from Julia’s book and blog about it. The movie gives the highs and lows of her year of cooking and how her husband got tired of her complaining but also loved the good food. Some movie critics thought the movie needed more Julia and less Julie, but I enjoyed both.

Julia, played by Meryl Streep, is just super. We get to see Julia in France with husband Paul, and how she fell in love with French cooking. We see her roasting pigeons in her small apartment, after learning how to do this at the Cordon Bleu Cooking School. I fell in love with her all over again after seeing some clips of her cooking classes used in the movie. The Saturday Night Live spoof is there, too! She was truly a great woman in her field.

I have long been fascinated with Julia as a cook and entertainer—our first star TV chef. I recently read a biography of Julia and her life is as interesting as her cooking.

After seeing the movie, I found my old copy (1977) of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume I. I do not remember exactly when or where I bought it. It could have been a gift. I began to read it again and saw some of the wisdom of Julia’s cooking and decided to do some of her recipes. She has some good advice about cooking. I have used these in the past but I guess I forgot where they came from. Allow yourself plenty of time to cook. Most of her dishes can be assembled, or started, or partially cooked in advance. If food is to be baked or broiled, be sure your oven is hot before the dish goes in; otherwise soufflés will not rise, piecrusts will collapse, and gratinéed dishes will overcook before they brown. Always read the recipe all the way through before you start to cook. Train yourself to use your hands and fingers; they are wonderful instruments. Train yourself to handle hot food; this will save time. Keep your knives sharp. Above all, have a good time!

A quote from Julia I read just the other day, ”Non-cooks think it’s silly to invest two hours’ work in two minutes’ enjoyment; but if cooking is evanescent, so is the ballet.”

I spent several hours on Julia’s Boeuf Bourguignon. Yes, I can say it was worth it. I even thought about inviting guests over, but decided it would be our meal for the next three days. That alone made it worthwhile. (We ate Boeuf for five days!) Each day I did different side dishes—-Julia’s buttered green beans were great. We have fresh green beans in the garden right now, not green peas as Julia suggests.

From Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume One, by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck

Boeuf Bourguignon

(Serves 6)

Beef Stew in Red Wine, with Bacon, Onions and Mushrooms

This is one of her most famous dishes, and done carefully and perfectly flavored, it is certainly one of the most delicious of beef dishes. It is better served the next day, so a perfect buffet dish. Boiled potatoes are traditionally served with this dish, but buttered noodles or rice can be substituted. A green vegetable such as buttered peas would be nice, Julia writes. Serve with the beef a full-bodied, young red wine, such as Beaujolais, Ctes du Rhne, or a Burgundy.

A 6-ounce chunk of bacon

A 9-10 inch fireproof casserole 3 inches deep

1 Tbsp. olive oil or cooking oil

A slotted spoon

3 lbs. lean stewing beef cut into 2-inch cubes

1 sliced carrot

1 sliced onion

1 tsp salt

¼ tsp pepper

2 Tbsp. flour

3 cups of a full bodied, young red wine such as those suggested above

2-3 cups brown beef stock or canned beef bouillon

1 Tbsp. tomato paste

2 cloves mashed garlic

½ tsp thyme

A crumbled bay leaf

The blanched bacon rind

18-24 small white onions, brown braised in stock (recipe below)

1 lb. quartered fresh mushrooms sautéed in butter (recipe below)

Remove rind, and cut bacon into lardons (sticks, ¼ inch thick and 1½ inch long). Simmer rind and bacon for 10 minutes in 1½ quarts of water. Drain and dry.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Sauté the bacon in the oil over moderate heat for two to three minutes to brown lightly. Remove to a side dish with a slotted spoon. Set casserole aside. Reheat fat to almost smoking before you sauté the beef.

Dry the beef in paper towels; it will not brown if it is damp. Sauté it, a few pieces at a time, in the hot oil and bacon fat until nicely browned on all sides. Add it to the bacon.

In the same fat, brown the sliced vegetables. Pour out the sautéing fat.

Return the beef and bacon to the casserole and toss with the salt and the pepper. Then sprinkle on the flour and toss again to coat the beef lightly with the flour. Set casserole uncovered in the middle position of preheated oven for four minutes. Toss the meat and return to oven for four minutes more. (This browns the flour and covers the meat with a light crust.) Remove casserole, and turn oven down to 325 degrees.

Stir in the wine and enough stock or bouillon so that the meat is barely covered. Add the tomato paste, garlic, herbs and bacon rind. Bring to simmer on top of the stove. Then cover the casserole and set in lower third of preheated oven. Regulate heat so liquid simmers very slowly for three to four hours. The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily.

While the meat is cooking prepare the onions and mushrooms.

Brown-Braised Onions

Using 1½ Tbsp. butter and 1½ Tbsp. oil sauté the onions over moderate heat so they will brown nicely. You cannot expect to brown then uniformly. Pour in ½ cup brown stock, canned bouillon, dry white, red wine, or water cover and simmer the onions until tender about 15 minutes. They are ready to serve.

Sautéed Mushrooms

Using 2 Tbsp. butter and 1 Tbsp. oil sauté the mushrooms for about four to five minutes. Shake the pan and let them brown, about another 3-5 minutes and they are ready to serve.

When the meat is tender, pour the contents of the casserole into a sieve set over a saucepan. Wash out the casserole and return the beef and bacon to it. Distribute the cooked onions and mushrooms over the meat.

Skim fat off the sauce. Simmer sauce for a minute or two, skimming off additional fat as it rises. You should have about 2½ cups of sauce thick enough to coat a spoon lightly. If too thin, boil it down rapidly. If too thick, mix in a few tablespoons of stock or canned bouillon. Taste carefully for seasoning. Pour the sauce over the meat and vegetables.

*Recipe may be completed in advance to this point.

For immediate serving: Cover the casserole and simmer for two to three minutes, basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce several times. Serve in its casserole, or arrange the stew on a platter with potatoes, noodles, or rice and decorate with parsley.

For later serving: When cold, cover and refrigerate. About 15 minutes before serving, bring to the simmer, cover, and simmer very slowly for 10 minutes, occasionally basting the meat and vegetable with the sauce.

As Julia would say – bon appétit! (Can’t you just hear Julia’s high-pitched voice? Streep captured her so well in the movie- – as only she can do.)