Monday, September 28, 2009

Mastering the Art of French Cooking

There was no doubt about it. I had to get my hands on this book.

In August, I saw the movie Julie & Julia with a couple of friends. I vowed to get the cookbook Julia Child is writing in the movie, Mastering The Art of French Cooking, her first cookbook, co-authored with Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck, published in 1961. I'd decided to borrow it from the library, but not surprisingly, it was already checked out, so I was put on the waiting list. Today I went to the library to pick it up--it was in at last! The book I brought home is actually Volume Two, which was originally published in 1970. I was pleased to bring home a beautiful copy of this book. In fact, it looks new. I was also pleased to see that the library has some new check-out machines. I guess they have some money, after all. But back to the cookbook.

"Anyone can cook in the French manner anywhere, with the right instruction."
~Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck

There's no need to be intimidated. Although French cooking has a reputation for being complicated and out of reach for most people, this book explains things clearly and makes it seem almost easy. The authors adapt French cuisine to what's available in American supermarkets, describe cooking techniques in simple language, suggest which dishes and wines complement each other, and include some helpful illustrations. These recipes do not seem terribly difficult or fussy--I'll attempt some of them; even the soufflé au chocolat seems possible (and isn't that what cookbooks are all about--possibilities?). Julia Child's friendly, down-to-earth personality and joie de vivre shine throughout the book. I think this would be a terrific cookbook for someone who's about to start their own household, or for someone with an interest in French cuisine or Julia Child's cooking career.

Here are seven sundry facts and ideas I gathered while leafing through this cookbook:
  • The French do not eat much broccoli. They prefer turnips, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and other vegetables.
  • The essential rule of the French technique for vegetables: Do not overcook.
  • A very savory way of serving tomatoes is à la Provençal, tomatoes stuffed with bread crumbs, herbs, and garlic.
  • Fluted mushroom caps add a nice professional touch to your cooking. (I will try this!)
  • Never stir cooked rice with anything other than a wooden fork or chopstick, and be gentle.
  • In a true sauté, cut-up chicken is cooked only in butter or butter and oil, and seasonings, without any liquid, until the very end, for poulet sauté.
  • You can judge the quality of a chef or a restaurant by the quality of their roast chicken (unless you're a vegetarian).
Soon after the publication of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Julia Child starred in a series on public TV called The French Chef, which made her a national celebrity and the first female celebrity chef.

Kudos to Rebecca Reid for hosting the delectable Spice of Life: A Reading Challenge.

25 comments:

  1. I love real french bread but it takes SO LONG to make. Hours. We make it every once in awhile and it's so good. I miss France where you could just buy some any time.

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  2. I eat quite a bit of rice, and I often just mash it around with a regular fork, so thanks for the tip on only using a wooden fork or chopstick!

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  3. Thank you for the tips: I did not know about using only wooden utensils for rice, or the importance of fluted mushroom caps (but I heard the roast chicken rule from my SIL). Someday I will cook from this book. Glad you were able to--keep us posted on the soufflé!

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  4. God! I haven't even tried anything French! :)

    but that movie got rave reviews really... I so wanted to see it too!@

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  5. Sounds like some great tips here. I am not a fancy cook. I like basic foods, not lots of spices etc. Great review Suko.

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  6. Amanda, real French bread sounds so good right now, warm out of the oven and served with beurre.

    Charley, I added that random fact because I cook a lot of rice and never knew to use a wooden utensil for stirring.

    ds, I'm not a fancy cook either, but I'm now inspired to make a chocolate soufflé.

    Veens, the movie is a lot of fun, especially for bloggers or cooks! : )

    Diane, thank you so much for your comment.

    More comments are welcomed as always.

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  7. After seeing Julie & Julia, my husband wants to try a recipe from this book, so I guess I'll have to get a copy of it too. I never knew that about stirring rice.

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  8. Oh I so want to get my hands on a copy of this book! I am glad that you liked it so much and that you will be trying some of the recipes. After seeing the movie, there are some recipes in there I definitely want to try out.

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  9. Very interesting and the food sounds delicious! I am thinking about those stuffed tomatoes right now!

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  10. I'm wondering how well this film is going to do in the UK as Julia Child is really only know over here through the publicity that was given to Julie's account of her own cooking when that was published. I will probably wait until the DVD is available. Perhaps if I was a cook myself it would be different, but boiled eggs are about as far as I go!

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  11. Bermudaonion, as always, thanks for your comment.

    Zibilee, after seeing the movie, this is the book I most wanted to read (or look through). I enjoy the many cooking tips and hints, and I imagine that I'm a better cook (at least in my mind) already.

    Sheila, thank you for stopping by! : )

    Table Talk, I guess Julia Child is more of an American cooking icon than an English one. Thanks so much for your comment.

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  12. This sounds like a good cookbook Suko. Interesting facts :)
    Very cool about the library check-out machines! So you can check out your own books?

    http://thebookworm07.blogspot.com/

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  13. Naida, I think the idea is to check out your own books but there was an attendant there who took care of this for me.

    S. Krishna, me too!

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  14. I would love to be a gourmet cook, but I am much too impatient! I'll have to look for this one.

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  15. I've been so curious about this book since I saw the movie too. Thanks for your review, Suko!

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  16. Linda, thankfully, some of the dishes do not take too long to prepare.

    Julie, a lot of people wanted to read the book Julie and Julia after seeing this movie, but I was more interested in the book Julia Child was writing in the movie.

    Thanks for your comments. More are welcomed, of course.

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  17. This is now on my wishlist, thanks to you Suko (and a few others) LOL

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  18. My mother had this book on her kitchen shelf for as long as I can remember...I know after seeing the film, I want to make boeuf bourginon as soon as possible!

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  19. Diane, this wonderful book is also on my wish list.

    dolcebellezza, the book and the movie definitely whet the appetite!

    Thanks to all for the comments. More always welcomed!

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  20. The book was on my mom's shelf for years. She probably still has it. Now I want to look through it!

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  21. I wanted to see the movie and never made it. Haven't read the book yet either which is why I missed the movie. Hopefully I can get that done and then rent the movie this winter. :)

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  22. I love tomatoes in this recipe! I made my mother a birthday dinner when I was seventeen using this cookbook (don't ask me what made me suppose I could manage such a thing, I had unlimited confidence then!), and I particularly remember those tomatoes. It IS a wonderful cookbook, and I loved the movie.

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  23. The food does sound good and I'm so glad it wasn't intimidating! I've found I'm just not interested in trying to cook French style -- but then again, I LOVE broccoli, so maybe I'm just different tastes than them.

    I do want to check out Julia Child's Mastering books some day though. Thanks for the great review!

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  24. Thanks again for the comments. I always welcome more. :)

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