Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Julia Child's Book

Here's another post I started before concert week:

I'm not even trying to cook this week. It's concert week and I'm in charge of the box office. I'm working a lot of hours. So, we're baking potatoes on the grill. We're grilling steak and chicken. We're going to use the cooked meat and potatoes as the basis for quick meals. Tonight, though, it's the traditional steak, salad, and baked potato meal. It's yummy and simple. We both got home after 5, so we didn't want to fuss a lot.

I've been really glad to see Mastering the Art of French Cooking get the attention it deserves. She wrote something special. It's headed for the top of the NYT bestseller list this week, 40-some years after it was first published. I hope people don't buy it, leaf through it, and put it on their shelves to cook from "when they have more time". Her recipes are indeed time-consuming. I bet she'd have loved the slow food movement. Here's a link to Slow Food USA, in case you're interested in the American version or want to find a chapter you could participate in.

Back to the book. If you cook from it, you will learn so much about good cooking techniques. And, if you study the recipe variations, you can learn a lot about creating your own food. People are often intimidated by the idea of not following a recipe exactly. If you look at the types of changes she makes in the variations, you can start to get a feel for what changes will work and what won't.

I've noticed two interesting things about what she wrote. First, her recipes are supposed to serve six people, assuming a three-course meal that was standard in America when she was writing. She says that in France, they'd have six courses and the portions would be half as large. The six courses are hors d'oeuvre, soup, salad, main course, cheese and dessert. As you go through the book, she mentions what recipes would be good hors d'oeuvres for a dinner and they're pretty much vegetable dishes. The cheese and dessert courses are at the end of the meal, so you would most likely be too full to eat too much of them. By dividing the meal up into courses, you take longer to eat, so you're more aware of being full before you've eaten too much.

I think the French paradox thing makes perfect sense when you look at that eating pattern. (The French paradox=eating more saturated fat, whole fat cheeses and dairy and so on, but not getting fat or having a lot of heart attacks. Small portions that include a lot of vegetables and taking a long time to eat mean you're less likely to overeat. But I digress, and that could easily be another post.

I wonder if even the French today cook that many courses for dinner. You'd have to spend all day cooking. That would be fun, but most people have to work. I like small portions of a variety of tastes. So, my personal preference is to do soup, salad, main course/sides and fresh fruit. That's really hard to find the time to do, even with doing some advance cooking, so I don't often get my preference. The Tables for Eight group from my church gets the benefit of my love of multi-course meals. I usually substitute a dessert for the fruit and add some pre-dinner munchies, since it's a dinner party.

Second, she has such a reputation for loving butter and cream that everyone thinks she cooks super-high-fat, unhealthy food. But when you read the recipes, she doesn't add fat willy-nilly. She uses the right amount to get the results she wants. She carefully pours off or removes extra fat because she doesn't want greasy food. Her philosophy was that we shouldn't be afraid of our food. That's a philosophy I agree with, but have struggled with most of my life due to an upbringing that was drenched in being afraid of food.

I very much enjoyed reading the book. Yeah, I'm one of those weird people who reads through cookbooks the way I read novels. I'm definitely going to be cooking from it. I'm thinking about having a fall dinner party with Boeuf Bourguignon as the centerpiece. After going to see Julie and Julia, Paul asked me if I'd ever cooked it. I had, but not Julia Child's version because I didn't have the cookbook at that time. It was a gift from my son who worked in a used bookstore for a few years. Someone gave it to the store and no one wanted it. He gave it a good home.